Last time on Blood Ties, everyone not named Meilin learned where to meet their Greencloak contact, and got the hell out of Xin Kao Dai. Will the rest of their journey be uneventful? Find out after the cut.
Night came, and the rats came creeping through the bamboo to eat the fallen flowers. Meilin kicked at them, but in her weakened state they did little more than retreat a foot or so. Her stomach was an aching void, her throat felt as if she had swallowed a thornbush, and her limbs felt both heavy and distant. The rats didn’t consider her a threat, even with her quarterstaff. How long, she wondered in weary desperation, until they started considering her food?
Meilin and Jhi are still lost in the Great Bamboo Maze. Luckily, Jhi has a plan: sit down and listen for unusual noises. Amazingly, it works: Meilin eventually hears some sort of metallic clanging in the distance. She has Jhi lead her to the source of the sound.
The two end up stumbling upon a campsite where an old woman is stirring some soup. The woman introduces herself as Xue, offers Meilin some food and drink, and reveals that they’re near the Maze’s southern fort, where a Zhongese resistance is gathering. Meilin’s all like, “Wait, how can we be near the South Fort if I entered the maze from the north?” and Xue explains, “Because you entered from the southwest, kid.”
And that’s why Meilin got lost: Her dad gave her directions for the north entrance instead of the southwest. But it all worked out because, as Xue reveals, Jhi has the BATTLE PANDA power of not getting lost in bamboo forests. Yes, that’s a magical power. Just roll with it.
Stuff I Forgot to Mention Above:
Xue’s stew contains rat meat and bamboo shoots. Hey, that’s all she has on hand.
The prequel short story collection reveals that Jhi used to live in the Great Bamboo Maze, which is a more likely reason for Jhi’s navigational skills than “All pandas can’t get lost in bamboo forests.”
Jhi learned: Find the Path! (Works only in bamboo forests.)
“Thank you,” said Meilin. She felt weak in the knees, as much with relief as weariness, as she slowly sank down next to the woman. “My name is Meilin. And this is–”
“Jhi,” interrupted the woman. She handed Meilin a small but beautiful porcelain cup and filled it with cool, clear water from a waterskin. “I had heard talk of the return of the Great Beasts. My name is … You can call me Xue.”
Next time: The rest of the party gets waylaid by tigers.