The morning is crisp and cool. The soft plucking of spiritual guqin strings echoes throughout the Cloud Recesses in a song of prayer. It isn’t unwanted, as it brings about the start of a new day for every one residing in the cloudy mountains. Though the sun had not risen yet, light feathery footsteps approaches the doors of a looming temple. The spiritual energy calm and swiftly flowing, iridescent lights from the pyreflies moving along the current. The doors open, revealing a tall young and mature man, long flowing hair gently intertwining with soft white and blue robes. The man’s eyes glow a bright golden hue even in the gray blue dusk. There is only an echo of the door shutting in place behind him before the elder notices the temple doors are closed. A pyrefly latches onto the ends of the cloud embroidered white ribbon tied across the man’s forehead.
The elder greets him, bowing with both hands stretched, before being brought together in a Yevon’s bow. The gesture is returned.
So does the silence. A crane perched atop the temple flies overhead, followed by another. The cranes never seem to reach each other.
“Wangji, have you decided when you will begin your pilgrimage?
The tall elderly man stands at the foot of the stairs by the entrance of the temple, carved with intricate cloud patterns encrusted with silver on it’s handles and doors. There are few noises save for the chiming of morning bells and the helpless flaps of cloud tapestries hung on the walls and pillars. Lan Wangji stands before the elderly man, silent and without a change in expression. His face as pure as jade.
“Your pilgrimage has long been overdue. There were circumstances before, but if you do not take your chances now while you are at your peak strength and health, you may not make it through to the final destination.”
There are words underlying that anyone could pick out. Lan Wangji stays silent.
“I have talked to Xichen. Even though he had vehemently rejected you starting on your pilgrimage before, he is finally willing to concede.”
Lan Wangji, ever so silent, simply nods and makes his way to his brother. He doesn’t ever turn back around to catch the almost mournful look plastered onto the elder’s face. Lan Xichen, the Sect Leader of Gusu Lan who he was nearly the spitting image of, had always stood behind him when he rejected the elders on starting his pilgrimage. Once Lan Xichen vouched for him, nothing they say or do could make them move.
“Uncle, there is no need to worry.”
Disciples run here and there, beginning their morning chores and every so often stopping to greet and bow, both hands stretching out and coming together like holding a fragile sphere, before bowing their heads, and saying, “Praise be to Yevon.” Because of his status being a Summoner from Gusu and a direct descendant of the Lan clan, he did not have to return the gesture.
Walking past the field of rabbits close by his Jingshi , he observes them, most still sleeping only stirred on by the sluggish teetering of two teenagers. One crouches down, counting each rabbit while the other simply lays down and shuts his eyes prompting the rabbits to cuddle and sleep beside him.
“Jingyi, you can’t just sleep there. Hanguang-Jun could be back in the Cloud Recesses any moment. If he sees you, you’ll be punished for slacking off again.”
“It‘s fine, you worry too much. I’m just resting my eyes for a few minutes.”
Deciding to let it slide, Lan Wangji continues on his way to find his brother who is most likely in the main conference hall. Gliding through the Cloud Recesses like a ghost, he makes it past the youngest disciples still yawning and tripping over their own feet before he enters the main conference hall where white cloud tapestries are hung from every beam. His brother is already seated at the highest platform level, the brush in his hand suspended in air as he watches Lan Wangji approach.
“Brother...I have spoken with Uncle,” he begins, only after having done a Yevon’s bow. Lan Xichen stands to return the gesture. He doesn’t sit back down.
“Wangji, you are not as young as you once were,” he begins, sighing slightly at the slightest raised eyebrow he gets in return. “I understand our lifespan differs greatly from those who do not cultivate, but I am worried that if you wait too long to seize your moment, it’ll be too late.”
Lan Wangji closes his eyes, hands still held in each other. “Brother is afraid I will not be as capable and strong enough to live through the final summoning should I ever make it there.”
Lan Xichen does not meet his brother’s eyes. “Wangji, I am only worried for you. Before, because of the Sunshot Campaign, you were not able to begin your pilgrimage to defeat Sin. I was worried after the war you were not well enough to begin. Not to mention, you had brought a child back. These days, Sin’s appearance has been increasing and the amount of casualties and deaths this year alone is worrying.
Lan Xichen takes his seat. “I have always been afraid I would lose you if I carelessly let you go. But more than that, I do not want you to waste away here, when you have the potential to become a powerful summoner.”
By then, the sky had lightened up considerably, splashes of pinks and purples spill across the sky. Lan Wangji is quiet in contemplation.
“I do not wish to become a powerful summoner solely to become one. If it is to protect the world of Spira, I am willing to do what I can.”
There’s a but that does not get spoken, yet the way Lan Xichen’s eyes seem to sadden would tell even a stranger that he knows why it is Lan Wangji has not made a move to ‘protect the world from Sin’.
“Have you considered it, though?”
“Yes, but once I begin my pilgrimage, I do not plan on returning.”
Lan Xichen sits up straight, his hand moving off of the table. A few pyreflies that had made its way into the hall circles between them before dispersing into the air. “What do you mean? Where will you go?”
Lan Wangji shakes his head, hands finally relaxing from beneath his long flowing sleeves. “Brother knows that no matter how strong I become, I will not return from the final destination. That is what it means to save all of Spira.”
“Wangji! But what about Lan Sizhui? Will you abandon him?”
At the mention of the name, it seems to hit a nerve. “Not a single Summoner has been able to reach the final destination from before the Sunshot Campaign, and those who have do not make it past the Zanarkand Temple; Sin is not defeated. I will do what I can to succeed, and it’ll come at the cost of my life either way. Just as every other summoner before me has done.”
“Will you be abandoning the boy who sees you as his father,” asks Lan Xichen again. He sounds oddly desperate, unlike his usual calm and cheerfulness.
“To abandon him in a world where there is a limited calm , is just the same. I have given you and uncle’s words many thoughts for many moons. I will leave as soon as I have sorted my belongings and handed them to Lan Sizhui.”
With the finality in his words Lan Xichen nods weakly, crushed and ridden with guilt. In hindsight, it was really foolish to believe that if Lan Wangji were to make it to the final destination, defeat Sin and become the High Summoner, that he would survive.
“Will you at least be taking any guardians with you? We have many promising combatants from all classes.”
Lan Wangji shakes his head. “I plan to travel alone.”
Defeated, Lan Xichen could only nod dejectedly, “I see…”
Lan Jingyi and Lan Sizhui hold their breaths, standing behind tall thick round pillars with pyreflies gathering around them. They wait until Lan Wangji is out of view and far enough that even an experienced cultivator like him wouldn’t be able to hear, they breathe out a sigh.
“Sizhui...doesn’t that mean that once Hanguang-Jun leaves, we’ll never see him ever again?”
The older teen nods. His shoulders slump, “Summoners who make it to the final destination and are able to summon the final aeon never make it out of the battle alive. Not a single summoner who completed their pilgrimage has lived to tell the story. If anything, the guardians who manage to survive are all that's left of the battle.”
“But isn’t Hanguang-Jun like...your dad?” Jingyi whispers the last word as if it were taboo.
“He’s too young to be a father.”
Seeing the way Sizhui literally deflates onto the floor, he begins to think up of a plan. “So,” he begins despite the warning look he receives, “What if we join him as his guardians?”
“He won’t accept us as guardians. We’ll just end up being a burden to him.”
“That’s true,” replies Jingyi. They’re both sitting with their backs against the pillar, dejected and already mourning what they have yet to lose. Sizhui rolls the silver bell always tied to his belt with braided purple cords around in his hand. Jingyi knows it’s a habit born out of anxiousness.
“Good morning, do you two need something?”
Jumping at the voice, the two young disciples push at each other quickly bringing both hands in a salute. “Sect Leader!”
Lan Xichen chuckles in amusement, “Have you two come to eavesdrop?”
Vehemently denying it, Sizhui is used as a shield by Jingyi. “No it’s not like that! It was an accident. We were just chasing after Hanguang-Jun to tell him that one of the old rabbits is not doing very well, but we couldn’t yell and we thought if we waited, we’d be able to catch him before he left to do his things. Hanguang-Jun is very busy, after all,” he reasons, albeit hardly leaving any room for Lan Xichen to interject with even a chuckle.
“Very well...but I am assuming you both have heard what was discussed?” Their mournful silence answers. “Do not worry, if it is your Hanguang-Jun, then he can overcome anything. That is why we must also stay strong so that should he ever need a helping hand, we can do it for him.”
“Yes, Sect Leader Lan,” the two replies.
“Knowing him, he’d probably start his journey without much preparation. Jingyi, inquire from Elder Lan Qiren what potions and items would be needed for the journey. Please take care of it once your early morning lessons are over.”
“Yes sir!” Without another word, Jingyi scatters off. Sizhui nervously waits.
“As for this young one, why don’t you go after Hanguang-Jun and spend some time with him.”
Despite trying his hardest to seem nonchalant about it, Sizhui really couldn’t hold back his eagerness to chase after the only person he considers family.
After parting ways with Jingyi by the disciple quarters, Sizhui carefully makes his way towards the Jingshi first. As expected, Lan Wangji was standing in the small clearing with the rabbits, some attempting to climb the bottom of his robes and others contempt with simply laying in close proximity to him.
“Hanguang-Jun,” he greets, doing a Yevon’s bow. Lan Wangji acknowledges him with a nod of his head. Sizhui sees that in his arms is the oldest black rabbit. Although he knows it’s an incredibly old rabbit, it had only been the past year that it slowly began to deteriorate in health. Earlier when Jingyi and Sizhui was feeding them, it didn’t seem to even have the energy to run up to him like it used to. “This senior rabbit is not well. He doesn’t seem to have much time left.”
At that, Sizhui is surprised at the incredibly sorrowful look in Lan Wangji’s eyes.
All his life, he’s only seen the summoner’s eyes glisten in such a way when it pertained to a certain circumstance from his past. Sizhui knew the rabbits were a gift from someone precious to Lan Wangji. He knew they were most likely no longer alive, he just didn’t know w ho.
“It is time…”
Lan Wangji motions for the both of them to sit down. Once they do, the other oldest rabbit, a white companion to the black one, slowly teetered over to nudge the summoner’s thigh. It was picked up and immediately went to groom and snuggle close to the black one.
“Were they the two first rabbits here?”
Lan Wangji nods, cradling the two so gently and preciously in his arms, someone who was a bit aways would mistake it for an infant.
“Mn...they are lovers.”
Shocked, Sizhui leans in. Of course he’s always known the two grandpas were always together and always played with each other, but he had never known this. In fact, both he and Jingyi had always referred to them as brothers.
“But Hanguang-Jun, they’re both males?”
“Even so, they love each other.”
The sky is slowly turning orange and pink, the black bunny laying on one side. Sizhui could tell it’s breath was slowing down, as if preparing for eternal slumber. The white rabbit seeming to be fighting against the tides of fate and time, continuously nudging and grooming it’s companion.
The moment the sun began to peek through the horizon spilling golden light into the Cloud Recesses, the black rabbit takes its last breath and slowly shuts its eyes. There is pain painted across Lan Wangji’s face, no longer donning an immaculate jaded porcelain look. Lights dance across his eyes from tears unshed. Sizhui felt as if Lan Wangji was experiencing the same death for the second time.
Sizhui clutches onto the lotus bell in his lap as Lan Wangji wordlessly continues to pet the black rabbit a few times.
The white rabbit lays down flush against it’s lover, before ultimately closing its eyes and resting.
Sizhui stops mid-sentence when he notices the white rabbit is no longer breathing.
“They were gifts to me from someone very important to the both of us.”
He’s always known that he was a complete stranger brought into the Lan clan by Lan Wangji. Some adults know why and from where he came from, but no one had ever told him anything about his life before the Cloud Recesses. Not even his memories were reliable. Yet now, his Hanguang-Jun, someone who was the closest thing to a father to him said such words that insists he had lost people dear to him and he never knew.
Lan Wangji gently puts the two lovers into Sizhui’s lap. They’re warm when they shouldn’t be. Concluding it was most likely because Lan Wangji had been passing spiritual energy to them before they had gone, he waits as the man stood up to prepare for a sending. In order to make sure the souls and remaining positive energy didn’t linger, a Summoner’s duty was to send the souls of the dead on to the Farplane where they would rest until reincarnation.
Although Sizhui has seen Lan Wangji perform sendings, it was never short of beautiful and heartbreaking.
Lan Wangji swiftly throws both arms out wide, leaving trails of bright blue spiritual energy lingering after each finger tip. As if bubbles fizzing out of control and slowly coming together, the summoner’s spiritual guqin manifests as an iridescent blue instrument that never falls even without a hand to hold it up.
Lan Wangji’s spiritual guqin was entirely different from a sound mage class. In essence, it worked the same but the effects were different. With his gift as a Summoner, he had the ability to not only physically manipulate and combat with sound, but also impact souls and spirits.
Ever since he could remember, Lan Wangji had been heralded as one of the most promising summoners left of his generation. From what he’d been taught in lessons, before the Sunshot Campaign, the Wen Clan enslaved and killed as many summoners as they could before they were defeated in the war. Despite actively fighting on the frontlines, Lan Wangji had been able to make a name for himself as one of the strongest in the new generation of Summoners. Unfortunately for most of his counterparts, they did not survive.
With both hands, Lan Wangji brings them to the strings and, before he could be disrupted by a group of elders walking towards them, he begins to play. The manipulated energy gathers nearby pyreflies, rippling the air in waves. They swarm and dance together, listening to the sound of the guqin and hearing the underlying prayer of each note. Sizhui watches as pyreflies leave the bodies of the bunnies. The warmth that was already slowly stagnating from them immediately flushes out.
The sending only takes a minute or two at most, but to Sizhui every sending he’s ever been witness to has felt agonizingly slow. Even now he thinks having to sit through one is too hard on the heart. For the first time he’s unable to stop himself from crying despite knowing the rules of their sect.
Lan WangJi only swipes away his spiritual guqin with one hand and it disintegrates. Just as he does so, the bodies of the bunnies slowly fade away leaving an emptiness in Sizhui’s lap.
Oh . “So they were fiend rabbits?”
The elder doesn’t sit, only brings his hands together and closes his eyes in a reverent stance. His only reply is a hum.
“I will be starting my pilgrimage.”
That’s all Sizhui needs to know that what he means is that he will be leaving for good, and that even if someone defeats Sin for another calm, he will continue wandering until the next time. It’s a cruel goodbye especially when he doesn’t understand what he himself is to the elder.
“The reason why you took me in...it was because I was something to the person you loved, right?”
His question is met with a long silence. Then a hum. Sizhui brings his knees to his chest and hides the look of anguish on his face. He wonders how that is any different than keeping pets as a momento.
“A-yuan,” Lan Wangji prompts, “There was a time where I could not protect anyone that I loved. You are my child. I am still here because you are. The hope that brought me to today, was given to me by you. So I must go.”
Sizhui’s heart slowly relents and accepts that Lan Wangji is going to begin his pilgrimage. There is a silent promise to get stronger so that he could one day join him.
“Thank you Hanguang-Jun, for taking care of me until today.”
Lan Wangji pats his head, eyes finally looking beyond the past and into the reality of that moment.
“No need for such words. You are a good child no matter what.”