Speaking of the dead’s virtues was a courtesy commonly offered, unless your name was Wei Wuxian.
It had been years – seven and four months – since he died, and yet Wei Wuxian’s name remained as infamous as it once was when he was alive. Perhaps, even more so. His death hardly comforted those who feared him, merely directing that fear to another direction, putting the blame on him for every crisis, every little inconvenience.
Lan Wangji entertained the thought of Wei Wuxian finding it morbidly amusing, if he were alive. Perhaps he’d make a list, citing those he found most ridiculous.
And perhaps, an example would be this:
“It’s the Yiling Patriarch, I’m telling you! Stealing our corpses to raise his undead army!”
Lan Wangji took a moment to close his eyes, compose himself, and genuinely putting all efforts into not doing something he’d regret.
As the village Elder continued on explaining the strange and frequent disappearances of the village’s deceased, Lan Wangji shifted his sights to the suspicious man by the Elder’s side. The moment the Elder finished speaking, he asked the man, “What do you do here?”
Nervously, the man answered, “I’m the grave-keeper.”
“How many were buried this month?”
“Twelve, I believe.”
“How many of those did you lose?”
Lan Wangji stared at him.
“Is there something wrong?” the Elder asked, appearing the slightest bit uncomfortable.
He didn’t answer, opting to search for a place to stay.
It was three days later that the Elder asked while Lan Wangji was having his morning tea, “I’m certainly honored to host one as high in esteem as Hanguang-Jun, but I can’t help but feel… concerned about the problem I consulted you with.”
“Patience,” he replied, taking a sip.
And it was two days after that he exited his room late in the night, breaking his scheduled slumber. He knocked on the Elder’s door and waited, and soon enough, the Elder opened the door with a dozen curses that dried on his tongue upon seeing him. “H-Hanguang-Jun… to what do I owe the honor of this visit?”
“Follow me,” he said, and the Elder, with shaky legs, did.
After a short journey, they arrived to the graveyard, only to catch a person kneeling before the grave made this afternoon for a kind old woman who passed away at dawn, digging it with hurried diligence, the intention behind the act clear. Bichen’s glare was enough to cut through the night’s darkness, illuminating the person’s features -- those that belonged to the grave-keeper.
It didn’t take much to get him to confess, just a few pointed looks.
“I sell the corpses for physicians wishing to practice their skills on human bodies. I didn’t think it would harm anyone, and I needed the money…!”
“How can I ever repay you?” the Elder asked him later on at the village’s gates.
“Don’t speak ill of the dead,” he answered before he walked away.
“I think it’s the spirit of the Yiling Patriarch! He loved to eat loquats, so wouldn’t it be correct to think he’s the one responsible for our missing stock?”
Lan Wangji had to give the boy some credit, his tale was rather creative considering that he had a minute to think of it as his mother rushed to him for aid.
He had been taking a break in Caiyi Town before returning to the Cloud Recesses when the pair interrupted his peaceful lunch, the mother overjoyed, and the son trailing behind her in distress.
Lan Wangji had to take one look around him to get a full understanding. He stopped a little girl walking by, asking her gently, “Where did you get this?” pointing to the bag of loquats she held in her hands just like all the others in the marketplace.
The girl was happy to answer between munches and swallows. “It’s this boy right here, he was distributing them by the lake this morning.”
The mother turned purple with rage, “A-Yang!”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I just had to get rid of them; their smell made me sneeze all day!”
Apologizing for inconveniencing him, the mother dragged her son away, most probably for a good scolding.
“You want some?” asked the girl, offering some of her share.
He remembered a time where he refused such offer, in this very place.
“Thank you,” he said, and took a few.
Lan Wangji pinched the bridge of his nose, silently asking for patience, “You believe your son is possessed…”
“By the Yiling Patriarch!” the town merchant helpfully interrupted to add.
“And it’s because of that he’s failing to charm a maiden of his choosing?”
The merchant nodded, seemingly proud of his deductions. “Don’t you think my theory has some merit?”
“No,” was Lan Wangji’s immediate and near-venomous answer.
“Well, why the hell not?” the merchant asked in return, offended.
Because I’ve personally witnessed Wei Ying charming every maiden he chose to pay attention to.
“Where’s your son?” Lan Wangji asked.
The merchant led him to the town central, pointing at a young man who was desperately trying to gain the attention of a group of maidens to no avail. He and the merchant stood close but unseen, watching the disaster unfold. The merchant looked as though he had an epiphany, grimacing upon hearing some of the lines his son used, and then paling like a soul-drained corpse upon seeing the maidens figuratively running for the hills away from him.
“So he’s not possessed…” Finally, he was facing reality.
“If he was, we’d have hope.”
At the confirmation, the merchant despaired, “What should I do?! If things continued on like this, my family’s bloodline would end with him!”
“It could be a blessing,” Lan Wangji assured.
The merchant wept.
It was midnight when Lan Wangji heard the gentle sound of a dizi, one that was enough to send this village into a hysterical frenzy, requesting his help to cleanse the night from the lingering remains of Wei Wuxian’s spirit.
Wouldn’t it be something, if their fears spoke of a truth?
But Lan Wangji knew, from the first few notes… this wasn’t who they feared, it wasn’t Wei Ying…
The player lacked the elegance, the finesse, the character. They were good, he wouldn’t deny that, excellent even, but they certainly didn’t measure up to old performances that commanded armies.
As the villagers hid themselves in their homes, Lan Wangji traced the sound to an open field, where a young woman scrambled to hide the dizi she held upon sighting him, but it was already too late.
Silently, he asked for an explanation and the young woman held the dizi close to her heart, her voice holding a plea as she began, “My father played the dizi, and he taught me how to play it before he passed away. With the way the dizi is abhorred after the Yiling Patriarch died, I took advantage of the villagers fear to get a chance to practice. It wasn’t my intention to harm anyone, I… I just wanted to play and honor my father’s memory…”
“Then play…” he replied. The young woman’s eyes widened in response, but she did as told and resumed her playing.
Lan Wangji leaned against a tree and listened, thinking how long it had been since he heard a dizi.
In the morning, he told the villagers this: “It’s a lost spirit. Do not disturb it.”
“Are you really going to try convincing me of that ridiculous theory?”
“But it’s true! The reason why Hanguang-Jun refuses to court a maiden or respond to flirtations is because of the Yiling Patriarch! You know the myths about the GusuLan Sect’s forehead ribbons, right? Well the Yiling Patriarch pulled Hanguang-Jun’s ribbon one time, ruining him for everyone!”
“I think this is just you making an elaborate excuse for him rejecting you.”
Behind the two unaware guest cultivators, Lan Wangji almost laughed.
For once, they were right.