There was a fire raging in Tigu’s breast. This was it. This was what she needed. Confirmation that changing form was possible, and what was needed to change. She needed that mindset. She wasn’t really changing. She was what she was. Human, or Cat, she was Tigu, The Young Mistress of Fa Ram!
How embarrassing that the fish was the one to teach her that. It still burned at her pride, that he had achieved what she coveted without seeming effort. All he needed to do was dodge lightning and cut through water to jump over a waterfall. How hard could that be, if Wa Shi accomplished it?
Oh, he was leaps and bounds more powerful now than he was when he left. She felt the churning storm of water and lightning bubbling beneath the surface. More power at his disposal than she… but still less than the cock, and certainly less than the Master.
But he was still the same as when he had left. He was still a cowardly, boastful and arrogant glutton. Really, who would believe his absurd tale about taking care of the turtle? It was more likely he begged for scraps or stole something.
She huffed in amusement. She could see the blasted creature hanging pitifully out of a turtle’s mouth, sobbing.
Mayhaps he would consent to a spar? Tomorrow morning. The fish, for all his eating, seemed exhausted, and she would allow him his rest. He had returned to Fa Ram victorious. He had increased their might, and now would be relied upon. He was no base fish. He was a dragon, and she would respect that, no matter how odious his personality.
Next, was the amount of power. The fish had mentioned plenty of Qi and lightning surrounding him. An external force. She frowned, considering, at the well of energy in the ground, and shook her head. The others spoke of a connection to this power. Tigu offered her Qi as was right… but was not really connected. She would have to rectify that.
Tigu hopped up to the roof, stopping before the Blade of Grass, who was deep in meditation with a peaceful smile on her face. Much better than she had been.
Tigu examined the woman’s Qi, swirling and beating each night with just a little more strength, growing like the grass around the house. It was past the time they normally met to spar, but Tigu was in a magnanimous mood. Getting a revelation, and managing to throw Pi Pa’s words back into her face? It was truly a fortuitous night! Instead of batting her arm to inform her it was time, Tigu curled up in her lap, and waited patiently.
She observed the domain that was hers as the primary guardian. Bi De had entrusted her with this. The Master entrusted her with this. She had guarded the area before,after Chow Ji.. but this time, the task seemed heavier.
Hmph. A heavy weight just meant good training. Ri Zu had learned this well, no matter how the little one muttered curses. The rat would never be strong in the physical sense… but she was getting good at dodging even Tigu’s pulled strikes.
And Tigu was learning how to counteract poisons. The Rat’s lessons were thorough. Disturbingly thorough, of exactly what would happen to the body when afflicted by the particular malady, and what to do to cure or prevent it from progressing.
And these were the “abbreviated” lessons.
No wonder her head had been buried in scrolls all day.
She stretched and yawned, fighting off the bouts of tiredness she got wherever she was in somebody’s lap. It was a strange weakness, provoked on top of one of the sheep or near Chun Ke.
Chun Ke was a very good resting place. It was often that she would fall asleep, and then wake up covered in her charges, the little birds chirping and snuggling into both of them.
She took what sleep she could during the day. She still had not gotten to share her Master’s bed, due to her duties, but she did get to rest on his shoulders while he worked. It was a consolation, and one she was content with for now.
There was a shift. Xiulan opened her eyes, breathing out with contentment. Her Qi roiled and danced for a moment longer, before settling into calmness.
Her hand absently descended onto Tigu’s back, and she looked down at the cat in her lap with a smile.
“I’m close.” she said simply.
Tigu nodded her head in agreement. The fifth stage was nearly upon her.
‘Taking you long enough.’ Tigu ribbed. Xiulan chuckled at the barb, flicking her ear with amusement.
“Mmm. I felt a small commotion, while I was meditating. Did anything happen?” Xiulan asked, stroking Tigu’s back.
‘This Young Mistress believes she has made a breakthrough in the form change.’ she declared, and Xiulan’s eyes widened appropriately in recognition.
“I look forward to it.” the Blade of Grass informed her, but frowned, as she looked around. ‘Do we have a guest? I sense a storm hiding itself.”
Oh, yes, there was the less important bit. “Wa Shi returned, having jumped over the Waterfall Gate.’
Xiulan paused, an odd look overcame her. Shock. Confusion. Incredulous awe.
It settled on vindication. A smile spread across her face.
“I see. Is he to take up guardianship, while you train?” She asked, pride in her voice at the might of Fa Ram. Tigu approved of the pride… but the insinuation that her post would be taken over by that was insulting.
Tigu scoffed, and batted the foolish woman. ‘Guardian? He’s the dishwasher.’
The pride once more gave way to shock. “A dragon as a dishwasher?!” She sputtered out.
‘Indeed.’Tigu said bluntly, hopping off the woman’s lap and shoving at her. ‘Now come. It is time to spar.’
The Blade of Grass allowed herself to be led from the roof, still seeming to be processing the information.
Eventually, she seemed to settle on amusement. Her posture relaxed, her breathing evened. A kind of serenity, mingling with happiness. Her blades floated into position. Only two this time.
Tigu prepared for her loss. It was getting like fighting Bi De, much to her annoyance. At first, their movements had been similar. Powerful, aggressive, and striving forward unflinchingly. Now? Fighting the Blade of Grass was like trying to catch the wind.
Or, Tigu thought, amused. A bee. She still hadn't been able to catch one though that was because of the sudden lack of the creatures on the rest of the property. The hives, on the other hand, were all full, the creatures seeming to move in of their own accord.
A blossom fell from a tree, and they began.
Tigu sighed from the ground, and stood, shaking her fur off.
“Your movement technique is getting closer to completion.” Xiulan complemented.
Close, however, was not finished.
“You were saying earlier you had an idea about how to change your form?” Xiulan asked, sitting down beside her.
Tigu nodded, and patted at the ground. The woman frowned, as she realised what she was insinuating.
She considered the dilemma. “I believe she will help.” she mused eventually, “But remember to be polite.” Xiulan informed her.
Tigu nodded, and closed her eyes. This time instead of merely offering her energy, she looked deeper.
She found her quarry near instantly, as befitting her skill at tracking. There was what looked like a small human form, smirking at her. The spirit held out her arms invitingly.
She began to approach, her head held high… and heeded the Blade of Grass’ words, bowing politely.
When she looked up, the spirit, of all things, seemed to be pouting at her pause, but recovered quickly, considering her. Amusement crawled across the spirit’s cracked face.
Tigu sat and waited. Patience was a hunter’s tool, just as much as violence.
The Spirit’s smile got wider.
Washy was definitely fading as I just sat with him, keeping him company. He seemed so happy and relaxed, curled up at the bottom of his lair, like a dragon, and not like a fish. Fish didn’t sleep like that.
Truly, he was a dragon. I thought with amusement. A small, greedy shit of a dragon, but a dragon.
“Well, I’m going to clean up a bit more, you have a good night, Washy.” I told him. The fish sleepily nodded… and then perked up again, swimming to the surface. He tried for a streamer of water… but that failed him, and he started panting. He slapped his fins, which were back to normal, on the concrete, and pointed back to the kitchen.
I got the feeling that this wasn’t for a snack, and I obliged him, going to the kitchen.
I paused as I saw the wrapped package on the counter, a bit confused. Right… Washy had spat something at me.
It was quite a bit bigger now, an actual, bulging parcel instead of a wet bit of greenery. I picked it up. It was fairly heavy. Qi bullshit I’m guessing. There were storage rings here, so a leaf that shrunk wasn’t too strange, I guess. I poked my head back into the river room
“Hey, Washy, is this what you wanted?” I asked him, holding up the package for his perusal.
The fish poked his head up out of the water, squinted at it, and then nodded his head excitedly, gesturing for me to open it.
For me, then?
I obliged him, folding open the leaf. The first, and most noticeable thing was the peach. It was a lovely shade of pink, plump and juicy looking. Its skin was slightly damp, and glistening in that way that made you just want to take a bite out of it.
And… well, even I could feel the Qi radiating off it.
Washy had brought me food. Un-nibbled on food.
The rest of the package was filled with seeds, and a peach pit.
He really had been thinking of me, even when he was gone.
“Thank you, Washy.”
A fin raised up, and he waved at me.
I wandered back into the veranda with the peach, and sat down. Enough Qi that I could feel it without concentrating, huh?
I briefly considered just biting down on it, it smelled delicious and I loved peaches… but this kind of fruit out of season was to be shared.
I hummed, and put it off to the side. It didn’t feel like it would go bad any time soon, so it would probably keep.
A little bite for everybody was probably better.
I instead, got out my new project. The start of a banjo.
I carved for a while longer, until I heard voices.
“I did tell you to go slowly,” Xiulan scolded.
There was a yowl of irritation.
“Well, you weren’t polite enough then, were you? I don’t believe she would rebuke you for no reason….” Xiulan trained off. “I retract that statement.”
Interested, I poked my head into the house. Tigger was rubbing the top of her head, while Xiulan looked on, amused.
“Whats this about?” I asked. Both of them froze, and got the “don’t tell the parents” look on their faces.
Wow. That was an expression I never thought I’d get, but they didn’t seem to be doing anything bad, so I left it.
“...I’m going to bed then. You two don’t get in too much trouble, now.” I commented.
Xiulan smiled. “Yes. I shall have breakfast ready for us. You’re starting on the road tomorrow, correct?”
Xiulan had been cooking breakfast ever since Meiling left, to all of our surprises.
She was getting pretty good.
I sighed, and got into my bed.