Noon is walking home. Like any other night, his mind is blank, his steps are heavy, his feet are moving by sheer muscle memory to carry his body. His ears are snugly occupied with voices from faraway lands so that he may silence the universe, and most importantly, himself.
He spots a dead cicada illuminated by street light on the path. He crouches down to look closer, but thinks little of it as dead cicadas are a dime a dozen at the height of summer. In his absent-mindedness, he fails to notice the fog setting in around him. He continues his walk home; in low visibility his memory is a guiding compass.
He climbs the steps of the centuries-old stone bridge on his last stretch of the journey. Fifteen minutes pass before he realises that he is still on the same bridge; for he is still walking on stone and not concrete. The fog has completely obstructed his immediate surroundings, barring a dim yellow light glowing through the fog far off in the distance. He has no choice but to walk towards it. An unearthly silence drowns out the voices in his ears.
As Noon approaches the light, the fog gives way to reveal an immense black wooden gate, in front of which stands an old man. Shrouded in a long onyx robe, he is scribbling on a book using a golden fountain pen. He looks up as Noon draws closer.
Who might you be, asks the old man.
How did you come to this place?
I was walking across Xizi on my way home in a heavy fog.
You are not expected here.
Where is ‘here’? I hope I did not die by mistake.
This is a place for living souls, not of the dead. To return to your realm you must pass through this place. I will call forth a guide lest you find yourself lost.
And thus the elder calls with a voice that reverberates straight through Noon.
The wooden door opens to reveal a heavily-bearded man wearing an ivory linen shirt and a claret robe.
Tutto bene, Laozi?
This is Noon. He found himself here while crossing the bridge in Kinsay. Please assist him in finding his way home.