I mentally organize my to-do list:
- Heal injuries
- Butcher bird
- Get the fuck out of here
- Give Pafu lot's of treats and hugs.
- Glare at Suret, but give her treats and hugs too.
Sitting down close to the corpse, I take a breath, close my eyes, and Seek Balance. My chi circulates throughout my body at my direction, informing me about my wounds. Three deep puncture wounds, a mass of bruises, and two cracked ribs. All from that one kick. 400 kilograms of flightless bird packs a mean wallop. And to think I laughed when they told me to be careful of the birds.
I concentrate, directing my chi to the injuries. A sharp pain, like a thousand tiny needles stabbing my skin. The mass of pain in my chest goes from a dark green, to a nice light yellow. Opening my eyes, I check my wounds. The punctures have stopped bleeding, a thin healed film beginning to form. There's still some torn skin around it, and an ugly bruise, that looks weeks old. Gross. That's the best I can do for now. A few days and a couple of stitches to completely fix everything, and I'll be good as new. At least I didn't break any bones. Healing is a useful skill, but I still get confused about the how of everything though.
When entering the State of Balance, the Energy of Heaven surges into your body and strengthens it. Easy gains. When your body can't be strengthened anymore, you begin building up a surplus of Heavenly Energy, that will just fade away over time, unless you bind it to yourself. The binding process is simple. You just will the energy to you, and as long as it is in your body, it belongs to you. It becomes know as Internal Energy, or chi. When inside your body, it settles in your 'core', which sits around your belly. It doesn't take up any physical space, but it's there. It feels like a warm drink, settled in your stomach.
Self healing is controlled through a process called inner examination. I use my chi to perceive my injuries, in an abstract way. I don't actually “see” my injuries, but the information is interpreted by my brain. Everyone perceives it differently. I see colors. Red is good, which threw me off at first. I thought I was dying. The further up the color spectrum you go, the worse it gets. Or is it further down?
Self healing is a simple process, but takes times and practice. I get more practice than most, and even then the gain is minimal. I just don't have enough chi. Sometimes it's easier to fix an injury the normal way instead. While my core will grow eventually, increasing the amount of chi I can store, there is nothing I can do to speed that process up. The only thing I can do is practice at getting more efficient.
I wanted to be able to heal my injuries in the middle of battle, without having to think about it. The sword trick Baatar showed me earlier kind of put a damper on that dream. I can barely heal some holes in me right now. How long until I can heal a missing arm? Taduk claims he can heal anything short of death, and I believe him. If he were here, a few minutes is all he'd need to fix me back to new.
Healing other people is a world of difference from healing yourself. Internal Energy is just that. Internal. As soon as it leaves your body, it turns back into Heavenly Energy, almost immediately, snatched back as if we had stolen it. It takes extreme amounts of control to keep your internal energy from turning back into Heavenly Energy. Taduk is a little goofy, but he’s an amazing guy, being able to heal as well as he does, almost without effort.
I get to work cutting apart the bird, just getting the big juicy parts and leaving the rest. It’s skin is tough, and the feathers are fucking sharp. Chopping the head and feet off seems like a good idea. I'm sure someone can find a use for a beak that chomps through trees, and giant claws. There isn't any magic core for power ups though. The bones are no use either, they're hollow and fragile. Do I need its organs? I need a wiki for all this shit. I give up and stick to my initial plan. Meat, feet, and beak.
While wiping myself down and surveying the surroundings for danger, the roosequins go to town on the carcass. They are messy little eaters, but make adorable noises. When they're done picking it apart, I split the meat into two equal loads and pack them onto Pafu and Suret's back. We all walk home slowly, tired after a long day. Fast mounts as they are, they can't carry too much more than a human rider. Bad for their hips. Plus, an hour ago I had 3 sucking chest wounds.
Four birds and two rabbits. Met my goal for the day.
“You killed a Terror Bird, and didn't think to bring its feathers back?”
Fuck. Feathers! It's a bird, and I didn't think feathers? “They were hard and jagged. It would have made a terrible cushion, Sister.”
Alsantset rolls her eyes, and taps me on the head lightly. “You have returned safely. I am glad. I should send you back out to scavenge them. The feathers make good scales for stitching to armor. What am I supposed to do with a beak, or the feet? Throw it in the pen for them to eat.”
I sigh while turning to go back. Armor is pretty important. I'll have to borrow a mount from the neighbors. Pafu and Suret are spent, curled up with their pups. They won't even lend one out for me to cuddle at night. So stingy.
Alsantset reaches out and grabs my shoulder. “I am joking you wood headed fool. You're injured. Fix yourself and rest. You can just go kill another one tomorrow.” A real comedian. I hope that's a joke. That bird will haunt my nightmares.
I like the banter with her. The babying and swaddling when I first arrived was nice, but I'm a grown man. It's nice that she's treating me like one. I saw it in her eyes, the instinct to rush towards me and check my wounds, worry and fear evident. It's better this way. Just a normal day, just like yesterday, almost no tomorrow. No big deal. Deep breaths.
Alsantset takes the meat inside, while I scrape and wash the furs. No time to rest, even after a near death experience. There’s too much to do. Keeping busy also helps me from freaking out. The meat is best fresh, and without a freezer, will spoil quickly. Some will be kept cold in an icebox, and the rest will be preserved, sold or shared. The furs will be tanned by me, and either sold or made into something useful. There isn’t a large need for coin in the village. It’s used as a baseline for value, but barter is more common. Big rabbits make for big pelts. These two are probably enough for a jacket. I'll probably just give it to Sarnai, who will distribute it to someone. Socialism Ho! I guess.
I haven't really puzzled out how social and monetary values work around here. I haven't paid for anything or sold anything either. A lot of cooking is done communally, like baking, and there isn't an obvious intuitive process on how everything is distributed. Or who supplies all the food for all the festivals. I just eat my food, and give whatever Charok and Alsantset don't want to Sarnai.
Charity is respected, but debt is frowned upon in the village. Trading the farmer furs and meats for two weeks, in return for a share of the harvest is seen as improper. But just giving the farmer the furs and meat is fine. The farmer will thank you and tell people of your generosity. Eventually, the farmers will usually 'gift' you back with crops quietly, and ask you not to speak of it. It all works out fine in the end I guess. I don't understand why accepting a hand out is better than accepting a loan.
I need to figure this all out. Earn some money. I want another spiritual weapon, like a proper spear, or even some armor. Full body plate mail please. I don’t mind if it’s uncomfortable, I need the protection. The world is terrifying outside the village.
I’d also like to have sex. The best way for that is with prostitutes. Or courtesans, whatever. Either way, I need money.
Life is difficult, trapped in a teenage body. People my 'age' are just... so immature. I can’t stand their stupid conversations, about who is interested in whom, or what new thing someone got, or the incessant giggling. They have brothels in the cities, but nothing here. Not even sexy older single ladies looking to have some fun with a younger man. Everyone's married. The mixed baths are nice, but you can only stare so much without being labeled a pervert, and that is not a label I want. Seeing without touching is its own special form of torture though.
When my musing is finished, I take the twins out to play hide and seek with some other kids. Lately, my nanny duties seem to have expanded to include the neighborhood. It's nice though, seeing kids laugh and play, almost therapeutic. I don't hate living in this world, but near death experiences happen far too frequently for me to be comfortable. I always have an inkling that things could be different, better. When it comes to the how, I come up empty. Life is tough in the village, and imperfect, but I do love it here. While I would like to visit other places, I don’t think I could stay away from here for long. It’s just so beautiful and peaceful, the people so in harmony with one another. Plus the stories about everywhere else don't paint a pretty picture. Strife and power struggles, literal cut-throat politics.
As it turns out, terror bird is delicious, a little tough, but full of flavor and juice. Worth it. What's a near death experience, compared to delicious fried terror strips? The twins love it as well, tossing tiny bite sized pieces into their mouths. That alone makes the chest wounds hurt less. Well, not really. Alsantset spends dinner listing out different animals and the useful parts I should harvest from them. How does she remember all of it?
When dinner is over, lecture finished, and my chores are done, it's time to head back to the training yard. Practice makes perfect. I begin to brutally chip Woodrow Woodson slowly to death. I am become death, the destroyer of wood. I'm not getting any better. Still the same small finger sized chunks.
I failed today, and could have died. I lucked out that the bird kicked me away, without killing me. And that he bled out before reaching me. Just one bite and I would be gone the way of the dodo. This is not a happy world I live in. Illnesses are less of a concern for me, because cultivating Heavenly Energy keeps me healthy, but the world is filled with things trying to kill me. Like giant bipedal birds, and demons of pure anger. I fucked up, leaving my gear on Suret. I need to be better, smarter. Failing that, all I can do is keep working, keep getting stronger. Keep practicing. My sword whistles through the air, landing on the wood with a thunk.