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As The Warren Grows In Number

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Lan Yuan had no memories of anything or anyone before waking up in the jingshi , brought into the sect by his adoptive father, but he was sure that Gusu Lan was better than anywhere else he could have possibly grown up in. Sure, there was more than four thousand rules he had to follow in the sect but he still felt blessed that he was lucky enough to have been found by his father when he was.

According to his uncle Xichen, he had been bedridden by a strong fever at the time he was brought in and it might have been the reason why he had no memories beyond the days he grew up in Gusu. Sometimes a moment might pass and he would feel a tug to his mind, as if he were familiar with the situation but then the moment would pass and he wouldn’t remember a thing. Lan Yuan thought it annoying but there was nothing he could do about it.

Speaking of familiar situations, Lan Yuan was currently buried under a nest of rabbits.

Airy giggles left his lips as the rabbits clambered all over him in their excitement, soft fluffy paws placing themselves over his stomach making him feel ticklish. Lan Yuan tried to pick himself out from the bunnies but ended up being pulled right back in. There were just way too many of them and they seemed determined to keep their five year old companion with them as long as they could.

“Father, father !” Lan Yuan called out in a laughing tone. “Father help me up! The rabbits are going to eat me!”

Lan Wangji sat under the shade of a tree nearby, his hands placed over the strings of his guqin as he played a soft melody. A melody he recognized as the one his father plays at times. He called out to his father once again and Lan Wangji stopped plucking the strings. With a soft smile, he put away the guqin and walked up to where his son was buried under all the rabbits.

Lan Yuan raised his arms through the fluffy rabbits and made grabby hands at his father, asking to be picked up. Lan Wangji knelt down next to him with a grace that only came with age and experience, and instead of picking up his son, placed yet another rabbit into the already growing pile on top of him.

“Father no !” Lan Yuan whined, more laughter escaping him as the soft fur tickled his face. “Father, please pull me out!”

With the same soft smile on his face, the one that was a rare sight to most of the sect, Lan Wangji settled down next to son, pulled a book from his sleeves and prepared to read. Lan Wangji flipped the book open to the last page he was reading and Lan Yuan noticed that the bookmark he was using was more commonplace now.

It was an ordinary unmarked piece of parchment and not the usual soft petaled, dried flower anymore. Lan Wangji tucked the bookmark into the last page of the book and looked at Lan Yuan with a soft gaze as he did so.

“The rabbits are good. They will help you grow.”

Lan Yuan didn’t quite understand, but he had a feeling this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened.

︵‿︵‿୨♡୧‿︵‿︵

Lan Yuan wasn’t a shy child by any means. He was outgoing, talkative and liked to play about with the other junior disciples his age. He knew his father was an important person but that didn’t make him feel as if he was above anyone else. He enjoyed the company of others and would, more often than not, be found surrounded by at least four or five other disciples his age.

Amongst them is his closest friend, Lan Jingyi. Now, Jingyi is by no means a bad child, but his great-uncle Lan Qiren hated him. Ok nevermind, hate might have been a strong word to use but his uncle didn’t exactly like his friend much either. He was loud, impulsive and reckless; all the characteristics of an improper Lan.

Lan Jingyi was Lan Yuan’s closest friend and no uncle with a permanent frown was going to change that.

They were always together and while most parents would worry about their children being friends with the notorious Lan Jingyi who even Lan Qiren didn’t like, his father never did. Lan Wangji knew exactly who Lan Jingyi was and the most he said on the topic was, “be watchful of uncle, A-Yuan.”

The two boys were inseparable and the other disciples knew it. Lan Yuan could remember very clearly the first day the other disciples had realized that his father was The Hanguang-jun .

For months before that, Lan Yuan had talked of his father. Of how his father taught him how to play the guqin , how his father sang him to sleep on the nights he wasn’t away on night hunts, of how he read the best stories for him.

He had even shared with them the numerous times he was buried in the rabbits. “Father says it would help me grow but that doesn’t make sense! How are rabbits going to help?”

The disciples had been curious to know who his father was and had begged him to bring him to meet them. They too wanted to meet the man who had buried Lan Yuan in a nest of rabbits. The then seven year old had gone to his father with their request and with a gentle nod Lan Wangji had agreed.

Two days later, the boys had all gathered near the rabbit enclosure after their lessons had ended, waiting for Lan Yuan’s father to show up. Just minutes later, Hanguang-jun walked up to them and all the disciples immediately straightened their posture. They worried for just a second that the elder would tell them to not loiter about; as was the rules, but they were pleasantly surprised.

The moment Lan Wangji, the famous Hanguang-jun , one of the two young masters of Gusu came into view, Lan Yuan ran up to him and hugged him around his waist.

As the surprised disciples looked on, the always intimidating Hanguang-jun gently patted the top of Lan Yuan’s head and listened as his son breathlessly summarized his day. Lan Yuan fumbles over a few words and Hanguang-jun simply tucks a few strands of hair back into their place before admonishing a soft, “speak slowly, I will listen,” and continuing to walk towards the flabbergasted disciples.

He walked with them to the rabbits burrows and watched as the disciples played around with the fluffy animals. He didn’t even cite the rule of not making too much noise when one or two of the children got a little rowdy. If anything the soft smile he had on his face as he braided his sons hair grew just the slightest bit bigger. He even pulled out the guqin and played them a soft melody at their request.

That day, all the younger disciples of Gusu learnt that their Hanguang-jun was by no means stern, intimidating or even scary; as they had once thought. He was just misunderstood. If anything, he was more fun to be around than any other adult in their entire sect.

Surprisingly, when the younger disciples soon started to follow after him like a kit after their mother, none of the elders said a word. They simply assumed it had more to do with admiration than adoration and just let it be.

︵‿︵‿୨♡୧‿︵‿︵

Lan Yuan was feeding the rabbits that he found out that one of them was missing.

White with gray patches on his ears, this particular rabbit had been a favourite of his among all the other rabbits in the warren. Mostly because of the gray on his ears that made him so different from all the others who were all simply white, but also because this particular rabbit was very fond of him.

Each time Sizhui came to feed the rabbits he always made sure to give this one a cuddle before leaving. He never missed a cuddle session if he could and the rabbit was always present. Having fed the rest of the rabbits, Lan Yuan gently stood up and wandered further into where the rabbits had their burrows.

More and more white met his eyes as he ventured into the rabbits living grounds and he only got increasingly worried as he got closer to were the sect borders met the forests. His heart beating fast, Lan Yuan walked passed the borders and into the forest.

Stepping past large rocks and the overgrown roots of the humongous trees, Lan Yuan kept an eye out for a hint of white amongst the surrounding green. With another glance around where he stood, he let out a cry as the white he was looking for caught his eye.

Only, it was covered in red.

Tears already falling from his eyes, Lan Yuan gently picked up the wounded rabbit and held it close to his chest. The usually fast beat of its heart could no longer be felt and the rabbit had long become as cold as a winter's night.

Sobbing uncontrollably he ran back, all thoughts of the sect rules disregarded. All he had in his mind was to find his father. He would know what to do.

As he dashed past the rooms that lessons were held in he heard someone call out to him. Without turning back, he continued on until he reached the jingshi where he knew his father would be, currently grading papers.

Sliding the door open, he fell into the room and knelt down where his father sat.

Lan Wangji was a difficult man to read but right now all his worry was evident on his face. His brows were furrowed and lips parted as if to ask him what the matter is.

Without giving his father a chance to speak, Lan Yuan let his words spill out; all in a rush and jumbled with one another. He unraveled the rabbit in his robes and showed it to his father as more tears spilled from his eyes.

H-help hi-him papa. H-he’s co-cold.” Lan Yuan sobbed. “He’s too cold . B-blood, th-there’s blood .”

Putting aside everything Lan Wangji gathered his son into his arms, the rabbit along with him, and stood up. With brisk paces he walked out of the room. Lan Yuan had his face smushed into his father’s outer robes, tears staining them continuously, so it wasn’t until he was gently placed down on a soft bed that he remembered to look where he was.

His father had brought them to the sects medics, the head healer and a group of other disciples already standing at the door, ready to lend their help.

Lan Wangji pried the injured rabbit away from his son and passed it over to the healer. With a soft shake of their head and without another word, they moved out of the room and Lan Yuan let out a wail. It was cut off as soon as it started when Lan Wangji pulled his son close and let him rest his head on his shoulders.

Lan Yuan sobbed as he tried to speak out the words in his mind that he wanted to say.

“C-can they hel-help him?”

His voice was wrecked by the tears he had shed and muffled from the facefull he was getting from his father’s robes and yet he knew, he just knew, his father would never lie to him. No matter how ugly the truth, his father would always tell him as it is.

Still, even then, Lan Wangji struggled to form his sentence in a way that would cushion most of the hurt it would bring his son. Sometimes, no matter how hard he tried, bad news would always be bad news.

“Your friend has joined his family. The ones who left before.”

In the room that has seen both death and life, a child sat and cried over a lost friend, bundled up in the comforting robes of his father.

︵‿︵‿୨♡୧‿︵‿︵

The winter was cold and Lan Yuan was more interested in the white snow that covered every inch of the grounds than in the lessons his uncle kept trying to teach them. All he wanted to do was to walk outside as fast as the rules allowed him and push his hands into the snow.

Lan Jingyi sat next to him, one feet kicking up and down in his unsuccessful attempts to stay still. He was just as restless to run outside, maybe cause some mischief. Anger some elders while he was at it.

They had woken up to the white blanket of snow that had reached their ankles and had groaned in frustration when they had been told they would have lessons just like normal. Lan Yuan would have loved nothing more than to curl up near a warm fire and return back to dreamland but alas.

Rather reluctantly he had dragged himself to lessons and now he was more than eager to leave, have some fun with the other disciples but before any of that, he had to wait for his uncle to finish speaking about the Sunshot Campaign.

They had recently started the lessons surrounding the various wars that had taken place in the past, some that seemed to have taken place when he was alive, ridiculous as it sounded. Lan Yuan wondered if he ever saw any of this as he was growing up. If he saw any of the many soldiers and cultivators who marched off into the war.

His father definitely would have, since he seemed to have played a major role in it.

Maybe he should ask him.

No , maybe he shouldn’t.

Lan Yuan had a feeling his mother died during one of those wars and he didn’t want to upset his father in any way.

Besides, people tended to react very weirdly whenever he questioned the mysteries surrounding his existence. He knew he wasn’t born to Gusu Lan, that he was adopted into the family from another sect; he never asked which.

His father had explained all this to him very clearly and he also had many of those moments, where he just knew things were different for him before.

Take the food for example. Lan Yuan just knew he didn’t grow up eating bland food that they served at the sect meal times. His palate was a little… spicier . He ate the food they gave without complaint, but sometimes, his father would make his meals for him. They would contain a lot more spices and it would feel so familiar to him that at times he would burst into tears.

So much familiarity and yet, he could never remember why.

Lan Wangji once caught him crying and worried over him that he had made it too unbearable but Lan Yuan was quick to dispel his father’s worries.

“It isn’t too spicy, father,” he had said. “The taste just reminds me of something… someone but I can’t remember.”

The sad look in his father’s eyes was so profound, it was the only reason he didn’t ask if this particular familiarity had anything to do with the foggy figure in his mind that he could remember calling mama.

He had a feeling that the foggy figure was the same person as the soul that his father called out for every night using inquiry . Lan Yuan knew better than to ask his father about that particular soul. He had asked his uncle Xichen about it once but the smile that had slipped off his face made him think twice about asking anyone the same question ever again.

There was simply too much sadness and a much bigger story involved with the missing soul his father was searching for.

Lan Yuan never asked but he was glad that at least his father loved his mama enough to search for their soul even years afterwards. The face that his father makes when remembering them was one he wished to never see his father express, ever , but despite his careful actions, he saw the expression just one last time.

The day he was given his courtesy name was a day of splendour; or as cerimonial as it got at Gusu. His ribbon was put on him by his father, the clouds on it marking him as one of the members of the direct family line and as his courtesy name was read out, he saw the sad look cross his father’s face as quick as it disappeared.

He wondered for just a second what his name meant to his father before he focused on the rest of the ceremony.

The newly named Lan Sizhui was already old enough to go out on night hunts with his own group and the time he spent with his father became shorter and more valuable.

Gone were the days where he would crawl onto his father’s lap and just watch him as he graded other disciples papers. Gone were the days where they would play with the rabbits whenever Lan Wangji got time.

The days of childhood were gone and he was stepping on into adulthood and yet, his father was just as precious to him as he was before.

︵‿︵‿୨♡୧‿︵‿︵

Lan Sizhui had been going on night hunts for months when the Mo clan requested their assistance with a slight corpse infestation. Along with Jingyi and some other young cultivators of his sect he was chosen to go on the night hunt. His father had helped him prepare all the necessary pouches and had made sure he had the emergency flares just in case. Without many words, as was his father’s usual, he was sent off.

Lan Sizhui knew better. His father would be waiting for him to return back safely just as he had all the other times.

Brought up by Hanguang-jun himself, Sizhui had always been taught to be kind. So when he saw the way the young master Mo Xuanyu was treated by his own family, he was truly disgusted and horrified.

Mo Xuanyu’s own family was treating him as a disgusting cut-sleeve and a madman but Sizhui could clearly see that it wasn’t as such. Being a cut-sleeve really wasn’t that much of an issue to him; as he couldn’t understand what that had anything to do with how a person should be treated and the young master Mo was clearly no lunatic.

Sizhui had seen those eyes and they were to clear and sharp to belong to a madman.

When everything started going wrong at the Mo family manor, Sizhui noticed that the young master Mo was quick to act upon the matter. Though he acted like the madman he was supposed to be, Sizhui could see his actions were too deliberate to be truly foolish.

In all the chaos with the arm and the arrival of his father in answer to their flares, Sizhui lost sight of the young master Mo. Thinking to himself he would notify Hanguang-jun about the matter later, he filed the thought away and went ahead to clean up the aftermath of the fight.

When the man ran into them once again and his father insisted on bringing him back to Gusu, Sizhui wondered for just a second who this strange man could be. He never got a chance to ask his father about it though, as the events afterwards rushed forward and the cultivation world was once again whipped up into a frenzy.

Later when it all ended, he almost thought himself to be dreaming. Lan Sizhui had dreamed of many things in his lifetime but never once had he thought he would ever achieve the amount of happiness he was facing right now.

Clad in the body of the young master Mo Xuanyu stood the person he called mama.

People called him Wei Wuxian, the Yiling Patriarch and some slightly more rude names but to Sizhui, the man had always been his xian-gege . His mama.

He was the man who took him in and looked after him as a child.

He was the man who put in a ridiculous amount of spice into whatever dish he cooked.

He was the man who had buried him up to his neck in dirt and claimed it would help him grow. (No wonder Hanguang-jun did the same thing! He must have seen xian-gege do that to him!)

This was the man who had made sure Sizhui was hidden and safe all those years ago and whose soul his father had been calling out for the past thirteen years.

Sizhui hid the tears that left his eyes as he watched the two men that had raised him in turns leave. To become husbands, xian-gege had claimed. His father hadn’t said a word against it so Sizhui supposed it was true.

Saying their goodbyes, Lan Sizhui walked away with his uncle Wen Ning and wished the day they meet again wouldn’t be too far away. Sizhui couldn’t imagine parting for another thirteen years. That would truly be too cruel.

He counted down the days as he built a cenotaph for his aunt and helped his uncle Ning give their ancestors a proper burial. As the tasks neared on completion, Sizhui felt an eagerness never felt before.

As the entrance to Gusu Lan drew close, Lan Sizhui hastened his steps. As fast as the rules of his sect allowed him, he walked forwards. A pair stood at the entrance, ready to receive him. One dressed in pristine white robes and the other in robes of black and red. Even from this distance Sizhui could see the large grin on the face of the one in black.

Before Sizhui could take another step he was surrounded by black and red, loud laughter in his ears and warm fingers running through his hair, messing it up. Palms squished both his cheeks together and Lan Sizhui let out a laugh.

Lan Sizhui was home .

Across the sect grounds, in their very own corner, the warren continued to grow.