Good tidings! The Wen dogs have been subjugated, their tyrannies are no more! Rejoice! Let history behold the heroes of the Sunshot Campaign!
For three months the world celebrated their liberation from the horrors wreaked upon them by members of the Wen Sect. Flags were flown proudly on the streets, loots from the Wen Sect armoury were returned or redistributed, and many political prisoners were freed once more. It was three months of peace, quiet, and general good-feelings.
But three months were too short of a time by Jiang Cheng’s reckonings before new forces were at play and fighting for the power vacuum left behind by the Wens. The Jin Sect stepped in, comfortably filling the niche of the leading sect and head cultivator without so much as a polite excuse me.
Three months were too short for the tasks of rebuilding a sect from bare bones and to make new (read: potentially dangerous and exploitative) allegiances that may or may not cost him further down the line. Notably, Jiang Cheng found himself in an awkward position to support the Jin Sect despite his contempt for their power-hungry moves. Jin Guangshan was not known for his leadership as much as for his lecherous tendencies and one-night flings.
If Jiang Cheng recalled correctly, the man was not too upfront about disposing of the Wen Sect during the Sunshot Campaign. He sure was very upfront about claiming power, however, post-Wen rule.
But Jiang Cheng was figuratively hand-tied by said Sect because of their in-law relationship. More importantly, he was desperately in need of money to rebuild his sect, and the Jin Sect had an abundance of them. As the old saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers.
And as if recruiting loyal disciples and rebuilding the Sect were not hard enough, fate decided to throw in another curveball. Something about being robbed of his core must have changed the underlying workings of his body, because it wasn’t too long before Jiang Cheng presented (sometime in the future he wondered if possessing his adoptive brother’s core must have messed with his presentation).
Before the signs were apparent, everyone assumed that Jiang Cheng will follow after his father and sister as a heyi , nothing particularly special, a perfect embodiment of Jiang Cheng’s standing in life. Truth be told, Jiang Cheng’s low self-esteem was fine with this, screaming that it was only right that he became a nobody.
Secretly, a wishful part of him thought that maybe, just maybe, by some rare, fantastic twist of fate (or irony) he will follow after his mother and become a tianqian, the epitome of strength and leadership.
Yet fate made a laughing stock out of him. When the first signs of wetness slipped, Jiang Cheng felt his own world reeling – figuratively and literally – as he braced himself against waves and waves of weakness and heat. And if there was one thing that the young man come to learn to hate beyond the Wen dogs, it was his lack of control over his own body. Because to be worse than a nobody was to be a kunze – soft, weak beings requiring the protection of tianqians and heyis.
The first time was a nightmare. The young sect leader sealed himself in his room with talismans so powerful that it would burn anyone coming near it. He commanded Zidian to tie him up, forced himself to ride through the pain of feeling his internal organs rearranged themselves to accommodate a new structure.
Sometimes a kunze simply never make it through their transition. That was what made them so rare, especially male kunzes that have to literally grow another organ.
But Jiang Cheng had come a long way and he was not going to let himself be defeated by a mere physiological make-up.
Thereafter, every three months, Jiang Cheng’s spiritual energy would recede, and he was reduced to a pathetic mess of carnal desires, longing desperately for someone else to complete him.
Sure, the subsequent heats were not as bad as the first one. They were also not as bad as the burning and empty feeling of losing a golden core. His spiritual energy was technically still there, just greatly subdued.
What made it absolute hell was his trauma from the experience of losing his core, which he had to relive in nightmares every night while in heat. The torture would extend for seven days, leaving him severely drained – emotionally and physically – by the end of it.
Mercifully, there were too many chaos at that time for people to notice anything out of the ordinary with the Jiang sect leader.
And mercifully, Jiang Yanli found an archaic herb recipe for repressing his heat. Conveniently the recipe – when combined in a certain ratio – could also be used for treating muscle cramps and headaches, providing the perfect cover-up for Jiang Cheng. People readily bought into the story that the young sect leader’s body had succumbed to pains and cramps due to pulling long hours of all-nighters (which, to a certain extent, was and still is, true).
But as the saying goes, herbal concoctions are seven-parts medicine and three-parts poison, the two siblings knew that the recipe was but a temporary reprieve. Ironically, the herbs responsible for curing pains and headaches will introduce the same symptoms gradually overtime. Moreover, Jiang Cheng will become reliant on the medicine over time and woe to the day when he decides to stop treatment.
“A-Cheng…” Jiang Yanli watched in anxiety as her younger brother finished another bowl of medicine. Already they had doubled the dosage since Jiang Cheng first started repressing his second gender.
“I’m fine, a-jie, I know what I’m doing.” Jiang Cheng reassured his older sister.
There really wasn’t a choice for him at this point – their sect was in its infancy, too fragile to withhold external scandals and pressures. Any weaknesses on his part will be the downfall of the Jiang sect. Compared to letting the sect fall into ruins under his hands, a little sacrifice on his part was nothing.
For the longest time Jiang Cheng prided himself for reigning in his nature and piecing back the fragments of Lotus Pier. When the Burial Mound siege ended, Jiang Cheng believed that he had truly achieved the impossible, stepped outside the constraints set by his second gender, and walked out of the shadows of his defected ex-shixiong.
Only to have that belief shattered into smithereens when the truth of his golden core got out.
After that it had been a slippery slope of trying to regain his footing, to fight the nagging shadows of his doubts – strangely sounding like his parents at times – that he is just not good enough.
A kunze is never meant to be in a position of power.
Look at you, the golden core inside you does not belong to you. Your body is not your own. Sooner or later you will give in to the instincts of kunzes to submit to a tianqian.
Hah! Imagine the infamous Sandu Shengshou, spreading his legs like a common whore.
Unsavoury whispers trail behind him, words that Jiang Cheng had heard uttered one-too-many-times against his own kind. Words that he had internalized more than he wanted to admit.
Jiang Cheng eyes the bowl of black liquid before him. Already he could taste the foul odour without even drinking a single drop of it, having consumed it so many times over the years. Everyone still thinks that the Jiang sect leader maintains a garden full of herbs to cure his headaches. No one needs to know that the herbs have another effect for a kunze.
And a secret it shall remain as the only ones that knew of the secret had already been laid to rest.
Jiang Cheng builds a tough exterior to deter nosy people. He throws himself into all sorts of night hunts and sect events to proof that he can defy the weaknesses inherent in his gender.
But proof to whom? To the cultivation world? To his long-deceased family? To himself?
During dark times these questions nag at him. But he’d learn to quell them, sweep them aside, and bury them along with all the unfinished work he still has to tend to. Jiang Cheng walks over to rock the sleeping form of his cute nephew, completely oblivious to the untimely endings of his parents. That’s right, if anything, Jiang Cheng still has a duty to the living.
The young sect leader takes a deep breath and downs the bowl of medicine in one go, letting the scalding liquid settle in his stomach. Soon, the gentle smell of lotus clinging unto him disappears.
Checking that nothing is out of order, Jiang Cheng is ready to present himself to the outside world.
He is, once again, Jiang Cheng, Sandu Shengshou, the sect leader of the Yunmeng Jiang clan, a proud figure in his own right.
Most importantly, he is a heyi.
Noble, esteemed, regal, and refined. A true gentleman, versed in the six arts, hero of the Sunshot Campaign.
Sure, many people participated in the Campaign, but when it came to claiming credits, only a few dared do so.
Lan Xichen found himself the involuntary hero. It was never his intention to be heralded as one, but because of his work in recruiting stray members of different sects, he was elevated to the symbol of the Campaign. His escapade from the burning Cloud Recesses, valuable scrolls tucked in his pouches while eluding the Wen dogs’ nets, became a sensational story. Children begged for it to be repeated during bed time, women swooned at the sheer excitement and gall of it all, and teahouses and wandering theatre groups recited it fervently.
Little did people know that Lan Xichen’s insides were burning with shame. When the Wens intruded the grounds of Cloud Recesses, he had no desires to leave behind his home, his hapless father, and certainly not his uncle and younger brother. He thought that as one of the more powerful cultivators out there he will be at the forefront defending his people.
Instead, his shu-fu visited him in the middle of the night with pouches of secret scrolls, all of which were stuffed hurriedly into Lan Xichen’s hands whilst the alarm gongs resounded in the not-too-far distant. He was instructed to escape and never come back until the situation has cleared. Escape like a dog with its tail between its leg. Abandoning his people to their fate.
For days Lan Xichen travelled through mountain passes and jungle thickets in no particular direction, subsisting on nothing more than wild pickings and stream waters. He dared not fly with his sword because it would expose him in the open, and he dared not seek the protection of allies. In trying times like this, one can never be too careful of people’s intentions. He’d heard horror stories of sects turning on one another just to appease the Wen Sect’s wrath.
Sometimes the Wens were close on his heels, like a pack of wolves closing in on him. But always, Lan Xichen managed to escape by a narrow slip. Other times he got more respite, but those times were not any better. With nothing else to do, images of the burning Cloud Recesses would haunt him.
Was his father fine? Did didi and shu-fu evacuate the disciples fast enough?
These thoughts kept him awake most nights. If someone had seen Lan Xichen then, they would not have associated the sorry sight of a being with the esteemed Zewu-Jun. His clothes were in tatters, his knuckles and skins bruised and bloodied, his face pale from many days of non-stop running.
The only thing keeping Lan Xichen from going back was his promise to shu-fu that he will preserve the valuable scrolls, passed down from eras before them.
Everyone knows that a Lan does not go back on their promise.
For the first time Lan Xichen began doubting the Sect’s rules. What was the point of the rules if there were no more sect members left to uphold them? What was the point of preserving these valuable scrolls, other than a relict of a sect that was no more?
Weeks later, he heard of the news of the Wen Sect’s retreat. Thankfully, most of the disciples were safe. The infrastructures in Cloud Recesses, however, have sustained grievous damages, especially their library pavilion and the sect leader’s house.
Soon-to-be former sect leader, if the dreadful news of his father’s dire situation was true.
The Wen Sect was smart – they didn’t follow-through completely with their siege, unlike what they did to annihilate the smaller clans. They knew that the Cloud Recesses had many ties to other clans given their prodigious backgrounds and schooling, and the annihilation of the sect could possibly incite mutiny from other sects. Instead, they gave ample warnings, targeted what is most precious for the sect – the library, by which the teachings of the Lans were passed unto younger generations. The destruction of the library was tantamount to cutting off the Sect’s influence.
Then and there, in a rare spurt of courage, Lan Xichen decided that he had to do something. Despite his young age, he was already quite well-known, and even though that brought him no ends of trouble when trying to elude the Wens, it also meant that he has substantial influence.
Lan Xichen began collecting remnants of sects that have been destroyed but were not annexed by the Wens. They had all lost someone or something precious to them, and Lan Xichen could sympathize with them.
Thankfully, convincing them to join his cause was not difficult, and in a relatively short period of time he had amassed a crowd of devoted followers. The people placed their hopes on Lan Xichen’s name: the renowned Zewu-Jun, one of the twin Jades of Lan, the tianqian of the Lan Sect.