Meiling awoke to what felt like Gou Ren jumping up and down on her head. She was queasy, and sore, and she had no idea what she did last night.
This is why she never drank heavily. This, and the fact that everybody always looked at her strangely afterwards. Nobody said why. They would just start laughing.
She opened her eyes, expecting stabbing pain...but her eyes didn’t protest too badly. In fact, most of her headache disappeared as she came to full wakefulness.
“The ‘ol spry whore, and the donkey that came in her backdoOOOoor~!”
“Chug, Chug, Chug, Chug, Chug!”
“Kyahahahahahaha! Shake it, darlin’, shake it!”
“Come here often, cutie?”
“Gimmmie that butt! Gimmmie that butt!”
“Thirsty!” “Really, Meimei--” “Do it!”
Her tongue running along muscles. Sweat mixed with wine tasted surprisingly good.
Her face turned crimson.
She grabbed Jin’s pillow, and screamed into it, kicking her legs under the sheet.
“You okay Meimei?” Jin asked. She could hear the grin in his voice, and the Xong brother’s own laughter.
She staggered out of bed, and glared at the pack of idiots. And the animals.
“Last night didn’t happen.” She decreed.
Jin leered, “But what about the wine pouring, that was fun--”
“Didn’t. Happen.” she snarled, sitting down and snatching the bowl of rice and egg out of Jin’s hand. She glared around, daring anybody to contradict her. The Xong brothers just smiled the smile of men who had blackmail.
She clicked her tongue, and looked at the animals. At least they were---
“Jin, what happened to your cat?”
Jin’s cat had some bandages covering her, and several places where the fur was shorter.
Jin’s smile became a little strained, but he still seemed quite happy.
“Funny story, that…”
Cai Xiulan was having a difficult day.
She threw herself out of the way of a blast of flame, and leapt backwards from monstrous claws trying to rend her in two.
Well, it was more like a difficult week.
The Blaze Bear roared savagely, it’s entire body igniting. It stood on its hind legs and glared at her.
If she was honest, a difficult month.
Her once pure white robe was stained with dirt, her hair was matted, and she had lost one of her hair ornaments. She was hungry, she was tired, and hadn’t had time to cultivate for three months.
She hated Sun Ken.
[Verdant Blade Sword Arts]
Two green blades whirled at her command, cutting through the air. They stabbed downwards, penetrating beast flesh, but this just made it angier.
A tree disintegrated under the force of its charge. Her side twinged, as the wound nearly opened, and she called back her blades.
It had started with the Whirling Demon Sword Gang having the gall to attack Green Grass Valley. The hundred and fifty-strong bandit gang had despoiled the town, slaughtered it’s inhabitants, and stolen a shipment of spiritual herbs meant for the Verdant Blade Sect.
They spat in her sect’s face directly, and challenged them brazenly. It was so distressing that her honorable father had spat blood when he found the message written in the blood of the innocent, proclaiming him a coward and a cuckold.
Unfortunately, her honorable father had to attend the Martial Summit of the Azure Hills, a dialogue of all the top experts, and that was something he couldn't miss even for this.
So she, a match in power for the arch-bastard, went with the forces of the Verdant Blade to slay the Whirling Demon Sword Gang, and their leader, Sun Ken.
What followed was a brutal game of cat and mouse, as skirmishes broke out, their mortal troops were ambushed, and they ambushed in return. There were laying false trails, Searching every craggy hill and deep ravine, and stumbling onto burnt out villages as they chased their quarry north.
She flipped over a gigantic paw, her swords danced behind her, scoring more shallow cuts along the beast’s limb.
And then the final ambush had happened. Sun Ken had hit their flanks, while his brother, Sun Rong, sought to slay her.
It was a battle, but her force of ten men had all ascended to the Initiate’s realm. Eleven members of Verdant Blade versus a hundred and fifty bandits with the element of surprise. There should have been no contest.
It had turned bloody far too quickly.
She had slain Sun Rong, the Whirling Demon’s brother laid low by the Verdant Blade Sword Arts, and sought to cut the head off the snake. But Sun Ken was canny, and knew the battle was lost. He had managed to withdraw by collapsing the ravine, and slaying one more of the outer sect disciples.
It was an outrage that could not be borne. The rest were more heavily injured, so she had forced them to rest, while she continued on alone. The pride of Verdant Blade was on the line. She had finally picked up his trail again, and had been making good time, when she ran face-first into a Blaze Bear.
A spectacularly angry Blaze Bear.
Regret was not becoming of a cultivator, but she wished that compassion hadn’t made her reckless.
Her twin swords whirled and cut at her command, proof of her mastery, slashing down at eyes, and trying to split open it’s nose.
The bear shrieked with rage, and she grimaced. It was too much to hope that she would be able to defeat it without truly fighting.
She landed, and took a breath, drawing on more of her qi.
[Verdant Blade Sword Art: Eight Blades of Grass]
Her blades multiplied. Two became four, four became six, and six became eight, the Verdant Blades growing like the grass of her home.
She shot forwards, her blades following around her, with three splitting off to strike from behind.
Each punch sent a sword forwards, and each sweep of her hand became a slash, that raked and bit deep.
The Blaze bear was caught in a whirlwind of green steel. It roared and raged, gouts of fire erupting off its body, but it’s fate was sealed.
She drew back her fist, and all of her blades returned to her, spiraling around her arm. She ducked under a last, desperate strike, and thrust forwards into the center of the beast’s chest. Her swords struck true, penetrating to the hilt, even as the bear’s fur burnt her knuckles.
[Verdant Blade Sword Art: Lotus Bud--]
It let out a whimper, but raised its arms to grab her in a back-breaking hug.
Her fist twisted. The blades tore out of the beast’s body from where they had landed, cutting an eight petaled flower into the spirit beast. It remained standing for a moment, a testament to it’s vitality, before finally falling.
She let out a breath and collapsed to her knees, allowing herself a moment of respite. She touched her wound, and it came away slick with blood. She took a deep breath, and then she rose again. She would need to be careful. Scouting today only. She could not afford to be found, and taken to battle. She swiftly removed the bear’s core, and resumed her search.
The trail was not overly hard to find. A thirty strong band of mortals, no matter how sneaky, could not keep their whereabouts hidden entirely when they had been so damaged.
She followed their trail, when her nose scented blood.
She approached slowly, ready to hide should this be a trap. But it wasn’t. One of the bandits was slumped against a tree, frozen in death. He was covered with wounds from what looked like claws, his eyes glassy and unseeing.
At first, she suspected the Blaze Bear, but his wounds came from far smaller claws.
Cai Xiulan was wary. Her search continued, slowly. She came across another dead man, blinded, and his face locked in terror.
Another had fallen on his sword.
And then she came into a clearing. The snow was trampled flat. Several trees were felled.
But there was no blood, and no bodies. The trail ended.
She didn’t know what to do. She focused her qi, feeling around the clearing--
But nothing. She felt nothing.
She groaned, and continued her search, spiraling outwards She found another bandit corpse, far from the clearing, this one too savaged by an animal.
Eventually, she broke through the trees, and happened upon a peculiar sight. A giant golem made of snow, and a farm.
She touched her hand to her side again, her fingers coming back slick with blood. She was starting to get light headed. Her swords couldn’t float behind her anymore, so she had tied them properly.
….She would warn the mortals of the dangerous beast living nearby. Hopefully, they would have time to run.
“Sun Ken.” Meiling stated, as she finished retying the bandages around Tigu--Or was it Tig-ger? Jin slurred his words oddly sometimes. Ri Zu was watching her hands intently as she worked.
“Sun Ken, the Whirling Demon Sword, leader of the Whirling Demon Sword Gang, wielder of The Crimson Demon Tooth. That Sun Ken?”
Jin reached behind him, and deposited a large, two handed sword in front of her. The supposedly demonic blade certainly didn’t smell demonic-- a faint afterthought of blood, but it mostly smelled clean. And a little bit like pine.
But it was as the drawings of it. Crimson Demon Tooth. Meiling studied it for a moment, and then turned to the cat. Tigu nuzzled up to her, sweet as can be, for a thing that had apparently been out killing people mere hours prior.
“You’re such a good girl!” She praised, and the cat just looked smug. “Good job on killing those nasty men!”
Jin looked surprised. “Verdant Hill had to take care of the survivors once, a few years ago. Nearly all of them were injured. Men missing eyes, arms, legs… and the women….”
She trailed off, remembering the haunted eyes.
The Xong Brothers nodded their heads solemnly.
“It is a good thing that they died, Brother Jin. They normally never come this far north. I dare say there will be parties across the whole Azure Hills, when Sun Ken’s death is confirmed.”
Jin grimaced at this. “..I don’t really want the recognition for this.” He finally said.
Gou Ren looked stunned.
“But… But you would be rewarded greatly! You could have wealth beyond…!” Gou Ren trailed off at Jin’s sad smile.
“It's for the best if he just disappears.” Jin said. “After all, I didn’t kill him. They did. And what happens when the cultivators come calling, to see how a farmer and some animals slew the mighty Sun Ken?”
Gou Ren considered it for a moment, and then paled, pausing in his scratching of Chun Ke. “They take what they want, and make pork belly?”
Jin shrugged. “...I’d do my best so that wouldn’t happen… but no man can last alone forever.”
Bi De, his rooster, looked incredibly affronted at this, but Jin’s hand on his head calmed him down.
They lapsed into silence.
“Well, enough of this heavy talk. I’ll make the sword into a plow or something. Meimei, could you help me with Ri Zu? I’ve been lax in their... training.”
All of the animals perked up at this.
“Well, we’ll have to go back to Hong Yaowu today, if she's okay with coming along?” She raised an eyebrow at the little rat, which nodded it’s head vigorously.
Great Sage Teaches Ri Zu! The little beast confirmed.
“Well, we should probably get going soon.” Yun Ren said with a shrug. “Definitely no bandits died last night, and Sun Ken’s sword certainly won’t be turning into a plow. It was always that way.” His lips quirked into a smile.
Gou Ren still seemed a bit conflicted, but he nodded too.
“I’ll give you a ride home. Takes at least half a day off the journey, and I need that list from Meimei.” Jin said, mentioning his question about the children’s favourite animals.
They started packing their bags, when Jin started scratching his back, and Meiling started sniffing the air.
“Grass, flowers, and blade oil.” She said conversationally.
Jin sighed, sounding resigned.
“Well, I’ll go greet our guest, then.”
She was limping by the time a man opened the door. His face was carved out of stone, and he had a shovel in his hand. Things were starting to...tilt a little in her vision.
His eyes widened when he saw her.
“Greetings, Farmer, I, Cai Xiulan--”
The mortal cut her off, the impudent man, dropping his shovel. “Holy shit lady, what chewed you up?” He sounded shocked and concerned. A woman poked her head out of the door, and gasped.
She nearly struck him as he approached swiftly, laying his hands on her and picking her up.
Had she been well, it was an outrage that would not be allowed. In her current state, she was just glad she didn’t have to walk. The door seemed a bit far away.
“Dangerous beast... In the forest…” she slurred, “Be careful…”
She was bought into the warm house, and the farmer’s wife began tending to her with surprisingly skilled hands. Two others were there, following orders to get hot water, and helping to tend to her injuries.
It was very nice and warm... in…. here.