The road to the unknown West passed by a long, deep blue lake. The lake has a name, and Hu Sen knew it, but of his escorts only Tempo was paying attention. Toshiro assumed he’d hear it again when Tempo added it to a song or poem.
But the name didn’t matter as much as what was in the lake: a long serpent, its scales a brownish red, its body ten feet in diameter, high and long enough to block the road while still keeping most of its body apparently in the lake. Mouse was initially excited about finding the blue dragon until Hu Sen knocked him on the head and told him this wasn’t blue.
The serpent, speaking in an ancient version of the language of Shou Lung, demanded the answer to a riddle before it would let anyone pass. Tempo quickly rose to the challenge, although he was stumped for quite a long time. Partuur was sure the poet would end up eaten.
Once Tempo beat the riddle, the serpent slithered into the lake — a process that took five full minutes, because it was a big serpent.
It was only then that the group discovered Hu Sen was missing.
While most were distracted by the serpent, Hu Sen, by this time of day already red-nosed from the flask he kept between Mouse’s shoulder blades, was distracted by a nymph that appeared at the edge of the forest. He clambered down and scampered off after her.
Fortunately, Mouse is pretty good at tracking. With Toshiro riding on his back, Mouse thundered through the forest until they spotted Hu Sen about to climb into a hole in a tree. The old man was rescued, although he didn’t see it that way.