Chapter 1: tags: mutual pining, Lan ducklings, JUSTICE
Wei Wuxian is approximately two months into his journey when he first hears about the story. With neither a goal nor a destination, the days are starting to blur, sunrises and sunsets melting into each other like the swirling ink in a painter’s pots. It’s easier to count time by the distance from the Cloud Recesses, the ever increasing number of days it will take his most recently dispatched letter to travel from his hand to Lan Zhan’s.
He misses Lan Zhan — not with the bitter ache that still taints his memories of Lotus Pier, or the gnawing hollowness of the empty pit where his golden core used to be, in his first life. It’s a softer longing, almost sweet, that tugs his gaze towards every white-robed figure that passes by, and stills his steps whenever he catches the sound of a qin.
The letters help, though his nomadic wandering means that Lan Zhan cannot send back his reply. It’s still entertaining to imagine Lan Zhan’s expression as he reads Wei Wuxian’s meandering anecdotes about the places he has visited and the people he’s met, the night hunts he’s joined (with no injuries, he reassures, usually truthfully). Most of his letters are dotted with little illustrations — sketches of a particularly stunning landscape or caricatures replicating a dramatic encounter — to amuse Lan Zhan while he fulfills the unenviable duty of wrangling sect leaders.
A few days ago, when a sudden rainstorm trapped him in an inn for the day, Wei Wuxian drew from memory a portrait of Lan Zhan: pouring tea, hand pulling back a white sleeve to reveal a pale, elegant wrist, unbound hair spilling like a silken waterfall across his shoulders. He intended on sending it to Lan Zhan, as a replacement for the portrait that Lan Zhan had let slip that he’d actually kept from their school days until Wen Xu had burned everything down. In the end, however, he couldn’t quite bear to part with it, and the painting has lived between the folds of his robes ever since.
He’s sheltering in another inn from another rainstorm, sipping his wine — decent, but of course nothing like his beloved Emperor’s Smile — and idly eavesdropping, when a familiar name snags his attention.
“—course he did, can you imagine anything else from Hanguang-jun?” a young woman says excitedly, her pretty face alight with admiration.
Her two dining companions, a man and a woman, heave a besotted sigh. “Truly a man without peer,” the young man agrees, with a glowing smile that brings back memories of the junior Lan disciples every time their esteemed Hanguang-jun so much as breathed in their direction.
Wei Wuxian grins into his cup, then picks up the jar of wine, and makes his way over to their table. “Friends, may I join you?” he asks, offering both the wine and his most charming smile. “I couldn’t help overhearing — were you speaking of Hanguang-jun? The cultivator Lan Wangji?”
“Of course!” the young woman says, gesturing to the empty seat at their four-person table. “Do you know Hanguang-jun?”
“A humble person like me could not possibly claim to know such an exalted gentleman,” Wei Wuxian says, eyes lowered modestly. “I have only heard tales of his kindness, his bravery, his unrelenting righteousness…”
Their smiles brighten, and Wei Wuxian happily pours them wine, readying himself to memorize as much of this conversation as possible for his next letter.
I know what you’re going to say, he’ll write, ‘Wei Ying, praise is unnecessary; I will follow my conscience in the performance of my duties regardless of public opinion.’ But consider this, Lan Zhan: I am in the unique position to be your voice for the common people! And honestly, you at least deserve some encouragement for taking on the thankless job of being Chief Cultivator.
“Hanguang-jun indeed possesses all of these qualities, and more!” the young man says. “To think, there can exist a man who is this outstanding and so steadfast in love!”
Wei Wuxian’s hand jolts, spilling a drop of wine onto the tabletop. “Love?” he croaks, then clears his throat and tries again. “Lan Zh— uh, Hanguang-jun, in love?”
“Have you not heard the story?” the other young woman asks, looking pitying. “You must, it is a truly heartrending tale of star-crossed romance and mutual pining — go to any storyhouse in town, everyone has been requesting a reading of this book.”
“There’s a book?” Wei Wuxian says blankly. Then his sense of priorities finally kicks in and he asks, more pressingly, “Who could be the unparalleled person that is the object of Hanguang-jun’s affections?”
The young man leans in close, eyes sparkling with delight. “Incredibly, it’s the Yiling Patriarch!”
Two months ago
Lan Jingyi is perfectly aware of the fact that he possesses many qualities that set him apart, rather unfavourably, from the rest of the Lan clan. He admits that he is brash, and loud, and so talkative that he has on more than one occasion overheard an elder question his Lan heritage. But (despite Master’s best efforts) their sect motto is not “be silent;” it is “be righteous,” and in that, Jingyi is no less than any other Lan.
Which is why he is utterly horrified when he and the other junior disciples finally pry from Jin Ling all that was revealed in the Guanyin Temple.
“So you’re telling us,” Jingyi says, aghast, “that it was Lianfang-zun all along? And Su She?”
Jin Ling grimaces, and nods. He looks tired, though he still holds his head as high as before. Jingyi knows that Hanguang-jun has been using his position as Chief Cultivator to support Jin Ling, and presumably Jin Ling’s scary uncle is doing the same, but being suddenly thrust into the role of sect leader can’t be easy, especially a sect whose reputation is in tatters.
Jingyi vows to never call him Young Mistress again, even when he deserves it. At least for a little while.
“What about Wei Wuxian?” Lan Song asks. “Everyone still thinks he’s a monster!”
Jin Ling’s face darkens even more. "He says it’s all in the past. As long as he knows the truth, he can live with a clear conscience and greet his loved ones in the afterlife without shame.”
“And the grown-ups are just going to let him do that?” Jingyi demands. “After hating and vilifying him for sixteen years?”
“My father says that even if we tell people what really happened, it won’t make a difference,” Ouyang Zizhen says, sounding disgusted. “They’ll just accuse him of other things so they can keep hating him.”
“But,” Jingyi protests, frustration beating against his heart like a caged bird. “But that’s unfair! And unjust."
“Don’t you think I know that?” Jin Ling snarls. His hands clench into fists at his side. “It’s not like I can just go around beating up everyone who slanders him.” He makes a face. “I can’t believe that idiot was right — I really should have beaten up more people when I still had the chance.”
I could do it, Jingyi thinks mutinously, even as he knows that he would never — it would reflect badly on Hanguang-jun, and then Hanguang-jun would be disappointed in him.
Maybe if Hanguang-jun didn’t find out… He could wear a mask. Wei-qianbei wore a mask. There’s precedent.
Although he’d have to take off his forehead ribbon, and maybe even stay out past curfew , so perhaps masked vigilantism isn’t the way to go. There are a few other options, but they all require a trusted accomplice to cover for him, and Sizhui is out travelling with Wen-gongzi.
He’s still wrestling with this problem when Master Lan hands back their most recent homework assignment.
“A passable attempt,” he intones severely, as he holds out Jingyi’s analysis of the relation between nature and morality in the poems of Lan Hui, third leader of the Lan clan — which Jingyi accepts with both hands and a bow.
At the top of the first page, Master Lan has written, Too florid, but otherwise competently argued, which is as close to excessive praise as Master Lan can get (since excessive praise is, of course, forbidden in the Cloud Recesses).
“I wish I had your talent with words, Lan Jingyi,” Zhang Ping says, sighing wistfully at the innumerable corrective marks that Master Lan had left on his own composition. He flops onto his desk, letting the pages drape over his face like a fallen flag.
Jingyi blinks. “Me? Sizhui’s the one with the top marks.”
“Lan Sizhui’s good at being concise,” Lan Xiaoying says, her own ink-festooned composition in hand. “But Zhang Ping is right — your writing is so vivid, it’s like you’re telling a story.”
Around him, a few of the other students are nodding as well. Jingyi looks down at his work, and considers the possibilities.
That night, he gets to work.
When Sizhui and Wen-gongzi return to the Cloud Recesses a week later, Jingyi greets them at the gate with a wide smile and a sheaf of papers.
“This is… thoroughly researched,” Sizhui says, flipping through the pages.
Jingyi beams. “I went through all the records we have. And talked to Jin Ling. And Master Lan. Now I just need you to talk to Hanguang-jun—”
Sizhui’s head snaps up. “Wait, me? Why can’t you talk to him?”
“I tried!” He’d even almost succeeded, until he lost his courage at the last minute and ran away before he could knock on the Jingshi doors. “But since you’re his son—”
“I'm not really his son—”
"Since you’re his son," Jingyi insists, “you should ask Hanguang-jun about what Wei-qianbei was like when they were young. And Wen-gongzi!” The man in question jumps, looking like a startled rabbit at being addressed, and really, Jingyi can’t believe he used to find the Ghost General frightening. “You spent a long time with Wei-qianbei at the Burial Mounds, right? I have questions for you too.”
“I don’t know,” Sizhui says reluctantly. “Hanguang-jun doesn’t like to talk about the past.”
“But this is for justice," Jingyi says, beseeching. He clasps Sizhui’s wrists. “Justice for Wei-qianbei. You can’t say no.”
In the end, Sizhui doesn’t, of course. He is, after all, a Lan.
“This is amazing,” Ouyang Zizhen says in awe, without looking up from the page.
“Thank you,” Jingyi says, two weeks worth of exhaustion melting under the warmth of his pride.
This is, without question, the best thing he has ever written: the true story of the Yiling Patriarch. It’s an unflinching exploration of the difference between perceived goodness and actual goodness, a scathing criticism of society’s tendency to be blinded by prejudice and fear, and a glowing acclamation of the strength that lies in unbreakable bonds of friendship.
If not for the fact that the mere mention of Wei Wuxian would send Master Lan into an immediate qi deviation, Jingyi would submit this masterpiece to be included in the Lan education curriculum, so that his words may guide the next generation down the path of truth and justice.
It’s that good.
“It’s just so romantic," Ouyang Zizhen continues. He clasps the pages to his chest and sighs, eyes glittering with unshed tears. “I always thought there was something between Wei-qianbei and Hanguang-jun, but to think that they have a twenty-year love story—"
“What?” Jingyi says. “What are you talking about? Hanguang-jun and Wei-qianbei aren’t in love.”
Sizhui had interviewed Hanguang-jun. Sizhui would have told him if Hanguang-jun and Wei-qianbei were in love.
“But it’s so obvious!” Ouyang Zizhen says, looking confused. He flips through the pages and points to a section of text. “Just — here! Their first meeting: a passionate duel under the moonlight.” He keeps flipping. “Their life or death battle against the Xuanwu of Slaughter, where they were trapped in a cave, alone, for seven days." He raises his eyebrows at Jingyi meaningfully — though what meaning, Jingyi isn’t entirely sure.
“Hanguang-jun must have mourned Wei-qianbei all the years he was gone,” Ouyang Zizhen continues, cradling the manuscript sorrowfully. “But the heavens were clearly moved by their love, for they were given a second chance! Why else would Hanguang-jun defend Wei-qianbei so ardently, even when the entire cultivation world was calling for Wei-qianbei’s second death?”
Jingyi opens his mouth, and closes it. He thought he knew the answer, but now… “Because it was the righteous thing to do?” he asks hesitantly.
“Because they are in love," Ouyang Zizhen says. “What could be more righteous than true love?”
Hanguang-jun and Wei-qianbei in love… it would actually explain a lot, like why Hanguang-jun had brought Wei-qianbei to the Jingshi that first time, to his private bedroom that even the servants didn’t dare enter. And the absolute trust they had in each other’s abilities at the Burial Mound battle. And just the way they look at one another, as though they’re the only two people in the world.
A sudden realization makes him gasp. “That must be why Wei-qianbei left the Cloud Recesses. He knew what his reputation was like, and with Hanguang-jun being the Chief Cultivator—”
“Of course!” Ouyang Zizhen agrees, looking stricken. “Wei-qianbei, who always puts everyone else’s needs before his own, and Hanguang-jun, torn between his duty and his love—”
“I have to publish my book,” Jingyi says firmly. “Not just for the Lan sect, but for everyone. We have to clear Wei-qianbei’s name.” He meets Ouyang Zizhen’s eyes, and the fire of conviction there that matches his own. “Ouyang-xiong, will you help me?”
Ouyang Zizhen shifts the manuscript onto one hand, then holds out the other to clasp Jingyi’s shoulder. His grip is strong, his expression resolute. “I would be honoured.”
Chapter 2: tags: dramatic storytelling, copious foreshadowing, ignored our beta we die like MEN
The moment the rain slows to the point where Wei Wuxian wouldn’t be in danger of an immediate, fully-clothed bath, he leaves the inn and heads for the bookstore.
“You’re too late,” the matronly proprietor tells him, not without sympathy, “by over a week, actually. I don’t know what the fuss is over this book but every copy was sold out within a day.”
“Oh.” He did wonder why Lang Yanhua and her friends had told him to go to a storyhouse instead. “When will you get more copies?”
She shakes her head at him. “You kids these days, you must think books grow on trees!” Taking his elbow, she leads Wei Wuxian to the door, and points down the street. “Look, if you really want to know what’s in that book, the Paper Mulberry Storyhouse is starting a reading tonight. But you’d better get there early if you want a good seat.”
By the time Wei Wuxian arrives at the storyhouse, it’s already filling with eager patrons. He manages to snag the last free seat, but then gallantly gives it up to a prettily-dressed girl. She blushes at his smile, while her date shoots him a dirty look. He shrugs off both, and goes to stand at the back of the room. It gives him a better view of the audience anyway.
It’s a surprisingly eclectic group — people clad in humble homespun alongside those in fine silk, even a few sword-bearing cultivators. A young boy darts nimbly among the wealthier patrons, taking orders and later returning with bowls of peanuts and flasks of wine.
All conversation ceases when the storyteller steps onto the dais at the center of the room. She’s tall and simply dressed, her hair worn up in an unusually masculine topknot. An anticipatory hush fills the room as she lays the book upon the low table in front of her, and flips to the appropriate page.
“What makes a good man?” she reads, in a crisp, sonorous voice. “Is it the wisdom of the great kings of old? The piety of a filial son? Or is it simply doing good deeds, even when there is no hope of glory or praise? Even when one is cast out, feared, and reviled by all — a bare mountain, lashed by howling wind; a lone reed against the raging flood.”
She raises her head, and sweeps her level gaze across the audience. “Such a man was Wei Wuxian.” In the hush that follows, she continues, “We begin The Absolutely True Story of the Yiling Patriarch with part one: a fateful meeting.”
It takes Wei Wuxian a moment to realize that he’s gaping. Closing his mouth, he sneaks a surreptitious look around the room. No jeers, or outraged shouting, not even a disbelieving scoff. Everyone is just… listening intently. Some even raptly.
When he’d first heard that this was a love story, he’d expected his character to be the charismatic villain, or at best the charming rake whose wicked ways are reformed by his love for the peerless Hanguang-jun — and then dies shortly afterward. Even at the height of the Sunshot Campaign, when the cultivation world had needed him too much to resent him, he’d never been the hero.
Well, I suppose I do still die in this story, Wei Wuxian concedes, and rests a little more comfortably against the wall as the storyteller reads on.
“Wei Wuxian first came to the Cloud Recesses in the high days of spring, when magnolia blooms spread white as snow on the mountain, and birds filled the air with song. He had his sword, an invitation to the Lan sect lecture, and a longing to try the famed Emperor’s Smile.”
The writing is surprisingly engaging, if a little florid in parts. Wei Wuxian listens, amused, as the narrative describes the novel Wei Wuxian’s first encounter with Lan Wangji — the aforementioned fateful meeting.
They changed a few things, Wei Wuxian imagines writing to Lan Zhan, later. Like the fact that the rooftop wasn’t our first meeting. And I’m pretty sure your heart didn’t skip a beat at the sight of me dribbling wine down my throat as I drank. They got it right that my heart skipped a beat, though, not only because of your ethereal beauty but also because you scared the hell out of me just appearing out of nowhere like a ghost.
Lan Zhan, you should hear how the book describes you—
“—tall and lithe as a young tree, his hair spilling like ink down his white-clad back. Moonlight bathed him in its heavenly raiment, illuminating a face so exquisite that had it been day, birds in flight would tumble from the sky and flowers would furl their petals in shame.”
HAHAHAHAHA right? I can just picture your expression. I would say that whoever wrote this book must be one of your admirers, but you really are this lovely, Lan Zhan, so perhaps they just have eyes.
Would it surprise you, Lan Zhan, to know that this rooftop duel remains one of my favourite memories of my previous life? Despite you breaking my jar of Emperor’s Smile, and silencing me (you really were so cruel to me in our youth, Lan Zhan), I still felt, from the first clashing of our swords, that you were my match in every way. In this book, the writer describes it as recognizing my soul in your eyes (I'm paraphrasing; the original line is a little… much). I think that's pretty accurate.
Ah, Lan Zhan, listening to this just makes me miss you even more.
The story wends its way through his time in the Cloud Recesses, with a few detours for stirring speeches about protecting the weak and upholding justice. Even with his notoriously faulty memory, Wei Wuxian is fairly certain that the writer has taken artistic liberties with the events of his past. He would definitely have remembered if he and Lan Zhan had both been naked in the Cold Spring, with the full moon illuminating Lan Zhan’s flawless jade-like skin. And while he did save Lan Zhan from the Dancing Goddess statue during their hunt for the other pieces of Yin metal, he definitely didn’t sustain a small but apparently extremely painful wound to his upper arm, which required him to undress so that Lan Zhan could lovingly tend it.
Still, it’s not the first time Wei Wuxian has heard inaccurate retellings of his deeds. At least this one isn’t about him abducting virgin maidens or sacrificing babies to power his demonic spells. It could be — it has been — a lot worse.
Predictably, the storyteller ends the evening on a cliffhanger, with Wei Wuxian heroically saving all the other disciples by holding the dastardly Wen Chao at swordpoint. Just as he’s about to order the Wen soldiers to put down their weapons, a low, ominous rumble echoes through the cave as the ground begins to shake…
“To be continued, tomorrow evening,” the storyteller says, and closes the book.
A resounding cry ripples across the audience, filling the storyhouse with good-natured protests at having to wait a whole day to find out what happens next. The same young boy from earlier brings around a collection box; when it gets to him, Wei Wuxian dutifully drops in his share of the payment.
Then he returns to the inn, and asks to extend his stay for one more night.
One month ago
“All right,” Sizhui says, when he reaches the last page of the manuscript, “I have some concerns.”
Jingyi and Zizhen exchange an apprehensive look. They knew that Sizhui would be their most discerning critic; it’s why they wanted him to read over the final draft.
“Such as?” Jingyi asks.
Sizhui glances apologetically at Jingyi. “Well, there’s the prose. It’s a bit… flowery, don’t you think? I mean, describing Wei-qianbei’s eyes as ‘sparkling orbs of midnight jade’?”
Jingyi grimaces. He had, admittedly, been unsure about that one. Trust Sizhui to find all the weak points in his writing. “I’ll take that under advisement.”
“And the description of Hanguang-jun when he and Wei-qianbei first meet — the reference to the Four Great Beauties?”
“What’s wrong with it?” Zizhen asks, sounding worried. He’d written that one.
“Are you saying Hanguang-jun doesn’t surpass the Four Great Beauties?” Jingyi adds, loyally. “Remember last month?”
Last month, he and Sizhui had gotten up earlier than usual, because it was their turn to feed the rabbits. As they were walking back, they bore witness to the breathtaking vision of Hanguang-jun practicing sword forms in the rose-gold light of dawn. By the time he’d finished, at least half of the Cloud Recesses were gathered there, watching. A few disciples had been so distracted staring that they’d fallen into the fish pond.
“All right, that’s fair,” Sizhui acknowledges, after a moment of thoughtful silence. Then he continues, “Also, how much time passes between their first meeting and the Cold Springs scene? Because it seems like only a week in the book, but they’re both under a full moon.”
“That’s an easy inconsistency to fix,” Zizhen says, waving a hand dismissively. “But the atmosphere is more important. Romantic scenes always happen under the silver glow of a full moon; readers will expect it.”
That just makes Sizhui’s frown deepen. “Yes, about that. Are the uh, romantic undertones… intentional?”
“Yes,” Jingyi says, as Zizhen says, “They’re only undertones?”
“Overtones,” Sizhui corrects, “extremely blatant overtones.” He flips back to an earlier section. "Their swords met. Over the kiss of metal, their gazes caught and held as their hearts jolted with a sudden sense of recognition. It was as though each was seeing his own soul reflected in the other’s eyes. Even after they looked away, the connection remained, winding around both their wrists and joining them in an unbreakable bond — this reads like a Lan clan wedding ceremony!”
“It’s foreshadowing!” Jingyi explains.
“For what? Hanguang-jun and Wei-qianbei aren’t getting married.”
“Well, not yet,” Zizhen says reasonably. “We need to first rehabilitate Wei-qianbei’s reputation in the eyes of the people. Then they can get married.”
Sizhui stares incredulously at the two of them. “I thought the purpose of this book is to get justice for Wei-qianbei by telling the truth. You can’t just make up a love story that doesn’t exist. Falsehoods are forbidden in the Cloud Recesses. And Hanguang-jun will be so angry if he finds out.”
“I know, Sizhui,” Jingyi says solemnly. “But I promise you — for all that we may be embellishing a few details, we are not making anything up.”
“We have evidence,” Zizhen adds, and guides Sizhui to an unoccupied bench. “Will you let us explain?”
Sizhui still looks dubious, but he nods.
It takes some telling, but in the end, Sizhui is convinced.
“It would explain why Hanguang-jun is always in a better mood after he receives one of Wei-qianbei’s letters,” he says. “Once, I even caught him smiling.”
“Because they are in love,” Zizhen confirms.
Afterwards, once the rest of the manuscript has passed Sizhui’s meticulous scrutiny (and after a quick trip to the library to confirm the dates of full moons), Zizhen asks, “Have you thought about how you’re going to publish this book?”
Jingyi blinks. “I was just going to take it to a bookseller in Caiyi. Isn’t that how it’s done?”
“You could,” Zizhen says, “but then only people in Gusu will be able to read it. A simultaneous release across multiple regions would get you a much wider audience. And if we can send a few advance copies to their local storyhouses, that’ll drum up interest and save us money on promotion.” At Jingyi and Sizhui’s questioning look, Zizhen shrugs. “My mother comes from a merchant family.”
“Well, we have Gusu,” Jingyi says. “And the Lan sect lectures are ending soon, so if Zizhen-xiong takes a copy back to Baling, then that takes care of Yunmeng.” Zizhen nods in agreement. “Which just leaves Qinghe and Lanling.”
“I might have an idea for Lanling,” Sizhui says.
Jin Ling is delighted to accept their invitation to temporarily abandon his sect leader responsibilities and join them on a night hunt.
He's somewhat less delighted when they reveal their ulterior motives for the visit.
“You just called me here because you want my money?” Jin Ling yells in outrage, firing three arrows at the boar-shaped yaoguai.
It shapeshifts into a goose before the arrows can hit their mark, and takes flight.
“Not just your money,” Jingyi protests, as he and Sizhui mount their swords, chasing it towards a clearing in the forest. “Zizhen, get ready!”
There's a bright flash of light and a loud, startled squawk.
“I've got it! I think!”
When they reach the clearing, Zizhen is straining to keep hold of a golden net, which is wrapped around the yaoguai. It shapeshifts again and snaps wolf jaws around the gleaming threads. When that fails, it shrinks and lengthens into a serpent, and slips free.
With a deep snarl, the dog bolts forward, and bites the serpent clean in half.
“Good boy, Fairy!” Jin Ling praises, dropping to his knees to pet Fairy vigorously behind the ears. The dog barks proudly, tail wagging.
“We really did miss you,” Sizhui says. He holds out his palm to Fairy, who obliges by flopping onto his side to allow belly pets. “We were all disappointed when you couldn’t come to the Lan sect lectures.”
“I had important sect leader business,” Jin Ling says haughtily, but Jingyi thinks he secretly looks a little pleased. “So, why should I care about your book? Wei Wuxian isn’t part of Jin sect or Jiang sect.”
Jingyi glances over at Sizhui and Zizhen, who nod. They were prepared for this response.
“But Wei-qianbei and Sect Leader Jiang are brothers, aren’t they?” Zizhen says. “They clearly still care about each other. You said your uncle wanted to talk to Wei-qianbei after the Guanyin Temple incident.”
“And maybe if they become friends again, then your grumpy uncle won’t be so grumpy anymore,” Jingyi adds.
Jin Ling looks skeptical. “Jiujiu is always grumpy.” But he holds out his hand. “Well? Let me read it then.”
Zizhen and Jingyi share a grin.
A few notes from this chapter:
- The books growing on trees line makes reference to the fact that the first paper made in China was not, in fact, made from wood. More information here
- The Four Great Beauties references, as the title suggests, four women known in Chinese history for their beauty.
- yaoguai is one of the four types of spiritual beings Wei Wuxian talks about when Lan Qiren calls on him in class.
Chapter 3: tags: shippers, Jiang Cheng deserves his own warning tag, drama gay Nie Huaisang living his best life
My dear Lan Zhan,
I know what you’re thinking from looking at the handwriting in this letter, but I promise it’s really me, Wei Ying. The kind assistant taking down my dictation is Qiu Xinyi. Say hello, Xiao-Qiu!
Qiu Xinyi sends her greetings to Hanguang-jun.
She’s a great admirer of yours, Lan Zhan; she thinks you’re incredibly handsome!
You’re probably curious as to why I’m using a scribe. It’s nothing serious; I was just a little careless on a night hunt and injured my arm. It barely hurt, but then the village physician found out and insisted on binding my arm in a sling and forbidding me from using it for three weeks. I told her that she was being ridiculous, because I’ve been stabbed before and healed in less than three weeks, but that just made her yell at me even more. I didn’t think it was possible that a woman grouchier than Wen Qing could exist, but apparently it is and her name is Li Yan.
Thankfully, the other residents of Huangshan are much nicer to me. Huangshan itself is also beautiful, and has a hot spring! I’ve included a drawing. Lan Zhan, I’ve decided that the next time we meet, I’m kidnapping you and bringing you back here for at least a week. My treat. I’ll make sure you’re well-serviced, and send you home relaxed and happy. Consider this my contribution to the overall well-being of the cultivation world.
Ah, Xiao-Qiu is turning red and her hand is trembling. She must be tired. I’ll stop now and not impose on her any more than I already have. Lan Zhan, Huangshan is lovely but it still pales in comparison to the ethereal beauty of the Cloud Recesses. Look after yourself, and be well.
Hanguang-jun, this is Qiu Xinyi. I hope you will forgive my rudeness, but I must inform you that Wei-gongzi acquired his injury saving my village from fierce corpses. He was so brave — even though his arm was hurt, he still carried my little sister so that I could help my grandfather. Then he exposed the villains who had caused this disaster in the first place. We tried to pay him, but he refused everything, and even insisted on paying me for my services as scribe. Of course, I sneaked the coins back into his bag when he wasn’t looking.
Oh Hanguang-jun, Wei Wuxian truly is as kind and honourable as the book says! I know that as a simple peasant girl who knows little about the world, my opinions are insignificant to one such as you, but I sincerely hope that you and Wei-gongzi will be together someday. He truly adores you, he talks about you all the time, and I can think of no better match than that of two heroes like yourselves. Again, I beg your forgiveness for my impertinence.
To the incomparably beautiful Lan Er-gongzi, whose smile illuminates the world like the gentle breaking of dawn,
I’m even more curious about who wrote the book about us, because clearly this person has seen your smile often enough to accurately describe it. When the storyteller read that line in the storyhouse I visited last night, the entire audience sighed longingly — myself included. After returning to the inn, I tried to draw the last time I saw you smile, as we were leaving the Cloud Recesses. I don’t think the drawing does you justice, but it’s included in this letter, so you can judge my efforts.
You’re probably wondering why I keep going to storyhouses instead of just buying a copy of the book, but it’s actually really interesting to see how different storyhouses present the same story. My favourite so far is still the one where they had a different reader for each character, though afterward, I overheard the one who read for you complain about how few lines he had. Ah, Lan Zhan, so few people understand and appreciate the charm of your brevity.
The storyhouses have also become great places to catch up on local happenings. That’s how I found out about the hungry ghosts in the previous town that I visited. Don’t worry, everything turned out well — the cultivators who’d offered to take care of the problem laid a trap for the ghosts and lured them in using Spirit Attraction flags. I barely had to help. Apparently, they’re all the rage now in the cultivation world, and when I pointed out that the person who invented them was the villainous Yiling Patriarch, they replied that the Chief Cultivator himself encourages his disciples to use these flags, and that Wei Wuxian is, in their words, “a once-in-a-generation genius.”
Lan Zhan, maybe the next time I start to run low on funds, I should paint a few of those myself and try to sell them! It is my invention, after all; it’s only right that I reap some of the benefits.
In case you want more details, I’ve included a night hunt report! I know, I know, where was this academic fervour when I was a student, right? Well, what can I say? I got nostalgic. Feel free to use my report as an exemplar for your Lan disciples…
My dearest Lan Zhan,
I can’t believe you personally reburied thirty corpses just to force Yao Sect to do the same. Don’t tell me you were only demonstrating that there is no task too demeaning if it’s for a noble cause, I know you, Lan Zhan. And I know Sect Leader Yao. He must have thought he had you cornered when he invited you to “lead by example,” because of course the pristine Hanguang-jun would never dirty his immaculate robes. HAH! Clearly, he should have read our book! Then he would have known that you’ve even hauled manure without bothering so much as to tie up your sleeves!
Oh, how I wish I could have seen that old man’s face when you agreed to his terms. Who knew that the noble Hanguang-jun’s beauty is surpassed not only by his righteousness, but also by the thickness of his face?
I’m just joking, don’t be angry, Lan Zhan. Honestly, I’m so proud to be your friend. The Sect Leader Yaos of the cultivation world might not appreciate the changes you’ve implemented, but that’s exactly why those changes are necessary. The sects should be responsible for protecting the people within their territories, and negligence or abuse of privilege should be punished. I also love that Lan Sect is having their junior disciples teach Gusu commoners to read and write. Even here in these tiny towns, people talk about sending their young ones to Gusu so they can get an education. You’re doing so much good, Lan Zhan. I wish you could hear the way the common people sing your praises — sometimes literally! In fact, the storyhouse I visited a few nights ago had songs written for you. Well, for both of us, but yours was especially pretty. Here’s a picture of the singer; she plays the qin too. Next time we meet, I’ll try to play it for you.
Lan Zhan, I feel melancholy tonight. My room here is too big and too quiet. There’s a west wind blowing, so I opened my window and played your song, in hopes that the wind will carry my notes to the Cloud Recesses. You’ll already be asleep, but perhaps the notes will slip into your dreams and make them sweet.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen. Listening to our book has made me remember that first time we met, how deeply I admired them: two people, wandering the world but never homeless, for they were each other’s home. Two people, bound not by blood or sect allegiance but by a shared dream. My parents were like that too. I don’t have many memories of them other than the one I told you about — with me riding a donkey while my mother walked beside me and my father held the reins — but I think they were happy. I think, if I had that sort of life, I would be happy too.
Ah, I’m rambling. What I’d meant to say in this letter is that you’re doing a great job as Chief Cultivator. The rest of us are lucky to be in your care. Don’t work too hard! If anyone gives you trouble, you should use my name to frighten them into submission. With the popularity of our book, I don’t imagine that my reputation as a fearsome demon will last for much longer, so you should take advantage of it while you can!
By the way, I just remembered that you might not actually remember me telling you about my parents, since you were pretty drunk at the time. Uh, did I ever apologize for that? Well, I’m apologizing now.
Winter in Yunmeng is cold and lively. Fat snowflakes tumble down from the sky, resting butterfly-soft on Wei Wuxian’s eyelashes before the heat of his skin melts them away. He flits from town to town, strolling through streets lined with shops selling silk flowers, turquoise jewelry, and rare teas. Steam from nearby restaurants curls like dragon’s breath into the icy air, bringing with it the familiar, mouth-watering scents of steamed fish, hot dry noodles, and winter melon soup. He takes a table in a restaurant advertising spicy hongshan vegetable, slipping easily into his old accent as he engages the server boy in an exchange of local gossip.
A well-spun tale and his most charming smile earns Wei Wuxian an extra serving of pork-filled pastries and news of a walking corpse that haunts the woods at the village border.
He likes working. He discovered that while he was living with the Wens in the Burial Mounds, when every turnip that they’d eked out of the dusty earth was a victory, and every lotus that bloomed was a miracle. Living off of Lan Zhan’s charity was nice, even fun at times, but lacked the satisfaction of a job well done.
There's no shortage of work, either. Cultivation sects have a long history of ignoring anything that isn't immediately lethal or interestingly dangerous. Even with Lan Zhan's reforms, the common people remain reluctant to call on the cultivation world for mundane problems. Wei Wuxian puts to rest the walking corpse in Chengguan, draws talismans in Yitang for a farmer haunted by his former neighbour; in Wupu, he reunites a woman’s remains with her lover and persuades her jealous ex-husband to leave them at peace.
He doesn’t venture near Lotus Pier, or do anything that would attract Jiang Sect attention. Jiang Cheng made his displeasure very clear last time, and Lan Zhan would be disappointed if Wei Wuxian caused — yet another — diplomatic incident.
Near Zengdian, he meets a group of women trapped on a river by a water ghoul. Wei Wuxian dispatches the ghoul with ease, guides their boat to shore, and because he’s always had trouble saying no to women, agrees to accompany them to their destination.
“We’re going to watch a play in Zengdian town,” Xia Cuifen tells him, one arm around her daughter's shoulders as the girl watches him distrustfully. Xia Mei’s robes are such a pale blue that they look almost white, and with her long hair pulled away from her prim little face, she looks adorably like a very young Lan Zhan.
“It's based on a book about the Yiling Patriarch,” Xia Cuifen continues, yanking Wei Wuxian’s attention back to the conversation. “My friends in Qinghe have already seen it.”
Wei Wuxian blinks, and looks down again at Xia Mei. Barely visible behind her sleeve is a stuffed toy rabbit wearing a white ribbon around its forehead. She clutches the rabbit more tightly against her chest when she notices him looking.
Oh, Wei Wuxian realizes, warmed by a sudden rush of affection.
“I’m familiar with the book,” he says. “But I didn’t know there was a play.”
Wang Rong, who has been listening in from her seat next to Xia Cuifen, brightens. “Ah, we thought you might be a fan!” She gestures at him. “What with your attire, and the donkey.”
Wei Wuxian considers his red-trimmed black robes, the crimson ribbon in his hair, and Little Apple — who is on his best behaviour now that there are pretty ladies to impress — and says, “Absolutely. Wei Wuxian is my favourite character.”
From then on, he’s a member of the group. Abandoning propriety entirely, the ladies gather around him, chattering merrily, the older ones tutting at his thinness as they press pastries and buns into his hands. When he compliments Xia Mei on the cloud embroidery on her rabbit’s forehead ribbon, she even thaws enough to let him hold it for a few moments.
They invite him to sit with them in the crowded playhouse, squeezing tightly against each other to make room for him. He thanks them for their kindness but declines, and takes up his preferred spot at the back.
A quick glance around the audience reveals that he’s not the only ‘Wei Wuxian’; he spots several black and red robes scattered among the patrons, often next to someone all in white. There are even a few in Jiang Sect purple.
The show begins when a young man in a fairly good approximation of a Lan Sect uniform steps onto the stage, while dark-clad stage helpers carry out a large folding screen. “What makes a good man?” he recites, as the screen unfolds to show a painted nighttime scene, with a full moon over cloud-covered mountains.
It’s both strange and strangely entertaining to watch events of his own life performed by someone else. The actor playing him is young and handsome, which is a relief. A petty part of him hopes that Qinghe’s self-proclaimed Know-It-All came to see the play too, and felt ashamed of his ugly Yiling Patriarch portraits afterwards. The actor playing Jiang Cheng seems to enjoy shouting all his lines; Wei Wuxian is honestly curious to see if he'll lose his voice by the end.
The actress playing Shijie is nowhere near beautiful enough, of course, but Shijie was perfect, so some allowances have to be made.
The story proceeds as expected: ‘Wei Wuxian’ enters the Cloud Recesses, meets Lan Wangji, gets kicked out, and meets Lan Wangji again when they're all hostages for Wen Sect. The Library Pavilion scene remains almost absurdly romantic, as is, oddly enough, the scene where his stage counterpart recites Lan Sect rules at a fuming Wen Chao.
Overall, Wei Wuxian likes the play. The actors are clearly not trained martial artists, though what they lack in skill, they make up for in artful sword-twirling. Using different folding screens to indicate location changes is clever and innovative. They even have music that plays whenever a cultivator uses their spiritual abilities.
If Wei Wuxian has one criticism, it would be the portrayal of Lan Zhan. The actor's inferior looks aside, the real Lan Zhan has a voice like music, deep and soothing. Wei Ying on Lan Zhan's lips sounds like an incantation, like words spoken to his very soul. When he'd heard it in the Burial Mounds, it had cut through the firestorm of other voices like lightning in the night, urging him to get up, to survive.
This Lan Wangji’s voice is dull and wooden, slightly nasal on the vowels. It's probably a good thing that Lan Wangji has so few lines, because the way he says Wei Ying sounds—
He jolts, spine stiffening as he whips his head toward the voice. Oh no.
He's not the only one; half the audience has turned away from the stage, looking confused as Jiang Cheng looms in the doorway like an oncoming storm.
“Yes?” actor Wei Wuxian replies snidely, with an acidic glare at the source of the interruption.
“Not you,” Jiang Cheng snarls. His sharp gaze sweeps across the room, and lands unerringly on the real Wei Wuxian.
Gulping, he gives Jiang Cheng a tremulous smile and a little wave.
The storm furrowing Jiang Cheng’s brow intensifies. Violet sparks against his fist as he draws in a deep, harsh breath—
“Be silent.” An elderly woman narrows her eyes at him, fearless in her disapproval. “You are causing a disturbance.” Decades of hard living have etched their mark on her wizened face and rough-hewn hands, but something about her ferocity reminds Wei Wuxian of Madame Yu’s implacable strength and indomitable will.
Jiang Cheng stares at her, eyes wide, mouth open. Then he closes his mouth and goes to lean against an empty spot along the back wall, arms crossed, mouth set in a sneer. He raises an eyebrow at Wei Wuxian. Well?
Wei Wuxian holds up his hands defensively, projecting innocence with every fibre of his being.
Jiang Cheng jerks his head, not so much beckoning as demanding.
Wei Wuxian sighs and makes his way over to join Jiang Cheng along the wall. “What are you doing here?” he whispers, once he’s within earshot.
“Me?!” Jiang Cheng snaps, then glances over at the terrifying grandmother and promptly lowers his voice to a whisper as well. “Me? I should be asking you that question! How long have you been in Yunmeng?”
“A while,” Wei Wuxian replies evasively. “I haven’t exactly been counting the days, if that’s what you’re asking. How did you know I was here?”
Jiang Cheng’s lips flatten, and he turns away to face the stage. “Never mind that. What the hell is this show, anyway?”
“It’s based on a book about my life,” Wei Wuxian says, magnanimously allowing Jiang Cheng to change the subject. “Are you going to stay and watch?”
“Why the hell would I want to do that?” Jiang Cheng asks with a contemptuous snort. At an audience member’s irritated glare, he adds, more quietly, “And is that supposed to be me? Why is he always yelling?”
Wei Wuxian bites back at least four responses that would probably just lead to more yelling. “Well, it’s the Xuanwu Cave scene. There’s a lot to yell about.”
He keeps an eye on Jiang Cheng as the scene progresses. Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes when the Wei Wuxian on stage dramatically saves Mianmian from Wang Lingjiao’s branding iron, but looks somewhat mollified when his character gets his own heroic moment, leading the disciples out of the cave and shouting a promise to return.
The Xuanwu battle itself is done by shadow puppetry, each figure finely articulated for realistic movement. Puppet Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji attack the Xuanwu in tandem, while the actors provide dialogue and sound effects off-stage. The Xuanwu’s death throes are especially well done — it roars, long serpentine neck flopping wildly, until it finally goes still and silent.
Victorious, the actors stagger back onto stage, costumes torn and liberally slathered with red paint.
“I… I didn’t think I would make it,” Wei Wuxian’s actor pants, before his legs give out and he collapses into Lan Wangji’s arms.
“Wei Ying, you’re feverish,” Lan Wangji says worriedly. He lowers them both to the floor and clutches actor Wei Wuxian’s hand. “I’ll give you my spirit energy.”
In the audience, the real Wei Wuxian grins. He knows the next part; it’s one of his favourites, and he’s glad Jiang Cheng can hear it in person:
Wei Wuxian shook his head, and gently pushed Lan Wangji’s hand away. “You should save your energy to heal your own wounds. I’ll be fine. Jiang Cheng promised he’d come back for us, and the people of Yunmeng Jiang always keep their promises.”
“You should save your energy to heal your own wounds,” the actor says, pulling his hand away. “It’s too late for me.”
Wei Wuxian blinks.
“Don’t say that!” Lan Wangji cries, and takes the other actor into his arms. “Not after all we’ve been through.”
“It’s all right,” actor Wei Wuxian says weakly, smiling through his character’s obvious pain. “I've had a good life. I got to be adopted by the Jiang sect. I was able to become a cultivator.” He reaches up and brushes a strand of hair away from Lan Wangji’s forehead. “I’ve even had the privilege of seeing Lan Zhan’s worried face.”
Wei Wuxian’s brow furrows.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji whispers, voice thick with emotion. He leans his cheek into Wei Wuxian’s palm and concentrates. A qin strums as Lan Wangji stubbornly continues to transfer spiritual energy.
“Ah, Lan Zhan, you’re so good. I wish you didn’t hate me so much. I wish I’d told you…”
Lan Wangji shakes his head as vigorously as he can without dislodging Wei Wuxian’s hand. “Never hated you. I… Wei Ying, for you, I’ve always—” He breaks off, helplessly inarticulate, and pulls Wei Wuxian close.
“Really? Then… Lan Zhan, will you grant me one final request?” Wei Wuxian traces his thumb over Lan Wangji’s cheekbone, eyes fixed on Lan Wangji’s mouth with unmistakable intent.
“Anything,” Lan Wangji breathes, and leans in.
“May I… just once, I want—”
Their lips meet, softly at first and then more passionately as Wei Wuxian, clearly no longer at the brink of death, surges upward to wrap both arms around Lan Wangji’s neck, and then they’re kissing in earnest.
Wei Wuxian sees movement out of the corner of his eye a second before Jiang Cheng punches him in the shoulder.
“Ow!” he yelps indignantly. A nearby audience member shushes him. He ignores it. “Why did you hit me?”
“Unbelievable,” Jiang Cheng hisses. “Every time I think you’ve sunk as low as you can go — this is what you were doing when I was risking my life trying to find help?”
“No! That’s not—”
“What do you mean, no? Didn’t you say this stupid play is based on a book about your life?”
“Yes, but it didn’t happen like this! They changed it. Jiang Cheng, I would never—”
“You would never what? Be so shameless? You—”
There is a low, discreet cough beside them. “Gentlemen.”
The playhouse proprietor is polite, but firm.
On the street outside, Jiang Cheng says, “I can’t believe you got us kicked out.”
“You started it,” Wei Wuxian retorts. His shoulder still hurts.
Jiang Cheng ignores him. “I always knew there was something between you and that Lan Wangji. You’ve always been obsessed with each other, ever since the day you met.”
Wei Wuxian groans. “I keep telling you, that’s not what happened in the cave.”
“As if I believe that,” Jiang Cheng scoffs. “We had to pry you from Lan Wangji’s lap when we found you two. The illustrious Second Jade of Lan, he’s as shameless as you are.”
“Lan Zhan is not —” Wei Wuxian stops. “Wait, what? He was holding me? Lan Zhan held me in the Xuanwu cave?”
That can’t be right. Wei Wuxian would definitely have remembered — unless it had been after he passed out? He remembers feeling warm and safe, but he’d thought that was just from Lan Zhan’s spiritual energy.
“Ugh, just look at that idiotic expression on your face,” Jiang Cheng says, rolling his eyes. “What are you even doing in Yunmeng if you’re just going to moon over your precious Lan Wangji all the time? Go back to Gusu. Marry him for all I care. Just don’t show your face here again or I swear I’m making you two sleep in opposite corners of Lotus Pier.”
Wei Wuxian stares at him for a long, silent moment.
“Really?” His voice cracks on the word as something flutters in his chest, too small and delicate to name. “Jiang Cheng, do you really mean that?”
Jiang Cheng glowers and looks away. “I’ve already said it, haven’t I? Why are you still standing here? What, do you need me to call for dogs to—”
“I’m leaving, I’m leaving!” Wei Wuxian yells, bolting off in the opposite direction. “Jiang Cheng, you’re the worst!”
It’s not forgiveness; there’s too much blood and betrayal between them for that. But it’s a start.
Six weeks ago
In hindsight, Jingyi isn’t sure what he expected when Sect Leader Nie asked to speak with him, Sizhui, and Zizhen, but it definitely wasn’t an offer to bankroll a stage adaptation of their book.
“What do you mean by ‘adaptation’?” Jingyi says, just as Sizhui says, “Do you believe that Wei Wuxian is a good man?”
Sect Leader Nie snaps open his fan and swishes it gently. “Well, any adaptation to a different medium is going to require some changes, but don’t worry, I won’t compromise the integrity of the original text.” To Sizhui, he adds, “And yes. He solved the mystery of my brother’s death. I owe him a great debt.”
Jingyi and Sizhui look at each other, and turn to Zizhen.
Zizhen says, “What are you expecting in return for your financial investment?”
“Nothing,” Sect Leader Nie replies, with a broad smile. “I consider myself a patron of the arts.”
Zizhen nods thoughtfully. “In that case,” he says, folding his hands on the table, “let’s talk about royalties.”
The line about the people of Yunmeng keeping their promises is shamelessly stolen from Ling's speech in Fullmetal Alchemist.
The entirety of the scene in the playhouse is inspired by "The Ember Island Players" episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender. That show has given us so much.
Also, in case you are wondering how Jiang Cheng found out about Wei Wuxian in Yunmeng, here is a brief coda:
Jin Ling: Well? Did you find Wei Wuxian? Did you talk to him?
Jiang Cheng: Yes. I told him to go away and never come back.
Jin Ling: ..... Jiujiu, this is why you have no friends.
Chapter 4: tags: fanartists, NSFW fanart, Jiang Cheng is everyone’s maiden aunt
The delight from Jiang Cheng’s poorly worded — but equally poorly concealed — invitation lingers for hours after their parting, warming Wei Wuxian like sweet wine in his belly. It’s almost enough to counter the growing unease tugging at his mind.
It was fine when there was just the book. Despite its overly flowery writing and tendency towards heavy-handed melodrama, the book is clearly complimentary and well-meaning. It certainly doesn’t imply that he and Lan Zhan had deflowered each other in a cave when they were sixteen, which is, at best, a significant misinterpretation of the source material.
At worst, it might be an attempt to discredit Lan Zhan by tarnishing his reputation as a virtuous man.
In any case, it’s impossible for him to speculate on motivations without knowing the identity of the people in question.
He ponders the options for the remainder of the evening, since he doubts the playhouse will allow him back in, even without Jiang Cheng in tow. It would need to be someone who knows the truth about his history, and Lan Zhan’s, and is proficient or at least interested in the literary arts, with enough money to finance not only a book printing but possibly also a play—
Xia Cuifen had said that her friend had seen the play first, in Qinghe .
“Nie Huaisang, ah Nie Huaisang,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, into the cool evening air. “What are you up to now?”
It takes him almost two weeks to reach Qinghe. While winter is starting to wind down in Yunmeng, the Xinyang mountains are still encased in snow, keeping the passes closed for at least another month. He stables Little Apple at the base of the mountain with a young family that reminds him of Mianmian’s, and continues on his own.
He has only visited Qinghe a few times in his two lives, and never in the winter. A harsh wind roars down from the north, bringing a biting chill that sinks deep into his bones. Wei Wuxian shivers bitterly and considers that it’s no wonder a place like this raised a man like Nie Mingjue.
And Nie Huaisang, he reminds himself belatedly. Who’d come from the same forge, a needle instead of his brother’s sabre, but no less deadly when it really counted.
He sighs, and promptly regrets it when the sudden intake of icy air in his lungs makes him cough. At least he’s not the only one doing poorly in this cold — where Yunmeng had been bustling with activity, the streets here are almost bare, travellers hunched low into their tightly wrapped cloaks hurrying in and out of shops and restaurants.
When Wei Wuxian ducks into one of the restaurants, the kindly owner who seats him takes one look at his wind-chapped face and presses a bowl of soup into his hands before he even places an order.
“Jiejie is generous as well as beautiful,” he says reverently, breathing in the hot steam.
“Such a charmer!” Her lined face creases as she laughs, blushing as sweetly as any maiden. “What brings a handsome young man like you to these parts?”
They chat amiably, confirming what Wei Wuxian already suspected: there had been a play about the Yiling Patriarch here — very popular, especially among the young ladies; her daughter had talked about it for days afterward — but when the cold snap hit, all the playhouses had to close because there simply weren’t patrons.
Wei Wuxian takes a quick glance around the empty restaurant, and orders another bowl of noodles, with a steamed bun to take with him. A casual compliment about the intricately made paper cuttings decorating the walls has Mistress Dong lighting up as she informs him that they’re all her daughter’s work — and for sale, if he’s interested. Wei Wuxian selects a pair of paper chickens, grinning to himself as he imagines Lan Zhan’s confusion upon seeing it with his next letter.
Mistress Dong sends him off with a few more steamed buns than he’d paid for, wrapped in rags to keep them warm. In thanks, he gives her an evil-repelling talisman to stick above her door. It's probably unnecessary; people like Mistress Dong are unlikely to attract negative energy, but it never hurts to be careful.
The streets are busier in the towns closer to the Unclean Realm. Apparently, Sect Leader Nie has ordered giant braziers to be placed in the center of each town, for public use during this cold snap. Wei Wuxian is gratefully warming his hands at one of those braziers when he hears a familiar voice.
“Take a look at this!” calls Qinghe’s self-proclaimed Know-It-All, still under the same banner, but this time surrounded by a crowd of at least ten people. “You won’t want to miss it! Yiling Patriarch portraits! Ten wen each!”
Shaking his head, Wei Wuxian jogs up to the man. “Well, we meet again. Do you still remember me?”
The man squints at him, then rears back in overexaggerated recognition. “Of course!” he shouts, obviously for the onlookers’ benefit. “You were the one who I gave all those portraits of the Yiling Patriarch! Back for more, eh?” He shoves a sheaf of drawings under Wei Wuxian’s nose. “Ten wen each, but for a loyal customer, twenty wen for three.”
“Ten? Business has clearly improved.” Wei Wuxian tugs one of the drawings free for a closer look. A pretty, delicately-featured young man holds a black flute to his lips, his unrealistically long hair and impractically flowy robes billowing around him as if blown by an invisible wind. “Is it because you’ve started drawing him better-looking? You’re welcome .”
The man laughs nervously, and reaches out to take back his artwork. Wei Wuxian holds it easily out of reach, and uses his moment of distraction to snatch another drawing.
This one depicts another exceptionally beautiful young man dressed in black and holding a flute. But even to Wei Wuxian’s untrained gaze, the art style is completely, obviously different.
He narrows his eyes at the vendor, who’s looking distinctly shifty now. “You didn’t draw these.”
A murmur rustles through the crowd like wind through the branches of a willow. The man clutches Wei Wuxian’s arm and turns them both away from the others. “Give me some face, will you?” he whispers pleadingly. “Look, I’m an honest businessman. I paid fairly for these.”
Wei Wuxian smiles, with teeth. “Who did you pay?”
He doesn’t get a name. He does, however, get an address: the Chrysanthemum House, on the other side of town.
It turns out to be a brothel.
Wei Wuxian has never set foot in a brothel. Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu had raised him to be virtuous and chaste, devoting his body to cultivation until a suitable marriage could be arranged. In his youth, he’d flirted with the pretty girls who had strolled around Yunmeng like colourful birds, but they’d all paled in comparison to the fun of teasing Lan Zhan. Then the war came, and the aftermath, and then he had far more important things to think about.
He doesn’t know why a brothel would be selling his portrait — unless the rest of that play was even more salacious than what he saw, which seems unlikely considering the number of children who’d been present.
Well, he knows how to get the answer to that question, at least.
The front door of the Chrysanthemum House is opened by a plainly dressed girl — probably a servant — who casts an assessing gaze over his travel-worn clothes and says, coolly, “Do you have an appointment with one of our ladies?”
Wei Wuxian tries his most winning smile. “Ah, no, but I’m not interested in your ladies — um, or your gentlemen,” he adds hastily, when she opens her mouth again. “Actually, I’m just here because a man told me that someone is selling—”
“Oh!” the girl says, eyes widening in sudden realization. “Of course, my apologies, I didn’t see your ribbon.” She steps aside to let him in, and ushers him up a narrow flight of stairs to a red-painted door. “Mingzhu-jie? Another one’s here for you!”
The door opens, revealing a tall, elegant woman. “Thank you, A-Qiao,” she says to the girl, then takes hold of his sleeve and pulls him into—
Not a brothel room, unless the erotic novels he’d read as a youth had been extremely misleading. It looks more like a painter’s study: shelves laden with rolls of heavy paper and racks of brushes, hanging scrolls covering the walls.
There are two girls about Sizhui’s age sitting at low tables, brushes in hand. Their expressions light up as he enters.
“Oh my, how handsome!” one of them says, looking him over from head to toe.
“Xu Hong, you think every Wei Wuxian is handsome,” the other laughs.
Every— oh. Well, that explains A-Qiao’s remark about his ribbon. Wei Wuxian bows cheekily and grins. “Xu-guniang is clearly a woman of superb taste.”
“Jing Yang, Xu Hong, stop teasing our customer,” Mingzhu admonishes, with a frown that does little to quell their giggles. To Wei Wuxian, she says, “Shall I show you what we have, or would you prefer a commission? Do you have something particular in mind?”
“No,” he says truthfully. “But uh, I was also hoping to ask a few questions, if you ladies wouldn’t mind.”
Xu Hong beams at him. “I’ll answer as many questions as you want if you let us draw you.”
“Deal,” Wei Wuxian agrees.
Jing Yang and Xu Hong set him up by the window, where his features can be bathed in soft afternoon light. He sits against the wooden frame, the panels of his split skirt spread apart to expose his trouser-clad legs, head tilted to “highlight the graceful lines of his throat.”
It’s a little awkward, but not uncomfortable, especially when Mingzhu mutters an apology for her sisters’ antics and offers him snacks and tea.
As promised, the three women answer his questions. Apparently, Mingzhu had been hired — by a patron whose name she staunchly refuses to disclose even in the face of Wei Wuxian’s most potent charm — to paint the advertisement posters for the Yiling Patriarch play. The posters quickly became so popular that people started stealing them from the theatre walls.
Mingzhu, sensing a prime business opportunity, revealed herself as the artist and was subsequently swamped with so many commissions that she received permission from the house Madam to convert her room into a painting studio. Eventually, she was even able to hire two of her house sisters as assistants.
As soon as he opens Mingzhu’s sample book, he understands the reason for her popularity. Her landscapes are lush and intricate, inhabited by characters so finely drawn that they look like something from a dream. Her Lan Wangji, free from the imperfect beauty of human actors, is a living shard of moonlight, a young god as pristine and untouchable as a winter sunrise.
He certainly doesn’t look like someone who could get drunk and steal chickens, Wei Wuxian thinks, and has to bite back a grin.
Jing Yang’s paintings lack her sister’s delicate and luminous beauty, but he rather prefers that, the way he’s always preferred bright-plumaged pheasants to soaring cranes. He recognizes her Wei Wuxian’s delicate features from the drawings he saw with the Qinghe Know-It-All, as well as the incredibly long hair and voluminous robes. And for all that she teased Xu Hong, Wuxian is also clearly her favourite too, which fills him with a smug sort of delight.
One of the paintings snags his gaze — a sweetly domestic scene set on a grassy meadow, Wei Wuxian lying with his head in Lan Wangji’s lap, smiling at Lan Wangji, who gazes fondly back. Wei Wuxian’s hand reaches up, fingers tangling around the trailing end of Lan Wangji’s forehead ribbon.
It reminds him of an afternoon he and Lan Zhan had spent, during the weeks before Wei Wuxian’s departure. Lan Zhan had already been inundated with Chief Cultivator responsibilities, but that day, he’d managed to snatch a few precious hours. They’d sat in the rabbit fields, Wei Wuxian complaining about unfair favouritism as the rabbits jostled each other for access to Lan Zhan’s lap, until Lan Zhan shifted closer and spread his skirt across Wei Wuxian’s thighs. Then the rabbits were romping over them both, and Wei Wuxian was laughing, and Lan Zhan was smiling, eyes soft and mouth just slightly curved at the corners—
“What are you thinking about, Young Master?” Xu Hong asks, startling him from his memories.
“What else could it be, to put such a look on his face?” Jing Yang says, smiling knowingly. “His lover, of course!”
“Who I’m sure must be a great beauty, to have captured the heart of such a handsome gentleman!” Xu Hong adds, over Wei Wuxian’s laughing protests, and grins wickedly at him. “The young master should look at my book next.”
The first page of Xu Hong’s sample book shows a blindfolded and bound young man, barely wearing a black robe that gapes open to expose pale thighs wrapped tightly around the white-clad shoulders of a man with his head between—
Wei Wuxian drops the book and nearly falls off the window frame, heat blazing like wildfire up the back of his neck.
“Xu Hong!” Mingzhu hisses, aghast, as her sisters dissolve into helpless giggles. “How could you be so shameless?”
“I’m sorry, Mingzhu-jie,” Xu Hong manages. “But oh, look how beautifully he blushes! I simply couldn’t help myself.”
A page of memory unfolds, bringing the sound of laughter in a sun-lit library, an exquisite, jade-like face lit with fury as an unexpected book flutters to the floor.
All right, Wei Wuxian admits. Maybe I deserved that.
Gingerly, he stoops and collects the book from where it lies splayed open on the floor. “Xu-guniang is talented indeed, but aren’t you concerned that His Excellency will be angry? Lan Clan is notoriously strict when it comes to lewdness — or so I hear.”
Xu Hong grins coquettishly at him. “Who can say for certain that I’ve drawn Hanguang-jun and Wei Wuxian? Perhaps the resemblance is simply a coincidence.” She gives him a wink. “Plausible deniability!”
Upon a closer glance, the characters do indeed bear little actual resemblance to their real-life counterparts. Without Chenqing and the Lan forehead ribbon, if Wei Wuxian didn’t already know who they’re meant to be, he might indeed assume that it’s just a coincidence.
Loopholes and trickery, papered with just enough honesty to be convincing. That feels familiar, too.
In the end, he buys one of Jing Yang’s paintings, of two rabbits. The black rabbit has a red ribbon tied around one ear, giving it a charmingly lopsided look as it nestles peacefully against the white rabbit. She gifts him the drawing she did of him while he was looking through their books, rolling both pages into neat scrolls and wrapping them in silk.
He sends the rabbit painting to Lan Zhan, along with the chicken paper cuttings and a letter recounting the whole series of events — though he leaves out the bit with the erotic art.
When he’s about a day away from the Unclean Realm, he sends a letter to Nie Huaisang, tied with the red ribbon from his hair:
To Sect Leader Nie,
A man once said that natural scenery — lakes, rivers, mountains, and seas — carries a beauty that never wanes, no matter how long one looks. Having travelled the land and walked among such beauty, I must applaud this man for not only being sensible, but also wise.
Sect Leader Nie, I know that your time is more precious than rubies. As a humble wanderer, I dare not try to steal you from your duties. But as your old friend, I hope that you will be able to spare a few short hours so that we may discuss our shared history, and our plans for the future. I will arrive at the Unclean Realm by midday tomorrow, and I eagerly await our meeting.
Two weeks ago, Lotus Pier
To His Excellency, the most honourable Hanguang-jun,
In the spirit of our long association, you will not be offended if I dispense with some of the formalities. I write to you in plain speech:
What do you think you are doing with Wei Wuxian?
A man of your position and intelligence cannot be unaware of the ridiculousness that is the book and play about you and Wei Wuxian. Surely, given your own supposed fondness for him, you are also deeply concerned about the rumours of impropriety between you, starting from, apparently, your battle in the Xuanwu Cave! And yet, despite your renowned righteousness and efficiency, you have not put a stop to this farce.
If you have already laid claim to him, then I cannot fathom your decision to allow him to continue wandering the countryside, making an embarrassment of himself. If you have not laid claim, or do not intend to, then you should at the very least have a care for his reputation! And for his affections! You, of all people, should know that despite his carefree appearance, Wei Wuxian’s heart is pure and generously given.
A true man of honour would take responsibility, in a manner befitting his status and the righteousness that his upbringing has supposedly instilled in him. And furthermore…
A few notes for this chapter:
- A pair of chickens is, actually, a traditional Chinese wedding gift. So while LWJ may not remember the drunken stealing, he would absolutely not be confused as to why WWX is giving him chickens.
- Paper cutting is a popular form of folk art in China, particularly in Hebei, which is where Qinghe is found.
- All the fanart in this chapter represents my adoration for all the amazing fanartists that we have in this fandom. Their talent is *chef's kiss*
- The letter to Nie Huaisang references the last conversation WWX has with him in episode 50. All translations of dialogue are from the Netflix version.
Chapter 5: tags: Wei Wuxian moves one micrometer closer to enlightenment, copious alcohol, Lan rabbits
The first tag in the chapter title is shamelessly stolen from an amazing review by Lareine. *blows kisses*
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Unlike its current master, the Unclean Realm itself makes no attempt at pretending to be anything other than it is: a fortress. Tall and imposing, it stands embraced by the same mountains from which its walls were carved, looming over all who approach.
Wei Wuxian hoists his jars of wine jauntily over his shoulder, grinning as he strolls up to the pair of gate guards. “Rogue cultivator Wei Wuxian requests an audience with the honoured Sect Leader Nie,” he says with a bow. “I believe he is expecting me.”
This is the first time on his travels that he has introduced himself with his real name, instead of using Wei Yuandao or Lan Ying or whatever else caught his fancy on any given day. He watches, with dark amusement, the way the guard’s eyes widen as he takes in the black robes, the infamous bamboo flute. For a moment, he wonders if he’ll be refused entry, and how he’d explain his actions to Lan Zhan afterwards:
I don’t know why they made such a fuss; I was just minding my own business, playing my flute in a vaguely ominous manner right outside their gates—
“Wei Wuxian!” one of the guards exclaims, expression lighting up in… excitement. Possibly even delight. He bows so abruptly that he almost drops the halberd he’s carrying. “It's such an honour, Wei-gongzi, to meet you in person.”
Wei Wuxian blinks, and glances over at the other guard, who also makes a hasty bow. “Uh, it is?”
“Of course! Not only is Wei-gongzi a hero of the Sunshot Campaign, but he also exposed the wicked deeds of that monstrous Jin Guangyao.”
Given how ravenous the public always seems to be for a new target, Wei Wuxian sometimes wonders if the book was even necessary.
“Then if you could inform Sect Leader Nie of my arrival?” Wei Wuxian asks, before the man can start ranting about Jin Guangyao’s parentage next.
“Yes, right away,” he says, and gestures at a guard manning the top of the wall. A moment later, three drum beats sound, followed by an echo deeper within the fortress. The guard steps aside, leaving the entrance open. “Please wait in the courtyard until you are summoned.”
Wei Wuxian bows in thanks, and is halfway through the gate when he hears his name called again. “Yes?” he says, turning.
“If Wei-gonzi wouldn’t mind,” the guard says, looking a little embarrassed as he holds out an inked brush and a familiar-looking book, “my wife is a big fan of your book, you see, and she’d never forgive me if I met you but didn’t get your autograph.”
Well. That’s something new. Wei Wuxian bites back a smile, and takes the brush.
The Nie sect leader’s hall has changed little from the last time Wei Wuxian was there, sixteen years ago. Nie Huaisang’s influence shows itself in subtle ways — painted wall hangings accompany Wei Wuxian’s walk up to the elaborately carved seat; potted greenery and silk screens soften the harsh geometry of the room. Nie Huaisang himself sits with his face half-hidden behind a fan, on which is painted a beautiful mountainous landscape.
It takes a moment for Wei Wuxian to recognize Mingzhu-jie’s art style. No wonder she wouldn’t disclose the name of her mysterious patron.
Wei Wuxian presents his jars of wine with a low, deep bow. “Wei Wuxian greets Sect Leader Nie, and invites him to share a cup of wine with an old friend.”
Nie Huaisang waves his fan and smiles. “If we are indeed old friends, then there’s no need to address me so formally, Wei-xiong. Please,” he adds, gesturing to a low table off to the side of the room. It’s already set with two cups, several small dishes of snacks, and Wei Wuxian's crimson ribbon.
They make casual smalltalk while they sip the wine, conversations circling each other like two watchful predators. Nie Huaisang looks calmer now, settled in his own skin, his gaze clear and steady. So different from the helpless, perpetually alarmed man he’d been at Guanyin Temple. Wei Wuxian wonders how long Nie Huaisang had worn that mask, and how far that mask must have had to extend, to fool someone like Jin Guangyao.
“And what brings Wei-xiong all the way to Qinghe?” Nie Huaisang asks. “Surely it can’t be the wine. As I recall, Gusu’s Emperor’s Smile was always Wei-xiong’s favourite.”
“Ah, but Qinghe has clearly become a leader in art and literature!” Wei Wuxian says. “I met a wonderful group of painters just the other day, in fact.” He drops his gaze intentionally to the fan in Nie Huaisang’s hand and sees Nie Huaisang’s fingers twitch, ever so slightly.
“It is a pity that the playhouses are shut, though,” he continues blithely. “I had been hoping to watch the play that everyone’s been talking about. I had no idea that Nie-xiong also possessed a talent for writing! Truly, you are a man to be admired.”
Something flickers in Nie Huaisang’s expression, vanishing too quickly for Wei Wuxian to decipher. “Wei-xiong gives me too much credit,” he says, after a moment. “I was merely the sponsor; I can’t claim credit for any of the writing. You know I have no head for such things.”
Wei Wuxian smiles. “Now Nie-xiong gives himself too little credit.” He leans in conspiratorially. “Let’s speak plainly; I think we owe each other that. Tell me, what are you trying to do?”
“Surely the title of the work speaks for itself,” Nie Huaisang replies. “We are rehabilitating your reputation in the cultivation world by telling the truth.”
“I don’t care about my reputation.”
“But you care about Lan Wangji’s reputation.” His fan snaps shut, his gaze sharpening into something incisive and knowing. “Isn’t that why you left? The foremost of the Lan sect rules: one must not consort with evildoers.”
It is why he left. And it isn’t. Wei Wuxian has admittedly been very carefully not thinking about that. Or about the way Lan Zhan had looked at him, on the hilltop at Gusu’s western border, where they’d said their farewells.
And yet he didn’t ask you to stay, a small, traitorous voice reminds him.
“Let’s say this works,” Wei Wuxian continues, yanking his attention back to the conversation at hand.
“It already has. More and more cultivators are using your inventions, even experimenting with talismans. Of course, it helps that Jiang Wanyin has stopped torturing demonic cultivators—”
“Fine.” Wei Wuxian holds up a conciliatory hand. “Let’s say this has worked. What do you get out of it?”
Nie Huaisang takes a drink of his wine, and swallows slowly before he answers. “I owe you and Hanguang-jun a debt for your role in exposing my brother’s murderer. This allows me to repay that debt.”
To us, perhaps, Wei Wuxian wants to say. What about Mo Xuanyu? Qin Su? Even Lan Xichen, whose hand you forced?
But he knows better than anyone what it’s like to be helpless, to have the ground beneath your feet fall away bit by bit until all that’s left of your bright shining path is a single, precarious plank. At least he had Lan Zhan to walk it with him, the second time around. Nie Huaisang didn’t have anyone.
A sudden sense of clarity fills his mind, like the rising sun that chases away the morning mist. Nie Huaisang wouldn’t try to discredit Lan Zhan, because he can’t. A decade-old reputation of uselessness isn’t so quickly overturned, especially now that he no longer has the backing of Jin and Lan sects.
Nie Huaisang needs allies, and who better than a man who is uncle to one sect leader, brother to another, and — whatever Wei Wuxian is, to the Chief Cultivator himself?
Wei Wuxian reaches over and refills Nie Huaisang’s empty cup. “Well, all that’s in the past now. We’re friends, aren’t we, Huaisang-xiong? Friends shouldn’t have debts between them.”
A smile blooms across Nie Huaisang’s face, too swift to be anything but honest. He takes the cup, and drains it in a single gulp. “I am glad you’re back, Wei-xiong. And that people know the truth.”
Wei Wuxian huffs a laugh. “The truth doesn’t involve Lan Zhan and me kissing in the Xuanwu Cave.”
“Ah, everyone loves a good love story,” Nie Huaisang says dismissively, flicking his fan open again. “Besides, now you’ll have public support when you and Hanguang-jun formally announce your relationship.”
“What relationship? Lan Zhan and I aren’t lovers.”
Nie Huaisang’s cup hits the table with a dull thunk. “What?”
“Are you honestly telling me,” Nie Huaisang says, waving a wavering finger at Wei Wuxian, “that you two haven’t been banging since the first time you visited Qinghe?”
“What? No!” Wei Wuxian protests. “Why would you even think that?”
The jars of wine that Wei Wuxian brought have long since emptied, along with reinforcements that Nie Huaisang summoned from his own cellars.
“Well what else was I supposed to think? You weren’t in your room! We couldn’t find you anywhere. We couldn’t find him either!”
“Because he left! And I was just—” Wei Wuxian breaks off, because I was just sleeping on his rooftop because I wanted to be close to him but I didn’t think he’d actually let me into his room might possibly give Nie Huaisang the wrong idea.
The wrong-er idea.
“And then,” Nie Huaisang barges on, with loud drunken conviction, “after you fought Wen Ruohan at Nightless City! Lan Wangji spent hours with you! Alone! Every day!”
“We were not alone,” Wei Wuxian says, scandalized. “Shijie was there too!”
“No she wasn’t! In fact, she forbade any of us from going in your room when Lan Wangji was there. Something about not interrupting your cultivation?”
“Shijie did what?” Did she also think that he and Lan Zhan were — is that why she had looked so amused when he’d asked her about like liking someone?
Nie Huaisang’s eyes suddenly widen. “Wei-xiong,” he says in a hushed voice, “were you dual cultivating with him?”
Heat floods Wei Wuxian’s face, until his whole head feels like it’s glowing. “Of course not! He was just there to play qin and help calm my spirit! Lan Zhan doesn’t—”
Want me isn’t quite accurate, because he knows Lan Zhan cares about him deeply. Want to be with me doesn’t ring true either. Maybe want what I—
“Then what about the way he declared his loyalty for you in front of the entire cultivation world?” Nie Huaisang continues, heedless of Wei Wuxian’s inner turmoil. “And the way he protected you from hundreds of puppets at Burial Mound? And the way you two were snuggling the entire time we were in the Guanyin Temple?”
“That was only because there was a dog!”
Nie Huaisang gives him an unfocused but distinctly unimpressed look. “The entire time? And how did he even recognize you after you came back? Didn’t you wear a mask? Even Jiang Wanyin wasn’t sure it was you at first.”
“I played a song that he composed,” Wei Wuxian admits, and immediately regrets it when Nie Huaisang’s whole expression softens, mouth quivering and eyes going big and shiny.
“He wrote you a song?”
“I don’t think he wrote it specifically for me,” Wei Wuxian says weakly, except that Lan Zhan had recognized him instantly when he played it, which means no one else could have heard it, which means that it was written specifically for him—
“Really?” The unimpressed look returns to Nie Huaisang’s face. “What did he name it, then?”
Wei Wuxian pauses. The truth sits easily on the tip of his tongue: I don’t know, Lan Zhan wouldn’t tell me. He knows what he’s been calling their song, in the quiet privacy of his mind; knows why he plays it on nights when the room feels too empty and the distance between them pulls painfully on his heart.
But Lan Zhan hadn’t told Wei Wuxian how he’d recognized him either, had just said “think about it yourself” and waited, trusting that Wei Wuxian would. Perhaps this is something else that Lan Zhan wants him to figure out, is waiting for him to figure out, has been waiting for… a while, he suspects.
“Wei-xiong,” Nie Huaisang says, finally, and Wei Wuxian doesn’t know what could be on his face that would make Nie Huaisang look at him with such pity. “I mean this in the best way possible, but why are you even here?”
Wei Wuxian drops his head onto the table and sighs. “I don’t know, Huaisang-xiong. I really don’t know.”
Sizhui is at the rabbit hutch with several other disciples when he hears Jingyi shouting his name.
“Sizhui, we have a crisis!”
The other disciples look up in alarm, but upon seeing that it’s just Jingyi, who has a crisis every other week, they quickly return to feeding and petting the rabbits.
The rabbit on Sizhui’s lap is visibly annoyed when he sets it back down onto the ground and stands up; it thumps its back foot at him, and hops away to join its brethren.
“What’s wrong?” Sizhui asks, when Jingyi approaches at a run. No one scolds him for it; even Master Lan has given up on making Jingyi stop running.
“Everything!” Jingyi declares, and drags Sizhui to a more secluded area of the bamboo forest. “Our book is a tremendous success.”
Sizhui is not sure when it became their book, but he decides to put that aside for now and address the more immediate concern. “Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Yes, but that’s not the point,” Jingyi says dismissively. He extracts a sheet of paper from inside his sleeve and thrusts it at Sizhui. “Read this letter.”
It’s from Jin Ling. He writes about finding out from some villagers that Wei-qianbei was in Yunmeng, and telling his uncle in an attempt to get the two of them to — finally — talk. Apparently, Sect Leader Jiang did confront Wei-qianbei in a playhouse, but the outcome was somewhat ambiguous.
“Wei-qianbei was in a playhouse?” Sizhui asks, looking up.
Jingyi nods fervently. “Which means he must have seen our play; it’s traveling through Yunmeng. But that was weeks ago.”
It would take weeks to travel from Yunmeng to Gusu, so his absence isn’t a surprise… but surely he would have sent word that he was on his way. “Do we know where he is now?”
“No! That’s the problem!” Jingyi clasps Sizhui’s hands, eyes wide and earnest. “You have to talk to Hanguang-jun. Since you’re his son—”
“Why am I only his son when you need me to talk to him?”
“—maybe you can convince him to go look for Wei-qianbei. What if he’s been abducted by nefarious villains? Or under a terrible curse?”
Sizhui is fairly certain that any nefarious villains who encounter Wei-qianbei would have more to fear from him than the other way around, but Sizhui has also learned from past experience that trying to talk Jingyi out of something when he has his determined face on is generally more trouble than it’s worth. He sighs. “Fine, I’ll talk to him.”
He goes to the Jingshi. As Chief Cultivator, Hanguang-jun was well within his rights to seek finer living quarters, but he’d declined all the offers. In fact, other than a larger bed and perhaps a more spacious clothing cupboard, the Jingshi looks just as it did when Sizhui was a small child.
Hanguang-jun is sitting at a low table, long hair unbound from the elaborate crown that he wears with dignity but Sizhui secretly thinks he despises. He’s reading what looks like a letter, though he puts it down and looks up when Sizhui knocks on the doorframe.
“Sizhui apologizes for disturbing Hanguang-jun,” he says, with a deep bow.
“You are not disturbing me,” Hanguang-jun says. “Enter. Sit.”
Sizhui bows again and goes in, taking a seat on the opposite side of the table. Aside from the letter, there is also a delicate paper cutting of two chickens, and a painting of two snuggling rabbits. “Are those from Wei-qianbei?”
“Yes,” Hanguang-jun confirms. “They arrived just today.”
Not abducted or cursed then. Jingyi will be relieved. “Do you know where he is?”
Sizhui frowns. Qinghe is at least a week’s travel north of Yunmeng, probably longer at this time of year. Surely even if Wei-qianbei was taking the long way back to Gusu, he wouldn’t choose that route. “Why would Wei-qianbei go to Qinghe?”
Something in Hanguang-jun’s expression softens. “Wei Ying goes where he wishes.”
Then why hasn’t he come here? Sizhui doesn’t say. Doesn’t he know that you’re waiting for him?
He chooses his words carefully. “Will Hanguang-jun go to meet him?”
“No,” Hanguang-jun replies. “There is no need.”
Sizhui doesn’t understand. He’s never seen Hanguang-jun happier than when he was at Wei-qianbei’s side. Sizhui knows Wei-qianbei less well, is still stitching together the scraps of memory from his childhood, but he remembers the way Wei-qianbei would gravitate to Hanguang-jun whenever they were together, like a flower turning its face to the light.
“But don’t you miss him?” he asks, quietly, impulsively, unforgivably rudely. “I mean—”
“Yes,” Hanguang-jun says. The word echoes in the silence, heavy with the weight of years, of endless li under his feet, of a loss deep enough to swallow the sun.
Sizhui lowers his head, humbled.
“Wei Ying goes where he wishes,” Hanguang-jun says again. His voice is gentle, and when Sizhui looks up, his eyes are kind. “And he will come home when he wishes. When he is ready.”
And until then, you will continue to wait, Sizhui thinks. But Hanguang-jun doesn’t look unhappy, no longer carries himself with a brittle, icy distance, as though he’d frozen from the inside out. He looks at peace now, like a man waiting for the sun to rise.
Sizhui smiles, and glows with warmth when he receives the faintest smile in return. “I understand, Hanguang-jun.” He lifts himself to his feet and bows once more. “Sizhui will take his leave now.”
Hanguang-jun nods in dismissal.
Just as he’s reached the threshold, he hears his name called again.
He turns. “Yes?”
“I appreciate what you and Jingyi have done for Wei Ying,” Hanguang-jun says coolly. “Though please inform Jingyi that he would be wise to remember Lan Sect rule number 542.”
Speak clearly and concisely at all times.
“Yes, Hanguang-jun,” he squeaks, and promptly breaks rule number 15 by running away.
For anyone who's curious as to how LWJ found out about The Book: he doesn't suspect anything when Sizhui asks him about WWX because a) he's always happy to talk about WWX to Sizhui, and b) Sizhui deserves to know, now that he's remembering. He does start to feel suspicious when Jingyi starts wandering around the Cloud Recesses muttering things like "eyes like glittering stars or eyes like shards of onyx jade?" And then the book comes out, and of course LWJ gets his hands on a copy. He's initially not sure who wrote it, because the book has Jingyi's unmistakable florid writing style but it's also impeccably spelled??? But then he remembers Sizhui and realizes that Sizhui probably helped proofread and NOW everything makes sense.
Chapter 6: tags: pining disaster bi WWX, equally pining only slightly less of a disaster gay LWJ, MARRIAGE
Dear Lan Zhan,
I’ve been thinking a lot about who we are to one another. And about what we can be to one another. And what I want us to be to one another. In fact, I can’t stop thinking about you and me and this is making no sense at all—
Wei Wuxian crumples up the paper, and starts again.
Dear Lan Zhan,
Remember when I told you all about the benefits of being my friend? You never let me finish. I would like to expound upon those benefits—
“No, he’ll think I’m teasing him. This is serious.”
Dear Lan Zhan,
I do not have your skill in composing songs, but perhaps you will permit me to write you a poem—
“Wei Wuxian, what are you even thinking?” he groans, dropping his brush and burying his head in his hands. The movement dislodges his growing pile of discarded previous attempts, scattering paper balls across the table.
It shouldn't be this hard. Talking to Lan Zhan, across any distance, was always easy. Too easy at times in his first life, when his secrets would strain against his clenched teeth, yearning for someone who’d just listen. But now the words refuse to come, as though they know their own inadequacy. What is I’m sorry to the scars that Lan Zhan bears because of him? What is thank you to the unwavering certainty of Lan Zhan’s devotion?
He takes out his painting of Lan Zhan from between the folds of his robes. Frequent handling has long since robbed the paper of its original crispness, though the spells he’d sewn into the silk envelope have protected its edges from tearing. Since meeting the trio of artists, he has kept Jing Yang’s drawing of himself in the same silk envelope, partly for convenience but also because it had felt wrong to separate Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji, even in this form.
With the clarity of hindsight, it’s easy to see why Jing Yang had assumed that he’d been thinking of a lover. The Wei Wuxian in her drawing is smiling to himself, half-lidded gaze turned inward as though reliving a beautiful, beloved memory. He wonders if this is what Jiang Cheng had meant when he’d accused Wei Wuxian of mooning over Lan Zhan; if this is what Shijie had seen, all those years ago.
If Lan Zhan also looks like this, when he’s thinking about Wei Wuxian.
Picking up his own painting of Lan Zhan again, he lets his gaze trace the serene curves of Lan Zhan’s painted face, the inky river of his hair, the elegant drape of his sleeves across the low table. He’d never noticed until now, but the painting feels somehow incomplete. Perhaps because he’d added a second teacup to the table, though he remembers that at the time, he’d only done that because he’d drawn the table too long, as though it was meant to accommodate two people, not just one.
Wei Wuxian picks up the brush again, inks it, and adds a second figure to the other side of the table — head tilted, leaning his cheek on his hand as he smiles fondly at Lan Zhan. For his hair ribbon, Wei Wuxian grinds a little ink from a cinnabar stick, picks up another brush, and paints a red band that trails from the crown of his head down to pool on the tabletop.
It's not quite the right shade of red. Cinnabar makes vermilion, a brighter red, a wedding red. It contrasts starkly with the rest of the painting, looking slightly lonely even as it draws the eye.
He shifts his gaze to the white expanse of Lan Zhan’s sleeves and the white band across Lan Zhan’s forehead. Surely, even Lan sect doesn’t make its disciples wear funeral white on their wedding day; and Lan Zhan would look absolutely stunning in red, with gold in his hair and a smile on his lips…
It’s a slower realization than the blaze of light and sudden understanding that he’s used to. This feels more like the breaking of dawn. Like turning the last corner on a long journey to find home waiting, just ahead.
Now the words come, in rivers that flow from his mind through his writing brush onto a fresh sheet of paper. He writes with almost feverish speed, pausing only to re-wet the brush, until he is finished.
Then he picks up the red-inked brush and draws a delicate red thread between himself and Lan Zhan, looping the ends around their wrists — not quite a request, but more than a question. A hope, perhaps.
And perhaps, he thinks to himself, not a foolish hope.
I think I know the title of the song. I’m sorry it took me so long to figure things out; so much for being a genius, right? I feel like I’ve spent my whole life — two whole lives — chasing after you, calling, “Lan Zhan, wait for me!” And you did, and you have. Thank you.
Lan Zhan, do you remember when we were studying together in the Cloud Recesses, and we read the story of Lan An? Of course you do, what am I saying, you’re probably more surprised that I remember. Anyway, there was a poem he wrote, after his cultivation partner died:
Though the sky is vast and endless,
There is but one sun.
I didn’t really understand it at the time. I think I do now.
Lan Zhan, the world is a big place and while wandering with my wine and my mount, I have seen so much of it. But now my heart yearns for home. And I know where my home is.
I know who my home is.
So I turn my gaze eastward, and set my mount on the path back to Gusu, to the mountain where we bid each other farewell. Unless some unexpected disaster befalls me, I should arrive by the morning of Lantern Festival Day.
I will stand there, under the vast sky, and wait for my sun to appear. I hope it does.
P.S. I have enclosed along with this letter a painting. It doesn't have a title, but I don't think it needs one.
The journey back over the mountains is surprisingly swift and uneventful, as though all the forces of the universe are banding together to smooth his passage. An unseasonably early thaw clears the mountain passes, hastening his return to the farm where he'd left Little Apple. It takes some convincing to get Little Apple to leave with him again — apparently, the young daughter's kind heart was tragically susceptible to the donkey's sad, pleading eyes. Wei Wuxian makes sure to compensate the family for all the extra apples.
The fair weather continues as he makes his way east. Town after town is festooned with red and gold as the townspeople bustle about, busy with New Year activities. With so much positive energy in the air, most resentful spirits are quiet, leaving Wei Wuxian with little more than the odd confused ghost or grumpy yaoguai. It means he receives less payment, but Nie Huaisang had sent him off with ample supplies and a full purse. In any case, after months of being forced indoors by bitter cold, it's sometimes nice to forgo the local inn for a night underneath the stars. His clothes are warm enough, fine Gusu silk under thick Qinghe lambswool, and the new boots keep his feet perfectly dry.
He thinks about Lan Zhan every day.
His last letter would arrive at the Cloud Recesses faster than any of the others; he'd given it to Nie Huaisang to send as an official missive with a cultivator courier. In this weather, the journey would have taken no more than a couple of days. He wonders what Lan Zhan's expression had been, when he opened the letter and its accompanying painting.
Possibly Wei Wuxian shouldn't have all but proposed marriage in his letter. Neither he nor Lan Zhan care about status, but he is well aware that a penniless rogue cultivator still recovering his reputation would make a poor match for the Chief Cultivator. Perhaps he should have gone to the Cloud Recesses first and courted Lan Zhan slowly, properly, with poetry and gifts. Or perhaps he could have offered his services as an instructor for the junior disciples, and distinguished himself through brave deeds or wise words so that Lan Qiren would not immediately go into a qi deviation when he asked for Lan Zhan’s hand.
Some days, he wonders if he should have at least stayed enough in Qinghe to wait for a reply, instead of just setting off with his hopeful heart laid bare. But patience was always Lan Zhan's virtue, not his.
On the thirteenth day of the new year, Wei Wuxian arrives at the base of the mountain where he’d last seen Lan Zhan. Late in the afternoon of the following day, he makes his way up the gently sloping path.
As expected, no one there waiting for him. The Lantern Festival is on the fifteenth, and Lan Zhan is a stringently punctual person even by Lan sect standards. Still, if Wei Wuxian has to wait a day for Lan Zhan anyway, he’d much prefer to do it under an open sky rather than in a small inn room.
He knows Lan Zhan will come for him, feels it with a certainty that runs bone-deep. He's less certain that Lan Zhan will want to marry him, but he has resolved to be happy regardless of whether his place in Lan Zhan's life includes a place in Lan Zhan's bed. How many people are fortunate enough to find their true soulmate? Wei Wuxian will not be someone who is handed a gift for a lifetime and still extends his hand for more.
Setting Little Apple free to graze, he walks over to the edge of a cliff. Rolling green mountains stretch out before him, veined with shimmering waterfalls and capped with silver wisps of mist. Gusu is truly one of the loveliest places in the world; only a place like this could have raised a man as beautiful as Lan Zhan.
He raises Chenqing to his lips and begins to play. Their song flows from his fingertips as easily as breathing, as familiar as the brushstrokes that make up his name. He plays the song slowly, letting each note linger and echo in the cool evening air. It feels like he’s casting a spell, summoning magpies, perhaps, to reunite him and Lan Zhan the way they will reunite the Cowherd and Weaver Girl in a few months—
For a moment, he thinks he’s imagined it, conjured a memory from months — years — of unspoken longing. But only the real Lan Zhan could say his name like that, make his breath catch in his lungs, make his heart lash frantic wingbeats against his ribs.
He lowers his flute, and turns around.
On his journey here, he’d spent days planning out what he’d say to Lan Zhan when they meet again. Now, actually standing in front of Lan Zhan, he doesn’t remember a word of it.
“Lan Zhan,” he manages.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says again.
The words resonate through Wei Wuxian’s body like a great bell, like a bow string after release, a rope suddenly pulled taut. He’s tucking his flute away and moving before he knows it, running so fast he feels like he’s flying, or falling, but that’s nothing to fear — Lan Zhan will always, always catch him.
Wei Wuxian lands in Lan Zhan’s outstretched arms, enveloped in white sleeves and inky hair. He’d thought his painting a faithful reproduction of the original, but no painting, no memory, could replicate the scent of Lan Zhan’s skin or the heat of his body against Wei Wuxian’s. It makes something in him ease and settle, even as it awakens a deeper well of want.
Oh, who was he kidding when he’d thought he’d be just as happy in an adjacent room in the Jingshi, carefully keeping a chaste distance? He should have known that he wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than for Lan Zhan to love him with equal, passionate fervour.
It takes effort to pull away from the warmth and safety of Lan Zhan’s embrace. “You’re early.”
“Mm, so are you,” Lan Zhan replies. His fingers are warm around Wei Wuxian’s wrists, as if he’s just as unwilling to let go of Wei Wuxian.
“I thought I’d already kept you waiting for too long.”
“Not too long,” Lan Zhan says, and the sincerity in his voice is devastating. “Never too long, for you.”
Wei Wuxian does not fling himself back into Lan Zhan’s arms, which takes more restraint than he honestly thought he had. He clasps their hands together instead, feeling hope flutters in his chest when Lan Zhan tightens his grip, firm but still gentle. “You read my letter.”
“And now you’re here.”
A soft smile creeps into the corner of Lan Zhan’s mouth. “Yes.”
Wei Wuxian takes in a slow, shaky breath. “The song… it’s about us, isn’t it? Will you tell me its name now?”
Lan Zhan lifts Wei Wuxian’s left hand, flips it to bare his palm, and strokes his thumb against the palm, a dot followed by a horizontal line, and a vertical line. Wei Wuxian watches, pulse rabbit quick, until Lan Zhan draws the last of the three dots that make up the heart radical at the base of the character.
Then he looks up, and meets Wei Wuxian’s gaze expectantly. “You know the rest.”
He does. He lifts his own trembling finger across his palm and writes the second character beside the first. “Wangxian,” he says.
The smile blooms on Lan Zhan’s face like moonbeams shining through the clouds on a dark night, turning his already handsome face to something almost otherworldly. “Yes.”
There are more words that need to be said, some of which are almost ridiculously overdue, but none of them are more important than the swelling need to kiss the sweet curve of that smile, taste that lovely, lush mouth. He leans in, slowly, just in case he’d somehow misinterpreted horribly… but Lan Zhan meets him halfway, quelling the last of Wei Wuxian’s uncertainty with the soft, achingly tender touch of his lips.
It’s their first kiss in every sense of the word, but it doesn’t feel that way. Lan Zhan kisses like he’s spent years thinking about how he’d kiss Wei Wuxian, like he’d practiced countless times on the imagined contours of Wei Wuxian’s mouth. It kindles the banked heat in Wei Wuxian’s belly, setting embers ablaze, and Wei Wuxian presses forward to deepen the kiss, navigating angles and pressure with nothing but instinct and enthusiasm.
He’s thought about this, in the weeks after he left Qinghe, in the long months of their separation, and earlier — quiet moments in an inn when their eyes would meet over the entwining notes of qin and flute; a fraught silence after a drunken confession of loyalty that Wei Wuxian should have known was always there.
And, if he’s truly honest with himself, even earlier still — in a library, laughing at Lan Wangji’s red-stained face and wondering how much redder he’d turn if Wei Wuxian pressed a kiss to that trembling, furious mouth.
Heavens, Wei Wuxian really was slow on the uptake, wasn’t he?
He can’t help a chuckle at that, which makes Lan Zhan pause and lean back a little. Wei Wuxian pulls him in again before he can do something rash and horrible like stop kissing Wei Wuxian, but Lan Zhan only gives him another taste of sweetness before he separates their mouths and takes a step back.
“Wei Ying,” he says, in a low and slightly husky voice that’s really incredibly unfair, especially paired with his swollen and kiss-reddened mouth. “In your letter, you — did you mean what you wrote?”
“Yes,” Wei Wuxian replies, and manages to scrape up a shadow of his old insouciance to tease, “Will Hanguang-jun give this humble supplicant a favourable response?”
Lan Zhan levels him a look that’s probably meant to be stern, but there’s far too much fondness to give it any real teeth. Wei Wuxian grins unrepentantly at him, only for his grin to freeze on his face when Lan Zhan takes off his forehead ribbon and starts to wrap it around their wrists.
“Lan Zhan,” he says, breathlessly, because he remembers this rule, this most important Gusu Lan rule about who is allowed to touch a forehead ribbon, and since he sincerely doubts that Lan Zhan thinks of him as a parent or a child— “Are you— are we —”
“Only if that is what you wish,” Lan Zhan says, with just a hint of uncertainty creeping into his expression.
But even that is an unforgivable amount. Wei Wuxian vows right now to never put that look on Lan Zhan’s face ever again. “It is,” he says hastily. “It is exactly what I wish, Lan Zhan, you have no idea how much I wish. When can we do it? Right now? Wait, no, there are probably ceremonial things we have to do first. Do I need to ask Zewu-jun for your hand? Fuck, do I need to ask Lan Qiren for your hand, because— Lan Zhan, are you laughing at me?”
Lan Zhan’s lips are barely quirked upwards, but combined with the crinkle at the corners of his eyes, he might as well be howling with laughter. “A little,” he admits, and raises their joined wrists to his mouth.
Wei Wuxian suddenly has a vision of exactly how he’s going to lose every single argument for the rest of his married life as Lan Zhan presses a reverent kiss to his knuckles. It should probably bother him more than it does, but he’s currently not capable of doing anything other than stare giddily at Lan Zhan’s bare forehead and their bound wrists.
Which, now that he thinks about it, is a strangely familiar sight.
“Have we done this before?”
Lan Zhan’s lips go still on Wei Wuxian’s hand. He looks up, his eyes wide and wary.
“We have done this before,” Wei Wuxian realizes, as memory comes flooding back: an ice cave with an ancient qin that lashed him with spiritual energy until Lan Zhan made him a member of the Lan family, oh how Wei Wuxian wants to go back in time and smack his younger self for ever daring to proclaim himself a prodigy. “In Lan Yi’s cave, right? Lan Zhan, are we already married?”
“You remember,” Lan Zhan says, which is an admission in itself, really. He looks down at their ribbon-bound wrists. “It would not be considered a valid marriage—”
“Because I died, right,” Wei Wuxian interrupts, grabbing hold of Lan Zhan’s other hand just in case he was thinking of untying them. “As a virgin, might I add, which is a terrible thing for a married man. Hanguang-jun, how could you be so cold to your husband?”
This time, Lan Zhan’s glare is more potent, though Wei Wuxian is still too delighted to care. Lan Zhan loves him, wants to be married to him, and that’s enough to make him feel warm and golden all over, like his heart has switched from pumping blood to pumping pure light.
“It would not be considered a valid marriage,” Lan Zhan explains, with dignity, “because we did not complete our bows.”
Wei Wuxian waves a reckless, dismissive hand. “Well, we have now, sort of. We bowed to your ancestor in the cave, and my family at Lotus Pier.” He casts his gaze up to the darkening twilight sky. “We’re standing on the earth with heaven above us. I don’t think the gods will mind if we make our bows out of order, do you?”
It occurs to him, belatedly, that he is perhaps rushing things. That he might be perfectly happy to make his bows in dusty clothes and drink cold water from a spring, but Lan Zhan is the elegant and refined Second Jade of Lan.
“I do not believe they will mind. Nor do I.” Lan Zhan tugs his free hand out of Wei Wuxian’s grasp, and cups Wei Wuxian’s cheek. “Wei Ying—”
Wei Wuxian blinks. Lan Zhan looks similarly confused.
They both turn and look, as three cultivators descend from their swords. Two are in the white Lan sect uniform; the other wears Ouyang garnet. Their sleeves flap as they run towards Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan, barely remembering to bow.
“Lan Jingyi, Lan Sizhui, Ouyang Zizhen,” Wei Wuxian says, shaking his head in wonder, “has no one ever taught you about proper timing? Don’t you know what you’ve just interrupted? Hanguang-jun and I were about to elope!”
“We know!” Ouyang Zizhen cries, panting.
Wei Wuxian’s brow furrows. “What? How do you know?” Even he didn’t know until it started happening.
“Sizhui read your letter,” Ouyang Zizhen says.
“By accident!” Sizhui squeaks, and nearly topples over in a deep bow to Lan Zhan. “Ten thousand apologies, Hanguang-jun.”
“Only it said the fifteenth, but then Hanguang-jun left today so we followed him but he flies so fast!” Jingyi explains, as he catches his breath.
“Anyway,” Ouyang Zizhen continues, “you mustn’t elope! You should have a real wedding! With gifts!”
“And a banquet!” Jingyi chimes in. “Right, Sizhui?”
Sizhui nods fervently, face still beet red.
“Besides, you can’t get married wearing that," Jingyi adds. “Improper celebratory attire is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses!”
“That is not a rule in the Cloud Recesses,” Wei Wuxian says.
“It was added after Wei-qianbei’s time,” Sizhui explains, and tilts his head meaningfully in Jingyi’s direction.
Wei Wuxian casts a helpless look at Lan Zhan, who lifts an eyebrow as if to say, whatever you wish. He sighs. “Look, children, I appreciate your… enthusiasm, but I highly doubt that Lan sect — or Jiang sect, for that matter, will be willing to host a wedding between Hanguang-jun and the Yiling Patriarch.”
That starts off a new flurry of protests, which he curtails with a raised hand. “And besides,” he continues, putting his free hand on his hip. “Weddings are expensive! Have you all forgotten how poor I am? Are you going to make our Hanguang-jun pay for the whole wedding out of his own pocket?”
“No, not at all,” Ouyang Zizhen assures, and gestures to Jingyi and Sizhui. “That’s what we’re here to tell you! We’ll pay for it!”
Wei Wuxian blinks at the three of them. “You will?”
Sizhui looks similarly confused. “We will?”
“Of course!” Ouyang Zizhen says, sounding insulted. “Why else do you think I bargained so hard for our royalties?”
“Royalties?” Wei Wuxian asks. “What royalties?”
“For the book!” Lan Jingyi says, as Sizhui makes violent shushing motions at him.
There is a moment of silence. Suspicion curls like smoke in the back of Wei Wuxian’s mind. He narrows his eyes, casting his gaze from the unrepentant Lan Jingyi to the mortified Sizhui to Lan Zhan, who looks back at him with what actually appears to be mild amusement.
Wei Wuxian shifts his gaze back to the junior disciples and tightens his grasp on Lan Zhan’s hand, feeling something slot into place like the last move that unlocks a puzzle box.
“So,” he says, “tell me about this book.”
A few notes in this chapter:
- WWX's line: "Lan Zhan, the world is a big place and while wandering with my wine and my mount" is in reference to the last conversation he has with LWJ on the hilltop in episode 50. It is based off of the Netflix translation, which I happily tweaked to suit my scene.
- Cowherd and Weaver Girl is a famous Chinese love story. More details here.
- Lan An's poem is my own invention.
One more chapter, the epilogue, remains!
Chapter 7: Epilogue
Thank you everyone who has supported me through my writing of this fic. I treasure every comment and piece of encouragement. Writing is HARD. Having people to write for makes it much easier. Happy new year, everyone! <3 <3 <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
To His Excellency Hanguang-jun and Wei-gongzi,
Qiu Xinyi humbly greets you both. Please accept my heartfelt congratulations for your wedding! If I may be so bold as to say, I felt from the day I met Wei-gongzi that the two of you would have a love story for the ages. I wish you both good health and many years of happiness.
Physician Li also sends her congratulations, as well as her hope that in Hanguang-jun’s care, Wei-gongzi will be stabbed less in the future. (I’m so sorry, Hanguang-jun and Wei-gongzi, she made me write this! Please forgive my rudeness.)
Again, all the best wishes for your life together,
How naughty of you, Wei-gongzi, to not tell us who you really were when you visited the Chrysanthemum House! Had we known you were the real Wei Wuxian, we would have treated you to dinner, at least! But out of consideration for your upcoming wedding, we’ll forgive you.
We’ve even sent some gifts for you and your handsome new husband-to-be. The perfumed oils are the finest in Qinghe, and can be used for massage as well as other, more intimate activities. The books are for if you would like some inspiration, to keep things interesting in the bedchamber — not that we think you two will need it, of course! And the ribbons we used to tie the package are made of pure silk, and make for excellent blindfolds and restraints. Please see the purple book if you’d like some ideas about that kind of play.
We’re so happy for you and Hanguang-jun. We hope you’ll visit us again one day, and please bring your husband! We’d love the opportunity to draw you both!
With great fondness,
Jing Yang and Xu Hong
P.S. This is Mingzhu. My sisters refused to let me see what they sent you, but knowing them, I would like to apologize in advance for any embarrassment they may cause. My sisters mean well, I promise. We really are so happy for you both.
To His Excellency, Hanguang-jun,
Please accept my congratulations on your wedding. As I’m sure you know, Wei-xiong visited Qinghe shortly before returning to Gusu. I hope it would not be presumptuous of me to be glad that my advice might have contributed, however insignificantly, to this happy occasion.
I hear you might be looking for a wedding venue. May I humbly offer the Unclean Realm as a potential candidate? My home is, admittedly, somewhat severe in appearance, but I am certain that it would look splendid dressed in red. It is also strategically located between Yunmeng and Gusu, and would be politically neutral territory, should that be one of your concerns.
I would be happy to meet with you in person to discuss further details. As Wei-xiong is a dear friend of mine, I would put my utmost effort into ensuring that your wedding day is a joyous and memorable event.
Sect Leader Nie Huaisang
Congratulations on your wedding! I’ve been telling all my friends that I met the real Wei Wuxian, and that he’s as handsome and kind as the story says. A-Mei sends you her congratulations as well, and would like to gift you and Hanguang-jun her stuffed toy rabbit. We know he will be safe and happy in your care.
His name Tu-gongzi. Please take care of him for me.
Well, he’s your problem now. I’d offer congratulations, but considering the choices you’ve made, I’ll just wish you luck. It’s a good thing you have a thick face; you’ll need it, with him.
And I know he’s reading this over your shoulder as we speak, because he’s a shameless idiot with no manners. So tell him to get his useless ass back to Lotus Pier one of these days. He has over a decade’s worth of crap in his room that he still needs to clear out, including Suibian. I’m not wasting any more sword oil on that blade. If he doesn’t come back soon, I’m throwing everything he owns into the lake and giving his room to Fairy.
Wei-qianbei and Hanguang-jun,
Jin sect sends its congratulations for your wedding and best wishes for a long and happy marriage. But will you two please visit Lotus Pier sometime? Preferably soon? Jiujiu is so mad that you’re not getting married here; he’s been going around yelling all day. I think I overheard some disciples talking about defecting to Jin sect and I’m not sure that they were entirely joking. So please come, okay?
And bring Jingyi and Sizhui with you! Fairy misses them.
Sect Leader Jin Rulan
I’m so happy for you both. Our uncle, from what I hear — daily, loudly, and at length — is perhaps less than delighted. In some ways, I understand him; he believes in his heart that he is right, and that is a difficult thing to change. You will need to be patient with him, as you have been patient with me.
I would be honoured to attend your wedding, though I will resume my seclusion afterwards. But know that your joy brings a sorely needed balm to the wounds that scar my heart. Love has not always been good to our family. I am grateful that at least for you, it has decided to be kind.
Your loving brother,
To Hanguang-jun and Wei-qianbei,
We wanted you to have the first copy of the first printing of the second edition of our book. It contains an epilogue about the happy ending to your story. We believe that this edition will be even more popular than the previous one.
We have also decided to give the book a new title, in honour of the two of you. We hope you will enjoy The Absolutely True Love Story of Hanguang-jun and the Yiling Patriarch.
Most respectfully yours,
Lan Jingyi, Ouyang Zizhen, and Lan Sizhui
P.S. Thank you for not punishing Jingyi. He has promised to be more restrained with the descriptions this time.
A note for this chapter:
- Tu-gongzi basically translates to "young master rabbit"