I am glad that everyone is safe and relatively unhurt. What you did with your sword was great and awesome, and I'm sure it's a feat that matches three of our vagabond father's ways, but do not be so audacious! I could not lose you. _Promise_ that you'll not be so reckless. You may have saved our home, but it is not worth it if you will not be around to enjoy it.
I cannot believe that _thing_ even has the audacity to call himself our half-Brother. Behind his masque of lies and deceit, there is no soul, just empty promises. As much as we may dislike Second Wife, she is still _family_ and he betrayed us doubly when he turned from her. I have no _words_ to explain how angry I am. I'm glad that everyone is relatively unscathed. Take better care of yourself, dearest twin, and next time you see that loathed, despicable, traitorous _thing_,
teach him an extra lesson for me. We cannot fail now. I do not know how Brother's death is connected to the Venom Sect but if Fang has _anything_ to do with it, he will pay. I am counting on you to find out for me.
On a lighter note, I am just as surprised as you are by Third and Fourth Wife. I had no idea that they even _had_ weapons, never mind were capable of wielding them. I am grateful for them now, and will never say another disparaging word about them since they kept our home from burning. I will never, _ever_ forgive Fang for participating in such an act. I do not care if he repents, he has hurt our family and our honour; we cannot let that pass.
Aunt says that she's coming to Sandao. She is furious with the turn of events and says that it is clear that she cannot trust Father to do anything properly. I am to stay here with Ping and Uncle. Aunt will take me with her, leaving only Xue Jing behind. I am going to miss Aunt. She is still angry with me. The night before her departure, I wished her the best of luck and to give everyone my love. I had also instructed the servants to pack some of my things for Aunt to bring
back, partially to help keep up the ruse that I was leaving, and also to give some to both you and Ting. I do miss home dreadfully, but I've come so far that I do not feel like I can come back, even with such a dire situation at hand at home.
"Aunt, good luck on your journey. May it be smooth and uneventful," I said the evening before her departure.
"Lady Hua," Uncle said in a mild tone, "are you not going to reply? Wish her luck in her endeavours, perhaps?"
"She will be fine," answered Aunt, her voice hard and cold like untouched jade. Uncle's lips thinned, but I hastily forestalled whatever he was going to say by thanking Aunt prettily.
"Come now, Wife," cajoled Uncle, "that's no way to speak to your niece."
Aunt stared at him for a long time, but Uncle would not relent. He
said, very mildly, "I remember not so long ago when you did something
much more foolish than Xue Qing, and you were much older than she
"That has nothing to do with the situation at hand," snapped Aunt, putting her chopsticks down. Ping and I exchanged glances and we kept quiet.
"No, it doesn't. But you, of all people, ought to know that people make mistakes, despite their intentions." Smiling at Aunt, Uncle added, "Besides, I remember you telling me how you were fifteen years old when you stowed away on a pirate ship as a boy."
"That was different!"
"Not very much," commented Uncle, still very calm. He was like a slow stream, wearing away Aunt's stony silence and protestations with patience and logic.
"I don't want to hear this."
"Oh calm down, Wife," commanded Uncle, exasperated. "You do me disservice by acting like this. I did not marry you against my Emperor's wishes, despite the fact that you kidnapped and tried to
ransom me all those years ago, just to have you condemn our niece for the same sins that you yourself committed to an even greater degree."
Ping and I stared, wide-eyed and surprised. It is easy to forget that Uncle is First Advisor; he's mild and quiet and quite uninteresting to look at, but beneath it all, there is a steely logic and so much charm that he must have stolen it from a hundred hundred men. It is also
easy to forget that our Aunt has not had the most illustrious past. Indeed, I did not know that she had kidnapped Uncle and ransomed him (and Father says that _we_ are terrible children apt to frighten even the toughest Mongolian).
I excused myself early and decided to give Long Gui the visit that I had long promised her. It was rash for me to show up without announcing myself, but being in the Prince's favour was bound to give me some leverage. Changing into one of my more inconspicuous dresses, I glided out of the house and into the street. It was still early enough that vendors were just beginning to pack their things.
"Young miss," an old lady called just before I reached the palace. She was gnarled and wizened; one of her eyes was white. Her hands were worn with the cares of too many fortunes read and there was something about her that made me hesitate. She crooked a finger at me, and I went to her, not without a bit of trepedition.
"Grandma," I said politely, "How can I help you?"
"Allow me to return the favour," she murmured, holding out her hand. "I'm a fortune teller."
"You helped me a few weeks ago when that concubine knocked me down," she said. "Or her guards rather." Her tone was so matter-of-fact and practical that it took me aback.
"You're confusing me with my brother, Grandma," I said, trying to keep my voice calm, though my heart was beating fast.
"You do not get to be as old as me without being able to see through a few simple deceptions," she murmured. Without asking, she took my hand and traced the lines of it, bending over it with fierce
concentration. "You will never find what you seek because the answer does not exist."
My eyes widening, I tried to step back, but her grip was firm, rooting me to her the way the earth holds trees. "There are wealthy men aplenty for me to marry, Grandma."
She stared at me. One white eye, one black and smiled. How is it that I've never noticed her strange eyes before? "I've met better liars than you, Li Xue Qing. Heed an old woman's advice; go home. Leave your brother behind and you will marry a wealthy and handsome man. Stay here at your own peril."
Stiffening, I stared at her. She reminded me then a bit of our fortuneteller at home, Ling. She doesn't have his austerity but they both carry a quality of _something_; I can't quite explain it. It's like they're connected to the gods in some way; they whisper secrets into their ears with the wind in the grasses, and the sound of water rushing over rocks. I'm sure you know what I mean. Even so, I blustered, demanding how she knew who I was. She replied:
"You're a very good dancer and I have an excellent memory." Smiling her gapless smile she said, "Now I have repaid my debt" and let go of my hand.
I stared at her and she made an ironic gesture. "She waits for you in her lair, child. You've lost one brother, do not wait to lose someone else."
I tried to press coin in her hand, but she waved me away. I made my way to the palace, head swimming with thoughts. The guards let me in when I mentioned who I was, and I managed to see Long Gui with little trouble . She did not say much and with the fortuneteller's warning
flashing in my mind, I saw many secrets hooded in her eyes, in the graceful gestures she used to serve me tea. There was no one around us, and lamplight flickered around us. It was late.
"I know you do not like me," I said without preamble. "But I do not want to be your rival."
"We shall be friends and rivals then," she said, her painted lips curving into a cobra's smile. "You cannot be one without the other."
"I would rather just be friends."
"Between women as beautiful as us, that would be impossible. But it is of no matter; if you wish, I will not bring the subject up again. Come with me to the market tomorrow; we may lay some rumours to rest and start some anew among the people. It will do them good to keep them wondering about our sudden friendship."
Hesitating, I smiled at her. "I'm sorry, but I must go home to Sandao tomorrow. I have been feeling unwell; city life was too exciting for me, I'm afraid. I came to say goodbye."
Something flickered in her eyes and I thought she would protest. Holding up a hand, I said, gently, "I would rather we part as friends than rivals; if I cannot have that much then my visit is wasted."
Ling, you know I am very good at these games. Ping learned from me after all (and perfected them, the little rat), but I daresay that Long Gui is just as good at them herself, if not better.
"It is never a parting between friends," she said, warmly, pressing her hand into mine. "Please, if you wish, you could come live in the palace. The physicians here are very good and Qian Long would do anything for you."
It was tempting, but the old woman's words haunted me. "I must return home. My mother is unwell and I must see her. It has been too long," I said, gently. "But I thank you. I will be sure to see you again." Then, in a sudden burst of inspiration, I added, "My brother is
staying. If you need anything, please tell him and he can get word to me. We are very close."
"Yes, I can tell," she said, staring at me. Nervous, I coughed and wheezed a bit. Sipping the tea very cautiously, I thanked her again and took my leave. I had accomplished very little but one thing was certain: whatever Long Gui wanted, she did not want it from Qing. Not anymore. She must have discovered where we kept the weapons or something equally ludicrous like that. Even _we_ don't know where the weapons are kept (though I must admit that the circumstances
surrounding _our_ induction was more than strange). I do not know what to make of this, dearest Sister. Part of me wishes I could cast off Xue Jing and stay here, but another part of me knows how foolish that would be. At least, this way, I can concentrate on my part as Xue Jing without the worry of being found out.
I do miss you all so much, and I am loathed to stay here when so much is happening at home. Ping misses everyone desperately, but wants to stay here to "help me" she says; I do not know if she is speaking the truth, but I am glad that she is staying. I do not know if I could live in this city without her now; it is hard enough to not be myself, but it is even harder to be alone.
-Li Xue Qing
(If I ever see that..._creature_ here, I will be sure to give him moe than a piece of our minds; I will give him a piece of himself that I've cut off with my own sword, if you will excuse the vulgarity of my language. Father must be _furious_.)