That damn scar still itched.
Su Ling clenched and unclenched her hands, resisting the urge to scratch as she picked her way through up the collapsed cliff face. She had to be careful not to dislodge the loose rock and dirt under her feet, or she’d be in for a nasty slide. Her ears twitched then catching a sound, and Su Ling stopped dead, pale blue flame blooming at her fingertips as she whipped her head around.
Only to see a little brown rabbit escaping into the underbrush. Su Ling let out a ragged sigh, scrubbing her hand through her hair. She had to get her nerves under control, it wasn’t helping her. She knew all to well that if you reacted to every little thing, you’d end up missing the real danger, out of exhaustion if nothing else. So, letting out a shallow huff, she forced herself to relax a little and get back to climbing.
She didn’t know why she was surprised. Of course the truce was a bunch of bullshit, meant to give the ones who were already strong cover. That was all rules and laws ever were. The rules hadn’t stopped that creep anymore than it had stopped those shitheads from taking everything after Gran died.
She could practically hear the creaky old bats voice in her ears reminding her of what she already knew.
“Want to be left in peace girl? Then you make yourself too big a bone to swallow. Someone wants to do you wrong? Make them choke on it. And If you can’t manage, than you keep your head down and stay outta sight, you hear?”
So when some shithead kid stomped on her tail, she sent them home crying with a bloody nose and chipped tooth, and when their parents came to whine, Gran would tell them to piss off or suffer a price hike. The advantage of being the only halfway decent apothecary in the village. Being too big a bone to swallow.
‘Course it broke down after she died, but then you got to the second piece of advice, didn’t you? Stay on the edges, keep your head down. Scavenge, fight, live. Make sure you were too much trouble to come after.
That wasn’t enough though, not here. The people around her were too strong, and resources too few. She could probably get by in the short term, finding a hole and hiding in it, but she’d always stay small, always stay weak if she did that. She didn’t have any illusions about the limits of her ability. She’d never be one of the folks lording over things from on high, that wasn’t her goal. No, she just needed a solid core of strength, enough to survive getting thrown at barbarians for half a decade and change. Then she could go off and ‘retire’ like that old drunk of a militia captain back home.
The problem, Su Ling mused darkly, was Li Suyin. Narrowing her eyes, Su Ling bent her knees and jumped, leaping up to catch a handhold on the cliff above. That girl… sometimes Su Ling felt like she was like a dumb puppy. All stupid innocent grins and eagerness, like the world wasn’t just waiting to bring the boot down. Yet now, she couldn’t help but be pissed off, now that the other girls illusions had been broken.
Su Ling knew perfectly well that she’d been half feral when she’d gotten here, she’d been a shitty housemate, and all around unpleasant, but Li Suyin… That dumb girl had just kept on being nice anyway. It was the first time she’d had a real conversation that wasn’t just mockery and threats since Gran had died. With a grunt, Su Ling dragged herself up over the lip of the cliff and peered around.
There was some scrub left, the trees that had been up here had gone down in the rockslide, but this place would still work. As she began to head toward the tiny box canyon that she had come here for however, her thoughts turned back to Li Suyin… her friend. The other girl had been doing better, something that Ling Qi had said she assumed. She still had some mistrust for that one, she recognized another scavenger after all, but…
Su Ling shook her head. If Ling Qi had wanted to betray them, she’d have sided with that Huang creep and then gone to the snake princess to give him the boot, take the prize all for herself. No, she was pretty confident that the girl wouldn’t act against them. Still, she thought grimly, things were only going to get worse from here, those pretend rules, weak as they were would be falling soon.
Back in the housing zone, Su Ling could practically smell the resentment and envy that Li Suyin attracted. The girl was always showing off in those elder lessons, though from the way she spoke of it, she didn’t see it that way. Yet Su Ling knew that was the way a lot of their ‘sect sisters’ saw it. Preening little shits, getting mad at being shown up, at getting passed over for praise. Ling Qi was the same, but in regards to the near freakish speed of her cultivation, and the growth of her qi.
Ling Qi had the snake princess though, and in the end Li Suyin had only humble Su Ling. She smiled in bitter amusement at the thought as she reached the back of the canyon, and the narrow crevasse that waited there, leading back into a small cave system that she’d found in her first week. She had some supplies cached here, but it was going to need to be more. She, no, they needed a bolthole, something the cave back here would serve nicely for.. She’d just have to do some work trapping the place.
Winter was coming, and the wolves were out to prowl. Hopefully she could make Li Suyin see that.