After the lecture ended, she walked back to the residential area with Li Suyin. Ling Qi brought up the idea of trying for the pills when they became available, but so far, she was having trouble convincing the other girl that it was even a real possibility.

“I don’t see what the problem is,” Ling Qi said with a frown as they entered the narrow valley where the first year disciples lived.

“I’m just saying we should at least try to find a better cultivation spot. Your notes were pretty helpful, and I’m pretty sure your cultivation speed has gotten better too. You have a second meridian open now, don’t you?”

Ling Qi kept her voice down and an eye on their fellow disciples. She still didn’t trust them not to try anything, and the relative peace of her first month here was only feeding her paranoia.

“If we can actually find a a qi locus…”

Li Suyin fidgeted with the hems of her sleeves, hunching her shoulders nervously.

“It is not too difficult to open another once you manage your first,” Li Suyin mumbled evasively.

“I do not compare to the other disciples though. You... um- might manage it. I think.” She offered Ling Qi a weak smile.

“I… I am going to put my full effort into cultivation, but I am not sure going out looking for something potentially dangerous is a good idea.”

Ling Qi held back on rolling her eyes at the other girl’s self-deprecation as they turned into the ‘street’ leading to the scholarly girl’s home. From what she had observed Li Suyin was actually a pretty hard worker, and her talent wasn’t awful. Li Suyin just got hung up on the details of… everything and tended to second guess herself too much.

Well, Li Suyin was apparently awful at physical cultivation, and Instructor Zhou had scared her off in a matter of days. Ling Qi supposed everyone had their weak points.

Ling Qi paused as she noticed that Li Suyin’s door was open already. “Is your housemate home today?” she asked carefully.

Li Suyin glanced at her house and paled slightly, clutching her writing case to her chest.

“Oh! I… Maybe? She doesn’t come back very often, but…” Li Suyin seemed nervous.

“I… Will you give me a moment please? I haven’t actually told her that I’ve been bringing someone over. I haven’t seen her since last week…”

Ling Qi was about to respond when a voice from just behind her nearly made her jump.

“Damn right you didn’t. I was wondering why the house smelled like a stranger.”

Ling Qi instinctively spun on her heel to face the speaker, her hands balling into loose fists. She found herself face to face with another disciple. It was alarming that someone had managed to get so close without her notice.

The girl’s features were narrow and a bit gaunt with a slight feral cast to them. The impression was not helped by the way her her lips were drawn back, exposing sharp teeth. Sticking out of of her bushy, tangled mass of shoulder length dark brown hair were a pair of large vulpine ears, fuzzy and twitching in agitation. Even more bizarrely, the girl appeared to have a tail the same color as her hair with a white tip wrapped loosely around her waist. Ling Qi would have thought it a weird accessory if it hadn’t been moving.

“You better not have touched any of my shit,” the girl added threateningly, poking Ling Qi in the chest with one bony, sharp nailed finger.

Ling Qi barely noticed Li Suyin wringing her hands and stammering out an apology out of the corner of her eyes as she met the new girl’s intense green eyes unflinchingly. She wasn’t going to back down from this girl.

Ling Qi could see what she was dealing with, inhuman features or no. The other girl was skinny to the point of unhealthiness and more than a bit dirty besides. The girl also had twigs in her hair and dirt smudged on her gown. Given the way she held herself… Ling Qi wasn’t dealing with some noble girl trying to throw her weight around but a fellow citizen of the gutter. She was sure of it.

Ling Qi brushed the feral girl’s finger away from her chest.

“If you’re that worried about it, then don’t leave things you care about lying around, but I’m not that poor a guest,” Ling Qi responded coldly.

“It’s Li Suyin’s place too. If she wants to invite me over, she can. It’s not her fault that you apparently sleep outside.”

The other girl scowled at Ling Qi, holding her gaze, but at least the girl wasn’t exposing her weirdly sharp teeth anymore.

“I have too much to do to coop myself up in some tiny hut.” The other girl huffed irritably, but she did take a step back, her fuzzy ears still twitching on either side of her head.

”Whatever. I guess it doesn’t really matter. If I find something missing, I’ll take it out of your hide.”

“You can try,” Ling Qi responded with a snort, crossing her arms. It was almost a relief to deal with someone simple again. She could never tell what Bai Meizhen was thinking and even Han Jian and Li Suyin could be more complicated than she liked. This girl’s actions were pretty clear… if overly confrontational.

Ling Qi glanced over at Li Suyin, who was looking back and forth between Ling Qi and the other girl as if half expecting them to come to blows.

“Anyway, we going to study or what?”

Li Suyin glanced at her housemate nervously. “Ah, yes. If you don’t need the meditation room, Su Ling?”

The other girl shook her head.

“Go ahead. I only came back because I needed my tools. My skinning knife broke.” Su Ling bared a bit of fang in irritation. “Fucking rabbits shouldn’t have hides that tough, spirit or no,” she added with a grumble.

Li Suyin smiled in a slightly strained manner. “Oh… you were hunting again. I… You didn’t leave it out again, did you?”

“No, it’s bagged, you big baby,” the vulpine girl said, rolling her eyes as she brushed past Ling Qi with one last suspicious glance.

Ling Qi raised an eyebrow and glanced at Li Suyin, who flushed and mumbled an apology before ushering her into the house for their study session.

By the time the two had finished dissecting the day’s spiritual cultivation lesson and putting it into practice, Su Ling had disappeared again. She left behind some recently cleaned processing tools and a silver furred rabbit hide being stretched and dried on a makeshift rack.

Li Suyin had begun to come around to the idea of searching out a better cultivation spot with Ling Qi. Li Suyin’s sensitivity to qi would likely make finding such a place much easier than Ling Qi searching on her own. Hopefully, they could start searching after Elder Zhou’s test.

After returning home, Ling Qi set about beginning the last major preparation for Elder Zhou’s test: mastering the first level of Zephyr’s Breath. Sitting down in the meditation room, she held the jade slip encoded with the art in her hands. Channeling a trickle of qi into the carved jade, words and diagrams bloomed in her thoughts, laying out the exercises needed to use the art’s first two techniques. Taking a deep breath, she began the difficult process of refining her energy into pure wind-natured qi.

Over the course of the next few days, Ling Qi refined her first faltering steps into something approaching mastery. With her stamina reinforced by the Argent Soul Art, she could practice for hours instead of minutes, and she found herself progressing quickly through the theory and preparatory exercises.

When it came to practice, however, Ling Qi found herself stymied. The simplest application of the art was the Guiding Zephyr technique, but it required either an arrow from a bow or a thrown projectile to enhance. She tried using pebbles at first, but that didn’t seem to work well.

While the training fields were full of weapons, Ling Qi was nervous about doing her practice out in the open. Bai Meizhen had assured her that the Sect wouldn’t begrudge a disciple for taking a few ‘training toys’, but Ling Qi could not help but feel dubious of her housemate’s words as she examined the fine steel throwing knives plucked from a training rack.

Even she could see the masterful quality of the knives’ forging and balance. At home, any one of these knives would likely be sold for two or maybe three silver coins, enough to buy quality food for a week. Then again, her disciple’s gown was spun from silk fine enough to clothe a wealthy merchant’s wife. She supposed cultivators valued things differently.

With real weapons, Ling Qi found herself advancing more quickly despite her lack of prior experience in handling knives. In the past, if a situation escalated to the use of weapons, Ling Qi would have already escaped; fighting had never been an option. It surprised her when using throwing knives felt natural.

After only a single night, she found her knives striking the straw targets more often than not. By the end of the next, she could reliably hit within the first two rings. When she channeled her qi, guiding the sliver of steel after it left her hands, she struck the bull’s eye almost every time.

When her throw buried a blade halfway to the hilt in a solid wooden fencepost, she felt she had mastered the Guiding Zephyr technique.


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