Her Master was in her element. She strode around the house, checking and re-checking everything.
“Ri Zu, remember to take in the Hairroot fungus if it finishes drying before we return, we won’t want anything trying to eat it.”
Her Master’s voice was exciting in tone and even as she gave command to her disciple. Her amethyst eyes were lost, deep in thought as she went over a mental checklist of everything that she could think needed to be done.
Ri Zu nodded with her little slate, writing everything down. Memorization was all well and good, but a written copy for the others may prove essential for carrying out the orders they were being charged with. Miss Pi Pa trotted along beside them, the lady nodding her head appropriately.
Her Master had requested her skills, to watch over Great Fa Ram in her absence. There were many-much things that needed tending too, even after the planting was finished. She, in particular, had been charged with overseeing the cows and the calves, to make sure they were hale and healthy.
It was humbling, that she, a mere neophyte, would be entrusted with a task of this magnitude! Sister Pi Pa was overall in charge of the household, in the absence of its true Mistress. None would dare deny her this, even Brother Bi De would bow his head before the lady’s considerable bulk.
Ri Zu stood tall. She would accomplish her task! She was a worthy disciple! No matter what that arrogant beast liked to say about her!
She smirked slightly as she thought of Tigu, and her wrath. Still not a bee to her name, while Brother Chun Ke had come back with a third nest. The look of arrogance cracking had been wonderful!
“I think that is everything. If you need us, we are not too far. Send Chun Ke to fetch us, and we shall be back as soon as we are able.”
Ri Zu bowed her head, and finished the list. Sister Pi Pa nodded primly.
“Senior Sister, I am ready.” A quiet voice carried over, and Ri Zu’s Master brightened. The Young Miss was in an altered pair of her Master’s skirt and shirt, instead of the shimmery, gossamer dress and gold ornaments she wore when not working.
It had required a few alterations, alterations Ri Zu had helped with! The Young Miss was quite a bit taller than her Master.
As it was, the skirt only came to the Young Miss’ shins. Though it was still longer than another piece that her Master had worked on. That had ended barely at her master’s mid-thigh, and had caused her quite a bit of embarrassment. She had kept what Master Jin had called a ‘mini skirt’, though her face was crimson.
Ri Zu’s Master smiled at the Young Miss, and bought out a comb. She brushed the Young Miss’ hair, and braided it as was the Young Miss’ preferred style, and they then traded places.
The Young Miss dutifully combed Ri Zu’s Master’s hair, while her master used a smaller, finer comb to attend to Ri Zu.
It was a wonderful new morning ritual.
After their hair was combed, Ri Zu’s Master linked her arms with the Young Miss, and they exited the house.
There, Master Jin was already prepared. The cart had a few things in it. Gou Ren stood, stretching as he chewed on a sprig of grass.
The humans of Fa Ram gathered on one side of the gate. The Disciples, the other. Master Jin showed them great face by clasping his hands in gratitude, bowing to the disciples he entrusted with his home. Ri Zu’s Master, the Young Miss, and Disciple Gou Ren bowed as well.
Brother Bi De was almost overcome with emotion. She could see it in the way he stood, proud and erect. He swept into a graceful bow.
‘We pay our respects to the Great Master’ they intoned.
“Everyone. Thank you.” Master Jin replied.
And then they were off.
Hong Xian was the 78th to bear the name Hong Xian.
His father was the 77th Hong Xian, and his father was the 76th. If he had a son, he would be the 79th Hong Xian.
….Why did they all have to be named the same thing? His leg bounced idly as he sat, reading. Tradition. Tradition, every scroll said. Tradition, his father said too. Tradition, like learning family history and reading scrolls for hours on end. Who cared whether it was the 54th or 45th Hong Xian that had the village rebuilt after the great fires? It got rebuilt. History was boring, especially without Meimei to read it to him. She always made it exciting, instead of just the dumb names and dates.
He missed his sister. She was annoying, bossy and always prodding him to do chores, read more, practise his medicine or harvesting skills.
But now that she had been away, he couldn’t help but miss her. She was just always….there for the most part. Someone to talk to. Someone to ask questions, someone to play with. She even liked going frog hunting! Xian barely remembered their mother. In his memories, it was his sister bandaging scraped knees or carrying him around the house. He never appreciated just how much his elder sister did, until they had to ask Hu Li to help them with the cooking and cleaning. Things Meimei did, and made look easy. His father was too busy, and Xian couldn’t cook.
Why couldn’t Big Brother Jin have moved in with them, instead of being days away? Meimei would still be here, and Jin could give him piggy-back rides all the time. That would have been perfect!
He smiled at the thought. Maybe he would be able to convince them to stay? He was in a slightly better mood as he turned back to the scroll.
In these cases, the 65th Hong Xian proscribed essence of gnarlroot, instead of the whole root. This was more efficacious, and so was entered into the annals...
He sighed, and reared back his arm to throw the boring, boring scroll...but thought better of it. Meimei wouldn’t approve. She’d get that disappointed look that he wasn’t treating the scrolls with respect.
Xian grumbled as he got up and put the scroll away. That was enough studying for today. Father wouldn’t know, either. He was too busy working on things to notice if his son left a bit early.
Even doing the odd jobs out in the fields was better than this.
He wandered out of the house, and into the village.
“Good morning, little chief!” The grandmother from next door called to him, spinning the yarn as well as her arthritis riddled fingers could.
“Good morning, grandmother,” he greeted back politely, and continued his walk.
He debated what to do. Helping in the fields was not appealing. Catching frogs when the water was this cold still wasn’t something he wanted to do either. So he wandered. Wandered around the village, until he heard grumbling.
He followed the noise. Yun Ren was sitting, Holding his hands out with his thumb and index finger extended, forming a kind of square with them. Sweat was beading on his brow, and there was something in the air, as he concentrated. It...almost smelled. It was like an itching sensation in his sinuses. Xian scratched the bridge of his nose.
A wavering, distorted image slowly formed, of the house Yun Ren was facing, until with a sharp pop it disappeared.
Yun Ren said a word that Meimei always said, but threatened to stick bitterroot in Xian’s mouth if she ever heard him repeat.
“Maybe I do need the damn crystal. But they’re so expensive. Capture light. Yeah, capture light how, Jin?”
“Hey, Yun Ren.” Xian greeted, and the man jumped a bit, turning to face him.
“Oh, hey little boss. Finished with your scrolls?” he asked, sitting down.
Xian looked to the side.
A vulpine grin split Yun Ren’s face when Xian didn’t answer immediately.
“Slackin’? Oh, well I never. What would the chief say?” He playfully teased.
Xian rolled his eyes, and sat down beside Yun Ren. The older man wouldn’t tell, because if he did, Meimei had told him all the areas Yun Ren liked to hide when he was slacking.
He tried to raise an eyebrow like his sister did when she was annoyed at somebody. It normally made Yun Ren recoil, or apologise when Meimei did it. Yun Ren laughed, and ruffled Xian’s hair, leaning back and wiping the sweat off his brow.
“Why are you doing that anyway?” Xian asked. Yun Ren shrugged.
“Recording crystals are expensive.” He stated simply. “Was trying to see If I needed one, and the answer so far is yes. It was… a dumb thought anyway. Nowhere to store the images even if it works, instead of being a blur.”
Xian frowned. Cultivator stuff was weird.
They sat in silence together, Xian’s leg bouncing with excess energy. Yun Ren had got out a small slip of paper, and had his tongue stuck out while he calculated...something. He obviously didn’t get a pleasing answer, and he sighed.
“Maybe I should ask Jin to work on the farm next year.” He muttered, “Why do they have to cost so much?”
Xian’s nose started to itch again. It was so annoying! He started rubbing at it in irritation, and it eventually faded as the sun got higher in the sky.
There was a shout from near the front of the village.
“Hey! Meiling! Gou Ren! Back already?!”
Both of their eyes widened. Yun Ren was off in a blur, leaving Xian in the dust, but he gave it his best effort, charging after Yun Ren.
By the time Xian got there, Yun Ren and Gou Ren were already scuffling on the ground, a tangle of limbs and curses while Big Brother Jin laughed uproariously.
Xian had eyes only for one person. His sister was palming her face and shaking her head with a smile, while the pretty lady… Xiu… Something? Fairy Sister? Seemed mildly amused.
Xian kept up his charge “Meimei!” he shouted, never slowing down for an instant. His sister looked directly at him, her eyes widening, and a massive grin spreading across her face. She held out her arms, and he jumped without hesitation. She scooped him up and spun him around with ease, and planted two wet, sloppy kisses onto his cheeks.
Xian glared at his sister as she planted him on a hip, using only one arm. The grip was firm and unwavering.
“HA! I knew you were lying that I was getting too heavy!” He pouted at her. No grunts, or trembling arms like she was acting like she had before. She smiled, and pressed her forehead to his.
“Ah, I was just making sure you didn’t need me to carry you around everywhere. It wouldn’t do for the chief to take over the village, and not be able to walk without his sister.”
Xian just wrapped his arms around her neck.
“Hello, Big Brother Jin, Fairy Sister!” He greeted. Jin, who was staring at his sister carrying him around with a soft smile, ruffled his hair.
Fairy Sister winced slightly at him calling her Fairy Sister. “Ah, good morning…. Young master? This one’s name is Cai Xiulan.” She said, clasping her hands respectfully.
It was weird. She was weird. Nobody was that respectful to Xian. Really, Young Master was pushing it too!
Meimei eagerly walked forwards into town, as more people surrounded them, wandering over to see what the commotion was about.
Including their father. His eyes widened at seeing his daughter, and then a soft smile spread across his face.
They crossed the distance in a blue, as they embraced.
“Welcome home.” Father whispered to her.