When Jin Ling was five years old, two names started appearing on his wrists. When one morning, for the first time he saw the black ink slowly spreading on each of his wrists, he screamed and run to his uncle, still screaming, with a tears streaming down his face. It took his uncle a long time to quiet him down and explain to him what a soulmate was, but as his uncle was explaining, Jin Ling’s frown deepened.
“But uncle, I have two.” he said, before lifting his hands and showing both of them to his uncle. As if written by invisible hand, the black ink continued to spread on both of his wrists in antagonistically slow pace, but as soon as his uncle saw the first character on both of his wrists, he started glaring at them, as if he tried to change them just with his eyes.
“I don’t think you’ll have to concern yourself with that, Jin Ling.” he said at last, before shooing him away. After an afternoon of trying to figure out the characters on his wrists, one written with a gentle brush strokes, so neatly that Jin Ling could look at it all day, and the other not so much, looking like the writer was in a hurry and wrote his name without paying attention. In the evening, shortly before dinner, he could finally tell with certainty that the first character on both his wrists were the same.
His uncle wouldn’t tell him the meaning of the inky characters on his body, no matter how much he asked. After a long time of begging, he finally let him know the meaning of the other characters on his wrists, but never the first one. On his left wrist, the one that looked like it was written by a child, was Yue, and on his right, the neatly written one, was Yuan. He looked at both of them with a smile, but his uncle’s glare never left the ink.
Jin Ling soon found out that everyone in Lotus Pier was forbidden to let him know the meaning of the first character. Whenever he brought it up, people run in the other direction, or looked at him with a sadness in their eyes, before shaking their heads and turning the other way. Not even the person that visited his uncle every week, that everyone called Sect Leader Nie, who had a beautifully written characters Jin Ling couldn't read yet, on the right side of his neck, just looked at him from behind his fan and gave him a sad smile, the one that he was already used to receiving whenever anyone mentioned his parents. After that, he could no longer smile at the ink tattooed on his body. He knew that reaction well enough.
The next month at the Carp Tower, he finally learned the meaning of the characters on his wrists when some of the older kids tried to push him to the pond. One of them torn his sleeve of by accident and started laughing, before he spotted the ink at his right wrist and his face went from red to green, to shock and after reading the characters, to horror. With a scream, he ran away, the others following closely behind with the same expression.
Jin Ling just stood there, dumbfounded, before his uncle from father’s side came to get him. In a hurry, he took him to his room, changed Jin Ling’s robes, and then asked him in a calm voice, while looking at the small hands, closed in the fists : “A-Ling, do you know what this reads?”
Jin Ling shook his head and his uncle sighed.
“This one here reads Yuan, and this one,” he stopped for a moment before looking Jin Ling in the eyes and continued, “it reads Wen.”
Jin Ling’s eyes widened. He wasn’t dumb, he grew up on the stories about war, Wen Sect and Yilling Patriarch. He also knew that those were the main reasons for his parent’s death, and that all people with the name Wen were killed during the war.
He didn’t know if that night he cried for his parents, for his soulmates, or for his own, miserable life.
From then on, the only time he removed the bandages from his wrists were when he went to sleep, and thought, while looking at the inky blackness.
About how it could have been if the Wens didn’t start a war. How his parents would still be alive, because there would be no Yilling Patriarch. How, maybe one day, he would go to the archery competition, or to study to Gusu, and meet someone with the name ‘Jin Ling’ somewhere on their body.
Would they get along? Would they be girl or boy? Would they even want to meet him? He didn’t know. He didn’t know what would be better.
To know that both his soulmates wouldn’t want him, or to be here, knowing that they were already dead, their ashes spread out on the battlefield or in the remnants of the Nightless city.
He was nine when he asked his uncle, the Leader of Jin Sect, if he could see the Nightless City. It took him nearly five months of restless begging, before his uncle allowed it. He couldn’t help it when a single tear rolled down his cheek, as he looked at the ruins of what looked like it once was a phenomenal structure. But now it just looked pitiful.
What once were a white flags were torn down and burned, the high pillars were laying on the ground in pieces, and what once had to be a gigantic palace was torn down as well, only a few walls were left standing, while the roof collapsed completely. On the ground was growing a grass several shades darker than normal, and he regretted asking why.
“Many lives ended here and their blood was drunk by the earth. A lot of people like to think that because the grass here started growing again, the souls of the ones who lost their lives here are at peace.”
Jin Ling didn’t think that. How could they be at peace when they left him here and he himself hurt so much inside?
From then on, Jin Ling told himself he hated Wens, and that it didn’t matter if two of them were fated to be with him. He just had to figure out how to stop the tears leaking out from his eyes anytime he looked at the handwritten names on his skin first.
Jin Ling was thirteen, when he first time meet two junior Lan sect disciples, trailing behind second Jade of Lan like a puppies, in the middle of the Discussion Conference .
Well, not really in the middle of the Discussion Conference , as he was outside of the Koi tower, with other Jin disciples making fun of him, but that didn’t matter to him much. It was long since he learned to ignore them, and the knew better then to touch him, if they didn’t want to get bit by Fairy.
But that didn’t mean that it didn’t always hurt. Sometimes, words could hit deeper than swords, he learned fairly young. He remembered exactly what they said that time when he lost control and started shouting at them with a tears in his eyes.
“Boo-hoo, look at that, young master Jin is sooo unlucky. First both of his parents go and die and he is treated like a prince, and then he even got two soulmates, just to find out they are already dead. Are we sure it isn’t young master Jin’s fault that people around him just seem to die?”
But no matter how much he shouted, they just laughed, while the tears kept falling down Jin Ling’s face. Then, a boy little shorter than him, in pure white came to the boy in front of Jin Ling, the one running his mouth, and punched him straight in the nose.
For a moment, everyone was so shocked that they forgot to breath, before they launched the the boy. In a seconds, there were two of them, dodging and sending the others to the ground, as if it was their second nature. They were in a complete sync, when one of them was dodging, the other was right behind him, catching the attacker by the hand and a collar, turning them around and tossing them to the ground without any struggle. By the end of the fight, both of them looked like nothing had just happened, and Jin Ling could almost believe it, if it wasn’t for the numerous bodies at their feet, all of them with red faces.
“I would recommend visiting a healer. Sizhui’s grip is enough to break a bone.” said the shorter of the two with vicious glare as he looked at the people at his feet. only answer he got was a groan of pain, before they scrambled to their feet and left running.
“Young master Jin, are you alright?” asked the taller one, looking to the side, a handkerchief in his outstretched hand. Jin Ling quickly realised how he must have looked. Crying and screaming in the open space, and he blushed an angry shade of red. He took the handkerchief and dried his eyes, while making sure the other two weren’t looking at him. They weren’t, they actually did the exact opposite, the taller one looking to the side as if his only concern was cloud watching, while the shorter looked at the ground, a quiet whistle coming from his lips.
“Thanks, I will return this to you… once it’s clean?” he asked, question hanging in the air. The other two finally looked at him and smiled, the taller one with a soft littles smile, and the other with something that resembled grin more than a smile.
“My name is Lan Sizhui, and this is Lan Jingyi. Please excuse our rudeness for barging in on your conversation, Jingyi sometimes can’t help himself.” he explained and saluted to Jin Ling perfectly, just as expected from someone Lan Qiren called the star pupil of their generation. But Jin Ling was at the loss for words nonetheless.
“Ah, yes, um, my name is Jin Ling.” Jin Ling wanted to slap himself, because of course they already knew that. He could feel blood rushing to his cheeks in embarrassment, but to other two just continued to smile, while he saluted back, “It’s really nothing. I should be thanking you. Thank you.”
Their conversation was cut short when someone came to get them, and with a shock, Jin Ling realised it was Hanguang-Jun. All three saluted him properly before Jingyi asked : “Hanguang-Jun, is meeting already over?”
The second Jade of Lan shook his head and Jingyi frowned, “Did you get what you came here for then?”
“No.” was the only answer he got and even Sizhu’s smile fell.
“They have no right to do that! You have every right to take everything back to Gusu, and they know it!” Jin Ling really felt out of place, and didn’t dare to say anything, but if Lan Jingyi’s outburst told him anything, it was that none of the three was satisfied with the decision of the Chief cultivator, Jin GuangYao.
“Jingyi! Talking behind people’s back is prohibited!” said Sizhui in a quiet but rushed voice.
“We are not in Cloud Recesses, so I don’t care! They know they have no right to keep those things, but they continue anyway! As if they knew how to use even half of them!” after that, Hanguang-Jun’s expresion turned somewhat sollem as he turned around and prepared to leave.
“Ah, our apologies, young mistress Jin, we have to cut this visit short! We hope to see you again!” finally said Jingyi in a lighter tone, as he dragged Sizhui away, and both of them gave Jin Ling one last smile, before they turned away and left with Hanguang-Jun.
Jin Ling would never admit that in that moment, his heart started beating just a little faster. Wait. Did he just called him mistress?!
Thanks to the mess after the discussion conference, he found out quickly just what did Hanguang-Jun came for. He came to ask for property of Yilling Patriarch, mostly his sword, Suibian, and his flute, Chenqing. Jin Ling frowned. Why would someone like Hanguang-Jun had any interest in keeping something like that?
After their first encounter, Jin Ling realised that Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi were actually everywhere. Didn’t matter of it were nighthunts, caves that people said were hunted, or a villages with corpses, just like their teacher, they seemed to be everywhere where was chaos.
As they grew more comfortable with each other, they became quick friends after Sizhui saved Jin Ling from the fierce corps that one time in the forest, and Jin Ling would be lying if he said that his heart didn’t start beating louder every time Jingyi friendly teased him, or when Sizhui let out a small laugh.
He never asked them why Hanguang-Jun wanted possessions of the late Yilling Patriarch, or why did they always looked so sad when someone mentioned his death.
Jin Ling was fifteen when the two Lan disciples saw his soulmate marks for the first time, while bandaging their wounds from the night hunt.
To Jin Ling’s surprise, they didn’t ask, nor did they look at Jin Ling with pity, even if they did look a bit uncomfortable. To his own surprise, Jin Ling told them all he knew, what he thought, and how everyone, including him already gave up on the thought of his soulmates. What Jin Ling didn’t expect was the question that followed.
“What would young master Jin do if his soulmates were alive?” Jin Ling didn’t know what to answer. Especially not to the face of two people that looked like they just lost someone dear to them. So he just closed his eyes and pretended he didn’t hear a thing.
What would Jin Ling do? He didn’t know. He really didn’t know.
And then Yilling Patriarch came back to life and Jin Ling stabbed him. Suddenly, everything he thought he knew was twisted, wrong. Yilling Patriarch was supposed to be the evil mastermind. Then why did he protected them so many times before? All Wens were supposed to be cruel, the ones who started war. So why was the ghost general let him go, never once touching him, and looked at him with guilt written all over his face? If Lans were supposed to be all good, then why was Hanguang-Jun there, protecting Yilling Patriarch with his life, and his name on the back of his neck?!
Jin Ling was frustrated, angry, but most of all, lost. Before he knew it, he was running. Running away from Koi tower, from responsibilities as a future sect leader, and his feelings which he could never escape from.
And if the two Lan juniors found him an hour latter, sitting behind a tree, and let him cry his eyes out onto their white uniforms, noone could prove anything.
Why? Why was the Yilling Patriarch risking his new life for them?! He knew just how much everyone hated him, right? So why was he drawing a on his white inner robes, while telling them to run? He knew that everyone wanted to kill him so why? Why?!
In the end, he let himself get pushed out of the cave by his uncle, before running back in and protecting the people that mattered to him.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to!” he was crying again and he hated it, but Jingyi didn’t look like he cared too much and continued to hug him.
“I know. Sizhui knows too.” Jingyi continued to hold him until they arrived to Lotus Pier. Later, he would be embarrassed for thinking that it was the safest he ever felt.
Seeing his uncle die before his eyes should have shocked him more, he thinks. But after the last few days of uncovering all the things his uncle did, he can’t do more then collapsing on the ground, his emotions making his heart beat in his ears as he tries to stop himself from passing out.
The rest of the day (night?) passed right by him, as if some other person took over for him. He remembers white robes around him, and someone talking to his uncle, before he is gently pushed to his uncle’s open arms, and if his uncle can feel his shoulders tremble, he doesn’t say anything.
He wakes up in his room in Lotus Pier, alone, with only two white robes around his shoulders keeping him warm. If he collapses back to the bad, shielding his teary eyes with one of them, he would tell noone.
When the letter came from Gusu, asking if they knew anything about Hanguang-Jun and the two missing disciples, his uncle replied negatively, tightly holding the hand of the Leader of the Nie sect, despite giving Jin Ling a letter which clearly stated otherwise.
The letter was long, but as simple as possible, written in two different handwritings, both of which Jin Ling recognized at first glance. How could he not, he spent years looking at the same characters, same brush strokes, on his own skin.
The letter, despite telling himself otherwise, helped a little. It explained how the two of them knew each others since they were children, how, after sunshot campaign, Yilling Patriarch took them in, shielded them from harm as much as he could, and how Hanguang-Jun took them in shortly after their whole family was killed. He gave them new names, took care of them as if they were his own, for the man he loved, but who didn’t have his name anywhere on his body.
The letter held more than Jin Ling ever wanted. Apologies, explanation and lastly, a choice. A choice to meet them, to forgive them for lying, or to let go, never to see them again. If someone saw Jin Ling running and then flying at full speed out of the Lotus Pier, they didn’t dare to tell.
If someone ever told Jin Ling that he would one day running to the Nightless city, just to meet someone, he wouldn’t believe them. If they told him, he would be relieved to see someone in the white robe, with red motive of the sun, he would think they are crazy. If someone told him that he would be the one pulling his soulmates to the hug and then kissing them over and over again, he would probably blush from anger and beat that person senseless.
But right now, only thing that Jin Ling cared about were two figures at his side, holding his hands with the promise to never let go.
And if someone said they saw three figures in the ruins of temple, deep in the Nightless city, in the robes of Qishan Wen Sect, asking their ancestors for blessing… Well, noone would believe them anyway.