Wei Wuxian was leaning over the edge of the boat, a coy smile on his face, dangling his fingers in the water. Lan Zhan was sitting next to him, Bichen in his lap, eyes focused straight ahead. Wei Wuxian let his gaze flicker over Lan Zhan for a moment, over his fair face and well-sculpted form, barely hidden under the soft folds of his white hanfu. His smile softened somewhat along with his melting heart.
“Lan Zhaaann,” he called, and the Gusu cultivator turned to him with a slight cock of the head.
“Are you excited?”
Lan Zhan said nothing, only tilting his head a bit more. Wei Wuxian laughed and pulled his hand from the water, shaking the droplets off his fingers and splashing them at his husband; Lan Zhan did not look amused, but Wei Wuxian ignored him, simply continuing to speak.
“You know we haven’t been to Lotus Pier in a long time! Aren’t you excited to eat lotus seeds again and hunt pheasants and visit Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling?”
Lan Zhan nodded slowly.
“Lotus root and pork sparerib soup,” he said and Wei Wuxian grinned.
“Yes, yes, that too!!” he cried. He threw an arm over Lan Zhan’s shoulders, causing the boat to rock a bit. The boatman yelled, but Wei Wuxian ignored him, instead shaking Lan Zhan a bit more, making the boat tilt.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said at the same time the boatman roared,
“Masters, don’t think I won’t throw you into the river!!”
Wei Wuxian laughed and threw himself into the foot of the boat, waving a hand in apology. The boatman huffed in annoyance, but continued rowing them towards Yunmeng without another word, intent on ignoring them. Wei Wuxian snorted.
“Hey, Lan Zhan,” he whispered, raising his head a bit so that Lan Zhan could properly hear his voice, “do you think he doesn’t like us?”
Lan Zhan sniffed.
“Doesn’t like you,” he muttered, and Wei Wuxian huffed indignantly before laughing again.
“Aiyah, Lan Zhan, you get funnier every day!” He got to his knees and placed his chin on Lan Zhan’s thigh, gazing up at him through thick black lashes. “Am I teaching you well, Hanguang-jun?” He winked, pleased when the faintest pink flush crept onto the tips of Lan Zhan’s ears.
“Wei Ying—” Lan Zhan began, but a loud voice cut him off before he could finish.
“Is that permitted?”
Wei Wuxian sighed and turned around, seeing for the first time that they had arrived at Lotus Pier. Waiting to greet them was Jin Ling in all his glory, dressed in flashy gold and white, his sword at his hip, his bow strung across his back. He was pointing at Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan with an imperious finger and glaring at them, as if daring them to do something scandalous at his uncle’s Lotus Pier, and Wei Wuxian just sighed.
“Jin Ling, it’s nice to see you too,” he said, waving languidly at the boy. He did not move his head from its spot on Lan Zhan’s thigh.
“Can you not drool all over each other in my presence?” Jin Ling called, clearly annoyed. “It’s inappropriate!”
From the boat behind Wei Wuxian, Lan Jingyi started to yell.
“Who are you to tell Senior Wei and Hanguang-jun what’s appropriate and what’s not?!? You’re of lesser status than them!”
Even from the water, Wei Wuxian could see Jin Ling turn red in anger.
“So what?! This is my uncle’s territory! They can do whatever they want in Cloud Recesses, but they should mind themselves here! They’re guests!”
“And you’re not??” Jingyi retorted. “You’re the next head of the Jin Clan, not the Jiang Clan! This isn’t your territory! This is your uncle’s!”
Jin Ling unsheathed his sword and Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes. With a groan he pushed himself off Lan Zhan’s thigh, immediately missing his familiar warmth and strength, and jumped to the head of the boat.
“All right, all right, you two!” he called. “Jin Ling put your sword away. Jingyi, stop talking out of turn. We’re here to do business, aren’t we? Why are you acting so hostile?”
“Fine,” both boys grumbled, and Jin Ling sheathed his sword while Jingyi muttered an apology. They landed at the pier a few minutes later, where Wei Wuxian acted as a diplomat between Jin Ling and Jingyi while Lan Zhan took care of matters with the boatman.
The fact was they hadn’t come to Lotus Pier simply for pleasure. Although Wei Wuxian was greatly looking forward to lotus soup and seeing his brother and nephew, he had come to Lotus Pier at Jiang Cheng’s request for help. A demon had been troubling Yunmeng, and a particularly strong one at that. It had taken out quite a few of the clan’s weaker cultivators already in their first attempt to kill it. Jiang Cheng didn’t want to take any risks; so, he asked Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan to help. Of course, Jin Ling and the disciples of the Gusu clan would also come to assist. Wei Wuxian figured it would be an easy hunt with so many talented people involved and, once they were done, they would able to binge on all the Lotus Pier delicacies he had grown up with, drink as much alcohol as he pleased, and maybe even get Lan Zhan drunk. He sighed. That would be great. We always have such fun when Lan Zhan is drunk. . .
“Wei Wuxian, are you listening to me?!?”
“Oh, hi Jiang Cheng.”
Jiang Cheng, who had arrived at some point during Jin Ling and Jingyi’s argument, was now standing next to his nephew, hands on his hips, glaring at Wei Wuxian. When he spoke, he raised his eyebrows nearly to his hairline.
“Oh hi?” he echoed. “Oh hi?! Is that all you have to say to me?”
Wei Wuxian frowned and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.
“Um. . . am I supposed to say something else?” He rocked back on his heels, looking at the younger disciples for support. They just shook their heads at him, and Wei Wuxian pouted. Useless brats. . . .
As Jiang Cheng’s expression became stormier (a feat Wei Wuxian previously thought he couldn’t achieve), Lan Zhan suddenly appeared at Wei Wuxian’s side.
“Clan Leader Jiang,” he greeted, clasping his hands together and bowing.
Thank god for you, Lan Zhan!!! Wei Wuxian jumped behind his husband and grinned at Jiang Cheng as his brother returned the greeting, unwilling to break decorum as citizens of Yunmeng wandered about Lotus Pier. Wei Wuxian, however, didn’t miss how his eyelid twitched — indicative of his annoyance — and he retreated a bit further behind Lan Zhan.
“Hanguang-jun,” Jiang Cheng said. “It’s good to see you again. It’s been several months.”
Lan Zhan nodded.
“Four,” he said simply.
“Yes, the last time I saw you both was in Cloud Recesses when I brought Jin Ling for lectures. I’m glad to finally return the favor to you by welcoming you to Lotus Pier.” Jiang Cheng gestured ahead of him with a small wave. “Please.”
The three cultivators began to walk in silence, the younger disciples shadowing them, until Wei Wuxian couldn’t take it anymore.
“Jiang Cheng,” he said, “are you seeing anyone yet?”
Jiang Cheng glared at him.
“No,” he answered.
“Ah, so you’re still a bachelor. Very eligible and very handsome, if I say so myself.”
Jiang Cheng grit his teeth.
“Wei Wuxian. . .” he said, a warning in his voice which Wei Wuxian obviously ignored.
“Would you like me to arrange something for you?”
“I’m teasing, I’m teasing!” Wei Wuxian elbowed Jiang Cheng gently in the ribs. “Your temper doesn’t suit a marriage. You’re better off being a bachelor.”
Jiang Cheng huffed.
“I’m surprised Second Lord Lan puts up with your temper,” he said. “Jiejie always said it wasn’t suitable for marriage either.”
Wei Wuxian ignored the pang in his heart at the mention of his older sister and instead just smiled at Jiang Cheng, looping an arm through Lan Zhan’s.
“Clearly, Shijie hadn’t met Lan Zhan yet!” he said. “We’re the perfect match! He’s the yin to my yang!”
Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes.
“The order to your chaos, more like,” he muttered.
“Masters,” a Jiang clan servant greeted, bowing respectfully. She dipped her head at Jiang Cheng. “The dining room is set up as requested, Clan Leader.”
“Thank you. You are dismissed.” The servant took her leave and Jiang Cheng motioned everyone to follow him to the dining room. When they arrived, a meal was laid for them — chicken and rice, accompanied by fine lotus tea — a simple yet filling Yunmeng meal. When everyone had finished eating and the plates were cleared away, Wei Wuxian leaned back with a smile.
“Excellent food, Jiang Cheng! Now where’s the alcohol?”
Jiang Cheng snorted.
“Alcohol? Please. As if I’d allow you to drink before such an important mission.”
Wei Wuxian pouted but did not argue. After all, Lan Zhan had the same rule in Gusu.
“Clan Leader Jiang,” Lan Sizhui piped up, “would you tell us the details of the night hunt?”
“Of course.” He settled himself comfortably at the head of the room, garnering everyone’s attention. When all eyes were focused on his face, he nodded once.
“There is a particular demon that has been plaguing the nearby rice paddies of Yunmeng. It is fearsome, vicious, and feeds on live humans. All of the villagers fear it.” He sighed and ran a hand over his face. “They’ve lost six lives to it already, and we’ve lost three cultivators.”
A murmur of quiet alarm passed through the group. Nine dead already? This really was a fierce demon. . .
“Have the villagers seen the demon?” Lan Jingyi asked.
“Yes. It has the appearance of a young child, seemingly normal from far away, but up close has red eyes and long ears. They say it is beautiful.”
Jin Ling made a face.
“Beautiful? How can a demon be beautiful?”
Wei Wuxian shrugged.
“You’d be surprised,” he said. “Some demons and monsters are known to disguise themselves as beautiful people or objects to trick humans into getting close enough to hurt or kill them. It’s not uncommon.”
Jin Ling paled and shuddered. Lan Jingyi opened his mouth to ask a question when Lan Zhan spoke.
“Wangliang,” he said, eyes flicking between Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng. “Wangxiang.”
“Oooohhh,” Wei Wuxian drawled, tapping his index finger against the side of his nose. He nodded slowly. “That sounds about right, Lan Zhan. An exorcism should do the trick then.”
“We already tried that,” Jiang Cheng said with a shake of the head. “It didn’t work. How do you think so many of my cultivators died?”
Wei Wuxian frowned.
“Hmmm. . . Do you know what kind of exorcism they tried?”
“It was probably the standard one then. Let me try my one-and-only Wei Wuxian Method and if that doesn’t work then we’ll think of something else.”
Jiang Cheng narrowed his eyes.
“And what’s this method of yours look like exactly?”
“It’s a secret, Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian said with a playful wink. “Although I’ll need some help setting everything up once we get to the rice paddies. Before then I should be able to do everything by myself.”
“Are you sure?”
“Wei Ying—” Lan Zhan began, but Wei Wuxian laid a hand on his arm to cut him off.
“It’s all right, Lan Zhan,” he said, squeezing his husband’s arm lightly in reassurance. “It will be fine. Meanwhile, why don’t you teach the junior disciples how to deal with a demon of this caliber?”
Lan Zhan stared at Wei Wuxian for a few long moments, carefully studying his face, before nodding.
“Very well,” he said. “We leave in two days.”