“Again! Again, Big Sister Tigu!” Mistress’s brother shouted, eagerly bouncing in front of her. She raised an eyebrow at the small boy. Tigu grabbed the child underneath his armpits, and threw him.
The boy whooped as he sailed through the air, before landing with a splash in the river. Other children cheered at the height, as he paddled out to the massive form of Chun Ke, sitting like an island in the water.
A curious technique, to grow larger when he pleases. The children didn’t seem to notice that he was bigger than he should be as they slid off his back into the water, nor did they notice as birds began to land on his mane and tusks, cocking their heads curiously at the beast in their home. Even the fish swam around his belly, hiding in the shade his bulk cast.
Her Master and Uncle, as her Mistress’s father said he should be called, had placed her in charge of herding the little ones like she protected the sheep and the calves. Though both of those were less troublesome by far. Less prone to wandering off when they thought they were safe and having to be caught when they slipped on the rocks they were climbing.
Still, for all their annoyances, they were much more tolerable when they weren’t petting her fur in the wrong direction.
Something settled around her head, and the scent of flowers reached her nose. This one, Liu, was even tolerable. She liked carving and was rather good at it, though she only made ones of flowers and vines, silent as she focused with the Qi-reinforced chisel Tigu had given her.
Her Master had been quite pleased with the paving stones that had the designs on them.
She nodded at little Liu and sat down to watch the children. The only one who wasn’t enjoying themselves was this “Ty An” character, who was scowling and grumbling about babysitter duty. Tigu dismissed her, reaching down again to throw another one of the little ones into the river.
“Oi, muscles, they’ll keep bugging you to do that as long as you let them,” the girl grunted.
Tigu cocked her head to the side to look at the girl. They looked about the same age, though the other girl was slightly taller, and was stick-thin. She shrugged. “I do not mind, freckles.”
Tigu returned, complimenting her, as she was complimented. Calling one by a defining and beautiful feature was polite, after all. If there was one thing Tigu wished for, beside the ears of her other form, it was freckles. Her skin tone was the correct, pleasing tan of her Master, but the freckles would complete it. The other girl scowled harder.
“Doing that makes your muscles too big. I’m trying to help you, you know. You’d be prettier without them.”
Tigu turned, confused.
“Eh? But these are the epitome of beauty and function!” she fired back. Strange girl, with strange tastes, this one. But she could be corrected easily.
Tigu’s Qi claws lashed out at a nice sized rock. Ri Zu and Mistress said that examples could be used to change somebody’s mind. The sculpture took form swiftly. Not her best work, but good enough for this.
She pulled open her own shirt, and began to lecture. “See! Look here, these follow the line of my Master’s stomach!” she declared, pointing to the carving. Smaller, yes, but they still looked good on her frame!
The other girl appropriately gaped, her face red, and her eyes fixed upon her Master’s sublime form.
It did inspire awe, didn’t it?
“Uh...um… what about… Gou Ren?” the girl asked, stuttering slightly.
Tigu nodded her head. He was getting quite good too. A midway point between herself and Master. A fine form! She quickly crafted a replica of her fellow disciple.
The girl swallowed thickly, as she beheld the statue.
“...You’re pretty good, Tigu. You… uh, you teach me how to do that?” she asked, kicking at the ground.
Tigu’s chest puffed out.
Another wished to learn from the Great Tigu of Fa Ram? She would oblige her!
The sun was setting, as one of the villagers wandered to the river.
“It's time for food, everybody! And we’ve got rooms in the inn tonight!” The children cheered, and piled out of the water.
Tigu got up and stretched, preparing to follow.
“...you’re just gonna leave these here?” Ty An asked, cocking her head to the side.
“I shall allow others to appreciate this beauty!” she said simply, gesturing at the statues. Ty An smirked, but said nothing else.
The food was good. The parents thanked her for doing her duty. Tigu accepted their gratefulness. As her Master said, thanks meant that they valued what she did for them. And it was not like it was hard.
After their meal, they entered Verdant Hill.
Tigu’s eyes flicked around the town as they walked through it. It was her first time returning to this place since her birth and while some of the smells were vaguely familiar to her, the rest of it was hazy. Her most vivid memory was of the soft hands of her Mistress, and the low murmur of voices. Feeling comfortable and safe.
Her hand reached out and she snagged the back of a boy’s shirt, hoisting him into the air. The little one about to wander off flushed as her eyes narrowed at him.
He had tried to wander off once before, today. He was thrown over her shoulder like a sack of rice, and returned to his parents.
“Good job today, Tigu'er,” her master complimented her, and she preened under the attention.
“You’ll get your test like I promised, after I’m done finishing up the road and some paperwork, but while we’re waiting, could you get some things for me?” he asked as he handed her a list.
Her Master handed her a list with a small map and names.
“Ask around and see what you can get from these places, okay? Just remember if they don’t have what I need, you can go somewhere else,” he stated airily, his hand landing on her head.
Tigu’s resolve hardened. She had been given a task! She had failed with the bee but she would not fail here.
The next morning, bright and early, she set about her task.
And immediately ran into a stumbling block.
The place she had been instructed to go to was closed. The door was locked.
She frowned at the piece of paper, and what she was to get— another set of sacks for storage. She debated going back to her Master to ask for another location… but he was busy. She could speak to one of his villagers, but they were working on the road.
And... her Master’s servant owned this place, so surely the people who lived here might also know?
She approached one of the ones who didn’t look busy.
Be polite, she reminded herself. Which for some reason according to her lessons didn’t include introducing herself as “the Young Mistress of Fa Ram.”
“Excuse me?” she asked the bored looking man instead. “Do you know where I could get any of these?”
The man blinked languidly, but walked over to get a better look at what Tigu was holding.
“....yeah, go three streets that way, it’ll be on the left.” he said after a moment. “You from out of town?” he asked.
“Well, have a good day then. And welcome to Verdant Hill!”
Tigu was pleasantly surprised. Thanking the man, she followed his directions, coming to the store. She purchased what she needed with the money her Master had given her.
Smiling, she proceeded to her next destination, full of optimism.
This task was going well!
“Oh, and then I said ‘Lan, you cad, I need to have this done by…’”
Tigu stared at the bag, debating on whether or not to just grab it out of the woman’s hands. She had been at this for nearly half an hour.
She would not stop speaking. She paused in her work. Her hands gestured wildly.
“Miss,” Tigu said firmly. “I must complete the task my master set for me.”
The woman paused. She blinked.
“Oh, I’m sorry dear, sometimes my mouth gets the best of me, here we are!”
Tigu took the seeds she had been sent for and left.
“What?” the old man asked.
“I need a—”
“Speak up, I can’t hear you!”
“I NEED A BARREL!” she shouted. The windows rattled.
The man picked at his ear.
“No need to be so loud, you’ll make me more deaf!” he demanded. “Kids these days, no respect!”
“Nah, girlie, get your father. I don’t deal with brats,” the man said bluntly. Tigu felt her eye twitch, and her hand balled into a fist.
She took a deep breath even as her body screamed at her to teach this uppity fool a lesson.
But she could not. Master had been very clear on what was ‘acceptable’ violence, and what was not.
He had not tried to strike her. Nor was he doing something that Master and Mistress had said were ‘intolerable acts’.
No matter how much she wished for this to be one. He was merely being a terrible, annoying creature.
How could her Master stomach such things?!
She did not know.
She wanted to beat them about the head and shoulders for their disrespect. Her patience was already frayed. This day had started off so well, and gotten progressively more trying.
“I have my Master’s list here, Fatty,” she snarled instead, shoving the thing at the round creature. “He shall receive what he wishes for.”
“Your Master can get this himself, then,” the man stated dismissively then turned away.
Tigu’s jaw dropped. Her Qi blades sparked at the tips of her fingers. Her entire body quivered with barely restrained violence, as red clouded her vision.
Her teeth bared, her entire body burning—
‘Some people just aren’t worth it.’
She turned, and walked away.
Yes, he wasn’t even worth correcting. He was not worth giving her Master’s coin, his goods were worthless to Fa Ram!
Why did they even need a shovel from here, anyway?! Yao Che’s work was superior to this run down place’s!
Her teeth were clenched into a snarl as she stomped away, this task had taken most of the morning already, and she still wasn’t done!
Was she going to fail again?
She was so consumed with her own thoughts that she nearly ran into someone—
“Master?!” she yelped. And with the Master was Ri Zu. She had thought the rat was still at home with Wa Shi and Pi Pa!
Her face flushed. He had seen her failure.
Tears sprung at the corner of her eyes. A hand landed on her head.
“...you passed,” he stated. The admission was made with pride but there was an undercurrent of resignation.
“Eh?” she asked, confused.
“I’m sorry for putting you through that. But you handled yourself well.”
“I... I do not understand,” she whispered.
“That list? I asked around. It was a list of the most annoying people in Verdant Hill. And that guy was somebody everybody hates. The test… well, the test was never going to be about your combat ability. I know you can fight. It was about finding your way in an unfamiliar place, and dealing with unfamiliar people,” her Master explained.
“The world is full of people like that. And worse. People you can’t just off and hit—well, you could have hit him, but…I don’t think that should be the first answer. You have the right to defend yourself and others. But for petty shit like this? It's not worth it.”
Tigu pouted. It was slightly dissatisfying, it was not a great victory like she hoped, but her Master looked proud of her.
“And what was Ri Zu doing?”
‘Ri Zu was watching for Mistress and Master,’ the rat said apologetically.
Tigu’s eyes narrowed.
“Would you have let me fail?” she asked.
‘Yes,’ Ri Zu responded.
“...good,” the cat said. It was annoying, and a strange test but if she had killed that man, it would have been worse. A strange feeling entered her gut. She shook her head to clear it.
“Well, of course I passed the test!” she said instead. “I am ever capable!” she boasted, her chest puffed out.
Her Master smiled at her. “That you are. You did very well. And I have one last person for you to meet,” he decided.
They were outside a shack. A goat stared at her blankly, and an old tomcat that smelled familiar sat upon her back. He was missing a front paw, and his eyes were sharp. They softened on seeing her.
“Grandmother!” Master called, and an old woman with a single blind eye poked her head out of the door. She smelled familiar.
“The hells you doing, always bothering me, boy?!” she shouted.
Her Master laughed.
They were served hot water instead of tea and the old cat came to sit on her lap. There was something about him…
She shook her head, and looked around the house. It was messy, and some parts were dirty…
But there was the carving she had made for the old woman, sitting in one of the few clean places, and obviously cared for.
Her Master and the old woman were talking about something, but Tigu wasn’t paying attention, just running her hand slowly over the old cat’s back, as he licked her hand.
“Quieter than I expected you to be,” the woman finally addressed Tigu, squinting at her. “I know a certain old bastard who was quite the hellion at your age.”
The cat on her lap snorted.
“...thanks for the carving, girl. Now both of you, get outta my house! You’re not allowed in again today!” The woman grabbed a broom, and shook it in mock anger.
Her Master chuckled, and bid the old woman his goodbyes... But the old cat jumped on her shoulder.
Tigu found she didn’t mind, as she walked behind her Master, on the way back to the inn.
She had a very nice night. Sleeping with the familiar feeling beside her.
But the cat was gone in the morning.
The only thing left on her pillow was a single, carved cat, missing a paw.
It looked realistic and lifelike, but it was obvious the carver was out of practice or using a hand that was unfamiliar to them.
She carefully packed it up.
And they returned home.