Hong Yaowu was just as he remembered it. The many coops for the many flocks of humans that lived here. Each was small and cramped looking, compared to his Great Master’s own grand coop. Their walls were less solid, and their windows uncovered by glass.
The fields too were much smaller. The shoots of their crops, less vibrantly green. Some even looked to be struggling, the shoots turning slightly brown. The soil was not rich and dark, but paler and almost sandy in some cases. There were even some that looked to be being supped upon by insects, and that could not be borne. He would show his Great Master’s supplicants his benevolence, and rid them of these pests.
It was a stark reminder of the superior quality of his Great Master’s domain. But was Fa Ram chosen because it was a superior land, or was it a superior land because of the Great Master’s presence?
It was a question to meditate upon that night.
Still, the people emerged from their coops excitedly, and greeted his Great Master with deference and great enthusiasm. Even when he was not bearing gifts, the mortals offered their supplication, begging to pour drinks for his Lord, or inviting him to dine with their families. Though the food was of inferior quality, the Great Master received these requests with humble thanks, and bowed in return, giving these humans great face.
Bi De, a humble and filial disciple, followed his lead as was right, bowing to the humans. Some bowed back, but most were too preoccupied with his Great Master or his human disciples. Bi De knew why.
Some were pointing and laughing, but most seemed impressed.
Disciple Gou Ren set down his burden, sweat pouring down his face. The Healing Sage took pity on him, and poured a waterskin over his head to cool him down, while even Disciple Xiulan was looking considering.
“Good job.” His Great Master whispered, clapping the boy on the back.
His Great Master had sourced a replacement rock, for the one he had taken. It was an approximate size and shape to the one just outside his Great Master’s coop, that he and the Healing Sage sat upon at night, and played their music together.
Upon seeing his Lord carrying it with an amused smile, Disciple Gou Ren had asked to carry it instead, while shooting furtive glances at Disciple Xiulan.
This had turned out to be a moment of arrogance. The Great Master lifted it with one arm, and acted as if it weighed as much as a tub of water from the river. With a smirk, he had set it down, and thanked Gou Ren for his help.
The way Disciple Gou Ren’s eyes had widened, and his face had gone red as he barely lifted it onto his back had been most amusing.
But his determination had been worthy of Bi De’s respect. He had puffed, and grumbled and complained under his breath, but had managed a brisk walk. His Great Master had kept the pace just at the edge of what the Disciple could take. Making him push, but not enough to break him.
But it was time for him to leave. The human children were coming, to reach for his feathers, and to rub him annoyingly. He considered rebuking them, snapping his wings and demanding that they not touch him, but decided upon a path of lesser conflict instead. He leapt into the air, and onto a roof, the children shrieking with delight.
When they went to give chase, the Great Healing sage intercepted them, giving him an appreciative nod… and then miming a light smack with her hand.
He bowed his head. He had his Mistress’ permission to rebuke any who got a bit too familiar, if they persisted. How fortunate.
He left the humans to their back patting, and several of the women of the village fawning over Gou Ren, even as his brother strained to lift the rock, barely managing to get it onto his back.
He paid his respects to the elders of the village, those sitting in their chairs as they watched the shouting and enthusiasm of their children fondly, making his way to the shrine of fire. They seemed quite amused at his giving them face, but all the elders were polite enough to greet him back.
He returned to the rooftop that he had leapt from that night, and concentrated. He positioned his body just as he had done that night, and ascended into the air.
Now, instead of the dead of winter, with it’s bare trees and lines of fire guiding his way, there was a vast sea of green that shrouded his sight. Yet in his mind’s eye he could see the points of the formation, witness its glory, and the places that were missing points, or misaligned.
Points that stretched off far beyond what his eyes could see.
He flapped his wings, keeping himself aloft with the strength of his muscles, so he could continue observing. Ascending higher.
Yet there were no new insights he could glean. He absently batted away some form of pest, nearly invisible, as it dove upon him from even higher in the air. White, and wispy and covered in fur, it looked a bit like a winged Tigu.
It sprawled away with a yelp, and he descended once more. This would be a very long journey. He had barely witnessed any of the points, and they had extended far beyond his vision the last time.
Well, he would make his plans, and visit the ones he could see. If he could glean nothing new from them, or no clues as to the rest of the formation, he would return, and wait until the next solstice.
He returned to the earth, considering. The itching and desire to know was there, but this would be a long journey. Brother Wa Shi had still not returned from wherever he had run off to, but something told him he was alright.
He huffed, and got out a piece of paper, marking a point. The first formation. He would continue on, after seeing the place where he hatched, this “Verdant Hill”.
He walked back to where his Great Master was, who was still at the front of the village. The rock was bobbing up and down as Disciple Xiulan hoisted it with much greater ease than Disciple Gou Ren, her arms pumping as she did pushups.
The poor boy looked dejected while Yun Ren laughed at him.
The next day, Disciple Gou Ren carried the rock again, puffing and panting and giving it his all.
His brother joined him, carrying another rock, and racing him in laps around the caravan.
As they rounded a bend, he saw it.
His beak dropped open at the sight of the walled land.
“Verdant Hill,” his Great Master named this place, for Bi De’s benefit. “A small town.”
He was beginning to fully realise that his Great Master’s definition of “small” differed vastly from his own comprehension.
He swallowed. The place where he had hatched from his egg, and been brought into the world. The place where his Great Master had chosen him, and the first females.
His first time being back.
He sat regally on his Great Master’s shoulder as they approached with the people of Hong Yaowu. Bi De expected the same fanfare and difference at his Lord’s arrival. The same enthusiastic greeting the sons and daughters of Hong Yaowu showed his Great Master.
Yet as they approached the walls… there was nothing. The guards gave them lazy glances, checking the carts, but did not announce their presence to the populace.
They entered the walled town.... And there was nothing. People kept walking. He glanced at his Great Master, but he did not seem to care.
So with great difficulty, Bi De forced down his first instinct to announce his Great Master himself. His bellowing voice would surely make these people, so consumed with their own tasks, stop and offer his Master the proper respect? Nobody was bowing! It was preposterous!
They split from the caravan, his Master and companions going in one direction, while the rest went in another.
The town was much larger than Bi De believed it to be. There were winding streets, the call of other chickens, the shouts of salesmen, the laughter of children… it was all too much!
So consumed with his own observations, he didn’t notice the man who nearly ran into them. His Great Master sidestepped with grace.
“Watch where you’re walking!” the man complained to his Great Master, having dashed from around a bend, some sort of jug balanced in his hand.
Bi De nearly spat blood at the sheer, blatant disrespect. His blood boiled, and his Great Master’s hand prevented him from harshly rebuking this pitiful creature. Senior Sister had grabbed Disciple Xiulan’s hand, the woman looking similarly affronted.
“You watch where you’re walkin’ pal.” His Great Master shot back. The man paused, and seemed to realise his Great Master’s far, far superior form. His eyes shifted to his Lord’s disciples, and his face paled slightly.
“....sorry.” He shot out, and fled.
The Great Master shook his head and sighed. “Some people.” He muttered. His eyes roved around the street. Bi De stared at the man, frowning at him, and remembering his form, should he offer insult again
They soon arrived at their destination. A compound within the walls, quite near the ridiculously enormous coop in the center of town, the one that was so large he could fit ten of his Great Master’s coops inside it.
He wondered how many animals could be stored within?
He shook his head at the sight.
At least the people here were respectful, as the man bowed, and they were greeted at the door by a man who referred to his lord as “Brother Jin”.
While the rest of their troupe settled in, His Great Master mentioned paying his respects to the leader of this Verdant Hill.
One his Great Master would have to pay his respects to?
His Lord set off, towards the enormous coop, with Bi De upon his shoulder. Instead of being filled with animals, like his Great Master’s coop, it was filled with men and paper.
His Master navigated the great coops swiftly and unopposed, arriving at a door guarded by two men, who both made gestures of respect at his appearance.
“Wait outside for a sec, okay?” His Great Master bid him, and he dutifully hopped of his shoulder as his lord entered.
The guards stared at him. He stared at the guards.
Bi De bowed in greeting, giving face to these low ranked men.
They displayed their lack of manners by staring, instead of returning his respect.
There was a flash of power and intent.
Both men scrambled out of their stupor, and greeted him properly.
“....and this is my friend!” His Great Master introduced him to a regal looking man. He was immaculately groomed, and held himself with great dignity, his face a frozen mask of imperious indifference.
He was making odd choking noises, however.