Beneath the mellow blue surface, amidst the stems of the lotuses, something lurked in the water.
Whatever it was, it came out every few days to steal people and livestock from the waterline. The common folk had started avoiding the lake. The problem was, such creatures rarely desisted – they would venture further and further from the lake and swim up and down the rivers that fed and drained it, killing whomever they found, until they were dealt with.
And Yu Ziyuan's useless husband was unavailable. In “secluded meditation", but everyone knew that really meant he was taking a few days to mope about that damn Cangse Sanren declining his affections well over a decade ago.
Very well. She'd deal with the problem herself. The Violet Spider was an accomplished night-hunter; she could take care of this menace. She put down her wine cup and started rereading the reports of the incidents.
Meanwhile, Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian were sitting in the undergrowth at the shore of the lake. It was a dark and moonless night, with only the stars dimly reflected on the midnight blue surface of the lake. A dying wind ruffled their hair.
“Do really you think this'll work?” Jiang Cheng grumbled.
“Of course,” Wei Wuxian whispered back. “The monster prefers to hunt in the darkness, so we just have to be the only prey available and then it'll come after us. The one it doesn't go after will stab it. It's foolproof!”
Jiang Cheng made a noise of assent. It was a simple plan, and with their brand-new swords at their sides, it should work. Father would be proud. Perhaps even of Jiang Cheng.
The formerly mirror-calm water suddenly lapped at the reeds, shaking Jiang Cheng from his reverie. He gripped Sandu more firmly and stared at the waterline intently.
Something broke the water's surface from beneath. Jiang Cheng focused on it intently to see which way it would go and when the creature's bulk would surface-
-and then a much too large hand grasped his robes between his shoulder blades and yanked. Sandu thunked on the ground as Jiang Cheng was pulled onto his ass.
“Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian shouted. Another much too large hand on a much too large detached arm loomed behind him.
“Behind you!” Jiang Cheng shouted, desperately trying to grab Sandu. He refused to be the reason they failed, refused to be useless, refused to let all the glory of the night-hunt escape his fingers like water-
Wei Wuxian shouted as he was dragged into the lake, still waving Suibian but unable to properly stab the thing behind him. With a plop, he disappeared beneath the surface.
“No!” Jiang Cheng shouted. He dug his nails into the soil only to eat dirt when the arm changed course to dragging him to the waterfront.
His fingers made contact with Sandu, and he reached out for it, but only pushed the hilt from his grasp. Useless. He bit back bitter tears and grasped at the waterfront vegetation in a futile effort to delay his demise.
Violet light exploded through his closed eyelids. He turned his face to the ground and opened his eyes. He'd stopped at the water's edge.
Yu Ziyuan sighed in relief as she whipped to dust the hand dragging her son to the water. Now she just had to deal with the Thousand Arms.
Wait. “Where's Wei Wuxian?” she barked out. There was only one purple lump in sight.
“He- In the water!” Jiang Cheng cried out. He continued explaining something, but Yu Ziyuan had already stabbed her sword into the lake.
In unison, she, Jinzhu, and Yinzhu channeled spiritual power into the water. The Thousand Arms was contracted into one, trying to kill and dismember and assimilate their newest victim. That concentration was devastating – but made the creature vulnerable.
The water rose, containing the Thousand Arms and Wei Wuxian. Yu Ziyuan dropped the water back into the lake, its contents suspended in the air.
Wei Wuxian hacked out water, curled in on himself in the Thousand Arms' deadly embrace, waving around his sword, and very much alive. Yu Ziyuan struck a few of the arms with her sword and he fell down onto the ground coughing. He could be dealt with later; now it was time to end the Thousand Arms.
Just like on those night-hunts a lifetime ago, Jinzhu and Yinzhu drew out their whips in unison with her and struck the Thousand Arms. With all the killing intent born from seeing her son in danger channeled into Zidian, the Thousand Arms soon crumbled to ash. She whipped the air and water around it a few more times to be sure, then started drawing purifying talismans so the resentful energy wouldn't renucleate and return in some other form to menace the local populace.
When she was done with that, she turned to the two kids. Jinzhu and Yinzhu drew additional purifying talismans and arrays behind her.
They were both on their knees, pressed against each other at the side, one dry and one sodden purple lump. “It was my idea, I'm sorry!” Wei Wuxian confessed, keeping his eyes on the ground.
“No, it was my idea!” Jiang Cheng said. “Please punish me instead!”
Yu Ziyuan scoffed. “Did neither of you remember what you were instructed to do? Why on earth would you go out on a night-hunt without telling anyone?! You haven't even formed golden cores yet! Do you want to get killed?!”
The boys sank down further. “We're sorry,” they said.
She sighed. “Do you really think an apology is enough?! Let's go back to the Lotus Pier; I'll deal with you in the morning. Don't even think of leaving the main area! And Wei Wuxian, go hang out those clothes to dry before you go to bed. Get on your swords!”
The boys took out their swords and very hesitantly climbed onto them. They were still new enough to the concept that their flight was slow and wobbly. Not in the mood to fish anyone out of the lake again, Yu Ziyuan shepherded them on an overland route. Jinzhu and Yinzhu trailed behind.
Idiot children. Had anything happened-
Had anything happened to that brat Wei Wuxian, Yu Ziyuan would never hear the end of it. Her useless husband might not have much to do with teaching the disciples or managing the household, but whenever Wei Wuxian was in trouble of his own making, Jiang Fengmian would turn up to judge her for attempting to raise him.
Had anything happened to her son ... Yu Ziyuan was no idiot. She knew Jiang Fengmian had only agreed to the marriage due to pressure from their parents and Cangse Sanren running off into the sunset with a servant. If the son and heir were gone, Jiang Fengmian would take the first opportunity to throw her out or otherwise suppress her, and make Wei Wuxian the heir.
At least she'd managed to secure her daughter a good engagement to a richer heir than Jiang Fengmian had ever been and with a mother-in-law who actually cared for her as something other than a broodmare to birth the next generation. It was hard enough keeping children from getting themselves hurt, as today proved; hopefully Yanli would have more help than Yu Ziyuan.