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Bi De gazed down upon the town in the pre-dawn light. From his position on top of the enormous coop, he could take it all in. it was a little bit rude, to stand atop another’s coop, but the Master of this place was a human. Bi De doubted the stately man used the roof often. No, it was home to strange ones that shared his form called pigeons. They were like the people of the town. Crammed together brushing shoulders, and constantly chattering.

He observed the town. The winding, cobbled streets. The thick, sturdy walls, upon which alert and attentive guards patrolled. The teeming masses of men and beasts that lived within.

A tiny town. And it was small. Small compared to other places.

How tiny Blessed Fa Ram was. How seemingly vulnerable. It hurt his heart to think that. To contemplate the sheer enormity of the world. He knew it was large, as he knew the sun and the stars were large. But knowing and knowing were two different things.

And there were still so, so many things that Bi De did not know. It was folly, to sit in Fa Ram all day, without exploring the wider world. It was but one part of a connected whole.

He concentrated, and cast out with his senses. The power of the land was duller here. Less vibrant. A mere tendril, connected to his Lord, rather than the quiet well of power that sat beneath their home stirring with ever greater energy and purpose.

Would all places be this way? Would the further he travel, the lesser the energy become? It was something he would find out soon.

He jumped down from on top of the Grand coop, descending into the town. He had to confess he very much disliked it here. The children of Hong Yaowu were bad enough with their incessant stroking, but they hardly meant anything by it. They were simply so enamoured by his silky, vibrant feathers that they wished to feel them. The people here were as grabby as the children, but lust filled their eyes at the sight of him, appraising his form greedily.

Disturbingly greedily. They looked at Disciple Xiulan the same way. Covetous lust. He had nearly beaten the humans who dared to try to touch him. Offering money for his body, or attempting to get him to mate with their females. His Great Master had apologised at the treatment, but it was part of his explanation of why he gave glory to Disciple Xiulan.

That kind of glory was a curse. Many would come, with the same eyes as these people. And His Great Master had said that you must either be quiet about such things… or have enough strength to be able to dissuade them entirely.

That his Great Master considered that he was not yet strong enough to do this yet was troubling.

He stalked through the alleyways, hopping silently from sign to sign, observing the people as they worked. They shoveled the obscene amount of trash, and collected the dung that this place accumulated. Their work was diligent, and for that it was praiseworthy.

The people were not supplicants, like the people of Hong Yaowu. They did not cheer his passing.

Instead, they were something else. It was so easy, when people fit into the neat little box of friend or enemy. The majority of these were in a nebulous place, where they were neither friend nor foe.

He disliked the uncertainty, yet it was likely to be a constant companion. He must learn better judgement, lest he repeat the Chow Ji incident.

Some people were lighting lamps, some people were setting up for the day. There were stalls coming out. Cooking fires beginning to burn.

There was even one of the men setting up for another show, though this one seemed to have much more money in it than the last. There were humans to be acting out the events, rather than puppets. They even had a fairly good portrait of Disciple Xiulan… though she looked far more severe and imperious than he had ever seen her. The gold in her hair, the silky gossamer clothes. If he saw Disciple Xiulan and the portrait side by side, he would claim they were different people.

He continued on. Most ignored his presence, which was good. He idly wondered if such lustful greed was only common to those in the “exchange”? These early morning folk had little of it.

He wandered back to the coop of Tingfeng. It would be morning in earnest soon. He could feel the position of the sun, and his instincts began prodding him to call.

He ignored them. The other multitudes of roosters would have that mission. He felt no desire to wake these people. They were not his to wake.

He paused, as he noticed his path barred. There stood a goat. It placidly chewed its cud in the middle of the street, its eyes dull and bored.

It stared at him.

He stared back.

The goat turned, and began walking, as if it expected him to follow.

Bemused, Bi De complied. He was unsure if this one had the spark or not. She was… strange. Neither here, nor completely absent, like brother Chun Ke on his bad days, when his eyes clouded over completely, and he became lost to them, battling demons he could not see.

Yet these eyes were the eyes of one dreaming, not fighting. Content in the silence.

He felt no Qi from her.

They arrived at a tiny cracked and run down coop. The goat pushed open the door, and entered. Bi De followed.

It was tiny, and dingy. A table, wooden carvings, and a cauldron filled the space. An old, mangey, and tiger-striped cat eyed him boredly as he entered. He looked a bit like Tigu, but ancient and tired, rather than young and full of arrogance. He was missing one of his front paws.

Bi De bowed his head in apology at his entrance. The cat ignored him, and closed his eye.

“Ha?! There you are Lan Fan, you damnable beast!” a voice shouted. An old, grey haired woman with a rolling eye accosted the goat, glaring at it. “How many times are you going to run off?!”

The goat, Lan Fan, snorted.

The old woman turned her good eye, which rolled like it had a mind of its own, before it settled on him.

“And look, you’ve bought a defective chicken! It should be crowing right now!” The woman barked, as indeed, a chorus of roosters lifted its voice to the heavens.

He cocked his head to the side at the insult. Courtesy warred with his own pride.

“Hmph, but I suppose I can expect nothing less from a beast like you.” she grumbled, and glared at him. “An up-jumped cock going off on an adventure, eh?”

He paused at that deduction. Mentally reevaluating the woman, as her eye rolled once more and the woman smirked.

She rooted around in a drawer, and returned with a piece of paper.

“If you’re going on a journey, its stupid to not have a map.” she said blandly.

Bi De stared in surprise. It was incredibly detailed. More detailed than he had ever seen, with lines even denoting what seemed to be elevations.

But before he could examine it further, it was rolled up.

“This one requires payment.” She stated with a wicked little grin. “I need a good crow, from the top of the house. Best one you can give.”

Bi De frowned, but nodded his head. An odd request. The cat glared, pulling his one good paw over both his ears.

Bi De hopped up to the roof, as the woman got outside her home, and plugged her ears.

The sun was blocked by the walls. He snorted at the other rooster’s reedy calls. That was not how one greeted the sun. one must make their voices louder! Exhale! Exult!

He took a deep breath, filling his core.

He greeted the sun.

His voice ripped through the air, melodious and commanding. It echoed through the streets, and into the air, carrying his greeting to the entire town,and rebounding off the hills to bring it beyond.

His voice trailed off.

Yet there was a cacophony of shouting. Anger and outrage at being awoken. Groans and grumbles. The roosters, briefly silenced, all began to try and imitate him. Pigs squealed. Dogs barked. Cats yowled as the entire town was forced into wakefulness.

.The one from the dilapidated coop next was the loudest, the old man hobbling out of his house yelling bloody murder--and he stepped in a pile of goat dung right outside his door.

The woman began to cackle as the old man started hopping on one foot, cussing.

He hopped down from the roof, and took the paper from where the woman was holding herself against the wall.

Strange old lady.

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

“May the heavens smile upon this venture.” Guan Bo had said joyously, and we both drained our cups. it was a bit strange to be drinking so early, but hey. The man wanted a celebratory drink.

The deal went great. Contract was all good. One page. No fine print. Witnessed by the Magistrate and First Archivist Bao. Guan Bo had looked a little nervous about things, but recovered fast.

And just like that, more money than I had made during the harvest. It was still a pretty small amount compared to what the Lowly Spiritual Herbs sold for in Crimson Crucible City, but it was still a lot.

Well, it was a nice influx of cash, and probably more than enough… until I remembered that I still needed to pay Gou Ren for his farm hand stuff. And Yun Ren had helped a lot with the syrup. It's a bit of an asshole move of me really, but Gou Ren hasn’t exactly asked either. It was something I’d need to fix.

You don’t screw your friends.

This was also a trial run. If he came back happy and ready to sell more…than I could do that. I had also asked him to keep an eye out for stuff like tomatoes and cocoa. Take some of my load off the magistrate.

And… I should probably see if my disciples want money too. Working without geting paid is just slavery.

Yay, moral conundrums. Hopefully I could do this. I wasn’t really used to being the employer.

In any case, once I got back to Tingfeng’s place, we were nearly packed and ready to go. The Xong Brothers were prepped, and Meimei was whispering something to Xiulan off to the side.

“Guys!” I called. They turned to me, and two money pouches sailed through the air. They caught them, though both looked confused.

“Your cuts from the syrup, and Gou Ren, for your work.”

Both stared at me in shock at the heft.

“...I humbly receive this?” Gou Ren managed, while Yun Ren started doing a victory dance, even though his was smaller than his brother’s.

“Nearly enough, nearly enough nearly enough!” he chanted.

“You boys ready to go?” I asked, as Xiulan finished her conversation.

Gou Ren nodded, as the rest of the household came to see us off.

I hugged my wife. Meimei held me tightly.

“See you soon.” I told her.

She kissed me.

“See you soon.”

We began our trek back to Hong Yaowu.

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

Bi De stood before his Great Master, at the shrine of fire.

“Remember. If you ever need to come back, or need some help. Home is always there for you.”

Bi De bowed his head. He would heed his Great Master’s words.

“Now… see you later, buddy.” He declared, stroking his wattles.

Bi De hopped to the roof, as his Great Master watched him. He took a deep breath, and shouted his goodbye, and his respect.

His master laughed.

“You tell ‘em, Bi De.”

Bi De turned, and departed into the forest.

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