She soon learned from Mu-young that flower cakes were being made and sold en masse because it was the day of the Double Third Festival.
It was a disappointing revelation, for she quickly realized that such delicious treats would not be available again until the next year.
She sighed loudly in despair and Mu-young heard the sound. He slowed down to observe her dejected expression.
"Keep hanging on. We're almost at the inn and when we get there, you'll be able to eat delicious noodles aplenty. Does that sound good?"
So-yeon couldn't remember for the life of her what noodles were, but she nodded in agreement anyway. Mu-young smiled and resumed leading the way.
She shuffled through the streets a few steps behind him, taking in the strange sights around her all the while. There were clumsy miniature humans, a four-legged creature with a frightening call, birds in fancy wooden boxes and fruits that must have fallen from their trees, among other things.
If she'd had it her way, she would have stopped to study each and every one of them. However, Mu-young urged her along with the promise that there would be a chance to do so another day.
She reluctantly complied, despite feeling as if exploring the city wouldn't be anywhere near as enjoyable without him around. In the half a day that they'd been together, he had already come to seem like a close friend and the thought of him leaving her all alone proved to be a dreadful one.
"Mu-young," She said pleadingly as they entered a street where the buildings were noticeably bigger than the food stalls and small shops from earlier. "Why do you have to go to that place?"
"You mean the Tang Empire?"
"Yes," She replied, knowing that it was the right name.
"It will be for the greater good of this country. We have spent too much time living in the shadow of other nations."
So-yeon couldn't fully grasp what he meant and because of that, sought an explanation.
"What...what is a country?"
Mu-young spun around with a look of utter horror.
"What have you been through, for even that to have slipped your mind?"
"I don't know..." She replied, keeping up the act that she was suffering from memory loss.
"Alright, I'll explain. You know this city?"
"Well, there are just as many who live outside these walls. They may live differently from us and speak another dialect, but they are still our friends. Together, we all united and decided that we would be part of this kingdom named Silla."
So-yeon tried to imagine several parliaments joining together to form one composed of hundreds or even thousands of magpies, only to shake her head in dismay, for she knew that things would simply descend into bloody chaos.
She looked back up at Mu-young and asked the next question that was on her mind.
"What happens if you don't go?"
"I will be unaccounted for at court and an investigation will be conducted to determine the reason for my absence."
"Can't...can't you hide from them then?"
"No. I'm a monk, not some common criminal. And besides, nothing escapes the eyes of Tang. Their influence spreads far and wide."
So-yeon couldn't bear to accept that they would soon be parting ways, so she came to a stop and stamped one foot against the ground.
"Please," She begged, clenching both fists. "Don't leave me behind. You're supposed to be my guide."
Mu-young's face remained placid.
"Young lady, you must realize that I never intended to travel with you by my side. A monk cannot grow too close to a woman, lest he stray from the path of enlightenment."
"Then forget that path. You're my only-"
Unfortunately, her words were cut off by Mu-young smacking his hand hard against her back. She gasped and struggled to keep her body straight as he gestured at the large building to their left.
"We're here. At the inn."
He went ahead and she opened her mouth to protest.
"No, this can't be the place! There must be some mistake!"
He paid her no heed and passed through the doors, leaving her with no choice but to do so as well. She entered the lofty two storey building and then immediately froze in bewilderment at the sight which greeted her.
What seemed like a countless amount of tables lay out before her. All of them were occupied and she knew that it wouldn't be right to just sit wherever she wished.
She looked frantically around for a sign of Mu-young and after a few moments, noticed him conversing with another person whose hair was piled up high upon their head.
"So-yeon, come over here!" Mu-young called out, beckoning at her rather energetically. "Madam Hwang wishes to see you!"
Relief swept over her and she crossed the large room to approach them both, all the while trying to discern for herself whether this 'Madam Hwang' was a man or a woman. It was a challenge, since she didn't know of all the differences between the two sexes, but the answer quickly revealed itself when they began to speak.
"Come here, young lady. Don't be afraid," Madam Hwang said gently in a voice that was a little lower than her own, but still much higher in pitch than Mu-young's.
So-yeon tried to match Madam Hwang's cheerful expression by smiling back, only to remember something Mu-young had said earlier. As a result, she allowed her smile to fade and instead chose to speak her mind.
"Mu-young," She began. "You said that you couldn't be too close to a woman, so what are you doing with her?"
Mu-young chuckled nervously before offering an explanation.
"That is certainly true, but Madam Hwang here is an exception, you see."
"Why?" So-yeon demanded to know, feeling rather betrayed.
"She and I were friends during childhood, until my parents sent me off to become a novice."
"So, you don't think of me as your friend too?"
Mu-young chuckled again before nudging Madam Hwang forward.
"Why don't you spend some time with her while I go find the innkeeper? She knows far more about women's clothing than I ever will..."
At that, he rushed off and disappeared among the other patrons who were waiting to be seated, leaving So-yeon with little choice but to turn to Madam Hwang and observe the woman's features.
Unlike the flower cake vendor's wife, this Madam Hwang had skin almost as white as snow and plump red lips that somewhat resembled a ripe cherry. It was a combination that was pleasing to her eyes and she blurted out a compliment without much thought.
"You are very pretty, Madam Hwang."
Madam Hwang gave a loud laugh and slapped her playfully on the shoulder.
"Young lady, you are too kind! Most consider me to be an old hag!"
"Really?" So-yeon could only utter in surprise. She had no idea how an elderly human was supposed to look and she wondered if her judgement was wrong.
"Yes, indeed. The world isn't always kind to a forty-year-old woman such as myself."
This revelation shocked So-yeon to the core. In her days as a magpie, the male leader of the parliament had been considered abnormally old for having lived four years, so it boggled her mind that this female human had been alive for ten of his lifetimes.
Feeling intimidated, she hastily shifted her eyes away from Madam Hwang and tried with little avail to focus elsewhere.
"Are you alright, young lady? You look as if you've just seen a ghost..."
"I...I'm fine," She lied, raising one foot and then the other in an attempt to keep herself composed. "It's just that your age amazes me..."
Madam Hwang laughed even louder.
"Mu-young was right, you really are an amusement to be around. But rest assured, I was only joking because I wanted to raise your spirits. Now, what was it that he asked me to do? Ah, yes, I remember. Could you do a turn for me?"
So-yeon wasn't sure of what Madam Hwang's motivations were, but obeyed regardless. She shifted her right foot and began to twirl herself around, before she felt a hand press against her side and heard Madam Hwang ask her to stop.
"I had a feeling that it was true," Madam Hwang spoke up, spinning her back the other way so that they were once again face to face. "Your attire isn't as fine as what a more seasoned lady would wear, but it's still of excellent quality. Shame that you've soiled it, though."
So-yeon glanced down at the hem of her bright pink robes and remembered how she had run through a muddy field to chase after some commoners.
"Tell me," Madam Hwang continued, shifting her eyes back up. "Do you remember how long it has been?"
"What do you mean?"
"Since you first began your training. You seem to have only just grown into a woman, so I imagine it hasn't been too long."
"Do...do you know what I am?"
"Of course I do, young courtesan." The older woman replied, putting on another wide smile before gesturing towards a table that was being vacated. "But I wouldn't worry about it right now. It looks like you and Mu-young might finally get to eat."
Sure enough, she soon noticed Mu-young approach the table while being accompanied by a grey-haired man who gave them both a knowing look. She spun around to face Madam Hwang in uncertainty, but the latter simply nudged her forward without a further word.
It was clear that she was supposed to make herself comfortable, even though something about Madam Hwang was beginning to arouse her suspicions. Not even Mu-young had been this friendly or playful with her, so she couldn't help but wonder if this woman had some hidden plan to do them harm.
"I have to tell Mu-young. Maybe then, he'll take me with him..."
She took hurried steps to the table and sat down opposite Mu-young before clearing her throat.
"There's something wrong with her," She told him quietly so that others hopefully wouldn't hear.
"Who? Madam Hwang?"
"Yes, she's too playful. Only a predator does things like that."
Mu-young stared at her in silence for a short while, then smiled in reassurance.
"You shouldn't worry. That's how she always is around children."
"Children? I thought you said-"
"She's been in this world for forty years. To her, you are still a young girl."
So-yeon was prompted to think about the amount of time she had been alive and after comparing it to Madam Hwang's lifespan, it became understandable why the woman would treat her like she was a tiny animal.
Subsequently, she tried to take Mu-young's words to heart and reassure herself that she had been fearful for no reason.
"Nothing bad is going to happen. I'm too big to be eaten, after all..."
She clasped both of her hands together upon the table to await the 'noodles' that Mu-young had promised earlier that night. Her stomach rumbled again and as the time dragged by, her foot seemed to start tapping against the floor of its own accord.
Finally, a woman with tired eyes came over with two steaming bowls and set them on either side of the table before trudging away. So-yeon turned to observe the woman's robes and saw that they were a rather plain white.
She thought it a shame that anyone should be stuck wearing something so drab and decided right then that if it were possible, she would give pretty clothes to whomever she saw fit.
Across the table, Mu-young uttered a solemn prayer to show his gratitude for the meal and the sound of his voice which reminded So-yeon of what was really important.
She spun her head back around and immediately felt her mouth water at what was in the bowl. It turned out that noodles were long and thin just like the worms she'd once enjoyed, only they looked and smelt considerably more appetizing.
She raised her head to observe Mu-young for a few moments, then tried to follow his lead by picking up the two wooden sticks which lay by the side of her bowl.
Dipping them into her noodles, she then attempted to move her hand in the same way he did. Unfortunately, the noodles kept slipping back into the bowl and she soon became so frustrated that she simply slammed the pair of sticks back down on the table.
"I don't understand!" She cried out impatiently as Mu-young looked up from his bowl with wide eyes. "Why can't you use your mouth or hands?!"
His gaze shifted to the side and he regarded her discarded eating utensils with horror.
"I can't believe it. You don't know how to use chopsticks..."