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Healing. Rare reagents. Credit for slaying Sun Ken. The most delicious meal she had ever eaten. And now, Senior Sister was about to tell her how the technique that healed her worked.

Somebody, not of her sect, freely teaching her a technique, with the approval of the Hidden Master Jin.

Truly, she was the luckiest of the Younger Generation in the Azure Hills. She just hoped that she could comprehend the profound wisdom she was about to receive. Xiulan had never studied the healing arts, focused entirely as she was on mastering the Jade Grass Blades, and the Verdant Sword Arts. Oh, she knew how to set a bone, and heal minor injuries, every cultivator did, but to be able to draw out and purify Demonic qi with such speed, and such subtlety? That was beyond her.

Senior Sister sat down beside the fire after rummaging through her pack, and withdrawing a well used notebook. Her personal notes. Not a codified scroll.

She was beckoned over to a pair of cushions by Senior Sister, as the men and Master Jin prepared odd curved sticks, fishing poles, and an axe. Master Jin was quite excited about whatever was about to transpire.

“Ice fishing and Ha Qi. We don’t have any skates, but it will work just fine.” Master Jin explained to them, “If you want to come watch, join in, or you need us, we’ll be down at the pond.”

Xiulan bowed to the Hidden Master. “May your time be fruitful, Master Jin.” She guessed Ha Qi was the monkey and the fox’s training, some sort of art to improve their bodies. She held off a brief surge of desire to follow immediately, and witness Master Jin’s physical training. She had already committed to learning a healing art under Senior Sister, and he hadn’t forbidden her from joining in, so she might get to see it later.

“Could you send in Ri Zu please, Jin?” Senior Sister asked, and Master Jin nodded. She truly was a most cherished woman, to be able to ask such mundane tasks of a hidden expert.

And one of the disciples from outside would be coming in. Possibly an outer disciple, as they had been outside when they ate.

“Now, this is the technique that was used to draw out the demonic qi.” The book opened, revealing the formation used to save her life. Xiulan turned her full attention to Senior Sister, ready to put her mind completely into comprehending this formation.

She was not expecting a squeak at her feet.

Good-fine day, Young Miss.

There was a rat staring up at her.

This one is Ri Zu. Ri Zu greets you, and wishes you good health.

She stared at the spirit beast as it bowed respectfully to her, the image of politeness. Behind her stood the most magnificent rooster she had ever laid eyes upon. It’s plumage was radiant, it’s eyes full of profound wisdom.

She felt a brief flash of power, ascended into the Profound realm.

The rooster’s eyes pierced her, and it too bowed in greeting.

She kept herself from screaming. There were no disciples outside. Only spirit beasts. Obedient spirit beasts. No wonder Master Jin was unconcerned about monsters lurking about his land. The chicken was probably the most powerful spirit beast in the Azure Hills. Were these the ones who had slain Sun Ken?! It would be within their capabilities.

She wavered under the rooster’s piercing eyes. She did something she never thought she would do. It was an injury to her pride, one she would have to swallow.

She bowed to an animal in greeting. The rooster and rat were satisfied.

The rat scampered up onto Senior Sister’s shoulder, while the rooster settled onto the ground, seeming to meditate.

Ah! The little rat squeaked, What we used to save-cure Young Miss!

“Her name is Cai Xiulan, Ri Zu.” Senior Sister said, and seemed amused at the question on Xiulan’s face. “And yes, Ri Zu aided in your recovery.”

Ri Zu was useful to Master!

A spirit beast that not only was polite and docile, but studied the healing arts?! For what reason could Master Jin wish for such things? Was he growing them to consume their cores, in an artificial development cycle? She could not comprehend his reasons, and unless he revealed it to her, she would continue to not know.

She took a calming breath, and decided that it was just something that was. If she kept being shocked about every little thing in the hidden master’s domain, she would start coughing blood.

So. A profound level spirit beast that was a chicken. A medical rat. Would there next be pigs that could shake the earth?

There was a happy squeal from outside, and the thunder of trotters.

Her eyebrow twitched.

She took another breath, as her father had told her. A deep breath in and out, to center one’s self.

“You get used to it.” Senior Sister said, sounding amused.

//////////

Oh, the good ol’ hockey game, is the best game you can name, and the best game you can name is the good ol hockey game~

Yun Ren shoulder checked me, and I let myself go flying from the hit, skidding across the ice. I could have just sat there and he couldn’t have budged me, but that would be a dick move. Completely unsportsmanlike.

Okay, it wasn’t really hockey. No skates, our puck is made out of a piece of rock, and it’s a free for all.

But it's close enough, eh? Nothing like a bit o’ hockey with the boys.

Yun Ren glared as he approached the goal, and Chunky started blowing steam out of his nostrils, a stick clenched in his teeth, eager to once more defend the net. Which is a fishing net and two poles.

Yun Ren slapped his stick from side to side, trying to confuse Chunky, while the massive pig bounced up and down with excitement. Yun Ren thought he saw an opening, and reared back, firing off a praiseworthy slapshot and trying to overcome the defence with pure speed. Chunky’s head twists at the last second, and the puck bounces off his stick.

Yun Ren swore at the miss, while Chunky squealed happily, prancing around his net.

Gou Ren laughed at his brother’s misfortune, while I got out of the snow bank. Ah, I needed some metal soon. This would be so much better with skates!

….Wait, I’m an idiot, do I even need metal? Can’t I just reinforce some wood with qi?

Well, this is something to try, at least.

Gou Ren lined up at the net, and tried his luck, snapping the puck up and over… only to hit Chunky’s bulk.

Best goalie AH. The Azure Hills Maple Leafs represent.

“Come on! He's not fair! He's too good, Jin!” Gou complained. “Let Peppa try!”

Peppa, who had been content to sit off to the side, got a calculating gleam in her eye at Gou Ren’s words.

Oh, this poor soul.

Peppa trotted over, and took the stick from Chunky. She settled in, like she was preparing to guard the net.

Yun Ren and I sat back to watch the fireworks.

Gou Ren lined up his shot-- got tackled by the goalie.

Let me tell you, watching somebody get circles run around them by a pig was the funniest shit.

The score ended 12-nil, with Peppa in the lead, and Gou Ren’s pride as bruised as his tailbone.

Eventually we got bored of discount hockey, and did my activity of choice number 2: ice fishing. The pond was a bit small, but there were plenty of fishes to catch. For our dinner tonight.

I cast my line into the hole in the ice. We were using a bit of leftover scrambled egg as bait.

There was a lake a bit farther down that would be better for this… but I wanted to stay a bit closer to the house, just in case. I wasn’t expecting any trouble from Xiulan….

Trust, but verify. Which is why Big D was being a good lad and waiting with Meimei. I had a feeling that if something did go wrong, Big D would be able to take care of things.

Something hit my line.

Something strong hit my line. Hard enough that it was nearly torn from my hands.. I instinctively reinforced it with qi, and pulled back. The line cut into the ice, as whatever it was tried to drag the egg away, and I wasn’t having any of it.

I took a deep breath, and pulled.

A rather large carp burst from the hole, his body wriggling in the air.

Son of a--

“Washy, you greedy shit!” My dishwasher flopped onto the ice, and stared at me with piteous eyes. He flopped around for a bit, playing up his weakness.

I had half a mind to eat him for that stunt, but...

Sighing, I got the hook out of him.

“Hey. You get food at home, alright buddy? Doing this kind of stuff is dangerous.”

Washy flopped into what looked like a nod.

Then he flopped his way into the hole, and swam away with all due haste.

I had figured out Washy last night when I had jokingly asked him what food he liked best, and got a piece of egg eagerly shown to me.

I nearly fell into the river. What was I, some kind of spirit beast magnet?

...or, it's probably the food. I hope I don’t have an entire ecosystem that's sentient. I want to eat meat, damn it.

I swear, if my rice starts talking to me, I’m going to have a very, very sad time.

I sighed and grumbled, and tossed my line back in.

We returned to silence. Gou Ren shouted in outrage as his line snapped.

Seriously? I just told you not to do that--

Yun Ren yelped, as his rod was pulled into the hole.

Okay, that's it, come here you little trash compactor--

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Casualfarmer

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