Tigu stalked along the property of her Master, inspecting it for any traces of interlopers. It was a thankless task, but one infinitely more exciting than whatever the Master had dreamed up. Really, watching ice melt? It was surely for some profound reason, and she would praise him, and allow him to pet her when he figured it out, but such things were beneath her.
She had a patrol to do. She had to train her body. She consented to learning the strange numbers the Master taught, but sitting there was boring. She was a creature of action! She would find her Master’s enemies, and slay them!
But today there were no enemies. What had once been a near constant skirmish against a tide of verminous filth had died down dramatically ever since she had slain the bandits. Bi De had said that a curse had been cleansed from the land, that the Master destroying it was a sign that he considered her powerful enough that she did not need the swarm of training aids, but now… there was nothing.
There was nothing to hunt. There was nothing to prey upon. She wasn’t allowed to eat the Glutton. She could peel back his armored, and surprisingly thick scales anytime she liked, but the Master had forbidden her from eating those with the spark.
None of the others would trade pointers with her. Bi De was… well he was. She would beat him eventually, but constantly striking her face into a wall was stupid. Ri Zu had fled, and was unavailable. Wa Shi would sit in his river and spit water at her, the gluttonous bastard. Chun Ke just thought it was a game, cheerily charging after her. She had tried to force the issue, and turn it into a proper spar, once.
Once. The fight stopped as soon as it started when she brought out her Five Fold Blades. Sister Pi Pa’s wrath was magnificent. She was truly a most powerful brute-- Lady. She was a lady. She would respect her and call her that. Being swallowed was a decidedly unpleasant experience, even if she had managed to fight her way out.
It had been quite a good work out, until the preening cock had put a stop to her fun. Now they tended to avoid her while the Master was away. A pity, that they were so intimidated by her might.
She sighed with boredom. She didn’t even have the Master’s training aid! Her claws had finally defeated it two days ago, and though the Master had promised her another, it was not ready for her yet.
She wished she still had it. She wished for strength. Growing in strength was only right! Eating meat was only proper, no matter how much Chun Ke wailed and blubbered, the oaf.
She frowned, as she thought about the Master’s story again. His tale of why he came here. Ah, why did the Master content himself with this? He could rule this world with ease, she was sure of it. His strength was beyond every other man! Contenting himself with only this, it was just so strange!
You may go, if you wish. But you will always have a place here.
She could go off on an adventure. She could just step out for a few days. Find some beast and slay it. The Master wouldn’t even know…
She shook her head, and pushed those thoughts from her mind. No, she could not. She could not do that, the Master needed her here. She was the most reliable. She was the most comforting. She was the one who understood him the most!
Even if she didn’t understand why he said he had given up power. It was surely a ruse, wasn’t it?
She stared at the boundary between the land and the outside. She shook her head, and turned around. Maybe… maybe next time. Maybe she would expand the Master's territory! Yes, next time she would go out, and conquer in his name.
She turned, and began to head back to the Master. She would allow him to pat her again, for deciding to expand his land. Yes, that is what she would do.
Though she wondered what that thundering sound was. She approached swiftly, only to see the Master assaulting the frozen ground furiously, while Wa Shi looked on, and slapped his fins on the bank of the river.
That… that was a big hole he was digging. Chun Ke had climbed in after him, and was using his tusks and nose to aid the Master’s furious quest.
...Was it some sort of training? She supposed cutting through the hardened soil might prove some challenge. And it was better than the numbers.
Tigu hopped into the hole. The earth could not withstand the might of her blades!
When I first left for the Azure Hills, I had planned to be a hermit. I had planned to do everything myself, and visit the least amount of people possible. If I hadn’t been a cultivator, that plan would have killed me. But then again, if I hadn’t been a cultivator, I wouldn’t have decided to do such a thing in the first place.
But to hell with that mindset. This may be xianxia land, but that doesn’t mean everybody is a shit head, going for the backstab and the betrayal. I had friends. I had a soon to be family. I had people who would help.
I needed to get a move on, If I wanted to have the house done in time for Meimei’s arrival. The days were getting warmer. I had spent a bunch of precious time digging a giant pit to store ice. Like.. a lot of ice. The frozen ground didn’t do much to stop me. A nice big underground storage area. Honestly it was mostly borne out of frustration with the fact that my ice experiments weren’t going that well. The several tons of ice now sitting pretty in their bunker was me finally snapping.
In other words, I had been procrastinating, because I had my attention captured by a dumb project, one I had borked up. By the time I realised how much work I had put into it, I had stripped an entire small lake of it’s ice. It was good stress relief though. Tigger was really good at cutting it into perfect blocks.
And making ice sculptures, once I showed her how. Though I didn’t really know how to feel about the life-sized replica of me, standing triumphantly on a pile of defeated enemies.
They all had their quirks, I suppose. And really, it was a fantastic sculpture. She had even managed to make it look like I had beads of sweat rolling down my bare chest. I should encourage her artistry!
My feet plodded along the melty path back home. My glass had arrived, and I was going to be finishing my house. This was the last step. The Xong brothers had offered their help, and I would be taking them up on it.
I could probably do it all myself, but the question was- why? It cost me a bit of food, and I get some extra hands and some company. Especially when installing windows, and sanding floors. That stuff was boring as hell. Even when you can do it as fast as I can. Many hands make light work, after all.
The brothers were out in the woods when I called on them, so their mother invited me in to wait. They still lived with their parents-- most people here did, with multiple generations living in the same house. Honestly, it was pretty nice. I was never a fan of the “out at 18” mindset a lot of people had in the before.
The matriarch of the Xong family, Nezin Hu Li was appropriately named. Huli being the word for fox. I could tell where Yun Ren got his looks from. She had the same fox-like eyes as her son, surrounded by laugh lines.
“Please, make yourself at home, Master Jin.” she said demurely, as she got some tea. “You’ve aided This Hu Li’s sons greatly, and she would like to thank you for it.”
“Please, just Jin. I’m good friends with Yun Ren and Gou Ren. There's no need for you to be so formal with me.” I told her, and took a sip of tea.
“Well, if that's whatcha want, then it’s all good, yeah?” I nearly spat out my tea at the swap from “formal, demure host” to whatever the hell her accent was. She sounded almost like she was from Brooklyn. Let me tell you, that coming out from a little asian lady was hilarious.
Her grin was so wide it split her face in two as she saw my amused look.
“Where's that from?” I asked.
“A remnant of my tribe.” She said, without the accent. “A week’s journey north, through the forest.” She swapped back. “So, you’re grabbin’ one of my brats fo tha summah?”
I chuckled. “Yeah. Gou Ren is going to be helping me, and learning about how to grow rice how I do it. Should improve yields here by a lot, but it’s also quite a bit more work.”
She nodded. “My boy likes to complain, but he always does good work. Take care of him, ya hear?”
I nodded. “Gou’s a good friend. And you’re welcome to come visit whenever you want.”
She smiled again. “I might just take you up on that. Little Mei will need a woman to talk to, in any case. There are some things men just can’t handle.” she said authoritatively.
I nodded. She would be better at handling “womanly issues” that Meimei might need help with. If Meiling wanted to include me in that kind of stuff, I was absolutely fine with helping, but if she wasn’t, that was her choice.
She seemed a little shocked at my easy surrender, her vulpine eyes opening completely. They were a lovely amber colour, the same as Gou Ren’s.
As quickly as the shock came, it went.“So how did you and Ten Ren meet, anyways?” I asked.
“Oh? He got hurt in the forest, and I found him. He thought I was some kind of fox spirit at first, and I thought he was some kind of ascended monkey. He shaves them off now, but back then his sideburns--! Well, I nursed him back to health, and he ended up challenging my father to a hunting contest to win my hand--”
I listened to the rather funny story of Ten Ren’s increasingly mad ploys to win the hand of a tribal girl.
Until finally he just snuck in in the middle of the night, and kidnapped her. Which is apparently what both she and her father had been waiting for, judging by the fond sighs and blush she got when relaying that piece of information.
Alright, that's a piece of culture shock, but judging by the story it was consensual, so I’m not gonna judge.
“And then my uncle looked right at him. Ten Ren always says he got away cleanly, but don’t believe a word.” She told me conspiratorially.
“--I swear the wood is faulty. It split right down the middle, again.” I heard Yun Ren’s raised voice from outside.
“My bow wasn’t faulty. Say that again and I’ll beat your teeth into the back of your skull. It's something else. That thing is cursed, I tell you, cursed!”
The brothers entered, looking quite upset, while Hu Li narrowed her eyes.
“And what are you two grumbling about now? Yun Ren's mystery deer?”
Both boys jumped. “Mother!” Yun Ren yelped.
“Jin?” Gou Ren called.
Hu Li glared at her sons. “It wasn’t even an hour from the village!” Yun Ren protested, “It had torn up a bunch of snow, to get at a patch of still green grass. I tried to get it, and Gou’s bow broke.”
Gou Ren grumbled.
Hu Li frowned, and raised an eyebrow at Gou Ren. “So it's real then, and not a tall story?”
Her younger son nodded. “I don’t think its a spirit beast. It looks too dumb. Here, Yun Ren can’t draw worth a damn, and you told me to get what it looked like.”
“I can draw just fine…” his brother muttered, while Gou Ren got a piece of charcoal. The table was what he used, instead of paper.
My first thought, when the drawing was done, was “Gou Ren is really good at making things look cute.”
The second was “that's a goddamn moose.”
Well, if there are sugar maple trees….
Hu Li looked a bit confused. “A Thunderhoof? This far south?”
“Hey, that's kinda cute. Nice drawing Gou.” I said, looking at the drawing. Look at those doe eyes~! He blushed. How could you mistake a moose for a deer, Yun?!
“Yeah, the babies are cute. You won’t be saying that when it grows up bigger than the headman’s house.” Hu Li shot back.
“And they’re not Spirit Beasts?” I asked incredulously.
“Some of ‘em are. Mostly, they're just big. They live up in the northern wastes, out in the Sea of Snow. This one is real lost to be down here.”
What the hell, xianxia land.
“...You want me to chase it off?” I finally asked.
She shook her head. “It’ll clear off on it’s own. And it won’t hurt us none, as long as we don’t poke it with arrows.” She snarled, glaring at her sons. They had the grace to look embarrassed. “They’re good fortune, anyways. It’ll stay for a while, then leave back to the wastes.”
She shook her head.
“Now! You came here for my boys! Take them, before they cause any more trouble!” She demanded, shooing us out of their house.
Both of her sons started whining about a change of clothes, and she relented. She leaned against the wall of their house, as we packed up.
“.... you know, sometimes the tribe’s hunters are around the area where you live. I’ll pass the word on, if they find something interesting, to head around.”
“Just tell them to enter through the gate. Big D and Tigger don’t take kindly to trespassers.” I warned. Especially if those trespassers were carrying weapons.
“I’ll tell ‘em, don’t you worry. I’d tell you to take good care of little Mei… but I don’t think you need to be told to do that.”
“Well, take care now, and don’t be afraid to tan their hides if they muck up.” Hu Li said with a wave. “Really, trying to hunt a Thunderhoof.” She muttered.
I resisted the urge to go running off and find the baby moose. I had a job to do. Maybe I could see if I could find it after this?
Anyways, we didn’t take long to pack up, when we were approached by Meimei, Yao Che and Xian the Elder.
“What are you boys up to?” Che asked leadingly.
“They’re going to help me with my house. Gotta get the windows in, and the floors done, so I asked for a hand.”
“Oh, glasswork?” Che remarked, not sounding surprised at all. “Don’t leave it to these two miscreants, you want a fine touch. I’ve little to do right now, and I want to see what these brats have been squawking about!” Elder Che had declared.
Hong Xian nodded. “I would see your home as well.” he asked politely.
Well, the more the merrier.
I shrugged. “Hop in," I said, banging the side of my cart. "We’ll be there in a couple hours at my pace. Meimei, you coming too?”
Meiling looked like she wanted to come, but had a silent conversation with her father. He shook his head slightly, and she nodded.
“I’ll stay here this time.” She decided. “Let some things be a surprise.”
Well, it wasn’t too long till we were married…
I scratched Rizzo’s head, and nodded at Meimei.
“Well…. I’ll see you soon, then.” The rest of the men seemed to be busy with the cart, so I darted in and kissed her on the forehead.
She giggled, and swatted me away.
There was a bit of a nervous flutter in my stomach, as I would be showing my father-in-law around my house. He would like it. I knew he would like it.
I picked up the cart when they were all settled in, and started running.