Xiulan dodged to the left as I hucked another ball of mud at her, sailing through the air as she leapt to another post. The second ball of mud immediately fired, and she twisted mid-air. It still managed to tag her, moving at a decent clip. The force of it knocked her off balance, and she had to desperately adjust, choosing a different, smaller pole than the one she originally intended on.
She landed, her arms waving comically, as a mud barrage fired again, and she weaved, dodging these ones, and managed to stabilise.
The Kung Fu poles were turning out to be a hit. I had finished them up when we got back out of boredom. I hadn’t hopped up yet, but Xiulan took one look at them and did her whole “super grateful” routine, which led me to just throwing her into the pond.
She, of course, was pretty graceful, hopping around the poles like they were solid ground… until I started to “test” her. Then it really turned into something out of a kung fu movie. She was getting a lot better at dodging while airborne.
She had been strangely insistent that it be mud I threw at her for this but I suppose it would hurt less than rocks. A little bit of Qi to keep it cohesive, and I could throw them pretty fast. Considering I was probably making MLB players green with envy at the speed of the pitches… well, they still kind of hurt anyway. But if I threw any slower Xiulan got pouty that I was going easy on her.
Speaking of baseball though…. I threw a few more in rapid succession, one of which seemed to go wide. She dodged and weaved again.
Until the curve ball beaned her straight in the dome. She bailed off the log and into the water.
I couldn’t hear her, but I was 100% sure Tigger was laughing at Xiulan’s expression as she fell.
That lasted until a glob of mud from the bottom of the pond, the smelly, gross kind fired up from out of the watter and splattered all over my cat.
There was silence for a moment. And then they exploded into action, fists and paws striking out rapidly as they danced along the poles. Their passing disturbed Gou Ren on his pole, as he was just trying to stand on it after he had seen Xiulan doing… and he fell with a yelp.
I watched the fight like it was a movie. It was really good entertainment. A literal cat-fight.
I snorted, and looked at the poles.
I hopped up onto one of the poles for the first time, kind of expecting a bit of wobbly knees like Gou Ren hopped up… but there was none of that.
Well, I had gone on to the biggest one, so I hopped to the next one. It was smaller.
It was an easy jump. I frowned as I landed.
I certainly didn’t feel unbalanced.
I purposefully swung my body back and forth a bit.
I didn’t fall. Didn’t feel anything really. No loss of balance, no feeling like I was gong to fall.
I jumped again, and landed on the joke pole. The one that was tiny. Too small for your foot, more a stick than something you could land on.
It felt solid. I didn’t tip. It felt like I was standing on the ground.
Well thats kind of boring. I wasn’t even wobbling. Come to think of it, when was the last time I actually fell, instead of letting people push me over?
Maybe if I got stuff thrown at me too? I wanted to do kung fu training! I sighed, and looked up at the sky, my good mood and amusement ruined.
I wondered how Meimei and Big D were doing? Washy too. That boy had been gone for far too long.
Everything was probably fine at Verdant Hill, and Big D could definitely take care of himself… but it was hard, waking up alone, or not hearring Big D’s cry in the morning. Both had become welcome constants.
The bed was a bit lonely. Xiulan was off with Tigger most nights, and Peppa and Chunky were with Gou Ren. Rizzo was just a bit too small to cuddle properly.
I sighed again.
I want to fall.
At my command, my balance failed me, and I tipped forward, dropping into the pond.
The water was nice and refreshing.
Bi De sat in the forest clearing, pecking at a dried worm. It was sunset, the last rays of golden light filtering through the trees, and bathing everything in a warm orange glow. He examined his map closely as it laid against a rock. One toe was on it, to keep the wind from ruffling it unduly. Truly, it was a splendid map. Fine paper, and lines drawn with purpose. The entirety of the Azure hills were laid out before him.
Did that mean the formation spanned the entirety of the Azure Hills? Or had the strange old woman just given him the best map she possessed? It was a question he would have to meditate on, because while he had not been able to see the full extent of the formation that night on the solstice… it was much bigger than he thought, having truly started to walk the land.
And he did walk it. He supposed, with brute force, that he may simply fly from destination to destination, only setting foot on the ground when he had to record something, or to eat… but that would not do. He was here to travel. To see. To learn. And though he could see much from the air, one required a closer look at the ground.
So he walked. His legs carried him through lush forests, their leaves nearly fully formed. He hopped over streams babbling along with crystal clear waters. He took in the sheer untamed wild. The overgrowth. The sounds of beasts. The plants grew where they pleased, and the rocks made some terrain nearly impassible for humans who did not have the spark.
It reminded him of his first days. The first days on Fa Ram, before the Great Master had used his mighty Spur to tame the land and command the earth.
Yet for all it’s wild growth, for all it’s animal sounds… it did not feel as alive as his home. There was Qi… but it was lesser. It was quieter.
He turned to his map once more.
He kept his marks light, as to not unduly damage the map. Small dots, as accurate as he could make them, after leaping into the air to get a better view like that of the map. One mark for verdant hill. One mark for Hong Yaowu. One mark for the little village he had just left. It was quite similar to Hong Yaowu. Its people going about their lives. But what all three of them had in common was that the design of their Shrine was the exact same.
And there was a cleared patch of ground that was used to do the dance itself nearby.
Bi De considered this conundrum. Should he consider the place where the rite was performed the “true” spot? Or the shrine itself?
Well, he could not mark down in any accuracy on the map anyway. The scale was too big. But it was another part to consider.
He considered the map further, his eyes rolling down to something he had not noticed at first. There was a mark on the map, and it was not from him. It was far to the south. A simple, unassuming X that his eyes had glanced over the first time.
He knew that he must visit this place. It would be a long time until he could get to this location, but he would visit it, if only to assuage his curiosity.
First, he had a few jobs entrusted to him. The Magistrate, the Master of Verdant Hill whom his own Great Master held respect for, had begged His Great Master’s assistance on a few matters. Those too were marked, and they would be completed as soon as he arrived to take care of them.
He idly traced the area of Fa Ram, and then the area of Verdant Hill.
….it made them truly seem so small.
He carefully rolled the map back up, and placed it in his cloth bundle.He counted his dried worms and rice grains, and even the coins his Great Master had given him, so that he may pay for anything that he could require.
He knew nothing that the people of this land could give him that he could not procure himself. Mayhaps some rice… but he would rather eat insects than the junk the other humans attempted to peddle. No Qi in it at all.
When everything was organised, in the way Sister Ri Zu and the Healing Sage had insisted on, he tied the bundle tightly, using his beak and feet. Overtop that he put the water-proofed skin, and tied it a second time, so it would slip around his neck and settle onto his back.
It was quite a big, bulky thing, but he hardly felt its weight.
He hopped into a tree, having chosen this branch as his perch for the night. It was no coop. It was not warm, and it was not filled with his females, but it was not so bad. He could examine the moon clearly from this position.
It was full, hanging in the sky like a burnished disk. He could see clearly the craters, shining down from it’s face. His Great Master said that it had taken terrific impacts, and though scarred, was undaunted.
Ah, how the moon was a stalwart protector! Just like himself!
Observed the full moon for a moment longer, and then closed his eyes. He would need to be refreshed for tomorrow.
The next day was much the same as the previous days.
Through the forests, across the streams, and over the giant, rolling hills. Roads in this direction were non-existent, just the vast wilderness.
He heard a yelp, a squeal of pain, and froze. His body was instantly alert, as he sped to the destination where he heard the cry, and happened upon one of Basi Bu Shi’s kin, its mouth full of rabbit. His instinct as a protector nearly got the better of him. A small one was in danger. Yet this was not the Blessed Land Of Fa Ram.
The kin of the wicked one quialed under his gaze.
His Great Master had once said they served a necessary purpose, so that those who ate plants would not completely destroy the forests. The “cycle of life” He had decreed, adding another cycle for Bi De to contemplate.
Bi De looked upon the kin of one of his greatest enemies.
And carefully peeled back his intent.
The fox fled, and remained alive.
He shook his head, and launched into the air, to once more get his bearings.
He landed, and continued through the warm underbrush. His eyes were peeled. The spiders that caught things in their web. The fish in the stream that preyed upon each other.
The bird in flight that took another.
The bones of a wolf, and the rabbit nearby, nibbling on the grass that grew around it.
Bi De bowed his head, and continued on.
It was mid day, when he came upon what was once a road. It was completely overgrown, but he could still see the traces. Turning, he went to follow it, travelling along the old, old path that was barely a path anymore.
He looked upon what was once a village, as Hong Yaowu was. The fields where the rice once grew, now choked with weeds. The forlorn wind that blew through rotting coops. The chicken coops.. Without any to cluck and scratch at the ground.
The shrine of fire, dead and empty, the ritual grounds indistinguishable to him from the forest. He knew not what happened here, only that there was no-one left.
He felt a profound sense of sadness at the sight. Would Fa Ram look like this? In a hundred years? In ten?
Everything is a cycle.
For the first time, Bi De felt repulsed by this idea. That Fa Ram would eventually fall into such a ruin. He was content with his own fate, should it be to return to the earth, but this area, devoid of energy, devoid of the laughter of men, and the clucking of chickens?
There was life here. There were the animals nesting in the broken and nearly completely rotted homes.
Yet.. yet he did not wish for this to be Fa Ram’s fate. He could not accept such a thing.
He nested in the village that night. This time, completely disregarding the moon, to gaze at the earth.
To gaze upon the end of things. The sadness in his breast was profound. His heart was disturbed.
His Last thoughts were of his Great Master and Fa Ram. He wondered if they were well.