Bi De bore witness to the devastation. Only once had he seen such misery, after Chow Ji the Wicked’s terrible assault, and yet it was nothing compared to what he saw now. The cheers at his arrival and defeat of the beast had been short lived, instead giving away to a numb shock. The village had gone silent, save for the moans and whimpers of the wounded.
And then the wailing started. Women and men alike began to sob, even as they prepared themselves to deal with what had happened. It was a great outpouring of frustration and relief. A great many men were injured or crippled, and their pain was great. Their voices rose into the night, even as the rest of the men and women went to collect the corpses of the wolves. There was exhaustion. It was a raw wound, barely covered by grim resolve and determination.
Bi De sighed. If only he had been faster. He had been keeping a lookout for the troublesome wolf pack as the Man of Verdant Hill, his Great Master’s servant, had begged him. This was the area pointed to upon the map. But they were nowhere to be found.
So while resting in the forest on a branch, he had been unprepared for the screams and howls that came up from this sloped valley.
He had only just arrived in time to prevent further tragedy.
The people spared him passing glances, to bow their heads, but they were skittish around him. All except the leader of the village, and the young warrior, both named Zhang Fei. Curious. Was it some manner of tradition here? For Hong Xian was the name of both the Healing Sage’s father and brother. Bi De wondered if he had been missing something, in travelling the way he had. In a desire to avoid most of the attention, he had been as a wandering vagabond. He did not announce himself to the villages, but instead slept on roofs, or, if he was feeling lonely, he took refuge in the coops of his kin, and was greeted most agreeably there by the females. It was nice to be welcomed, in the absence of his own females, or Sister Ri Zu. They were comforting, with so much of what was familiar back at Blessed Fa Ram not here on his journey. Though he drew the ire of some of the other roosters, they were all reedy specimens that deserved none of his attention, and who fled from his majesty on sight.
He allowed them to greet the sun in his place, as an apology. Though their sparkless heads could not comprehend the face he gave them, he gave it anyway, for he was a generous,and righteous soul.
But he interacted little with the men, instead observing. And when not introducing themselves, most leaders were referred to as “Chief” or “Elder”, not their full name.
Bi De considered this revelation. He may need to double back to confirm this new piece of information.
So he gazed upon the village, from beside the leader with the lame leg, who was hobbling with the aid of a stick, giving direction, and aiding wherever he could. The exhausted little warrior followed beside, holding his spear loosely, and staring upon the damage wrought to his home with a kind of detached horror.
Bi De knew he would recover soon. His bravery had been something worthy of respect. The first thing he had seen, following the howls that had echoed up from the valley, was this one, so determined to defend his home.
“Chief.” an old woman begged the crippled man’s attention. She was covered in blood, and her forehead had drips of sweat streaking through the crimson. “We… we don’t have enough medicine.” She whispered, anguish on her face. “We managed to stop the bleeding… but we need to buy supplies, or a few of them won’t last a week before the rot takes them.”
The man frowned heavily, his face twisting into a grimace. Verdant Hill, Bi De surmised from the distance, was a three day journey, if only because the slope slowed the speed drastically. Coming back down it was faster.
But.. they need not have worried. This medicine was meant for him… but Bi De knew the Great Healing Sage and Sister Ri Zu would approve of this use.
He clucked, drawing their attention, and reached into his pack. It was much diminished by his travels, and much smaller in size. He would need to replenish his stores soon.
He brought out the medicine, and offered it to the healer. She froze… and at the chief’s nod, slowly took it, confused. Until, holding it in her hand, she did a double take.
“This is…!” she gasped out. Bi De nodded.
‘The medicine of the healers of Fa Ram and Hong Yaowu.’ he declared proudly. It would surely save all of those who needed to be saved.
The woman stared at him uncomprehendingly, her head cocked to the side, like she almost heard something.
Bi De frowned. He still had not figured out how to make others truly hear him. Mayhaps it was a lack of Qi? Or was it his own lack of comprehension?
He swiftly scratched the characters in the ground, pointing at them. She did not understand “Fa Ram”, but her eyes widened at Hong Yaowu.
“Praise the heavens, and their messenger.” The woman breathed, falling to her knees, and kowtowing before him. Bi De accepted the praise with grace, and turned to the work that was being done.
...it would not do to merely observe. He had seen his Great Master skinning Basi Bu Shi’s ilk. He knew the method.
The rest of the men watched him, as he plucked three carcasses onto his back, and carted them to where they were being processed.
Zhang Fei, when he woke up the next morning, expected the rooster to have been some strange fever-dream. Maybe he hit his head sluicing? There certainly weren’t any demon wolves, or powerful roosters around.
That lasted until he walked outside and saw the smoke, and the pelts, and the scars. He sat down heavily.
It hadn’t been a dream.
His hands started shaking, but he clenched them into fists, forcing them to stop. Last night had been terrible. Horrible. Horrifying.
He prayed it would never happen again.
He sat against the wall of his house, and looked over his village. How close they had come to destruction. How close, save for something completely unexpected.
The rooster. Bi De, as he was named. Sent by the Magistrate. People always said he had incredible foresight. He liked the man because he built the sluiceways, and those were fun, but... Well, this was the first time he knew why people raised their glasses to the painted portrait.
His eyes found the fire-red, nearly glowing plumage on a fence beside a chicken coop. He hopped and kicked with grace Zhang Fei knew was impossible. The air snapped, as if to vacate the presence of his feet. He looked powerful and regal.
Zhang Fei bit his lip. Was it something he could ask? Could he ask a chicken for help, to learn how to fight better? The very thought was absurd. And yet.
Praying may have brought the rooster to save them, but his father always said the heavens only smiled upon those who strived to better themselves.
He shook his head, and slapped his hands against his cheeks. Not today. There were too many things to do.
He stood, shaking off the melancholy feeling. Normally, his mother had to goad him into doing his chores, but he needed to do something. So he drew the water from the well, he inspected his heavy apron, he went to check on the mine, to see if it was damaged… he even went to see if the women needed any help washing clothes. They had waved him off, but not without each one giving kisses to his cheeks.
He was still blushing when the call that the food was ready was announced. He collected his sister, and was about to sit down with the rest of the children, when his father called him. Fei turned to the table where the rest of the men sat. The chicken was there, with a plate in front of him. Which honestly looked less odd than it should. But it was his uncle who drew most of his attention. The man stood up, from where he normally sat as his father’s strong hand.
“You sit with the children no longer.” His father decreed. “You are a man now, my son.”
Zhang Fei swallowed at the declaration. Hesitantly, he approached. The other men stood in respect. They clapped him on the back, and nodded approvingly. Zhang Fei sat beside his father. Right beside the Rooster, who also inclined his head.
Zhang Fei ate, still in a daze.
The only thing he noticed was that the rooster had absolutely impeccable manners.
For two days Bi De had toiled with the villagers, aiding in their repairs. The people of the village had adapted to his presence well. They were not as the merchants with their greedy touches, but properly respectful of his person. They bowed in the streets as he passed, and he returned their politeness. Though the name of this place was most confusing. Zheng Difang Ba. Correct Location Eight. Were there seven more correct locations? He would have to ask. But after two days, things were finally starting to calm down. The people were less on edge. The wolves were driven off, and they could begin to heal. Bi De often went to the forest to search for the few medicinal herbs that he knew would help, much to the gratefulness of the healer woman, and the village itself.
Master Bi De, they called him. As if he was a master, and not a Disciple. But he ate well, and replenished his supplies, inferior in quality though they may be.
He would be departing soon, continuing on his quest. He had marked the location of this shrine here upon his map. It was enlightening, to see how the dots spread. He made a disparaging cluck at his own foolishness. To think he thought he was close to figuring out this formation while back at Fa Ram. How foolish. How arrogant. He had but barely scratched the surface of this monumental formation.
“...Master Bi De?” A voice asked hesitantly, and Bi De ceased in his morning training, turning to the speaker. It was the young warrior. Bi De turned completely, offering the brave soul his full attention.
“Master Bi De… could you teach me?” the boy asked, bowing his head low.
Bi De considered the question, a bit surprised. The young warrior had a strong, valiant spirit, and wished to refine it in the defence of his home. A worthy task.
Yet he had his own journey. He needed to travel onwards, and he still had the mission of slaying the bear. He stroked his wattles, as he gazed at the boy.
‘Sometimes, we learn more by teaching another.’
Bi De made his decision. A week surely could not hurt. Just enough to set the boy on the right path.