Bi De, First Disciple of Fa Ram, greets his Great Master, the Great Healing Sage, Sister Ri Zu, Brother Chun Ke, Sister Pi Pa, Sister Tigu, Brother Wa Shi, Disciple Xiulan and Disciple Gou Ren.
He prays that this message finds all in good health. This Bi De wishes to inform his Great Master and fellow disciples of his journeys thus far…
“An’ that's the big still Elder Hong was talkin’ about!” Yun Ren declared, as another image formed. The crowd obligingly ‘ooh’d’ at the sight. What had started off as a little gathering to see the guy off for his trip up north had quickly gone village-wide once he busted out the light show.
It really did look like a still, though vaguely steampunk-ish, with the dull red glow coming from some manner of vent in it and the misty morning. Like something out of the industrial revolution. It was actually a bit ominous looking, at nearly three stories tall, and then the rest of it trailing off into darkness.
Now that he had his own crystal, he was really letting loose, and it showed. That one shot from the mountain in particular was absolutely spectacular, as were the ones he had gotten from Washy’s back after bribing him with sweets.
I flipped one of the burgers, and inhaled happily. Smashed flat, as it should be, on a slab of iron. Off to the side, the sausages were cooking away, and would be done soon.
Some of the stuff I had asked for had come in from the Lord Magistrate. Mustard seed and turmeric. Additionally, I had actually managed to fix my yeast problem… sort of. Turns out that Chao Baozi, the steamed bun place in the Exchange, actually sold it out the back of the store. Made sense, though they said it was a trade secret when I asked them how they did it. Sourdough was great, but in my opinion, not for burgers.
So we were having a regular old send-off. I’d do better, slow-cooked meats later. For now, I was going with the burger option. Sesame seed-topped potato rolls? Check. Meat from the town? Check. Cheese from Yun Ren’s relative, who had come to pick him up and guide him to where he was supposed to go?
Though the man was looking really kind of lost, his amber eyes wide open as he kept pinching himself. He looked the same as Yun Ren and Hu Li, his eyes normally narrowed in a squint, and bushy hair, wearing clothing that more closely resembled something out of Mongolia.
Nice enough bloke, all laughs like Yun Ren until he saw the animals helping build the fire pit, or the fish bouncing after the gaggle of children. He went from happy to confused, and had to sit down.
An image of Yun Ren’s arm around Washy’s neck popped up, selfie style. A fox-faced boy and a dragon grinned at the camera.
The dude just seemed to give up. Hu Li patted his arm affectionately.
I scraped the rest of the burgers off the makeshift grill, and transferred them to buns. The novelty of them was a big hit. The only bread around here was the steamed kind, instead of the stuff I was more used to.
I couldn’t wait until I got a nice, crusty loaf going. Or maybe some baguette? Well, I was going to be using my own flour for those, and the wheat was only a few months away.
“And then this one is—” Yun Ren suddenly cut himself off, as another picture popped up. He seemed a bit surprised, like he hadn’t meant to pull that one up.
It was a rather cute girl with wide, expressive eyes. She looked a bit lost and owl-ish, with fluffy hair that stuck up like a bird’s nest. She had a slight flush to her cheeks, and a small smile.
“Oh?” Meimei asked, interested. Hu Li’s eyes gleamed.
Yun Ren coughed and brought the crystal frantically up, as the images cut out.
“And what I meant to say is, this one is the end of things. Time for food, everybody—!”
Yun Ren fled from his mother and Meiling, but not before swiping some food.
I sighed and shook my head, starting to hand out the burgers and much-better-than-hotdog hotdogs. Some to Gou Ren, who was just looking amused by his brother being accosted about “Biyu”, with a smirk on his face.
Xiulan, who had been grabbed by little Xian, and the small girl who had made friends with her the first time, was once more bedecked in flower crowns.
Pops got a burger, as he talked with Peppa and Rizzo about mushrooms and finances.
Tigger appeared briefly to spirit away a snack for herself. She still didn’t seem to like hanging out in the village too much.
Finally, I got to Chunky and Washy, settling down beside them to eat my fill.
The carp took a bite. His eyes widened. His pupils dilated.
He leapt into the air, and in a bright flash, a dragon roared his triumph, spiraling around the town and writhing with glee.
Chunky stared for a brief moment at his own meal.
“…If you don’t want to eat it, I’ll grab some more veggies for you,” I whispered.
The boar shook his head. Instead, he bowed respectfully to the meal. He let out a pleased grunt at the taste.
I sat beside my chunky boy as Washy shot to the grill, slapping another burger onto it, and bouncing up and down.
“They’re pretty good steamed, or baked too. Different flavours, for different thicknesses,” I called, and Washy looked like he had died and gone to heaven.
Silly creature. But still, better a gourmand, than some sort of rampaging beast. I was rather glad he was so chill.
I sighed and leaned back happily against my boy. Hopefully, Yun Ren would get some cool pictures of the north.
I closed my eyes, as I savoured the moment.
This Disciple swiftly learned that though the countryside has its own charms, the food in the greater world is of an inferior quality. So much so that I pity those who have not tasted our bounty, for they know not the joys that we do.
Though this one could conceivably make the trip home with ease, I do not wish to have to head home at every moment, merely to replenish supplies. It would not do to go on a journey of discovery, only to continuously return to the familiar…
‘It is quite strange, how these bodies are so different, yet so similar,’ Tigu commented, staring at the anatomy comparison. She held up a paw, comparing it to the human hand.
Ri Zu nodded her head. It was still rather a strange experience, to drink tea, and have Tigu be calm, but there they were. She was even a good student. A fast learner who needed little coaching once given a task.
It was a bit annoying, but at least she no longer felt like she needed to watch her back with the cat around.
‘We all look much the same on the inside, Ri Zu supposes. Things that could be called hands, hearts, lungs… Even some pressure points are the same, despite the differences in body-shapes,” the rat replied, staring at her own hand.
It was a rather strange revelation.
‘In any case, this Young Mistress thanks Ri Zu for her instruction,’ Tigu stated, inclining her head slightly.
They sat, and drank tea, to the sounds of Ri Zu’s Master and Pi Pa working on something together.
There were more shouts, as Disciple Gou Ren and the Great Master did something foolish on the training poles, and another great splash of water erupted.
There was some regret. Some regret that she did not follow Bi De into the wider world, but what was done was done. She likely would have been a liability, weak as she was, and she had her duties here.
That, and the outside still held fear for her. She remembered the hasty run from the ones that had slaughtered so many of them, and taken their homes. The terror of the flight here.
But she should not be. She would not be. Her fear had caused her to give up some time with Bi De. Next time… Next time for sure. She would see the world, without fearing the sky, or what Chow Ji would do to her if he found her spark.
‘…earlier, you mentioned sparring,’ Ri Zu said quietly. ‘Ri Zu wishes to intensify her training.’
Tigu perked up, surprised, and lifted her nose in the air haughtily. ‘Fret not, this Young Mistress will whip little Ri Zu into shape!’
Ri Zu snorted at the arrogance, and the slight smirk on Tigu’s face.
This was going to hurt a bit. But in the end, as long as the cat didn’t go overboard, it would help. She couldn't have the arrogant Young Mistress show her up too badly, after all. If the cat could be a good student, then Ri Zu would be a better one!
The world is far grander than I anticipated. Its people and locations, more varied. Even in this tiny corner of the world, I encounter new things daily, and meditate upon them, though the nature of time has begun to trouble me. Of what will happen to Fa Ram in the future.
We cannot see the future, however. So your disciple will do his best to live a virtuous life, and trust that the rewards of it are self-evident…
A pair of arms wrapped around Xiulan’s neck, a slender body pressed against her back, and a chin rested on her shoulder.
“So, what's going on here~?” Senior Sister asked, curious. Junior Brother flushed, as he stood with his shirt off. He kicked his feet at the ground a bit, clearly not expecting Senior Sister to be here, yet steeled himself. Senior Sister looked quite happy, her eyes narrowed, and a smirk on her lips, ready to tease.
“Attempting to see what manner of dress Junior Brother looks best in,” Xiulan replied, as she reached up and patted Senior Sister’s arm, leaning into the embrace. Senior Sister always smelled pleasantly of herbs. “I swore I would assist him in finding a woman, and so I shall!”
Senior Sister’s smirk faded, as she glanced from Xiulan to Junior Brother. He looked to the side, embarrassed, with a slight grimace on his face. Her eyes widened as if just realising something.
“Oh,” she said quietly. A brief flash of sadness and commiseration crossed her features. She quickly cleared her throat. “Well, what can I do to help?” she asked, releasing Xiulan and sitting beside her.
The young man groaned, but stood obligingly still for them, as they began to discuss what would suit him the best. A slate came out, as they sketched styles.
But they were coming up blank. No matter what they imagined, in fine clothes, and more courtly fashion. But Xiulan didn’t think that that would work too well. Junior Brother looked a bit wild. His muscles were cut and defined.
But… maybe she should lean into that?
The sideburns, however, needed to be a bit… managed.
Their plan of attack changed. The vest was opened wider, exposing even more muscle. The sleeves, ripped off, just like Master Jin’s.
And finally, though he winced and grumbled, the sideburns were trimmed. Much less wild, but she did leave them. Short, and squared off. She had possibly taken the line and made it too severe, but the overall effect was still quite pleasing.
“You clean up pretty good, Gou,” Senior Sister stated. She looked Junior Brother’s body up and down. “Why did you never trim the sideburns before this?
“Indeed. This style suits his body well,” Xiulan noted, proud of her work.
“You two are just saying that,” he grumbled, frowning heavily at his own reflection in the water.
The door opened, and Master Jin poked his head in.
“Hey, has anybody seen Gou— Damn, Brother! Looking good!” He looked shocked and impressed. Junior brother still did retain his monkeyish appearance, but now, instead of bushy sideburns making him look slightly comical, he had a wild and stern air about him. Still slightly playful, but a man that could be taken seriously.
Senior Sister smirked and offered her fist. Xiulan hit it with her own, as Gou Ren continued to grumble, but he did seem rather pleased.
The name Torrent-Rider was well earned. This Disciple is certain his Great Master would enjoy such an event in this “Gutter”. They gathered upon their gates, and saw off this disciple with much pomp and ceremony.
And thus, did this Bi De, Disciple of Fa Ram, depart the village that is known as the Eighth Correct Place. Great Master, I hope that it was not too presumptuous of this one, but I have left the Torrent Rider instructions on where to find our home…
It was time to cut once more.
The Third Wielder had approached it, as it did when it was time to cut. There had been a lull, after it cut the hardened earth. After they had gone to a place filled with people. At first, it wondered if it was going to cut lives and flesh again, and Sun Ne felt eager. Surely the Third would produce satisfying, clean cuts. It wanted to see the difference. Feel it.
But this was not to be. It did not cut the lives, or the houses. There were no screams, no blood, no ragged gashes. No fire and ash.
Slightly disappointing, to be unable to compare the Second to the Third, but… maybe the cutting of flesh and the screams had been the reason the cuts turned to gashes.
It had only changed when a great many people had been cut, after all.
How curious. But it was not to question the intent of the wielders. Its job was to cut. And it had cut very well. It had severed stone and Qi-filled earth alike. Its blade had been tended and oiled. And the Third cut with it tirelessly.
How great! Cut!
But now, it was confused as it returned to the cut land it had made. It was supposed to cut some things and not others. Cut the earth… but leave the roots?
How? It cut! Everything was for cutting! It was meant to cut! It was created to cut! Its purpose was to cut!
It had to cut! How could it not cut?!
Sun Ne could feel the spiraling loop of madness that had infused it when it began to gash well up again. No, nonono. iT CuT!
Master of Cut… cuts what he chooses.
It was a quiet thought, but it pierced through the panic and confusion. The Third’s thoughts were always slow and contemplative. Barely there, and he rarely offered anything, instead contenting himself with following Sun Ne’s instructions on blade alignment.
The frenzied madness froze where it threatened to overwhelm.
…not cutting… could make it better at cutting? That did not make sense.
Cut earth clean. Not cut roots. Control, but still cut.
Sun Ne mulled the words over. Cut, but not cut?
Well, it could try. The blade was lowered. Lowered deep. Deeper than it was used to. The Third moved his body, and shifted Sun Ne’s cradle. Both focused.
Both began to cut.
It was tricky to keep the edge aligned this deep, but it did. It cut. It sheared through the earth with ease. When they came to the first round root, their bodies shifted in unison, and the root was deflected upwards instead of cutting.
It was intensely difficult to focus like this, but it was working. It was deflecting the roots, instead of cutting them. Some of them got scratched, and even a few were severed. But most were deflected out of the dirt.
The Third was silent. There was only a slight satisfaction, as they did their duty. As they cut.
Sun Ne felt a surge of some alien feeling. What was it? It was not joy at cutting, but something else. Something that felt warm and nice.
It very much liked this Third wielder. Almost as good as the first.
But for now, Sun Ne concentrated, and cut.
They both have the air that Disciple Xiulan had about her. I have followed thy advice about speaking through their pain, and I believe that this is showing at least some results. The pain of speaking of his own Master is great, but it seems to give Miantiao some catharsis.
Liang Yin is somewhat easier. She simply requires purpose and direction, and is the resilient sort to begin with. Though her mouth may be foul, she does have some fascinating insights upon the nature of the sun, and it is enjoyable to listen to these two speak upon their passions.
Though your Disciple now knows more about pottery than he had wished, for Miantiao is quite vociferous on the topic. Whenever we enter a new place, he always must find and critique their glass and earthenware…
Using Sunny and Babe to harvest the potatoes had been a bit of a kludge solution, but it had ended up working out. I could have just pulled up each individual one, but Babe was getting better at pulling the plow, and he made new furrows at the same time that he got them out of the ground. A few of the taters got banged up, but really, it was a small price to pay. I added a few more carvings to the carriage, as well as some more paint. For the heck of it, I added more suns and flowers to the demon plow. I was really, really enjoying this wedding gift. Useful and funny, a winning combination.
As the potatoes came up, they would be put in the cold storage room after getting all the dirt off. Some would go back in as seed potatoes, for a second harvest, and some would be grown from seeds from the potato berries. Now, I had never actually grown potatoes from seed, so it would be interesting to see how things changed, considering that seed potatoes produced what was essentially a clone, while the berries would produce more varied plants. I want to try my hand at amateur potato breeding with those.
On the other hand though, I really needed to figure out a good crop rotation. After all my talking of “we give to the land, and the land gives back”, I’m not gonna be a hypocrite. Two sets of spuds in the same patch would be fine.
I continued my circuit around the farm. I scratched the sheep, their coats growing long and wooly. I checked on the calves, still gamboling around.
I even put the young rooster, one of Big D’s kids, onto my shoulders, just for old times sake.
He jumped off immediately, the little shit. He had been getting all cocky ever since his dad left, but he was still just a chicken.
I missed Big D. He had been there from the beginning, and not having him here… Well, it just felt wrong somehow.
But he had his own thing to do. All I could do was wait here, and hope he came back, safe and sound.
I stared out over my lands, out on the horizon.
The wind blew. The grass grew. Everything just felt so alive, as we came into the thick of summer.
I stood in the long grass for a while, just looking at everything.
At the river, as Washy watered the newly sown potatoes, streams of water burst in the air. Gou Ren laughing and wrestling with Chunky.
At Tigger and Rizzo chasing each other, while Peppa watched. Meimei and Xiulan coming back from their picnic, arm in arm, and laughing about something.
Bees buzzed around me, but never bothered me, and I held up a finger. It was still kind of weird that Vajra left her nest so often, but she was cute as hell, especially when she landed on my finger and started wiggling her little butt. The other queens didn’t come out, but I wasn’t fully convinced Vajra was a normal honey bee. She and her soldiers were quite a bit bigger than the other hives, and had an iridescent shine to their wings.
Still, she was pretty silly. I was pretty certain she wasn’t aware, because she kept getting stuck in the bath house. She flew in quite a lot, and I was beginning to think she just liked the heat and the moisture, but nobody else had her following them.
I sat in the grass for a while, until dusk, when Vajra went back home, and I could smell the beginnings of dinner. I was going to be playing Go with Xiulan again tonight… with backseat gaming from everybody. I stood, and stretched, yawning widely, and smirking around me at the horde that approached and tried their luck.
One of the best things about cultivation?
Mosquitoes couldn’t get through your skin.
As you said in the beginning, I learn much from this journey, and I am glad that I have undertaken it. To grow and learn is never a wasted endeavour.
May the sun and the moon shine ever upon Fa Ram.
Thy ever loyal servant,