A note from Casualfarmer

....I fell asleep before I hit post. I bring great shame and dishonour to my family.

The morning of the solstice began just as did the year before. The sky was overcast and the world was thick with mist creeping up from the earth to cling to everything it touched. Snow blanketed the land, with the flickering rays of sunlight lending an almost ethereal quality to it, like the mists of a dream.


And just as the year before, a brightly colored sleigh painted with red lacquer rushed across the fallen snow. Upon it were shining decorations of stars and a bright, rising sun. Cedar boughs attached to the sleigh, laced with silvery bells, chimed in time to the beat of the noble creatures pulling it.


Bi De stood in his place on the front of the sleigh, his dapper red hat trailing behind him. The wind coursed over his wings as they sped through the tunnel of evergreen boughs laden with the heavy snowfall from the wintery night. Below him Brother Chun Ke and Sister Pi Pa pulled the sleigh to its destination. Chun Ke wore his magnificent horn, to show respect to the original qilin who had pulled the great sage San Ta’s sleigh, while Pi Pa’s red-painted nose was a beacon in the mists, a light that cut through the darkness.


Indeed, all of Fa Ram was in full panoply for the solstice, and it was quite a sight to behold. The oranges and reds of the rising sun were spread across all of them, albeit currently hidden by darker coats and shawls. They filled the crowded sleigh. Ri Zu was upon his back, her nose tasting the air. His Great Master sat upon the seat beside his lady wife, just behind Bi De, the pair quietly enjoying the ride.


The rest were further back. Disciples Yun Ren, Gou Ren and Xiulan were resting and chatting with Xianghua and Bowu. Wa Shi was in his jar at their feet, his head poking up above as he slapped the side of the sleigh happily.

Tigu sat on top of the sack filled with food, Yin and Miantiao stuffed down her shirt. Her own red hat was streaming in the wind.


At least Tigu was quiet now. For the first time in Bi De’s life, he had known annoyance at his Great Master for teaching her that song.


It had been funny to see her spin like a top on her toes and shout “Pa Do Ru, Pa Do Ru~!” for the first five minutes.


A week later, it was completely insufferable. Sister Ri Zu had actually started contemplating poisoning her again, planning it in great length with Bi De. At those times, it was a struggle to act as the voice of reason, gently reminding her not to do it.


Next there was Bei Be. The ox trotted at an easy pace just beside them, his plow stowed safely within the sleigh.


Finally, there was Huo Ten. The monkey was curled up in the back of the sleigh, cradling the memory crystal that was the product of Bi De’s journey. The piece had looked visibly different this morning, the churning storm within slowing down to barely a crawl.


All of them were together.


It was the same as last night, gathered together around a mighty evergreen. The tree was decorated with rope, glass, and the light crystals Huo Ten and Yin had found.


It was a beautiful sight in the softly falling snow, a beacon of light reaching to the heavens.


Afterwards, they all had gathered around the hearth with warm spice bark tea in hand, listening to Disciple Gou Ren and the Healing Sage regaling them all with stories of their childhood. Tigu and Wa Shi had slid in attempting to hide their rushed search for the gifts they discreetly added upon the great pile.. Those would be exchanged tomorrow, this time, after the solstice festival.


When the night was deepest and the sun slept for the longest.


Sister Yin had been surprisingly lethargic this morning, the tired rabbit not speaking much, not even reacting when Tigu stuffed her down the front of her shirt.


Bi De glanced back at Huo Ten, at the monkey curled around the crystal. It was covered in cloth and Huo Ten had declared that it would need to see the rising sun to complete its stabilization.


The hour he had waited for was soon at hand, and he felt some semblance of nerves start to creep up.


Bi De put it out of his mind for the moment as the village approached. They were met with much fanfare.


His Great Master began to laugh with a booming “Ho ho ho ho!




Hong Xian sat before a candle in a dark room, his breath even as he prepared himself.


The day of the solstice was upon them.


He took a deep breath in and let it out through his nose. His son, who shared his name - the name every village chief of Hong Yaowu has had for at least seventy six generations, sat opposite to him. His son’s eyes were clenched shut, tense. It was not quite the peaceful and calm meditation he was meant to perform, but Xian could hardly begrudge him his fears. It would be the first time he would be allowed in the circle with his father, to perform the dance in front of others. Unlike his father, Xian the Younger’s only duty was to last as long as he could. There was no shame in a boy of nine retiring after only an hour or two, but the longer they danced together, the more auspicious it would be.


His son had been training very hard for this moment. He had trained diligently and without the goading he normally required.


A small start, but a good one. Meiling had been even more a hellion than Xian at his age, a willing participant in the Xong Brother’s schemes, and twice as wild, for all that she was a “bookworm”. Age and loss had tempered that, the death of his dear wife forcing his daughter to grow up too fast.

But everyone had to grow up eventually. His sister was no longer here to care for him, and his son was rising to the challenge.


For himself and Yao Che, the dance had taken a week of preparation. A week of careful meditation and breathing exercises that slowly intensified until the last day. This time was normally spent completely in solitude. The only thing he had was a candle and water. His shirt was off and he took deep, even breaths. He stared into the flickering candle flame and tried to center himself for the labour to come.


It was a time when, alone with his thoughts while preparing, he tended to dwell. He dwelled on the mistakes he had made and the regrets he had. He always remembered his late wife; he had thought long and hard about Meiling’s uncertain future back then. He mulled over the hardships forced upon his son, and the duty he himself had to fulfill as Hong Xian.


In the darkness, before the candle, each and every one of his failings came to him. They tried to distract him. It was a struggle, like climbing a mountain each and every time. A battle for his mind that had to be won before he did battle with his body.


Maybe that was one of the reasons for the ritual? So the leaders of the village would reflect upon their duties, in this moment before the hardest physical challenge most of them would face all year.


He had honestly been dreading the preparations this year. Without his daughter, and with his son beginning his first vigil, he imagined it would have been a trying time. Both he and Brother Che were without the support of their families. The eldest of the village, the Xong Brothers, Meihua, and his own daughter had left.


All of his worries were, of course, unfounded. His village would not have abandoned him or left him to his own devices.


Ty An, the freckly, boney girl, had taken up residence easily with Yao Che, assisting him as she was able. Nezin Hu Li and little Liu, the quiet girl, came to help Xian himself while the rest of the villagers executed the preparations with little of his own input. It was easy to let fears creep up but he should have known better than to forget the simplest truth.


Hong Yaowu took care of its own.


Even though it was so different from all the years before, Hong Yaowu continued on, for the changes were mostly good ones.


Not a single death all year. All of the four newborns had survived their first six months. Illness seemed to have fled their village—they had not even used half the medicine they had to use last year. They even had a bumper crop—a quarter more rice had been harvested compared to last year.


Xian let the scent of the candle fill his lungs.


He let some of the tension fade as he limbered his body. There were many hours yet before he would have to emerge.


Which was when he heard it.


The ching ching ching of the bells before the inevitable voice yelling out Ho ho ho ho ho! Booming laughter coming from his son-in-law Jin. The wild cheers of the children.


His son’s eyes snapped open. A massive grin formed on his face. He turned to the direction of the cheers and looked for a brief moment like he was going to bolt outside before he froze. He paused, in the middle of getting up, and instead returned to his place, seated. Looking pained, his son had instead restrained himself.


Xian inclined his head slightly, approving of his self-discipline.


And besides, they did not have to wait long for the visitors to find them.


His daughter entered the house, quiet and respectful of his meditations as she always was. He heard a whispered conversation, and then she entered the room.


“Father. Xian’er.” she whispered.


Xian cracked open an eye and beheld his daughter. Her green hair, braided at the sides as always, with the back of it tucked into a bun. Her normally sharp eyes were warm and full of peace and happiness as she quietly refilled their cups of water. She slid behind her brother and whispered words of encouragement into his ears.


His daughter was home. All was right with the world.


Xian took one last breath and let it all out.


This year, there would be no second guessing himself. This year, the tiny pool of Qi he had, not enough to be called a cultivator, allowed itself to be directed.




Hong Xian the Younger felt sick to his stomach, as he stood in the entrance of his home. He had only eaten a special soup that both he and his father had been served, one that was said to give him energizing properties.


It had been ridiculously spicy, and even now he felt a bit hot, dressed in the ceremonial costume.


Xian was eager to get outside. This year, he hadn’t been able to enjoy anything. None of the festivities, nothing of Big Bro Jin and Bowu coming around, no Lanlan to dance with, or Chun Ke to ride.


It was terrible! Why hadn’t he run off? At least he would have gotten to have fun instead of standing around like this.


The drums had started to sound. Xian’s thoughts froze in his head.


“It is nearly time.” his father said.


Xian felt like he was going to hurl the spicy soup back up as his father turned to him, kneeling down before him.


The traditional sun mask covered his father’s face but he could see his fathers eyes as he stared into Xian’s own eyes. He looked strange, staring at Xian with the sun mask on his face. Almost scary.


He didn’t know what his father was looking for or what he saw.


But his father nodded after a long moment.


His father turned and called out to the still darkness of their home.


“Hear Me, Hear Me. This one is Hong Xian. In accordance with the ancient pact, I do depart, to perform the Rite of Fire. Who will aid me in casting out this night, and assisting in the awakening?”


Xian swallowed as his father paused.


“H-hear Me, Hear Me. This one is Hong Xian. In ack- accordance with the ancient pact, I do depart, to perform the Rite of Fire. Who will aid me in casting out this night, and assisting in the awakening?”


There was a pause. A single helper was supposed to aid Xian for his first time—


Xian blinked as a very familiar form walked in. Jin wasn’t in his bright reds anymore. He was clad in darkness. His hat was nowhere to be seen as he dropped to a knee.


“Yes, Hong Xian. This Rou Jin will aid you in casting out the long night.” It felt weird to have Jin bow to him, to have goofy Big Bro who threw Meimei into mud pits be serious.


Xian felt his heart beat faster as the meditation failed to do anything. This was big, serious—


“We accept your aid, Rou Jin. Lead our path to the grounds for the beginning of the next Hong Xian’s Vigil.”


Jin nodded, bowing again, but then the serious mask broke for a second and Jin winked at Xian as his father started to march forward.


“You’re gonna do great,” he whispered and clapped Xian on the shoulder. He smiled warmly, and there was absolute confidence in his voice.


Xian felt his heart calm, slightly, as his father strode out first, carrying his staff with rings on it.


Next came Jin, holding Xian’s staff for him, an honour guard for his debut.


The walk they did looked a bit silly, though. The wide, sliding steps that were performed in half crescents, almost like a dance itself. Normally, most people just waited up at the shrine for Father, but tonight they were lining the pathway.


“We Pay our Respects to Hong Xian!” they shouted as they bowed.


The path up to the shrine never seemed so long before.


Meimei looked a bit surprised to see Jin beside Xian, escorting him and Father. He didn’t know why. Whenever Jin came back from Verdant Hill he always checked in with them and asked Father how to properly do all the boring traditional stuff.


Father was always very happy to teach him. There had even been a big conversation about what food he would bring and how he would enter the village. Xian thought it was a bit dumb, but Chun Ke and the sleigh were fun.


Father had said it was important though.


Xian still didn’t really get it. He shook his head and refocused on his movements.


The surprise on his sister’s face was short lived. Instead her grin turned radiant, as they continued their match.


After an eternity, and yet no time at all, he was at the shrine. He saw his friend, Shen, standing beside Elder Che. He had drumsticks in his hands and was fidgeting.


Xian tried to put him out of his mind. He marched up to the shrine and kowtowed before his ancestors three times. Then he turned and headed towards where his father was standing, within a circle of braziers.


His father stared at him as he paused at the edge of the circle of fire. In his hands he held another mask.




Xian kneeled.


His father raised the mask of the sun to Xian’s face.


It was awkward, but not really all that heavy. It just restricted his vision a bit.


“Receive the staff from your retainer.”


With shaking hands his fingers closed around the wood. He knew that Jin was the one handing it to him, but he didn’t have the mind to see it.


“Step into the circle.”


He did as he was bid.


Everything went quiet.


They both stood, still and silent, as they waited. Xian’s eyes were locked onto the last dregs of the sun slipping away.


A gong sounded.


The last of the twilight faded away, overtaken by the Longest Night.


The drums began to pound. Slowly at first, and then with increasing ferocity. It was an ancient beat that had burned its way into Xian’s memories.


His body moved of its own accord.


His first steps were faltering, almost stumbling, but soon they evened out. The beat thundered in his ears.


Everything else faded away. His father said he only had to last for the first repetition of the dance if he felt like it.


Xian had no desire to do the bare minimum.


The next step was perfect. His breath was clean and even. Every moment of practice, every moment with Lanlan in the forest, on that wonderful patch of soft grass, came back to him.


And as the drums thundered in his ears… the dance of fire felt right.




“We do not have fire like this. The Misty Lake rarely freezes, so the mortals dance upon beds of reeds and dias of stone.” Bi De overheard Xianghua as she danced with Disciple Gou Ren. They had eyes only for each other as she learned the dance of fire from him.


The information was new to Bi De, but it fit.


Five elements. Five dances.


From his high perch he watched over the festivities—much to Tigu’s amusement as she caught his eye and stuck her tongue out at him.


Bi De ignored her taunting. He was having a wonderful night with Sister Ri Zu.


He did, however, envy the easy grace with which his brother and sister disciples could handle children. He tried. The heavens knew he tried, but… they were so grabby.


He simply wasn’t cut out for entertaining the little ones.


Ri Zu giggled from behind him and he dutifully ignored her too. He already dealt with teasing from the others, to have Sister Ri Zu to add her own was a betrayal most foul, and obviously Sister Ri Zu would never betray him.


Instead, he gazed back down at the dancers.


At the thin, almost invisible, threads of Qi that rose into the air.


Xiulan had been intrigued by the Qi, but Xianghua had dismissed the phenomenon, saying that it was just like what happened with the Reedmen. Save for the fact that the Qi aligned with fire instead of water, it did nothing and so was ignored.


However, Xianghua did not have the gift of flight, to rise as high as Bi De and observe where those streams of Qi were headed.


Bi De let himself rock to the beat as Hong Xian the Younger reached his third hour with no signs of slowing down.


He glanced to the side, where Yin was asleep and Maintiao tapped his tail to the beat. Huo Ten was behind them, quiet as he held the crystal in his arms.


The dance was what had begun his quest. It had been base curiosity in the beginning. A burning desire to learn. He had wanted to uncover the reasons behind the strange formation that at first he had only thought spread across a few towns in the north.


Not the entire province.


As he travelled and each revelation came, the desire to know more had intensified.


Each village, part of a greater whole.


A dance and matching names. Portents of doom and a great cataclysm.


All were part of the history of this province.


Bi De watched as father and son, as past and the future, danced together.


Five hours. Then seven. Then ten.


The whole of the village stared as a boy of nine hit his fourteenth hour, dancing in the darkness, matching his father move for move.


Bi De prayed that the basis for this dance was not sinister, that the history within the crystal would not tarnish this beautiful image before him.


And then Yin, fast asleep, started to awake.


The sky brightened as Huo Ten stood atop the roof and raised the crystal to the sky.


The first rays of the dawn hit it. The swirling, coursing colours, for the first time, flashed in unison, and then calmed.


Stable, ready to be used.


The solstice ended as dawn cast away the darkness, and Hong Xian the Younger collapsed to his knees.


For the first time in recorded history of the town, the heir to the name Hong Xian had lasted the entire night in his first dance.


A note from Casualfarmer

The Solstice ends.


If you want to see two advanced chapters, I do have a Patreon

Editors: Massgamer, Brandon “Philosophysics” Zhang-Leong, Ayje, Oshi

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