1. The day before it all went to hell in a handbasket.
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Steff swung her fist, slamming it into the trunk of the tree in front of her. Bark splintered, leaving a fist-shaped indentation in the trunk.

"Why the fuck now, of all times?" She demanded, visibly angry.

Why the fuck did one of those stupid, fucking bitches want a 'celebratory feast' the day before the tournament? She knew it was probably some minor princess that wanted to show off her latest toy. And of course every noble in the city was required to attend. She had been making headway, studying how to more conservatively use both stone and ice together. And now this?

More pointless posturing. More strutting around like they had a tire iron shoved up their asses and with their fake, painted smiles. Their delicate laughs and secretly plotting about how to get their "face". She had never understood the idiotic concept of it, and as she had bluntly told Jein so many times, she didn't care for it either.

she continued walking, leaving the small enclosure behind her. When she had first came here, it was an open-aired space, probably intended to be a garden. Screw that, instead of throwing in every plant she could find, she had made it comfortable instead. She'd left the tree standing, and instead put in a few chairs and more than a few cushions. Forget that meditating pose stuff. She just leaned back in comfortable, cushioned seat and got more done than any of the so called 'young masters' in the city.

Shadows washed behind her, as fast moving clouds above flitted through the air. They washed over the large tree, who's species definitely hadn't existed back in Canada. There were two benches in her courtyard, sitting as unused as the day she had brought them, and her miniature throne, a shrine to cushiness and comfort.

She’d been here for nearly two years now, she idly mused, running her fingers along the stone of the walls, as she strode inside. Oh, there had been a lot of huff and fuss when she had arrived out of nowhere, but playing smart had been her saving grace. She hadn't been able to speak a damn word, and by the time she learned, she knew enough to not tell anyone jack shit.

So, here she was, living in a small villa at the edge of the Middle District. No visitors, no friends, just herself and Jein. She liked it that way.

Steff turned the corner, opening a door and stepping into the house. Turning right, she followed the circular corridor wrapping around the meditation area to her own room. She passed the kitchen on the way, momentarily spotting Jein's tall, lean form inside as the old man worked the counter.

She flat out refused to eat what the people here considered "food". She had enjoyed various types of food back home, but she did not enjoy live baby octopus or bird nest soup. A little boost to Sol intake be damned.

Jein was hunched over the giant textbook she had made, it was open on the counter. On it's pages were hand drawn instructions for what simple foods she could remember. She grinned at his back as she remembered teaching him how to cook. It had been...
...fun to say the least.

She ran a hand through her messy hair, ruffling it a bit further as she moved on. Was she ever glad for the things she had learned around the house at home. She grimaced, remembering her early teen days. Like every other girl she'd known, she had been a goddamn brat. Idly, she wondered where those days were and whether anyone even missed her? Maybe her parents. Jess too. But that was about it. Everyone else she had known had been a social butterfly. They would have put on the grieving faces just long enough to not be seen as assholes, then they’d just move on.

Whatever. Those days were dead and gone.

"This one asks if the mistress wishes for anything."

"No, Jein, i don't. Actually, where did you hide my drinks?"

"This one cannot remember. This one deeply apologizes, mistress."

"For fuck's sake Jein. You know i hate that 'this one' shit. It implies you aren't a goddamn person."

"This one apologizes for offending the mistress with his worthlessness."

"Jein, look me in the eye."

"Yes, mistress."

"Did you know, that back home, we had a single word to describe the most important thing in your society?"

"If the mistress wishes to tell this one."

"BULLSHIT. That is the only single word i can think of to describe the sheer fuckery of what happens here every day. EVERY DAY. THE SAME FUCKING SONG. Face this, face that. This one this, this one that. I'M SICK OF IT. I'M READY TO SMASH SOMEONE'S FACE IN."


"Okay, first of all, why the fuck are you apologizing? You didn't do shit. Back home, I hated this. Dealing with prissy, stuck up bitches and little sissy boys who think their mastering some fancy ass 'form' and showing it off will get them fame. What. The. Fuck? Your society has some of the most stupid shit i have ever heard of. Your way of fighting sucks balls. The only reason anyone wins is because the other person has their stick wedged up further than they do.

Your fights are showing the same shit over and over and over. Everyone learns the same shit. Different sects and all be fucked. Everyone snickers and giggles over learning some old shit and trying to become the 'most august cultivator' there is. By reading out of old textbooks. Made by people who didn't become that. Want to know why your people aren't winning that war? Because the other side doesn't fight like that. They don't fight to show off, they fight to win. They fight dirty. And they have results. Has anyone ever thought, that, for a second, just maybe, using your fucking superhuman skills for anything but spinning a blade in a complicated pattern that's fucking useless in a fight? Anyone? Didn't think so."

"No, don't apologize, i'm just sick of this shit, and it's boiling over. Get my clothes, would you? The black ones."

"...Yes, mistress."

"See, no more of that 'this one' shit. I finally got through to you



Steff had elected to walk. She didn't have mount like the big lizard like crawlers the young masters used, and so she walked. The tiled stones, painted yellow and shaped like scales, passed underneath her armored boots, falling behind as she covered ground with rapid, powerful strides.

Her armor clanked ever so slightly, the plates knocking into each other as she passed shops, houses, stalls in the streets and beggars on the corners leading into alleyways. She stopped occasionally, tossing a coin into a jar at random. She had more than enough money, and she loved doing this. It infuriated many of the nobles to no end, but they couldn't lift their hands against her. It wasn't the fact that they despised the beggar for having the coin, but rather, the actual act of her, an honorary noble ( a mistake on their part, that ) giving away money freely.

One of the few things she had ever brought was the armor. She had gone on a tour through the city when she first arrived, and balked at the uselessly flimsy and showy pieces of "armor" on sale. A long, extensive conversation with a local blacksmith had acquired her own proper suit of armor, a comfortable and reliable mix of Drassavian plate and hardened Woxa leather.

She wore it everywhere. From the gatherings she was required to attend to business and training. And on the field, though she had partaken in only a few expeditions so far.

The sun was setting, and torches being placed by guards in red cloaks everywhere she went. She didn't bother with a cloak herself. Where she was going, peacocks would be ashamed to tread.

Ahead the blue lanterns of House Zeigong came into full view, along with their palace, one of the most opulent in the Nobles district. The first and most fanciful. Behind her, the relatively clean streets of the Middle District fell away, a wall providing a very clear border between the slightly rich and filthy-as-a-hog rolling in dough rich. She was the only coming through from this side, the guards let her through without question. they might have heckled her had she been someone else. flexing their sol muscles a little, sneering at people, all the while proudly announcing their rank and levels of skill, not now though, they knew better.

They knew her name, face and they knew not to fuck with her. Orders from on high. Being a revered guest had its perks.

Before her was a parade of opulence, an ocean of gleaming colors, dresses so expensive that a dozen could have fed half the city for a year, they could have bought a thousand catapults for the war, or even a mercenary army. But, no, the cream of society didn't give a damn as long as they were safe behind their walls and had their politics. She shook her head in disgust. She had tried to volunteer multiple times just get out of the damned city, but they had always found reasons to dismiss her.

'Too Short' seemed to be their favorite one. One of these days, she would hack down one of those goddamn...trees at the knees and see him call her short again.

One day. For now, she satisfied herself with thoughts of revenge.

Taking a deep breath to clear her mind, she strode towards the large, imposing gates of House Zeigong. Maybe she could get through this without flattening a nose tonight, hopefully.