“Breathe, please,” the woman said, and Miantiao complied. Soft fingers trailed along damaged scales, and touched old wounds so lightly he could barely feel them.
He did his best to just lay there. It was quite easy, with how he was feeling since he had first entered Fa Ram. The happy laughter. The warm looks. Like his old village, as the people had come together to help each other. It was all just a bit too much.
Yin had left his side with an encouraging nod, but... she fit in so easily. She slotted in like there had been a space waiting for her all this time, joining in on the banter with her own crude exclamations, much to the shock and offense of the sow, and the amusement of the dragon and the orange-haired girl.
She belonged here, while part of him… part of him was still somewhere far away.
The healer asked his permission for something, and he nodded absently.
It was like the dreams he had, dreams where his master was still alive.
He had said he would live for Yin’s sake… yet he wondered if he would ever truly fit in here? Fit in, with everybody so lively and enthusiastic.
There was a sudden tugging sensation, and he flinched, as it felt like a splinter had just been pulled out of his soul.
He glanced up at the woman who was frowning at a little black bead she held between her fingers.
“I’m getting entirely too familiar with doing this sort of thing,” she muttered. “Ri Zu?”
The rat held up a tiny jar, and the woman deposited the bead into it. “Store that one away from everything else. I want to see if there is an easier way to purify it,” she commanded, as a green aura flowed around her hand, burning away tiny little flecks of black that had remained on her fingers.
“Damn shit. Why would anybody willingly make their Qi into that,” she muttered, while turning back to the snake.
The woman smiled down at him.
“That… Well, that should help a bit with the scarring. Your next shed, some of the scales should come back, but the old breaks… they are beyond me right now. I would have to speak with Father, or get a few books, on dealing with such old wounds,” she said, as soothing green light coursed through his body.
‘You have already done more than enough. Lady Hong,’ he whispered, as he was raised up into the woman’s arms.
She raised an eyebrow at him, but otherwise did not speak, as she set him down at the table on a cushion.
She recognised his silence and mood for what it was, and left him to his contemplations.
The silence was soon broken.
The door banged open, and a slightly singed Tigu waltzed in, with a battered Yin flopped on top of her head.
The orange girl looked very smug.
“A fine fight, Junior Sister!” she commended.
‘Gonna beat you next time,’ Yin stated with absolute confidence. ‘Then you’ll be my Junior Sister.’
“Ha! You may come at me every day for the next thousand years!” the cat boasted, her arms crossed in front of her chest.
‘Tomorrow,’ Yin said, as Bi De entered with Ri Zu, the little rat perched on his back again.
“Really?” the cat asked, seeming surprised.
‘Yeah. Fighting is fun.’
Tigu smiled brightly.
Yin noticed, as the rooster sat down. The rabbit hopped off her perch, and sauntered over to Bi De, where she leaned up against him like she often did.
Silver, radiant fur, beside black drab colours. The rabbit smiled up
Ri Zu looked shocked, her eyes narrowing slightly.
‘You are close-friendly then?’ the rat asked, directing her question to Yin. It was rather pointed, her voice overcome with a strange accent.
‘Yes, we do this every night!’ the rabbit said cheerfully, not noticing the slight hostility. ‘He is a good friend, who helped us.’
The stormy expression intensified on the rat’s face. Yin seemed to realise something. ‘Oh, will you be sleeping with us too? Bi De speaks often of you, and says what a wonderful companion you are!’
‘Eh?’ Ri Zu squeaked, the hostility being beaten back by Yin’s bright enthusiasm and earnestness.
‘Yes, Shifu must be kept warm, and I am told I’m quite comfortable! Here!’ An ear was thrust at the rat, who took it hesitantly.
‘Ah... it is quite soft…’ the rat muttered, as she absently rubbed it.
‘See, Sister Ri Zu! The more of us there are, the more comfortable it is!’ Yin declared authoritatively.
Lady Hong chuckled.
The table slowly filled, as more and more people joined.
Talking. Laughter. Yin’s smile.
This was a good place.
A place where Yin could belong.
But could he?
The meal was brought out to them by Master Jin.
Slowly, tentatively, Miantiao took a bite of the egg that had been prepared for him.
It was the best thing he had ever eaten.
He jumped, as Yin’s foot suddenly hammered on the floor, thumping out joyously.
‘This is fucking amazing!’ she shouted, and the table erupted with laughter.
‘Language!’ Miantiao, and the sow demanded. Both stared in shock at each other, until Pi Pa nodded her head, offering him a smile.
“Now that's a compliment!” Master Jin declared with a smile.
As they ate, Bi De and Yin regaled them with their adventures. The Bear hammered into the ground like a nail. Their swim in Pale Moon Lake. The mountains, and the great dungeon they traversed, full of snapping horrors.
Their crowd gasped at the appropriate moments, or laughed at Yin’s suggestion to wear a cloak and stand upon each other's shoulders.
Until Bi De brought out the crystal. It looked... dull. Dull, and the light was spluttering slightly more.
The need to repair it was growing larger.
‘Great Master, I beg your aid to unravel this mystery,’ he finished.
The man smiled and nodded, but Miantiao saw the uncertainty in his eyes.
He could not sleep.
It was late at night, when Miantiao uncurled from Yin. The rabbit had a pleased smile on her face, even asleep. Gently, he stroked some of her fur, and began to carefully pick his way out of the pile. Bi De and Ri Zu were easy to dodge. Chun Ke and Pi Pa were their backrests, and needed no avoidance. He slithered around one of Tigu’s limbs, sprawled out where she snored softly.
She was covered in bruises, but she had a feather tucked behind her ear, a prize from her fight with Young Master Bi De. She was defeated, but still proud of herself.
The rooster had been impressed with her growth.
Slowly, he ventured away from them. From the room they were in, toward the light that was still on in the next room.
Master Jin, it seemed, was still awake. He was sitting upon the porch, his feet in the water as he gazed out over the land, his brow furrowed.
The man raised an eyebrow at where the crystal was sitting beside him. He brought one hand neart to it, and the object began to glow. Brighter, and brighter, pulsing with instability.
He pulled his hand away, and sighed.
“My choice huh?,” he muttered. “Being in charge sucks.”
Miantiao understood the sentiment. He understood that look enough that he was speaking before he fully realised what he was saying.
‘Few ever realise how heavy such trussst is,’ Miantiao whispered.
The man turned to look at him and snorted at Miantiao’s words.
“When you have no idea what you’re doing, and they trust you to come up with the right answer anyway?” he asked. He was not angry at Miantiao’s interruption of his thoughts. Instead, he patted the spot next to him.
‘Indeed,’ the snake agreed, as he curled up beside the man. It was a bit awkward, but he has the man’s attention now. It may be impudent of him, to speak so familiarly to this man, but he could not stay silent.
‘Our tale troublesss you?’ Miantiao asked.
“It's not the knowledge, it's what to do with it,” Master Jin said. “I’m not particularly a fan of stories with ancient formations blowing up the entire province. I live here, after all,” he said with a wry smile.
The snake snorted at his joke. ‘Then the question is, what shall you do about it?’
The man sighed, and stared up at the sky. He chewed on his lip.
“Help,” he said after a moment. “What else would I do? Say no, and forbid him from searching? He’d probably obey me, but it would eat at him. He would want to know. Living your life unfulfilled… knowing that you were denied… I don’t want to do that to him. It's important to Bi De. It’s important to you too, I think. I’m a bit curious as to what happened myself, but it's a tale thousands of years old. History.”
He turned to the snake.
“Does anybody seem to be using the formation?” he asked.
‘No.’ Miantiao answered after a moment.
“Is there anybody trying to repair it?”
‘I do not believe so. It seems to be degrading with each passing year.’
Master Jin shrugged. “Then we’ll find out what happened, talk things out, and go from there. It's been a few thousand years, I’m sure it can wait a bit. But… I’ll help out. See if we can get a discount from Yun Ren’s girlfriend on repairing this thing.”
They lapsed into silence. Help offered like it should be expected of him. He reminded Miantiao a bit of his own Master in some ways.
“Hey, Bi De said you were pretty good at making glass,” the man said after a moment.
‘I do have some skill, yesss,’ Miantiao replied.
The man grinned, and stood, rummaging around for a moment, before returning. He looked a bit annoyed.
“Damn it Meimei, I can’t find anything when you go and organise things,” he muttered.
He set the page in front of Miantiao.
‘A house made of glasss?’ he asked. ‘What is something so fragile for?’
“It will let us grow food, even during the winter. By letting in, and trapping the sun’s heat,” Master Jin replied.
The snake stared in wonder. To craft something that brought life in the depths of winter? Was it really possible?
‘Such a thing would be a large undertaking,’ the snake mused, his mind whirling. ‘But doable, especially with Qi. Is this to be our payment, for staying under your roof?’
The man looked at him closely. “If you want to think of it as a debt being repaid… then that's what it is. But I always found that doing something helps, when I feel lost.”
The look in his eyes...Ah… perhaps Miantiao was abit more obvious about his feelings than he thought.
But he was correct. Already, the ratios were swimming behind his eyes.
“...thanks for the talk, Miantiao,” the man said. He grinned. It wasn’t carefree, but it was honest.
Different from his own Master’s cheeky grin, but a good one all the same.