Bi De raised an eyebrow at the rude question. The rabbit's voice was far harsher than her appearance, filled with heat at his presence. Even now, he could feel her Qi focused upon him, and he could see the tenseness in her muscles.
He nearly rose to the harsh words and implied threat. Instead, he took a step backwards from the grave, and raised his wings in greeting. He was trespassing, and in resting places of the honoured dead at that. Some hostility was only natural.
And it would be a shame to do battle with the only honourable and respectable awakened one since his fellow disciples. She was not full of lust for violence. Instead, behind the heat and wrath at his trespass, beyond the imperious command, there held a curiosity.
‘This one is Bi De, First Disciple of Fa Ram. He apologises for trespassing in this resting place, and begs your forgiveness.’
Her eyes widened briefly in surprise, whether at his manners or at his respect. Almost involuntarily, her head dipped slightly in acknowledgement.
‘Liang Yin, First Disciple of Miantiao,’ she declared. ‘You shall have my forgiveness for trespassing on Shifu’s land.’
Bi De winced. He had been impolite, not entering through the gate. How shameful!
‘I shall apologise to your Master, if amends can be made. But first, may I pay my respects?’ he asked her. He knew nothing of these people, and yet it was only proper. They must have been worthy of the great care this rabbit lavished upon the graves.
‘Shifu would approve, I suppose. But I knew not these ones.’ The rabbit said, but still carefully placed a flower upon the grave, and began walking around it, inspecting it for weeds or anything that was not a flower.
He waited for her to finish. And together, they stood in front of each grave, and bowed once to the dearly departed.
‘You’re a strange one, Bi De,’ the rabbit mused, but most of her imperious glare and iron readiness had vanished. “You are the first outside Shifu that I have not had to slay. Come, Shifu is this way.’
The rabbit turned from the graves, and set off back into the destroyed village. Bi De followed after.
‘Master! We have a guest!’ the rabbit called, stopping outside a half-burned coop that was likely once as beautiful as his Great Master’s own. Now, it was a ruin.
“A guessst?” a voice asked. It was tired and worn, filled with a deep, almost unthinkable sadness.
‘A strange one. He paid his respects to the graves,’ Liang Yin declared.
‘Then he is an honoured visssitor. Pray, come in, and partake of our hossspitality.’
Bi De entered the coops behind the rabbit. It had been partially repaired on the inside. Leaks patched, and things fixed as best as they were able. But it was still draughty, and still run down looking.
Liang Yin’s Master was lying in the middle of the room, and slowly uncurled as they entered. He was not a particularly large snake, yet he had a presence about him. He felt dangerous, but Bi De saw the slight kink in the snake’s back, two thirds of the way down his body. Broken and crippled. Some scales shone bright jade-green. Others were dull and charred, like they had been subjected to fire.
One eye was missing, burned out by the same flame that had scarred his scales, while the other was exhausted and dead looking. He took in the rooster before him, his eyes lingering on Bi De’s pendant and vest. A soft smile overtook his face, before it died, and the snake slumped, a sigh escaping him. He inclined his head to Bi De.
‘This one thanks you, for your respect. His name is Shi Ti,’ the scaled beast whispered. Bi De frowned at the name given. Corpse? And he thought that Yin had said his name was Miantiao?
Yin, who had been inspecting the wall, scoffed.
‘Che! Stop calling yourself a corpse, you damned old bastard. Look!’ The rabbit lashed out with a kick, and the snake, though blind on that side, swayed out of the way. ‘Look how much you wiggle around! You’re no corpse!’
The serpent hissed angrily at her, his head whipping around, as he attempted to loom at his student. It did not work, for he was rather small. ‘Brat! Without my purpose, that is what I am! That is all I am fit to be! Unworthy of the name bestowed upon me!’
‘It was my purpose too! That's what you raised me for, and I complain less than you,’ the rabbit shot back, her head held high, as she dared to speak back to her Master.
The snake hissed as their intents swelled, filling the room.
Both glared at each other and squabbled as Bi De stood awkwardly, unsure if he should intervene. He idly wondered what this fight was about, but thought it best not to press in case the reason was private.
Instead, he took off his pack, and revealed some of his newly replenished victuals. Rice and eggs. These ones looked as if they had little. He coughed.
‘As payment for accommodations,’ Bi De said.
Both froze in their staring contest, and turned. Yin looked curiously at the rice, while Miantiao stared at the eggs with a complicated expression on his face.
‘...You give usss much, for the little you receive in return,’ the snake whispered.
‘As This Bi De’s Great Master said: As a guest, one is to do everything in their power to aid their host. As a Host, one is to have their guests want for nothing.’
The snake cocked his head to the side. ‘Thisss isss a paradox,’ he declared, his voice amused. Bi De agreed, but he understood the sentiment behind it. The snake chuckled, while Yin just looked mildly confused.
‘I shall explain it later, child,’ the snake whispered to her, and Yin let out a muttered ‘Yes, Shifu,’ before turning to watch Bi De’s preparations curiously. At least the fire pit was still intact, and they did have wood in here, so it would be a simple matter to prepare a meal.
Bi De prepared the rice, as Yin looked on curiously. Like she had never had a cooked meal before.
‘Thy Great Massster… he isss… Human?’ the snake asked as the rice cooked.
Bi De nodded. ‘A Great, Powerful, and Virtuous Master I am proud to serve.’
‘Yesss. A good Massster,’ the snake hissed sadly, his single good eye far away. Bi De held his tongue. He recognised the look from the Disciple Xiulan.
As quickly as it came, it went, as the snake shook his head. ‘Then, if it isss not intrusssive... Why do you travel out to thissss place?’
Bi De saw no reason not to answer. ‘A journey, to see this world and grow. To find the secrets of this world for myself, with my Master’s blessing.’
He puffed up proudly at the words. Indeed, his Great Master was correct as always. He was learning and growing upon his adventure.
He turned his smile to the snake and the rabbit staring at him. The rabbit looked intrigued, while the snake looked stricken. Miantiao shook his head again, snapping himself out of whatever memories took him.
‘...do you have any notable exploits?’ Yin asked, her expression blank and her head cocked to the side. ‘Our own journey was cut short.’
Bi De retrieved his map, and began his tale. Really, this was like being among his fellow disciples again as they ate, and he told the story of the Torrent-Rider.
The night had been pleasant, though Bi De had still been cautious. Trust, but verify. Yet Miantiao and Liang Yin both seemed unconcerned, the rabbit slumping over onto her master and beginning to mutter in her sleep, while the snake kept watch for her.
It was quite cute. Yin’s hard lines softened immensely once the dreams claimed her, while her Shifu rubbed her head with his tail.
Bi De dozed for a while, some of his alertness fading, until it was time for him to rise. He went to the roof, to properly greet the sun. To his surprise, Yin awoke at the same time, joining him on the roof, her Shifu coiled around her and deeply asleep.
Her body went through morning movements, as His Great Master did. She was a graceful one. Her movements fluid, as she slid through the morning mist.
Bi De took a breath, and as the sun crested the horizon, he greeted the new day. Yin jumped from beside him at the loud noise, her body tense, but pausing at the brief tap on her head by her Shifu’s tail.
The snake chuckled sleepily, uncoiling from his disciple. ‘Ah, how I misssed that sssound.’
He stared out over the village, while Yin looked at him curiously.
‘A roossster must crow to greet the dawn. Many of his kin once did the sssame, Yin.’
The rabbit nodded at this explanation, as her Shifu finished uncoiling, laying down in the dawn light.
The rabbit hopped off the roof, and onto the ground, where she immediately walked to a rather beaten up tree, commencing her morning training.
Her eyes were pure and focused, as she kicked and struck at the tree. Bi De had to admit, her kicks were powerful and graceful, each flowing into the next.
The snake watched, pride mixed with sadness.
‘You have taught her well,’ Bi De complemented his crippled elder.
‘Have I?’ Miantiao asked back, his face twisted into something ugly. He gazed out over the village, and sighed. ‘She deserves much better than this one’sss teaching.’
At that, the snake, fully warmed by the sun, turned his head up to the sky. He looked old and worn. Like the weight of the world was upon his back.
‘We shall try again today, Yin,’ he called to his disciple.
The rabbit nodded, determined.
‘You are welcome to stay, if you wish,’ the snake told Bi De, as he slithered down the house slowly. ‘This one did miss the voices of the chickens.’
Curious, the rooster followed. He wondered what he was to witness. More training? He supposed that this was her learning a new technique, judging by the mangled and shattered logs.
‘Now… let us attempt a clean cut this time.’
The rabbit nodded, using her teeth… and absolutely mangling the wood. The rabbit glared, and grumbled.
‘...what is the purpose of this?’ Bi De asked.
‘Shifu wants to rebuild the village.’ Yin replied, spitting out pieces of wood. Bi De’s heart seized, as the image of Fa Ram flashed in his head, this destroyed.
‘Yes, indeed,’ the snake said with a fake smile. Yin did not seem to notice the lie, as she went back to work.
Bi De knew not what his plan was, in making her build this. Yin obediently went about her work, as the snake’s eyes drifted far away.
There was something here that he did not like. The lie. The lie the rabbit did not notice. But he held his tongue. He didn’t know enough about the situation to intervene just yet, and Yin’s Qi flow seemed normal enough.
A chance to aid two loyal spirit beasts… and a chance to get to the bottom of this strange circumstance.
‘That is the wrong kind of wood,’ Bi De said at last. ‘We shall need oak, not these small strips.’
Yin frowned at another piece of mangled wood.
‘This one is a weapon, not a carpenter.’ The rabbit muttered. A weapon, hmm? Bi De glanced at the guilty wince upon Miantiao’s face.
‘And this is fine. The only sin is to not learn to better oneself. Come, witness the techniques of This Bi De’s Great Master!’ he crowed, and with a single mighty kick, split the wood into planks.
Smooth, with no splinters. Bi De had learned the dao of construction well, from witnessing his Great Master’s works. He was still a novice, however. He could only build, following in his footsteps, not thinking up anything like the Grand Coop.
Yin was intrigued by his technique.
‘Now, to cut cleanly, one must…’
It was strange, working with the two other beasts. Yin was cold and standoffish, her words crude and aggressive. Almost like Tigu, but lacking some of her predatory energy. Instead, the rabbit was constantly sneaking glances at the snake. Miantiao was either possessed by the mania of work, struggling as much as his crippled body would allow, or slow and lethargic, just staring off into space.
But they began to rebuild. There was a certain catharsis to it. To rebuild the shrine of fire. To construct the planks. A certain pride.
Pride the imperious looking rabbit did not seem to be learning. She grumbled like Disciple Gou Ren, clearly not enjoying any of it… but doing it all the same to please her master.
Bi De could relate to the feeling.
Yet he was the odd one out. The Master and Disciple worked with familiarity. They had clearly known each other for a long time. There were the occasional gentle touches, or Yin would tap at her master, or kick at him to make him snap out of whatever space he wound himself in.
The lie here… it was not the lie of Chow Ji. The snake had too much affection for the rabbit to wish to consume her. But he was hiding something from his disciple anyway.
Bi De pondered this, as they finished their labours for the day. The finding and stripping of an oak would be tomorrow. He remembered clearly the design of the other shrines.
‘...Thank you for the help today,’ Yin thanked him with a small smile.
‘There is no thanks to be had. This aids me as well. Shall we dine on more rice tonight?’
Yin nodded her head rapidly. ‘It's good! Normally I just eat grass or flowers.. Or sometimes meat. Shifu makes me refine anything with Qi in it.’
Yin stuck out her tongue at the memory of a taste. ‘Meat is disgusting.’
He nodded his head at the careless statement. Said without thought. The snake was directly empowering Yin. He apparently was giving her every bit of Qi he coul lay his coils on.
Bi De could not make sense of it. So he asked.
‘Why would you be a weapon?’ he questioned.
Yin perked up. ‘Because I am! A weapon to kill a demon! We trained for years! Shifu taught me so much! I was finally ready!’ Her eyes blazed with happiness and remembrance.
The happiness faded. Yin kicked at the ground, her face troubled. ‘But a few months into our journey, when we finally had his trail... somebody else killed the demon.’
Bi De felt a sinking feeling in his gut. ‘And now Shifu is broken. And I don’t have a purpose anymore.’
Her lines hardened again.
‘I’m going to go and tend to the graves.’ she muttered, her mask once more emotionless.
Bi De watched her go, unsure of what to say.