Rice. The staple of the world. White rice is delicious. But like all grains, it is a supreme amount of effort. After you husk it, then you have to pound it even more to get the bran and germ off.
White rice also has a lack of several important vitamins. With removing the hull of the rice, you rid it of vitamin B1, essential to the process of the human body. And then, with a lack of B1, you get beriberi. Shortness of breath, swollen legs, nerve damage. And finally, death.
Nasty way to go, if you ask me.
So well I was perfectly capable of swiftly husking and polishing my rice, I kept myself back, and decided only to do half white and half brown.
Even with my cultivator enhanced constitution, fully harvesting my rice was a lot of work. Threshing, husking, polishing… I was two days in already, and still had a lot to go. But then again, my yields had vastly exceeded my expectations. I had half an acre of rice on the hill. I was about half done, and had already filled fourty-two 40 kilogram bags, the standard measure here. I would need to make more just to hold my stuff!
Truthfully, I didn’t know how much I would need for the winter, so better too much than too little, but Jesus.
Still, nothing was wasted. The husks and the stalks I would turn into fertilizer, or occasionally kindling. I was actually looking forward to winter. From Jin’s memories, it was significantly milder than the ones I was used to. But then again, I’m used to -20 celsius, with dips down into the -40s, and massive amounts of snowfall. It even ended before April! Wonder of wonders!
Oh, man, I was going to build the biggest snowman ever! It would be The General That Commands The Winter, Bane of Cultivators everywhere!
I just hoped one of my carrots would be big enough for a truly giant schnoz. You can’t have a snowman without a carrot.
I breathe in, and then out.
The sounds of the farm washed over me. The oinks of Peppa and Chunky, the clucks of the hens, the chirps of the newly hatched chicks. The little ones had come into the world just last week, and already they were making nuisances of themselves, and running Big D ragged making sure none of them died.
Ah, This is the life.
“Brother Jin certainly lives far enough away.” Gou Ren complained as they walked with their few tools towards where Jin had said his home was. His thick eyebrows were drawn down in annoyance, and his scowl nearly reached his bushy sideburns. “And does he even need help with his harvest? Hes only been there seven months, he can't have too much to bring in.”
Gou Ren had been grumbling about the walk since they started-- but Gou Ren always grumbled, so it was just something everybody in Hong Yaowu put up with. He always ended up doing what he was tasked with, though, so it was tolerated by most.
“Ah, but brother, if he is already done, then all we’ve done is take a walk, and then enjoyed another’s hospitality.” Yun Ren said cheerfully, ever the pragmatist. His eyes were locked in his perpertual squint, and his ponytial bounched with each step. He was slightly shorter than his younger brother, but Gou Ren was one of the taller men in the village.“Besides. We need to escort our flower here, and keep her purity safe, as our illustrious chief has commanded.”
“Meiling? A flower?" Gou Ren scoffed with a teasing grin, retreading an old game between them, "The only plant she resembles is a bunch of thistles. If you embraced her, you’d only get pricked.”
Meiling scowled. “I’ll remember that remark the next time you beg me to cure your ills, Little Gou. I seem to remember somebody moaning in their bed roll over a stomach ache, and begging me to save them from death-- when it turned out to be a build up of gas.”
Gou Ren’s face flushed while his brother started laughing. “Hey! You said you wouldn’t tell anybody about that!”
“Oh, did I?” Meiling pretended to ponder, “I remember no such promise, after all, I’m just a bunch of thistles, poking people~”
Yun Ren pretended to sigh and shook his head. “You should know better than to go to a battle of wits when you’re unarmed, brother.”
Gou Ren spluttered at his brother’s betrayal, while Meiling and Yun Ren shared a smile. He huffed, and started walking faster.
Meiling was certain they were close, because she had started to smell the faint scent of earth and the harvest. It was an invigorating smell, full of life, and had none of the faint acrid tang most qi had.
“Ah, I think I see a fence!” Gou Ren declared, and indeed, they were swiftly approaching a barrier at the end of the road. “I think we’re here.”
It was a sturdy fence, at the bottom of a hill, composed of large logs, stripped of their branches and driven into the earth, and then cross-hatched with planks.
Meiling looked bemused at the sign hung prominently beside the open gate.
““Beware of Chicken?”” Yun Ren asked. “Am I reading that right?” He asked Meiling, and she nodded.
Both brothers laughed. “Brother Jin has an odd sense of humor,” Gou Ren declared, “Why would anyone fear a chicken?”
Something thumped to the ground in front of them.
It was a hawk’s head, it’s eyes plucked out.
They looked from the hawk’s head, back up to the top of the fence. A magnificent rooster, wearing a fox fur vest, cocked it’s head to the side and stared at them.
The brothers yelped.
Meiling gaped. It was half hidden by the scent of earth, but the rooster smelled like… the moon!? How was the moon even a smell?
The Chicken seemed to decide something, and hopped down from the fence to land in the middle of the gate.
Then it swept into a graceful bow, it’s wings splaying out to the sides. It stayed that way, and was watching them.
Meiling realised what it was looking for.
“Yun Ren, Gou Ren, bow.” She muttered to them, and dipped into a bow of greeting.
“What, to the chicken?!” Gou Ren asked.
“It's a Spirit Beast. Bow.”
The Rooster stood once more, satisfied and nodding it’s head. Then it walked to the side of the fence, and held its wing out, to beckon them in.
Gou Ren looked at it warily.
“Who is afraid of a chicken.” Yun Ren mocked him as they walked onto the land.
"Shut up.” Gou Ren hissed.
It bowed once more, once they were inside the fence, a quick dip of it’s head, and then walked in front of them, as they walked up the small hill.
And that was where the real surprise lay.
“Gods above, this was all forest and stone last year! Some of the rocks were bigger than a house!” Yun Ren gasped.
They gazed upon gentle, rolling hills and fields, flush with verdant grass. A river wound it’s way down a hill filled with terraced rice paddies, some with still drying rice in it. It would not look out of place in a land that had been cultivated for decades, not mere months.
A small house, and a larger storage shed sat on top of the hill, along with another smaller fence. Chickens clucked, pigs oinked, and they could hear the steady pounding of a person husking rice.
Meiling took in the air. It was heavenly. It was clean and pure, mixed with something lightly spiced and fiery, and the everpresent smell of life.
“Look at that rice,” Gou Ren muttered. “I’ve never seen that much rice in one field before, and it’s only half done. What kind of man is Brother Jin, to do all of this himself?!”
Their musings were interrupted by the chicken letting out a mighty cry.
The pounding stopped, and Jin’s voice came from within the house, speaking in another language, the one he had told Meiling about.
“You tell ‘em Bi De!”
The chicken crowed again, and Jin stepped out.
Meiling stared. His shirt was off, exposing tanned, rippling muscles slick with sweat. Jin’s look of contentment changed to happiness. A bright grin overtook his face.
“Meimei! Brother Yun Ren, Brother Gou Ren! Welcome to the Fa Ram!”
“Brother Jin! We’ve come to see if you needed help with the harvest!” Yun Ren called.
Jin looked surprised, and then genuinely grateful.
Gou Ren poked her in the back, and she jolted. “Stop drooling, Meimei.” he scolded, amused. Red crawled up her face.
Jin laughed. “I wouldn’t say no to some help, but what about your own harvest?”
Gou Ren shrugged. “They’ll be fine, I reckon, or else Elder Hong wouldn’t have sent us.”
“Well, if you’re sure, I should be done in a day or two at this rate.” A day or two?! Meiling thought incredulously. “I was planning on heading up to the village anyways after I was finished, so I didn’t miss Meihua’s wedding.”.
“Well, then, we’re at your disposal, Brother Jin.” Yun Ren declared.
Jin shook his head. “You’ve just arrived! Its not much, but I’ll give you the grand tour!”
And so they trekked over the land, looking closer at his rice paddies, the stones carefully arranged by size, and a gravel pit, and the beginnings of a bridge over the river. While they walked, they regaled each other with stories of their time apart: a mere month, but there were some things to talk about.
Even if some of it was needling each other.
“A thistle, huh?” Jin asked with a smile. “I can see it. Medicinal. Tough enough to grow anywhere. And really, they are truly beautiful flowers, the same colour as her eyes.”
The Brothers looked at each other in shock, while Meiling covered her face with her hands, such was her embarrassment.
Yun Ren gasped exaggeratedly, and clasped his hands in respect. “Brother Jin, Your skill with complements humbles this Yun Ren”
“Brother Jin, Your Tongue is silver and quick! Teach this unworthy Gou Ren your ways!” The other brother jokingly demanded.
They laughed as they continued walking, wandering down the small river.
“What about that? Brother Jin, are you raising another house?” Yun Ren asked, pointing to slabs of stone, and planks of wood over the first, smaller river.
At this, Jin flushed.
“...place isn’t big enough for more than one person.” he muttered, and his eyes flicked to Meiling, before darting away again.
Meiling swallowed thickly, her heart pounding in her chest. Building a house for a family.
“Yeah, building a house! Anyway! Here are the Lowly Spiritual Herbs--” He said, starting up his tour again.
Meiling forced herself into motion, following along behind Jin, and out of the extremely pleasant images his words had conjuered. She hoped when she lived here that the spirit herbs would be a bit further away from the house, though. They smelled rather overwhelmingly of fire and cinders.
Then she realised what she was thinking, and pinched her leg. When I live here?!
Jin was tireless. He did not even work at the speed beyond that of a highly skilled mortal, its just that he kept working. His hands moved at the same speed. His breathing was steady and even, and the work that needed to be done just disappeared.
Meiling weaved more bags to pack away the rice in, while Gou Ren transported the dried rice to him, and Yun Ren helped harvest vegetables.
And then, Jin made for them dinner. Strips of chicken filled with Spiritual herbs, squash, mushrooms and some spices, then crusted in leftover rice, and fried until crispy. It was served with baked carrots, radish, and freshly harvested rice.
It was the most delicious meal any of them had ever eaten.
When those that shared the form of his Great Master had come, Bi De knew he was vindicated. None of them had the power and Majesty of his Lord. They were inferiors, and obviously here to give tribute.
Still, there was no reason to be rude. He knew that guests were to be respected and cared for, unless they did something obscene They arrived at the opening to the Pillars, as was proper, and they exchanged proper courtesies, so they were allowed upon his Great Master’s Blessed Land.
They were similarly appropriate with their awe, for the Great Master was peerless upon this earth. And he was vindicated too, in having given them face by bowing to them, for his master bowed to them too. If he had not, he would have been greatly shamed. To not have the Disciple bow to honoured guests of his Great Master was utterly unforgivable.
With his Great Master, they too toiled in the land. They were utterly inferior to his Great Master, of course, but they worked with skill, and heeded his Lord’s words well.
They were worthy of respect, in that regard.
And then, as the time for the evening meal come, the Great Master took the plumpest of the females, one from the beginning, and slew her, as he slew the other birds that flew and sup on.
Bi De was shocked. His master had slain one of his own! Such a thing was beyond his comprehension.
He was shaken greatly by the act, so greatly, that he fled to the Great Pillars of the Fa Ram to contemplate this development. Would he be next?
He contemplated deeply the reasons for his Great Master to consume one of the Females, and found that such a thing was not as shocking as he first believed.
They were all his Great Master’s. They lived upon his Blessed Land, they supped upon his benevolence. But the Female had made no use of his master’s overwhelming generosity. She had grown fat, and had some amount of qi, but was not as he was. She had not ascended. She was as the interlopers he supped on, that ate of his master’s essence.
This was merely the Great Master’s essence returning to him, to once more nourish the new generation. Those who possessed skill, and the luck of the heavens, would ascend as he had. Those that did not would return to the Great Master.
Bi De nodded to himself, satisfied with his understanding. He would not be callously killed by his Lord.
He returned to His Great Master, and was given his measure of Heavenly Herbs, and he had affection lavished upon him, as all the other nights.
Then, his master vacated his home, and gave his female guest great face by allowing her to lie in his bed , while he went to lie under a storage area, and the other males lied upon bed rolls outside.
Bi De prepared himself to assume the night watch, when the female stole out of the house, and towards his master. At first, he thought treachery, for only wicked beasts slunk around at night.
He followed her, and his Heavenly blades formed when she approached his Great Master’s prone form.
She woke him gently, and then slipped into his bedroll.
Bi De’s blades guttered out, as he comprehended the circumstances. She was not just A female, she was The Great Master’s female.
This had been a night of many revelations. Though he hoped Chun Ke and Pi Pa would not ascend, and instead be eaten. They were most annoying creatures.
A finger to silence me followed by soft lips on mine.
Her warmth beside me.
“Only for a little.” She whispered.
Our lips met again.
It wasn't for a little. I woke up to a shock of green tinted hair, and a warmth on my chest. Meimei was beside me, asleep and at peace.
I hoped to wake up to that face again.