It was true that Fu Xiang had helped her a great deal in her successful escape from Sun Liling. It was also true that he was now heavily involved with the investigation of Yan Renshu’s contacts. It was also true that she absolutely did not trust the older boy. His whole attitude and demeanor set her on edge. However, Ling Qi felt the need to repay a favor if only so that more might be forthcoming in the future. With that in mind. Ling Qi was hardly surprised when she found the normally elusive Fu Xiang easy to find.
A word to one of the enforcers working in the market and a few hours spent cultivating while it was passed up the chain earned her a hasty invitation to the same teahouse they had met at before.
Once again, she found herself slipping into the private booth at the little restaurant where she had last met the boy. Fu Xiang had not changed overly much. His presence was greater, granting the boy a quiet weight that he had previously lacked. At the same time, it seemed that his physique was not yet Third Realm.
“I am glad to see you doing well, Miss Ling,” Fu Xiang said as she sat down, his air of self-satisfaction fully intact. “I hope your excursion to the Medicine Hall this week was not serious?”
“It was nothing important,” Ling Qi replied. Han Jian had insisted that they all visit the hall after their cave raid to check for lingering toxins. She had gone along with it since they had a good crop of materials to sell. Being locked in a room and drenched in decontaminating medicinal mist to purge lingering fungal spores had not been great fun though. “And you? I suppose Lady Cai has been keeping your nose to the grindstone, sorry about the extra work.”
“Not at all, it is an interesting challenge to flex my skills against a proper peer, no matter how misguided,” he said with a thin smile, drumming his fingers on the table.
“Well I’m glad you’re having fun,” ling Qi grumbled. “Are you doing everything yourself then? That must be tiring.”
“Talents like mine are in high demand for a reason, sensory and divination arts such as mine are rare below the third realm, and they will only grow more potent now that I have reached it,” he said with a touch of pride. “Sadly, I am still limited by the costs involved.”
Ling Qi hummed noncommittally. She could see a use for being able to talk over distances. What she found on the subject indicated that the qi costs involved increased massively and exponentially with time and distance though. “Do you plan to sign up with Lady Cai when you’re done with the Sect then? Become her coordinator?”
“Heavens, no,” Fu Xiang answered, looking at her as if she had suggested that he go streak through the market. “I intend to use my eventual place in the Inner Sect to receive a recommendation into a junior position at the Ministry of Communication. I am a son of the capital. I shall leave the barbarians to you border nobles.”
Ling Qi blinked. “Oh,” she said, lacking any better response. She supposed that she hadn’t really considered the various Ministries as potential landing spot post-Sect. She wasn’t terribly familiar with them. She knew about Communication, Law, and Integrity, but she was sure there were a few others. She vaguely recalled hearing mention of a Ministry of Spiritual Affairs and Ministry of Commerce. “Well, I hope you have good fortune with that.”
“And you as well, with whatever you might decide on,” he replied easily, bringing his hands together on the table. “You may even be able to help in that regard.”
Ling Qi’s expression became more serious. This was what she had been expecting. “Well, I do owe you. That transportation formation couldn’t have been cheap,” she acknowledged.
“Just so,” Fu Xiang said with a cheerful nod. “Worry not. My request is nothing too onerous for one of your skills. It will even help those friends of yours. Li Suyin and Su Ling, I believe?”
Ling Qi pursed her lips, a little unhappy at his casual mention of her friends. She reminded herself that the smirking boy was an ally. “Oh? Just what might your request be?”
“Well, given your impressive destruction of a fellow disciple’s hopes and dreams, I thought that you might be up for doing a few more,” Fu Xiang continued with a laugh. She wasn’t sure what to feel about the tinge of genuine admiration in his voice. “There are several promising production students who have already begun their final projects. If you could ruin the projects or steal their materials, it would ease things considerably.”
Leaning back in her seat, Ling Qi considered the request. She could see what Fu Xiang meant. If she took out some of the competition, this would help Suyin too. But Suyin would probably not approve of this method; Ling Qi could very easily imagine the look of betrayed expectations on her friend’s face. Unlike Yan Renshu, an absurdly obvious villain, this would be disciples that hadn’t harmed her.
Of course, what Suyin didn’t know couldn’t hurt her. “I’m listening,” she said neutrally.
“The three targets I have in mind have their facilities in the market,” Fu Xiang explained. “The market wards merely prevent violence, not sabotage or theft… but I admit, you would be taking a risk. Should you be caught, you could receive a ban from the market.”
Ling Qi grimaced. “That is quite a risk.” She hadn’t had a good track record for getting out undetected on most of her heists for all her general success.
“It is, but I will act as a go-between for the remainder of the year should it come to that,” he reassured. “However, I think you will find their security less severe than Sir Yan’s. None of the targets are third realm themselves or wealthy enough to purchase the services of one.” He paused, eyeing her speculatively. “I will be satisfied with the sabotage of one of my competitors, but I do not need to tell you that the production track is crowded. Both of us benefit from thinning the herd.”
“... Let me sleep on it,” Ling Qi replied after a moment. In the end, it was a matter of how much risk she wanted to take and how much she was worried about tainting her relationship with Suyin. The girl had grown more practical, but if she found out about this, she would probably be unhappy.
For that matter, she couldn’t imagine Cai being pleased by it either. She was not keen on seeing the hammer of ‘justice’ turned her way.