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Meiling was rather glad that she hadn’t been gone long. It only took a day for everybody to calm back down from their excitement. Especially after she put Ty An in her place. Such conflicts rarely happened in Hong Yaowu. They were too small and close knit for that, but when they did happen, they got ugly.

Meiling nipped it in the bud. Suddenly being the oldest of the younger generation, after Meiling and Meihua left meant Ty An had something to prove.

Ty An had found fertile ground with her insult. It was a rather good one, she had to admit. Attacking several insecurities that Meiling used to have. Of course the rich, powerful man had another woman, and of course Meiling was just some sort of concubine or servant, instead of this beautiful flower.

For most of the other women, the thought provoked concern. Had Meiling been taken advantage of? Had he taken another woman so soon?

Simply denying it wasn’t enough sometimes. Actions spoke louder than words, even for such petty games.

The glances lasted until Meiling asked Xiulan to prepare a bath for her, and the other woman obeyed with a “Yes, Senior Sister!”

Of course, nobody knew that it was Xiulan’s turn, and it didn’t really come into their heads that preparing a bath wasn’t as much of an ordeal for a cultivator as it was for them.

All that mattered is that Meiling was the one who commanded, and was obeyed without hesitation. While Meiling went to bed with Jin (and later, when he snuck in, her little brother), Xiulan slept in the guest room.

Ty An’s little rebellion was crushed mercilessly, strangled and stabbed to death by a thistle’s thorns. She couldn’t help the small suge of vindictive pleasure that coursed through her, and felt immediately guilty about it. Ty An didn’t really deserve what Meiling had said.

“Ty An. With me please.” Meiling commanded, and the girl winced, expecting some sort of continuation of yesterday. A few eyes followed them, watching for a reaction.

Instead, they worked. Cutting and chopping for the morning meal. With Jin and Gou Ren added to the forces of men, everything else would be finished today. And then, she would be spending at least a few days just laying around her old house and reading. How exciting!

“Slightly more of an angle, Ty An.” Meiling instructed. The other girl nearly jumped out of her skin, but obeyed, and the cutting started to go easier.

They worked in silence, for a few moments longer.

“This is over.” Meiling said simply, catching the younger girl’s eye.

“....sorry.” Ty An apologised, her voice quiet. “And thanks.”

The eyes turned away from them, and the chatter became louder, and more boisterous.

“Ah. Senior Sister?” Xiulan asked. “May I join you today?”

Meiling turned to Xiulan as once more the work lulled. She was standing in the doorway with little Liu, the quiet girl holding on to the end of Xiulan’s skirt and peeking out at them. Meiling’s lips quirked with amusement at the excess of flower crowns once again on Xiulan’s head.

Meiling nodded. Xiulan stepped into the room, the territory of the village’s women. No man stepped in here lightly. The other women’s eyes gleamed.

Xiulan recoiled as they crowded around her. Meiling saw Xiulan’s hand clench into a fist, the smell of cut grass spiking.

Meiling’s hands clapped together, the sound like thunder.

Her eyes narrowed as everyone froze.

“Back to work.” She commanded.

========================

Xiulan took a breath. The mortal women were entirely too fond of touching her, or wanting to braid her hair. It was… overwhelming.

The Soldiers she knew were a rowdy bunch, but were respectful enough. They did not get so close. They did not press up against her.

They did not have to worry that she would accidentally punch them when they moved too fast towards sensitive areas, or hovered behind her, looking over her shoulder.

She was rather grateful that Senior Sister had rescued her from the press, and sent her to get water. A task she was finished with in moments.

At least cooking was proving to be relatively easy. It was certainly easier than pill refining. She took calming breaths, as she calmed down--contemplated.

One of the breaths smelled like dirt.

She opened her eyes, and observed the large larva that was right under her nose.The fat grub reared up and seemed to look her in the eye, cradled in little hands.

“A Great Horned Beetle Grub? An auspicious find, Young Master.” she noted. The boy, crouched in front of her with an evil little grin wilted.

“You’re supposed to scream.” He informed her with a pout.

“I am?” She asked idly. Was this some sort of mortal thing? Why would one scream over a grub?

“Mmm. Every girl other than Meimei does.” He declared, sitting on one of her crossed knees without even asking. Impudent, but she would allow it.

“If Senior Sister would not scream, then I shall not either, Young Master.” His nose scrunched up adorably, just like Senior Sister’s did. A few freckles dotted the bridge of it.

“Ah, you’re no fun, Fairy Sister.”

Xiulan nearly winced. Getting called “Fairy Sister” brought up unpleasant memories of far too pushy men. Men that she couldn't stab without provoking entirely too much bloodshed.

“You may address this one as Xiulan, Young Master.” She informed Senior Sister’s younger brother.

“My name is Xian, Fairy Sister.” He returned. “Its annoying when everybody calls me young Cheif or little boss.”

Oh? How amusing.

“As you say, Xian.” She allowed.

He smiled and turned so that he was fully in her lap, resting his head back against her chest. She shifted slightly, copying the movements of the mortals to give him a better seat.

He brought up the grub again. “I grow them in my room, Lanlan.” Her lips quirked at the nickname. Again, how impudent, but this was just the way of mortals.

Much better than the multiple references to flowers or fairies.“They don’t have any medical uses, but they look neat when they grow up. If you get the males you can put them both on a log and they throw each other off. Want to see where I found him? He was a lot smaller back then. I’ll show you my secret spot.” The young boy babbled, gesticulating wildly.

Well, she had nothing better to do right now….

She escorted the Young Master-- Xian, into the forest, as he talked eagerly about his “secret spot.” His hand was small and fragile in hers.

“Dad tells me not to come here cos the Thunderhoof is hanging around. Never seen him. But the grass here is nice and soft. Softest I’ve ever felt, an…Dad said if I wanted to go again, I needed an escort.” He admitted, embarrassed. Well, he had his escort. Quite devious of him, really, though she would have come with him if he had told her. Been more alert too. Her swords were back in her room. Xian sniffed, and rubbed his nose “It smells… kinda like you?”

It smelled like her? She didn’t believe she smelled like much besides sweat these days. No flowered baths when working at a farm-- Ah! She looked down at his scrunched, freckled nose. He must have the same ability as Senior Sister.

They continued their little walk through the trees, and Xiulan’s focus sharpened as she began to feel the gentle pulse of Qi. It was strong, and heady, so much so that she could almost smell it.

They came to a clearing.

Her pupils dilated. Spiritual grass. So much spiritual grass, of the highest grade she had ever witnessed. The grass was so green and verdant it surpassed the patches of Heartgrass that lay on the tops of the Verdant Blade’s own hill. She could feel the power from here. The gentle pulse of life, of Qi. If she could refine this into a pill she could--

She cut the thought off. She had no pill furnace. And what was she going to do, rip it all up, when the Young-- when Xian had trusted her enough to show her?

She took a deep breath. The peaceful tranquility of the area washed over her. And it was peaceful. This place… it felt like a resting place. A place where grudges went to fade away.

“This is a nice place, Xian.” She whispered, unwilling to disturb the tranquility.

“Mhm! I practise my dancing here! Father says I need to practise a lot! But the best thing is this!”

She allowed herself to be pulled to the patch of grass, as Xian fell over onto his back on it.

As the mortals did, she supposed.

She sat down on the grass. It was wonderfully soft and comfortable. She idly pushed her Qi into the ground, into the growing grass. It was nearly a habit now, though these certainly didn’t need more Qi.

She let out a sigh, as they stared at the sky through the trees. Her eyes slowly closed.

==========

She opened her eyes to a wary glare. The earth spirit was close, her body bunched up, and her posture tense.

Xiulan swiftly retreated, getting out of headbutt range.

She followed Xiulan with her eyes. Or eye. Xiulan had never noticed the one that was missing before, covered over by gold. Xiulan bowed respectfully.

The earth spirit snorted, folding her arms across her chest.

Xiulan took a moment to look around the grassy area, with it’s white walls and odd gold cracks. The Air was thick with Qi, and she felt a massive desire to move.

She turned back to the earth spirit, who was completely ignoring her, having wandered off to go and dig in the grass.

Xiulan’s body twitched. She launched into the first form of the Verdant Blade Sword Arts. Even without the Jade Grass Blades, she completed the movements with astounding grace in the odd room.

She stepped and twirled, but something felt off- something that she could not identify. The structure was off. The verdant Blade Sword Arts was not providing the right movements.

She let go of the rigid form. She began to flow. The steps of the dance came naturally. Half remembered, half forgotten.

Which is when a clod of earth nearly struck her in the head. She ducked, flowing into another motion, and turned to frown at the earth spirit.

She was grinning at her, and tossed a mud ball up and down in her hand.

With a throw, it flew at her head, and Xiulan moved again, bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet.

The spirit’s smile turned predatory.

Mud balls flew. Little hands reached out to grapple.

Xiulan dodged and moved the best she could, spiraling around the odd almost building with as much grace as she could muster. Occasionally, a blow would land. One to the shin, that forced her foot back into a position that felt better. One to the shoulder, that shifted her balance just so.

By the time Xiulan realised what it was doing, it was over. A foot slid between her legs, a little hand grabbed her robe, and her back slammed into the ground as she was thrown with earth shaking force.

Xiulan lay there for a moment, as the earth spirit picked at her ear. One eye considered her.

“Thank you for the guidance.” Xiulan managed to get out.

The earth spirit waved at her dismissively.

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