“I think I have seen something like this before.” Xian mused, scratching at his chin.

“Really?” I asked, as myself, pops, and Yao Che all stared at my drawing of a still. Honestly, out of everything I was “inventing” a still was probably the thing I knew how to make the best. Well, the best when I had a hardware store to manufacture all the pipes, or a pressure cooker if I wanted to go full hillbilly. In the absence of those, I needed some professionals.

Pops nodded. “In Pale Moon Lake City. Of course, the device was three stories tall and glowing with inner fire, but it did look somewhat similar to the way yours is arrayed.”

“What was it used for?” I asked, intrigued.

“We do not know the original intent of it’s creator. It's nearly two thousand years old. But what it did was concentrate solutions. Any solution. Though only a tenth of the liquid ever came out the other end. But alas, it stopped working. It only produces black sludge now, and nobody knows how to fix it.” Xian sighed. “So now, it is merely a curiosity. The glowing machine near the palace.”

Huh. Well, if it looked like a giant still, I wouldn't be surprised if it was. Qi filled alcohol was expensive. Qi artifacts were so strange though. I kind of took it for granted that you could reverse engineer most devices, instead of being some lost mystic art that could never be replicated again.

“So, you think you can handle something like this?” I asked Yao Che, and the blacksmith stared long and hard at my drawings.

He considered them in great depth, a frown affixed to his face, until he shook his head and sighed. “I’ll be able to do the body, but this much piping is going to be… difficult.” The admission that he might not be able to do something like this seemed to be physically painful. “Especially at the purity you want. We just don’t have the means out here.”

I sighed, and nodded. It was a bit of a longshot anyway. It was mostly an idle idea. I wasn’t actually the biggest drinker. I was normally a juice or iced tea kind of guy (I could not wait until the peaches were ready to harvest, peach iced tea, here I come!) but If other people were drinking, I normally joined in. Get a little buzzed, and have a little fun.

Also, potatoes for vodka. Though I had read something about most vodka being made out of oats or something now? I couldn’t actually remember.

Yao Che looked at the pipes a bit more, and the amount of turns. “If we can get the copper, I might be able to do the pipes. I’ll have to do some practise.”

“Well, if you need a hand, I’m available, even if it's just to pump the bellows. I want to see how this is made.” I replied.

Or more specifically, how an ancient blacksmith made pipes. It was always a pleasure to watch someone skilled at work. The lack of drop hammers and machinery just made it more interesting. Everything by hand. No wonder Yao Che looked like he could get in a fistfight with a bear and win.

He looked pleased at my offer, perking up at the thought of me learning even something like this from him.

“The copper is still the main issue. You’ll definitely need to get a merchant on it, contact someone in the exchange.... Or go to Pale Moon Lake City.”

Something that I could probably kludge together in an afternoon back in the before was quickly turning into a grand quest that I would have to travel nearly a week for. Honestly, it was starting to sound a bit not worth it. And the price would rapidly balloon if I had to go to the big city. I… well, I didn’t have too much left, after everything. Sure, I had the maple syrup I could sell, and that might fetch some good coin, but I might have to wait until after the harvest. We weren’t in any danger of starving, and we could still afford some creature comforts for sure, but the still was rapidly starting to cost more than I thought it would.

That said, it wasn’t all for boozing it up. If you can distill it enough, you can use it to disinfect things, from tools and needles, to I think wounds.

And my family was full of healers. Might as well get them the best tools for the job they had. They knew boiling water killed most bacteria, but you can’t just start boiling people.

Well you can’t boil most people. I can survive a boiling just fine. And oven temperatures. I’d yet to find a temperature that actually damaged my skin.

I idly wondered if I could just reach into a forge, and grab the cherry-red metal. That would certainly make things easy.

“Well, I’ll see if I can get some better measurements for you, so you have a better idea of how much copper you need.” Yao Che informed me, as he got to work.

“And the cost of the flux, too.” Pops said. “If it is to be near such a harsh liquid, the lead in the flux may seep out and render the liquid poison.”

That one threw me for a loop, not going to lie. It still got me that they had some really advanced medical knowledge in some areas, and then super medieval thoughts and technology in others. Like in farming equipment. If you have germ theory, pasteurization should be something logical, shouldn’t it? But when I brought that up to Pops, he looked like somebody hit him over the head. Most people used special, expensive arrays to keep things fresh if they had to. Nobody had thought of just heating things up.

But I suppose it was more advanced knowledge than most people had. Hong Yaowu basically meant “Medicine Warehouse” after all. And a lot of the mortals I had seen on the road through The Azure Hills seemed to not have as high hygiene standards.

“I’m a little surprised you wouldn’t just use a pill furnace though. Can’t those refine liquids?” Pops asked.

“That… that is actually a good idea.” I admitted. Pill furnaces could extrude liquids, if you interrupted the process, though that was generally the sign of a lack of skill, or you screwed up somewhere. It would be faster too. A couple minutes instead of hours. But it would probably cost the same, or even more, because of all the extra workings that went into a pill furnace. “It might work, but anyone can use a still. You don’t need Qi, or anything special.” I told him, shrugging.

That, and I still wasn’t the most comfortable around the things. It was irrational. It was just a tool, but I was a bit uncomfortable about the pills.

He nodded at my explanation. “So? What are you up to for the rest of the day?” He asked me idly, as Yao Che started marking things down.

“Fishing with the boys, at Green Lake.” I said happily.

Yao Che nodded. “Well, you boys have a good time. Your wife going along?”

“Meimei made it very clear that anybody that tries to drag her out of the house today is going to earn her ire. And then she started laughing to herself and muttering about laxatives.” I said. Well, it was fishing with the boys, so I didn’t try too hard to convince her anyway.

Che barked out a laugh. “That girl is entirely too much like her mother. Though tempered with Brother Xian’s subtlety.” He mused, nudging pops while he smirked.

I’d have to ask pops about Meimei’s mom some day. I could tell the wound of her absence still hurt, but I hoped they would tell me about her.

“Well, leave this drawing with me, and I’ll get the rest of these measurements figured out. Your Brother Che will get you the best price, count on it!” Yao Che declared. held out his arm, and we clasped forearms, instead of a more formal bow, completing our deal.

I was fairly certain that most smiths would charge for figuring out a blueprint for their client, but Che just seemed a bit interested to have a project. The perks of being friends with people.

“Hey Jin! We’re ready to go!” Gou Ren shouted to me.

Pale Moon Lake City, Huh? I’d think about it. Not like it was really a priority.


The fishing trip was pretty nice. We had some good, relaxing fishing, save for one incident. Even if Yun Ren gave up his line to just take pictures of everything. That man was entirely too obsessed with my recording crystal., but it was a pretty harmless hobby.

And I’ll say it again, he does take good images.The one of Xiulan this morning, sitting with her eyes closed in meditation, with little Liu adding more flowers to her hair was especially good. If I didn’t know better there would have been a lighting crew and photoshop involved.

Or his landscape images looked nice too. Green Lake was peaceful, idyllic…

He swapped to the next picture, of my face, eyes bugged out with panic.

And had some kind of freshwater shark in it, which was apparently pretty rare, but could grow to dangerous sizes.

And while I was a cultivator, seeing a fin coming at me through the water had made me squirm just a bit.

The next image was an eruption of water as I threw myself out of the lake, panicking before I realised that the poor thing would probably hurt itself trying to bite me. And I realised that in addition to the flora scrolls, that I still remembered with startling clarity, I should probably check out more of the native wildlife.

Meiling giggled at the image from her spot in my lap, as I grumbled in irritation at the ribbing. She would glance up from her scroll ever so often, but otherwise had stayed true to her promise: Meiling had done absolutely nothing all day, and looked inordinately pleased by the fact.

Especially when I started dinner instead of her having to do it. Grilled Lakefish, that looked quite a bit like bass, but with the brightest green skin I had ever seen.

But there was something missing…

Pops walked into the room, looking a bit frazzled. “Has anybody seen Xian?” He asked, sounding concerned and annoyed.

My wife lifted her nose into the air, closed her eyes, and took a breath.

“Hes with Xiulan.” She said after a moment, pointing in to the northeast.

Well, it's official. Any kids we had were absolutely doomed. A mom who can sniff you out, wherever you hide? That was absolutely terrifying.

Xian looked at the direction and started to grumble. “I told him not to go there anymore.”

“I’ll grab him, pops.” I volunteered, and a relieved smile crossed his face.

“Thank you.”

I went to set Meimei aside, but she just hooked an arm around my neck when I went to lift her off.

So I just picked her up instead, and began my walk. Meimei wanted me to carry her, but I just kept my arms at my side, and she kept hanging on with one arm, her body still positioned like she was laying sideways with my lap under her.

Nice core muscles. Though I supposed the Qi helped.

She raised a reproachful brow at me. I didn’t give in.

So we wandered in the direction Meimei had pointed in, her hanging onto my neck with one arm and stubbornly reading a scroll, her body still horizontal to the ground. We got a few chuckles from people who saw us, and my wife eventually gave in, dropping off so she could walk beside me.

It was not very long of a walk, and something about the route tickled my mind-- Hey, this is in the direction of where I killed the wolf, and where the Thunderhoof was. I could hear clapping in a steady rhythm.

And sure enough, we were at the clearing.

Xiulan was sitting against a tree, and clapping out a beat as Xian practised his dance. Meimei’s eyes immediately went soft and warm as she took in the scene. It honestly wasn’t one I was expecting either, but it was cute. Xiulan looked a bit sheepish as she saw us, but it soon faded to a smile again as she saw Meimei’s beaming smile, trotting over to sit beside her.

Well, we could wait for a little. It's not like anything was urgent. And Xian was doing a good job, his eyes closed as he went through the movements.

His face was serene, almost, even as sweat ran down his nose. My new little brother was getting really freckly. He barely had any last year, just a few dots, but now they were slowly starting to cover the bridge of his nose, just like his sister’s. Cute kid.

Towards the end of the dance, Xiulan’s claps started getting louder, increasing in volume until the last step, where she stopped. In the actual dance, the drums would keep going, and start again, but Xiulan had a good eye for this. As soon as the clapping stopped, Xian faltered, staggering and puffing.

“Wha? Why’d you stop?” He asked, sweat pouring off his brow.

“Because I believe we are done for today, Xian. An excellent performance.” She complemented sincerely. He then seemed to notice our presence, and he looked at the sky in confusion. “Wha? So late?! Have I missed lessons?! Father is going to kill me!” he yelped out, turning to Meimei with a pleading look in his eye.

Meiling smiled. “I’m sure he’ll forgive you.” She declared, holding out her arms and receiving an excited hug from the sweaty kid. “Now, what do you say to Xiulan for helping you?”

“Thanks Lanlan!” He chirped happily, grinning at her.

His stomach growled, and he flushed crimson.

“Let's go get some food in both of you.” I decided.

Meimei linked arms with Xiulan so they could walk together, as I hoisted Xian up so he could ride on my shoulders.

We wound our way back through the forest.


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