I woke up feeling just as great as every day, save for some weights on my body, and a certain dampness on my chest. My eyes opened, and I looked down.
I was missing my shirt, and I saw a shock of green-tinted hair. Meimei was still asleep, face down on my chest and drooling, with a contented smile on her face.
I chuckle, and rub her bare back. I pause. Her shirt was missing too. I absently pull Gou Ren’s leg off my throat where he's flopped down, in only his loincloth, and extract my leg from Yun Ren, who is at least clothed.
I smile at the memory of our increasing rowdiness that eventually led to… this. I’ll admit, I was just a little buzzed, and not absolutely hammered like my friends after three bottles, but I went along for the ride anyways.
Including the part where I had a Xong brother on each shoulder, while Meimei sat on their shoulders, forming some kind of strange human...shape. Like a cheerleading performance. While Meimei double-fisted rice wine.
Drunk Meimei was hilarious. She turned into a dirty old man. She busted out that spectacularly vulgar drinking song about a brothel madam and a donkey, complete with pelvic thrusts. The Xong Brothers were in tears from her song, and I wasn’t much better, because she started getting handsy half way through.
I drew the line at her demanding me to pour what was left of our booze down my chest so she could lick it off.
...Okay, I didn’t draw the line there. Don’t judge me. It was hot.
Ah, good times. My hands circle around Meimei’s back, and I lift her up from our position on the floor.
She's very light, Meimei. I could hold her with one arm and not feel the weight. I gently carry her to my bed, and put her under the covers. I give her a kiss on the forehead, and she murmurs happily.
I itched my back.
The Xong brothers get some blankets, and are transferred to bedrolls. To be fair, they were light to me too. There was no real effort involved in moving them gently.
I stretch, and leave them to sleep for a while longer. If I had to guess the time, maybe five in the morning? I wish I could have slept a bit more too, but I was awake now, so I might as well get some work done.
I look around and frown. I was a little surprised that none of the animals came in last night, especially Tigger. Maybe we got a bit too wild?
I get dressed, and head out into the cold.
The farm is always silent this early in the morning, save for when Big D goes and sounds the alarm. There hasn’t been as much of that lately though. Tigger and Big D have been taking care of things without waking me up, or they’ve finally depleted the vermin population around here.
But nobody is around.
I frown. Considering for a moment, I look at the snow trails, and start to follow one of Chunky’s. It trails away from the house, and across the river, into the “back left” of my property relative to the road. I follow it for a while, confused and concerned, because this one is long. So long that it's heading off the reservation.
I’m about to break into a light jog when I see them. Everybody is trotting back home, without a care in the world.
I breathe a sigh of relief, and stop my walk, just standing there with my arms crossed.
My animals notice me, and transform from triumphant and proud looking to suddenly like children who were caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Well, everybody except Chunky, he squeals happily at the sight of me, and runs over, ramming into my legs and begging for scritches. I oblige him, scratching away. Peppa has something tied to her back. I wonder what that is?
“So where have you guys been?” I question, and-- “Wait, what happened to you, Tigger?!”
I walk forwards, and scoop my cat up. Shes covered in little scratches, and her fur has been shaved down in places. She preens into my touch, rubbing her head against me.
We have been slaying vermin, Great Master. I “hear” Rizzo say. Ugh, more spirit beasts?
Well, as long as everybody is okay.
Big D steps forwards and bows, as do the rest of my animals. And then there's a clunking noise, as a bunch of swords fall off Peppa’s back.
Okay, what the fuck kind of vermin carries swords.
I turn back to Rizzo, a giant, yawning cavern forming in my stomach.
I have a feeling that this is going to be a difficult day.
It was a tale straight out of a story. Five brave disciples, who fended off the wicked bandits. Each one of them puffed up when it was their turn to be the center of attention, save Big D who just stood as if it was natural that he had led an assault against a bandit encampment without warning me first.
My fist clenched at what the bandit had said he would do to my farm.
I got worried when they described the techniques used.
And I didn’t know what to feel when they defeated the bandits, and “cleaned up.”
I was very concerned. I was very, very, very concerned.
Okay, spirit beasts I could handle, or so I thought. The ugly mutant rat, maybe a one off. Defending the farm from pests, understandable.
Fighting a battle against cultivators, and winning?
Maybe it was my fault for being lazy, and letting them do whatever. Giving them so much responsibility, and not really telling them what should happen.
Yeah, I don’t know how the fuck to deal with this. Honestly, I didn’t know how to feel about them killing the bandits. A part of me recoiled, and screamed that all human life was sacred. That they should be detained and offered fair trial.
...Even if a fair trial meant summary execution, or living out the rest of their lives as slave labour in the mines.
Some part wished that I could try to talk to them, see the error of their ways, like some kind of saviour, and then we all lived happily ever after. But the bandit’s words made it clear what he thought of that plan.
Another part felt visceral satisfaction at their deaths. They threatened to hurt Meiling and my friends. They threatened to tear down all I had built.
Trees strangled entire cities. The mountains rose up and vented their terrible wrath. The very Earth Rose up and went to war.
Some part of me wished I was there, right alongside my animals.
The last part was just annoyed. The fact that I had encountered the bastard in Verdant Hill, and now this? The super rats? Was the world trying to fuck with me?
I stared down at my animals, my face as impassive as I could make it. They waited for me to praise them.
They gazed at their trophies with pride.
How long would it be until they started going on more “adventures”
They had no guidance. I left them alone, and treated them like pets. Even when I knew they weren’t.
How long until they attract some cultivator’s attention. Cultivators who want to eat them, and won’t take no for an answer. Cultivators who want what's here.
All they wanted to do was make me proud. All they wanted to do was live here.
They’ll just keep causing problems.
They got offended on my behalf. On Meiling’s behalf. On the Xong Brother’s behalf. They went to war to defend them.
They’re going to ruin things. That peaceful life you want so much.
Great Master, they called me. They thought me brave and wise, strong beyond measure. The kindest thing they had ever met. Who nurtured them, even when he didn’t have to.
Just end things. Try again with other animals, and this time, no qi.
I took a breath, and bent down, my hand landing on Big D’s head.
Its simple. Don’t.
A small smile spread across my face, as I started to scritch his wattles.
“Thank you, everyone. Good job protecting the farm.”
My animals preened, basking in my attention. I doled out scratches, and praise, and they absorbed it like I was their own father.
Well, just think of it as training. They’re pretty childish. Hey, if you can raise a rooster, you can raise a kid.
Fuck dark thoughts. I’m ashamed I even had them. What the hell are you trying to get me to do, me?! There would be no more violence and hate here. No Xianxia bullshit. Life WOULD be good.
I would MAKE it good.
My own little slice of paradise, right here.
For a brief instant, I felt warm, like I was being hugged. Something at the edge of my awareness twinged, like a rat squeaking in shock before being pounced on by a cat.
The feeling faded.
I picked up the swords. “Come on, let's go get some breakfast.” I told them. The disciples perked up.
Everyone except Peppa, who looked vaguely ill.