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I wasn’t getting to sleep.

I tossed and turned on my bedroll, ill thoughts swirling through my mind.

That incident with the bear bothered me. I had talked to Meimei about the bear when she came to bid me goodnight, and she just said I was a lot stronger than it.

Jin Rou hadn’t been very strong. At least, he didn’t think he was very strong, and he got beaten up so badly he died. Strong enough to drive off weak spirit beasts, yeah, but it still should have been a fight. If this was a story, it should have been a hard fought victory. I’d eventually defeat the Blaze Bear with guile, or my technique, and then eat it’s spirit core and get the Blazing Bear scripture that I would then cultivate into a power that shook the heavens!

Or something.

I’d have settled for Meimei fussing over some injuries. Though it would more realistically be her dad, he was better with medicine, or so she said.

Instead, a spirit beast that I should have had a hard time with literally shit itself when I called on my qi, and then begged for its life. Even if it was young, it shouldn’t have done that.

Not unless I was so far beyond it it couldn’t comprehend beating me.

But… I wasn’t cultivating. Okay, I was cultivating, but I wasn’t cultivating. I’m not sitting around circling my qi, I’m a farmer. I use my qi like a tool, and by the end of most days I’m completely empty. There were no breakthroughs I noticed, no bottlenecks…

And I hadn’t even tried to gauge my own power.

The scent of flowers on the breeze; The suddenly thick underbrush around my legs--

I rolled onto my side, and called some of my qi into my hand, pushing it into the granite tiles around my bedroll.

Nothing happened.

The stones got a little reinforced, I guess, but when I put my qi into my plants nothing else happened either.

If plants grow too fast, they deplete nutrients from the soil.

We give to the land, and the land gives back.

Was I unconsciously holding back? Every time I put it into my crops, it was deliberate. I wanted to reinforce and nurture. To make them better, instead of making them grow faster, because I didn’t want to damage my home.

I wondered, if I just let it go?

My qi bubbled and swirled--

Nope.

I cut off the qi immediately, clenching my hand into a fist, and rolling onto my back.

I was afraid of what I would see.

I gave up that life. I wanted nothing to do with the powers that be of this world. I had enough strength to keep people safe from minor spirit beasts.

All those powerful cultivators, killing and destroying without a care in the world. Crushing villages as collateral damage. Seeking out others with power, just to fight them.

That was it.

Trees, strangling entire cities. The mountains venting their terrible wrath. The very Earth, rising up and going to war.

An icy finger of dread crawled up my spine.

Myself, in the middle of a field of carnage, and staring greedily at the heavens.

The strong get dragged back into the game for heaven. I’d like to think of myself as a decent person. But what would I do with that sort of power?

The thought unnerved me greatly.

“Jin?” Meimei asked with a sleepy voice, rubbing at her eye, “Is something wrong? Your qi smells like..” At this, her nose wrinkled, “ Overboiled rice and peat.”

I let out a nervous laugh.

“Yeah, sorry, just a bad dream.” I replied, waving her off, “Go back to bed, Meimei.”

She squinted at me, considering my words, and then just kept walking forwards until she hit my legs.

She keeled over and thumped beside me onto my bredroll.

“Mei-”

Her arms wrapped around my head, and she pulled me into her chest. I could hear the steady thump-thump of her heart.

She smelled like a herb garden.

“Sleep,” she grunted at me.

I let out a breath, and some of the tension drained out of my shoulders.

Underneath, my qi burbled unpleasantly.

/////////

Meimei’s warmth was gone when I woke up. I had obviously slept in a bit.

But there was something else in my bed. Something hairy, and that smelled like a warm animal.

I heard muffled giggling.

I opened my eyes, and the goat stared back at me, chewing its cud. It looked spectacularly bored with this situation.

You know, I’m not even mad. I’m impressed. How the hell did they slip this into my arms without me waking up?

The goat looked at me, and continued chewing.

“Have a good rest, my darling?” I asked it, and somebody choked trying to hold in his laughter.

I stood, and picked up the goat around its middle, holding it under one arm. The rest of the people from Hong Yaowu were staring at me, and trying to hold back laughter.

“To breakfast, my dear. And speak not of our tryst to Meiling!” I declared dramatically.

The dam broke. Gou Ren fell onto his back and started howling with laughter.

My betrothed came out of the house to see what the fuss was about, and raised an eyebrow at me.

“Oh no, she found us! We must away!” I started in faux panic.

Her hand met her face, but she was clearly amused.

“Jin…” She sighed, “Wash your face well.”

Ah, they’d drawn stuff on me too, huh?

I just shook my head with a smile. They got me.

“Whose goat is this, anyways?” I asked.

////////

Gou Ren didn’t actually know whose goat it was. He thought it was the Zhuge’s, due to him finding it in their compound, but they insisted it wasn’t theirs.

So after I finished washing the dicks off my face (humans never change) I set off to find the owner. I didn’t have to do anything for the wedding yet either, and had been shooed off from helping in the kitchen.

So here I was. A goat under my arm, placidly chewing some cud, and Meimei’s little brother on my shoulders, asking around town if anybody had lost a goat.

Gonna be honest here, not how I expected my day to be going. I thought I was here for a wedding, not a side-quest.

But again, I was in no rush. It was kinda fun.

I handed a skewer of meat up to Xian jr. He had said that they smelled really good, so what the hell.

“Thank you, Senior Brother!” The eight year old cheered, biting into the glazed chicken and mushrooms.

I found a place to sit, and deposited our goat. I handed her a carrot, and she took it with the same placid expression.

Xian Jr slid from my shoulders to my lap, kicking his legs as he ate. I absently wipe some of the sauce on his cheek away with my thumb.

“Ho there!” A man that looks a bit twitchy calls, “I see you found my goat!”

“Probably. What’s your brand look like?” I ask. The goat doesn’t actually have a brand. I’m just bullshitting, but he doesn’t know I am.

Mister Twitchy freezes, sweat breaking out on his forehead.

“Maybe… not my goat after all. I’ll just be going!” He says, turning around, and walking the other way.

Yeah, I thought so buddy. Well, we’ve got about an hour left until we have to be back for the ceremony.

I lift Xian jr back up to my shoulders, and turn to the goat.

“Well, lets keep looking.” The goat gets up, and shakes itself. We set off down the street.

After half an hour of more wandering, we come to a little shack at the edge of town. The goat, which had been content to walk behind me, sets off with its hooves clopping.

“Ah! Lan Fan, you devil! I was wondering where you had gone off to!” I hear an elderly voice shout, and an old woman stalks out of her shack, waving a broom threateningly at the goat.

Lan Fan looks unimpressed. The old, grey-haired and hunched woman harrumphs, and then turns to us. One of her eyes is grey and blind. Both are narrowed at us.

“And do I have you young gentlemen to thank for bringing this vile beast back to me?”

I make the appropriate gesture of respect with my hands. “Yes, grandmother, she had wandered into the Zhuge compound, and I sought to return her to her rightful place.”

The old woman frowns, and grabs my hand, squinting up at my face. Her good eye rolls around crazily for a second, and then she focuses on me again.

She harrumphs again.

“You boy, stay here.” she demands, and wanders into her shack.

I shrug, and wait.

She swiftly returns with a kitten, which she shoves into my arms.

“Take good care of it.” She demands. “A good farmer should have a cat.”

And then she leaves.

I stare blankly at the stripy orange kitten.

This… was a very strange side quest. I wonder what I trade the kitten for. The sword of +3?

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