Green Mung Beans & Red Dates (Peregrine x Nemopedia)

Peregrine

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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
Lin Jingyi had always considered himself like the breeze. Gentle and unaffected, he had drifted through life with grace and contentment. He had never been one to burn with the passion of ambition, to desperately claim ownership over every opportunity that passed in front of him.

And his mentality had served him well. It had allowed him to slowly work his way through building his foundation, setting a solid base for his future cultivation when some of his peers had raced ahead and inadvertently sabotaged their own future. It had given him an insight into the Dao of the Breeze which enabled him to transform his Golden Core into a Nascent Soul that took the image of a ribbon.

At that point he’d naturally been accepted into the ranks of Jun Ming Temple, one of the 10 Righteous Sects, and became an outer elder of the Medicine Hall.

And he’d thought that was the way he would spend the rest of his life, spending his days teaching children about alchemy, his nights in silent contemplation of the heavens, until the day his lifespan finally ran out and he would pass away in peaceful slumber.

Lin Jingyi ran through the forest, his heart pounding, ragged breaths seeming to tear at the back of his throat. A branch caught a handful of his long, black hair, but he didn’t slow down to untangle it, only wincing faintly as several strands were ripped out and left hanging in the tree, fluttering solemnly behind his back.

His yellow robes, once immaculate, trimmed with green and carefully embroidered with the symbol of Jun Ming Temple, were now tattered and filthy. But he didn’t have time to care about the way the mud felt on his skin, didn’t have time to care about anything.

He had escaped from Jun Ming by pure luck, the disturbance he caused large enough that it was impossible for the Temple to send anyone after him. Otherwise, how was it possible that one of the 10 great Righteous Sects would fail to catch a simple mortal?

Lin Jingyi grimaced in pain, but didn’t slow his steps. It would only be a few more minutes until they were after him. Before then he had to… he had to…

If some half-immortal who studied the Dao of Time showed up before him now, giving him enough time to slow down, to breathe, and then asked him why he was running, Lin Jingyi wouldn’t be able to give an answer. After all, there was no way he could escape. He was now a man wanted by one of the most powerful sects in the continent. They’d catch up to him, and if they didn’t kill him on the spot, it would only be because they wanted to take him back to the sect and torture him for information.

Running was pointless, and the Lin Jingyi of the past was never someone who would rebel against the inevitable.

And yet he ran, even though the hard ground had already worn through his slippers and was beginning to rub his feet raw, even though he could feel bile crawling up his throat as he pushed himself to run just a little bit faster.

The dense canopy of trees abruptly parted, revealing a narrow, two-track dirt road. The grass grew tall in the gap between where carriage wheels had packed the soil into dirt. Jingyi didn’t slow to look before he darted out into the road, only for his eyes to widen at the sudden sound of a horse’s whinny. His footsteps turned before he even quite knew what he was hoping to accomplish.

The wagon was relatively simple merchant fare, but he couldn’t really pause to take it in, or observe anything about the dark haired woman who was driving it. Instead, he made a beeline for the back of the wagon, before hopping into it, tucking himself into one corner. Knees curled to his chest, head bowed, he squeezed his eyes shut.

“I’m not here.”
 

Nemopedia

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“The North has a rare beauty,” the merchant sang a whimsical song, dressed in layers of silk to cover the body and seem fine. The tune was sung to the tread of the waggon pulled by an aged horse, slow, but still strong, functional rather than to boast. All by all, it was rather crudely put together, as was befitting to the class of a humble merchant that made a living out of trade en route.

“Peerless and unique,” the song continued, unfaltering in tune when the bushes started to bristle and the horse reacted, sensing someone, “one glance and a city falls,” Daying sang, the last words coming out haltingly when dark eyes followed the disarrayed figure dressed in a yellow robe, the embroidered symbol catching most of the attention before noticing the stains despite the fine wear. The request only registered much later as the man went into the space that not only contained all of the wares, but also served as housing when there was nowhere else to stay.

Within that little compound the Jun Ming disciple would find the wares neatly stacked and sorted. Ready to be easily lifted in and out. Decorated boxes for fine ladies, hair combs, some crude love tokens to trick the gullible and naive with, scent pouches with delicate embroidery, and fans with poetry and sceneries, and everything else that one may want if they didn’t make it themselves. Even the lion costume, though lacking an obvious second, was neatly folded and pushed in a corner, so that it wasn’t in the way. This was the business part of what the carriage held, the border to the privacy of the merchant’s personal life blurred, as it happened to be a small and cramped space. Yet, it was easy to tell what were the personal items of the merchant, the items littered along in the middle. Books and maps haphazardly thrown around, the makeshift bed of more robes still unmade. If one looked carefully they may even notice the undergarments of a lady underneath the heaps of clothes and studies that the merchant had so carelessly dropped. Not that it was remembered, or else the running cultivator would have found himself chased after already.

“The North once had a beauty,” the song continued outside, the waggon continuing its road faithfully before it was stopped by two cultivators standing in the middle of the road. In the back of Daying’s mind the map on which the location of the sect had been vaguely marked, the notes following along with things picked up during travel.

“You!” The voice of a cultivator bouldered and Daying lowered her head, hiding behind the hat.

The tip of a sheathed sword roughly pushed the hat upwards, revealing the face of an honest tradesman to searching gazes turning into looks of disgust.

“That was a brothel song,” one of the two observed, their own haughtiness and prejudice oozing and the merchant laughed at that, about to affirm the statement. Neither man seemed to be in the mood to banter, however.

“Have you seen a man?” rang their next question and Daying turned a finger towards herself.

“Me?” The answer came slow and deep, as if it took some effort to speak. The cultivators took it for a jest, their nostrils flaring as they fought to compose themselves.

“A man dressed like we are,” was the curt follow-up which signalled the end of their own patience which she could tell came from frustration and distress.

“And am I not a man?” she pushed anyway.

The glib answer seemed to bore the cultivators who were starting to show annoyance, their shoulders stiffening and their breaths deepened. “I’m sorry to say that I have never seen such a clean shaven face in a man!” they answered, nullifying whatever sincerity there was in the apology.

So much for manners, she thought, before the cultivators continued, as if wanting to make it up.

“We are gentlemen, however, don’t worry, miss?” They reassured her, forcing in an introduction from her side which wasn’t reassuring at all, but the cultivators didn’t have to know anything about that as she gripped the reins of her horse tighter, as if ready to trot off anytime.

“This clean shaven lad is called Du Yuyan,” came her answer, another lie in the lies she had already thrown around. An arm slung over her knee as if to make herself seem broader in a seated position as she followed, “and no, I haven’t seen any men around,” she emphasised, feeling bold enough to insult the cultivators right in the face, but it went unnoticed as they waved her off.

“Well, miss Yuyan,” one responded, not even missing the opportunity to drop her family name, “mind if we travel with you in case this man does show up?”

It seemed that the cultivators were insistent on their mistaken chivalry and sense of heroism, already taking a step into the direction of her cart before she roughly stood up, shaking the wood underneath her with a stomp of her feet.

“He is dangerous,” the pair tried, which had her stomp her feet again, a fist shaking in the air, a shift in her attitude when she shoved one of them off the step and signalled for her horse to buck.

“How dare. Even if I’m alone I have my dignity!” she yelled, a finger pointing accusingly into the direction of the one who had suggested the ride, her voice suddenly higher and shrill. “You call yourself gentlemen but dare to force yourself upon me!” She continued to rave, knowing that it startled these good men of the cultivation club who weren’t used to much crudeness, and rarely ever experienced anyone daring to challenge their goodness or good intent which was part of their whole pride.

“Wait until my old man comes back, he will clean that attitude of yours. Or rather yet, tell me where to find your door, I will lay down my complaints there!” she continued to yell, arms waving around dramatically in the air as layers of silk floated and fumbled, copying the temper she was acting out on.

If that wasn’t enough to convince the men to leave her alone, the merchant threw her arms up, as if high on her own temper before throwing an arm out into a particular direction.

“Even that dirty geezer moved on after toppling me over. You think I would move into the same direction, or harm my virtue and allow him in?” she continued to yell, “if he was so dangerous I wouldn’t be standing here right now!”

This seemed to convince the men, despite the many contradictions in her last statement to her earlier lies. The cultivators didn’t seem to take note of it, instead seeming eager to leave as they bowed and whispered to each other, glimpses of words such as ‘crazy’ floating around before they departed.

With that Daying clicked her tongue, setting the horse to work as they resumed their steady pace to the next town. Moments of silence later Daying brushed the fabric that hung in the entrance of her carriage to the side, eyes peeking at the extra weight her horse had to pull.

“Who did you kill?” she asked rather unceremoniously. What use were manners anyway after such a display?

Dialogue colour: #a21e1c
 
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Peregrine

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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
“I’m not here.”

The words should have been directed towards the merchant at the front of the wagon. A plea for aid, a desperate request for help from the only potential source of sanctuary.

“I’m not here. I’m not here.”

They were not.

It would have been a foolish attempt had he truly expected sanctuary to arrive on four wheels. This was Jianghu. No cultivator would be fooled by mere fabric separating their eyes from their target.

Even if those who chased him did not yet possess divine sense, the sound of his breath, the trembling of his limbs, should all give him away.

Should.

“I’m not here, I’m not here, I’m not here.”

Lin Jingyi’s voice, which had spoken first at full volume, grew progressively softer and softer, until nothing remained but the faint hiss of air passing between his lips.

When his nascent soul fragmented and his dao heart crumbled, Lin Jingyi knew he had lost everything. What had once been the core of his life was now an empty gaping hole. No. It wasn’t even that. It was just gone.

What had once existed suddenly didn’t. Nothing was left.

And ‘nothing’ had consumed the last remnants of his Dao, and then spread from him like a wave.

Even now, that echo of terrible nothingness had not left him. That absence, that lack of familiarity, where once his dantian had rested. And, with little but a faint acceptance, the echo of a memory of that moment of oblivion, it spread over him once more.

The breath. The heartbeat. The flesh and soul that should have given him away.

Nothing.

There was no way for sound to reach someone who didn’t have ears. And yet, Lin Jingyi could still faintly detect it. The strange vibration of voices, of heartbeats, of footsteps. An energy that rushed towards him, and then right on through where he might have once been. A conversation, shouting, no words distinct.

And then the retreat. Lin Jingyi breathed once more.

The wagon rumbled silently on. Jingyi knew he should leave, that there was no point in continuing to sit here. And yet he couldn’t move his fingers. He could barely lift his head when he heard the rustle of fabric. Yet a moment later, he met a pair of dark eyes.

“The Vice Sect Master. The Discipline Hall Elder. The Shadow Peak Master. The Lightning Peak Master.” The titles rolled off his tongue numbly, his gaze blank. “Though I doubt they are dead. But I doubt they are well.”

The top of the Jun Ming Peak had been gone when he finally opened his eyes again. He hadn’t stuck around to find out what happened.
 

Nemopedia

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Daying wasn’t a cultivator, but she was familiar with the world, or her world that was so reliant on these cultivators. Each and every one of them radiated an energy, arrogant and plucky, screaming out: ‘here I’m, your saviour!’. She had sensed it from the two that had approached her earlier and then left chasing into a direction she had randomly pointed at. She had hoped to sense it with the man in her cart, the one that seemed to come from a high position, yet cowered at the thought of being found by two mere disciples.

There was nothing, however, and only the slower trot of her horse gave away the extra weight carried. Nothing, in a peculiar way that confused Daying, as she wondered if it was a lack of arrogance. Perhaps the stranger was only dressed as if he was part of the elite, but in reality he was a lowly citizen that had somehow snuck in and tried to steal secrets. It wouldn’t be an uncommon story. Plenty who tried to steal secrets.

“Not dead, but not well,” Daying scoffed, the list of names she got impressive sounding, but at the same time saying nothing to her, it just sounded impressive without a meaning, like invoking the name of the emperor inspired admiration in the simple minds of the crowd. Had the vague answer been the result of an accident? The man didn’t come across as the clumsy sort and the merchant narrowed her eyes, stopping her wagon near a river before climbing inside.

“You don’t look dim,” she observed, leaning in closer as she waved her hand in front of his face, trying to make out of the blank expression came from shock that the stranger was still processing, or if it was a natural state of being. In any case, Daying decided that the stranger wasn’t going to pose a danger at the moment, for it didn’t seem that he was taking in anything.

With that she gathered a clean cloth and a cup, jumping off her ride before going to the waterside where she dipped the cup in the cool water and wetted the cloth before returning. “Drink some,” she offered, followed by the cloth to clean his face with. Whatever Daying’s opinion was on the cultivators wouldn’t prevent her from doing the least she could do.

“You don’t feel like one of them,” she admitted honestly, the suspicion still there, but just barely hanging on. It was a bias, she felt, because of the clothes. Daying didn’t expect the stranger to answer her honestly about who he was. She hadn’t been honest either and rarely was so, ever. The curiosity stuck, however, it gnawed and tempted her to ask, hoping that the man was dazed enough to answer as smoothly as he had done earlier.

Climbing back into the carriage Daying only then realised the mess she had left, quickly piling up her clothes carefully as not to expose anything and stacking up her papers and maps before turning towards one of the crates she was travelling with in the back. Ready-made clothes were rare and Daying never had any unless it was custom-made per order and she happened to be the delivery. Too precious for her to use, as it could hurt her business, leaving her with only the option of sharing her own clothes. With a glance over to the stranger in her cart Daying tried to measure if the man would fit them. She was tall for a female, but short for a man and the training she went through as a child-entertainer in a lion custom had allowed her to build up muscle, physically demanding as the dances were. It left her with a muscular build that was common with the cultivators. Yet, there were some obvious differences, such as her height never being that of an average man, or her shoulders never as wide.

It would have to do, however, and Daying pulled out a new set of clothes she knew were a little wider in design, throwing them over to the refugee in her cart. “You can change, if you want. Your clothes are dirty and too conspicuous,” she spoke, picking up a pot and another cup with some loose tea leaves to prepare a drink for herself outside.

Dialogue colour: #a21e1c
 
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Peregrine

Waiting for Wit
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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
Lin Jingyi could do nothing but stare blankly at his smooth-faced 'savior' as her eyes seemed to quizzically wander back across him, before her fingers flitted in front of his face. Normally he would have grabbed her wrist, like she was some naughty disciple trying to sneak herbs away under his watchful gaze.

Instead, by the time his hand reached out, she'd already long since withdrawn her own hand, and nothing but air rested in his grip. Staring blankly at his empty fist, LIn Jingyi sighed, before allowing his hand to fall to his side.

He couldn't even bring himself to feel indignant at the humiliation her words implied. For one, he felt somewhat dim at the moment. The clarity with which he had once viewed the world, the constant and familiar feeling that connected him to the heaven and earth, all of it had vanished alongside the remnants of his cultivator's soul and heart.

Was this really what it felt like to be mortal? Hazy vision, the faint, nonexistent ringing in his ears. The feeling of the weight of flesh that seemed to drag on his every movement.

Or was he suffering something more? He couldn't remember. It had been so many years.

The cup felt unusually heavy, too, and he nearly fumbled it when she took her own hands away. Instead, he brought it closer to his chest, cradling it tenderly, before taking a sip.

The water was cool and ever so slightly earthly flavored. It seemed to trace a cold line down his throat as he swallowed a few mouthfuls.

It made him feel a bit more present. A bit more real.

In the end, he could only shake his head slightly in response to her words of doubt, the meaning behind it vague. Was he rejecting her statement, or denying his connection? Even Jingyi wasn't quite sure.

No words passed his lips, though, and she didn't question him further.

He hadn't even taken the time to observe his surroundings. The mess of boxes were intermingled with the traces of her presence. It was clear at a glance that this carriage and its belongings was all she had. It turned the weight of the clothes far more than simply the fabric they were made of.

For a moment, he was tempted to reject them. But Lin Jingyi knew he couldn't keep his current outfit. So all he did was press his lips together in silence as he accepted the clothes, head bowed low.

Yet, even then, he couldn't help but hesitate for a few minutes when it finally came time to change. His fingers traced over the familiar embroidery that made up the Jun Ming Temple's symbol. It had accompanied him for so long. Now he'd never wear it again.

With a short, pained sigh, Lin Jingyi began to change his clothes.

When Lin Jingyi finally stepped out from within the wagon several minutes later, he almost seemed like a completely different person. His long, black hair had been half straightened, tied together into a simple ponytail held together with some remnant thread he'd pulled out of his old clothes. The rough clothes scratched against his skin, so unfamiliar compared to the fine fabrics he was used to wearing. Yet he wore them comfortably, and didn't begrudge the unfamiliar sensation.

Both her kindness in offering and the faint itch were grounding. A reminder that he was here. Right here. Right now.

For now, at least, he'd found a moment of safety.

He cupped his hands, bowing his head for a moment. "Thank you for your grace," he said softly, before straightening up.
 
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Even out in the wilderness Daying found herself able to make a comfortable pot of tea, or rather, she made sure that she could provide herself with a good cup of tea, for even with the little luxuries she had in life, tea was the one easily accessible luxury she permitted herself to have regularly. Besides, it may do the man inside of her cart a little good, who seemed far out of it and may not be used to plain boiled water.

“Grace?” Daying had laughed at the mention of ‘grace’ when the stranger bowed. A childe indeed, she determined, with such fine manners he must have had a life of wealth, where he didn’t have to worry about his bed for the night or his meals, “you will find a lot of ‘grace’ outside now that you are one of us,” she continued, finding that, now that he had changed, he didn’t look like one of them either.

The water boiled and Daying spooned some water out of the kettle, warming the cups that she had set on a flat stone in front of her along with an amount of leaves. “What is your name, or do I have to call you childe?” she questioned in a jest while preparing the tea in quick motions, the fragrance of the loose leaves slowly escaping.

It seemed that whatever had taken hold of the man earlier, was slowly fading, as he seemed to be ready to talk now. Though, the feeling that there was something off about him, a certain absence, which Daying was convinced was the lack of arrogance, filling the place instead that confused her.

“If you want, you can burn your clothes in the fire. I don’t think I can sell that for you, no matter how fine the fabric,” she offered when she finished pouring over the tea in one of the cups, making sure to offer the new stray the first cup. It may not have been the fine-grade tea leaves that the cultivating clans usually served, but Daying was at least proud of her skill in brewing a decent cup no matter the circumstances.
 
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Peregrine

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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
Lin Jingyi breathed in sharply, before swallowing his words.

Was it truly so common for one to risk themselves to stand against the powerful, all for a stranger they didn't know? Somehow, he couldn't help but doubt it. Yet, in the end, he only bowed his head again, repressing any action that might show him questioning her opinion.

'Now that he was one of them.' Normal people, he supposed. People removed from the world of martial arts that had consumed his life for so long.

So long that she would know far more about it than him, Jingyi supposed.

He finally sat down beside the small fire, staring into the depths of its flame as he waited for the glass of tea. Everything seemed small and blurry in front of his eyes, even the scent of tea faint and muddied, but the warmth of the flame that seemed to touch his skin with ghostly fingers remained unchanged.

"I... You may call me Li Jing." He finally answered. The name didn't sit all that unfamiliar on his tongue, and it seemed better—safer—than wandering around with the Daoist name he had carried with him for decades. "How should I refer to you?"

He glanced down at the tattered robe in his hands, fingers unconsciously tracing over the characters that had been so carefully embroidered on its back, along the sleeves. As early as this morning, the robe had meant nothing to him. It was just something that had been supplied to him, something he could get hundreds more of at any moment.

Now it was his only link to the past he could never return to.

Flinching slightly, he tossed the robe into the fire with a gesture that seemed more like the fabric had just bitten him.

There was no link. There was nothing. His chances of going back to his old life were as nonexistent as the energy that had once filled his dantian.

"Where are you headed?"
 
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“Brother Du,” Daying had deadpanned in a response to Li Jing, wondering if what she had gotten was his actual name, or if it was any of the formal names their type went around with. It was always hard to tell for commoners, who had enough with one name, for they only had one identity and a single wish to survive. It had crossed her as confusing, even after all this time.

“Yuyan is the name my parents gave me,” she continued to lie, knowing that the young master was most likely to be older, and that she was by no means a man. It still didn’t mean that she was obliged to give her actual name, even if there was no reason to hide from Li Jing.

He was jittery, the scare of earlier, if there was a scare to speak of, still not out of the system as the fine silk curled up and burnt in the fire, the pale yellow fading and eaten up by red and blues until it was black.

“What? You want to tag along with me?” the female had jested, though, she already had a feeling earlier that Li Jing had nowhere to go. The sects of cultivators being their entire world, until it was not and nowhere was. “Jinxian and after that wherever I can next sell my goods,” Daying answered nonetheless, knowing that ultimately, he had to go somewhere and if Daying decided that she didn’t like him she could easily ditch him.

Scooting closer Daying gives Li Jing a nod, a twinkle of mischief as she nudged him with her elbow, “want to be my pretty little wife?” she offers in a jest, “You can’t expect me to travel with a man, right?”

Nonsense, of course. She had travelled with all sorts of people before, and shared her space with even more. But that the cultivator didn’t have to know. That was poor people's survival.

Dialogue colour: #a21e1c
 
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Peregrine

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Genres
High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
Du Yuyan. A name, as good as any other, likely just as much of a lie as his own. It didn’t matter.

Cultivators were used to living a life that used each other. True friends were rarer than the feathers of a phoenix, found perhaps once or twice even in the long life of a cultivator. As for everyone else, there was nothing but temporary alliances. Even if two people seemed to get along, there was no telling when something might set them at odds. Who would ever value a friend when even the smallest chance at immortality was at stake? Most of a cultivator’s relationships lasted only as long as the benefits to both sides remained.

Yet, how could this Du Yuyan possibly benefit from his accompaniment?

Almost as though in answer to that thought, Du Yuyan sidled up towards him, a slightly strange smile on her face, words spilling from her lips. Her elbow nudging into his ribs caused him to sway slightly, lips pressing together. Such a simple touch, but it seemed to remind him of his weakness. His mortality.

Her words were distracting enough to momentarily divert his attention away from the sensation of absence that seemed to consume every moment. Lin Jingyi slowly turned his head to look at her, traces of incredulity in his eyes.

A pretty little wife. Would a cultivator ever suffer such indignity? And yet, he was no cultivator anymore. He was just a mortal man, utterly incapable of taking care of himself, death hounding on his heels.

He had nothing left. Not even pride.

Somehow, having nothing left to lose steadied his heart. He lifted his eyes, meeting her gaze with a steady expression. The small smile that crossed his face was somehow both sad and amused. “If that’s what you need of me.”

It seemed an absurd benefit. He’d take whatever opportunity she provided.
 
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A flash of former pride, the pride that characterised them so well, and then a void of emptiness, Daying saw it all swirling in Li Jing’s eyes, a quiet delight in her heart as she wondered how the man was to answer. He had thrown away so much already, probably lost his home not even a day ago, and here Daying was, cruelly poking and pushing him to go beyond a boundary he may have never considered before.

“Agreeing so easily?” she teased him, her hands slapping against her knees as if to wake herself from whatever daydream she was having now, “you are a strange one, you know that? Just weird, but that’s what amuses me.” And she meant every word of it. For had he been any regular old cultivator, like the two men earlier, Daying would have been a whole lot less amused and mostly annoyed.

The fine silken cloak of Li Jing had finished burning, and so was the tea. Throwing sand over the remaining fire Daying got up, dusting her merchant clothes off before pointing at the rested and watered horse.

“That’s Donkey, by the way. Stubborn and old, but she likes sweets, so be sure not to feed her any or she will grow lazy,” Daying introduced the horse with a grin, the strange name never failing to amuse before feeding the horse some nuts from her pocket after tying her back to the carriage.

“Get on the cart, and tell me more about your not dead, but not well friends,” the merchant calls, a hand stretched out in case Li Jing needed help, “we also may need to think of a more feminine name for you if you’re playing my wife,” she continued to jest, the amusement of the simple agreeance never failing. The road to Jinxian was still long and Daying was determined to get more out of her little guest, even if it was by poking fun at him.

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Peregrine

Waiting for Wit
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A strange one.

It wasn't the first time Jingyi had heard this description. Weak. Unambitious. Lacking. Strange. They were words others used to describe him far too often. And yet, his methods had worked. Step by methodical step, he'd worked his way up, gathering qi, clearing his meridians, forming a golden core, patiently refining it until it had transformed into his nascent soul.

And every step of the way, people had said he would go no further.

No words others said had ever caused his heart to waver. He knew his capabilities, knew what he could do, knew what he couldn’t do. Even the slow, looming threat of inevitable death had not been enough to shake his confidence in his path.

It was the one thing he’d thought he’d never lose.

He ended up quietly emptying half a cup of tea onto the bare ground as Du Yuyan extinguished the fire, his mouth full of bitterness.

His new guide’s wagon was about as plain as they came. Made of simple wood, held together by tightly fitting joints, it seemed prone to break at the slightest bump. Yet, it had made it this far down the road, and now it was his ticket out of here.

His legs seemed to strain with complaint as he stood, but Lin Jingyi simply brushed the dirt off the fabric of his new pants, his eyes slightly vacant.

Where was he going, what was he doing? He’d run on pure instinct, instinct he’d barely even known he’d possessed. But what was he supposed to do with the rest of this futile life.

The place where his dantian used to be ached slightly. Shivers ran up his spine and coursed down his arms to the tips of his fingers.

Yuyan’s words brought his attention back to reality.

The wooden seat caught slightly on his pants as he slid into position, settling his legs on the wood, his hands folded together in his lap.

…Was this how a woman was supposed to sit? What a strange, absurd game he was playing now.

Head lowered, he didn’t really wish to speak. And yet, he was now at the mercy of a woman dressed as a man, with nothing but an uncertain future and a mind-numbing emptiness as his companions.

“Why do you ask?”
 
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Donkey, still a horse, got a little whip as a signal to move and so the cart moved, now with the additional weight of an extra man without much of a presence, strange and exciting and not at all what Daying had been expecting, her nose sniffing the fresh air of the forest.

“Why not?” she chirps before turning her attention back to Li Jing, a nudging elbow prodding the other in his ribs, “you cultivating people are always so mysterious, hiding away in your fancy caves and mountains, playing hero and expecting us to serve you on our feet,” Daying summed up, motioning for Donkey to go faster, though knowing that the journey was going to take longer with the setback and the extra weight. “Besides, who knows when the next time will be that one of you will play my pretty little wife?”

The last one was obviously a joke, though Daying still felt amused by it, a giggle escaping her before she straightened herself, eyes back on the road as the forest path started to harden; a signal that the road was well-travelled.

“Maybe start with what type of cultivation you do, or what do you call it? Specialty?”

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Peregrine

Waiting for Wit
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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
"I follow... I once followed the Dao of the Breeze, though that path is now closed to me forever." In his mind's eye, a gossamer green ribbon shimmered before his eyes, delicately curling under the pressure of an invisible breeze. An instant later, it vanished into green mist.

Curiosity. It was a very natural human instinct. One that drove people to discover the mysteries of the sacred, to stretch beyond the bounds of what they once knew.

And what mortal would not be curious about the world of cultivation, and those ancient titans who shaped the movement of the world with their mere presence? Was that authority not the very reason so many longed to join the ranks of the cultivators?

And when else would she have the opportunity to ask questions like this? To poke and prod and tease.

Impudence, many would call it. Yet he could only imagine how much joy it brought her now.

"And, like many of those in my sect, I follow... followed the guidance of the Heavenly Cycle Scripture in my cultivation." He glanced over at her, face blank and tired. "Is that what you wished to know?"
 
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Amongst the common-folk there were stories and there were rumours surrounding the sect-followers and cultivators. Heroic tales of their deeds and good manners, standing in contrast with their greed for power and their need to prove themselves and ego. Daying’s experience herself was just one of the many examples. Li Jing had been a story from a point of view she hadn’t experienced before.

“How so closed? How so followed? Were you trying to become god?” the question rolled out, the last coming out perhaps more bitter than she had intended to before she turned her face away, handing Donkey a flick in a signal to keep up with the pace.

“If it is a blockade just walk around, who is to tell you no?” She continued when the path was leading uphill, the cart slowing down as Donkey struggled. Knowing that the weight of the cart was now too great Daying jumped down, encouraging Donkey as she walked next to the animal and tugged and pulled at the cart.

“How many brothers –you call them brothers, right– did you have in your sect?” The questions continued to come and Donkey’s gait smoothened with the loss of weight up the hill and the extra help.

When they reached the top of the hill Daying halted Donkey, keeping the leash tight as she motioned for the horse to go slower before jumping back onto the cart.

“Did you go out to fight monsters?” was the last of the stream of questions she asked, eyes sternly trained upon Li Jing as she waited for this last answer. It was an important question for Daying herself. The presence of a memory lingering just behind her eyes, and its evidence in the form of a lion head in her carriage.

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Peregrine

Waiting for Wit
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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
"Cultivation is the path to immortality, for those who can reach its end," Lin Jingyi replied, the words quiet and familiar on his lips. How many times had he spoken of the Dao to eager youths? Though words alone could only offer so much guidance, they were still better than fumbling your way forward blindly. Perhaps it was only natural that her questions would turn into such a lesson.

If nothing else, the familiarity of it eased the rolling of his stomach, and the faint ache of his head caused by the incessant shaking of the carriage, or perhaps from the sudden absence of the spiritual power that had once nourished every cell in his body.

"Blockade, path, they're all words used to describe a concept, not a physical reality cultivators face. There is no one to tell you what to do, yet what is possible is possible, and what is impossible is impossible. If you cannot, you cannot."

Jingyi paused for a moment, taking the moment when Du Yuyan jumped out of the cart as a window to gather his thoughts. How could he explain basic truths that cultivators felt with their very being, and simplify it into words that someone who had never once cultivated could understand?

Yet, only a moment later, Jingyi realized the futility of his effort. This wasn't an exchange of the Dao. It wasn't even a conversation with mutual exchange. It was just a blind, scattershot interrogation.

Feeling mildly let down, Jingyi leaned back into the seat of the carriage, his words becoming shorter. "There are over 2000 outer elders in Jun Ming Temple. As for the total number of people, I cannot guess.

"I was a healer, not a warrior." He'd had more than enough of fighting monsters in his lifetime. Not that there was any chance of that now.
 
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Brows furrowed and smoothed and frowned again, trying to give a place and make sense of what she was told amongst that what she had thought to know. Daying wasn’t a learned woman, the opportunities to study had been fewer than the fingers on her hand, but she had tried to gather what she could, learning mostly from hearsay and observation and her own experiences. Healing just simply didn’t seem to fit, yet the fine hands of Li Jing didn’t fit that of a warrior either.

“You look shabby for a healer,” was her first remark, to which she reached out for Li Jing and picked his arm up at the sleeves of his borrowed clothes, “wouldn’t trust you to heal me,” she scrutinised afterwards before moving onto the questions that piqued her more; “is it true that you don’t age? How old are the elders?” She shot out before urging Donkey into a speedy trot when the road was smoother, causing the carriage to lurch before they passed by a group of travellers on foot, amongst other carts following the same route rejoining the road to society.

Scooting by closer Daying prodded Li Jing in his waist with her elbow. “Do you think I could do it? Being a cultivator?” Daying questioned, curious to know what it was that defined and set a cultivator apart from the rest of the populace.

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Peregrine

Waiting for Wit
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High fantasy is my personal favorite, followed closely by modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic, but I can happily play in any genre if the plot is good enough.
Lin Jingyi gazed at the bold woman next to him, his arm limply gripped in her hand, his gaze doleful. "Then it is good you have never experienced the kind of illnesses that would require my treatment."

Not that she would have been able to afford it in the first place.

"Until you are immortal, everything ages. Some simply at different rates. The oldest elder at Jun Ming just celebrated his 1,975th birthday. He likely won't live much longer."

It was strange to see people walking around them. Up until a moment ago, they'd been on the outskirts of Jun Ming's forest, a rarely traveled route. Yet now they had rejoined one of the main paths, and people were traveling to and from the big cities that had built up around the cultivator temple. He'd seen them so often before, coming and going, and never once paid a thought to their destination or goals.

Even now, Jingyi didn't truly care. All that mattered was that they acted as a cloak, blending him into the endless humanity. There was no way that Jun Ming Temple would stop looking for him, not after what he'd done. They would want to know how he'd done it, and to punish him for daring to act out of his station.

"Anyone can cultivate," Jingyi replied softly, his attention not fully focused on the conversation. "At the lowest level, you just need the right resources. After a certain point, that's when your talent starts to matter. Were you ever examined?"
 

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As a merchant Daying was familiar with numbers, but as a poor merchant that couldn’t afford a large mansion or even a small cottage, Daying wasn’t familiar with large numbers, her eyes bawling at the idea that anyone could live out to be that old.

Another cultivator’s privilege that made her expression fall and thoughts go dark. Why them? she asked inwardly to the world, but no answer came, not from the heavens above nor from the hells below. There was no answer for the unfairness that Daying perceived and felt before she returned to the conversation, barely catching Li Jing’s words at how softly he spoke.

“I think I tried once,” Daying started, remembering how the kids and she used to try and copy the moves of the cultivators they saw and met. How they had tried even harder after they lost their parents. All without result, for each challenge that followed pronounced their misfortune even more, until all there was left were copied moves and the costume in the back of her cart.

Disallowing herself that honest moment Daying quickly shook herself out of it, steering herself back to the question at hand. “I have been seen by many doctors, they all claim I contain too much fire and ought to avoid spices,” she solemnly admits, nodding along with every word as if she was recounting something very grave.

"Does cultivating involve eating spices?" she jests, dispelling her own solemnity.

Dialogue colour: #a21e1c