“She was still wishing herself dead last time I saw her.” Su Ling gave a wry grin. “I can’t say a drinking ceremony with a giant spider was what I was expecting from that.”
It was the next day, and Ling Qi had met Su Ling early in the morning to get some practice in. She was trying to further master Argent Mirror, and the fox girl’s illusions were the best practice she could safely find.
“Yeah, when she said she would need help getting back…” Ling Qi trailed off as she leaned back against the tree she was resting near. Training had gone pretty well, but she was feeling more than a bit mentally exhausted from practicing the perception art for so long.
Su Ling sat across from her, wiping an oiled rag along the length of her sword. Ling Qi had noticed her using blade cleaning and care as a meditative exercise lately. “I saw her putting a bunch of those big clay jars into her ring, but I didn’t really think about it. It’s just a hangover though. I’m surprised that she can’t just fix that,” Ling Qi admitted.
“Ehh… Liquor meant for cultivators is as full of weird shit as medicines,” Su Ling said easily. “Hao, the guy I sell my stuff to, does business with a couple of brewers. You have to use some pretty potent stuff to affect a cultivator.”
Ling Qi hummed to herself. She supposed that made sense. “Do you think you have some free time still?”
“Sure? I don’t have anything I gotta do till later.”
Ling Qi knew it was a little silly to hesitate now after she had already asked, but she still felt awkward about asking. “I’ve been doing some composing. Do you think you would mind listening for awhile?”
The fox girl’s ears twitched, and she looked at Ling Qi oddly, pausing in her work on polishing her blade. “Huh, you picked up another art then? Figured you’d be full up.”
She frowned at her friend. “No, just normal music. Not everything I do is cultivation.”
Su Ling gave her a singularly unimpressed look.
“... I’m trying to do some normal stuff,” Ling Qi muttered. “If you don’t want to…”
“I don’t mind,” Su Ling replied over her. “I’m just kinda surprised. Hope you're not expectin’ me to know one note from another though.”
“I don’t need you to,” Ling Qi said, sitting up. “Just tell me how you feel about the piece when I’m done. That’s more important than the technical stuff.” At the risk of sounding arrogant, she was beyond flubbing notes at this point.
She played without end for the rest of the morning, allowing her tension and nerves to flow away into the melody she wove with her flute. It was nice. It was everything she liked about doing things with Su Ling. There were none of the undercurrents of awkwardness that remained with Meizhen, the tension with Xiulan, or even the feeling of needing to live up to some impossible image that Li Suyin sometimes gave her.
Su Ling was hard to read. She complimented the music easily enough, but she was vague on her thoughts about it. The girl seemed sad, if anything, which was strange, as the melody she was working on was a lighter one. She didn’t seem inclined to talk about it though, so Ling Qi did not push… yet.
For now, Ling Qi would just enjoy some relaxation before she got back to work.
Ling Qi crouched over the glittering red and yellow growths at the edge of the vent, a length of sturdy cord dangling from her fingers. She still retained one of her scouts from last week’s actions at Sun Liling’s fortress, and she had found herself at a bit of a loss as to what to do with the thing. She didn’t want to waste its remaining operation time, but she wasn’t going to need it for much this week.
In the end, her thoughts had gone to the vent and the seemingly bottomless crevice she had rescued Zhengui from. Ling Qi was wary of getting caught in a space too small for her body though. Such occurrences had been… messy in Elder Jiao’s simulations, not to mention painful. That has inspired her to just resort to a more mundane solution. It cost her no more than a trip to the supply house in the girl’s residences.
“Are you done screwing around with that?” Su Ling asked impatiently, breaking her out of her thoughts as she felt the bundle of bones at the end of the cord come to rest on something solid.
“Yeah,” Ling Qi replied absently, giving the spool she had staked to the ground beside the vent a little twist to ensure it could turn properly. “I didn’t know you were that eager for another concert,” she added lightly as she stood and turned, dusting off the front of her gown.
Su Ling, seated on the ground with her sword across her lap, looked discomfited by the comment, scratching her cheek sheepishly. “It’s a good focus for meditation. The third stage of the Insurmountable Crag art is kinda…”
Ling Qi nodded her understanding as she settled herself on the flat stone that was her customary seat. Mountain qi didn’t really come naturally to the other girl, so as much as Su Ling liked practicing her sword art, it was an uphill struggle. In the case of Argent Mirror, the difficulty had been offset by how easily she took to Lake qi, but she didn’t have that advantage with her sword art.
“It’s not like I mind,” Ling Qi said, idly running her fingers along the polished length of her flute and wondering what she should play.
“Yeah, I guess I’m glad you asked,” Su Ling said as she closed her eyes. “I never would have thought you could do songs that don’t make people’s hair stand on end.”
Ling Qi made an affronted sound, shooting her friend a dirty look. She knew the rough girl’s jibe was friendly though, so she wasn’t offended. “It’s hardly my fault that the mountain seems to explode every other month,” she huffed, raising her flute to her lips. She hadn’t really made any proper songs yet, so she would just play what she felt.
The next couple hours passed in peace as she played and her friend meditated, ripples of dull grey Mountain qi occasionally surfacing on the mirror-polished blade of her sword. Eventually, the drift of the sun ended their relaxation though.
As Ling Qi opened her eyes and lowered her flute, she felt the tingling of a new meridian slowly forming down her arm, and felt a thrill of satisfaction at her progress. Elder Su had made clearing meridians sound hard, but while it was time consuming, she had never really found it difficult beyond the first few.
Su Ling’s breathing was even, and her furry ears drooped low. Her friend almost looked asleep, although Ling Qi could tell that she wasn’t. Her expression was melancholy though, and it made Ling Qi wonder. She mulled over her options and as usual, elected to take the direct path.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she offered as she dismissed her flute back into storage.
Su Ling opened her eyes, giving Ling Qi a confused look. “About what?”
“Whatever has you down,” Ling Qi replied simply. “Sad wasn’t what I was going for with that piece.”
Su Ling looked at her for a moment and scoffed. “Since when are you all touchy-feely. ‘S more Suyin’s thing isn’t it?”
“We’re supposed to be friends, right?” Ling Qi asked dryly. “Of course I’d ask.”
“I left you be when you came to the Medicine Hall with frostbite and a look like someone had pissed in your rice,” Su Ling retorted, crossing her arms.
Ling Qi hadn’t even noticed Su Ling was there when she went in to get treated. “Yeah, well, maybe I’d have liked it if you said something,” she shot back, feeling defensive.
Su Ling looked away, uncomfortable. “You have other people for that.”
Ling Qi frowned. She… didn’t, really. She loved Meizhen as a friend, but she had no desire to bare any part of her past to the highborn girl. The thought of doing so made her deeply uncomfortable, and the thought of burdening Xiulan or Suyin with her complaints didn’t exactly fill her with joy either.
“... It’s nothing important.” Ling Qi found Su Ling looking at her with a sort of unhappy realization on her face. “It’s just, ah, what’s the word -” Su Ling drummed her fingers on her knee, “- it’s just nostalgia.”
Ling Qi toyed with the end of her braid. “It seems like every time I start to trust someone more powerful than me, they pull something shitty.” The vulgarity passed her lips without thought, rare as that was for her these days. She could remember the unreasoning panic which had seized her thoughts in the aftermath of the incident with Meizhen. She had only been able to push it aside because Meizhen was her friend.
Then Zeqing had come along and flung her into a deadly blizzard, shattering the comfort that she had started to take in her presence. She could recognize that she had started to latch onto the snow woman; her mastery of Argent Mirror wouldn't let her ignore that.
“I can get that,” Su Ling said quietly. “Not quite like you do, but fuck, nobody is the same when it comes to that kind of thing.”
“Guess so,” Ling Qi mused. She supposed it all came back to Mother and the ugly argument that had led to her fleeing to the streets. It seemed foolish of her looking back. Those memories took on a different cast when looked at with the eyes of an adult. She had a few reasons to pay Tonghou City a visit, it seemed.
“That’s a scary look,” Su Ling said, drawing her from her thoughts. “Got someone you’re gonna kill?”
“Maybe,” Ling Qi said slowly. “How about you?”
“Sure,” Su Ling replied, meeting her eyes dead on. “Got a list, ending with that murderous furry bitch.”
“Guess that’s something we have in common,” Ling Qi said, remembering her friends words about her spirit mother. “Let me know if you need a hand.”
Su Ling stood up, dusting off her pants. “I might at that. Should probably get going though. Got a lot of work yet.”
“The same,” Ling Qi sighed, copying her friend. “Until next time.”