The Crimson Phoenix Empire. A name that resounds across the known world.
A land of power and glory. Of industry, of art, of culture. A superpower that dominates a continent under the watchful eye of the Son of Heaven, His Imperial Majesty, and his Bureaucracy.
It’s grand cities can house millions. It’s length and breadth could not be seen in a mortal lifetime, encompassing floating islands, hidden realms, and untamed wilderness that boggles the mind. Poison Bogs. Befuddling forests, and mountains that scrape the very edge of the sky, too tall for any to climb.
It is a land of cultivators, striving every day to defy the heavens. A hundred thousand battles, great and small, rage across the continent. Martial Tournaments. Bandit attacks. Rampaging Spirit Beasts. Pub brawls. Wars in all but name between the Sects. The great battle at the Five Immortal Phoenix Gates, against the latest round of Demonic invaders.
It is a never ending climb to the top. To win glory, fame, merit, accolades. To rise above your birth, and defy the heavens. To train and fight an struggle and strive.
A thousand tales may be told of martyrs, of the most vile of villains and the greatest of heroes. Battles that shake the heavens, and upend the status quo.
One only needs to pick up their sword, steel their resolve, and fight!
But this…. This is not one of those stories.
Upon the northern reaches of the sprawling Crimson Phoenix Continent lay the Azure Hills. A mostly landlocked province, with only a tiny bit of ocean available at it’s southwestern edge. Full of giant rolling hills and grassy knolls. It is so named for the purity of it’s clear sky, and the prevalence of said hills. As befitting a northern province, the seasons are temperate, and a great amount of snow falls each winter.
As all provinces of the Empire, the Azure Hills are enormous, nearly a country in their own right. But they bear a nearly unforgivable sin.
The Azure Hills are weak.
In every story, they are absent. No name from their pitiful lands has ever been able to reach the heavens. It's only outstanding quality is its weakness. The only reason why it is even remembered is it’s worthlessness.
It is here that a man decided that his future lay. In a backwater nowhere no man of ambition would subject himself to.
He had no desire to have his name resound through the heavens. He had no desire to obtain limitless, transcendent power. He cared little for merit or glory.
He just wanted to live a peaceful life. To have a little patch of heaven to call his own.
I woke up content. Well, not just woke up content. Contentedness had just been my state of being ever since the wedding.
There was a pleasantly warm body pressed against my chest, and I was curled around it. My arm wrapped around her chest and my palm was held over her heart by her own hands. I could feel the steady slow beats of her heart, pulsing gently against my hand.
My wife. Still something I was getting used to. I was married. It was... A bit weird, I will confess, but it was mostly lost in a haze of good feelings.
My wife was beautiful. Idiots called her eyes sharp, her tongue a dagger and her freckles blemishes.
Her eyes were beautiful amethysts, her freckles made her cute, and her tongue…
Her tongue was very nice too. Uh, yeah. Thats all I’m going to say about that.
To my sensibilities, we had moved extremely quickly. Like Las Vegas, shotgun wedding fast. But to the people here… well, it wasn’t so abnormal.
But it was good. Very good. Especially the sleeping in the same bed part. It may just be the honeymoon period talking, but we were getting rather less sleep than we probably should.
I pressed my nose into green-tinted hair, and took a breath. She smelled like herbs. It was a very nice smell.
Meiling stirred in my grip, and her hands tightened briefly against my hand on her chest, trying to pull me closer. She let out a little sigh of contentment, and a sleepy murmur as she let go.
“Good Morning.” I murmured into her hair.
“‘Morn--morning.” She yawned, raising her arms above her head and stretching, wiggling against my body in interesting ways. She rolled over in my arms. Her wonderful violet eyes were still lidded with tiredness.
She pressed a kiss to my lips, and we just cuddled for a while. Her body was warm and smooth, and her heartbeat nearly lulled me back to sleep. Our breathing synchronised, as we lay together.
Everything felt right.
I pondered what I was going to say.
“I like swimming, and the smell of rain, but I really hate getting rained on.” I eventually said, deciding on my “fact of the morning.”
We were married, but didn’t actually know too much about each other. So.. I had decided, on the second day, to tell her something random that I thought of about myself every morning. It was mostly knowledge that didn’t really matter, but… well, she seemed to enjoy it. Or at least she humored me enough to tell me stuff back.
Meiling hummed, amused. “So that's why you were so grumpy yesterday. I thought it was because Gou Ren messed something up.”
I shrugged. What can you do. I liked the outdoors, but getting soaking wet through rain always put me in a bit of a bad mood. I chose a great profession in farming for that, didn’t I? I needed to go outside in the rain all the time.
Meimei smiled up at me. “Well, something in common. I really hate getting rained on too.”
There was a loud call from outside, as Big D sounded the morning bell.
I sighed, wishing I could just spend the entire day in bed. Instead, I kissed Meiling on the forehead, and we both got up to get dressed. But at least there was one ritual that we had decided on that let us have a few more moments together.
I ran a comb through my wife's hair. It was simple. But the feeling of silky smooth locks through my fingers calmed me down, and let me think a bit better.
We prepared the rest of the morning in silence. We both took breaths at the door, remembering the long, long day ahead of us.
“This is the hardest part. Once summer hits, we’ll have less to do.” I muttered to myself.
I reached out for Meimei’s hand, entwining our fingers.
“Alright. Let's do this.” I declared.
We marched downstairs. I started the fire, while Meimei went and got the eggs. Eggs and rice, an imaginative breakfast. I was craving an egg and cheese sandwich, but I restrained myself. I may have to wait a while for that, but It would be with my eggs, my bread, and my cheese. With my hash browns too.
Think of it, Jin. let the desire fuel your movements!
By the time breakfast was ready, everyone else had sat down, and was ready to start the day. Big D bowed slightly, as we came in with the food. His colours were as vibrant as ever, and his fox-fur vest as pristine as when I first gave it to him. Beside him sat Rizzo, the little rat still sleepy, and seeming to doze. Washy, the dull brown carp, was in his trough, ramrod straight and slapping his fins happily in anticipation for food. Chunky was next, the big boy curled next to Peppa. His scars had faded to white lines, but they still lent the big suck a dangerous air.
Tigger was the last of the animals, The tiger-striped cat sitting grumply at the table, and glaring at everyone and everything. She had been in a spectacularly bad mood ever since she was refused entry into my room at night.
Though Io suppose I should consider her feelings too. She was basically still a kitten, and she had just gotten kicked out of her parent’s bed.
I nearly sighed at the thought. Worrying about how animals are taking your marriage. How surreal my life had become.
The other two guests were human. The first was our friend from Hong Yaowu, and acting farmhand, Gou Ren.
Gou Ren had a bit of an unfortunate face. His nose was a bit too wide, and his sideburns grew in just the right way to make him look a bit like a monkey.
He looked well rested, and was scratching Chunky behind his ears.
Our other guest was sitting with great dignity at the table. She bowed in respect when she was served. Her silky brown hair was immaculate, and her white robe pristine.
Peppa raised her head blearily as the food was set in front of her, and with a single, dainty bite, the eggs and rice were gone, the bowl cleaned.
We ate largely in silence, as I considered my options.
Each and every day was a learning experience. My first learning experience was delegation. It's amazing how much you get stuck in your ways over the course of just a year. But now, I had people to help me. I had to talk to people. The first day of work had been hilariously awkward, as I had just kind of gone off and started to do my own thing, while everybody else had been waiting for direction.
“Gou Ren, you’re on the rice patties today.” I decided. “Shore up the walls like I taught you, and then we’ll move on to sorting the seed.”
He groaned. “Qi reinforcement is the bane of my existence.” he declared seriously. “Do I really have to do the whole thing?”
“Yup. Gotta make sure it won’t collapse, else you’re going to lose the entire harvest.” Gou Ren sighed at my reply but nodded.
“Xiulan.” The other woman perked up immediately at the mention of her name, leaning forward eagerly. “The western field, please.” She nodded her head magnanimously, but she seemed a bit disappointed.
“Meimei, what you planned on yesterday.” I said, though I didn’t really need to. She knew what she was doing.
“I’m going to be out with Babe. Work him for a little.” Honestly I felt a bit sorry for the ox. I had named him after Paul Bunyan’s companion, but he barely had anything to do. Ironically, the big, strong ox was one of the weakest things here. Maybe he was stronger than Rizzo, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
We finished our meal, and got started for the day.
It was slowly getting hotter as it beat down on the land. The snows had long since melted, but the river was still ice cold. The ground had hardened up a bit, firming in the sun from a quagmire to something that was workable.
“Ooh, this is nice.” I mused aloud as we used the new plow. The edge of the formerly demonic blade bit deep, and sliced through the soil like a hot knife through butter. It took my Qi easily, a lot more easily than my last plow. Babe pulled, and we went fast enough. I patted the ox on his rump. He was a good boy. Obedient, calm, and easy to control, but still an actual animal instead of a Spirit Beast.
He needed something to do other than sit around and get fat, so we went to work together. We worked together, and he did his job well. Though it was mostly the plow.
It was a really nice plow. If a bit unadorned. Rough and simple looking though.
My mind wandered as we worked.
I was on field two. This one was going to be the root vegetable field. Radish, turnup, and most importantly, potatoes. There would be hashbrowns in my future.
Behind me, a gaggle of chickens followed, pecking eagerly at the bugs unearthed by my efforts. They fluttered and squawked, making little clucking noises as they ate.
And, there was a certain someone on my shoulder. Big D was in his usual place, gazing imperiously from his perch. He watched over the rest of the chickens, to make sure they didn’t go too far, and a single, sharp cluck would bring them back into line.
Occasionally, he too would hop down and pluck a particularly fat looking bug out of the air, before returning to his position. I scratched his wattles affectionately when he did.
Back and forth across the field we went, pulling the plow. Each step was as even, and each furrow was as an exact distance I could make it.
I idly looked at the plow again, and my lips quirked into a smile.
I patted it twice. “I dub thee Sunny.” I declared. I could almost imagine Sun Ken, the blade’s previous owner, spinning in his grave.
I could already see the sun carvings on it, along with a nice coat of yellow paint.A happy, cheerful plow.
In what felt like no time at all, I was finished. The sun was high in the sky, and I was terribly thirsty. I took a swig from my bamboo drinking container, and wandered over to the river with Babe to splash some cold water on my face, to wash away some of the sweat.
It was brisk, but invigorating.
I sighed in contentment, and leaned back. I felt good. A wonderful start, to a wonderful spring.
Big D agreed with me, ripping loose a call from his place on Babe’s back, happy to be planting again.
“You tell ‘em, Big D.” I said with a smile.