Tigu could not classify what she was feeling at the moment. It was not the white hot rage, that familiar friend.
No, this was a sucking pit. There was some anger, but it was mired in other emotions. Shame, frustration, disappointment.
She stalked through the forest. Away from the stupid rat, and the stupid ‘lady’.
The day had started off annoying. She was capable of admitting.. Rashness. She should have listened to Ri Zu’s lecture on bees. She had found out most of what she was told through trial and error. That time could have been spent learning a technique to capture the insect. She had been so focused on the hunt, she had neglected the capture.
The feeling of Ri Zu’s Qi slinking through her body, light touches reacting with her Qi in the tea. The Qi Tigu hadn’t noticed, its minute amounts unable to be seen. Tigu’s muscles seizing.
Tigu shuddered. It was a sneaky, underhanded trick, but it had proved that there was some danger in attacking the rat. Tigu was strong. She was mighty. And a few mouthfuls of tea had sent her twitching to the floor, Ri Zu’s Qi crawling all over hers with impunity. She had tried disrupting it, but Ri Zu had utterly ignored the attempts, her Qi swaying like the breeze to keep her hold firm.
The control was perfect. She had felt it carefully keeping the paralytic focused in the muscles she used to move, guiding the poison through her body. Intensifying it. And when she waved her paw, the feeling disappeared completely.
She wasn’t harmed at all.
But she had been helpless. Helpless before something so much weaker than her. She should have been able to shake off the feeling instantly.
But she could not.
Her pride burned with the thought.
The rat had even proved her right, after a fashion. She could not engage in direct combat without being beaten utterly. She had to poison her drink-the act of a coward.
Though Tigu was more concerned that she had been beaten at all, instead of how she was beaten. Now that she knew what to look for, the giant bits of Ri Zu’s Qi, and the odd symbol the rat had to make, she was certain that she would not have to fear eating food in the house.
Though she would keep an eye on the rat, just in case.
What the rat had proven was that even a small amount of poison could lay low something stronger than her. If she made but a single strike with that glistening needle of hers, would victory be hers?
Tigu’s Qi and body were stronger. Much stronger. But she had no defence against the trick Ri Zu pulled.
Ri Zu had won this round. A humiliating defeat, but not a complete defeat.
Tigu hacked a branch off a tree, and carried it into its heights. Her claws began to carve it into a form. A rat.
Little Ri Zu, her stupid eyes, and her annoying squeaks.
She put the wooden idol in between her teeth and crushed it.
She hacked off another branch for her petty vengeance. Perhaps she could disembowel this one? Decisions, decisions.
The sound of trotters broke her concentration. It was probably Pi Pa, come to scold her for not being ladylike or some other idiotic saying. Tigu was the perfect lady already. She was stunningly beautiful, and sublimely deadly. Even the Blade of Grass, her...peer in combat called her good looking.
She glared down from her tree, ready to savage the pig with her words. But the footsteps were too heavy.
Instead of Pi Pa, out came Chun Ke.
He looked up into her tree with kind eyes, squinting so he could see her.
‘Tigu’er okay?’ his dull, drawling voice asked. His words were slightly slurred, and his speech was as slow and broken as always, but he put the affectionate suffix on the end of her name as the Master did.
‘Go away.’ She commanded him, even if she knew it was futile. The boar was stubborn as a rock.
‘Tigu’er okay?’ he asked again.
‘No.’ She said, shortly, intending to ignore him.
‘Chun Ke will listen.’ He said. His earnestness was, as always, absolute. He had not a bone of guile in his body. His dopey smile stretched his scars across his face. Out of all of them he was the least offensive to her right now. Even if he did have three hives to his name, he never boasted. The Master and the mistress were both gone. So was the Blade of Grass. The rest would not fight to vent frustrations.
So talking was all that was left. Talking, or trying to find a bee nest. She didn’t even want to look at one of the damn creatures.
‘....fine.’ Tigu relented. She didn’t know how he could help, but she would indulge him. He at least, took his training seriously, even if he disliked sparring with her.
And the others always said he was insightful, though she could scarcely believe it.
‘And then she poisoned the tea.’ She finished. She had come down from the tree at his insistence that none would disturb them, and sat beside his enormous bulk.
Steam huffed out of both of Chun Ke’s nostrils, and his brow furrowed.
‘No good.’ He huffed. ‘Poison food wrong.’
He sounded angry. Angry on her behalf.
When had anyone been angry on her behalf? Not that she needed it of course. She could take care of herself. But it was… nice. Though he seemed more upset than she was. She supposed poison was a topic he had strong opinions on.
“Indeed, the act of a coward, but honour is the domain of the strong. I shall surpass this limitation in time.’
Chun Ke chuckled at her declaration. ‘Chun Ke believe.’
Tigu preened at the words. Why had she disliked him again? He was a bit slow, but the words he did speak were good ones.
‘Rizzu not coward though.’ Chun Ke said, slurring Ri Zu’s name together. ‘Knows not able to fight strong Tigu’er. Trick instead of submit.’
Ah, yes, his defence of the rat.
‘At least her eyes can see Mount Tai. But it did nothing to make this Young Mistress wrong.’ Tigu sighed. ‘She needs to know how to fight, or she will perish, and bring shame to us all. And the Master might be upset at her passing.’
‘Tigu’er may have point. Would be sad if Rizzu died. But still went about it in wrong way.’ He said.
Tigu sneered. ‘Oh, and I suppose I am the only one who was wrong then?’
‘Rizzu wrong. Tigu’er wrong. Wife wrong too.’ he said simply and immediately. Tigu’s eyes widened. Even rebuking Pi Pa? ‘All make mistakes. All make others hurt.’’
‘Tigu’er tries to force training. Wife tries to force friendship. Rizzu tries to force respect. Did not work.’ He said simply, turning his eyes to her. They were not quite as dull, sparking with something in their depths. ‘Cannot force these things. Force only turns to resentment.’
He sighed, and considered, while Tigu stayed silent. It was very, very strange to hear him speak this much, and it was obvious he was forcing himself.
‘We fight. We hurt each other. This is life. Tigu’er has been very mean to Rizzu. Tried to hurt. Disrespected. Pushed until Rizzu finally hurt back.’
‘Two paths come from here. Maybe the hurt is too much. Maybe Rizzu and Tigu’er hate each other forever. Maybe Fahrum has black spot forever. The other way…’
He trailed off leadingly, and Tigu realised what he was hinting at. It rankled. It made what was left of her pride burn.
‘Rizzu might say no, and that is her choice to make. But Big Brother always says that one must at least try to talk. A better thing to try for. Tigu’er and Ri Zu helping each other, is better than them hurting each other.’
With that, his sparking eyes dulled. He oinked.
A war of poison and blade played out in her mind. Or a silent, festering thing. Angry glares and clipped words. The Master being disappointed in her.
Tigu sighed, and licked Chun Ke’s nose. He chuffed, pleased at her gracing him.
Ri Zu went through the form. It was painful, and tiring, and Brother Bi De had to take care of the calves, so she was doing her own studying. Her form with her needle had been laughable. She could tell Bi De did not wish to insult her, but he declared that they had to start anew.
‘Your foot is off. Correct backwards and to the right.’ Tigu stated without inflection. Ri Zu paused, staring out of the corner of her eye at the waiting cat.
She was alone with Tigu. She wanted to bolt, to run for another disciple, to flee, but she held her body in place.
The cat said nothing else, merely observing.
Ri Zu took a deep breath, correcting her footing. It felt slightly better.
It continued. Tigu watching with a clinical eye, as she went through the form. There were no snide remarks. No insults. Bland, blunt instruction
That night, they all sat together at the table. The atmosphere was tense, as Ri Zu cooked for all of them, even the cat.
She placed a cup of tea in front of Tigu. The cat eyed it… and looking directly into her eyes, began to drink.
It was not forgiveness. It was not reconciliation.
But the atmosphere at the table was slightly lighter.