If it wasn’t for the underway Sunshot Campaign, Wei WuXian reappearing on the surface of the earth will come as a bigger shock to the rest of the cultivation world. Sunshot Campaign was triggered by turning the strength of Qishan Wen Sect into the tools of their destruction. The war burned down homes and turned humans with a desire to live into devils. It made even the normal citizens ー people who had nothing to do with the cultivation world ー look over their shoulder even in the safest places. Invasions were carried out every day in every place imaginable and unimaginable. They strike hard and fast in the places people feel most secure. They shred strength and expose vulnerability. They tore victims apart, from the inside out.
But what was the most unfortunate for such inevitable warfare was the fact that cultivators as young as eighteen had to equip themselves with weapons and skills they had yet to fully master, stepping on bodies, bones, and blood as they greeted every fight with the resolution to fight till the life left their bodies. And amongst these young cultivators, Wei WuXian wasn’t an exception. He’d fought death once when he climbed out of Burial Mound alive, returning with a strength that was never before seen, with animosity that could shiver one’s bones. His return in such an aberrant state should be deemed as dreaded and unacceptable but the sides he took had conveniently dismissed that fact, pushing him up onto being the best war force, utilizing him however and wherever he could, just so they could defeat the bigger vile.
No one criticized Wei WuXian when he was standing on their side during Sunshot Campaign. No one dared to say anything against him. No one can say that he’s wrong, that he’s as diabolical as Qishan Wen Sect, and should be regarded as an enemy simply because what he was practising was out of the norm.
As long as he’s not devoting himself to the enemies, he shall not be offended; that was the common consensus.
No one treated him like a human being, just another destructive weapon that would help them win the war.
No one, except for one person.
Wei WuXian’s chest heaved gravely as he caught his breath. With his eyes closed, he tried as hard as he could to regulate the emotions from within him, trying as hard as he could to suppress the overwhelming resentful energy, seeking to crush him from beneath. Sure, demonic cultivation was a cultivation he found; he’d figured out ways to make use of resentful energy, and ways to repress them. For that, he congratulated himself, praising himself as a never-before-seen prodigy who can turn the impossible into possible. But no matter how much a prodigy he was, he’s still human. And as a human, there would still be times when he needed time out for himself, especially when he no longer had a golden core to replenish his vitality like any other cultivator did, especially when he was still in the midst of learning how to thoroughly grasp demonic cultivation, the three-month effort in Burial Mound a mere straw of hope ー a temporary solution ー he’s powerlessly holding onto out of the desperation to come out from the mountain as soon as he can so that he can seek for his revenge.
No one should know about this though.
As of now, all everyone saw was an outstanding cultivator who used skills that were never before seen, mastering it, and creating forces that were very much needed at this trying time. For many, Wei WuXian was hope, even though his method was beyond disgraceful.
He swallowed down his throat a few times, cold sweat sheened his back, some trickling down his face all the way to his chin and dripped, falling on his cold bed. His face was pale, he still smelled like blood, his hands and his all-black robes were still drenched in patches of blood left to dry.
The confrontation in Jiang Ling was the worst strife he had participated in since he returned. It’s understandable, seeing how this very war was the most momentous war Yunmeng Jiang Sect would be part of, as this very war was what that would help them regain authority over Lotus Pier if they were to win. But as much as they were aware of the implication, Qishan Wen Sect with its intelligent war strategist and Sect Leader, Wen RuoHan, was fully aware of it too. The manpower gathered in Jiang Ling was far above any other disputes they were involved in. And that also meant pushing Wei WuXian over his limit over and over and over again, squeezing him dry, for he was the most potent warforce Yunmeng Jiang Sect had, yet was unable to portray any hint of fatigue, especially not in front of his own men.
Wei WuXian breathed open-mouthed. He released a sigh of relief upon noticing that the leaden load of energy in his body had calmed down, giving his mind a clearer thought process. They were still in the midst of war, they were still in Jiang Ling. The last confrontation was so brutal they had to retreat to restrategize their game. It’s one of the rare times when Wei WuXian got to rest for real so that he could gather his composure enough to last him for the next few hours.
“Young Master Wei.”
He rattled at the abrupt voice, his alertness heightened as his hand clasped hard on Chenqing. His eyes were bloodshot when he glared at the direction of the entrance of his tent, growling,
“What is it?”
The man outside his tent visibly quivered upon hearing his voice. He stuttered,
“S-Sect Leader Jiang requires for your attendance in the strategy meeting.”
Wei WuXian closed his eyes and hefted a heavy breath. He rubbed his temples with one thumb and said,
“Okay. Tell him I’ll be there in a bit.”
The man fled after a hasty ‘understood’. Wei WuXian stood, knees weak and almost collapsing onto the floor if he hadn’t lurched towards the table and held onto it on time. He poured himself a cup full of liquor and drained it down his throat. He took in another cup, then another. It’s only when he realized that he had finished a jar of liquor that he frowned with a ‘tch’ and tidied up his robes.
The blood on his robes was still wet; the blood wasn’t his. His own blood was simmering in his veins, almost blinding his sensations if he hadn’t gotten this time out from the savagery of the warzone that was soaked in nothing but violence.
As he walked out of his tent, the night furled over, bringing a threat of a storm, immediately greeted by frosty breeze that sweltered him in his bones. Even the shadows were now enveloped by the encroaching darkness. The lack of birdsong made his surroundings to appear eerier as every flutter of the leaves and every footstep he caught sounded like the arrival of an insidious man or beast. He strode down the path with frigid vibe pulsing off his body, his expression one of cold and sullen. Terrified disciples greeted him out of courtesy but he paid them no attention, utterly distracted by the discomfort in his guts.
It’s when he made his way into the tent where Jiang Cheng was that a tint of warmth returned to his face, a gleam of light returned to his orbs. Not because of how warm the inside of the tent was, not because of the familiar scowl Jiang Cheng was giving him, but because of the presence of yet another man who appeared like a glimmering shade of white in the midst of his darkness, splattering speckles of light into his dark shadow.
ー Lan WangJi.
His footsteps halted abruptly when he caught sight of the man, his expression froze on his face as he stared, wide-eyed, at the unexpected encounter. Then, he pulled a smirk.
“HanGuang-Jun, what a coincidence.”
Lan WangJi didn’t say anything; he didn’t even respond, not even a polite nod was given. Wei WuXian shrugged. Lan WangJi wasn’t very happy with how he’d become ever since he returned. It’s not the first time he’d been giving him the cold shoulder. Not even the fake-vibrancy of his voice can patch up that crack in their relationship. It’s too bad, really. If Lan WangJi can’t accept him for who he’d become now, then it’s unfortunate. Besides, he’s way too occupied with things to consider much about how his relationship had turned out with others, and being slopped in blood and rancorous emotions on a daily basis when he had yet to adequately control his own state wasn’t helping much either. He’d rather not add more problems to his already loaded plate of complications.
Without another word, Wei WuXian settled himself in his usual corner, arms crossed, eyes closed.
“Aren’t you surprised why Second Master Lan is here?” Jiang Cheng lashed out at him. Jiang Cheng wasn’t in a very good mood himself either. He already had temper management on usual occasions and the atrocious nature he’s often exposed to now wasn’t helping in soothing his own mood either.
“What else can it be?” Wei WuXian said, peeking an eye open. “We’re outnumbered, of course you would’ve sent out a request for help to Gusu Lan Sect, no?”
Jiang Cheng responded with a brassy ‘hmph’. “For your oblivious information, I did not. But Second Master Lan had caught wind of our situation and had come all the way from Gusu to assist us here. Have some sense of gratitude, will you?”
Wei WuXian opened his eyes and gave Lan WangJi a glance.
“He came by himself?” he blurted.
“Yes, as you can see,” Jiang Cheng said.
“Only him?” Wei WuXian asked again.
“Are you blind orー” Jiang Cheng paused and took in a deep breath, noticing how he’s letting his emotions flare his head again. “Yes, as you can see. Do you see anyone else around?”
“Not sure. You know how I am, I don’t pay attention to people, let alone remember their names and faces,” Wei WuXian scoffed.
“Then you better remember HanGuang-Jun’s name and face from now onwards if you want to survive through this war,” Jiang Cheng said.
Wei WuXian smirked and twirled Chenqing around his thumb a few times, “Oh, perhaps you should tell me how does one not remember HanGuang-Jun’s name and face, huh? Besides, why should I? It’s not like I need his help to be able to take upon 5,000 troops by myself.”
“That’s what he said,” Jiang Cheng directed his words at Lan WangJi instead.
“Wei Ying,” Lan WangJi finally spoke. The flute’s motion stalled in a steep halt in Wei WuXian’s hand. He wasn’t looking at Lan WangJi, but Lan WangJi’s eyes on him were so sharp that he couldn’t help but feel the penetrating vibe that’s aimed at him.
Feeling like there’s no use trying to debate with anyone here, Wei WuXian raised a hand and stopped Lan WangJi before he could continue his words, “Be my guest. Just don’t get in my way. I don’t have time to take care of another person when I’m busy killing dogs.”
Lan WangJi opened his mouth, intending to say something but Wei WuXian had stood up then, no longer able to handle the smothering air in the tent as he headed towards the entrance with his arms crossed behind his head.
“Just let me know which area I’m responsible in later.” He looked over his shoulder and gave Jiang Cheng a smirk, coupled with a wink. “You don’t need me here anyway, right? Since I guess the instructions should be clear. Kill as many Wen dogs as I can.”
With that said, he left the tent, leaving behind wintry air and a rigid atmosphere.
Jiang Cheng sighed out loud. “He’s been like this since he returned,” he said to Lan WangJi. “As long as he doesn’t act up when we’re on the warfield, just let him do what he wants. Though, to be honest, I feel a bit more relieved now that Second Master Lan is here. As far as I know, it’s not easy to stop him when he gets into the heat of the moment.”
Lan WangJi’s attention was distracted since Jiang Cheng’s first line, his gaze remained stuck on where Wei WuXian had left the tent, as if he could see through the tent at where Wei WuXian was walking alone, down the path heading towards his own tent.
Lotus Pier was just within eyesight but the scene didn’t look like home anymore. It’s bloodstained and it has the Qishan Wen Sect’s emblem on it and it’d lost all the dynamism and liveliness that was once a trademark of what Lotus Pier was like. Every glance Wei WuXian caught of the scene had blazes burning in his guts, and every step he took towards a place he once called home had fury scorching him from within, making it hard for him to breathe.
They were at the last of their durability now. If they can’t win the war this time around, if they can’t snatch Lotus Pier back, then they wouldn’t have enough resources to try again for the next half a year.
Jiang Cheng can’t have that. And naturally, Wei WuXian wouldn’t allow that either. That’s why they had to win. They needed to win. They will give their all. Despite how exhausted they were, despite how many wounds that they’d gotten on their bodies, there’s nothing in their heads but to win, their actions driven completely by raw impulses and triggered profoundly by penetrative determination.
And that’s also why, clouded by instincts and overwhelmed by the matters in his hands, Wei WuXian’s body condition became the least of his concern. He's having a conspicuous upper hand at first, killing as many as he can, making the enemies his corpses then forcing them to kill their own subordinates, and draining more and more of his own energy as time went by. His cultivation, just like how normal cultivation would, relied heavily on his instincts. It gouged resources from around him, yet, his cultivation also came with a lethal side-effect that was far more damaging than the normal cultivation.
It also relied heavily on the will of the resentful spirits he was to control.
With every deplete of his own energy, his control slipped. And with every slip of control, it resulted in a higher possibility for the cultivation to bounce back on him, shifting the target of attack onto himself, especially when he was the one who’d taken the spirits’ lives in the first place.
He wasn’t even aware when one of the corpses he’d summoned raised its sword towards him and had almost slashed a fatal wound on his body when a shadow of white rushed towards him in lightning speed and took down the corpse just in time before its blade can land on Wei WuXian’s body.
He was momentarily faltered when he heard the sound of body colliding onto the ground. His breathing was harsh as he diverted a wary eye towards the direction where he caught the shadow, mouth hanging open when he saw that Lan WangJi was covered in blood from head to toe, his once sleek and pristine set of white robes dirtied by patches of rust and red. Wei WuXian’s heart skipped a beat. He hurried towards Lan WangJi, one hand was almost stretching out to him, almost touching him with the intent of supporting him, when he curled his fingers and took his hand back.
“Lan Zhan, are you injured?” he asked instead, his voice hushed and quiet. The commotion around them was screeching in his ears, he could still see shadows of warring individuals striving to live. But his attention was stuck on Lan WangJi. He couldn’t look away from the red on Lan WangJi ー so unfitting, so nasty ー and for a split second, he wanted so much to take Lan WangJi away from the warzone, away from the stains, just so he could return to being the impeccable Lan WangJi he was used to.
Lan WangJi shook his head. He gave the collapsed corpse a fleeting glance before he spoke again,
“Wei Ying, you’re losing control.”
Those words poured a cold bucket of water down Wei WuXian’s head, snapping him back to reality. The intention to bring Lan WangJi away vanished as soon as it came as a smirk was pulled on his face.
“Me? Losing control? Or is it because HanGuang-Jun is not used to seeing me in this state? Don’t joke around with me,” Wei WuXian said. “This is how I fight. I don’t use a sword, yeah, but don’t you think it’s rude to assume me of not being capable just because I don’t cultivate the usual way like you cultivators do?”
Lan WangJi panicked, “I don’t mean it that way.” His breathing was stiffer than usual, his composure less tranquil than usual; even the onerous resentful energy on the battlefield stumbled HanGuang-Jun’s ever so unshattering poise.
“Whatever it is, if you’re here to lecture me again, I’d have to kindly ask you to leave,” Wei WuXian said, already lifting his flute to his lips. A hoard of new corpses rise from the ground, balancing their footing, and were ready to fight on Wei WuXian’s commands.
Lan WangJi stepped closer to him, persisting, “Wei Ying, calm down. Look at yourseー”
His eyes brightened all of a sudden, noticing that another corpse was swinging his sword towards their direction. Not his, but Wei WuXian’s. Anxious, he sped towards it and took it down before Wei WuXian even noticed it himself. When Lan WangJi returned his attention to Wei WuXian again, cold sprinted down his spine upon noticing how malicious an expression Wei WuXian was wearing on his face and how he’s so immersed in whatever he was doing that he paid absolutely no attention to his surroundings. He wasn’t able to notice when he was standing a distance away from Wei WuXian earlier but now that he’s closer, Lan WangJi even noted blood dripping from his sleeves, leaving a small pool of red blotch on the ground.
Still, Wei WuXian paid it no attention. He’s not even looking at Lan WangJi, his attention wholly enwrapped by the intention to slay and the intention to summon more and more and more corpses.
He didn’t even notice it when three more corpses dashed towards him, all with murderous intention, as if they weren’t part of his concern, as if being slashed, being wounded, or even being killed, were nothing as important as being able to kill as many Wen dogs as possible.
They still didn’t manage to retrieve Lotus Pier.
In the midst of the war, Qishan Wen Sect had sent out more troops when they were falling short, immediately spinning the upper hand back into their hands. Out of desperation, Jiang Cheng had then instructed them to retreat. The war this time lasted for a full 35 hours. None of them had enough rest. Coupled with the defeat for the third time, their spirit was dreadfully low; no one wanted to say anything, no one wanted to hear anything. Even Jiang Cheng went back to his own tent without another word, his face was grim, the vindictive aura strong on him.
Wei WuXian too retreated unwillingly. He was sure that he could kill more even if he was the sole person left on the battlefield. He still had resources, he still had energy. And he really intended to do exactly that when his vision blackened out all of a sudden, giving Lan WangJi the perfect chance to grasped him by his waist, hoisted him onto Bichen, and flew them all the way back to Yunmeng Jiang Sect’s base.
The moment they landed on dry ground, Wei WuXian shoved Lan WangJi away with force so ferocious Lan WangJi would’ve collapsed onto the ground if he hadn’t had sheer strength to secure his footing for himself.
“You…!” Wei WuXian gritted. Red nerves seamed the corners of his eyes, his scowl deep. There was so much wrath on his expression that Lan WangJi was reminded of the time when he first witnessed him in this state after they found him in the inn, after having disappeared for three months.
Wei WuXian was shaking as he glared at him. His lips were trembling, his breathing heavy as if he’s quelling some sort of bitter energy from within him. But in the end, he waved his sleeves in an assertive motion and turned his back towards Lan WangJi, refusing to spend any more time with him.
Lan WangJi knew that what he’d done might have offended Wei WuXian. But it was the right thing to do. In that kind of situation, if he didn’t snatch Wei WuXian back by force, Wei WuXian would really die. He was clearly not in the right state of mind to be considering consequences for himself and that’s why Lan WangJi was here, to help him see his way.
Even though that would end up with Wei WuXian hating him and holding a grudge towards him.
Lan WangJi can’t bring himself to say anything either. He didn’t have any words to defend himself. He’s not going to defend himself. But he can’t leave Wei WuXian alone, especially not when he’d distinctly noticed that Wei WuXian wasn’t in a stable state and that he’d also witnessed the injuries Wei WuXian had sustained from the fight earlier.
So, he could only follow him quietly from behind.
Wei WuXian clearly knew that he’s following him too but he’s too distracted by his own emotions to be telling him off. He let him be, hoping that his ignorance will tell Lan WangJi enough that he wanted to be left alone. But as they came nearer to his tent, Lan WangJi was still following him, showing no signs of leaving.
It’s only when Wei WuXian came to stand at the entrance of his tent that he turned around to smirk at Lan WangJi.
“HanGuang-Jun, your tent’s over there,” he said, pointing a chin towards an opposite direction.
Lan WangJi said nothing. Wei WuXian’s smirk curved higher.
“Don’t tell me you intend to spend the night with me, do you? I’m sorry but regardless of what people say about me, I’m still a man of decency. I’m not going to let another man stay in the same tent as me when we’re in the midst of a higher priority to focus on. If you need some sort of coping method, perhaps find another man, will you? Or just head out to the nearest town, find a brothel or something.”
Lan WangJi’s fingers curled up by his side, a faint hint of pink rose to the tips of his ears. Yet, he still said nothing, being completely silent.
Wei WuXian’s patience ran out. Clicking his tongue, the smirk on his face faded.
“Leave me alone,” he gnashed.
Lan WangJi stared at him for a while before he finally said, “Take a good rest. And…” His eyes slid to Wei WuXian’s arm, a part of his body where he knew was injured. “Take care of your wounds.”
Wei WuXian didn’t say anything for a while. And then, he smiled. Not a smirk, but a smile.
“To be honest, I didn’t even notice it myself. I take it that HanGuang-Jun is concerned towards me? Thank you very much. I’m an adult, I know how to take care of myself. You too. Rest well, you barely had any rest too.”
Lan WangJi nodded. With another smile, Wei WuXian bowed a tad at Lan WangJi and disappeared into his tent.
Despite what Wei WuXian had told him, Lan WangJi remained standing outside his tent, letting the cold groove swept his hair, his robes, and the tail of his forehead ribbon. Despite the chilly weather, he didn’t feel tingles as much as what he felt from within. He watched as the light in the tent was being lit up, watched as Wei WuXian’s silhouette moved around the place, and only looked away when he noticed that Wei WuXian was taking his robes off, looking like he’s preparing for a bath.
With a quiet sigh, Lan WangJi turned away.
Wei WuXian was right; he could use some rest. Throughout the long hours, he’d been edgy not only from the war, but also from his unease towards Wei WuXian’s condition. Losing a war wasn’t a big deal; as long as they stayed alive, they can always try again. But if they were to lose themselves in the midst of it, then that’s a big deal.
The worst thing was, Lan WangJi saw that symptom on Wei WuXian. He saw how menacing Wei WuXian can be, how unforgiving he was, and how cruel he was when he killed. The Wei WuXian Lan WangJi knew wasn’t like this. It’s like the sun he once knew was stolen away, hid away, and there’s nothing he could do to help Wei WuXian if Wei WuXian wasn’t prepared to open up to him.
He was already a good distance away from Wei WuXian’s tent when he felt the air around him turn colder than ever, the squall rushing towards one same direction. It took him a good two seconds to realize that this wasn’t normal air. It’s like energy, resentful energy, like the ones he felt from the corpses Wei WuXian resurrected.
Feeling a skip in his heart, Lan WangJi spun around. The energy was speeding towards one direction, in the same direction.
ー It’s rushing towards Wei WuXian’s tent.
Lan WangJi couldn’t bring himself to stand around any longer. He sped towards the tent, following the gust’s direction. And then, right when he caught sight of the tent, the light in it was already dimmed. Did Wei WuXian fall asleep?
The moment he came near to the tent he immediately felt a malicious sort of energy wrapping around the tent, as if it’s attempting to swallow the tent whole. The weight of the energy was so tenebrous it was affecting even Lan WangJi. Without a second thought, Lan WangJi pulled Bichen out and slashed a clear path for himself, then crashing right into the tent.
Cultivators were adept with their five senses, including their sight. And Lan WangJi was no exception. He scrutinized the place, his gaze landed on the bed first, just to find his heart skipping a beat when he noticed that the bed was empty. He paced into the tent, still following the gust and then, right by his feet, he found Wei WuXian, dressed in nothing but his inner clothing as he laid unconscious, the candle that was once lit dropped by his hand.
“Wei Ying!” Lan WangJi called out. The resentful energy was latching on Wei WuXian as if it was attempting to suck Wei WuXian dry. Lan WangJi speedily swept them away with Bichen and hurriedly conjured a barrier to separate them from the energy before he focused on eliminating them all once and for all.
Once he’s done, he carried Wei WuXian into his arms.
“Wei Ying, wake up,” he urged.
But Wei WuXian laid pale in his arms. When Lan WangJi checked his pulse, he released a sigh of relief upon realizing that Wei WuXian’s life was in no danger, just weak and recovering. It bewildered Lan WangJi, though. Usually, cultivators were capable to rejuvenate their own energy with the help of their core. But why was Wei WuXian’s spiritual flow so low, almost non-existent, and why was he so cold, as if he hadn't been warmed up since a long time ago?
Lan WangJi wished he could ask Wei WuXian these questions himself but at this point of time, he only wanted to nurse Wei WuXian back into health first, at least enough for him to stay conscious before he proceeded with everything else.
Carefully, Lan WangJi carried him to the bed. He’s about to cover the blanket up for him, already thinking about making something warm for him to eat when that very thought was sidetracked upon seeing something on Wei WuXian’s bare stomach, concealed by just a thin piece of inner clothing hanging loosely on his body.
Lan WangJi’s hand motion paused. He frowned at the scar. And then, with a wave of his hand, he lit up the tent, giving him an unobscure look of the thing on Wei WuXian’s stomach.
His heart clenched. It was an Ezu Curse. An Ezu Curse is a marking made by a sinister being on its prey. If it appeared, it meant that the person had displeased something of extreme spite. If it left a mark, it would find you no matter what, possibly after a long time, possibly tonight. The consequences ranged from having the body part with the marking taken away or just death. The mark on Wei WuXian’s stomach had spread towards both sides of his waist in a vehement shade of black. There’s no way Lan WangJi can leave Wei WuXian alone after having seen that. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. It could be a mark left on Wei WuXian from one of the corpses he’d resurrected earlier. Who knows how many of those corpses still possessed their own consciousness and was still out to hunt for Wei WuXian for revenge? Lan WangJi had made sure to take down every single one that he could lay his hands on but under that kind of chaotic situation, he can’t be sure himself if he had actually gotten them all.
He can’t even tell where this mark came from. Was this why there was resentful energy attempting to harm Wei WuXian earlier? Because they were attracted to this mark?
What will happen if Lan WangJi didn’t see it coming then?
He didn’t even want to consider the possibility of it.
With a shivering hand, Lan WangJi reached out to the mark. At the very least, he could transfer some spiritual energy into Wei WuXian’s core and help him combat the curse mark himself if he didn't want Lan WangJi by his side. Wei WuXian’s cultivation had always been superior after all. Surely an Ezu Mark like this won’t be able to harm him? And surely the reason why he’d let his guard down this time was only because he’s overly fatigued by the war earlier?
Lan WangJi focused his spiritual energy on his fingers then, closing his eyes and pressing his fingers on Wei WuXian’s stomach, where his golden core lied.
...Just to realize that he can’t find his core.
Wei WuXian’s lower abdomen was empty; there's no signs of warmth, let alone signs of an active golden core.