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“Ah, yes, a pleasure to see you once more.” The Lord Magistrate said after a second. He performed a regal looking bow of greeting, as perfect as his station demanded. Right, he had met Big D before, at the farm.

Big D returned the gesture, his feathers puffed up proudly. He examined the Magistrate curiously, while the Magistrate had the same calm face on as always, like he hadn’t just gotten introduced to a chicken that would be solving some of his problems.

He had a remarkably high bullshit tolerance. Not a single raised eyebrow, just straight to business, calm as you please.

What a guy, the Lord Magistrate. If only more administrators were like him.

I was actually a little surprised at just how large an area the Lord Magistrate had to administrate. Lots of land, not a lot of people. The true boonies. In the Weakest area of the continent. So it was little surprise that some of his problems were a bit more mundane than even I was expecting.

“Most of these.. Well, they are not things that a cultivator would normally be dealing with, but your Master insisted.” The Magistrate said. I had asked for his issues. I was also expecting them to be slightly different. “The Daggerfang wolf pack is composed of a large number of Northern Wolves, and have made this area their hunting grounds. Attempts to cull them with guards have largely been met with failure, as they’re extremely wily. We do not believe that they are spirit beasts… but they do display a level of intelligence that has made them hard to exterminate.” The Magistrate explained.

Normal animals. A smart and savage wolf pack. An old bear called Bloodclaw. I actually thought they were probably like Big D. Smart animals. Normally it was the “strange” beasts that got strong enough, but Big D proved that such things were possible.

But vast land, and lack of resources meant these kinds of things were difficult to deal with. Their best communication was a spotty ‘radio’ in transmission stones. And those were not exactly reliable. Oh they could be relied on to buzz when someone wanted to alert you, but sometimes getting actual sound through was an exercise in frustration.

Big D took in all the Magistrate’s words, stroking his wattles, and staring at the map. He shook himself and straightened up as the Magistrate finished, forming his wings into the gesture of respect, and bowing deeply first to the Magistrate, and then to me.

Well, my chicken had accepted his mission

We wandered out of the Magistrate’s office, the guards jumping to attention and bowing behind us.

From there it was a brisk walk back to Tingfeng and Meihua’s place. I’d said my hellos there already, and Meimei was absolutely fawning over her friend, who was so heavily pregnant she looked fit to burst.

She was still in good spirits though, chatting animatedly with Meimei and Xiulan.

“How was your Meeting with the Lord Magistrate?” Tingfeng asked me, as I settled back down into a chair that was brought out for me. The Xong brothers were still eating. They and Tingfeng didn’t seem to be particularly good friends, more acquaintances. But I suppose two extremely boisterous farmboys and a quiet scholar didn’t mix too well.

We talked for the rest of the day, as this was to be a short visit. Only a day or two, and then we’d be heading home.

Still, it was good to catch up, and listen to the life of a scribe.

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

The town, when there weren’t any festivals going on, was actually pretty boring. There wasn’t anything to do. Or at least anything I was comfortable doing. There was always gambling and whores somewhere, but those were two vices I would not be indulging in.

So it ended up being hanging out at Tingfeng’s admittedly nice family compound. But with no TV or anything, it would be just sitting around and talking. Which was enjoyable enough, but Tingfeng was at work, and you can only play tic-tac-toe so many times with Gou Ren before it starts getting stale. His brother had gone off before everybody else had even woken up, off on some errand.

I could also go to the exchange, but that was always annoying and frustrating, doubly so since I had no idea how much the maple syrup would be worth.

So I was procrastinating.

I hummed. It was still quite early in the morning. I’d go to the exchange later, once the rush had died down.

I won the upteenth game of tic tac toe, and Gou Ren started grumbling. He had gotten used to kicking my ass at go, and now the shoe was on the other foot. Behold, my power!

He sat back in disgust and flopped over, staring at the sky. His defeat was complete.

I looked to Big D, but he simply bowed his head, already 0-3

I yawned, and stretched, and went to look for Meiling. She was sitting in a small garden with Meihua, her hand on her wrist and taking her pulse, while Xiulan meditated, checked out.

“Hey, Meimei, you want to go and visit Uncle Bao? I asked her.

My wife’s eyes flipped between me and Meihua rapidly, until her friend shoved at her.

“Go on.” she chided.

I turned next to Xiulan, whose eyes were now open.

“Been to an archive yet?” I asked her.

“I looked in at the Archive in Grass Sea city, Master Jin, but did not have the time to pursue anything. There was also paperwork and a wait list to be able to access anything important, and I judged my time better spent travelling.” She explained.

Meiling grinned. “Well, no waiting list here~!” She sing-songed, wrapping her arm around Xiulan’s.

We set off, passed Gou Ren who was pacing. He raised an arm when he saw Xiulan, and looked about to say something… and suddenly slumped, looking disappointed when he saw Meimei and Xiulan’s arms.

Looked like he wanted to see if Xiulan wanted to explore the town with him.

“Want to come to the archive with us?” I asked him anyway.

His desire to spend time with Xiulan warred with his hatred of sitting still and reading.

His brother solved the dilemma.

“Little Bro! Got some jobs lined up for us, lets go!” He shouted.

Gou Ren jumped at the call, obeying his brother seeming on instinct.

“Ah, no, I’ll go help Yun Ren--” He mumbled out as he went off, his brother slinging an arm around his shoulder, and talking animatedly to him.

The rest of us went off towards the archive.

The town was full of hustle and bustle, and we heard a shout as we walked along the cobblestone roads.

“Presenting! The Demon-Slaying Orchid!” A man shouted. Several children had stopped to watch, as the puppets came out. Sun Ken with his rolling eye and stupid look on his face squared off against the “beautiful” female puppet, gettling slapped arund the stage like an unruly child.

Xiulan glanced at it once, but ignored it.

Big D seemed to be sulking. I scratched his wattles. It must be frustrating as hell, to see your own accomplishment be taken by someone else. Xiulan even shot him an apologetic look.

“Big D?” He started, looking away from the play.

“We’ll talk tonight, okay?” He bowed his head, shaking off the irritation admirably.

Uncle Bao was as happy as always to see us, the fat, joly man embracing Meimei like she was his own daughter.

But Xiulan was the one who was the most interested, as we entered the “restricted” section.

“It boggles the mind that one of these is in every town and city..” she muttered, as she held “Herbs and Roots of the Azure Hills’. “One of my ancestors is said to have catalogued every root and herb in the Azure hills, and it is his notes that we learn from. One of the treasures of our Sect.”

She flipped through the actual book instead of the more normal scroll, as I was reading up on the ‘Beasts that inhabit the Azure Hills’.

Honestly, some of the shit in here made me wonder what the fuck evolution was doing on the rock. There were living Tully Monsters, for Heaven’s sake. Big ones, with super mobile mouth-parts, that seemed to fulfil some kind of crocodile role.

What the fuck, Xianxia land?

Xiulan was frowning heavily at the book. “However… this book is missing some herbs. And our scroll is missing this one.” she said, pointing at slime kind of flower. She squinted at the anomaly. “Discovered twenty years ago in a cavern?” She questioned.

“About every ten to twenty years they get updated,” Meimei explained. “Whether we get one of those updated copies is questionable, but they would be in Pale Moon Lake city.”

Xiulan hummed. “And I may just copy this?”

“Yeah, you can’t take the book, but you can copy out any of the information. The whole book, if you really felt like it.” Meimei said with a shrug.

Honestly, I was actually more impressed that Xiulan’s Ancestor had apparently missed so few herbs, most of them “new”. Her ancestor was amazingly thorough.

I turned back to my own book. Freshwater anglerfish? Thats a big boy.

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

“I can’t believe you talked me into this.” Gou Ren grumbled as he caught the bricks sailing up to him. “I work enough back at Jin’s place, why do I have to spend more time working in Verdant Hill? I wanted to go see if Miss Cai needed any help navigating the town.”

“Jin and Meimei got that covered. You want to have to spend hours in the Archive? Uncle Bao is nice, but damn if the scrolls aren’t boring. Besides “help her navigate?” Shes the one whose been to a proper city.” Yun Ren shot back, moving even faster. Not a single drop of sweat dripped down his head as he heaved the stones up to be caught by his brother.

Gou Ren flushed. “Well, some of the alleys are kind of windy…”

“Oh? Gonna take her into an out of the way alley? My little brother has gotten bold.”

“Wha-- you-- Bastard of thee fathers!” Gou Ren spluttered out while his brother began cackling.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now shaddup and move more, we can hit a few more places if we finish this fast. “

Gou Ren kept grumbling as they worked, the bricks flying faster and faster.

The foreman gaped at the brothers as they pointed cherrily to the completed task. He had left for not even an hour, gone to get some water for the rest of his men, and the boys were finished already?! He checked over the work. It was all done perfectly. Better than his normal crew.

Yun Ren approached the foreman, grinning and holding out his hand. “Hows about a bonus, for bein’ such good workers.” He asked with a friendly smile.

They got their money, and a little extra.

“Pleasure workin’ for ya, you’ll bput in good word for us yeah?” He cherrily called to the foreman.

The foreman nodded dumbly.

And they set off to the next job.

The next one was stacking lumber. The one after that, splitting logs.

Yun Ren was grinning like a madman at the amount of money they were making in the short amount of time.

The brothers ducked down an alley, heading around the less reputable part of town back to the center, where they were going to be sleeping. Yun Ren did the calculations on his fingers, tapping them out, and growing more and more pleased by the moment.

He likely wouldn’t be able to afford a crystal for months still, but this was certainly making a dent in the funds.

“Hey, darlings~” a sweet voice beckoned, and both brothers paused, turning to the voice. A woman, smoking a pipe, leered at them. Her robe was loose around her neck, exposing tantalising amounts of skin.

“You strong men look like you need to relax a bit.” She purred, and the women behind her giggled and blushed at the Xong brother’s open shirts, exposing expanses of muscle slightly slicked by sweat.

Both boys stared, shocked at the sudden attention.

“How about you come in, so we can properly.. Entertain you.” It was sweet and inviting, as she dipped a shoulder, more of her robe sliding off to expose an expanse of flesh.

Her eyes flicked to their full money pouches. So fast he barely noticed it.

Yun Ren’s lust warred with the image of a recording crystal dancing in his head.

He grimaced at the smell of perfume.

“Ah, maybe some other time.” He told the woman, who frowned heavily at his response, the inviting look on her face becoming boredom, as she turned her attention to his little brother.

Gou Ren’s face was a bit red, but he just shook his head and kept walking.

“...I need the money, but whats your excuse?” he asked his brother.

“Miss Cai.” he muttered, still red in the face.

Well, his little brother sure had gotten ambitious…

Yun Ren clapped him on the back encouragingly.

 

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Behold, a Tully Monster

 


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