Being stuck in the Medicine Hall, Ling Qi soon began to feel restless and twitchy. She wanted to do something, but she had been told not to cultivate until morning, lest she end up hurting herself due to the foreign qi in her system.
It occurred to her then that she still had not written a response letter to her mother. Something else had always come up when she thought about it, but now, well… Ling Qi figured she should at least do something productive with her time.
... Even if she was already dreading staring awkwardly at the paper while trying to think of what to write.
She ended up doing just that for a time. She climbed out of bed to sit at the little writing desk in the corner and fiddled with the paper and ink pots. Eventually, after some dithering and a few odd looks from Su Ling, she managed to actually write.
The greeting took a few crossed out tries to get right. She honestly wasn’t sure what she felt for her mother at this point. There was the memory of affection of course, buried under resentment and other less friendly emotions. Guilt was prominent too, as was curiosity and many other feelings that combined to make an ugly emotional mess in her head that she was reluctant to try and parse.
My apologies for taking so long to write back. Things have been very busy. Between work for the Sect, training and other things, I have not found myself with much free time. I hope the packages that I have been sending have been arriving in good condition as well. I do not intend to stop sending them, whatever you might say. I have not been a very good daughter so please accept the coins in place of the expectations I couldn’t fulfill. That said, are you in good health? You mentioned a change in circumstances, but you were not very specific.
I am still not certain what to write in these letters besides the well wishes and apologies. What are you doing right now? What has changed for you since I left home? Has anything of import happened in Tonghou?
See? Such generic questions. I do not have any idea what I’m doing. I have been well myself, barring a few incidents in training. The physicians here are more than capable of taking care of such trifles though. I am getting stronger quickly too! It might be a little arrogant, but I think I can safely say that I am among the top ten disciples in my year.
I hope I can visit you someday.
Your daughter, Ling Qi
She felt a bit better after finishing it, but the letter was still a mess; she jumped around on subjects too quickly. She had made an effort to keep her handwriting neat, but her natural penmanship tended toward chicken scratch.
The sun had mostly set by the time she finished writing. Once she had folded the letter, sealed the envelope, and set it on the table by her bedside, Ling Qi laid back down for the first full night’s sleep she had partaken in for a month.
In the morning, she found Su Ling already gone, but she was hardly alone. The moment she stepped out of the medical ward, she found herself face to face with a bemused Gu Xiulan.
“Just how did you end up here again, Ling Qi?” Xiulan asked, the shorter girl crossing her arms and looking up at her archly. “Was it that difficult to take care of yourself without me for a time?”
Ling Qi gave her a wan smile. She was glad that Xiulan had recovered some of her arrogance; the girl’s lack of self assurance in recent times had been worrying. “You know me, I find trouble to get into. Did you miss me so much you had to come to my bedside?” she shot back as she stepped past the girl, heading for the exit to the Medicine Hall.
Gu Xiulan huffed as she turned to follow her, dismissively flicking the sleeve on the new shimmering red and orange gown she had picked up somewhere. The gown was looser than her usual outfits with trailing hems. “It would be rude for me not to check in on you when you went through the trouble of doing the same for me.”
“It wasn’t any trouble,” Ling Qi said, nodding politely to the disciples at the front desk of the Medicine Hall. “Did you master whatever you were working on then?” she asked. She avoided bringing up her actual concern for the other girl; Xiulan would take it as an insult if spoken. “Your sister is pretty impressive. You must have been working on something difficult for her to step in.”
“Elder Sister Yanmei is the pride of our house,” Xiulan replied stiffly. “I am most grateful to her for taking so much time aside to work with me.” Her stiff tone was quickly replaced by pride though. “But yes, I believe I have gotten through my troublesome little bottleneck.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re doing well,” Ling Qi said thoughtfully. “I was a bit worried when I couldn’t find you after the big fight.”
“Says the girl who was impaled and guarded like a dragon’s jewel in the aftermath,” Gu Xiulan snorted, shooting her a shrewd look. “Just what is the relationship between you and Bai Meizhen, Ling Qi? That girl was terrifying.”
“We’re friends,” Ling Qi said simply, frowning at Gu Xiulan. “I like to think we’re pretty close friends.” She ignored the implication Gu Xiulan had made, not wanting to give the other girl fuel for teasing. “Anyway, do you mind if I ask… Is Senior Sister Yanmei… normal for the Inner Sect? Because she seemed really strong.”
Gu Xiulan shot her an amused look that said that she knew what Ling Qi was doing. She picked up the new subject anyway as they left the Medicine Hall and strolled through the market, heading for the main plaza. “Elder Sister Yanmei is quite talented, having reached cyan at the age of twenty two. It is likely that she will be accepted as a core disciple soon. I think you may have allowed the… more prodigious members of our year to skew your view of things.”
Ling Qi nodded; she supposed that was so. “She was twenty two?” Ling Qi asked in surprise. She had thought the girl to be seventeen or eighteen. Her own mother was only thirty or so. “I guess reading age is kind of difficult.” Ling Qi wondered at the length of time needed to reach cyan. Did progression in green simply become exponentially more difficult? “Is it normal for siblings to be so far apart in age?”
Gu Xiulan let out an amused laugh. “You are endearingly naive at times, Ling Qi. Sister Yanmei and I are quite close as such things go. My eldest sister is eighty six and has a child only a few years younger than I. You really do need to let go of your mortal assumptions about time.”
Ling Qi shook her head, finding the idea that Gu Xiulan’s oldest sister was almost three times the age of her own mother and as old as the most ancient mortal grandmothers in Tonghou difficult to process. “... Right. Well, anyway, once I get down to town and deliver this letter, there was something I wanted to talk to you about. I have some plans I think you might enjoy.”
Her friend cocked her head to the side, giving her a curious look. “Is that so? Well, I can certainly hear you out.”
So, as the two of them went down the mountain to get Ling Qi’s letter sent, she began to reveal her plans to get some payback against those who still sided with Kang Zihao after the intra-council fight. She would first be getting a list of names from Cai’s underlings and then using that to pick her targets.
With that done, she intended to start on any girls who were within that group, using her particular skills to ensure they regretted siding with that ass even after he took up with Sun Liling. That wasn’t all she wanted to do though. While she was taking care of that, she wanted Gu Xiulan to challenge their stronger members, the ones that couldn’t claim bullying. She would come along for backup of course.
She kind of wanted to hit them while they were off the mountain too, but she was still leery of that, especially with the curse she was currently suffering from. Ling Qi had decided to scale back her ambitions for the week in that regard too. Keeping the curse suppressed with Argent Mirror was quite the qi drain, even if she could afford to buy wellspring pills with her loot.
Gu Xiulan seemed amenable to the idea, having not quite forgiven Kang Zihao for his dog using her leg as a chew toy.
The first part of the plan went off without a hitch. She put in a discreet request with Gan Guangli and was rewarded with a list and a polite thank you note from the Cai heiress praising her personal effort in discouraging rebellion.
Much of the day was spent following Xiulan, watching with amusement as the girl got into the spirit of things with dueling challenges. Her friend's fires seemed to burn much hotter now, cutting right through the defenses of the boys she defeated. Ling Qi only had to step in once, when a trio of boys tried to jump Xiulan on a mountain path.
The afternoon and the night on the other hand were spent scoping out her female targets. There were few enough of them. Sun Liling hadn’t made herself many friends so it seemed likely that those who did still stand outside Cai’s rules were connected by family to Kang.
It was… fun getting back into old habits, slipping silently from shadow to shadow through windows left open. Exciting might be a better word. She tinkered with the simple formation alarms that guarded their homes and stripped them of valuables.
Although she didn't get anything amazing like technique slips or powerful talismans, Ling Qi managed to snag some good medicines. Unfortunately, she and Xiulan had to settle for slightly lower than normal profits due to the glut of items suddenly entering the market, but all in all, a pretty lucrative course of action and satisfying to boot.