“Do remember what I’ve told you?” Jiang Cheng asked, taking slow steps up the mountain not in any hurry to reach the gates. Watching Jin Ling from the corner of his eye, he crossed his arms, looking away, “Watch my words and don’t start brawls, I get it, I get it.”
“You’ll only be here for half the year, mostly to study in preparation for the Discussion Conference next year. Make sure you learn as much as you can and be respectful,” Jiang Cheng spoke in a warning tone continuing up the mountain his nephew falling a few steps behind, his normally proud demeanour banished by his nervousness. Softening his tone Jiang Cheng continued, “Try to get along with your peers while you are here.”
“I just don’t understand why Jin Chan has to be in my group,” Jin Ling mumbled under his breath gripping his sleeves as they passed the waterfalls and trees the cool autumn breeze flowing through his long hair. At making it to the gates of The Cloud Recesses, they were greeted by Lan Qiren, two more disciples standing at each side.
With stoic but respectful expressions, they exchanged their formal greetings “Sir Lan, I hope you’ve been well.”
“Very well thank you,” Lan Qiren spoke softly raising a hand and at seeing Jin Ling he came forward slowly, “Your peers will be over in the courtyard, would you like to join them?”
“I’m fine,” Jin Ling bowed politely, “Thank you for having me here.”
“Go and familiarize yourself with the Sects rules,” Jiang Cheng reached a hand behind him gently pushing him forward, “I need to speak with Lan Qiren in private.”
“Okay.” Nodding once, he left to face the wall of Gusu’s 4000 rules. Jumping onto the roof closest to the mountain face. He knew that Gusu had that amount of rules carved delicately and beautifully into the surface of the rock, but to see that many rules up close and personal he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to read the whole list before dinner.
What he didn’t expect, was to have company his soft voice breaking him from his thoughts, “Oh, I-I’m sorry, I-I didn’t know someone else was here.”
“What?” Jin Ling spoke harshly, harsher than he had intended making the poor teen flinch in fright, he was a decent looking adolescent, to say the least, fair skin and average length hair tied back loosely at the end his loose strands framing his face nicely.
Judging from his uniform Jin Ling frowned speaking again in the same tone, “You’re from the Qinghe Nie Sect, aren’t you?”
“I-I am,” he nodded unmoving from his spot in case he was told to come closer, fiddling with his fingers the youth spoke softer looking at the vast ruled mountain, the gentle spray from the waterfall that was carried on the wind hitting his face, “I-I can go back, I will wait till you’re done reading.”
“You can stay and read with me if you want,” Jin Ling plopped himself down arms crossed, “It’s not like the wall is going anywhere.”
“T-That may be true,” he laughed softly excusing himself as he sat beside him neatly arranging his uniform so it was tidy. He certainly didn’t look like someone who’d be from Qinghe, but Jin Ling knew not to let appearances fool him, Jin Chan was a prime example of that.
“What’s your name?”
“Nie Lizan from the Qinghe Nie Sect, courtesy name Enlai. What’s yours?”
“Lanling Jin Sect Jin Ling, courtesy name Rulan,” he nodded his greetings when the other looked at the wall amazement colouring his tone, “It’s amazing how many rules they have, without repetition too, I wonder how they kept track so as to not write down the same rule twice.”
‘At least he’s stopped stuttering,’ Jin Ling thought a little relieved that he was comfortable enough to sit by him, talk with him, “They probably have a scroll somewhere so as to prevent that sort of thing from happening, who knows.”
“Probably,” Nie Enlai laughed softly pointing to one of the rules engraved closest to the waterfall, “Though I think I might break some of these, at least rules like this one: ‘Do not laugh for no reason.’”
“You laugh for no reason?”
“Sometimes,” he admitted blushing a faint pink, pointing to another rule he added, “’Wake up at 8 am,’ that one I can follow.”
“I don’t even know why that’s a rule in the first place,” Jin Ling and Nie Enlai laughed together pointing at different rules that they’d probably break attracting the stares of other disciples that passed them below.
It was nice to talk to somebody, even though his first impression wasn’t the most favourable as was with most of his first-time introductions but he…he looked past that, continued talking with him until it was time for dinner.
As they left for the large dining hall he could see where their table would be. At seeing his Uncle seated alongside Lan Qiren, Jin Ling calmed somewhat. He hadn’t left without saying goodbye. Maybe, he was going to stay for a while? He did tell him that he was going to take a rest from Yunmeng for a while, but for how long?
“Jin Rulan? Are you alright?” Nie Enlai put a hand to his forehead then moved under his chin nodding to himself, “You don’t seem to have a fever, do you feel nauseous?”
“I’m fine Nie Enlai,” Jin Ling slapped his hand away lightly taking a seat at his table offering a seat for his companion. Smiling at his invitation he sat down. Needless to say, dinner was indeed very quiet, very bland and judging from the slight crease between Nie Enlai’s eyebrows he thought the same. Hiding a smile behind his bowl Jin Ling glanced at his friend his expression changing from disturbed and cheeky in the blink of an eye.
Quickly looking around Nie Enlai mouthed ‘It’s bland,’ and poked his tongue out as if disgusted by the food they were given. When one of the cultivators shifted their gaze to their table, however, they immediately stopped, eating slowly so that they didn’t cough or choke on their food from suppressing their laughter.
When dinner was over and everyone left outside Jin Chan and his group cornered the pair, pushing and shoving them until they were concealed by the thick forestry and brush far enough so that if either decided to yell for help it’d be useless.
“I can’t believe your Uncle actually sent you here with us,” he sneered shoving Nie Enlai, so hard that his back collided with one of the trees knocking a few leaves from its branches, with a shaky breath he spoke, “You cannot act like this here.”
“Why not? Because it says on the wall?” Jin Chan mocked, “I just pushed you and it’s not like we’re brawling are we? I haven’t broken any rules so you can’t touch me.”
“'Do not sneer, do not form cliques, do not look down on others,'” Nie Enlai phrased smoothly standing in front Jin Ling so as to be a sort of shield for him, “That’s only to name a few that you have broken already since it’s obvious that the likes of you and your friends can’t read such basic rules.”
“As if your so pure,” Jin Chan spat back annoyed, who the hell did this person think he was? Didn’t he realise who he was talking to? “You trying to mock us? Maybe I should teach you a lesson just like Jin Ling.”
“'A lesson?’ Are you even capable? You can’t even form a decent enough comeback so you resort to violence? Then again I’m not surprised,” Nie Enlai raised a brow standing to his full height levelling Jin Chan with a hard stare, “Also, how could I be mocking you, I’m only stating facts and in stating facts is stating the truth is it not?”
“Well said,” A woman chimed clapping slowly, keeping her form hidden. Drawing their swords, Jin Chan looked around, masking his panic so as to not lose face in front of Jin Ling and his friends. Trying to sound irritated he called out, “Who are you woman?!”
Walking out from the dense bush she revealed herself, it was as if she descended from the heavens. Her beauty was like no other woman’s that he had seen and she held herself with an air of pride and dignity that Jin Ling would say rivalled Lan Wangji’s. Her long silver hair flowed with the night breeze, her simple but elegant clothes immaculate, she reached a hand out to Nie Enlai patting his hair softly, “Well said.”
“Liren Jiao!” Jin Chan’s friends bowed to her respectfully, not moving an inch to stand upright unless told.
“Liren Jiao?" Jin Chan huffed, sizing her up as he continued, "I’ve never heard of you, what makes you so special that my friends would bow to you in such a manner?”
“Old age makes the memory fade,” she answered patiently her tone clear and gentle as she helped the boys stand upright, “I’d suggest you all return to your rooms for the night, you will have a long day tomorrow.”
“Yes, Lady Jiao,” Jin Chan’s friends left immediately at her command leaving their leader to stand on his own. Turning and standing in front of him she grabbed his shoulder, “The hour is late, go to your room.”
“…Yes…” With gritted teeth, he left the trio punching a tree as he retreated back to The Cloud Recesses. Sighing Nie Enlai jumped into her arms nearly knocking her over in the process, “Mother! I can’t believe you actually came here! How did you even find us?”
“I have my ways A-Zan,” They laughed, releasing her Nie Enlai introduced excitedly, “This is my Mother Liren Mei, courtesy name Jiao.”
“A pleasure to meet you Young Master Jin, I hope my son hasn’t made any trouble for you.” She bowed politely, her hair falling gracefully over her shoulders. Frozen still by her beauty Jin Ling’s mouth fell open and closed, much like a fish out of water amusing the other who laughed aloud, “You look like a fish!”
“Shut up! It’s not like that!” Jin Ling protested following after Liren Jiao and punching Nie Enlai in the arm to hide his embarrassment, “Quit laughing!”
“Boys,” Liren Jiao hushed them as they all emerged from the thick forestry only to be greeted by Jiang Cheng and Lan Qiren both expectant, “Welcome Lady Jiao, I’m pleased you came at my call.”
“It was half of the reason I came,” she turned to Jiang Cheng who, like his nephew stared at her wide-eyed, unmoving and unspeaking, “Sect Leader Jiang, an honour to meet you as well.”
“Yes,” He nodded watching her and Lan Qiren interact, he knew he’d seen her before but for some reason, his mind just couldn’t connect point a to point b.
“It is nearly time for rest, Lady Jiao, I will take you to to the other side of the mountain.”
“U-Um, Sir Lan, if I may,” Nie Enlai bowed politely lowering his eyes, “M-May I take my Mother? I-It’s just that I want to spend more time with her b-before going to bed.”
“I will be here for a while A-Zan, you will have plenty of time to talk during that.” Liren Jiao smiled at his excited face that he nearly jumped towards the heavens from so much excitement washing throughout his body. Refraining from doing so, however, Nie Enlai opted to smile fiddling with his hands once more, “Really?”
“I’ll be staying in town, I only came to see you before they sent you to your rooms,” she pushed him from behind softly doing the same to Jin Ling, “You two go off to bed.”
“Thank you for coming here Mother,” Nie Enlai embraced her once more hiding his face in her shoulder repeating more softly, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, make sure you get some good rest,” Liren Jiao gently pushed him off wiping his eyes softly. As Jin Ling watched them, he couldn’t help but feel a tinge of jealousy at their display of open affection. Many times he had wondered what an embrace like that felt like, to be held so close, to be treated like treasure and spoiled by their mother.
Unable to look another moment, Jin Ling turned and strode away with clenched fists.
‘I don’t care anyway.’