modern AU female 3zun, anyone? 😍
Futures past pt19 / on AO3
As music lessons resume, Lan Xichen has a suggestion for Nie Huaisang
Nie Huaisang cheerfully knocked on the door, ready for his first music lesson of the year, only to be met by a decidedly grumpy Lan Xichen. The other boy tried to smile at him, tried to make conversation as usual and to ask how much he’d practiced that week, but Nie Huaisang wasn’t fooled.
“So, what’s wrong?” he asked as he set up his guqin, a little proud to show off again that he had his own instrument now. “You look so dejected that I could mistake you for your brother.”
“Let’s not talk about Wangji right now,” Lan Xichen replied, his expression turning sour.
Now he looked like his uncle, though Nie Huaisang was too polite to say as much. It was really strange to see him so upset, and a little worrying as well, but Lan Xichen did not give him the chance to ask any questions.
“I’ve been thinking a lot while you were gone,” Lan Xichen announced with a fake smile that wasn’t fooling anyone, “and I think your level is good enough to start teaching you something a little more advanced. Shufu has given me permission to give you an introduction to some techniques we use for musical cultivation, if that interests you.”
Nie Huaisang gasped at the news.
“Really? You mean, real musical cultivation?” he asked excitedly. “The real deal? Like… like battle songs? Healing songs? You think I’m good enough?”
His earlier bad mood quickly melting away, Lan Xichen smiled warmly and came to sit next to Nie Huaisang.
“I think you’re very skilled, yes,” he said, making Nie Huaisang flush at the praise, “though it’ll be a while until you can use musical techniques in a Night Hunt. But since we have this entire year before us, I thought you could try to learn Inquiry.”
To confirm it, Lan Xichen merely handed Nie Huaisang a musical score, one he appeared to have copied himself. Nie Huaisang took it with trembling hands, awed to be trusted in that manner.
“The song itself is not particularly complex,” Lan Xichen explained as Nie Huaisang looked over the score, “and it can be learned and used even by someone of ordinary cultivation level. The real difficulty, and what is going to take us a while, is the Qin language needed to understand the answers given by spirits.”
His eyes still on the sheet of music, Nie Huaisang just nodded. Then, realising what he’d just heard, he looked up and stared at Lan Xichen with wide, shocked eyes.
“Isn’t that a secret Lan technique?”
“I'm not sure about 'secret' but it is an exclusive technique,” Lan Xichen confirmed, his expression turning more serious. “That’s why I had to ask for shufu’s permission before I could offer to teach you. I won’t hide that he was reluctant,” he added with a strained smile. “But I told him that I fully trust you to respect our secrets.”
Hands clenched on the music sheet, Nie Huaisang hurriedly nodded again. He couldn’t think of a bigger honour done to him. He’d never have dared to ask to be taught any Lan secret techniques, but since it was offered he would do his best to be worthy of it, and to show proper respect and gratitude.
“I also told him that having a goal of your own seemed to help you in your studies last year,” Lan Xichen added, “and that this might help you do better in your exams by giving you better motivation.”
However pleased he was that Lan Xichen would trust him, and with something that important, the reminder of his failure to do well in class made Nie Huaisang grimace, and instantly reduced his enthusiasm. “Does it mean the music lessons will be dependent on the grades I get in regular classes?”
“It’s possible that shufu came to that conclusion,” Lan Xichen replied with a mischievous smile. “But I never actually said that, and your grades are of no concern to me. I just like teaching you”
“Xichen-gege, you’re so crafty!” Nie Huaisang laughed. “Who knew you were capable of that! You’re the best, you know? I like when you teach me, too. I’ll try to be as good a student as you are a teacher!”
“I’m pleased you’d think so well of me,” Lan Xichen said, his cheeks turning a little pink. “Now, let’s get to work. I think for today, we’re just going to focus on the song itself. Then next week, if you are comfortable enough playing it, I can show you how to infuse it with your spiritual energy to have the right effect, and we can start learning Qin language.”
It sounded like a great plan, and one Nie Huaisang wholeheartedly agreed to.
Just as Lan Xichen promised, the song itself was not particularly challenging, and short enough that Nie Huaisang had good hopes of quickly learning it by heart if he just put his mind to it. He’d try to be careful not to practice it around the other Nie disciples, since it was a Lan technique, but he’d still work hard on it, and… maybe that might turn Night Hunts into something interesting at last. It should certainly make Nie Mingjue happy if his brother finally became interested in those, even if he had to use another sect’s method for it.
It opened a world of possibilities, and Nie Huaisang promised himself to practice hard to make this happen, so both his brother and Lan Xichen would be proud of him. Or at least, as hard as he was capable, especially with all that he had to do that year.
That would come later. The lesson having reached its conclusion for the day, Lan Xichen served tea for both of them, and offered some candies to celebrate the start of a new year of learning. By then, Lan Xichen’s mood appeared to have improved a great deal, and Nie Huaisang decided it would be fine to start the first phase of his great plan.
"So, Xichen-gege, what do you think of this year's students?" Nie Huaisang asked innocently while grabbing some candies.
Lan Xichen's expression turned sour for a brief moment, before he got himself back under control and smiled again.
"They are an interesting lot, certainly," he said without enthusiasm. "Are you making friends this time?"
After taking a quick sip of tea, Nie Huaisang nodded, grinning.
"Gege, you won't believe it, but even last year I made a friend!” he announced. “Apparently, Zixun thinks I'm really cool and told his cousin about me!"
It was still really funny to him, and judging by his surprised expression, Lan Xichen hadn’t expected that either.
"Then Jin Zixun has better tastes than I expected,” Lan Xichen said with some hesitation, “and I must reconsider my opinion of him."
"Well, me too! But I am making friends this year too, and they're nicer about it than Zixun was. Have you met Wei Wuxian yet?"
Stopping short of drinking some tea, Lan Xichen's smile wavered. He froze for a second, and put down his glass again.
"I have,” Lan Xichen said in a tone of voice that made it plain the encounter had brought him little joy. “Jiang Cheng… I mean, Jiang gongzi came to greet me on his second day here, and Wei gongzi was with him. I suppose he was polite enough with me."
Nie Huaisang laughed at seeing him struggle to find something nice to say.
"But he upset your uncle and you don't like that."
That was all the encouragement Lan Xichen needed to allow his expression to turn into anger, which Nie Huaisang found very funny.
"He was extremely rude to shufu,” Lan Xichen complained. “It’s very unfortunate that he should show so little respect to a teacher. He's also determined to pester poor Wangji, who isn't used to being treated like that!” He paused, taking a deep breath to compose himself, but didn’t manage to put on a smile again. “Huaisang, since you're his friend, do you think you might tell him to leave Wangji alone?"
All of Nie Huaisang’s amusement quickly dissipated at that demand and he frowned.
"Well that's a problem! You really dislike him that much?"
Lan Xichen fell silent for a moment. Nie Huaisang found it more worrying than if he’d answered right away. A little anger at a misbehaving student was one thing, but he’d talked enough with Lan Xichen to recognise those moments when he was trying hard to be fair to someone he didn’t particularly like. He used to make the same face when talking about Su She, back before he started warming up to him.
"He doesn't seem like a bad person,” Lan Xichen said at last, “and he hasn't done anything to me, so I cannot dislike him. I am just worried for Wangji, who isn’t very good at dealing with people."
"That's really inconvenient,” Nie Huaisang sighed. “Xichen-gege, I was really hoping you'd help me help them to become friends! It would have been a lot of fun, the two of us scheming together…” he sighed again. “Oh, well. I'll see if I can get Jiang-xiong or Su-xiong instead. I don’t want to involve you in something you’d find upsetting."
"I think the fact you’d want such a thing is already upsetting me a little,” Lan Xichen replied. “Is it even possible for them to be friends? They are… very different."
Nie Huaisang gave that a moment of consideration before shrugging.
"I guess. But we're pretty different too, and we didn't start off so well either, and look at us now! If it worked for us, it can work for them! I’m sure they can become good friends like us!"
A spot or pink appeared on Lan Xichen's cheeks, but his expression remained conflicted.
"I think it's different. Their first meeting was a fight."
Nie Huaisang could only laugh.
"And I ran away from you when you tried to chat!” he pointed out, grabbing another candy which he pushed toward Lan Xichen. “Anyway, wouldn't it be good for Wangji to have friends? He's too serious. It's not healthy for a boy his age to be so serious. As his elders, we need to make sure he doesn't get lonely."
"you're barely a year older than him," Lan Xichen remarked, fighting a smile as he took the candy. "I'm not sure you have much claim as an elder."
One hand on his heart, Nie Huaisang faked an offended expression which made Lan Xichen chuckle.
"I am an elder!” he protested theatrically. “I am wiser in the way of the world, so it is my duty to guide these children. Wei Wuxian too!” he added, a touch more seriously. “I think he was impressed by Wangji, you know. Jiang-xiong says that it's unheard of for him to find someone he can't beat.” He paused, and considered that. “Jiang-xiong also says he kind of hopes that Wei-xiong gets his ass kicked very hard, so it teaches him humility. And Meng-xiong didn't say anything, but he did nod."
Lan Xichen grinned.
"I do get the sensation that people tend to be as irritated by him as they are endeared. And I suppose… Wangji too was impressed by Wei gongzi's skill. Mostly he said it was quite upsetting that such talent should belong to a person with such poor manners."
Nie Huaisang smiled at that most encouraging news.
"There! If Wangji is complimenting him, then they need to be friends!" he exclaimed, making Lan Xichen laugh hard enough that he felt the need to hide it behind his sleeve.
"That's hardly a compliment."
"Coming from Wangji, it is."
That got another laugh out of Lan Xichen, which he quickly got under control and attempted to replace by a more severe expression. It might have worked, if his eyes had not been shining with barely repressed mirth.
"Wangji is not nearly as bad as you seem to think,” Lan Xichen said. “He's just very shy, and being distant is the way he deals with it. Not everyone can be as bold and determined to collect friends as you are, Huaisang."
"I'm not sure how to take that."
"Coming from any other Lan, it might be an insult,” Lan Xichen admitted. “Coming from me, and to you, it's probably a compliment."
Nie Huaisang grinned, delighted to be teased like that. How had he ever thought that Lan Xichen was boring? Maybe his future self was right about him not being too bright. But then again, wasn't it easy to make that sort of judgement in hindsight? Lan Xichen was fun now, but it had taken time for his smiles to gain real warmth when they were together. It had been time well invested though, and realising that made him hopeful that this business between Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian might turn out fine. Maybe they too would get to have that sort of comfortable relationship someday.
More comfortable, even, since they were to fall in love someday. It was going to be so funny to see how Lan Wangji acted when he was in love.
After this, the two boys fell silent for a moment as they finished their tea. It was getting a little late, and Nie Huaisang knew that he would soon have to leave. It made him almost wish that Lan Qiren had already given them homework, so he’d have an excuse to stay a little longer by whining that he always worked better when he was with Lan Xichen. Or else, he might have offered to help copy some scroll or other for Lan Xichen’s great secret project. Anything at all so he wouldn’t have to go. After almost a whole winter apart, he just wanted to be in his friend’s company a little more, just a tiny bit more, even if he knew they were sure to have time together again the week after.
Then, just as Nie Huaisang was trying to accept that he couldn’t find a good excuse to stay, Lan Xichen spoke again.
"If we do help Wangji and Wei-gongzi become friends,” he said, “and that's still an 'if' on my part, the main issue will be to make them understand they both want to be friends. Wangji seems to think Wei-gongzi only exists to torment him, and despairs to see again his more positive qualities."
Excited both for the excuse to chat a little more and by the fact that Lan Xichen was falling to his side, Nie Huaisang nodded.
"Wei-xiong is convinced Wangji is giving him the cold shoulder in spite of his efforts to become friends,” he replied. “He’s not used to people not fawning over him, I fear. Xichen-gege, we're gonna have to work hard!"
"It would take effort,” Lan Xichen agreed. “I can see you're very excited about this little project, but don't let it get in the way of your studies."
Nie Huaisang dismissed that worry with a hand gesture.
"Don't worry! I'll practice the guqin every day no matter what!"
That answer made Lan Xichen laugh.
"I meant your actual studies, Huaisang,” he corrected, trying to sound scolding but too obviously amused to be scary at all. “The lectures? With my uncle? You do remember that's why you're here in the first place?"
Blushing a little at his blunder, Nie Huaisang shrugged.
"Oh, that. I'll deal with that,” he said with more confidence than he felt. “At worst, I'll just come again a third year. Wouldn't that be fun? We'd get even more time together!"
"I'm not sure shufu would be thrilled,” Lan Xichen pointed out. “But I would certainly be happy to have you around as long as you want. And… of course, you'd get more time with Su She as well. Apparently you've even told your brother about him?"
If he hadn’t been in such good humour upon hearing that Lan Xichen enjoyed his company that much, Nie Huaisang might have noticed that the other boy’s expression became a little more pained when he mentioned Su She. But he was in too good a mood to be observant.
"Of course. It fell through last year because I didn't plan it enough in advance and my grades were bad,” he explained, “but this year, I absolutely want to invite Su-xiong home with me when I go back, even if I don't pass! I think we'll have a lot of fun, and da-ge can't ground me if I have a guest to entertain!"
Lan Xichen's smile turned strained again, nearly as much as when Nie Huaisang first arrived to see him.
"How cunning of you. I'm sure you'll have great fun. I could try to steal your brother for a Night Hunt, so you and Su She can have some peace."
It was a very generous offer, and Nie Huaisang gave it all the consideration it deserved.
"No, I think if you make it all the way to Qinghe, I'll want to keep you around too,” he announced. “Xichen-gege, even though you've come a few times, we weren’t friends back then so I've never really shown you my birds, right? And we could go painting all three of us… wait, Su-xiong isn't that fond of painting!” he remembered, hitting his forehead. “So it won’t do. Then… let's dump him with da-ge for a bit, so they can get all excited together about fighting and cultivation, and I'll steal you away! Oh there's this gorgeous little spot from where you can see the mountains at a wonderful angle… I've always wanted to show it to someone, and I think you're really someone who would know how to appreciate it. Will you go there with me next time you visit us, Xichen-gege?"
Lan Xichen tried to smile, his face a little pinker than usual.
"Wouldn't you rather take Su She, if you like it so much?"
Nie Huaisang considered that, too, before shaking his head.
"There are other places I can show him. That one, I really want to show you."
Looking definitely quite pink now, Lan Xichen smiled.
"Then I will gladly accompany you. If you like it so much, it must be very beautiful indeed, and I can’t wait to see it."
"Xichen-gege is too kind,” Nie Huaisang replied, delighted by that new plan. “Really too kind. And in his great kindness, will he help me give Wangji a friend?"
"You’re just as stubborn as your brother,” Lan Xichen accused, his good mood fully returned. “We'll see. I need to see a little more of this Wei Wuxian before I decide. But if I find him to be a good person, and if I am given reasons to think he’ll be good for Wangji, then yes, I will help."
It wasn't unfair to worry about that, especially when Lan Xichen didn't have a messenger from the future to tell him that Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji were pretty much soulmates. Indeed, without that information, Nie Huaisang would never have guessed that Lan Wangji's cold anger might have hidden any other sort of tender feelings. That was why Nie Huaisang really needed Lan Xichen's help, he was the only person in the world who could understand his brother.
Since he needed Lan Xichen's assistance so badly, Nie Huaisang wondered if he should maybe not ask Wei Wuxian to help him cheat in the next test. But he had already done his part of the deal in that regards, so it would be very upsetting to have copied all those boring texts for nothing. Besides, it would probably be fine.
There was no way they'd be caught, right?
Some more of our illustrations inspired by the Untamed/Ma Dao Zu Shi
I read the novel long back and I do not remember much. But I can say for sure that JC is not the only who had problems.
Lan Zhan - His mother was isolated and he got to meet her only once a month. Then she died. He lost his father because of Wens. He lost Cloud Recesses to fire because Wens attacked unprovoked. He had to attend the Wen camp with a broken leg. He saw his beloved as he was vilified and abused for doing the right thing. He lost his beloved for 13 years. He had to live with the fact that he could not save Wei Ying. He was whipped for trying to save his beloved which took 3 years for him to recover. He was punished into isolation just like his mother.
Wei Ying - Lost his parents at 4, lived on the streets for few years with no shelter from bad weathers, had to fight with wild dogs for food, gets bitten by these dogs. In Lotus Pier he is abused emotionally and physically by people who were supposed to be his guardians/parent figures. He is punished for no reason. He is made to take blame for the other’s mistakes and whipped again and again. He is always reminded of the debts he owes the Jiangs. He cannot do better than JC in school because Madam Yu will not like it. He is whipped because some Wen maid told Madam Yu to punish him. He is blamed for saving Jiang sect allies and Yanli loves one of them. He is blamed for the attack of the Lotus Pier for no reason at all and he had to take on this blame through out his first life. So, it was not some heat of the moment. JC did not correct this mistake at all. Had to save JC from Wens and from himself by giving away his golden core. Then thrown into burial mounds. Faced with distrust and envy from all even though he is a war hero. He was vilified and made into an enemy for saving innocent lives, including a child. He was abandoned and betrayed by his so called brother for repaying a debt which the Jiang sect owes. He was ambushed by the Jins for attending a function in which he was invited. He had to see his shijie die in front of him and blamed for her death. All of his found family was massacred in front of him in a siege led by his so called brother. In essence he lost three families in his first life.
Lan Xichen - Lost his parents as mentioned above. Then manipulated by his sworn brother into being an accessory for numerous crimes, including killing of his other sworn brother.
Nie Huaisang - Saw his brother getting murdered by a trusted person. He is the only surviving member of his family.
Meng Yao - Abused through out his lift for his birth status.
Xue Yang - Lived on the streets, abused in his childhood.
Jin Zixuan - Jin Guangshan was his father and Meng Yao was his brother.
Wen Ning - Abused under Wen Rouhan and by his cousins. Tortured and killed in a prisoner camp for no other reason than having the surname Wen. A sect leader whom he had helped turned his back on him and led a siege against all of his remaining family members. Cultivation world massacred his remaining family. He was held captive for 13 years. Saw his sister being burnt alive.
JC - His mother abused him to some extent and always compared him to WY. His father might have neglected him (I am not sure about this). Lost his parents to Wens. Lost his sect. Lost his sister. Lost his golden core and gained another golden core immediately. Please add if I missed out anything. And no, WY saving Wens is not him abandoning JC. It is WY repaying the debts which JC owes the Wens and also trying to save Jiang sect from backlash. It is actually JC abandoning morals and his so called brother.
I know that people process trauma in their own way. Not everyone handles adversaries and trauma the same way. You can be excused for your actions when you are young. You can have trauma as a blanket excuse for everything wrong you do when you are young. The same cannot be true when you are an adult. No matter how scarred you are and how traumatized you are, as an adult you need to have accountability and face consequences for your actions. No one should be made responsible for your happiness and your well being. Only you can decide to be happy. Others can show you kindness and empathy, but not at the cost of their own mental health. In the end, only you can decide if you want to get better.
Head-Canon #12(?-I lost count)
Lan Xichen goes to Lotus Pier for some sect dealings at some point. JL is there when he arrives, dropped off for his Jiujiu time early because JL “missed him” AKA-JL is teething and JGS don’t want none of that and JGY doesn’t have time for it.
The Lan sect leader, renowned for his calm and serene temperament, cannot help but gape in mounting horror as Jiang zongzhu sits for negotiations with a teething JL in his lap while the baby GNAWS ON ZIDIAN aggressively.
Lan Xichen firmly believes in ‘your sect your business’ but that is an electro whip SIR, and it is in the baby’s MOUTH. Jiang Cheng looks him dead in the eye and asks “the brat wants this or Sandu-make your choice.”
JL chooses this time to let a feral sort of growl before going back to town on Zidian. Lan Xichen wonders what the waters of Yunmeng do to people.
I offer a quick emotional support Zewu Jun for you today
So... there’s this. I wrote most of the text like half a year ago and I was reeeeeally happy about it, but then I finished reading the novel and just kind of dropped it. Anyway, I came across this story among some other trash in my folders some time ago and decided that I was strongly determined to finish it as it would be a shame if I wasted so much work.
Me: the beginning was so good, I am upset about the way I finished it :C well, nobody’s going to read it anyway, so who cares.
AO3: psst, you wanna 1000+ hits on this?
Lately, Lan Xichen had been feeling uneasy all the time. No matter where he went, he would feel apprehensive and tense, as if something threatened him, pricked him in the back. Perhaps, it was high time for him to finally turn around and face what had been lurking in shadows this whole time.
Genres: Romance, Fluff, Comfort, Eventual Romance
Pairing: Lan Xichen/Jiang Cheng
Characters: Lan Xichen, Jiang Cheng, Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji, Jin Ling, Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi
Rating: G for God why is it so long
Size: whopping 16000 words (all 5 chapters are in this post)
Chapter 1: Aggressive
Standing in the doorway of the Cloud Recess reception hall, Lan Xichen slightly turned his head to face the inside of the spacious room. The feeling of uneasiness he had been experiencing for the last couple of minutes reached its peak, which made him resolute to find out what exactly seemed so wrong to him. It was the time of what one might call a sporadic celebration held by the Gusu Lan sect together with the Yunmeng Jiang sect every once in a while with the purpose of strengthening the bonds between the two sects. The guests had already gathered and now were merrily chatting around him, yet from the very beginning of the ceremony he had been feeling as though something was odd, and this feeling did not let him be at ease.
His gaze slid swiftly from one corner of the room, passing the members of both clans resting at their tables, each on their respective side, and stopped abruptly at the face of Jiang Cheng, who was sitting stiffly, holding a cup with liquor in his hand, and fixedly staring at him with an unusually grim expression on his face. The moment Lan Xichen caught him doing that, he tried to avert his eyes as if he hadn’t been looking that way at all, and gulped everything that was in his cup at one go.
Not unlike Jin Guangyao, Lan Xichen was very much concerned with the well-being and comfort of his guests, so he immediately thought that something must have happened that angered the leader of the Jiang sect, who was, in addition to everything, quite infamous for his short temper. With Jiang Cheng diligently hiding his gaze, the atmosphere, to which Lan Xichen was quite susceptible, lightened quite considerably, so he concluded that his feeling must have appeared because of Jiang Cheng’s dissatisfaction with the Gusu Lan sect’s ceremony.
His smile as kind and genuine as ever, Lan Xichen elegantly but promptly approached the table at which Jiang Cheng was sitting.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” he greeted and bowed politely, joining his hands in front of himself.
“Sect Leader Lan,” murmured the greeting Jiang Cheng, standing up from his mat and also bowing in respect.
Despite the fact that Lan Xichen would frequently personally greet all of his guests, he had been unprecedentedly busy before this particular celebration and hadn’t had the opportunity to welcome the disciples and members of the Yunmeng Jiang sect when they had just arrived. He was wondering if that might have become the cause for Jaing Cheng’s displeasure.
“Are you enjoying the ceremony, Sect Leader Jiang?” he asked, his eyes slightly squinted because of the smile blooming on his face. He was sure the ceremony would satisfy the needs of all of his guests as Lan Wangji had personally attended to all of the matters that concerned its organization. In spite of that, he still wanted to make sure nothing out of the ordinary had happened that might have spoiled the mood of his guests.
“Yes, I am,” nodded Jiang Cheng, taking a seat on his mat again. He abruptly turned his eyes to Jin Ling, who, he had noticed earlier, was frantically spinning and turning at his own table beside him. Sending him a condemnatory look, he turned back to Lan Xichen and added, “Do not bother, Sect Leader Lan. You could not have held a better ceremony.”
Lan Xichen bowed lightly in gratitude. Jiang Cheng was a difficult person to deal with, so he, of course, would not have let it out even if something had really displeased him, especially to the sect leader’s face, so Lan Xichen decided to stick around for a little longer and entertain the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader with his presence, just to be on the safe side.
“I sincerely hope you do not mind me joining you,” he said politely, kneeling beside Jiang Cheng’s table.
Jiang Cheng’s eyes widened a bit from surprise as it was not common for a sect leader to sit beside their guests instead of taking their seat at the head of the main table.
“No… not at all,” he replied, trying to make his voice seem emotionless and rigid.
Jin Ling stared at them with overt interest, having abandoned the food he indulged into only moments ago. Jiang Cheng sent him another killing stare, reminding him to watch his manners, and the young man was forced to mind his own business yet again. He was extremely bored to sit there all alone with nobody to chat with, but even more than that he was afraid of a future scolding, so in the end decided not to test his uncle’s patience.
“How do you find the liquor from Gusu, Sect Leader Jiang?” asked Lan Xichen, carefully filling his cup from the liquor bottle standing on his table.
Jiang Cheng accepted the cup and looked into the clear liquid inside of it, reflecting on the question. Not a single muscle on his face twitched as he gulped it and set the cup on the table with a quiet tap.
“It is to my liking,” he said briefly and threw a quick glance at the bottle in Lan Xichen’s hands.
The man in front of him smiled vividly and busied himself with filling his cup yet again.
Some visitors of the Cloud Recess felt quite uncomfortable when served the liquor there as the Lan sect members wouldn’t join them in drinking it, and Jiang Cheng was definitely one of them. Yet he could not admit it as it seemed impolite for him to refuse a drink offered by the sect leader himself.
“Young Master Wei mentioned quite a few times that he preferred it to the liquor from Yunmeng,” said Lan Xichen, offering the filled cup to Jiang Cheng once again.
“I am sure he did,” murmured Jiang Cheng and pouted for reasons unknown to his interlocutor. He took the cup from Lan Xichen but did not down it and instead continued to hold it in his hands, as if warming it.
To avoid the uncomfortable silence that arose after mentioning Wei Wuxian in the conversation, Lan Xichen sighed with pretended disappointment and said, “I myself was never able to try it, so all I can do is believe Young Master Wei’s as well as Sect Leader Jiang’s words. Could you, perhaps, describe the taste to me, Sect Leader Jiang?” The smile not fading from his face for even a second, Lan Xichen tilted his head a bit and added, “If it would not be too much of a bother for you, of course.”
“It is...” started Jiang Cheng, still looking into his cup instead of lifting his head to face Lan Xichen, and squeezed his lips.
Jin Ling was gawking at them again, leaning a bit on the wooden surface before him, his puppy eyes gleaming at the sight of something even slightly more interesting that the plates on his table he was rearranging this whole time. Jiang Cheng only sighed at the annoying youngling’s behaviour and continued after a short pause.
“It is sweet with a bit of spice in it. It does not sting like some other wines I have been lucky enough to sample and because of that it is quite easy to be tricked by its mildness and drink more than one should.”
After blurting out the last part of the sentence, Jiang Cheng hurried to drink the wine in his cup, this time savouring the taste.
Watching him drink, Lan Xichen nodded a few times as if understanding what Jiang Cheng meant.
“Has Sect Leader Lan ever felt like tasting the wine himself?” asked Jiang Chen, not giving him back the cup for refilling. Immediately, though, he seized the question, not letting Lan Xichen even consider his answer. “My apologies if I am being disrespectful, asking such a thing. Please, disregard my question.”
La Xichen shook his head, smiling.
“I was curious. There is no shame for anybody in wanting to try the unknown. I am only inquiring about it because, if I am being completely honest, I still am curious,” he squinted his eyes in a guilty smile, his hands lying flat on his knees, not able to get a hold of the cup to fill for his guest. “It is the fragrance, you see,” he continued. “I can feel a very strong fruit aroma enveloping the room every time we hold a ceremony in the Cloud Recess, and it piques my curiosity.”
“It must be tough for the Lan sect disciples if even Sect Leader Lan feels this way,” exclaimed Jin Ling surprisedly. Jiang Cheng immediately turned to him with his whole body, the sight of his clenched fist silencing all further remarks of his nephew.
Lan Xichen laughed softly, taking the cup from Jiang Cheng’s tight grip and startling him with an airy touch on his fingers. He seemed to hear the fragile porcelain almost crack in Jiang Cheng’s hand and decided to save his guest from likely injuring himself, even if it came at the cost of him looking a bit insolent.
“Indeed, it is tough, but they have many other things to enjoy here,” he said, filling the cup yet again. “Sect Leader Jiang, do not be angry at Young Master Jin. Let children be children, as inquisitive and restless as they can be. At least during such festivities.”
Jin Ling’s eyes lit up when Lan Xichen himself stood up for him. He glanced at his uncle, awaiting his reaction, and felt satisfied, seeing how Jiang Cheng ended up following the advice of his senior and only sighed again defeatedly, accepting the cup.
“Children are not easily entertained during such events. Perhaps, Young Master Jin would like to leave the reception hall and join the Gusu Lan sect disciples who right now happen to practice archery in the training yard? Of course, with the permission of his sect leader,” said Lan Xichen, glancing kindly first at Jin Ling, and then at his uncle.
Hearing the proposal, Jin Ling grew even more agitated and pressed his hands hard on his knees, silently praying for Jiang Cheng to let him go.
As soon as Jiang Cheng gave him a short nod, he sprinted out of the hall, thanking both him and Zewu-Jun as he ran towards the exit.
“Running is prohibited in the Cloud Recess!” rang the voice of Lan Qiren from somewhere on the other side of the room, but Jin Ling was already too far to care or even notice.
Lan Xichen gracefully covered his mouth with his long white sleeve, letting out a short laugh. Jiang Cheng clicked his tongue, his brows furrowing as he looked in the direction Jin Ling ran in.
“I will bring the brat back and make him apologize for his behaviour,” he said through gritted teeth.
Fearing he would really stand up and follow his nephew, Lan Xichen rushed to stop him.
“No need to worry, Sect Leader Jiang, Young Master Jin will be able to make amends for it later. I am sure it is not the last time you are in the Cloud Recess after all.”
Having been positively influenced by Zewu-Jun’s wish to keep the ceremony as peaceful and tranquil as possible, Jiang Cheng seemed to quickly calm down, and for once stopped thinking about how his nephew always allegedly brought him trouble and shame in the eyes of the surrounding people.
Lan Xichen noticed that Jiang Cheng still did not drink the wine he poured him previously, so he tried to redirect his attention to that instead.
“Ah, now that I think of it, Sect Leader Jiang has just mentioned that it is quite easy to drink more wine than one should, and I am now hurrying him to drink even more without offering a single bite of food. How improper of me,” he said and bowed slightly, feeling a bit foolish.
“Please, do not apologize, Zewu-Jun, I am treated well, and I have everything I need here,” awkwardly replied Jiang Cheng and took a grape from one of the small plates standing on the table in front of him as if to assure the host he was really fine. “What is more important,” he muttered, “I feel like I am stealing the attention of Zewu-Jun from the other guests. Please, do not feel obliged to entertain me exclusively, I do not require others to keep me company at all times, Zewu-Jun.”
His words sounded a bit harsher than he wanted them to, yet there was no going back, so he just sat and looked at Lan Xichen. The expression of the latter one, however, did not change the slightest, he only shook his head again with the same mild smile.
“Sect Leader Jiang is our most important guest, so there is no other person here today more entitled to get my attention. Moreover, I do not feel forced, so Sect Leader Jiang has nothing to worry about. Only if my presence burdens him, will I take my leave,” he said, screwing his eyes. One might say the words would sound somewhat shamelessly if it was not for the person who uttered them.
Having felt the air in the room become significantly livelier and lighter after he came to keep Jiang Cheng company, Lan Xichen decided it would be best to stay and personally make sure his guest did not need anything and felt comfortable and satisfied, thus, the condition he put forward.
“No-no! It is not that… I did not…” blurted Jiang Cheng, gravely afraid to offend or anger his most powerful ally who also just happened to be the calmest person ever known to the cultivation world. He managed to quickly compose himself and went on, “I would not want Zewu-Jun to have sore knees because of me.”
He looked at how Lan Xichen had been sitting on the bare floor this whole time and clenched his teeth and the jawbone below his temples jutted.
“Then I will take a cushion not to trouble the sect leader and join him shortly,” answered Lan Xichen, not leaving Jiang Cheng any other choice than to comply.
Lan Qiren shook his head, disapproving of the sight.
Wei Wuxian conspiratorially leaned to Lan Wangji sitting beside him and whispered to him, covering his mouth with his hand.
“What are they even doing there? Lan Zhan, why is Zewu-Jun not sitting at his table today?”
Lan Wangji did not answer and only continued to look at how his brother was arranging a seat for himself near Jiang Cheng.
Wei Wuxian hmphed and mumbled to himself.
“Well, if Hanguang-Jun doesn’t know, then there is nobody in this room I can possibly ask apart from Zewu-Jun himself”.
Watching intently as Jiang Cheng was constantly huffing and puffing, his face shifting from grim and pale to anxious and bluish, while Lan Xichen was smiling, and smiling, and smiling his warm and amiable smile, filling his cup again and again, Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but chuckle at how helpless his shidi looked.
“Wei Ying, stop staring,” whispered Lan Wangji, his glance pricking Wei Wuxian as he reproached him for his inappropriate behaviour.
“Lan Zha-a-ang,” uttered Wei Ying slowly, giving Lan Wangji a few reassuring pats on the back, “don’t be such a bore. Even if you don’t want to look, I do, because this is truly a sight I do not indent to miss even a second of.”
Chapter 2: Threatening
Another eerily similar episode happened to Lan Xichen in a few weeks’ time, during the nighthunt under the supervision of the Yunmeng Jiang sect. Both of the sects participated in it by mutual agreement.
The hour was late and the night air was fresh. No animals or any other wildlife could be seen active in the proximity of the cultivators’ makeshift
camp situated on the clearing in the woods. Long arms of trees reached out far and intertwined, creating the illusion of closed space around the clearing, but the area in the middle of it was brightly illuminated by the moon light on a par with many lanterns brought by the cultivators. The atmosphere was calm enough, despite the fact that many people were agitated and anxiously looking forward to the grandiose fight, some of them making practice swings with their swords while the others fought their urges to start a bonfire and nestle cozily beside it, falling asleep, surrounded by dark wilderness.
“Brother, the beast has fled from Young Master Jin’s trap,” uttered emotionlessly Lan Wangji, having approached his brother. Zewu-Jun was graciously standing near a tall branchy tree at the side of the clearing and watching the cultivators roam around and try to find the track of the beast they came to hunt down.
“As expected,” he said knowingly, “having been wounded by it, it is now enraged and will soon come to seek its revenge.”
Lan Wangji nodded agreeingly. They knew it was not the best idea, to put a trap for such a huge beast, as it was clearly not able to hold it back, much less kill it. Nonetheless, they chose not to raise their concerns as this time they were only the guests of the Yunmeng Jiang sect. Jin Ling’s methods differed from those used by their disciples, but he seemed to have quite a lot of fun, nighthunting using all of the means provided to him by his uncle, and there was enough of adult cultivators around to take care of the situation in case something went wrong.
Hearing Jin Ling, Lan Sizhui, and Lan Jingyi happily chattering over the enormous footprints the beast had left along a narrow path in the woods, Lan Xichen smiled. His goal had always been to discipline his disciples so that he could later let them wander around the world without having to worry for their safety. It was achieved by teaching them to control themselves, be careful and aware of their surroundings, and putting as much knowledge into their heads as it was humanly possible. Nevertheless, at such moments he wanted to give them as much freedom as he could, understanding how thousands and thousands of rules of the Gusu Lan sect could impinge on the young minds such as theirs.
He looked at Lan Wangji standing proudly beside him, his face so similar to his own, yet so different at the same time.
“Wangji, where will you go after the nighthunt is over?” he asked inquisitively.
“Don’t know. Let us catch the beast first, then think,” he answered with no emotions colouring his voice.
“I will be glad to see you in Could Recess, but if you have other plans…” Lan Xichen hesitated before smiling with the corners of his lips as he looked at Wei Wuxian, who pretended to teach something extremely valuable to the juniors standing with their mouths gaping, and continuing, “I do not mind either.”
Lan Wangji bowed to him in gratitude, knowing that it was not easy for his brother to let him go and take all of the responsibilities of leading the sect onto his shoulders. Anyway, he did not intend to leave before the beast was dealt with, and Wei Wuxian’s extreme desire to glance at how big and wild it was was only one of many reasons for that.
It was rumoured that the beast was a giant scorpion with a head of a snake coming out of its tail instead of a sting. As tall as four horses stacked atop of each other, it supposedly could kill a negligent passer-by in more than a hundred different ways: crush them by its weight, swallow them completely, strangle them with its wriggling snake body; and those were only the methods mentioned briefly in the tavern of the nearby city by its owner, who was so eager to discuss the beast, the cultivators did not even have to pay him for his tongue to loosen.
Nobody knew where such a beast could come from or where it could possibly be hiding at, as nobody ever lived long enough to see it leave. In any case, tales told by common folk were rarely to be trusted in such circumstances, as quite frequently the beasts that were frolicking around the forests and killing hundreds of men turned out to be mere animals that grew a bit too large in size and scared one or two villagers on their way home. What one misheard, the other one overexaggerated, and so the stories of hellish demon spawns were born to reach the ears of the members of the cultivation sect that was the closest to the infested area.
Experienced cultivators knew not to hope too much to encounter what they were promised, but the juniors still held a youthful lust for adventures, the tales of which they would be able to share with each other afterwards as a part of their competition for the title of the bravest and most talented swordsman. They wandered around the area of the forest not too far away from their seniors and tried to determine what was the beast’s movement pattern, veering, as Wei Wuxian was lazily sitting on the tree branch and pointing with his flute to the spots they should inspect, his leg swinging casually.
Should the beast really be as incredible and mighty as it was described by the villagers, the amount of negative air enveloping the members of the two sects would be overwhelming at best. Despite that, the only thread of threatening energy Lan Xichen felt was the one directed solely at him. It was far too weak to affect him in any way, but its pricking still made him
feel uncomfortable and a bit twitchy, even though he did not display it. The energy was not scattered all over the place and instead bothered only him, which made him think it must not be the beast who was emitting it.
As he was pondering over where this energy could possibly be coming from, he noticed his brother standing quietly, directing all of his attention at a particular spot on the other edge of the circular clearing the cultivators were occupying. He followed his gaze, but could not see what he was staring at.
“What is the matter, Wangji?” he asked.
“I thought I saw someone,” replied Lan Wangji with notes of concern in his voice, only discernible by Lan Xichen.
“Behind that tree?” asked Lan Xichen, seemingly not worrying even a tad.
Lan Wangji nodded, clenching the hilt of Bichen.
Lan Xichen put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head lightly before rising noiselessly up into the air with the intention of flying over to the other side and not scaring away a person that stood there, hiding. His snowy robes and ink-black long hair fluttered in the wind when he suddenly stopped and descended back down, hearing a familiar voice ringing out further in the woods.
“Uncle Jiang! What are you standing here for? I almost didn’t notice you!” yelled Jin Ling, slamming into the tree Lan Xichen previously wanted to approach to stop himself from passing by Jiang Cheng.
Without saying anything, Jiang Cheng came out from behind the tree, his fists clenched, eyes bulging, and lips pouting. He couldn’t make up his mind as to how we could scold his nephew for what he had done, so instead only stared at him, hoping that the stare would be as effective as the words he was now at a loss for.
Jin Ling did not understand why in the world his uncle was angry already since he did not yet do anything to cause this. He did his best to ignore this sudden fit of rage and continued as if nothing happened.
“I was looking for you everywhere! Uncle Jiang, Uncle Wei showed me how we can track the beast’s way starting at my trap. Will you go in search of it with us?” he beamed, not being able to stand still from the excitement that filled him.
“Uncle Wei?” mocked Jiang Cheng, the corner of his lip twitching. “If he is your uncle now, what do you even come to me for? Next time we are in Lotus Pear, why don’t you collect all of your belongings and join him on his journeys instead of staying?” he raged.
Jin Ling’s eyes reddened a bit and lips started to tremble. The situation seemed so unfair to him. Having lost one of the few relatives he had and suddenly having found another one only to be chided for it by the closest person he had, he felt like running away immediately and never speaking to Jiang Cheng again. He was used to his uncle yelling at him left and right, but the topic of family had always been his weak spot, and he knew that Jiang Cheng was well aware of that.
“Maybe I will!” he shouted with a wobbling voice. “If you don’t want to see me in Lotus Pier, you can just say so, you don’t have to look for excuses like uncle Wei!”
Everybody directed their attention to the two yelling at each other. The disciples of the Yunmeng Jiang sect were, of course, long accustomed to such squabbles between their leader and his nephew, but this one in particular seemed to be a tad worse than most of the previous ones.
Fairy ran towards its owner, barking loudly, as it sensed how upset he was. It sat close to Jin Ling’s feet, flattened its ears against its head, and pushed its black snout into his hand in between his trembling fingers.
Jin Ling, being almost on the verge of crying, carefully petted it with his hand and fearlessly looked Jiang Cheng in the eyes.
Looking at them sticking so close to each other in search of support, both confused and distressed, Jiang Cheng felt extremely guilty. He knew that he shouldn’t have said what he had, but it was also incredibly hard for him to admit his mistake, especially in front of so many people that included his own subordinates as well as the prominent cultivators from the Lan sect. He was breathing heavily as the feelings of remorse and spite fought inside of him. As always, spite won.
“Jin Ling! You-”
“Sect Leader Jiang,” interrupted Lan Xichen, appearing out of nowhere beside him. Everybody was so focused on the argument that didn’t even notice when he managed to approach the two. The expression on his face was gentle, yet he was not smiling, feeling it would be completely out of place at the time.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” he repeated to get Jiang Cheng’s attention, “please, let us consider this incident a misunderstanding. Both you and Young Master Jin need some time to cool off, so why don’t you speak again after we finish the nighthunt together?”
Lan Xichen wanted to lay his hand on Jiang Cheng’s shoulder, but it seemed to him that he would get a scorch from how furious he was, so he dared not. He gave Jin Ling a sympathetic look and nodded encouragingly,
taking his chances to persuade at least one of the sides to settle for a temporary peace.
Jin Ling sniffed, trying his best not to let a single tear slip out of his eyes, crossed his hands on the chest and turned away, showing his unwillingness to continue the talk.
“Fine,” roared Jiang Cheng and determinately fled deeper into the forest, not to be bothered by anybody else. Lan Xichen, however, did not agree with his decision, so he followed him, waving his hand for others to stay away. Meanwhile, Wei Wuxian gingerly approached Jin Ling, pushing Lan Wangji to the front as he went to get an obstacle between him and the huge spiritual dog panting at Jin Ling’s feet. He was not yet ready to overcome his fear, but seeing his shijie’s son at such a state was more than he could handle.
“Sect Leader Jiang!” called Lan Xichen, almost catching up with Jiang Cheng. “Please, wait.”
Jiang Cheng stopped abruptly and sighed, still clenching his fists.
“I know that my behaviour was ill-advised, Sect Leader Lan. I apologize that you had to witness it, but I cannot make up for it right now. Maybe, it would be best if you joined your sect members and defeated the beast for the nighthunt and everything about it to finally be over.”
“Sect Leader Jiang’s disciples are all extremely skilled and talented, I am sure that my help is not needed at the moment,” said Lan Xichen consolingly and couldn’t help but let an awkward smile slide onto his face.
Jiang Cheng turned around and faced the only person that had the audacity to follow him. Other cultivators having stayed behind, there was nobody to hold a lantern and illuminate the place, so his face was completely submerged into darkness. Despite that, Lan Xichen still managed to discern what a guilty and upset expression he was wearing. One single ray of moonlight managed to slip through thick branches above, and for a second it seemed like Jiang Cheng’s eyes were shimmering.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” started Lan Xichen again, seeing how Jiang Cheng could not find any suitable words, “lately, I have noticed that something is bothering you. Has anything happened?” Similarly to Wangji’s, his robes possessed a peculiar feature of giving the effect of shining in the darkness, even without a proper light source nearby. His hair descended in soft waves onto his lapels and blew in the late-night breeze. Holding his hands behind his back, he was the epitome of tranquility.
Jiang Cheng had always envied such people and how they never lost control over anything.
“No,” he uttered, raising his head to feel the wind roaming up in the tree branches and rustling the leaves above them.
Lan Xichen was drawn away from gazing onto his tired face by the sudden gust of hateful energy brought about by the wind. It was indeed strong, stronger than what he had expected to find in the forest that night. Immediately he became more alert and reached for the xiao hanging on his waist.
“Seems like we are not alone anymore,” smirked Jiang Cheng, stroking the ring on his index finger.
For a moment, complete silence fell onto the forest. Then the beast emerged.
Should the other cultivators be with them at the moment, Wei Wuxian and all of the younger disciples would be glad to learn that at least the tales of it having a hideous snake head instead of a sting were true. Its eyes were dangerously gleaming in the darkness as it menacingly approached the two sect leaders. Its size was truly terrifying, even though it was quite difficult to determine if it was really as tall as rumoured. The cloud of resentful energy it produced was so overpowering that both men were taken aghast. It was impossible to understand how such a large beast with this much dark power managed to sneak up on them.
Not taking even a second of delay, Lan Xichen grabbed Liebing. The sound, cold and clear, enveloped everything around them, and the beast immediately staggered on its way to attacking him. Lan Xichen took a few careful steps back, still playing his xiao. The beast roared and squelched because of the melody piercing it right to its essence, but still followed him. It would not be a difficult fight for the leader of the Lan sect, seeing how he was able to take control of the creature at the very start of it, but it wasn’t meant for him to finish off the monster that night.
With a low growl, Jiang Cheng made an abrupt movement of his hand, and a neon-purple whip traced its pattern, hitting the ground beneath his feet and making a dent in the soft undergrowth. The beast turned its ugly head to the startling sound and took a giant step towards Lan Xichen, wanting to escape the newly emerged threat. With no hesitation at all, it sent his tail with a snake’s mouth wide-open towards Jiang Cheng in an attempt to drive him back.
Engulfed in the ghostly sound of the flute, Jiang Cheng glanced in the direction the beast was advancing to, and his body moved without him even having to make a conscious effort. He dodged the bite of the giant snake, almost completely dropping to the ground, and instantly rose up to press on the creature. He hit the ground with Zidian a few times on both
sides of the monster, scaring it and not letting it use any other route to escape.
Disturbed by the flute’s lethargic melody and blinded by Zidian’s glare, the beast cried again in despair before Jiang Cheng raised his whip one last time, swaying it high in the air for the hit to gain force, and landed it with a crack dead on the center of the beast, cutting both of its heads together with its body into two perfectly even parts. Lan Xichen hurriedly jumped away, hearing how the tree behind him snaped in half, also stricken by the whip.
Still holding Liebing in his hand, and for some reason holding his breath, he glanced at Jiang Cheng. His heart was pounding loudly as he continued looking, enchanted by the sight.
Zidian glared with vivid purple light and crackled, sparks flying all around its owner. Even the fresh nigh air seemed to feel crisp as small flashes of lightening pierced it here and there, making it impossible to even approach Jiang Cheng. With his face austere, chin slightly protruding upwards, and eyes full of resentment and haughtiness towards the fallen opponent, he stood there, amid the dark chilly woods, illuminated by the ghastly glow of his spiritual weapon. His combed hair seemed to be the colour of a ripe dark plum while his face resembled a light and tender thistle, in addition to its paleness remaining unmoved and, thus, making him look more like a ghost than human. Without moving his head, he slowly turned his eyes to Lan Xichen who was breaking a certain rule of his own sect, still staring at him, and pierced him with his scornful glance in return.
After what seemed to Lan Xichen as eternity, but, in reality, turned out to be a mere few seconds, they were approached by a noisy crowd of cultivators, rushing from the camp to the sounds of a battle. Hurrying at the head of the group was Lan Wangji who understood something was wrong hearing the first notes of his brother’s xiao ringing in the distance.
“Brother, have you been hurt?” he asked, examining the destructive aftermath of the whip’s work around them.
“I am completely unharmed, thanks to Sect Leader Jiang,” answered Lan Xichen slowly, taking his time to regain his composure. He added, still looking at Jiang Cheng, “Sect Leader Jiang, I am much obliged for your help.”
Holding Liebing, he locked his hands in front of himself and took a deep bow to Jiang Cheng, staying in this position for a few more seconds than needed.
“Wah, how scary,” whispered Lan Jingyi either to himself or to Lan Sizhui, who, as always, was standing not too far from him. They were afraid to even look at Jiang Cheng at the moment.
Jin Ling only pouted more, throwing furtive looks at the body of the beast he wanted to catch so badly and at his uncle who was at the centre of everybody’s attention. He was proud more than disappointed, but did not want to admit it even to himself.
Fairy happily wagged its tail a few steps behind him.
Jiang Cheng’s whip vanished, and he bowed to Lan Xichen in return.
“Zewu-Jun has nothing to thank me for. The nighthunt was a joint venture, and both of the sides have put in an equal amount of work,” he concluded, straightening himself up.
“Then it is my delight to pronounce this nighthunt successful,” said Lan Xichen for everybody to hear. “Now the Lan sect will take its leave and-”
“We shall all return to Lotus Pier and rest. Let us leave long travels as well as cleaning up the mess for tomorrow, Sect Leader Lan,” said Jiang Cheng in a tone that did not condone any dispute.
“Then we will avail ourselves of your hospitality once again,” yielded Lan Xichen and smiled politely, lowering his gaze.
Wei Wuxian sighed.
“He could have at least been more respectful and not interrupted Zewu-Jun,” he said for only the juniors around him to hear. They happened to be shielding him from Jin Ling’s Fairy who was peacefully minding its own business.
“Mn,” agreed Lan Wangji, and the others actively nodded, as always devotedly supporting the opinion of their seniors.
Everybody having departed in the direction of Lotus Pier, Jin Ling was the last one to leave the scene. First, because he had to drag away Fairy that already started nibbling on one of the beast’s many legs, and, second, because he did not want to walk in depressing silence all the way home. After all, his place was always beside his uncle. He decided to keep his distance and lagged behind on purpose, but no matter how hard he tried, there was still another person that just would not leave.
Wei Wuxian leaned against a tree a few meters away from him and toyed with Chenqing in his hand.
“Are you still angry at him, Rulan?” he asked quietly.
Jin Ling hmphed, hearing his courtesy name being used.
“Don’t be. You know how stupid your uncle is sometimes, and he’s generally not very good with words. Don’t learn from the worst, learn from the best,” he grinned and pushed himself up from the tree. “And call me your martial uncle, that way he will not find fault with you. Now, send your dog away, and let’s go.”
Jin Ling stood, not granting Wei Wuxian his request, and waited.
“A-Ling, don’t be like that!” shouted his martial uncle and stamped his foot onto the damp grass.
Jin Ling smiled mischievously and slapped Fairy’s butt a few times.
“Go, find uncle Jiang. Follow him all the time until he gives you food,” he murmured to it, and the dog sprinted off, obeying its master’s command.
The dog having increased the distance between them significantly, Wei Wuxian came to Jin Ling and pulled him with one arm around his neck right into his bear hug.
“Now that is my shizhi! I will treat you with my favourite pie when we return.”
“For this,” grumbled Jin Ling, struggling in his grip, “you will have to make it at least two, Wei shishu.”
Chapter 3: Unreadable
Down in Lotus Pier all of the guests were let back into the rooms they were residing in the day before the nighthunt and fed richly to commemorate the hunt’s successful outcome. Even though most of the cultivators clearly understood that their contribution to the nighthunt was close to nonexistent, nobody refused the late-night dinner or, as some called it, the early-morning breakfast.
Along with spicy, but, nevertheless, quite delicious food, they were treated with the news that what the leader of the Jiang sect meant by “tomorrow” was, actually, the day after tomorrow. The nighthunt ended almost at dawn, and by the time they arrived at Lotus Pier, the sun had already risen. It was only natural for them to assume that they would take a short rest before setting off for their journey home, but Wei Wuxian was kind enough to explain to them that it was not how they did it here, in Yunmeng. Sect leader’s guests came a long way to participate in the nighthunt and helped the local dwellers by making the roads safe again, so the least he could do was express his gratitude in such a way. It goes without saying that nobody dared to disagree.
Despite his body being tired and mind telling him he was long late according to his sleep schedule, Lan Xichen felt like neither eating nor resting. He looked out of the window of the vast guest residence he was granted. It was already light outside and birds chirped loudly in the crowns of the trees growing in the inner yard. He hanged Shuoyue on his waist and ventured outside to enjoy the beauties of the region he bitterly regretted visiting so rarely.
He strolled down a wooden bridge that stretched over a small pond with countless lotus flowers blooming on its surface, remains of morning dew covering their light-pink petals, and marveled at how different everything here was from misty and brisk Cloud Recess where he and his brother grew up. There it had always been eternally peaceful and predictable, calm and lofty, as not even animals dared to disturb the ever-present air of tranquility. Here he never knew what expected him behind the next corner. The nature of the region and the city of Yunmeng looked almost exotic and breathtaking in their untamedness. It seemed to him that this really was the only place that could bring up such people as Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng. They went through their lives like wild mountain streams, not contemplating, not doubting, acting on their impulses and doing the way they saw fit. Even when looking back or faced with regret, it was not for the foreign eyes, but only for themselves. Never did they let out any word about what they really cared for or were bitter about, instead holding it deep inside of them, carrying it in their proud hearts.
Lan Xichen smiled with the corners of his lips, unwillingly comparing himself and Lan Wangji to the people who called this place home. They were the extremities, two different sides of one coin, but, perhaps, such people really got on best.
“When I see such a smile on Zewu-Jun’s face, I can rest assured that he is pleased with the time spent in Lotus Pier,” said Wei Wuxian confidently and grinned. He was squatting down on the broad steps leading to the clear surface of the pond. Jin Ling was submerging his feet into the lukewarm water beside him.
Lan Xichen approached the skillfully carved railing of the bridge, his hands as always locked behind his back, and smiled again at Wei Wuxian.
“I enjoy it here a lot. Perhaps, even too much. This feeling always makes leaving incredibly difficult,” he replied with a meditative look on his face.
“Then why not stay here for longer? Uncle Jiang will always find a room and some time to spare for Zewu-Jun,” said Jin Ling and quietly yawned, exhausted by the nighthunt’s occurrences and lack of sleep.
“Maybe, someday,” answered Lan Xichen kindly. After a moment of silence, he inquired, “Is Young Master Ling feeling better now?”
Jin Ling nodded and splashed the water in the pond with his dangling foot.
“I know it might look strange for Zewu-Jun, but my uncle…” he inhaled more air, struggling to utter what he had in mind, before continuing, “he is not that bad. At least, not always. I don’t know what got onto him, but it will not apply to the Lan sect in any way.”
Wei Wuxian beamed proudly and dragged Jin Ling closer, squeezing his forearm.
“A-Ling is right. Sect Leader Lan should not worry about Jiang Cheng’s temper influencing his stay at all. He will come around sooner or later. He always does. And if he doesn’t,” he squinted his eyes threateningly, “I am here to help him come to his senses. After all, that’s what family is for.”
Lan Xichen looked down, his face full of understanding and contentment.
“And Wangji is…?” he asked, not really intending to finish the question.
“Sleeping, of course,” waved his hand Wei Wuxian. “He still has half an hour or so left before this creepy habit of his will tell him to rise and shine.”
Having made sure his brother was fine, Lan Xichen had only one more thing that bothered him at the moment, so he directed his thoughtful gaze at Wei Wuxian.
“Young Master Wei, I wanted to ask you…” he started, but lost his confidence mid-sentence. Instead of continuing he looked at Jin Ling, who, having been listening to them only moments ago, was already peacefully snoring on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, clenching the hilt of Suihua in one hand, and an unfinished pie in the other one.
“Yes, Zewu-Jun? Is there something I can do for you?” urged him Wei Wuxian with enthusiasm.
Lan Xichen shook his head slowly, reserving the question. Maybe for later, maybe for himself.
“If Sect Leader Jiang is awake at the moment, I will pay him a visit. He may be too busy for us to speak during the day,” he said instead.
“He is resting in the pavilion on the other side of the residence, contemplating about his behaviour. At least I hope so. Does Zewu-Jun want me to show him the way?” asked Wei Wuxian. He did not move a single muscle of his body and sat in quite an uncomfortable position with a hunched back, afraid to wake up Jin Ling.
“There is no need. Please, take care of Young Master Jin and have some rest as well, Young Master Wei,” said Lan Xichen and bowed respectfully before departing.
Wei Wuxian watched him leave, awkwardly covering his eyes from the bright morning sun. Jin Ling produced a quiet growl of displeasure, so he hurried to move the hand back where it belonged. He knew it was too early for the question to be voiced. The time would come later.
On his way to the pavilion, Lan Xichen barely encountered any other people. The cultivators of the Yunmeng Jiang sect rarely woke up so early, so it was uncommon for somebody to practice at such an hour. He stumbled across one of his own disciples, who could neither fall asleep nor fully wake up and instead only sat all alone and played on his guqin. It did not take Lan Xichen long to recognize the sounds of his music and determine that it was Lan Sizhui. Not wanting to wake anybody up, he carefully plucked the strings, barely even touching them, but the melody was still as precise and smooth as it had always been when he would be playing in Cloud Recess. Zewu-Jun complimented him and advised to try and meditate if he could not fall asleep, to which Lan Sizhui readily agreed.
The pavilion stood solitary amid the clear waters of the lake, with only one narrow wooden bridge leading to it. Fluttering in the warm wind, ribbons of different hues of purple hung down from the beams while semi-transparent curtains protected the inside from the sunrays. The figure inside was sitting with its back to him, facing the view of the placid lake with only a few small ferries crossing it.
“Sect Leader Lan,” uttered the figure, still looking into the distance.
Lan Xichen entered the pavilion with careful gracious steps, not a single wooden floorboard creaking beneath his feet.
Jiang Cheng turned around and offered him a seat at the opposite side of the table that stood in the middle of the pavilion. Lan Xichen sat down and adjusted his robes, never disregarding his appearance.
“I apologize for bothering the Sect Leader. I do not have any pressing matters, so I shall leave if Sect Leader Jiang is willing to be alone now,” he said despite already having taken a seat.
Jiang Cheng offered him a plate of lotus seeds he had been mindlessly peeling while sitting in the pavilion for some time, the expression on his face milder than the last time the two saw each other.
“Please, be my guest, Zewu-Jun. I do not want to limit you in any way when you are visiting Lotus Pier. You are free to go wherever you like whenever you want,” he said.
Lan Xichen nodded and accepted his offering, taking a few seeds from the small porcelain plate decorated by lotus ornaments.
Hearing quiet breathing coming from below the table, Lan Xichen looked down and saw Jin Ling’s spiritual dog sleeping tight beside Jiang Cheng. It laid its head on one of his feet. He did not seem like he wanted it to move away.
Following Lan Xichen’s gaze, Jiang Cheng smiled with the corners of his lips and rolled his eyes, scratching the dog behind its black floppy ear with his slender pale fingers.
“It followed me all around the place and I could not get rid of it no matter what I did. It has always preferred Jin Ling over me, but today it seems to have set as its goal not leaving me alone for even a second.” His smile faded, and he spoke again. “Sect Leader Lan, I am truly sorry for what you had to see in the forest. My behaviour was inappropriate. I hope it will not diminish the relationships between the Lan sect and the Jiang sect. I also hope you will be able to forget this incident,” he said calmly.
Zewu-Jun looked at him, and their eyes met.
“It is not my task to judge if Sect Leader Jiang’s behaviour was wrong, so, please, do not trouble yourself with such thoughts. We are here to support the Jiang sect, be it on the nighthunt or beyond it. If Sect Leader Jiang wants me to feel comfortable, then my only wish would be for him to settle his relations with his nephew. We never wanted to disturb the peace in Lotus Pier with our arrival.”
“It is only fair for you to ask for that,” agreed Jiang Cheng and petted Fairy’s huge head that was now resting on his knees. The dog was drooling a bit on his neat clothing, but he did not mind.
“In fact, I came to Sect Leader Jiang with a proposal. I humbly ask for him to lend me his ears and see if it might interest him,” said Lan Xichen and laid his right hand atop his left hand on the table before him, not saying a word before Jiang Cheng agreed.
“It will be my honour,” replied Jiang Cheng with a nod.
“I understand that Sect Leader’s way of cultivation and of seeing the world is different from mine, but I cannot help but worry for his well-being,” started Lan Xichen carefully, checking if Jiang Cheng got upset over his words. No negative reaction followed, so he continued. “No matter the cause, Sect Leader Jiang seems to worry a lot lately. I am not here to annoy him with questions, of course, only to offer a helping hand. Even if Sect Leader Jiang is not experiencing any major inconveniences concerned with his accumulated emotional and physical exhaustion at the moment, the consequences of the qi deviation…” he gulped, gasped for air, and forcefully continued a bit louder to stop his voice from shaking, “the consequences might be dire. The last thing I would want to see is another person suffering from it because of my noninterference.”
“And Zewu-Jun’s proposal is…?” asked Jiang Cheng, his eyes opened wide and voice more curious than angry or displeased.
“The song of clarity. I could play it for Sect Leader Jiang once in a certain period of time if the offer does not seem too impudent,” finished Lan Xichen, looking up with tiny sparks of hope twinkling in his amber eyes.
“Could Sect Leader Lan play it on the xiao for me?” asked Jiang Cheng, turning away nonchalantly.
“I tend to play it on guqin, but if Sect Master Jiang prefers the xiao, then I will consider his wish,” replied Lan Xichen, his face lighting up.
“Then so be it. When shall we start?”
“Why not start today?” asked Lan Xichen, gently stroking Liebing.
Jiang Cheng laughed sonorously and leaned back against the wooden pillar behind him.
“Is Zewu-Jun afraid I will reconsider and refuse his offer if given the time? I would not take such a risk after I have already agreed out loud.”
“If Sect Leader Jiang says so, then I dare not have even a sliver of a doubt,” said Lan Xichen softly and took the white jade xiao in his hands, getting ready to play. In a matter of seconds, his weariness after the nighthunt seemed to disappear completely.
With a delicate musical instrument caressed by his fingers, snowy white robes of outmost cleanliness lightly tugged by the breaths of wind, and a cloud patterned ribbon coiling around his forehead and sliding down with the waves of his hair, he looked completely out of place. He eclipsed everything around him, and the surrounding looked duller when juxtaposed to his presence. And so, the gaze of an observer could only be directed at him, as nothing else was able to compete with the sight.
Jiang Cheng sat straight and closed his eyes. It was time for him to meditate.
Chapter 4: Intense
A few months have passed and not a single session of meditation was called off by either of the sides. What Lan Xichen defined as a “certain period of time” at first turned out to be two weeks due to him worrying that he might be too persistent, then gradually dwindled to one week, and finally ended up being only five days. As much as Jiang Cheng tried to persuade him not to come so often, worrying that he had to travel from Gusu to Yunmeng and back each time they arranged for a meditation, Lan Xichen was unshaken, seeing how Jiang Cheng did not really mean what he said. He wasn’t a very good liar and only said it out of courtesy, perhaps, not even trying to sound convincing.
Each time Lan Xichen mounted his sword to go to Lotus Pier, his disciples circled him in the yard and wished him good luck on his way there. They strongly believed their sect leader to be the most righteous and unselfish person to ever exist and were simply lost in admiration to him. Lately he tried to spend more time with them and dedicated every free minute he had to their teaching so that they wouldn’t miss their Huanguang-Jun so much. As Zewu-Jun was known to be an extremely kindhearted and gentle person, it did not take him long to make them cling to him every time he had to depart to play the song of clarity to the leader of the Jiang sect.
As much as Lan Xichen enjoyed staying in Lotus Pier, he still always tried to return as soon as he could, remembering that in his dear Cloud Recess there were these younglings that demanded constant attention and care. He would often hurry back without even giving the sect leader the honour of dining with him.
This time was no different.
He hung Liebing back on his waist, noting with delight that Jiang Cheng seemed much calmer after their regular meetings. He would still roll his eyes in irritation when Jin Ling suddenly barged in with his dog at his feet and a stupid question on his tongue and interrupt their session, but it was just a part of who he was. Notwithstanding, he never let himself repeat the nighthunt incident.
Zewu-Jun wanted to bid farewell and leave so as to get to Gusu before the sunset, but Jiang Cheng called to him, seeing how he had almost fled the main hall already.
“I know that Sect Master Lan is incredibly busy and already makes me a great favour by coming to Lotus Pier so often, but there was one more thing I wanted to ask of him,” he said, still sitting in his lotus throne on the dais.
Zewu-Jun turned around with overt curiosity in his eyes.
“I am anxious to hear what it might be,” he uttered.
“Jin Ling prepared some tea for Zewu-Jun and really wanted him to stay for a little while longer. Between the two of us, this child has never previously tried to do something for others out of his own volition, so I thought this opportunity could not be missed. Is there any chance that Zewu-Jun will find another hour to spend in Lotus Pier before departing? I am afraid, I will not be able to join in, but Jin Ling will surely keep the Sect Leader company.”
“If that pleases Sect Leader Jiang, then I will not refuse it this time,” bowed deeply Lan Xichen.
A sect disciple entered, greeted him politely, and proceeded to lead him to the chambers in which Jin Ling was awaiting their arrival.
The youth already squatted at the table behind a beautifully painted screen. His dog sat at the door as if guarding the room from intruders. It barked playfully when Lan Xichen entered.
“Zewu-Jun,” greeted him Jin Ling, bowing down with the sword in his locked hands. “Please, take a seat here, I will arrange everything. Why isn’t uncle Jiang with Zewu-Jun? Is he going to be late?”
“Sect Leader Jiang is unable to take part in the ceremony, Young Master Jin,” replied Lan Xichen, confused by Jin Ling not knowing about that.
Jin Ling stood with a teapot lid in one hand and glanced at Lan Xichen.
“Did he…? How unfair!” he muttered indignantly.
Remembering who sat before him, he pulled himself together and continued brewing the tea, annoyed at his uncle’s behaviour.
While waiting, Lan Xichen looked at a small exquisite object lying on his side of the table.
“Young Master Jin, could it be that this is one of Jiang sect’s clarity bells?” he asked, touching it gingerly.
“Yes, it is! Does Zewu-Jun like it?” asked Jin Ling in return, discarding the first brew and preparing the next one.
The bell looked fragile and sophisticated, with lotus petals of extreme detail carved on its surface. It was similar to the bells worn by Jiang sect disciples, but looked much more intricate and very carefully put together. When shook, it produced a clear sound that was pleasing to the ear, and, as known by many, due to the abundance of spiritual force inside, could easily clear the mind of its owner and help them regain their balance. Strangely enough, this one in particular had light-blue tassel attached to it instead of a purple one usually worn in Yunmeng.
“It may very well be the most beautiful one I have ever seen,” replied Lan Xichen, involuntarily starting twirling the tassel around his finger.
“What a relief! Uncle Jiang was worried Zewu-Jun would not see it fit,” said Jin Ling with enthusiasm and offered Lan Xichen a small cup of clear steaming tea.
Lan Xichen looked at him, his eyes testifying that he absolutely did not understand what Jin Ling was talking about.
Jin Ling mirrored his facial expression, his hand having stopped half the way to the bell on the table.
“Did he not even…? I…” he lowered his eyelids and let out a tired sigh. “I am sorry. Sect Leader Lan, this is a gift from uncle Jiang. He really appreciates your help and feels obliged to express his gratitude in this way. This clarity bell was made specifically for you, so not only does it hold more power than the regular one, but it also is a sign that you are a friend of the Jiang sect and to be respected all around these lands.”
Cursing his uncle for the fact that he was the one who had to say all of this, he took the bell and offered it to Zewu-Jun on the palms of his hands.
Lan Xichen silently took it, the long light-blue tassel so soft to the touch dangling as he held it. He thought that he could not accept such a gift, but Jin Ling was looking at him with eyes so full dignity for the quality of the object entrusted onto him, that he simply could not utter the words of refusal. After all, it was not the youngster’s decision to offer it.
He cupped the bell in his hands and bowed. After he hung it on the belt on his waist beside Liebing, he took the cup with tea that was now acceptable to drink, and made a small sip.
“Was there anything that Young Master Jin wanted to ask me while I am staying in Lotus Pier?” he asked, wanting to show how appreciative he was of the gift. He remembered that Jiang Cheng said something about Jin Ling wanting him to stay, and assumed it was for some particular reason.
Jin Ling’s eyes rounded in astonishment as it sounded as if he once again did not know of something necessary to understand the meaning of the question. Having realized the reason, he clenched his fist under the table, similarly to how his uncle would do it, and forced himself to smile.
“It is good that Zewu-Jun asked. There was this one thing about, eh, hm… about guqin that I do not quite… do not quite comprehend…” he began. His attempt was so feeble that was it not for how Lan Xichen always rejoiced over the younger generation seeking his wisdom, he would definitely understand that something was wrong.
“How interesting! What is it?” he asked, carefully sipping the tea.
“Well, um… so, there are these strings, and…”
Fairy yawned with its mouth open wide and stretched its front legs before lying down. It felt like letting down its guard for once.
Taking such a valuable and thoughtful gift, Lan Xichen, of course, was not able to not give anything in return. Being in Cloud Recess, he meandered around the disciple housings and chambers of the residence for the next day, musing over what he could give as a gift as worthy as the one he had received. His disciples followed him like little ducklings follow their mother, thinking that he had a complicated dilemma on his mind and wanting to be there when he would finally ask them for help.
Since the clarity bell was a very symbolic object for the Jiang sect, the only other thing of similar significance he could think of was the Lan forehead ribbon, but it was not even an option worth mentioning. Some sect members would consider even thinking about this to be unacceptable. Discarding it, he tried to remember what the leader on the Jiang sect liked.
The young disciples noticed the troubled face he tended to have every time he was thinking deeply about something, and exchanged worried glances.
It was certainly dogs, he thought to himself. Dogs and fighting. Also eating traditional Yunmeng dishes. For sure, not having to deal with other cultivators’ clans and being able to stay in Lotus Pier, watching over his sect. What he enjoyed occupying himself with while staying was training, spending time with Jin Ling on the nighthunts, some more trainings, and…
Suddenly, Lan Xichen’s face brightened up. He abruptly stood up from the bench, and his disciples stood up with him. They waited for him to finally say something to them, but all he did was leave them hastily without any explanations.
Lan Jingyi sighed disappointedly and followed the others to the library pavilion. There was nothing else for them to do at this time of the day other than study.
A few days later, Zewu-Jun yet again arrived in Lotus Pier, carrying a light oblong wooden box in his hands. The box looked elegant, but it was difficult to guess what was in it.
He came across Jiang Cheng in the training yard, exactly when he was teaching his disciples the sword stances. They repeated the movements in unison while he corrected every motion that seemed wrong to him.
“You, raise your hand higher! Are you holding your sword or a plough?” he yelled at one of them, hitting with his stiffened hand the shoulders and legs of those who stood too awkwardly or did not follow the guide with enough precision.
His disciples did not whine or cry for him to stop, only thoroughly obeyed his commands as best as they could.
Lan Xichen did not want to interrupt their lesson, but Jiang Cheng had already noticed him arrive.
“Sect Leader Lan,” he said and bowed, “I am sorry to keep you waiting, but I need to finish the training before I can join you in the great hall.”
He threw a quick glance at the bell hanging on Lan Xichen’s waist and hastily turned away so that his guest wouldn’t notice. However, the white box in Zewu-Jun’s hands immediately drew his attention back, and he started examining it with interest.
“It goes without saying, Sect Leader Jiang,” replied Zewu-Jun.
Jiang Cheng was not able to hide the curiosity in his eyes, so Lan Xichen spoke again before he got the chance to ask anything.
“This is just a little something I brought for Sect Leader Jiang,” he said and smiled, his eyes adopting the shape of crescents.
Jiang Cheng gulped and nodded. It was so obvious that he wanted to immediately find out what it was, but since he asked nothing, Lan Xichen just proceeded to the great hall, not to disturb the training with his presence. He expected having to wait for at least half an hour, but Jiang Cheng joined him about five minutes later.
“I sincerely hope the training is over not because of me arriving so early today,” remorsefully commented Lan Xichen, sitting at one of the tables in the hall.
“Absolutely not. We were… already finishing anyway,” murmured Jiang Cheng and halted a few steps into the room as if musing about something. He then took a seat on his throne, unable to hide his excitement.
Zewu-Jun stood up and approached the dais. He held up the box in his hands and bowed his head ever so slightly, presenting his gift to Jiang Cheng.
Jiang Cheng hesitated before extremely carefully opening the lid. Inside on a soft white pillow laid a long xiao made of lavender jasper. It looked unusual due to the colour of the stone being uneven and at places pierced by white and yellowish veins.
Confused, he did not find anything he could say to such a gift, and only took the xiao out of the box with his slightly trembling fingers, for some reason being infinitely scared to drop it on the floor. It looked like it would instantly break to pieces from taking such a fall.
“I was reflecting a lot upon the gift I could give to Sect Leader Jiang, and having remembered all of the sessions we have conducted so far, I realized that the best gift I could give to him was this,” said Lan Xichen proudly.
It was true that he had put much thought into the gift he decided give to the leader of the Jiang sect. After carefully considering all of the possibilities, he arrived at the conclusion that xaio was indeed the most meaningful and symbolic of all of them, as he intended it to become his display of trust, sincerity, and care. Despite the instrument being so similar to his own, it actually was only recently created by skillful masters specifically for this occasion. The material, the carvings, and even the shape was chosen by Lan Xichen personally with him taking into account peculiar personality and likes of its future owner.
Jiang Cheng smiled awkwardly and inspected the instrument in his hands.
“Now that I can learn to play myself, I will not have to bother Sect Leader Lan and ask him to come to the sessions…” he mumbled unconfidently.
“That is certainly a possibility,” replied Lan Xichen, still smiling, “but the song of clarity is infamous for its difficulty, so I wouldn’t expect that to happen in the nearest future. If the Sect Leader is willing, I could try and teach him to play something, be the moment suitable.”
“If I am willing?” asked Jiang Cheng and raised his eyes from the xiao. “I thought, Zewu-Jun gave me this gift so that I could learn how to play and…” he finished uncertainly, not knowing what was it exactly that he wanted to say.
“I only thought Sect Leader Jiang enjoyed these meetings, and wanted to give him something that would remind him of them. It also seems like Sect Leader Jiang finds pleasure in listening to the sound of xiao, so I would be eager to teach him if he decided that he wanted to play on his own someday,” said Lan Xichen, a little upset by Jiang Cheng’s rection.
Jiang Cheng positioned the xiao as if he wanted to try and blow in it, but then decided not to. He noted that it was quite nice to the touch, the stone being smooth and cool. He put it back into the box and took the box from Lan Xichen’s hands, bowing deeply.
“Thank you, Sect Leader Lan, I will treasure it. I don’t think I am ready to learn yet, but, please, know that I view this as a very thoughtful and useful present.”
“Does… Sect Leader Jiang really like it?” asked Zewu-Jun, unconsciously tugging on the bell on his waist, unconvinced by his words.
“Its beauty is unparalleled and it is remarkably strong as a spiritual weapon. Much to my displeasure, it would simply be disrespectful towards such an instrument if I used it before giving it a proper name,” answered Jiang Cheng and smiled, this time more sincerely. There was kindness in his eyes, so it seemed like he did not make up what he was saying anymore.
Lan Xichen sighed with relief. When it came to Jiang Cheng, one could never be sure of what his reaction would be to anything he was presented with, at least if it was not puppies he was gifted.
“Shall we begin the session then?” he asked.
“It is high time,” replied Jiang Cheng. He went back to his throne and sat down, putting the box close to him.
As their meetings passed, they gifted each other a few more other things, though, less significant than the clarity bell and the xiao.
Chapter 5: Charming
Lan Xichen knew that he might not get another opportunity like this in a very long time. It was quite a lucky coincidence that Wei Wuxian just happened to be visiting Lotus Pier again when he himself felt like he could not keep the unanswered questions in him any longer.
“Young Master Wei, may I take a few minutes of your time?” he asked, running into him near the same pond they spoke at a few months back.
“Of course, Zewu-Jun. I am all ears,” answered Wei Wuxian and curiously peeked at Lan Xichen’s worried face.
“I wanted to speak to you about… Sect Leader Jiang. If you have nothing against it.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, Zewu-Jun, but doesn’t one of the Lan sect core rules prohibit discussing others behind their backs?” asked Wei Wuxian mockingly.
Lan Xichen barely ever felt like the rules of his sect were unfair or obliging them hindered him in any way, but it was really starting to become a much bigger problem when the outsiders knew of them as well.
“It looks like I have been exposed,” he said and let out a nervous laugh. “But if you know me well, Young Master Wei, you realize that I would not have asked, had it not been something of utmost importance.”
“That is true,” agreed Wei Wuxian. “I will answer your question with all honesty and I promise not to tell anyone of your secret,” he said and jokingly raised three fingers as if taking an oath.
“Very well. Did something happen to Sect Leader…” Lan Xichen stopped mid-sentence and shook his head – no, that was not it. “Did I do anything to Sect Leader Jiang?” he tried again. “Did I say something insulting? Was it that he considered some of my actions unacceptable for some reason?”
Wei Wuxian frowned in an exaggerated manner and put a finger to his lips.
“I cannot think of anything Zewu-Jun could possibly do to offend Jiang Cheng, only the other way around. What makes Zewu-Jun think something like that has ever happened?”
Lan Xichen sighed. There was no other possibility for him to get the answer he so desperately needed other than sharing his observations. It was incredibly hard for him to partake in a conversation of this sort, but he managed to persuade himself that he was doing it for the greater good.
“I noticed how Sect Leader Jiang was looking at me. It might be nothing and I might worry for no reason, but I felt like he was deeply insulted by my mere presence. He just looked so enraged and unhappy. It happened a few times, and each time I felt the same resentment coming from him. Unfortunately, I cannot arrive at any conclusion as to what makes him behave like this without any help from the outside.”
“So, Sect Leader Lan is telling me that Jiang Cheng has been staring at him constantly, looking like he is on the edge of bursting?” concluded briefly Wei Ying.
Lan Xichen did not answer as this paraphrasing of what he had said seemed too crude to agree to.
“Well,” blurted Wie Wuxian, not really needing any answer at all, and stuffed his mouth with a bunch of lotus seeds before continuing, “then he must have fancied you.”
“I beg your pardon?” asked Lan Xichen dumbfoundedly. Wei Wuxian found it incredibly amusing and thought that never before had he seen the leader of the Gusu Lan sect having such an odd expression on his face.
“I said that he had taken a liking to Zewu-Jun,” he explained, taking pity on his interlocutor. “But he is probably so undecisive in his attraction that he just struggles with it all the time, and it is reflected in his appearance.”
“But…” stumbled Lan Xichen, failing to finish his utterance.
“He has always been like that as a child – too proud to go the easy way. Always pretends not to care for something he wants for himself so that others would not notice his weakness. Some people just prefer to suffer, I guess. Although, I must admit, never before have I seen him this agitated about something.”
“But…” ventured Lan Xichen again, but still wasn’t able to find any suitable words.
“But what do I know?” laughed suddenly Wei Wuxian. “I haven’t been beside him for so many years, it’s not like he couldn’t have changed during this time, right?”
Lan Xichen did not know if he was to protest or quietly sigh at such a remark.
“Please, Sect Leader Lan, disregard what I said if it makes you feel better. In any case, there is no person that can give you the right answer apart from Jiang Cheng himself, so if he is not talking… You can always make him,” said Wei Wuxian instructively and grinned.
Lan Xichen stood silently and kept looking at Wei Wuxian who was still nonchalantly stuffing his mouth with peeled lotus seeds. He had heard his every word but still somehow felt as if nothing made sense to him. He was confused, but very quickly his confusion started to evolve into something else, something restless and almost raging. All this time he was worried sick that he somehow offended Jiang Cheng, that he was careless enough to say or do something unforgivable, something that made this person hate him so much that it was difficult for Jiang Cheng to be in the same room with him. He would certainly have called this situation ridiculous, had he not spent so many hours contemplating on his own attitude and behaviour because of all this.
“Just give it a try,” said Wei Ying, tired of Lan Xichen standing there, unable to utter a word to him, and pointed to the entrance to the great hall. “He’s in his quarters now, reading one of the books Sect Leader Lan gave him.”
Lan Xichen thought that he would try. There was no point in beating around the bush anymore. After all, he wasn’t sure if he should believe Wei Wuxian. On the one hand, he would gain absolutely nothing by lying about this, on the other hand though, he could still not be trusted so easily. The only natural solution to this problem was speaking to Jiang Cheng, and Lan Xichen already regretted not having done it earlier. Maybe, it would’ve made his life much, much easier.
Not stopping for any distractions on his way, he rushed inside to find Jiang Cheng and finally clarify the relationships between them. He was in such a hurry that he even forgot to thank Wei Wuxian for his help which was something the latter one never expected would happen.
His heart skipped a beat when he finally came across Jiang Cheng’s figure resting with a book in his hand in his private chambers. He took a few deep breaths, seemingly being able to calm down considerably, and entered without even a knock or a cough.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” he thundered, startling Jiang Cheng, “I came here to talk. I hope you will be able to spare me a minute of your time as I consider the topic I want to discuss to be of great significance.”
Jiang Cheng threw a puzzled glance at him, but still closed his book and carefully put it away. He would’ve agreed to whatever Zewu-Jun wanted to do anyway, but seeing him so agitated really convinced him it was a matter that was not to be taken lightly.
“Of course. Whatever it is that Sect Leader Lan wanted to discuss, I will be glad to provide my assistance and insight,” he replied and motioned for Lan Xichen to sit down with him, but Xichen couldn’t be less bothered by that, so he remained standing.
“It is about the feelings of a certain person present in the room. Lately I’ve been experiencing… difficulties understanding them, so I decided to come and ask directly. Please, tell me, Sect Leader Jiang, what do you think of me? I cannot help but become frustrated with your behaviour and… find myself cornered. Is there, perhaps, something you would like to tell me? Something, that would make it all clear to me? I just find continuing like this… really hard.”
Immediately after saying that Lan Xichen felt easier already. Even though he did not yet get any explanation whatsoever, venting about the feeling of frustration that accompanied him for quite some time now made his head clearer and his heart lighter. Now he only needed to hear what Jiang Cheng had to tell him, and everything would fall back on its places, everything would be easy and definite for him, just the way it should be.
Jiang Cheng’s shoulders suddenly curved forward. With a brooding expression overtaking his face, he fixed his eyes at the book on the table and thought that it was all over for him. Nothing would be the same anymore, no matter how hard he tried.
“I am sorry, Sect Leader Lan…” he began, and Lan Xichen already got his hopes up only for them to be shattered by his next words. “I really have nothing to say. It pains to hear me that you felt this way for some reason, but I have nothing to share with you. Now, if you don’t mind…”
All the lightness disappeared from Lan Xichen’s chest. The energy that was flowing out of him suddenly got tied in a tight knot, and he thought that it really was unbearable. Dealing with such a person, constantly guessing what was on their mind, trying to piece together what they told you and what they displayed on their face… One had to be in possession of a constant supply of patience and understanding to be able to put up with it. He realized that he probably wasn’t the one capable of that.
“Jiang Wanyin! Do you think I will not know what you have on your mind if you do not speak up?” he thundered, looking Jiang Cheng straight in the eyes. There was no other way for him to proceed, at least he saw none at the moment when he decided to raise his voice.
Jiang Cheng’s eyes rounded at first, but then screwed as he smiled almost mischievously. He almost felt like letting out a grin despite the situation he was in seemingly being quite serious.
Lan Xichen immediately regretted asserting himself and tried to retreat. Under Jiang Cheng’s mocking glance, he did not know where to hide, and the tips of his ears reddened a bit from embarrassment for how he behaved. Hearing his own voice being so loud and forceful when addressing somebody who probably also struggled with their thoughts and feelings for some time, he immediately became upset and realized that he shouldn’t have poured everything that he had on his mind with little to no consideration about the effect it would produce.
“I… I did not mean to say it like that, Sandu Sengshou. Please, forgive me,” he muttered and pinched his lips.
Jiang Cheng produced a few harsh laughs and tilted his head to the side, derisive attitude not disappearing from his posture. It was surprising how fast he could go from upset to self-righteous with almost no effort.
“Oh, please, Sect Leader Lan, do not ruin my impression of you with apologies. Seeing this side of you is not something many can brag about. How can I even be mad?” he asked in a frivolous way. He thought many times about how this conversation would go, and he had no doubts that it would take place someday, but not even once did he imagine such an involved reaction from Lan Xichen’s side. Everything was not happening as he had expected and it made him feel excitement mixed with a pinch of fright in regards to what could follow next.
The blush from Lan Xichen’s ears slowly crawled to his face. For a person like him it was a completely disaster, losing control over himself in such a manner.
“Nevertheless, I am truly sorry for using your courtesy name so carelessly when I did not have the right to do it. For us to be even, the only thing I can do is tell you mine, so that you could also-”
“Lan Huan,” said Jiang Cheng hoarsely, purposefully interrupting Lan Xichen and thoroughly articulating every syllable. “Here you go,” he added, delighted at Lan Xichen’s confused face. “I also said it, now Zewu-Jun does not have to worry about being disrespectful.”
After the man before him called him by his courtesy name, hearing “Zewu-Jun” again felt strange to Lan Xichen. Realizing that, he said, almost whispering, “It sounded good.” Everything started to make sense for him suddenly. It turned out that this whole time Jiang Cheng was not the only one perplexed and unable to express what he was feeling.
A smug smile slowly faded from Jiang Cheng’s face. Light pink covered his cheeks, and he sat there, completely lost.
“What?” he finally managed to mumble, frowning to hide his own daze now.
“You calling my name,” said Lan Xichen quietly, beginning to understand. It was probably still a long road for them to go, but with him now having a vague idea of what he wanted to hear and what he wanted to say in return, it would undoubtedly become an easier journey for both of them.
“Lan… Huan?” ventured Jiang Cheng again, this time not confident at all.
“I thought, maybe we could… practice playing the xiao together?” asked Jiang Cheng carefully. The instrument gifted to him by Lan Xichen was lying in its box on a special display in his chambers.
If it was how he tried to escape the topic, thought Lan Xichen, then it was quite an entertaining attempt. Not that there was even the slightest chance it would work, though, no. He just found it somehow sweet, and so decided to play along, not to rob his interlocutor of his temporary safe harbour.
“Have you already given a name to it?” he asked with sincere interest in his voice.
“I have not. But I also thought… if I continue to do everything the same way I did, nothing will ever change for me,” said Jiang Cheng, and Lan Xichen immediately realized that there had to be more to his words. He also realized he had been standing this whole time, so he hurried to sit down and stop trying to intimidate Jaing Cheng with his erect posture.
“And you want something to change?” he asked gingerly.
“I think so.”
Lan Xichen almost wanted to go ahead and ask what exactly Jiang Cheng had on his mind, but it took him too long to gain the courage for it, so Jiang Cheng spoke again.
“Will you help me find a suitable name for the xiao?” he asked in such a voice as though it was something he had been wanting to ask for a very long time.
“What makes you think I am the right person to ask?”
Jiang Cheng threw a quick unreadable glance at him before shaking his head and turning away.
“…It is nothing, I will do it myself.”
“I do not refuse!” said Lan Xichen, perhaps, more eagerly than he would want to admit. “I am just… curious.”
“I cannot say it,” answered Jiang Cheng, still carefully examining the wall.
Lan Xichen felt his heart pounding like never before. He was afraid to admit that he hoped for some specific outcome of this conversation. The atmosphere became so peculiar and tense that he simply did not know how to calm himself down anymore.
“It might change everything for me,” said Jiang Cheng quietly.
“Didn’t you say you wanted something to change, Jiang Wanyin?” asked Lan Xichen. For some reason, he couldn’t stop himself from being persistent in his inquiries.
Jiang Cheng sighed uneasily and frowned again as if overcoming some internal struggles.
“Why is it that you have to suddenly be so pushy today?” he asked, trying to avoid giving any direct answer again.
“I thought you liked it when I was like this,” said Lan Xichen, feeling the wave of heat hitting his cheeks. It was a new feeling to him, wanting to say something like that despite his mind doing its best to prevent him from doing that.
“Mn,” only let out Jiang Cheng.
“Will you answer me?”
“No,” said Jiang Cheng, shaking his head. He stood up and turned away. He felt like his face was burning. He could neither stop this conversation nor suffer through it, so made a decision to go for the door in a very foolish and desperate attempt to escape the room and flee to the corridor which was flooded with people among whom he would feel safe again.
“Why is it that you suddenly turn out to be such a coward?” asked Lan Xichen with a tone of minor annoyance in his voice and grabbed Jiang Cheng by his wrist, reaching out over the table.
Jaing Cheng clenched his fists and stopped.
“I am many things, but I am not a coward,” he said resolutely.
Lan Xichen took away his hand, fearing he had already overdone it and wounded Jiang Cheng’s pride. During those few seconds he held his wrist, he felt a quickened pulse, as quick as his own, beating under tense skin.
“Why don’t you face me when we are conversing?” he asked, trying to make Jaing Cheng stay and bring it all to a least some sort of conclusion.
“I thought the talk was already over,” uttered Jiang Cheng, but still did what Zewu-Jun wanted him to.
“Do you remember what I told you earlier?” asked Lan Xichen.
“That it pleases you when I call you by your name?” asked Jiang Cheng in return. He had to force himself to say that, of course, but he simply could not remain the only one cornered because he had to listen to something that was so embarrassing for him.
“N-no, not that,” stumbled Lan Xichen and sighed, covering his forehead and eyes with his hand. “I said that even if you didn’t say what was on your mind aloud, I would still know.”
Jiang Cheng had a vague idea of where that knowledge could come from, but decided not to voice his suppositions. It was no use bringing it up now, he would still not escape the problematic topic and only enrage himself.
“If you already know, then what else do you expect me to say? Maybe, you just also find making fun of me amusing?”
“You might have noticed that I am not laughing. And I would not call your behaviour amusing at all,” answered Lan Xichen with a truly straight face.
“Then what would you call it?”
As abruptly as it came, all the arrogance disappeared from Jiang Cheng’s demeanor and he silently gasped, not knowing how to react or where to hide from Lan Xichen’s gaze. He would give everything to be in his yard, training his disciples, or in the forest, stalking a prey with his nephew. He would take anything, but not this.
“I… I do not know what we are talking about anymore,” he honestly admitted. He was perplexed at how they arrived here, trying to remember how such a conversation could have started.
Lan Xichen unfastened the clarity bell from his waist and displayed it on the palm of his hand on the table for Jiang Cheng to see.
“We are talking about your feelings,” he said more calmly. He realized he had to take the situation into his own hands or else they would never be able to resolve what they both got into. “If you really have nothing to say to me right now, then you can take this bell back.”
“And then what?” asked Jiang Cheng, expecting the worst.
“Nothing, I will just give it back to you. That is all.”
“But it was my gift to you,” muttered Jiang Cheng and Lan Zewu-Jun noticed how hurt he sounded.
“How should I know? You did not give it to me,” he shrugged his shoulders.
“But I… ugh.”
Jiang Cheng gritted his teeth. He could not say that he left the bell there for him and intentionally did not come, hoping that Jin Ling would do all the talking for him. There was really no way out for him anymore.
“It was me who carved it. A certain person once taught me how to do it, so I… I carved it for you. That is why I want you to keep it,” he finally admitted, realizing how funny and unnatural being so honest with someone felt.
“Thank you. For the bell, and for telling me,” said Lan Xichen and bowed slightly. He attached the bell back where it belonged with a look of contentment as if he did not want anything else.
“That is all?” asked Jiang Cheng. He unwillingly expected that he would have to say… more than that.
“All that I needed to hear,” nodded Lan Xichen.
He reached to the back of his head, where his forehead ribbon entwined with his hair, and untied it, letting it slide.
Jiang Cheng shook his head in disbelief and slowly backed away from the table. Before, it was all just talking, but now he knew how serious it was. He was absolutely not ready to bear the burden of such a responsibility.
“No, I cannot… I cannot…” he mumbled.
“What?” asked Lan Xichen as if completely oblivious to what was happening.
“I cannot… touch it.”
Lan Xichen smiled amiably and laid the ribbon on the table between them. Seeing him exclusively with his forehead ribbon on, Jiang Cheng felt almost uncomfortable looking at him without it, as if it was something too personal, like watching a person bathing. There was no drastic change in his appearance, of course, but something about him still seemed different.
“I made you feel vulnerable, and now I understand that. This is my way of showing you that I realize that and am willing to endure it with you. But it doesn’t mean I am going to let you touch the ribbon,” explained Zewu-Jun.
Jiang Cheng felt his body relax. He suddenly felt very light, but also very empty, as if something abandoned his chest without him agreeing to it. He quietly exhaled.
“I see,” he only uttered in return.
“…As that you will have to earn first,” added Lan Xichen. He tried hard to stay serious, but his lips involuntarily curved into a smile.
Jiang Cheng opened his mouth, but could not say anything. A peculiar mixture of emotion displayed on his face as he was trying hard to figure out if it was him understanding the occurrences correctly or just his wishful thinking tricking him into believing that.
He rose up from the floor yet again, his chest heaving. His eyes were staring intently at Lan Xichen and his top lip twitched a few times. Lan Xichen felt that it was almost the same look that haunted him previously, threatening, aggressive, unpredictable. But it wasn’t scary at all. Charming was still what he thought of it.
Jiang Cheng bent down with determination in his every movement, grabbed Lan Xichen by the lapels of his robes and leaned in for a kiss. He could not tolerate that smile on his face and that confidence in his words. He still felt like he was teased and ridiculed, and so he grabbed the lapels tighter, almost pulling Lan Xichen up from his seat. Their teeth clanked a couple of times because of Jiang Cheng’s vigour, but he did not even care. His only concern was the emotions that he was not able to get rid of for so long, so he clung to Zewu-Jun as if it was the last time he saw him.
When the latter one managed to steady his position in Jiang Cheng’s grip, he slowly stood up, trying to use the fact that he was a bit taller than the leader of the Jiang sect as an advantage, even though the table between them remained quite an obstacle.
He finally made up his mind and touched the side of Jiang Cheng’s pale face with his fingers. He caressed it lightly and moved his hand further, passing the ear and the braid that was neatly stuck into the bun on the back of his head. He touched the ink-black hair airily a few times, as if afraid to ruin the perfect hair-do. His heart was loudly pounding in his ears. He put his other hand on Jiang Cheng’s waist and slowly pulled him closer.
Feeling the grip on his side, Jiang Cheng sprung away from Lan Xichen as if electrocuted. He adjusted his clothes nervously and laid his hand on the side of the neck, avoiding direct eye contact.
“My hand slipped. I am sorry,” muttered Zewu-Jun, a bit disappointed that everything ended as suddenly as it had begun. Sorry was the last thing that he was now.
Jiang Cheng pouted either at what had happened or at how shamelessly Lan Xichen tried to lie to him.
“Isn’t Sect Leader Lan late to Cloud Recess?” he asked with indignation in his voice. “I am sure the Gusu Lan disciples are already waiting ardently for his return.
Lan Xichen closed the distance between them in a few swift steps. There was no table to separate them anymore, and he found himself not even caring if somebody walked in on them right now as he slid both of his hands on Jiang Cheng’s waist, drawing him closer.
“Right now, I have some more pressing matters to attend to. I am sure they will understand,” he whispered and leaned for another kiss.
I love the idea of Nie MingJue, Wei WuXian and Lan XiChen all being best buds so I had to think of how it would happen.
It’d probably have to be a No Sunshot Campaign AU, right? Let’s get creative...
I can imagine Nie Huaisang invites Wei WuXian over to the Unclean Realm often, and Huaisang talks about his friend to the point where MingJue knows Wei WuXian’s favorite dessert to his favorite alcohol. And, if we dip into cql a bit, Nie Huaisang is willing to go out into dangerous situations if Wei WuXian is there, and that truly gets MingJue’s attention cause he’s been trying to make Huaisang act like a cultivator his whole life and Wei WuXian manages in just a few months, no way in hell is he giving that up. So the two start talking, and later Huaisang is aghast - aghast I tell you- to find his big brother and his best friend chatting while walking along the top of the walls of the Unclean Realm.
XiChen ends up joining the party due to his many trips to the Unclean Realm to see MingJue. Wei WuXian visits the Nie brothers so often now that he can’t help but include include XiChen into their conversations. The two flautists end up nerding out over flute music or the like, or go on a night-hunt together that finally seals the deal on their friendship. If WangJi starts drinking vinegar over the fact that his brother can have plentiful pleasant conversation with Wei WuXian then that’s no one’s business but his own.
Before anyone knows it, the three end up swearing brotherhood and WangJi and Huaisang have to sit back and watch as their elder brothers just steal Wei WuXian from them....for now.
Jiang Cheng Stans Don’t Clown on My Posts
i just love looking at him, your honour
Mo Dao Zu Shi S3 | Ep 8 | Father ruined the rest of his life. Uncle grew harsher on Wangji and me. We were only allowed to visit Mother once a month.
Did anyone ask for this? No.
But I wrote it and I think it's hilarious and you should definitely read it and leave a comment if you are a fan of:
a) LXC, JGY or Xiyao
c) That's all I got PLEASE READ MY FANFIC
First kiss time?
Title: Unrest My Soul
Summary: Six years ago, Nightless City was overrun by a pack of lab experiments, failed attempts at artificial intelligence: and they crave human blood. Meng Yao is one of those experiments. Years after escaping the Wen labs, he’s fighting tooth and claw just to survive.
And then along comes Lan Xichen, who offers Meng Yao a job that will change everything.
Read Unrest My Soul on AO3!
XiCheng mafia boss au - commission I had a real fun with!
visit me on twitter!
People shipping meng yao and mingjue like one of them didn't kick the other down a flight of stairs and the other didn't kill him with music
Then we got Xiao Xingchen and Xue Yang...I just...you can write as many essays on that and I still will not understand it (Song Lan is unappreciated)
...But then there's also Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen
Did I watch the same show or...?
(Note: just for the sensitive ones, this is just a different opinion. It's OK...they exist.)
⚠️⛔️ TCGF || HEAVENS OFFICAL BLESSING POTENTIAL SPOILERS ⛔️⚠️
I’m really surprised that Hua Cheng can stand the sight of red robes?
Like it may remind him of Xie Lian’s blood stained clothes which where once white, before he was stabbed repeatedly for the sake of saving those with the human face disease.
Maybe he wears his red robes and adorns his belongings with red to honour the blood that Xie Lian lost. And maybe he wears the red to as a display and to pay tribute to the sacrifices he made with his own blood and tears to help save the common people.
Common people like himself.