There were many ways Hong Xian expected his day to go. Reading medical scrolls, taking care of his son, harvesting Wintercaps, or looking to the horizon for his daughter.
He was not expecting… this.
His knuckles were white as he held onto the edge of the Toba Gan, the boar careening through the snowed over fields, and up hills, squealing with delight. He had no idea what the children and Gou Ren saw in this. It was all he could do to hang on, and not go flying off the piece of wood and into a snowdrift.
It had started out innocently enough, with a sleigh delivering his daughter back to him. She was in a grand mood, they all were.
And then Gou Ren came up from behind them, howling with mad glee, pulled along by an enormous boar. The boar ploughed through a drift, while Gou Ren took it on the side, and he sailed through the air, slamming back down to earth and whooping as the boar once more accelerated.
Naturally, this had drawn the children, who all wanted to have a good time on the speeding pig, while his daughter was carried into town at a more sedate pace.
Also by a pig.
A spirit beast pig. With a spirit beast rat sitting on her shoulder, and calling her Master.
It was one of those days. The days in which he met his wife, the days in which he and Bao became sworn brothers, and the days which got just a little bit too interesting for his heart to handle these days. He wasn’t getting any younger.
But unlike those interesting days, nothing was trying to poison or disembowel him. Or get him executed. Instead the strange, befuddling things of the world were playing with children and asking politely to learn medicine from him.
If he was honest, he much preferred this. Even with the loss of money, the loss of position… he did not regret being filial, and returning to Hong Yaowu. Things were lively in a good way.
So he joined in. What harm was there, to have some fun?
Just as his grip was about to fail, the great porcine beast slowed his stride, allowing him to recover, and not smack into a tree. His grip loosened, and Chun Ke wandered back to the children, happy as could be.
His son eagerly took over his position, and the boar was off again, kicking up a ruckus.
He shook his head and entered his house. The sow, Pi Pa, nodded her head in respect from where she watched the children play, a small amount of dried persimmons beside her. Daintily, she took one in her mouth, and ate it, the very picture of table manners and politeness.
Inside, his daughter had ransacked half the medical scrolls, and had them spread out, Ri Zu glued to her side as she explained the theories and plants contained within.
The Xong Brothers were lazing around, as they always did when they finished work, ready to get their “payment” for escorting his daughter.
A free meal was a cheap price to pay for his daughter having some protection. Yun Ren’s skill with his sword was passable enough to ward off normal animals, and Gou Ren would simply pick his daughter up and run if things got too out of hand.
They were good boys. Loyal and filial, and Hong Yaowu was the better for their presence.
“So, did anything interesting happen this time?” He asked them, getting down a cup/
“Meimei got drunk and started singing about the whore and the donkey.” Yun Ren said, scratching his behind.
A smile spread across his face, as his daughter’s head snapped up, her face flushing red in mortification.
“Oh? She did, did she?” He asked.
“Yun, if you keep talking, I’m going to turn your skin blue--!” his Meimei hissed, but Yun Ren had spotted weakness, and went for the throat.
“Then she told Jin to take off his shirt so she could lick wine off his chest.” His vulpine grin spread across his face.
Some fathers would be upset at their daughter’s impropriety. All he could think was just like her mother. Those were fond memories.
But she needed to sweat a little. It was a father’s duty to poke his entirely too headstrong daughter.
“Oh? Daughter, you dared?” he joked, “Is your purity intact, after you performed such actions?”
Meiling started stuttering, her eyes jumping to him, and then to the floor, caught in rage and embarrassment, making vague strangling movements in Yun Ren’s direction. He shoved a digit into his nose, looking entirely bored with the proceedings. She was too embarrassed to notice the mirth in his voice.
She eventually just gave up, and hid her face in her hands.
He filled his cup, as his daughter stewed. He drank. His daughter really was too cute when she was flustered. Almost as cute as her mother.
It was then Yun Ren pounced, his sly eyes turning to him.
“Also, Jin’s chicken killed Sun Ken, and we met the Young Mistress of The Verdant Blade sect”
The water went down the wrong way.
“What?!” he finally got out, after he had finished choking.
Dinner was an interesting affair. His son was sitting upon the back of Chun Ke, feeding him off the plate. It was an amusing scene, and one he could imagine Meiling’s own children doing. It was sad that they were to live that far away. He would like to visit often.
The other two were more reserved, with Ri Zu using a little pair of chopsticks, and Pi Pa somehow managing to eat without getting food anywhere.
It was very surreal.
Still, more strange events had happened in the year since Jin had come than had happened in decades prior. The Wicked Blade, a Blaze Bear, that Young Master, and now Sun Ken?
Was it fate? Was Jin’s fate causing these things to appear… or were they to appear anyways, and Jin’s presence was a shield?
It was something to consider. Cultivators were either the greatest of heroes, or the most vile of villains.
He looked to his children’s happiness. Xian, playing with Chun Ke. Meiling, patiently teaching Ri Zu.
He would be an optimist, he decided. Jin’s appearance was fortune, not the precursor to calamity. That is what it was, and that is what it would be. His daughter would be happy. His grandchildren would be well cared for.
He smiled at the odd spirit beast out. She seemed to be content to simply watch, but he would be a poor host if he did not entertain his guests.
“Miss Pi Pa, would you like to learn some of the more specific mushrooms we grow?”
The sow perked up, looking shocked. She turned to Xian, Gou Ren, and Chun Ke falling asleep together. He saw an almost motherly smile cut across her face.
The sow nodded, content that her charges were too tired to cause trouble.
“Very well then, come with me. I will show you the knowledge of Hong Yaowu.”
He was teaching a pig. It was an amusing distraction.
The two pigs left the next morning, to carry a list and a letter to their master. One note would be the children’s preferences, the other, the news that the merchants would be at Verdant hill in three days, along with their recording crystals, if Jin wished to get anything specific.
They hitched themselves to the sleigh, and bowed in respect to those that would see them off.
Xian smiled, waving them goodbye.
Meiling said that they would be seeing them soon enough, for Jin had some kind of grand plan for the solstice.
He faced the future with a smile.
She strode, her head held high, through the gates of her sect. Disciples and Mortals gathered around her as she walked, at the head of her small band. They gaped at the blade of Sun Ken, the vile Crimson Demon’s Tooth. They shouted her name. They praised the Might of the Verdant Blade Sect, to lay the wicked low.
Her comrades, the ones she had bid rest, had all lived. Though the fight had been bloody, the members of the Verdant Blade Sect were returning victorious from battle. She would lay flowers at their graves, those that could be recovered.
Even the mortal soldiers would receive their compensation. They had fought bravely, and taken heavy losses to the ambushes. They had done their duty, and that was honour for their family.
Even so, many children would be without their fathers. But none of the adoring crowds saw that.
Her robes were pristine white. Her hair was immaculate. It was like she had fought the Whirling Demon Sword Gang, and sustained not a scratch.
This was pomp and circumstance. Word had been sent ahead of her arrival. Fresh clothes had been provided for her, as well as medics, to see that she had no scars or blemishes on her body. This showed that the Verdant Blade Sect was powerful. That their Young Mistress was untouchable.
The sect leader, The Elders, and the disciples had been gathered. They stood with stern faces, and proud bearing in the main courtyard, elevated above the mortals.
They reached the correct distance, and as one, her party descended to their knees, clasping their fists, and bowing their heads.
“Sect Leader of the Verdant Blade! Honoured Elders! This Cai Xiulan returns from her mission, successful! Sen Ken, The Whirling Demon Blade, and The Whirling Demon Blade Gang lie vanquished! Their bones are shattered, and their lifeblood now nurtures the earth! No longer shall the wicked plague the world!”
She reached to her back, and presented the sword.
“I present to you, honoured Elders,The Crimson Demon’s Tooth, as proof of Sun Ken’s demise!”
They made the appropriate noises of approval.
“Rise, Daughter of the Verdant Blade.” Her honourable father called. She could see the pride in his eyes. “You shall be rewarded for your triumph.”
“Come! Take the news to all corners of the Azure Hill! All must know of Sun Ken’s defeat at the hands of our Verdant Blade Sect!”
The crowd roared in approval.
Though it was her duty to present things like this, the praise tasted like ashes.
“It’s demon is suppressed, and I dare say leashed-- remarkable! Daughter, how did you accomplish this feat?”
Her honorable father’s gaze turned to her from the Crimson Demon’s tooth.
“My daughter, what troubles you?” He asked her, concerned. They were in his office, so that she could deliver a more comprehensive support. His eyes were concerned, as he stared at her conflicted face.
“....May we have some privacy?” She asked.
He nodded his head, and with a flick of his hand, the others what were in his room exited. The silencing formation was put up. Her father’s eyes softened.
“Now, tell your father what ails you, Xiulan.”
“It was not I who slew Sun Ken.” She stated, hoping to speed through the worst of it. Her father’s eyebrows disappeared into his hair. “I was on death’s door, crippled by demonic qi. When I finally found Sun Ken, he was already dead.”
“...then, how did this occur? How did you survive?”
She bowed her head.
“I had a fortuitous encounter. I was taken in by a Hidden Master. I was healed. Gifted with profound techniques and new training, presented with Sun Ken’s blade, and told to take the credit. With his assistance and his wisdom, I have reached the fourth stage.”
Her father’s jaw dropped. “He assisted you so greatly?! And raised you so high in mere days? Is there any way that he could be convinced to join our sect?”
She shook her head. “He requested that I keep his privacy. I will not betray this single task he has set before me. I beg your forgiveness for this, father, but I must honour his request.”
“....How powerful was he?”
“I could not see his depths.”
Her father nodded, and stroked his beard. “We shall abide by his demands. Thank you for telling me daughter. To insult a hidden master who has done you such a kindness is the height of dishonour.”
“He also gifted me this, and asked that I attend his wedding with Senior Sister”
Cai Xi Kong opened the bag of rice. It was the finest silver grade rice he had ever laid eyes on, nearing gold grade.
And it was absolutely stuffed with qi. Sweat beaded on his brow.
‘...then we must prepare a suitable gift for him, daughter. Can you consider anything that he would desire?”
Xiulan considered. Her gaze turned to the Crimson Demon’s Tooth.
Her lips quirked into a smile.
“He mentioned wanting a plow.”
Her father stared at the blade as well, and began laughing.
“The wicked whoreson’s blade as a farming implement?! I can think of no better insult!”