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Bi De gazed upon those that took the noble form of the Great Master. From his perch up in the trees, they took no notice of him.

He was tempted to fly down and offer them greeting, but something stayed his wings. Experience, that harsh teacher, had taught him both the folly of trusting too easily, and acting too rashly.

These beings that took the form of the Great Master did not act like they should. Their clothes were tattered. Their eyes were hard, and full of foul intent. They slunk, like the blackfurs did. Like Chow Ji did.

He could not make his decision yet, so he observed.

He watched them closely, as they sniffed around what was the Great Master’s.

////////////////

It had been another great day. Who doesn’t like going tobogganing with friends? Hell, it was better than the ski resort I'd been to. Mostly because I could just kind of run up the hill. Eventually Meimei and Yun Ren got so tired they didn’t want to walk up anymore, so I just pulled them up.

I was training my dading abilities. 100 reps of “pull the kids to the top”. Heh.

Our lunch today had been some japanese fare, in the form of onigiri filled with fish. I didn’t have any seaweed, so I ended up using the green part of a leek. It wasn’t the right flavour, but it was still pretty good. They were grilled over a quick fire, to char the rice a little bit, and heat them up on the still cold day. Chunky and Peppa got their share of rice, and veggies.

But all good things come to an end. It was starting to get late again, so we were needed back home

Meimei and Yun Ren were pretty tuckered out. Gou Ren and Chunky, however, had to be coaxed back to the house. They were still bright eyed and raring to go, even after hours of running around. But I managed to corral them eventually, and we set off for home. My only regret is that there was no hot chocolate.

The one damper on the otherwise perfect day. I swear though, I'll find a cocoa tree somewhere. Maple trees exist, so I’m reasoning I could probably find cocoa pods. Considering they were considered medicinal, and a bit of an aphrodisiac, the chances of finding them in xianxia land were pretty high.

And then, I shall have hot chocolate.

Peppa and Chunky hooked themselves back into my sleigh, and we began the trek back home. My sleigh was coming along nicely. I definitely still needed some good jingle bells. And probably a horse, but Chunky and Peppa seemed to like the whole thing. Now all I needed was some antlers, and they’d be like Max from the Grinch. Soon, Santa would descend on Hong Yaowu-ville and bring gifts for all the good boys and girls!

Sure, none of the religious reasons existed, but I always held a sentimental attachment to what the holiday had come to mean. It was the same reasons people here celebrated, mostly. Family, friends, and thanksgiving.

I hoped this would be the kids first taste with gingerbread too. China probably has something like it, but I couldn’t tell ya.

I was still planning for my “Great Christmas Caper” when we got back to the house. There was nobody else around, with Big D and Tigger off somewhere. I fed my pigs their dinner, and started thinking about some other important questions.

Like what was for our dinner.

“Any votes on what to eat tonight?” I asked.

The Xong brothers looked at each other and nodded.

“Let us make you food tonight, brother Jin.” Yun Ren said with a smile.

I have to admit, it was pretty cool to see them make hand-pulled noodles. They were fast. Considering they also bought some chili oil, and salted beef, this was going to be a great dinner.

I eyed my small stockpile of spirit herbs. These would be the last until the new grow was finished. But to hell with it. This was a meal that deserved the extra oomph.

They somehow found their way onto the cutting board. And into the noodles.

Dinner was delicious, if a bit more oily than I was used to. The extra zest was noticeable.

Gou Ren sighed contentedly, after we finished eating. “Things always taste so much better when we’re here.” He mused to himself.

This got nods from Meimei and Yun Ren. Huh, Really? I personally thought that the food at Hong Yaowu was really good… but that may just be the fact that most of the time it was Meimei’s cooking. Shes good. Real good.

I collected the dishes, and went to wash up. Sure enough, the carp was ready and waiting for me. I was a little worried how the oil was going to affect it, but he seemed not to care, other than to suck on the plates even harder.

Gluttonous little thing.

When I got back to the living room, Meimei had my pipa out.

“Could you play, like you played for me?” She asked with a hopeful smile.

This is how I knew Meimei was absolutely superior to all other women.

She liked John Denver.

////////////

The man grinned as he heard the stomping feet and laughter coming from the farmhouse. Yes, these people were going to be ripe for the taking. Their guards were down, and judging by the house, they were absolutely loaded.

Rich enough to build that monstrosity made out of snow.

And if he wasn’t mistaken, he could hear a woman’s laughter mixed with the men’s. This was just too perfect. It had been so long since he had a woman.

He turned, going to report to the boss, when he found a rooster. It cocked it’s head to the side, and stared at him in the creepy way every chicken stared at people.

His stomach growled. He hadn’t eaten much today. Nobody would notice the chicken disappearing. Grinning, he reached out for it’s neck to wring it. His fist closed around the rooster’s throat, and squeezed.

The rooster looked spectacularly unimpressed. He reached out with his beak, and plucked off the offending arm, tossing it aside.

The man gaped stupidly at the stump where his arm once was. The pain hit. He opened his mouth to start screaming.

His head hit the snowy ground with a dull thud.

The rooster retracted his outstretched wing. No blood had stained him, and this filth was unworthy of his spurs.

His suspicions were confirmed. Those that sent scouts ahead, that slunk in the shadows, and offered no respect to the Great Master’s Pillars, were interlopers.

And Interlopers had no place in Great Fa Ram.

He called the disciples.

From the trees, a stripy orange cat descended, walking behind and to his right. She prowled with unnatural grace, her footsteps not damaging a single snowflake, and leaving no footprints behind her. She eyed the rooster with disdain, that he dared to command her, but obeyed nonetheless.

A large boar emerged from the gloom. His face was battle-scarred. In contrast to the cat, the snow parted as if fleeing before his unstoppable might. It vacated his presence, lest it be destroyed utterly.

From the left, a second pig emerged. She was smaller than the first, and moved with precision, stepping gently through the snow. She paused a moment, sniffing at the corpse. And then with a single, dainty bite--

Consumed it whole.

She sneered with disgust. The things she did for Fa Ram.

On her back, a nervous little rat sat. She wrung her paws and fidgeted, checking and rechecking her little satchels of herbs, ready to provide aid to her fellow disciples. But the little one’s resolve was set. She would follow this path until the end.

The Rooster gazed over their forms, and was glad. He bowed in respect for the other’s resolve. The cat sneered. The rat took a bracing breath. The pig raised an eyebrow. The boar oinked happily.

They were prepared. Bi De, the First Disciple of Great Fa Ram, turned his gaze to where the interlopers gathered.

With great dignity, the rooster began his march. Each stride was regal, yet humble. His stature was kingly, and yet not tyrannical. His presence was as bright as the moon, his intent, deep as the darkest night.

Behind him, the might of Fa Ram followed.

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