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Bi De was meditating upon his Math Formations, when the disciples were called by the Great Master. His voice was as strong as always, but today, it had an undercurrent of tension.

He, being a loyal disciple, swiftly rose and accompanied his Master outside. It was a black day. The clouds were ominous, and the wind was as daggers hurled through the air. Something terrible was brewing on the horizon.

He wondered what the matter was. Had something vexed his Great Master? The thing that dared would be swiftly destroyed by his spurs!

The Great Master gestured for him to sit, and gracefully did, as they waited for the rest of the disciples to arrive. The Great Master sat still, and appeared to be meditating. His fellow disciples assembled, and waited to receive his wisdom.

“....I will be eating one of the chickens.” His Great Master stated.

Bi De froze at the statement, and bowed his head. He knew this day would once more come. One of the hens had stopped laying eggs. She was plump, and full of Qi, and yet… she had no spark still. Even after receiving a Name of Power, Bun Te was just as she had been.

The rest of the disciples… Well, Wa Shi looked eager, the piscine glutton just happy for food. Tigu snorted contemptuously, and gave him a nasty smirk. One of his kin was to be consumed. It was a petty gesture. Pi Pa nodded her head.

Of them all, only Brother Chun Ke looked worried, and nosed at the Great Master. He smiled sadly at the large one.

“If she… was like you are, then she would not be eaten. People who can think are not food.” His Great Master reassured them, but Bi De was unconcerned. He had long ago deduced this.

Still, it was good to hear it from the Great Master’s own mouth.

Chun Ke oinked sadly, gazing up with piteous eyes. “Death is not always a bad thing, Chun Ke. She will feed us, and make us strong. Just like the rabbits and the deer, and the other fish.This is the same as that, okay?”

Chun Ke whined, but allowed his Great Master to rise.

The axe was retrieved, and Bun Te was taken. Bi De watched, unflinching, as her life went on to nourish the Great Master.

With a single blow, the deed was done. He bowed his head in respect, to the one who had given her life and Qi back to the Lord.

Brother Chun Ke wailed.

XXX

There was a storm outside. One of Winter’s last hurrahs. The wind was howling like a demon, the snow was flying so thick and fast it made the world white. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, and anybody caught outside would be in for a bad time. It was one of the storms that defined winter.

I was, naturally, enjoying it immensely from inside my house. The fire was crackling merrily away, and the house was warm and dry. I had finally got my chicken soup. I was a bit leery about killing the hen… but she showed no signs of intelligence beyond what chicken should show, so I made the decision. It always hits a bit different, when it's an animal you own, rather than an already slain chicken in a market. You took care of them. You raised them from a chick. And when you finally killed them, they trusted you.

It was too much for some people. Some farmers responded by hardening their hearts, and caring little for their animals. Me? Well, I just wouldn’t take my food for granted. Maybe it's a bit callous, but I’m not a perfectly empathetic man. I don’t think I have it in me to go vegetarian.

I took another spoonful of broth. It was god damn fantastic chicken soup. Best I’ve ever had. Thanks, Bunty. I scratched Tigger’s head affectionately. Good girl.

I held out a bit of chicken for Tigger, and the cat eagerly ate, cleaning off my fingers with her tongue. Out of all of them, she was the most enthusiastic about this meal, even more than Washy.

I sighed, and reached down beside me again, rubbing my Chunky boy’s head. He snuffed sadly. Peppa was leaned up on the other side of him, also refusing to eat any of the chicken. Honestly, I was feeling like crap, and Chunky did not look good sad. How a two hundred pound boar can look so much like a kicked puppy is beyond me.

“You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.” I said simply, “I understand. But this is what she died for.”

Chunky oinked sadly, and shook his head. “That's alright. Do you want to have any meat in the future, or just no more meat from the farm?”

He tapped his chin twice on the ground, indicating the second part of my question, and shook his head again.

I nodded, and scratched his head affectionately. Peppa was stareing at the meat, but shook her head vigorously when she caught me looking at her.

Chunky nudged her, and she somehow managed to blush. She nodded her head. The piece of chicken disappeared.

The other who did not partake was Big D. But I have to admit, I would be pretty concerned if he did. When I had explained why I was killing the hen… Big D just accepted it. And not just accept, but he seemed to approve.

I still remember as he looked on, unflinching. I made it as quick as I could, a clean death.

He simply bowed his head, and then returned to the house. That he had already rationalized it was both a relief, and a bit concerning. But…. Big D seemed to think that they were almost separate species. He mated with the females, and joined in on the cognitive tests… but after they all turned up failures, even the other rooster, he lost interest in them. He seemed disappointed in them.

I’m going to be honest, I don’t really know how to deal with this. It was something I certainly had no experience in. All I could do is be there if he wanted to talk, I guess.

I finished my soup, and turned back to my thoughts on where to go from here. Plans changed all the time, in light of new information, but I should at least have a plan.

I mean, take the bath for example. First, I wanted a fire crystal and a water crystal, to produce water and heat. But when you could literally lift the entire tub up, dunk it in the river to fill it with water, and then flash heat it with Qi? Well, you don’t really need those things do you? Necessity was the mother of invention after all, and if you don’t need something, you tend to leave it.

Or at least, it gets put on the back burner. I still did want them, if only for convenience for when Meimei gets here. I had built an entire setup to heat the water faster, with bellows and a chimney… and then I ended up not using it that much. Trees and wood are important resources, and I didn’t want to start clearcutting my land to fuel everything.

It was good it was still cold enough for me to freeze the broth. I could have it for a while longer. One of the biggest things I had to contend with would be preservation. I already had a pseudo-refrigerator in the river room, as the colder water ran over my food, but I needed the ice to last.

There was always the pit method, which people here already used. I could just dig a big hole, cover it, and hope the ice didn’t melt. It would take a while, but that would only last a couple of months. I knew that because Meimei had shown me Hong Yaowu’s storage area, and there wasn’t any ice left.

I frowned, as I tried to come up with something. Could I just cheat again? Qi reinforcement made things more durable, could I just use it on ice, and have it last longer?

I absently picked up two pieces of wood. One, I reinforced with qi, the other I didn’t. I placed both ends in the fire, and waited.

The unreinforced one caught before the reinforced one, but it was a near thing. There's only so much Qi something can hold, after all. Push too much into it, and it will break, or even explode. I talk about how I’m just kind of “shoving Qi at things'' but… well it is a bit more delicate than that. Normally it does require quite a bit of concentration to fill something new up with your essence, and make everything perfect, but this was one of the few things I was good at.

The shoots of plants were very delicate after all. One had to have a light touch. It's probably why the new initiates of Cloudy Sword were put on plant duty. To improve Qi control. Or… it was just because we were expendable labour.

Probably the latter.

In any case, I had another experiment to run. I walked out into the cold, howling blizzard, and got some more ice from the river.

Honestly, the improvement wasn’t much. It took about twenty seconds longer for it to start melting. But it was movement in the right direction.

Well, no time like the present to teach the scientific method.

XXX

The thing about science is that we always think of the cool shit. The giant spaceships, the cars, the guns. What most people gloss over is that most of the time, unless you’re super passionate, science is super god damn boring.

I was literally watching ice melt.

Most of my experiments were duds. I had several groups near the fire, and then leading outwards towards the river room. There was just a set amount of Qi that ice could take before it shattered. And it was mundane ice, not the stuff Young Mistresses magicked up, so it wasn’t harder than steel and twice as deadly.

Now, I had a bunch of ice all over my house, arranged into two groups.

“Washy, mark down twenty seconds again.” The fish nodded happily. “Seconds” being the intervals that I was tapping my leg at. They were all near perfectly even, so it was good enough for taking time. Honestly, he was the most interested in this-- after I told him it was for food preservation, of course. The rest of my disciples had gotten bored with the repetitive nature of what we were doing. Big D still checked in occasionally, but the rest of them had gone off to play or hunt.

Like I said, watching ice melt was boring, even if it could be important..

I sighed, as I tried to reinforce the ice again. Maybe if I put it in a different way? I carefully began constructing a horizontal lattice--

It shattered. Nope, not that way. Maybe it was a mass thing?

I stared around at the wet spots on my floor.

“You know what, let's call it a day. I’m going out to find Chunky.” I decided. “You get back to the river room okay, Washy?”

The fish nodded his head, slapping his fins in frustration. Yeah, I know little buddy. Maybe we’ll have better luck tomorrow.

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