“And? How is everything this hour?” Meihua asked, looking a bit exasperated. Meiling raised an eyebrow and removed her fingers from her friend's wrist. Her pulse was good. Better than good, really, the best Meihua had ever felt, strong and steady.
In fact, there was nothing that would normally say Meihua was pregnant. No swollen feet, no fatigue, no sore back, hells, even no morning sickness. Meihua had even been surprised when she brought that part up.
All in all, Meihua was perfectly healthy. Better than she had been, even, despite the size of her stomach.
“As fine as yesterday.” Meiling said, moving on from checking on her health to brushing her friend's hair. Her fingers ran gently through silky raven locks. Her friend sighed contently at the familiar action.
“You’re much better at this than Lingqi.” She muttered, mentioning the name of the servant who normally attended to her.
“I’ve had quite a bit of practise.” She demurred.
Meihua smirked. “Ah yes, the Demon Slaying Orchid, who calls you Senior Sister. They’ve been doing those shows non-stop, you know.”
”They don’t have enough farm animals in them. They’re terribly inaccurate.”
Her friend giggled. She had heard the real story about what happened. “My, how our lives have gotten interesting, Meimei.” There was a slight wistfulness in her voice. “I’m glad you’re here. I know, Tingfeng would call a midwife from Pale Moon Lake city if he could, and the finest ladies in Verdant Hill would care for me… but there's no one I trust more. And I’ve missed talking to you.”
Meiling smiled at her, touched by her friend’s faith. They had always been as close as sisters. She debated braiding Meihua’s hair… but decided against it. It looked best long and free, cascading down her back.
Meiling sat down in front of her friend, and received her own care.
“So, how are you holding up? I heard that you tried to make breakfast this morning.” Meihua asked.
Meiling frowned slightly. The servants had looked nearly scandalised at an honoured guest making them breakfast. They had politely but firmly convinced her to rest instead.
So she had spent the hours until Meihua woke up sipping tea and staring at a wall.
“I’m fine.” she deflected. But really, she was a bit bored.
And wasn’t that an odd truth?
If somebody told Meiling last year that she would be bored while being taken care of at the Zhuge compound, being around Meihua, and reading as often as she wished while others took care of every conceivable chore, she would have scoffed. How could she ever be bored with such a situation? It seemed like something out of a dream. Being waited on while spending time as one wished? How decadent! Like a noble Lady, instead of a peasant chief’s daughter.
Until, of course, it actually happened.
She had finished reading all of her scrolls the first day. Then every scroll in the archive that she wasn’t as familiar with.
When she was done, she realised that it was barely noon, and she had gotten a lot faster at reading. She had returned to the Zhuge compound, and had given Meihua a check-up, prepared a bath for her, and helped her bathe. Her skin and hair weren’t as interesting as Xiulan’s, but it was still soft enough, and it was good to have time together again. Her friend had somehow managed to keep the bits of muscle she had from helping her father in the forge, amazingly, despite being pampered so thoroughly by her husband and his family.
She went to bed, wide awake, with nothing to distract her.
There was no Xiulan to spend time with. No Ri Zu asking to learn. No Bi De crowing the morning greeting, though the roosters here were certainly trying. There was no Tigu to scratch, or hop onto Jin’s shoulders, no Gou Ren, Chun Ke, or Pi Pa wandering over.
She was too used to doing more with her days.
The worst part was no Jin. No silly smiles, no warm scent of spring, no strange lessons, no strong hands grabbing her hips and--
She pinched her leg.
Meihua looked like she didn’t really believe her deflection, but made no comment.
“And how's your little...project going?” she asked instead with a sly smile.
“I’m done.” really, there was such little material on that one. But it was the easiest to make. The dresses, and the shirts would require a lot more skill than she currently had.
“That outfit is completely scandalous. I can’t believe the man who made that up. It's completely and utterly degenerate.” Meihua declared..
“I’ll make you one if you want.” Meiling rolled her eyes. Her friend was just upset she hadn’t thought of it first.
“Truly, you’re too good to me.”
Meiling ambled around the town. She had finally been kicked out of the house by her friend for fussing over her too much. It was a bit enlightening, how tolerant Xiulan was in comparison, to let her poke and prod at her for as long as she did.
She yawned. She could go to the Archive again, but Uncle Bao was out with the Lord Magistrate, doing something or another.
So she wandered. Wandered through the streets. To the area where Jin had fought the other cultivator. Her mind filled in the overgrowth of plants, over the once more pristine street. The only thing that was left was that one of the shops still had the little branches sticking out of the poles. The once green leaves that they had sported were long dead again, but it was an interesting effect, which is why the owner had kept it.
She wondered if she could convince Jin to do something like this at their house? Maybe on a couple of the poles he had?
Her feet kept plodding along the streets.
Until she saw a young boy. He couldn’t be older than five, shovelling the streets. He had a look of absolute determination on his face, his little body straining with all his might to move his heavy loads. He finished shoveling, and with a strained look on his face, went to push his cart. The load was too much. It started to tip.
She saw the look of despair cross his features.
Meiling caught it with one hand carefully hoisting it back up.
“Are you alright?” She asked quietly, taking in the boy’s grateful expression.
“Yes, pretty sister.” he returned, giving her a gap-toothed smile.
Meiling smirked at the statement, but was still a little concerned. “Why is one so young doing such a hard job?” She asked.
And indeed, while children worked all the time, they shouldn’t be used as street sweepers. Normally the Magistrate and his foremen wouldn’t allow it. They just couldn’t do the work needed.
“Ma and Pa are both sick.” he stated, with the bluntness only children had. “So I need a job, so I can buy medicine. I begged the foreman for hours ‘til he let me.”
She stared at the conviction in those young eyes. He was sweating, and dirty, and exhausted, with bags under his eyes, but he still looked determined.
Meiling frowned. She was here for Meihua. She couldn’t go around getting close to people who were sick when her best friend’s child was coming!
And then she paused at that immediate thought, and she nearly slapped herself. She had Qi. Medicinal Qi, if Xiulan was correct. It wasn’t exactly rare. All doctors that could use Qi could apparently do it. After hours of meditation and a lot of training. It required a careful transformation of energy.
She just seemed to generate it. If she wanted that green Qi, she got it.
It also seemed to kill bacteria.
She still remembered the ‘experiment’ her husband had shown her. A way to store the milk for longer. Thoughts written down. Repeatable results.
The one that had been “pasteurized” versus the unpasteurized one, and the longer time it lasted. That had been enough to convince her. Then, after they had returned from her village, he started to use his own qi, out of curiosity.
The milk he infused his Qi into actually went rancid faster, much to his surprise.
Xiulan and Gou Ren’s Qi did nothing.
But hers? Well, it felt odd. Tingly when she had added her Qi to the milk. She had brushed it along every surface, and saturated the liquid. She kept it there until it stopped feeling so weird, and then retracted it, feeling oddly drained.
Hers was still good. She would check it when she returned, but she had a feeling that it would be fine for months. Tasted a bit different. Almost an herbal undertone, but it was still good. Jin had guessed that her Qi had killed all the bacteria in it.
After that, she started running her Qi over surfaces she planned to use. Occasionally, it would tingle a little, and when the twinging stopped, she knew that the bacteria was dead.
She would probably be fine. She would kill all the bacteria on herself. And even if they couldn’t pay… well. Using a bit of Qi on them would not cost her anything.
So she smiled at the boy.
“Maybe I could help?” she asked. “I’m a healer.”
The boy looked a bit skeptical, and she couldn’t blame him… but in the end, he caved in, and brought her to the shack in the poorest part of Verdant Hill. The Lord Magistrate ran his domain smoothly, but even he could not completely eradicate this part of town. Still, it was safe. It may be poor, but the guards patrolled vigorously, and the streets were clean of trash.
She frowned at the sight she was greeted with, tying a mask around the bottom of her face. The kid had done his best, but he was still barely five. His parents were gaunt and sweaty, pale, and shaking a little. Their beds were soiled as well.
She sighed. Those would likely have to be burned.
Her hands checked their erratic pulse. She frowned, and carefully extended her Qi. She had been practising on Xiulan, making sure that she could do this without discomfort. Jin’s concerns about exploding people had been largely unfounded, and her Qi didn’t seem to be doing any undue harm.
It immediately started twinging when it gently wove through their bodies.
It was much, much worse than she expected, the near constant feeling of her Qi hitting something.
It seemed like some form of the flux-- the man coughed. She felt her skin and her eyes tingle a little, and frowned.
If she didn’t have Qi, there was absolutely no way she was going back to Zhuge Clan’s compound today. But that cough was extremely worrying.
She called on more of her Qi, trying to see problem areas. It was vague sensations. She could roughly feel where her Qi was, but it was inaccurate, so she kept searching. The heart was fine, the lungs were a bit off, the legs fine, bowels… gross, it felt like shoving her feet into sludge…
She finished and opened her eyes.
The woman she was working on was no longer pale or sweating. Her eyes opened, seeming a bit confused.
Interesting, Meiling thought, and started on the man next.
He was much the same as the woman.
She was starting to feel a bit tired by the end of it. She got them out of their soiled clothes and soiled bed. They were still a bit woozy, and stumbling, but they were easy to handle, spouting their thanks. Meiling was only half paying attention, deep in thought.
She pulled the boy over too.. And found some of the same feeling, though not quite expressed yet. His body was fighting it admirably, but.. He giggled at the feeling of her Qi in his body.
But still, it was curious. If it was like the flux... Then the flux came from the water.
“Ping, have either of your parents been out of Verdant Hill in the last week?” She asked, and the boy shook his head.
Not from a river, then, Meiling thought to herself, which was more troubling. That meant that there was something inside Verdant Hill causing it. Some contamination in a well? They were normally kept very clean.
“Where do you keep your water?” she asked the boy.
“Right here, Honoured Doctor!” He managed to get out, staring up at her with stars in his eyes.
She stuck her finger in the jars she was shown, one by one. One of them didn’t feel off. The other two, the one that had been drunk out of, did.
“Which well did these come from?” She questioned. The boy didn’t know, but there was a mumbled answer from his mother.
“The well close by.”
How many people had already drank from the well?
“Ping, you show me where this is, please?” She asked the boy, who nodded vigorously.
So she was off again, her frown even heavier on her face.
She stalked past the few people in the streets, who gave her a wide berth, save for the drunk who shouted something about her behind.
She ignored him completely, and shoved past the person who was trying to draw their water.
“Hey! What the hells is your problem?!” she shouted, the other woman grabbing on to Meiling’s shoulder.
And then immediately let go when she saw the slight green glow on Meiling’s hand.
The water twinged.
“Don’t drink it, it will make you sick.” She stated bluntly, turning to the woman, who recoiled.
The woman nodded numbly.
“Ping, see if you can get anybody who has drunk anything from this well over here please. Or find out if theres anyone else sick.”
The boy beamed and nodded.
“Ah… I was getting water for my friend, she's sick.” the woman said, looking shocked.
“Can you get her over here?” Meiling asked. The woman nodded rapidly.
Meiling rolled up her sleeves, her eyes narrowed in concentration.
This was going to be a long, long day.
“Lord Magistrate, a report.” A guard said, and his liege nodded, not glancing up from his documents.
“A cultivator is in the tanner district, demanding that we shut down one of the wells, as it is contaminated.”
His lord paused, taking in the absurd statement with grace, and raised his head.
“I see.” he declared, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. His face was a mask of calm.
Meiling felt like she was going to vomit. Her limbs were shaking, and she had the biggest migraine she had ever felt pounding in her ears.
She tried to ignore the shining eyes of the people around her. They were a bit too close, with how nauseous she felt.
“Thank you, Medical Fairy Sister!” a man shouted.
Her face flushed at the sudden flood of adoration. She was flattered, really she was, now if they could just get out of her face before she poisoned them, that would be great.
Well, they would need something else anyway. Not just her Qi. It was a crutch she had used, and things hadn’t been too bad. Only five people had actually been sick, to her relief. The rest seemed to be handling it rather well.
She held up a hand for silence, and the people quieted down. “I’ll return tomorrow.” she said bluntly. Well, later tomorrow, she would have to get a few things first.
And with that, she put one foot in front of the other, and walked out of the tanner district.
A couple of guards stopped anybody who tried to follow her, and she was grateful for that.
She grimaced as she pulled on her sweaty, filthy clothes. She was going to have to burn these later.
She gave only perfunctory greetings to Meihua, stripped down, and boiled herself a bath, using the last dregs of her energy.
She woke up late the next morning, so late that Meihua was already up, and sitting beside her bed.
“So… mind telling me why you have an invitation from the Lord Magistrate’s wife for a meal together?” she asked blandly.