I ran my fingers over strands of gold. I took a deep breath in, and let the scent fill my nostrils. The wheat was a bit taller than I was used to, but then again, modern wheat was mostly a dwarf breed. There were advantages to this, as it wouldn’t bow over as much in heavy rain. If the stalks snapped during a storm, well, you could lose the harvest, and modern wheat was bred to help prevent that. This kind would get to about four to five feet tall by the time it was done growing.
It also meant that Meiling could basically hide in it. Her head just barely popped out over the top of the stalks, as she wandered through the field with me, a soft smile on her face as she ran her hands along the stalks, and she brought one to her nose to breathe in its scent.
I turned back to my inspection. There were some other differences too. The stalks seemed a bit thicker than normal. Standing just a bit taller and prouder than I was expecting even with the steadily growing weight of fat kernels on top.
There weren’t too many weeds. There were some, it was inevitable, but the wheat placement and a bit of elbow grease made sure my wheat was unmolested.
There was also a little bit of bug damage. Some grasshoppers and other beasties had received their due without the power of gene-modifications and pesticides to keep them at bay.
They, in turn, were quickly decimated by both the local birds, and my own defenses. There was a rustling of wheat, and a few happy clucks as the hunting pack found a prize. One of my chickens briefly appeared near my feet. It cocked it’s head to the side, its beak full of bugs, before fading back into the forest of wheat spires, like some kind of tiny dinosaur. There was more rustling, as they continued through the field, spread out along the length of it, and on the lookout for any interloping insect that dared attempt to receive a free meal. The chickens would come out the other side. I think it helped a bit, and they didn’t actually attack the wheat too much. Though I’d probably stop soon. They were starting to eye the grain more than the bugs.
I gently picked one off, and popped it in my mouth.
You were supposed to chew them to check for moisture content, but I had never been particularly good at distinguishing exactly when wheat was done. So It was a slight surprise when I immediately decided ‘fourteen days, three hours until optimal harvest if current conditions continue’.
I nearly cut the thought off, as I suddenly started getting quite a bit more information than I anticipated getting. Like how many hours of sunlight this particular stalk had been getting, how its roots had developed, if the amount of water it received was optimal, the slight damage halfway down from an insect chewing on it…
It was… weird. It felt a little like when I had popped in here. The sudden rush of information, and how I suddenly knew what I needed to do.
I let it wash over me, and considered it. It wasn’t quite like it was the plants themselves telling me what to do. More like… I just knew the wheat.
‘[Observe] has leveled up,’ I thought sarcastically. ‘You may now discern the quality and rarity of things in greater detail…’
There was no ignoring it. My cultivation was getting stronger, changing me. I didn’t really feel different. Or, at least, I didn’t think I did. I just felt good and healthy. I spent my Qi every day, and I felt good and refreshed in the morning.
Something was still going on here. The question was, what? I didn’t know what was happening. Nothing in the archives would have anything on cultivation. I would have to go to a sect, and ask to use one of their libraries. Which… let's be honest, wasn’t happening. Not even because I had no desire to visit one, but mostly because they literally wouldn’t let me unless I joined or maybe paid them a lot.
…I could ask Xiulan? Maybe?
And… well, it wasn't too bad, was it? It was pretty useful. If only it wasn’t this much information.
Something simpler and more useful. I didn’t care about min-maxing the amount of water my wheat got. Was it healthy? Was it growing fine and disease free? That was enough.
Almost as if it heard me, the flow of information settled a little, simplifying itself. If I focused, I could still get those bits, but… well, that was much better.
I closed my eyes and let out a slow breath.
I started walking again, checking out my wheat. Fourteen days, three hours— fourteen days about. A good time. Two weeks more and it would be ready to harvest, then I would have to make the decision on if I should plant winter wheat or not. I would probably do at least some, just for an experiment.
I exited the wheat field, where Meimei was waiting. I wrapped my hands around her waist, and put my palm against the slight bump there.
Her hand landed to rest atop mine and she looked up to kiss my cheek.
There were no words necessary. Just the look in her eyes, so full of warmth.
“I’ll get these ones back,” she whispered, as the last of the chickens exited the wheat field. They looked triumphant, having just completed a spectacular hunt.
I nodded to her, and continued my own walk. Pausing, I grabbed a stalk. I stuck it in my mouth, just to complete the look.
I smirked at Gou Ren tending to his rice, a boulder twice his size strapped to his back. He moved like he had forgotten it was there.
In all honesty, he probably had. He was working hard and moving with speed, agitating the ground a bit to get some oxygen to the rice’s roots and stir up the bugs. A couple of ducks were around the patties, quacking to each other and paddling around the water or following behind Gou Ren eating whatever beastie he stirred up. Chunky and Peppa were side by side in a wallow Gou had built for them, sleeping away in the afternoon sun, covered near completely in mud. Chunky had been growing, and was getting pretty massive. He looked like a small hill now with how dirty he was.
I continued out into the fields to the sheep. Honestly, they were the only ones that could be described as currently “useless” as I couldn’t take their wool yet, and I wasn’t particularly planning on eating them. But… they weren’t exactly a drain either. It’s not like they currently needed to be given feed. They wandered out to the hills, accompanied by somebody, ate their fill and then came back.
Okay, maybe they did me one service. They were my lawnmowers. Part of the grass near the house looked downright manicured. Sure, I could probably use it for a field… but the soft patch of grass was perfect for having bonfires and just lying down on. Plus, it looked nice.
Okay, so sue me. I liked my useless patch of grass.
There was a shock of orange hair with them. Tigger—Tigu—Tigu’er, because she looked incredibly uncomfortable, like she had done something wrong whenever I called her without the affectionate suffix, was out cold with a small smile on her face. I shook my head at her, and walked over, pulling her shirt gently closed so that it covered her stomach again.
She was still such a cat in some ways. But… she was learning. It was a heavy weight, to have somebody look up to you so much.
I continued onwards, ascending a hill, to look down on all I had built. There was a brief crack of thunder, but it was faint.
The cows and their calves were milling around in the grass together. The house, the valley, all of it.
…Maybe it was good that I was getting stronger. I hoped it wouldn’t come to it, but I would fight for this.
I would fight for all of it.
I took another breath, as I stared down at my home, when something caught my eye.
I did a double take and ran my fingers through my hair.
Well, is that number seven?
I descended from my hill.
Babe the ox was carrying his plow out. It wasn’t hitched, he had managed to hook one of his horns around the carriage and had lifted it and was now just carrying Sunny out to a part of the land I wasn’t doing anything with.
“Hey… Babe?” I asked, “Need any help there?”
The ox turned to me, his plow hanging off his horn. His eyes were completely placid. So placid and calm that for a moment, I thought I had got it wrong, and he had somehow just got stuck.
Until, with great deliberation, he shook his head. He turned and kept walking. He wandered over to a shady spot, near some trees, and I followed behind.
Carefully, he set down the plow, and then settled down beside it. He turned his eyes to me, and waited.
“… do you know how long you’ve known?” I asked him, and once more, the ox pondered. He pondered for a good minute before he pointed his head to Sunny the plow.
“Ever since you were hitched up?” I asked, listening intently for anything that could be words.
That was actually a fairly long time. And he had been fine with everything?
“Why didn’t you tell anybody?” I asked. He had seen me talking with the others. Surely he should have noticed he could just get my attention?
The ox contemplated this for a moment, before his head tilted and he seemed to summon something out of himself.
I strained my ears.
A single, simple word. Yet one absolute.
“You’re fine with how things are right now?” I asked.
Babe considered this question as well before nodding.
“You’re fine with the barn, the room, and the food?” I asked, making sure.
He nodded again.
“You don’t want anything else to eat? You don’t want to come in the house? If you want to, you can come and see us,” I offered.
And if he couldn’t fit, I could knock out a wall, and make a bigger door. I was planning on some sliding doors anyway.
The bull considered the question, looked at my house in the distance, and shook his head.
“Do you want anything in regards to your current living conditions or situation?”
Another shake. Calm and matter of fact.
“What do you want to do in life?” Maybe it was a bit much of a philosophical question, but this time, Babe didn’t hesitate.
He pointed his head to the plow.
He just wanted to plow? Well, I couldn’t have him dig up the entire property, and he didn’t seem to be doing that anyway, but…
I nodded my head. “We’ll start on the road again soon,” I promised him, and for the first time, the ox looked actually interested.
I’d have to talk to some people to make sure he didn’t get abused or overworked, but if he just wanted to use his plow…
Well, Hong Yaowu could use a helping hand.
“Do you want to plow in other places?” I asked.
This one got another nod.
“… do you want to come over and introduce yourself to everybody?” I asked him.
Another pause, as he considered, before he nodded.
He got back to his feet, and collected his plow.
We moseyed on over to the house. There was a bit of a setup going on because we would be eating outside today. A bit of leftovers and my pseudo-fridge meant we could keep the game Gou Ren got for longer. I raised an eyebrow at Xiulan, who looked entirely too cheerful with her hair all frizzed out, while Washy just looked tired.
Oh, so thats what the thunder was. I shook off the amusement.
“Hey guys, I got somebody to introduce you to,” I said blandly.
Eyes turned toward the ox.
It said a lot that we immediately just moved to introductions.
“So, what do you like to do?” Meimei asked him with a smile.
The ox put down his plow, and turned to me. Well, a bit of disturbance to the yard wouldn’t hurt.
I obligingly helped him get set up, and he cut into the ground. He was really good at getting the plow to cut nicely.
I smiled and nodded, ready to unhook him. What I didn’t expect was for Xiulan and Tigu to be examining the cut intensely.
“Magnificent,” Xiulan muttered.
“…its alright, I suppose,” Tigu muttered, glaring at it.
A blade of Qi formed above Tigu’s hand, and she stared at it before starting to sulk.
The ox stood tall.
And somehow, he slotted in at the table just fine. I was beginning to get him. Quiet, and contemplative.
“Haaa?” Tigu asked the ox, after he said something I couldn’t catch.
“Master, he doesn’t want to use the barn at all. He wishes to sleep outside at night. He says the elements purify his spirit and his cut.” She frowned at him, and I could already see the gears turning.
Babe was A bit of a spartan, apparently.