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While a lot of stuff wouldn’t look out of place in ancient china, the exchange was not one of those features. Or at least I thought it looked strange. A building where all the merchants gathered, like some kind of ancient mall? I was expecting a marketplace the last time I came here, not… this.

But I guess faster travel in the form of Artifacts, and communication in transmission stones could make something like this possible.

Shaking my head, I went about my business. First, was Tan Gong’s Heavenly Furs. Which was a super fucking pretentious name for a dude who dealt in mortal furs. But it was none of my business. There was a small line of people selling things. Some people got shouted out of the line for poor quality, while some completed their transactions quickly.

The man sitting behind the booth and wearing a uniform met me with a frown on his face.

“Ugh. Another dirt farmer. Yes, yes, boy. Make it quick. I’m sure you think your pelts are worthy to be purchased by our Heavenly Furs company but we have exacting standards--my word!”

I had, naturally, ignored his speechifying, and bought out the pelts. His eyes bugged out, and he swallowed.

Hey, xianxia tropes are in fine form today. Now hes apologising for being hasty and wringing his hands, and calling me “Good Sir”. I guess this is the part where I should start face slapping him, but I really don't care.

Whatever dude, you’re practically drooling over my stuff, you want to buy it or not?

Of course, I was actually keeping my mouth shut with a small smile on my face, and nodding along appropriately. There was nothing to be gained from insulting some rando dude manning a counter--

And now hes bought his manager out. Who is also calling me Good Sir. And making noises of wanting me to have a contract to supply them.

I declined as politely as I could, and just sold them the pelts.

“If you ever have any other furs to sell, please think kindly of our Heavenly Furs company!” The men both said and bowed.

Of course I’m going to “think kindly” of you, you’re the only gig in town.

The man who bought my planks of wood was considerably more polite. An Ren was a good bloke.

I then went to shop for my own supplies. More sesame oil, sesame seeds, I found a guy with some wheat, which was a major boon. Ah, bread, how I’ve missed you. Wouldn’t be able to plant it now, because fall was going to start soon, but Other than that, a bunch more veggie seeds, some more barrels, and a few more chickens, and a lovely set of cast iron pans.

I briefly debated getting a pig or a cow, but decided against it for now. Gotta establish the farm a bit better I think.

I’d probably be meeting up with Meimei soon, so we could go through the last of the herb guides. Today was a good day.

My back itched a little bit, as I stepped into the town again. I scratched it absentmindedly.

/////////

Meiling had been having a good day.

Emphasis on “Had”.

It had started out well enough. Jin had some business to take care of, so she had invited Meihua out into the town. They had walked together, arm and arm, and had enjoyed the city together. Meihua had even bought her a lovely new hairpin, and now, they were sitting down to have tea together.

But her sister in all but blood uttered foul betrayal.

“So, when is Jin marrying you?” She asked conversationally, just as Meiling had taken a sip from her tea.

She choked as it went down the way, and started coughing.

“Wha-Uh? Not- Maybe-Nev-- Meihua!” She gasped, and her friend laughed merrily, the sound like tinkling chimes.

She glared at her friend. “Not you too,” she whined, “I’m getting enough of that from father! We haven’t done anything either, so wipe that knowing look off your face, you vile woman!”

“Oh, but you snuck out in the night with him~”

“Meihua, please.” She begged, her face red.

“Allright, I’ll stop. All attack, no defense with you. You do like him though, don’t you?”

Short, brown hair. Vibrant green eyes. That stupid grin.

Her lips quirked up into an almost smile.

“Oh, dear,” Meihua said, looking at her fondly, “You are smitten, Meimei. Almost as bad as I am for my darling~”

“Shaddup.” she grumbled, and drained the rest of her tea. Meihua giggled again, but obligingly finished up as well, and needled her no further.

“Come on, I can’t deal with you anymore,” Meiling said acidly, but Meihua just smiled knowingly, “Lets get you to your darling--”

There was an acrid tang on the wind, that was sliding under the smell of earth that she had gotten used to. Blood and Oil. An insidious, slimy thing, full of ill intent.

Qi.

Her head whipped sound, and she saw the man. Dressed in fine clothes, with two men standing on either side of him. His head started turning in her direction, and she looked away.

“Meihua. This way.” Meihua noticed her discomfort, and obliged her. They exited the small outdoor seating area swiftly, Meiling practically dragging her friend behind her through an alley on the way to the palace.

“Meimei, whats going--”

“Qi. Cultivator. I know you think my nose is off on Jin, but please, trust me on this.”

Meihua sighed. “All right. But I think you’ve read too many stories. Would someone dare do something like that?”

Meiling grimaced. And kept walking to the palace.

“I hope we never find out.”

///////

Meimei was looking off when we met up, all tense angry. I asked her what was wrong, but got a snapped “nothing” and decided to leave it.

The next few hours passed in silence, but we didn’t find anything on my root. I wasn’t bothered, and the hours of reading had bled some of the tension out of Meimei’s shoulders.

“....it wasn’t nothing.”

I gestured for her to continue.

“I can smell qi.”

Huh, so thats how she followed me.

“...and theres a cultivator in Verdant hill. He smells like oil and blood. He had nasty eyes too.”

Well, thats not good.

“I’m probably just being paranoid… but I’m worried about Meihua. Shes in the palace right now, so there should be no problems.. But…”

What? Sure, Meihua was kind of pretty, but some douche just going full young master on her?

Meimei looked stressed and worried.

“C’mon” I said, after we put the scrolls back away. “Lets go pick up Meihua and ...Tingfeng? We’ll have dinner together.”

“....Fine.” she muttered, still looking stressed. That wouldn’t do.

“My Lady Hong Meiling, would you do me the honour of dining with me tonight?”

Her lips quirked up this time, and she gave me a halfhearted glare.

“Of course. Jin Rou, I would be honoured to dine with you.” Ouch, I could feel the sarcasm.

It didn’t take long to reach the palace. Meihua seemed delighted to see us, and immediately clasped arms with Meimei, while I nodded at Tingfeng.

We set off for dinner.

///////

“And then she called me, what was it again? A “wretched, pig-headed shitmonkey?” It was great!”

I slung my arm around Meimei’s shoulders and pulled her close while Tingfeng howled with laughter. Meimei rammed her elbow ineffectually into my side, so red I thought she might have a stroke.

“Ah, I remember when she called me a worthless slug sniffing around a lotus flower! She was right, back then, and those words gave me the strength to earn my position, if only to prove her harsh words wrong.”

Tingfeng grinned at Meimei, walking with Meihua arm in arm back to the inn. Meimei had given up trying to escape, and was now just glaring half-heartedly at me.

She suddenly froze, and paled. My back itched.

Three men suddenly appeared in front of us, looking for trouble.

...were we getting mugged?

The leader, in silks, smiled. “I am Zang Li of the Shrouded Mountain sect. You girl, be honoured. I shall allow you to warm my bed tonight.”

I frowned. Something didn’t feel right.

“Do his lackeys have qi?” I whispered to Meimei. She sniffed, and nodded. I could feel how tense she was where my hand was on her arm.

“Not much, compared to you.” she bit back tersely.

Well, that settled it then. If they had less than me, they were definitely not part of the Shrouded Mountain.

I took my arm off Meimei.

“No, she won’t be doing that.” I said simply.

“You dare oppose the Shrouded Mountain sect?” The cultivator sneered.

I scoffed. “You aren’t Shrouded Mountain. And I doubt they’ll be happy about you taking their name, buddy.”

The cultivator glared, and he snapped his fingers. His buddies drew swords and jumped at me, but hell, even I was more than a match for them. They were certainly slower than that big wolf I brained for Meiling. Poor thing had the mange or something, and it was still better than these guys..

I gave both of them a good smack, and then started towards fuckboy playing at being a young master. Qi exploded around him.

I paused, a bit worried at his development.

“You bastard, you’re courting death--!” He roared.” Behold the technique that slew a cultivator in the profound realm! My ultimate spear!”

Heaven Piercing Lance!

Oh shit he was fast-- I didn’t have time to block, and gathered my qi in defense for the first time in months.

He hit me in the chest--

And his fingers bent backwards. Like the wrong way backwards.

He fell back and started screaming.

The fuck?

.how much of a shitter can you be?!

I gave him a good smack for being an idiot, then gathered them all up, and took them to jail. Tingfeng came with me.

I hope I can convince the captain of the guard to just say I was a wandering cultivator. I don’t want any douche nozzles to come try and find me in case he had friends.

//////

Meiling stared around the street. Grass and flowers had grown up from around every stone. The trees, preparing for the fall, had all grown blossoms. The wooden buildings closest to the impact point had started growing branches, with tiny leaves poking off them.

“....Told you my nose hadn’t gone off.” Meiling said, feeling a bit faint.

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Casualfarmer

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