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We had made terrible time today. With the hangovers it was expected, really, and I didn’t mind. With the harvest in, I was in no rush, and this relaxed pace was nice too. I got to spend my time talking to Meimei about medicine. It was a subject I wasn’t well versed in, but it was nice listening to her enthusiastic explanations.

It was actually one of the things the people here were strangely advanced in. Hell, she knew what germs were, and that threw me for a loop. Apparently some cultivator messing around with The Thousand-Li View had discovered them. And then actually shared the discovery.

Of course, most cultivators used this ability to make better poisons and bioweapons, but hey, that first dude?

Respect.

And then Meimei combined it with an explanation about the humors.

Which are probably actually a thing here, so I would be deferring to her experience.

Actually, I’m going to see if I can buy some medical scrolls. Jin Rou wasn’t interested in this kind of stuff, but I was.

As the day continued, everybody eventually got some more pep in their step, but I’m 100% expecting some form of retaliation for speaking so loudly all day. Yun Ren and Gou Ren were giving me the stink eye and muttering to each other..

But now, we were camped out near a set of familiar hills, and I was sitting on a rock.

I like this rock. It's a very nice rock. It's got a lovely view through the trees, is actually pretty comfortable… and it's where I first kissed Meiling.

Or she kissed me. That part of the night is a little bit fuzzy.

Point is, its a nice, solid rock, with a great view, and I’ve got a beautiful woman sitting in my lap.

Whats not to love?

“Jin, are you paying attention?” Meimei asked me, turning around so she could look at me with her nose scrunched up in annoyance. Her freckled face was inches from my own. She had my pipa held the proper way, and was trying to teach me how to play as well. Granted, by her own admission, she wasn’t particularly good either. But she had been enthusiastic when I asked her to teach me tonight.

I leaned down and kissed her. Her lovely violet eyes went wide, shocked into inaction for a moment, before she closed them and leaned into the kiss.

I slipped my hand into her robe, and placed it against her warm, bare stomach. There was a sharp intake of breath, and then her hand came to rest on my own, and she pushed into my lips all the harder.

Her stomach was very soft and warm.

I pulled back, and she kept her eyes closed a moment.

“Sorry. I was distracted by the beautiful view.” I apologised.

Her lips twitched into a slightly crooked smile.

“You’re the only person besides my father to say that.”

I grinned. “I am superior to all other men!” I declared pompously, “It is no wonder I have a superior eye for beauty as well!!”

She giggled, and turned back around, laying against my chest.

“Are there other cultivators as strange as you?” She asked me.

“I like to think I’m the normal one.” I told her honestly.

///////

While yesterday was a bit of a wash, everybody was bright and chipper today, and in full “tradition” mode. We marched instead of trudged, Meiling’s dad had borrowed my pipa and was playing it properly, and everyone else had the lanterns out, but currently unlit.

Yao Che led us onwards, while I was positioned to the right of the bride’s horse. A position of great honour, and the “guard” position, considering I was supposed to be the one to deal with any threats to the bride.Such a place would normally be occupied by Yun Ren, but I had been asked, so I did it.

I had even been given a sword. I knew three things to do with a sword. Stick ‘em with the pointy end, grab it by the blade and use the crossguard as a bludgeon, or unscrew the pommel and throw it at the person. Then End Them Rightly.

In other words, disregard the sword and get to punching.

It was mid day when Meimei suddenly called me, hurrying to my side.

“Theres a mass of qi in the woods moving towards us,” She whispered, “It smells...sharp and fiery.”

I nodded. “I’ll go check it out.” I promised. Meihua looked at me worriedly, but I just smiled reassuringly.

She relaxed, and bowed her head in my direction.

I left. There was a steep hill that I slid down, into the forest, heading in the direction Meimei gave me.

Off the beaten path, the land quickly became wild and untamed. There were giant trees, like redwood sized. I had a few of them on my property, in the back, and they were just so pretty I wasn’t going to cut any of them down. There was also a light smattering of undergrowth, and the light that leaked in from the canopy illuminated it with little dots. Otherwise, it was pretty dark.

There was an odd rumbling, and I changed direction, heading towards it.

There, I found my quarry.

It was definitely a spirit beast. It was some kind of bear, but red and gold. A Blaze Bear, I think? It also had some massive claws, and each time it breathed, little gouts of flame came from it’s nostrils.

It saw me, and it’s eyes narrowed. It rose up onto its hind legs, rearing to it’s twelve foot height, and roared to the heavens, spewing flame out of its mouth and igniting it’s fur.

I swallowed. Okay, time to prove my worth. My first real fight in nearly a year. That weak cultivator didn’t count.

I took a deep breath, and drew on my qi, reinforcing my limbs, and wrapping it around my body in a protective shell.

With a sharp breath outwards, I got into a stance, my qi echoing out from where I stomped my foot. I got ready to move into action, glaring at my foe--

The bear’s eyes bugged out, and it toppled backwards, it’s flames extinguishing. It rolled backwards awkwardly, and came back up onto its knees, with it’s forehead pushed against the ground.

Huh?

I stared at the bear as it’s head went up and down, hitting the dirt.

Was...was the bear doing dogeza? Or I guess it’s kowtowing here…

…….

Smack smack smack went the bear’s head.

“Hey.” I eventually said, “Can you understand me?”

The bear stopped slamming it’s head into the ground, and nodded frantically.

Well, this was awkward.

“Uh… stay away from people and the road, okay? It's dangerous.”

The bear frantically nodded again.

“...good talk. You can go now.”

The bear got up and fled deeper into the forests, glancing over it’s shoulder to make sure I wasn’t following

“....Bye?”

The bear kept running.

That… didn’t make any sense. Was it young? I was shit at sensing qi, I knew that much. This was the Azure Hills, the weakest place on the continent.

I guess Meimei hadn’t been concerned either. I’d have to ask her about it later.

I grimaced as a smell hit me, and looked at the...soiled patch on the forest floor.

Did... did it crap itself?

I shook my head, letting out a bark of laughter, and pushed through the dense underbrush back towards our caravan. It was quite a bit thicker here, but it was a clearing, so it made sense. More light, more plants.

In no time at all, I was back on the path, and beside Meihua. Everyone looked at me expectantly.

“Just a Blaze Bear. Don’t worry, I don’t think it will bother anybody else.” I reassured them, and the rest of them cheered.

“Haha! Thats our Brother Jin!” Yao Che shouted.

////////

The gates of Verdant Hill finally came into view in the dim twilight.

Our paper lanterns lit the way as we walked on either side of Meihua’s horse. The effect of the light caught her glossy black hair and red robe, producing an odd, ethereal effect. Like this, she was enchantingly beautiful.

I wondered how Meimei would look like this. I hoped it took until nightfall for her to get to my place. This procession was very nice looking. I wish I had a camera to record it. Or a recording crystal.

Recording crystals are expensive though. Like, enough to buy another set of my land at least. And while I knew kind of how cameras worked, there was no possible way I would be able to recreate one.

Maybe...I can ask for a few odd jobs during the winter in town. Or I’ll go find some more foxes and sell them to those heavenly furs guys.

The gates, normally closed at night, were opened for us. The guards had known we were coming, and it wasn’t too late.

People on either side of the street cheered at the spectacle as we wound through town, until we came to a small compound. Bigger than most houses, and the people within were definitely well off.

Zhuge Tingfeng and his parents greeted us at the entrance, as well as two servants.

“My friends! Please partake of my hospitality!” Tingfeng’s father called. “I know your journey has been long, and I bid you rest and recover, for the houses of Zhuge and Yao shall be joined tomorrow!”

There was some soup with dumplings served to us, as we entered the little walled compound. Meihua would get an actual room, while the rest of us were camping again.

I sighed, and lay down to sleep. Big day tomorrow.

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