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There are corpses everywhere; the smell of rot and decay lingers on the air. Sandus weight in his hand is familiar, as is Zidian, and while he whirls around and takes out one of the bodies reaching towards him, Jiang Chengs eyes lock onto the figure standing ahead of the gathered cultivators.

Wei Wuxians eyes glow red in the darkness, his hair an unkempt mess and his robes stained with blood and dirt. The sounds of the flute rise above the shouts and grunts of those fighting; there’s a frantic edge to the mans playing, and it’s reflected in the way his gaze darts around. In his disheveled state, the Wen brand on his chest is partly visible; more fitting now then ever.

From the corner of his eye, Jiang Cheng catches a flash of white; the Gusu Lan sect cultivators, fewer in number than there ought to be, have finally arrived and begin to play their own songs in an effort to calm the dead. The music is soft, like a lullaby, and the disconnect between the gentle music, the sounds of battle, and the piercing notes of the dizi give Jiang Cheng a headache. The bell hanging from his waist chimes with every movement, adding to the noise – but bringing a clarity of its own.

As he gets closer to his brother, to his enemy, Jiang Cheng hears them; screams coming from the direction of the cave. Wei Wuxian seems to hear them too; his eyes widen and he spins around, flute dropping from his lips as he runs towards the sounds.

Jiang Cheng follows after him.

The first body he passes is a middle-aged man, sword wound clear across his neck; in his hands a broken shovel – the handle all that remains.

The second, an old woman lying face-up in the mud, he recognizes. She had been the one to collect the little boy that had clung to his leg when he visited the Burial Mounds the last time. A single stab wound in her chest – a mercifully swift death.

He passes a woman clutching the hand of a man around the same age, another old man, a woman with a rounded stomach, a teenager with her hair obscuring her face, a man with his head near cut off and-

He stops counting.

As he stands by a small pond – half filled with blooming lotuses – Jiang Cheng can hear the sound of Wei Wuxian repeating “No, no no no.” in a broken moan over the now-distant sounds of battle.

Hands shaking Wei Wuxian collapses to his knees, “I’m sorry – I’m sorry-

“You should be.” Jiang Cheng spits out, “But aren’t you apologizing to the wrong people?”

Wei Wuxian slumps further to the ground.

“My parents. My sister- Do they not deserve it more?” He moves closer to Wei Wuxian, fingers bone-white where they wrap around Sandu, Zidian lighting up in time with his ragged breaths.

When Wei Wuxian lifts his head, it is not of his own volition. It is because of Jiang Cheng, Jiang Cheng using Sandu to raise the other mans face. He feels his hand shake and a single trickle of blood slowly runs down Wei Wuxians neck. Wei Wuxian doesn’t look at him, the mans gaze locked on the bodies surrounding the entrance to the cave.

The sound of boots trudging through the mud, the sound of cultivators jeering and loudly calling for the death of the Yiling Patriarch grows closer. Jiang Cheng doesn’t look away from the empty eyes of the person in front of him. Not even when the crowd grows around them – the golden robed Jin cultivators at the forefront of the crowd.

“Good Job Jiang Wanyin!” Jin Guangshan announces, voice grating on Jiang Chengs ears.

Wei Wuxian continues staring blankly ahead.

“Where…” Lan Xichen looks around in horror, “The cultivators…”

Jin Guangshan interrupts him, “Wei Wuxian! Did you think you could get away with what you’ve done!? Truly, your arrogance knows no end!”

The shouts build up again, covering the quick conversation between Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen, but Jiang Cheng doesn’t care to listen. Not when Jin Guanshan continues to speak, calling out all of Wei Wuxians crimes, his behaviour.

“-said before, the Stygian Tiger Seal cannot be left in your hands.” Jin Guangshan takes a breath, allows the other cultivators a minute to shout agreements.

Jiang Cheng sees when Wei Wuxian reaches for his sleeve, unintentionally, he presses Sandu harder against the mans throat. As the Stygian Seal is pulled out, cradled in too-thin fingers, the crowd around them moves back with terrified gasps. When he sees Jin Guangshans eyes widen in barely concealed greed, Jiang Cheng takes his own step backwards – forcing the man further away with him.

The last time he saw the damned thing his sister had-

Wei Wuxian presses his hands harder against the metal in his hands, and he finally looks up at Jiang Cheng.

“…I’m sorry…” Wei Wuxians voice sounds thin, the smile on his face doesn’t seem to fit properly, “…And… thank you…”

The snapping noise is deafening, and in the second that follows Jiang Cheng stares at Wei Wuxian – not the broken pieces of his most powerful creation.

Then the screaming starts.

Shadows seem to rise from everywhere around them – Wei Wuxian the epicenter of the disaster. The fragments of the Stygian Tiger Seal fall out of his hands, shattered against the soft mud with a dissonant noise. This is a backlash – the result of releasing that which must have been trapped in the damn thing. The shadows dig their way under Wei Wuxians skin, resentful energy hums around them all, the other cultivators backing away in fear.

He has never heard Wei Wuxian scream like this before – not when he had been whipped by Zidian, not in the Xuanwu cave, not when they were children and a stray dog had found its way into the Lotus Pier.

Slowly, slowly, the shadows start to pull in different directions, and Jiang Cheng has a sudden horrifying realization that this is how Wen Chao died. Torn to pieces while Jiang Cheng watched and everyone rejoiced in his death.

Zidian flickers out, returning to its ring-form, and Jiang Cheng wraps both hands around Sandus hilt.

Wei Wuxians next cry is cut short into a gasp as Jiang Cheng shoves Sandu into his chest.

There is nothing. No moment where they lock eyes, no final words, Wei Wuxian who used to run around with injuries upon injuries, no worries for wounds, simply collapses onto the ground.

The shadows scream even louder in response – they flicker into outlines of people, reaching and clawing towards the cultivators.

“Fall back! Fall back!” Someone shouts, and mounting their swords – most of the cultivators immediately begin to abandon the Burial Mounds, Jiang Cheng remains.

He stares at the body on the ground, with a stab wound in the chest and the long hair obscuring features; Jiang Chengs vision flickers and he almost sees his sister-

He’s dragged backwards by a large arm, Nie Mingjue pulls him along and away.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t move.

He doesn’t move.

“Wait.” Jiang Cheng breathes out, “Wait, we- I need to get-“

The ground starts to shift beneath their feet, corpses begin to rise out of the mud – but not the Wen Remnants – no, it’s the long dead bodies that have littered the Burial Mounds for years that drag themselves towards Wei Wuxian.

Jiang Cheng knows that Wei Wuxian is dead, he knows but he still can’t leave him here. He never was able to retrieve his parents bodies, and his sisters has been brought to the Golden Koi tower, for all that Wei Wuxian has done – there was still a time that Jiang Cheng thought of him as a brother, to leave his corpse here to rot

A hand that is more skeleton than anything else digs into his ankle, Jiang Cheng barely feels the pain; more focused on the shadows once more swarming Wei Wuxians corpse.

The hand on his arm tightens – and he sees a look of finality cross Nie Mingjues face before the man punches him across the face – and the world blacks out around him.

When he finally comes to, standing between Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue, Jiang Cheng has no idea how much time has passed, but as he looks around, he recognizes where he is.

It seems in the aftermath of their retreat; the cultivation world has gathered in the Golden Koi Tower – whether the next course of action is to attempt to storm the Burial Mounds again, or to simply leave things be, Jiang Cheng doesn’t know.

At this point, he doesn’t care to know either.

Both of his siblings are dead and Wei Wuxian couldn’t even fucking tell Jiang Cheng why.

Beside him, Nie Mingjue frowns at something, at the same time Lan Xichen presses something into Jiang Chengs hand. He looks down – inhales sharply.

“It is all I could get.” Lan Xichen says quietly, “I am sorry.”

Jiang Cheng grips Chenqing in one hand, it’s a wonder the damn thing doesn’t splinter in his grip. Why would Lan Xichen give him it? Why would he have even thought to pick it up?

With a patient look, one that almost reminds Jiang Cheng of his sister, the other man seems to see the questions in his eyes, “Even still… There was a time he was your brother. Regardless of what he has done – you should have the chance to have something to remember him. If you wish.”

“Thank you.” Jiang Cheng says, quiet, sliding the dizi into his sleeve. He is a Sect Leader – he puts the mixture of anger, guilt, and the gaping emptiness just below them away – he must maintain good relations with the other sects.

Further into the room Jin Guangshan says something to Jin Guangyao, the smaller man scurries off with something in his arms – just in time to avoid Madam Jin, the womans eyes sweeping across the room like a bird of prey. When she locks eyes with Jiang Cheng, her expression softens slightly, and Jiang Cheng remembers she too has lost people over the last three days.

Rather than her husband, she walks towards Jiang Cheng, her steps speeding up as she gets closer.

“A-Cheng,” She starts, and he almost feels like a child again – she used to call him in the same tone when she would visit his mother, “You returned at a good time, A-Li woke up a little while ago.”

Everything stops.

What.

What.

“Madam Jin,” Lan Xichen says, “What do you mean? We all saw what happened at the Nightless City, Madam Jiang…”

The relief on Madam Jins face is in conflict with the panic of the past few hours, the woman continues, “Her injuries were serious, yes, but the physicians got to her in time. Zixuan is with her now that he’s woken-“

His sister is alive. She’s alive and he can see her and-

“Jin Zixuan is alive?” Nie Mingjues voice is as large as the man himself – several nearby cultivators start to pay attention to the conversation unfolding even as Jiang Cheng finds himself drifting away.

“Of course! Who told you he wasn’t?”

Jiang Cheng can not be bothered to remain any longer – choosing instead to speak up, “Madam Jin – my sister, where is she?”

“The medical pavilion,” Madam Jin answers, before turning back to Nie Mingjue, “What do you mean my husband?!”

Without any concern for the servants he almost runs into – Jiang Cheng runs as quickly as he can. He needs to see for his own eyes that she is alive, that she hadn’t died in his arms to protect Wei Wuxian, that she-

Wei Wuxian.

He freezes on the spot.

His sister is alive and Jiang Cheng feels the anger fade away, the guilt grows to fill the space – cold and heavy. Wei Wuxian didn’t get their sister killed. But Jiang Cheng had…

Jiang Chengs hand goes to his sleeve, to clutch at Chenqing.

 


 

The pain is like nothing she’s ever felt before. A burning in her chest and across her back, a weight pressing down on her.

Jin Ling starts to cry – and Jiang Yanli forces her eyes open.

The medical pavilion of the Golden Koi tower is different from the one in the Lotus Pier, she thinks distantly, no airy windows, no sound of the waves or the rustling of the lotuses on the lake. Turning her head, she sees her husband – Jin Ling cradled in his remaining arm, the bruises blue and brown on the side of his face and the parts of his chest visible from the loosely tied inner robe.

She makes a small breathy noise; her ribs protest when she tries to raise her voice any louder.

It is enough for Jin Zixuan to hear her luckily, and she sees the relief in his eyes as he breaths out a sigh, “A-Li…”

It seems difficult for him to rise from his seat with his one arm carrying their son – but he still manages it, moving the few feet from his previous spot to sit on the edge of her bed instead. He makes a small movement – one she knows well – to brush her bangs from in front of her eyes, before realising he has no free hand to do so.

Jin Ling hasn’t calmed down yet, so Jiang Yanli uses all the strength she can muster to raise her arm enough to rest it on her sons head – her fingers shake the whole time, her core isn’t strong enough help her recuperate quickly from a stab wound after-all.

“A-Xuan… What happened…?” She isn’t sure if she is going to be able to speak much more than this, the pain in her chest flares with every word.

“I’m sorry,” He starts, “I only woke up a few hours ago.” She can hear how disappointed he is with himself, “My father, he- he led an attack on the Burial Mounds.”

It’s like accidentally stepping off the edge of a pier – a sudden drop in her stomach, a jolt of fear, and then cold cold cold.

“They haven’t gotten back yet – but Jiang Wanyin went with them, I’m sure he’ll be able to calm Wei Wuxian down.” Jin Zixuan continues.

It’s the other way around, she thinks, it’s always been her A-Xian that can calm down A-Cheng. Despite what everyone thinks about her brothers, Wei Wuxian is far more responsible than anyone gives him credit for.

She feels her eyes closing – despite the worry gnawing at her mind, she can feel herself starting to fall asleep again.

She falls asleep to her sons soft cries, to the thought of her two younger brothers, and her husbands gentle voice.

 


 

His brother drags himself into the Jingshi, and Lan Wangji barely turns to greet him. He still loves him – it’s his older brother after all, the one who would hold his hand when things became too much, who would let Lan Wangji hide under his covers during storms that shook the mountain. Lan Xichen enters the room, pale-faced and with blood and mud staining the hems of his robes.

“Wangji…” Lan Xichen starts, before dropping to kneel at Lan Wangjis bedside, “Wangi, I’m-“

Lan Wangjis back burns, the pain is almost too much for him to concentrate on his brothers words. But he does – he has too – because Lan Wangji knows that there is no one other than his brother who would tell him the truth.

“Wei Wuxian is dead,” Lan Xichen clutches at Lan Wangjis arm – careful not to disturb his back, “I’m sorry. I know you- you cared for him…” His brothers expression turns bitter, “how far you went to protect him.”

But he failed.

The weight of Wei Wuxians hand in his, the other man in his arms as he tried to get him away – away from everyone who was trying to kill the man.

Get lost, get lost.

Half of Lan Wangji wants to just… sleep. Just close his eyes and not think any further. Just. Stop.

Hanguang-Jun? Wei Wuxians voice rings clear, What a fitting title! Bringing light to those you meet, it’s perfect Lan Zhan!

“The Wens…” Lan Wangji manages, barely.

Lan Xichens silence is answer enough, as is the way his grip tightens ever so slightly on Lan Wangjis arm.

He thinks of the little boy clinging to Wei Wuxians leg, the old woman shaking her head, the others he had seen during his short visit. Who had looked like it was Wei Wuxian that had brought the light back to them.

“I…” Lan Xichen is never this hesitant, Lan Wangji thinks distantly “I saw the bodies. They. None of them had swords.”

“Doctors. Elderly. A-Yuan.” Lan Wangji loves his brother, but he loves Wei Wuxian too – he doesn’t want to be the only one who knows just who Wei Wuxian was really protecting. “Non-combatants.”

He almost regrets saying it, when he hears his brothers inhale – sharp, and almost pained.

“A-Yao said they were active participants.” Lan Xichen says, “When he told us of what Wei Wuxian had done – he made sure we knew.”

Lan Wangji is reminded of the way the man had agreed with Jin Guangshans earlier lies – the way he had backed up the falsehood of Wei Wuxian of all people disrespecting Jiang Wanyin. His brother truly trusts Jin Guangyao, but…

“I saw them.” Lan Wangji says, finally looking his brother in the eyes, “Brother, I spoke with them.”

The elder of the twos face falls, “A-Yao would not lie to me.” It would almost be believable – if his voice wasn’t shaking. “Wangji, he wouldn’t.”

Lan Wangji remains silent, and Lan Xichen takes another shaky breath, “I’m sorry…”

It is then that a thought crosses Lan Wangjis mind, what would they have done with the body? Wei Wuxian was so hated in the end – surely out of fear of him becoming a fierce corpse, they would have done something to Wei Wuxian. He thinks of the Wen Remnants too, and all they must have gone through, more fierce corpses – and he knows if he were to ever come face to face with them, he would not raise his blade. Not to Wei Wuxian or the people he did so much for.

“You mentioned a name,” Lan Xichen looks not at Lan Wangji, but at the bandages across his back, “You were… you were that close to the Wen Remnants?”

“Mn. A-Yuan.” He needs his brother to understand, “A child.”

Lan Xichens brow furrows, “I did not see a child… are you sure-?”

Lan Wangji is pushing himself upright before he knows it – the burning across his back is nothing but a phantom sensation because if Lan Xichen did not see a child- what if- they could have-!

A-Yuan was dear to everyone on the Burial Mounds – they would have done anything to keep him safe.

“Wangji! Sit down! Your back-!”

As he pushes past his brother, grabbing Bichen, he realises for the first time that he doesn’t have to look up at the other man. When had that happened?

“Brother, I will be back.” Lan Wangji draws the blade.

Disbelief flashing across his face – Lan Xichen reaches for him again, “Wangji, please, this is-“

He’s outside the Jingshi in the next moment, the three disciples outside his door (“To assist you.” One of the elders had said, To make sure you serve your punishment, Lan Wangji hears.) immediately flinch away – one of them reaches for his own blade. It doesn’t matter though, because even injured, Lan Wangji is still Hanguang-Jun. He’s in the air before his brother can get out the door, and with how exhausted the other is – he knows Lan Xichen won’t be able to catch up.

It’s not until he’s almost reached the Burial Mounds that Lan Wangji remembers his earlier thoughts – remembers that he’ll now have to face the fierce corpses of the only other people who truly trusted in Wei Wuxian at the end.

He breaths in – and out – focusing on breathing at a steady pace, just as his brother had taught him when they were young.

The barrier is gone, and he enters the Burial Mounds unimpeded. Landing jars his back – a sudden sharp jolt which he feels down to his bones. There is something else missing too, he realises, the bodies.

He sees the depressions in the mud where they must have been lying, a patch of ground more red than brown outside one doorway, a scrap of cloth pressed into the ground by a boot-print. He does not see the Wen Remnants anywhere in the small settlement. He continues on his way, it’s not until he steps on something which snaps unpleasantly under his foot that he notices he is still barefoot.

In front of the entrance to the cave, he sees the half-wilting lotus flowers.

Lan Wangji clenches his fist – and enters the cave.

Unlike the rest of the Wen settlement, inside the cave he can feel the chill of resentful energy. The light that reaches inside from the entryway seems even dimmer than it ought to – it makes searching the interior difficult, but a child can’t be that hard to find.

Only ten minutes later he realises it can be that difficult. There is no sign of A-Yuan in the cave – all Lan Wangji has managed to do is split the skin of his back further, he feels the wetness of the inner robe as it sticks to his back.

Hanguang-Jun

It’s less a voice, and more the faint almost-noise one hears when trying to sleep.

This way, this way

Turning to the sound he sees a flicker – like blinking into the sun, a faint image remains. He steps towards the cave entrance. The lotuses outside sway – though there is no wind; he moves closer to them. A rock falls somewhere to his left and he speeds up in time with the small signs leading him around the Burial Mounds. In the direction of a small path leading to the other side of the hill the cave is built into.

There is something almost… playful, about the way he is led around. But at the same time, he doesn’t feel as though he is being laughed at. Whatever it is that is leading him acts as though Lan Wangji knows what the game is.

Keep up

He rounds a bend and then-

There’s a flash of white, just under one of the trees. Tiny, curled up amongst the roots, and covered with a familiar dark robe.

He drops to his knees, pulling the small, too-warm body towards himself. The boy doesn’t weigh much – but it still hurts to pick him up.

Bleary-eyed, A-Yuan looks at him, “Brother… Rich…?”

“Mn.” It is a struggle for Lan Wangji to pull himself upright, and he almost falls.

Careful

A-Yuan blinks sleepily, gaze locked over Lan Wangjis shoulder, “Xian-Gege…”

Lan Wangji spins around.

There is no one there.

 


 

Jin Ling is a comforting weight in his arm, something familiar even as he sees the way Jiang Yanlis face goes carefully blank. Jin Zixuan does no know what to say – not when Jiang Wanyin is kneeling on the ground in front of his sister, forehead pressed against the edge of her bed.

“I killed him,” Jiang Wanyin looks like he may start sobbing, “A-Jie, A-Jie, what do I do?”

Jiang Yanli raises a hand, and places it on her brothers head, it is only because he is paying attention that Jin Zixuan notices the tremble in her fingers.

His wife remains silent – Jin Zixuan feels like an intruder in his own home, he should not be here, should not be watching this.

“It’s my fault…?” Jiang Wanyin shakes, pressing himself closer to Jiang Yanli, “If I- I could have stopped him sooner-

If that’s the case, then Jin Zixuan himself is just as to blame. He could have spoken to his father – he could have made it clearer to Wei Wuxian that he wasn’t looking for a fight at Qiongqi Path – if he had woken up sooner.

If if if.

It doesn’t change what happened.

As far as the world in concerned – Jiang Wanyin, the Sandu Shengshou, the Yunmeng Jiang Sect Leader has killed the Yiling Patriarch and saved them all from a madman.

Jiang Cheng has killed his brother and broken something in himself and their sister.

 


 

“Did you hear?” Li Fang says leaning to the man sitting next to her, “The Yiling Patriarch is finally dead! Good riddance!”

Zhu Ming rolls his eyes, “Who hasn’t heard that yet? The Jin sect is going around boasting about it. Honestly, you’d think Jin Guangshan himself had done it from the way they won’t shut up…”

“Well, here’s something you probably didn’t know,” Li Fangs grin turns vicious, “His ghost is haunting Qiongqi Path!”

“No!” Meng Meis eyes light up, “Where did you hear that?”

“I saw it myself!” Li Fang leans back in her chair, “I was doing an escort job for some merchants and we saw him standing right by the bridge.”

Meng Mei grabs the other womans arm, “Really? What did you do?”

“Nothing, he kind of… Vanished!” With a shout she lunges towards the smaller woman, who shrieks in delight. The Innkeeper looks decidedly unimpressed with the four of them.

“His ghost isn’t there – you were just seeing things,” Zhu Ming waves a hand, “Everyone knows his ghost is in Yiling. Guarding the entrance to the Burial Mounds.”

Wu Qiang speaks up from his corner of the table, “Huh, I’d heard people had seen him in the Lotus Pier…”

Meng Mei makes a face, “Can a ghost even be in that many places?”

Li Fang pouts, “I did see him. He was soaking wet and staring right at the ravine.”

Meng Mei pats her arm consolingly, “Of course…”

“Who knows?” Zhu Ming shrugs, “Maybe he was so evil, the Heavens split his soul up? To make sure he couldn’t come back?”

The man in white at the table across from theirs stands abruptly – and while he leaves quickly, it is not before he levels the four of them with a terrifying glare.

“What… What as that about?” Li Fang says.

“I think he was from Gusu Lan,” Wu Qiang replies, “He had the forehead ribbon at least… Maybe the Lan clan is still upset their Inquiry didn’t get results?”

“Whatever…” Zhu Ming quickly downs the rest of his wine, “Anyway – did you hear about the Second Young Master of the Lan clan suddenly confessing he had a secret child?”

“No!”

 


 

There are dogs down there!

Jiang Cheng closes his eyes, it’s not a ghost. He’s not. The Wei Wuxian hiding in the tree is nine years old, not the man he saw die. This is an echo of Wei Wuxian.

“There aren’t.” Jiang Cheng says for the third time in as many days, “There are no dogs. You need to go home.”

The Wei Wuxian in the tree peaks out from behind his arms to look at Jiang Cheng.

I can’t climb down. I’ll fall.

“You won’t fall,” He keeps the anger out of his voice as best he can, “And if you do, I’ll catch you.”

The little boy looks down, the trust in his eyes stings more than Jiang Cheng would like it to.

Wei Wuxian nods, Okay.

And then he drops.

He can’t be hurt. He can’t. But for a moment Jiang Cheng feels a surge of panic watching the tiny figure plummet from the tree. With a terrified shriek, the boy vanishes before Jiang Cheng can reach him.

It’s like something out of a fucking nightmare, except Jiang Cheng knows he is wide awake.

The shadows, echoes, whatever they are seem to replay moments in time – and they keep repeating each day. It’s been almost two months now, that Jiang Cheng has been dealing with them, and in that time, he has learned more about how this works.

First, there is no reasoning to which Wei Wuxian he will see that day. The scared child unused to the Lotus Pier, a teenager who runs around the training yard, a young man in a now-empty room saying like my father and yours, much less common is the tired and sickly-looking Yiling Patriarch, staring vacantly around the bustling compound.

Second, the memory isn’t exact. He is unsure if this is because of Wei Wuxians own terrible memory, or a result of shattered Stygian Tiger Seal or something else entirely. In order to let the fragment rest, it needs to finish the memory – but how could it be exact? When so many things were different now? Regardless, as long as it’s close enough – or something that seems to be what Wei Wuxian had wished – the echo will fade away. If left alone, it will stop – staring blankly ahead of itself, nothing seeming to reach it. Eventually, when night would fall or dawn would rise the figure would fade away.

Third, it is not a ghost. The first time it had appeared, a disciple had panicked, and run the ten-year-old Wei Wuxian through with his spiritual sword. Jiang Cheng had frozen, eyes wide, and thought of how he had killed the man himself. Back then, Wei Wuxian had still been terrified of making a mistake and being sent away – it had shown in the echoes reaction. His eyes had turned watery, and looking at the disciple, blood running out of his mouth Wei Wuxian had simply said sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, before shattering like a dropped mirror.

He has made it clear since then – no one is to do that again.

The fourth and final thing is that he only ever sees one of them a day – within the Lotus Pier at least. He learned this when his sister had visited the Lotus Pier for the first time after Wei Wuxians death. Jiang Yanli had quietly arrived, and gone to the ancestral hall, paying respects to their parents, and then she had burst into tears at the sight of Wei Wuxian kneeling beside her.

“He enters the main hall sometimes,” Jiang Yanli clutches at Jiang Chengs sleeve, “A-Xuan says it’s the same as when he was looking for the Wens. Father-in-law won’t let anyone talk to him! They just-“ Her voice cracks.

He had gone himself to see, and the second Jin Zixun had drawn his sword to attack Wei Wuxian – Jiang Cheng had answered Wei Wuxians question. The rest of those present in the room had watched as the figure turned on its heel, before fading out.

Why he can only appear in a place once a day Jiang Cheng doesn’t know – doesn’t want to know. Part of him wants it to stop, to know his brother is at rest; but there is another part of him that wants it to continue. Part of it is that it’s almost a punishment, a reminder of what he lost. He killed Wei Wuxian and it’s something that he can not change. He also feels an almost sickly relief at the sight of his brother, for every tale of the evil Yiling Patriarch that is told – there are just as many sightings of a cheerful boy playing games around Yunmeng.

No one is able to overlook the good that was in him.

 


 

She can’t carry him for too long at a time, the strain is too much for her back, it’s never healed right  – but Jiang Yanli will do her best to carry her son for as long as she can regardless.

With a gurgle, Jin Ling stretches his arms out towards Jin Zixuan on the training field. The man stumbles slightly as he tries to block a blow – his balance is still off – though he does manage to quickly regain his footing.

“Madam Jiang,” Jin Guangyao greets her with a bow, “How are you today?”

Jin Guangyao has been treated poorly by many, Jiang Yanli can tell from the way he carries himself, the desperate desire to prove himself – Wei Wuxian had done much the same. At first, she had felt that intrinsic need to help, to be kind, when she had been around the younger man. But the more that she thinks about the circumstances of her husbands injury – the way no one from the Jin sect had stopped her from rushing onto the battlefield herself… Well… It’s left her thinking about motivations.

She doesn’t like it.

Doesn’t like the voice that sounds eerily like one of her teachers that rings in her ear – telling her that kindness can be a weakness or a weapon, it’s how one chooses to wield it. Jiang Yanli has always chosen to be good; she has no desire for power – just the happiness of those she cares for. But the Golden Koi Tower has taught her to think about her actions in a way the Lotus Pier never did.

Her husband, her brother, they are both forthright people. It’s a good thing – a great thing really – but she’s learned people will take advantage of that.

No one expects for mediocre Jiang Yanli to be the one doubting every word she hears here.

“I’m fine, thank you,” She smiles gently, “Did you need something, A-Yao?”

He shakes his head, “No, I was only wondering if you needed me to hold Jin Ling for you – your injuries…”

Before she can get in a reply – his eyes widen at something behind her, she turns around as well.

Jin Zixuan hits the ground roughly, Suihua falling from his hand as he tries to brace himself. He winces as he lands, the movement likely jarring his old wounds, Jiang Yanli quickly moves to her husbands side.

“A-Xuan, what happened?” She shifts enough that her hair slides over her shoulder – giving them a little more privacy.

He frowns, ever so lightly, “I thought I tripped on something. A wire? There isn’t anything here though…”

There’s a crunch of gravel as Jin Guangyao joins them.

“Brother? Are you alright?” The look of concern on the younger mans face seems real enough, but she just doesn’t know.

Jin Zixuans expression becomes more sure of itself, the way an elder sibling does when reassuring a younger one, “I’m alright A-Yao.”

It takes both Jin Guangyao and Jiang Yanli to pull Jin Zixuan to his feet – and afterwards Jiang Yanli can feel her arms shaking around Jin Ling.

“Ah, here,” Jin Zixuan holds out his arm, “I’ll take A-Ling.”

With a relieved sigh, she passes their son over, Jin Ling makes a pleased little noise, reaching his tiny hands out toward his father.

Jin Zixuan looks much more comfortable carrying their son than he did seconds ago – wielding a blade. He smiles, and she moves closer to his side.

“A-Li, do you need to rest?” She can hear the gentle concern in his voice.

Jiang Yanli nods, “A-Ling needs his nap now anyway. I’ll sit for a while with him.”

They say farewell to Jin Guangyao, and make their way into the Golden Koi Tower – by this point, Jiang Yanli can feel her back starting to burn.

But she is Jiang Yanli, daughter of the Violet Spider, she keeps her pace steady – her back straight. She refuses to show weakness in this place.

 


 

Lan Yuan sits next to him, watching as Lan Wangji strums notes into melodies. It is not Inquiry that he plays – not when Lan Yuan has just woken from a nightmare and pulled sheepishly at the hem of his sleeves. No, he plays WangXian.

The boy hums along with him, it’s not exact though, Lan Yuan goes off into notes and trills that he never intended – but they fit regardless.

The humming stops as Lan Yuan starts leaning against him, making small sleepy noises, Lan Wangji gently places his hands over the guqins strings to silence the instrument. Lan Yuan buries himself closer to Lan Wangjis side – he’s reminded of the way his rabbits cuddle with each other, and a small smile steals its way across his face.

Placing his instrument aside, he gathers Lan Yuan into his arms, the motion pulls the still-healing scars across his back – but none of them seem to re-open at least. The boy is still light in his arms, despite the decent meals he’s been getting over the last few months, and Lan Wangji can’t help but worry slightly over that.

There is also the fact that his Uncle has started bringing up that it may be time for Lan Yuan to move into the disciples dormitory – rather than the small spare room of the Jingshi.

On the one hand, it is a stroke of good fortune – his Uncle clearly is fond of Lan Yuan, though, with how good the child is it’s not surprising. His uncle and brother both know the truth, of course, who Lan Yuan really is – the rest of the Elders and Lan sect however…

Well, after he had drawn his blade against them, they had been all to willing to believe he had had a child out of wedlock.

The other part of Lan Wangji would rather let Lan Yuan stay in the spare room for as long as the boy wishes.

He thinks of waiting outside his mothers door, of a father he barely remembers, and does not want that for Lan Yuan. Not when Lan Wangji knows how much he has lost and is himself here to watch over him.

Tucking Lan Yuan in, he pauses, before very slowly pressing a kiss to his forehead – he can faintly recall his mother doing the same on one of his visits, she sang a song as he and Lan Huan had fallen asleep on her lap.

With Lan Yuan taken care of, his gaze drifts to the window, the full moon outside illuminating the magnolia tree. There’s a flash of movement – and his breath catches. He’s seen this happen enough to know what is running around outside.

He catches up to him quickly, and perched on the roof, his back burning from the exertion – Lan Wangji now stands face-to-face with a fifteen-year-old Wei Wuxian, dressed in Gusu guest robes.

The youth chuckles sheepishly, Um hello there?

Lan Wangji remains silent; he knows what happens next.

Wei Wuxian bounces on his heels, This? It’s Emperors Smile! If I give you a jar, can you pretend you never saw me?

No, Lan Wangji thinks, no I cannot.

Bribery is forbidden. Is what he should say, but- He simply holds out his hand. There is a second where Wei Wuxians eyes widen in surprise – a look of absolute amusement. And then a shadow passes the moon and with the darkness Wei Wuxian fades away.

There’s an instinctual panic when it happens – a moment where the ground seems to drop out from underneath him, where it feels as though he’s been thrown from his sword. The image of Wei Wuxian here, and then gone, burns into his memory.

He breaths out, roughly, almost a shudder. But-

He needs to return to the Jingshi – if Lan Yuan wakes up again, he would be scared to awaken alone.

 


 

“Really?” Lan Jingyi says, moving even closer, “You really have one?”

Lan Yuan stands a little straighter, “Mn. Father picked it for me.”

“Well, tell me! I’m your best friend so I should know first!” Lan Jingyi gets louder as he continues.

“Excess noise is forbidden,” He presses a finger to his lips to try and hide his smile – judging by Lan Jingyis pout, he is unsuccessful. “Okay, I’ll tell you. It’s Sizhui!”

“Sizhui, Sizhui,” Lan Jingyi repeats to himself, “Lan Sizhui… How do you write it?”

“Here,” They both crouch down on the ground, and Lan Yuan starts scratching the characters into the ground with a stick, halfway through – one of the rabbits hops over to them, and they both give it a small pat to its soft ears. “See, Sizhui!” He cheerfully points to his courtesy name.

Lan Jingyis face scrunches up as he looks over the characters, “What are you supposed to remember?”

“I don’t know.” Lan Yuan had wondered that himself, to recollect and long for, it really is good name, and he likes it. But. Well.

There’s a giggle from the younger Lan, and Lan Yuan quickly sticks his tongue out at the other. Lan Jingyis scandalized gasp is almost covered by his Uncles laugh from behind the pair.

“Zewu-Jun!”

“Uncle!”

The two boys quickly scramble to their feet, before bowing to the Lan sect leader. Uncle raises a hand, signaling them to stand, before gently patting both boys on the head.

“You two seem quite pleased today,” His Uncle says, “Might I ask what happened?”

Lan Yuan bounces in place, “Father gave me my courtesy name, I was showing Jingyi.”

“I see,” The man replies, gaze dropping to trace the characters scratched into the ground, “…Ah. Sizhui, then…”

There’s something almost sad in his Uncles expression, and Lan Yuan shares a quick glance with Lan Jingyi.

Uncle shakes his head slightly, “Well, it’s a good name. I was actually coming to get the two of you – we have some guests visiting, and I could use some help showing them around.”

His best friend seems just as excited at the prospect as Lan Yuan is – not only do they get to spend the day with Lan Xichen, but they also get to introduce people to the Cloud Recesses!

The two boys quickly set out the rest of the greens for the rabbits, and after ensuring that the small gate that keeps the predators out is properly locked – they begin to follow his Uncle on the long walk from the back hill, to the front gates.

Walking through one of the many pavilions, Lan Yuan is surprised to see his Grand-Uncle apparently overseeing a punishment. Well. Not surprised to see him disciplining someone – but surprised by the odd expression on his face.

As he looks to Lan Jingyi to get a second opinion – Uncle lets out a soft “Ah…”

You knew my mother? The teenager asks, looking up at Grand-Uncle, You-

His Grand-Uncle frowns, “You know you are not supposed to be here. Move on.”

Can you tell me about her? The boy sits straighter, a look of wide-eyed wonder on his face.

Grand-Uncle closes his eyes and sighs, “She was as much trouble as you. Loud, disruptive and refusing to listen.”

The teenager folds in on himself as he laughs and- it’s like a melody that Lan Yuan almost knows- that laugh is-

The stranger flickers out, the ghost is gone – but as it happens all Lan Yuan can think is no no no not again-

It doesn’t make sense though because he’s never seen the other boy before and-

“Yuan-Ge? Are you crying?” Lan Jingyi grabs Lan Yuans arm, his face concerned.

When Lan Yuan brings a hand up to his face, he realises he is crying. Uncle quickly kneels down next to him – pulling him into a hug, Lan Jingyi doesn’t let go of his hand.

He doesn’t know why, but Lan Yuan suddenly and fiercely needs to see his dad.

Somehow his Uncle just seems to know – and as he stands up, he also picks up Lan Jingyi. The look on his friends face is almost enough to make him laugh, but Lan Yuan still feels an odd hollow ache that refuses to let him smile. The walk to the Jingshi is silent, aside from his Uncle speaking to Lan Jingyi, but the words seems somehow fuzzy and far away.

The second they get to the doors, his Uncle calls out, “Wangji? Could you open the door please? My hands are full.”

There’s a shuffling from inside, before Father opens the door, his eyes widen a fraction at the sight of the three of them, and Lan Yuan instantly holds his arms out towards his father.

He knows he’s too big to be carried around and held like this, he’s eight after all – but right now he needs this.

Without a single question, his father reaches out and pulls Lan Yuan into his arms, tucking the childs face against his shoulder. Lan Yuan feels a warm hand against the back of his head, and the steady thump of his fathers heart against his own hand.

“Brother,” Lan Yuan hears from above him, “What happened?”

“One of the… the echoes.”

His father inhales, and pulls him in closer, “I will speak with him.”

At first, Lan Yuan expects to be set back down – that’s what usually happens after all – for his father to kneel next to him, a hand on his shoulder, to patiently wait for Lan Yuan to explain what he is feeling.

Instead what happens, is that his father carries him all the way over to the bed, the man sits down without ever once letting go of Lan Yuan. And then, rather than waiting for Lan Yuan to start, it is Father who speaks first.

“It is alright to be sad.” The voice is soft, and steady, “Even if you do not know why.” His father pulls back enough for Lan Yuan to look into his fathers gold eyes, “Take the time you need, A-Yuan.”

In the end – that’s what does it. His fathers calm and acceptance. Lan Yuan buries his face in his fathers chest and cries and cries and cries for a reason he can’t remember. Broken sobs and gasps.

When he calms down – half asleep and hands fisted in his fathers robes – Lan Wangji starts to speak, his voice soft and even.

“A very long time ago – I caught a guest disciple sneaking into the Cloud Recesses.” Lan Yuan feels more than he hears the intake of breath. “He stood on the wall and spoke-“

 


 

Jin Ling grows up with a small scratched silver bell tied to his waist, his mothers soft smile proclaiming it “a gift from Dajiu”, and the knowledge that he is loved by his family.

It doesn’t matter that the other children in the Jin sect don’t want to play with him – are almost afraid of him, because Jin Ling has his parents, his uncles and Fairy.

Standing barefoot in the small lotus pond that his father had planted long before he was born, Jin Ling debates how many of the flowers he can carry at once. His mother is sad about something and he’s tried to cheer her up all day, but nothing has worked so far.

He’s not supposed to pick the flowers – his father constantly tells him how much work they are to keep healthy – but if it’s for his mother, it should be fine.

Before he can get a proper hold on the one in front of him, he feels himself being pulled off his feet and into his fathers arm.

Tilting his head back to meet his fathers gaze, Jin Ling pouts, “It was for mom…”

Jin Zixuan just sighs, backing out of the water, “A-Ling, where are your shoes?”

Wiggling his cold toes, Jin Ling tries to remember where he threw them earlier.

That gets a small huff of laughter out of his father, “How many shoes have you lost this month?”

Jin Ling scrunches his face into his best scowl – the one he learned from his Jiujiu, “I didn’t lose them.”

“Alright, alright,” His father says, “Where are they then?”

When Jin Ling doesn’t answer, his father laughs again, before throwing Jin Ling over his shoulder and carrying him into the Tower.

“Is Mama happy now?” Jin Ling asks, tugging at his fathers hair, “Is that why I can’t give her a flower?”

His fathers steps pause for a moment, “A-Ling, do you remember what your mama said about Dajiu? How he went away?”

Nodding, Jin Ling answers, “Yes! Mama said he was sick and everyone was afraid of him and he took something scary with him and went away!” Jin Ling has also heard other things about his unknown uncle from people around the Golden Koi Tower – but none of them have been nice.

“Well, today is the same day that he went away,” His father explains, “So she’s thinking about him.”

Jin Ling swings his legs, feeling them hit his fathers chest and probably making a mess of his robes, “We should get him then! So Mama won’t be sad!”

“That’s- That would be nice, A-Li would like him back.” Father says slowly, “But it doesn’t work like that A-Ling. Sometimes people can’t come back.”

He doesn’t really understand. Why would Dajiu have gone so far away that he couldn’t come back? Didn’t he know that his mother and Jiujiu would miss him? He wants to ask more but he hears the sounds of servants scattering and someone dropping plates. He’s quickly placed back on the floor as his father turns the corner – sword drawn.

I won’t ask again, the man says, despite the way he holds the flute in his hands – he sounds calm, Where is Wen Ning?!

The girl who dropped the plates is shaking, and one of the men in the hall starts towards his blade.

“He’s not here Wei Wuxian,” His father says, “Wen Ning is at Qiongqi Path.”

The man turns towards him, and he gives a grin that makes Jin Ling think of the way Jiujiu smiles when someone says something he doesn’t like.

As the man turns around towards the other side of the hallway – as his figure fades away – Jin Ling realizes that that’s his Dajiu. He’s heard his mothers soft A-Xian and Jiujius angry-sad Wei Wuxian all his life – and now he has a face to the name.

He looks up at his father, eyes narrowed, “That was Dajiu, right? How can he be far away if he was just here?”

His father sighs – a drawn out tired-sounding noise, “Let’s… Let’s go see your mother. This is a conversation we should have together.”

Jin Ling doesn’t get it. If Dajiu was just here then they should catch him before he leaves!

His father reaches for his hand, frowning. Jin Ling still takes it.

His mother is much better at explaining things anyway.

 


 

There is a tiny child tucked in the mouth of the alleyway – knees draw to their chest and face hidden. Their hair is a tangled mess and despite the light dusting of snow beginning to fall, they are severely underdressed for the cold – a thin inner robe, just as torn as their pants, and dirty bare feet.

It would be unrighteous to not act, and so, Lan Qiren reaches for his coin pouch – he does not carry much funds on him, but he should have enough to help one child survive the winter.

“Here,” He holds out a single bit of silver to the small figure, “This is enough for new robes, food and lodgings at an inn. If you clean yourself up – you may be able to get an apprenticeship somewhere.”

The child doesn’t reach for the money, instead, they pull their knees even closer to their chest – fingers turning white as their stomach growls.

Lan Qiren breaths sharply out his nose, he doesn’t know if the child is to prideful to accept help or if they’re attempting to get more from him – either way, he presses on.

“Take it.” He kneels to the childs level – careful to avoid dirtying his own robes.

Again there is no response, perhaps the child is unable to hear? Or too sick to move further? Lan Qiren does not know why he feels a sudden apprehension. But he reaches to tap the childs elbow.

As his fingers pass through the small figure quickly scrambles back – and he finally gets a look at the boy.

I’m sorry! Wei Wuxian stutters, I’ll get out of the way! Don’t call the dogs!

He had known Wei Wuxian had lived on the streets of Yiling between the death of his parents and Jiang Fengmian finding him. He had known. But seeing the troublemaker like this-

Wei Wuxian pushes himself further into the alley, the shadows cover the bruises and scrapes.

It won’t do any good at this point – Wei Wuxian has been dead for eleven years now – but Lan Qiren places the silver on the ground, just off the main road, before standing up.

He spares one last look at the echo, there isn’t anything he can think of to say.

So he doesn’t.

 


 

Mo Xuanyu turns another page in the loosely tied documents in front of him – but his eyes are locked on the figure across the table.

The man is tall, and if not for the paleness of his face – the hollow and tired look to him – he would be beautiful. Resting his face in his hands, Mo Xuanyu continues to watch the man – the famed and feared Yiling Patriarch – giggle as he traces his fingers over a particularly well drawn doodle of a boy buried amidst some vegetables.

Jin Guangyao doesn’t know about it.

His older brother had set him up in a small room with papers and little bits of wood and metal that had been reclaimed from the Yiling Patriarchs cave and told him to do whatever he wanted with them – as long as he could eventually learn to use the information.

Another thing Jin Guangyao does not know is that Mo Xuanyu knows his presence in the Golden Koi Tower is kept as quiet as Xue Chengmeis, as the Ghost General locked away in the treasure room.

Sometimes the man mutters to himself – everything from theories on demonic cultivation to farming to shopping lists. Once he listens to half of a conversation on the idea of a golden core transfer, Wei Wuxian pressing a hand to his abdomen and smiling bitterly the whole time.

The more time Mo Xuanyu spends going through the notes and watching him, the more he thinks he’d like to have met the man properly.

Then everything falls apart.

Jin Zixuan takes over as the head of the sect – and within the same day brings up the idea to properly investigate Xue Chengmei and his crimes. Something that had been dropped following the death of Chifeng-Zun.

Mo Xuanyu backs into the corner of the room as Xue Chengmei grabs manuscripts and shoves them into a qiankan pouch, doing his best to not attract attention. Jin Guangyao is nowhere to be seen and no one even knows Mo Xuanyu exists so he can’t exactly get help to stop the other.

The whole episode ends with Xue Chengmei escaping and Jin Guangyao staring at him in disappointment.

“Xuanyu,” Jin Guangyaos face is the picture of someone who has been let down, “You knew how important all those papers were – how could you let him have them?”

Mo Xuanyu looks down, eyes locked on the ground as Jin Guangyao moves closer.

“Father was kind enough to let you stay with us, and I’ve done my best to help you too…” The man sighs, “Unfortunately if anyone found out you were studying demonic cultivation…”

That gets his attention, “But- you told me it was okay…?”

With a small shake of his head, Jin Guangyao replies, “Oh, Xuanyu, it’s only okay if no one knows. I know a way to keep you from being punished though. But you have to do exactly as I say.”

Mo Xuanyu thinks of the fierce corpse chained in the treasure room.

Jin Guangyaos hand on his shoulder is almost too warm, “You’ll go back to Mo village. You will not speak of any of this. Not the notes, not the Ghost General, not the Stygian Tiger Seal – not of anything you saw here.” He smiles with his mouth but not with his eyes, “I’ll be sure to tell your family there to treat you well.”

“Er-Ge- I-“

With a sigh, Jin Guangyao pats Mo Xuanyu on the shoulder, “This is for your own good Xuanyu, with how the rest of the cultivation world views demonic cultivation – you’d be made a scapegoat. This way you can go back to your mother until things calm down.”

As his older brother backs away from him, Mo Xuanyu crosses his arms over his chest – the small document he had been reading before crinkles within his sleeve.

Bitterly, Mo Xuanyu thinks, Jin Guangyao doesn’t have to know.

 


 

When they arrive in Yunmeng it is the middle of the day, the disciples he has with him are almost old enough to be Night-Hunting alone, but that does not mean that they should be. And so, Lan Wangji accompanies them with the thinly-veiled reason that he has a message to deliver to the Sandu Shengshou, and thus ought to travel with the juniors.

Lan Sizhui absently reaches for the edge of his sleeve, while the other Lan juniors he’s travelling with look more enamoured with the bright colours and loud noises surrounding them here.

The children have few chances to act as children – so it is with little hesitance that Lan Wangji carefully hands a small amount of money to each of them.

“I will speak with Sect Leader Jiang,” He fights the urge to spit out the name, “Meet at the front gate in three hours.”

There is a chorus of “Yes, Hanguang-jun!” and the children scatter towards the market – he hopes they don’t attempt to eat any of Yunmengs specialities, the food would be much to spicy for them.

Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi both remain at his side, it’s expected of his son, but as for the other boy…

“Hanguang-Jun!” Lan Jingyi says, looking up at him, “Can I stay with Sizhui?”

With a sigh and soft smile, Lan Sizhui pats his friends arm, “It’s fine Jingyi, I know you wanted to look around.”

The younger pouts, “Maybe I want to hang around with you more.”

Lan Wangji recalls that despite his fear of ghosts, Lan Jingyi is almost always one of the first people to try and help when one of Wei Wuxians echoes manifests. And that he only does that because he sees how much it means to Lan Sizhui – someone he sees as a brother.

“Mn.” He nods, and then walks in the direction of the Lotus Pier.

It really is a beautiful place, he thinks, though unlike the serene silence of the Cloud Recesses, there is noise everywhere – talking, music, and laughter. The lake reflects the light while purple banners hang from the buildings, despite his inability to handle spice – the smell of it on the air is nice.

He can see how such a place would shape Wei Wuxian.

Lan Wangji is not looking forward to his meeting with Jiang Wanyin – he has not spoken with the man since before Wei Wuxians death, doing his best to avoid any chance of interacting with the man who had killed his own brother.

“Oh!” Lan Jingyi speaks up again. “Senior Ghost is here!”

Both Lan Wangji and Lan Sizhui react at the same time – turning quickly to look in the same direction that the teenager points to.

This Wei Wuxian must be around fifteen-or-so – cheerfully chattering to a woman running a stall of glass art. The look on the womans face is a sad-sort of fond, as though used to this – to the visiting shadow.

And why would it not be normal? Wei Wuxian had loved the Lotus Pier – of course the remnants of his soul would flock to this place.

The woman gestures to one of the pieces hanging from the roof of the stall, and while Lan Wangji can’t make out what exactly it is – Wei Wuxian seems very taken with it.

“Come on, come on, come on!” Lan Jingyi hooks his arm around Lan Sizhui and pulls the other over to the stall, tripping over each others feet along the way. At a much more sedate pace, Lan Wangji follows.

It’s so pretty Jiejie! Wei Wuxian says, reaching a hand towards the windchime, I have a friend I think it would suit well…

“Oh?” The woman glances quickly to Lan Wangjis white robes as he moves closer. “Well why don’t you run home and get some money to pay for it then?”

Wei Wuxian pouts, Can I just ask Uncle Jiang to send you it later?

With a cheerful smile, the woman responds, “No.”

I’ll be quick!

Lan Sizhui slaps a hand over Lan Jingyis mouth before he can call out to the disappearing figure.

The woman sighs.

Yelping – Lan Sizhui pulls his now spit-covered hand away from Lan Jingyi, before wiping it off on the others robe.

“Excuse me?” Lan Jingyi says with uncharacteristic manners, “How much is that windchime?”

Raising an eyebrow and crossing her arms, the woman regards the three of them. “Is the Young Master interested in it?”

Lan Wangji is.

It’s a beautiful piece – mostly clear with the faintest tint of blue to the clouds hanging off of it. Delicate silver inlays with tiny birds linked into the chains connecting pieces. It’s not… not something he would expect to have caught Wei Wuxians attention – not when there is a bright pattern chime next to it, reds and gold.

Absently he reaches out to tap one of the hollow metal tubes – it rings clear.

The woman turns away from Lan Jingyi, “Huh, the pattern on your, uh,” she gestures to his forehead ribbon, “It looks kinda like the clouds on the chime.”

He freezes.

It’s not a perfect match – but to someone who is not familiar with the Gusu Lan Sect, he can understand why they would think that.

Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi both stare at him, then the chime and then to where Wei Wuxian had disappeared.

Reaching into his sleeve he pulls out a small pouch with bits of silver in it.

The chime would look nice hanging from the eaves of the Jingshi, where the light could hit it from between the leaves and blossoms of the magnolia tree.

 


 

If anything – Yiling is out of his way, but even after these years Lan Xichen finds he cannot banish the scene of the battle from his mind. Bodies weakened by a lack of food splayed in the mud, the elderly, and those who had not lifted a blade to fight – all around them. He sees Wei Wuxians empty eyes, the tear tracks running through the blood on his face and the dizi falling out of his hand and away.

Jin Guangyao hadn’t known – had told Lan Xichen afterwards that Jin Zixun had lied about those in the prison camp. The relief his friend was innocent had been overwhelming – but had not absolved Lan Xichen of his own guilt in the matter.

Even Nie Mingjue had been vocal in his anger. He had expected a battle – hardened warriors and a noble victory. Not a bunch of farmers already slaughtered by the leading Jin Sect.

As he wanders the wide space between the cave and the ruined hovels, he offers a prayer to the Wens who died here. The more time that passes the more he knows that the Sects had been wrong – that they should have tried more to stop the fighting.

With a last glance at the desolate settlement, he makes his way towards the main city of Yiling, passing the small shrine set up at the entrance to the Burial Mounds. The thing is half a seal itself – and half an apology from those able to recognize their own guilt.

As is normal for Yiling these days, he is not stared at and admired by the civilian population, no, they instead try to avoid looking at him – as they do with all cultivators.

And why would they not?

The people of the city spend their days living alongside a shadow in the shape of a child who smiles despite the bruises on his arms and threadbare robes, and a man who tries to haggle for potatoes to an exasperated farmer. Wen Qing had been good to them when Yiling was under her supervision – she had ensured they were fed, that medicine had been affordable and available, Yiling had prospered despite the cruelty of the other Wens.

He catches a glimpse of purple in a narrow alley where the Supervisory Office once stood.

You’ve done so much, Wei Wuxian says, eyes glued on the wall in front of him, But I have another favour…

He pauses, waiting for a response that doesn’t come. Lan Xichen steps forward, to see if he can help the memory move on, when the teenager speaks again.

You… wrote a treatise… On golden cores. Lan Xichen is close enough to see the ring of bruises around Wei Wuxians throat – the broken blood vessels in his eyes. Wen Qing, you said they could be transferred

Why would Wei Wuxian need to ask about core transfers?

I’ll be fine, but- Wen Qing he- Wei Wuxian looks close to tears, Being a cultivator is all he knows.

The shadow stutters for a second – in the way they do when left alone. And Lan Xichen knows he’s lost his opportunity to speak with him about whatever it is that has Wei Wuxian so concerned with golden cores.

Lan Xicheng has an odd sensation – like he should know something – but he can’t figure out what exactly.

Turning away, he starts to make his way out of Yiling – Jin Guangyao had wanted to speak with him about something, and he ought to go visit him at the Golden Koi Tower. His friend has been busy with helping Jin Zixuan run the Jin Sect after their fathers passing.

Lan Xichen does end up making one more stop before he leaves, one of the nearby market stalls has a collection of childrens toys, and he finds himself picking out a small grass dragonfly – Lan Sizhui has a small collection of grass animals, and the dragonfly will make a nice gift for his next birthday.

 


 

As the years pass, Jiang Cheng finds the familiar sight of Wei Wuxian to be less and less, something.

He’s just as intangible and as clear as the image seems – the features of his face never blur or become someone else. And while it always acts like Wei Wuxian – he knows it’s not.

Maybe it’s-

He picks up the scroll in front of him – there are plans for a Night Hunt near Dafan Mountain in a week, and he thinks it would be a good opportunity for Jin Ling. It’s not expected to be anything too difficult, which is good considering the fact Jin Zixuan will likely want to go as well…

Jiang Cheng does not consider the man a friend, but they can at least get along.

From outside his window he hears the sounds of someone shriek as they’re shoved off one of the walkways and into the water below. The waves hit the wood with a solid thwump, until it settles once more.

Despite that, the Lotus Pier seems far too quiet.

Snorting, he pushes himself to his feet, such a melancholic mood – disgusting.

Perhaps a spar will put him back into the right mindset – with his sister and nephew in their own home, the only thing he can think of that will raise his spirits is putting the fear of Zidian into a few misbehaving disciples.

Just thinking about it is enough to bring a smirk to his face.

He doesn’t think about the empty space by his side.

 


 

Jin Ling sighs as she adjusts the collar of his robes, Jiang Yanli can tell he wants to roll his eyes – and so she taps his nose.

“A-Ling? You promise to be good for Jiujiu and your father, yes?” She asks sweetly.

Her son pouts – and she fights the urge to laugh, he looks so much like his father.

Mom.”

She moves to fixing his bangs, “Yes, dear?”

Face red, he buries his face into his hands and groans.

Jiang Yanli pulls her son into another hug. “I know you’ll be good. Be careful on your Night Hunt.”

She feels him tense up – he is a teenager after all, most of them are prickly about hugs, her own brother a prime example – but then he brings his arms up and hugs her back. He’s the same height as her, Jiang Yanli notices.

“I’ll be careful.” He then scowls, “But with Jiujiu there then he’s not going to let me do anything…”

“He worries about you.” She says, “As do I and your father. You have a good heart – you want to help people. And that is good. But it can be dangerous too.” She presses a kiss to his forehead.  “We all want to see you grow up happy and kind.”

He falls unusually silent at that. And for all that he usually seems to be like his father – loud and shy in equal measure – in this moment he reminds her of herself.

“…I understand.” He says quietly. And then he raises his chin and he is every bit the Sect Heir. “I’ll be going now!”

And he starts towards the front gates of the Golden Koi Tower, she calls out to him.

“A-Ling, did you forget something?”

His shoulders hunch up, and then in rush he squeaks out a “Goodbye mom I love you!” before sprinting out of the room.

It is so similar to Jin Zixuans confession at Phoenix Mountain that she finally gives into the temptation to laugh, a breathless giggle that has her losing her balance and leaning against the wall.

Her son really is adorable.

 


 

With the knife in his hand Mo Xuanyu realizes it’s either now or never. Someone will notice it’s gone soon and then they’ll look for it and there will go his last chance.

He heard the noise outside earlier – disciples from the Lan Clan arriving to deal with some minor problems. So even if he is wrong about the sort of person the Yiling Patriarch was, whichever senior disciple is there with them ought to be able to keep them alive until more help comes.

To his left sit the notes and Wei Wuxian – the mans nose scrunched as he makes a face.

Ah, no no no, maybe if I change this part? He mutters to himself.

“What’s wrong with it?” Mo Xuanyu asks, turning the blade over, there’s a small nick on it near the tip.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t seem to hear him, I have to think of something.

Curious he moves over to see which page Wei Wuxian is focused on.

It’s a short section – detailing the consequences for performing the Soul Summoning Array. Mo Xuanyu himself isn’t… he isn’t worried about it exactly – it may not be pleasant – having his soul scattered but, well…

There has to be some way… Wei Wuxian tugs at the ends of his hair, There’s no getting around the summoner dying, but- He groans and gives his hair a particularly rough pull.

Tracing once of the symbols at the edge of the array, Mo Xuanyu tilts his head, “What if you changed from invoking fire to metal? Fire may work to help increase the energy and resolve – but metal is for collecting right? And-“

The Yin organ for fire is the heart – and the one for metal is the lungs. Wei Wuxian taps the side of his nose, It would be easier for someone to control their breathing then their heartbeats… A brush! Where’s my brush?

He starts looking around him, and as Wei Wuxian pushes himself to his feet, he fades away – starting from the ends of his robes and hair and then he’s gone. And Mo Xuanyu is alone in his room with only his papers and a knife.

It’s not a complete fix for the issue.

And Wei Wuxian hadn’t even finished fixing it – but Mo Xuanyu has practically taught himself demonic cultivation – certainly he can figure it out himself?

As much as he doesn’t want to be here – to deal with a family that locks him away, to have a brother who would throw him away, his mother has already-

He wants the chance to try again.

If he can rewrite enough of the array to keep his soul from scattering – he’ll have the next life at least.

Mo Xuanyu breaths in – and out – and in – and cuts

 


 

“This is an awful idea.” Wu Qiang says from his place behind Zhu Ming.

Meng Mei nods violently from her place behind Wu Qiang. “Wu-Xiong is right, you don’t have to do this FangFang…”

Gripping her sword Li Fang moves closer to the Yiling Patriarchs ghost, where it’s hunched over a small metal something in its lap.

“It’s a great idea, thank you.” Li Fang replies, eyes narrowed, “This is it! The moment he destroys the Stygian Tiger Seal and becomes a ghost! So I’m going to exorcise him!”

With a roll of his eyes and voice dripping with sarcasm, Zhu Ming speaks up, “Because you trying it will be so different from every other cultivator who has tried.”

Ignoring him, Li Fang raises her blade and runs forwards with a shout towards the spirit. She’s almost within sword-swinging range when the man is suddenly swallowed up by the shadows around him.

Meng Mei screams in fright and Zhu Ming chokes on his spit, from the soft gasp and thud, Wu Qiang has probably fallen over.

Because of her speed Li Fang is unable to stop herself from moving through the space he had occupied and it’s- there is-

cold cold cold

they’re all gone –

he failed –

he failed

“FangFang!” Meng Mei shakes her by the arm, “FangFang please!”

Li Fang feels the tears running down her face, and she immediately pulls Meng Mei closer to her with one arm while the other hooks around the front of Zhu Mings robes pulling both him and Wu Qiang towards herself as well.

“…” Zhu Ming shifts slightly.

“Um-“ Wu Qiang pats her arm, “Li Fang?”

“I know I-“ Li Fang tightens her hold on them, “I know I say a lot of stuff. But. But I-“

“We know,” Meng Mei says burying her face in Li Fangs shoulder, “I don’t know what happened just now but we know.”

As the four leave their ill-planed excursion to the Yiling Burial Mounds Li Fang can’t stop thinking about the utter helplessness she felt only moments ago.  She’s never really thought about what Wei Wuxian had been feeling when he had died…

She feels kind of… Guilty? Perhaps?

She’s been doing things like this for years now. Running after ghosts to tell her friends about it, making a big show of not being afraid of his legend and trying to impress them…

He had been so heartbroken when he died.

Li Fang could really go for a drink about now…

 


 

Waking up in a pool of blood is distressingly not unfamiliar… but from what he remembers last, Wei Wuxian should not be awake at all.

There’s a bunch of scattered papers in the room, the edges of one slowly dying red from where it brushes the edge of the array he lies in. The room itself is small with not much else in it – another glance and he sees there’s some sort of slot at the bottom of the doorway.

Well.

Maybe reading some of the notes will be helpful?

He picks up the one closest to him – wincing as he does so – it pulls at the cuts lining his arms, and recognizes his own calligraphy immediately. He hadn’t expected anyone to actually use the Soul Summoning Array, especially not to bring him back of all people. Wei Wuxian places that one back off to the side, picking up a different paper – this one written in an unknown hand.

It’s a half a letter and half a journal entry, all of which details how Mo Xuanyu has spent the last few years locked up in this room at the behest of Chief Cultivator Jin Guangyao. How Mo Xuanyu had studied demonic cultivation for the man who is apparently his half-brother?

And if Mo Xuanyu is related to Jin Guangyao then that means the Peacock is-

Wei Wuxian shakes his head – then wrinkles his nose at the unfamiliar feel of Mo Xuanyus hairstyle, he pulls the frayed ribbon and quickly reties it into a more comfortable one.

Anyway – Wei Wuxians notes had been lost to someone named Xue Chengmei and Mo Xuanyu had taken the fall. Skimming through the increasingly scribbled notes, he finds that poor Mo Xuanyu gets one meal a day and never leaves the room. With another quick glance at his surrounding, Wei Wuxian can see why that would drive someone to performing such a ritual.

Then he gets to the bottom of the page.

I’ve seen your ghost – or something like it. For all the stories I’ve heard, you never seemed that bad, not when you laughed over burying your son in the dirt. I’m tired. There’s nothing I can do – but maybe you can…

Jin Guangyao has Chifeng-Zuns head in his office. Your Ghost General sits chained in the room with it. Someone had to have started the rumour that you had cursed Jin Zixun, even now no one knows who did it. So Wei Wuxian, my wish is that you take this chance and find the truth.

Before there were other things I wanted to ask of you – revenge for myself and my mother, but even if you don’t remember your time as a spirit, I do. I’d like to think of you as a friend and leaving you the job of killing someone wouldn’t be a kind thing to ask.

Good luck Wei Wuxian.

Finding the truth – it’s not a bad wish to have been brought back for, but he still wishes Mo Xuanyu could have given him something a little easier… Killing off some villains? Something that it would make sense to leave to the feared Yiling Patriarch.

But- His ghost? Wei Wuxian doesn’t remember haunting anyone, there’s an uncomfortable sensation in his stomach, part-hunger and the rest some odd mix of confusion and guilt.

There are definitely people who deserve this second chance more than he does – his Shijie

He pushes himself to his feet, walking towards the door. He can not think of his Shijie right now- he- he need to think of something else. Not his sister bleeding out in front of him and saying “XianXian you ran away too quickly” and she died in his and Jiang Chengs arms-

The door is locked, and when he gives it a little shove, it feels as though there is something laid across the door – keeping it held shut. Picking up speed, he moves to the small window and hooking his hands onto the sill, he pulls himself up enough to look outside. There isn’t much of a view – there’s a courtyard and a gate, he can see some flowers under the window – as his arms start to shake, the doors start to open.

Dropping back to the ground, he crosses his arms – hissing as it stings the cuts again – and kicking at the empty tray by his feet, it hits the door with a loud clang.

He could try and summon up some resentful energy and a corpse or two to get him out of here, but if he’s going to be running around solving some sort of murder-mystery, it would probably work out better for him if he didn’t announce his return too obviously.

Trying to distract himself, Wei Wuxian once more searches the room – eventually coming across both a small mirror and a tiny case with some leftover cosmetics. They both prove to be very useful.

With the mirror he can see just how he looks – Mo Xuanyu is actually quite handsome he thinks, making faces into the cracked mirrors. He tries for his old smile, and freezes.

The features are softer, the shape of his eyes is different – but there is a clear resemblance to Jin Zixuan.

Chenqing in his hands, the glare off of the swords and sounds of arrows, Jin Zixuans voice distant and too close at the same time. Wen Ning moves, something crunches, and Jin Zixuan hits the ground – hands clutching the hole in his chest.

“A-Li… is still waiting…”

There’s nothing to help with applying the powder to his face – so he uses the edge of one of the blankets from the bed. When he’s done he takes another look in the mirror.

It’s better – he doesn’t see someone he’s killed anymore, at least.

But after that, there really isn’t much for him to do. Wei Wuxian feels another pang in his stomach, he really shouldn’t curse Mo Xuanyu – but this body doesn’t know inedia and he has no idea when the last time it ate was. He’s so hungry.

He debates if banging on the door and demanding food would work – from Mo Xuanyus writing, it was a half-and-half chance of actually being fed or losing out on a meal.

In the end, Wei Wuxian takes a nap. He hadn’t expected being summoned to be so tiring – though with the poor conditions he’s in and the stress Mo Xuanyu must have felt, perhaps not too surprising.

Sprawling out across the bed – Wei Wuxian makes a note to burn some paper money for Mo Xuanyu when he’s able. Sleep finds him quickly.

His dreams are muddled memories – he dreams of his first night at the Lotus Pier, but the ones telling him to come down are his Shijie and Jiang Cheng as he saw them last. He sees himself kneeling in the Lan Ancestral Hall, and this time when he asks Lan Qiren about his mother – the man tells him about their first meeting, despite the bitter expression on his face. Hide and seek with A-Yuan, they’re both hiding at the base of a tree and Lan Wangji finds them – pulling A-Yuan into his arms.

There’s shouts and someone grabbing his arm too tightly, and Wei Wuxian awakens to find himself being dragged out of Mo Xuanyus small room and through the mansion he seems to live in. His arms sting as they pull him along through the unfamiliar hallways and courtyards, before roughly tossing him to the ground at the feet of one of the angriest looking women he’s ever seen.

Wei Wuxians attention quickly leaves her however, as right next to him is a small group of Lan disciples – the oldest of whom look to be seventeen or so.

The one in the lead quickly helps him stand, “Are you alright?” The boy seems to be the perfect example of a Lan – he’s well put together, and his voice is soft yet clear. Wei Wuxian would compare his way of carrying himself to Lan Zhan if it were not for the much easier to read expressions on the boys face.

“Madam Mo,” The boy continues, “As we explained to you – Young Master Mos death would have been caused by a spirit not-“

“Shut up!” Madam Mo snaps, not taking her eyes off of Wei Wuxian, “This little bastard was sent here from one of your cultivation sects. Of course he would have been able to do this!”

“Um,” Wei Wuxian rubs the remaining sleep from his eyes, “What did I do?”

Shrieking in rage, Madam Mo attempts to bludgeon him with a nearby lantern.

“Sizhui!” One of the other Lan boys shouts, and the one still holding on to Wei Wuxian pulls them both out of the way. They end up stumbling over a drained looking corpse laid out on the ground – Wei Wuxians foot gets caught on the robes and ends up opening them, enough to see the Spirit Attraction flag that they had stuffed into the front of their robes.

On Madam Mos next swing – he ducks down to pull the flag free. Lan Sizhui makes a little confused noise as Wei Wuxian pulls away from him. With a flourish, Wei Wuxian unfurls the flag, throwing in an extra spin to put himself between the angry Madam Mo and the Lan disciples.

“Is this what I’m being blamed for?” He asks, looking closer at the flag. It’s very well made – the strokes have power to them and he can’t help but feel impressed, “For someone being stupid enough to steal a Spirit Attraction flag?”

Madam Mo is truly incensed now – making wordless sounds and pointing at him.

Maybe the original plan of trying to lay-low isn’t going to work anymore – but this could be fun.

 


 

They’re almost to Dafan Mountain when the message talisman arrives – the small gold and violet swallow his sister tends to favour. Jiang Cheng raises an arm for it to land on, it perches delicately on his sleeve, before it unfolds into a small sealed letter. His name written in a familiar hand on the outermost layer.

“Is that from mother?” Jin Ling asks, coming over to his side, Jin Zixuan stays further back – trying to pull Suihua free of the foliage it’s currently tangled in.

Pushing his nephews forehead to gain space, Jiang Cheng scowls, “Who taught you to be like this? This is for me and you are being rude.”

The scowl on Jin Lings face is eerily similar to his own, but the boy backs down regardless – running over to help the still-struggling Jin Zixuan.

Jiang Cheng quickly opens the letter and begins reading before the little menace gets back.

He frowns.

“What happened Jiang Wanyin? Is A-Li alright?” Jin Zixuan still has bits of leaves stuck in his hair.

Jiang Cheng makes a face, “A-Jie is fine. She was writing to say there still hasn’t been any sightings of Wei Wuxian since we left.” It’s not normal. His brother shows up all the time, but for the past few days he hasn’t. Not anywhere.

“Do you think he…” Jin Zixuan looks as awkward as he had when they were teenagers, “He may have passed on…?”

Crossing his arms – Jiang Cheng feels for Chenqing in his sleeve, “But why now? There’s nothing about the date – no clans reported they had attempted anything, and no one is taking credit for it.”

Tapping a pattern onto the hilt of his blade, Jin Zixuan reasons, “Well, maybe they didn’t want to say until they knew for sure?”

Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes.

“The Jin sect would have had nothing to do with it.” He immediately continues, “I made it clear years ago that I had no blame for Wei Wuxian, and that neither did A-Li.”

Huffing, Jiang Cheng looks away, “Whatever. I’m going to have to ask the Lans about it at this rate… They might have something useful in their library.”

He’s worried though. For the echoes to just stop, for no apparent reason – he worries something might have happened to his brothers soul. And wouldn’t that be awful. To lose him twice without being able to apologize for everything that happened. For killing him instead of helping him.

Sandus hilt bites into his hand where it is clenched around it.

There is nothing he can do here though – it will have to wait until the Night Hunt is over. He turns back to the unusually silent Jin Ling.

That’s when both him and Jin Zixuan realize Jin Ling has taken off.

Fuck.”

 


 

Jin Ling scowls – it’s another group of idiots who have stumbled into the nets he’s set up. If his Jiujiu was here he would be so mad.

“Young Master! Please let us down!”

“You’re kicking me Shen-Ge!”

“Shut up! I’m trying to get us out.”

Rolling his eyes, Jin Ling replies, “Maybe I should leave you there so you’ll be out of the way!”

There’s the sound of muffled laughter from the bushes to his left – and he draws his bow, pointing an arrow in the direction of the noise.

“Who’s there?!” He demands.

“Don’t hurt me!” A voice sing-songs, before a young man half-falls out of the shrubs, “I don’t even have any weapons!”

The man looks like a lunatic. His face covered with powders and styled after a hanged ghost, and wearing ragged black and red robes that it looks like he pilfered from a garbage pile.

“…What’s with that expression?” The man says, lowering his arms and looking unimpressed.”

Jin Ling feels his face heat up in anger, “You look like that and you’re asking me?!”

Putting his hands in his hips, the man sticks his tongue out, “How rude! Did your mother never teach you manners?”

Seeing red – Jin Ling releases the arrow – the man yelps as it finds it’s home in the tree trunk a hands-span away from his face. And Jin Ling charges, swinging his bow at the man.

“Don’t you dare talk about my mother like that!”

“Sorry! Sorry!” The man dances out of the way, absently patting Jin Ling on the head – Jin Ling screeches in anger aiming a kick at him, “I’m sure your mother is quite lovely – but you did insult me, then attack me…”

“Stay! Still!” Jin Ling shouts, going for a punch this time.

The man tugs the end of his hair.

Jin Ling is going to break his legs.

“I’m going to break your legs!” Jin Lings voice cracks halfway through his threat and sends the man into a series of giggles.

The sound of the still-trapped cultivators fades into the background as he continues attacking the strange man. But as he watches – Jin Ling thinks the movements are familiar. It’s almost like the Yunmeng Jiang style of fighting, but there’s something a little wilder to the mans movement.

“Young Master, you still haven’t introduced yourself!”

“My name is Jin Ling! Courtesy Rulan!” He almost manages to graze the stranger, when the man freezes up – tripping himself up over his own feet and hitting the ground loudly.

“Jin Ling? Rulan?” He repeats, not bothering to stand back up – just looking at Jin Ling. “Really?”

Scowling, Jin Ling goes to respond, when he hears a shout from the woods at his back.

A-Ling?!

“Brat! I’m going to break your legs!”

Jin Ling winces while the man on the ground freezes.

He’s going to be in so much trouble.

 


 

Jin Zixuan is alive.

Jiang Cheng looks him over once, sneers, and goes back to berating Jin Ling.

Jin Zixuan is alive.

With the two of them next to each other, Jin Ling is very clearly his fathers son. The boy ducking behind him to avoid Jiang Chengs continuing tirade.

“-sitting around wasting time with – who is this man?” Jiang Cheng gestures at him half-heartedly.

Jin Zixuan straightens as well, “I’d like to know that too A-Ling.”

“I don’t know,” Jin Ling says looking away and crossing his arms, “He just called me rude.”

Wei Wuxian is met by to glaring sect leaders.

“To be fair,” He says, “He did attack me first. And, well…” He gestures to the cultivators handing in the nets. One of them waves back with a deadpan expression.

Jiang Cheng raises a hand to cover his face, the motion and the following sigh are so incredibly familiar that it hurts. Jin Zixuan draws Suihua, and adjusts his grip on the blade. Then he throws the sword, it arc through the air as he forms a sword seal, and quickly cuts the cultivators free. They hit the ground with varying degrees of force and swearing – before giving quick salutes and making their exits.

Slowly backing away, Wei Wuxian almost gets to Little Apple before Jiang Cheng turns back to him.

“Where do you think you’re going?” He asks looking down at him.

“…Away from here?” It turns into a question at the end, and Jiang Chengs eyes narrow.

He starts walking towards Wei Wuxian, “What was your name again.”

As much as Wei Wuxian loves his brother – even after everything – he knows the man isn’t the best at keeping things quiet. And if Wei Wuxian is going to be solving a murder then he needs the world to not be looking at him.

“Mo Xuanyu.” He answers, “That’s what they call me.” It’s not exactly a lie…

“And what is an unarmed man doing in the middle of a Night Hunt? Mo Xuanyu?”

Jin Zixuan sighs, “Jiang Wanyin, really? Is there a need for this?”

“Is this because you’re worried.” Jin Link asks, smirking.

Jiang Chengs revenge is immediate as he smacks the back of Jin Lings head, “When I tell your mother about this –“

Wei Wuxian doesn’t listen to the rest of the threat.

She’s alive.

His Shijie is- he didn’t-!

There’s a strangled noise from Jin Zixuan, “Are you crying?” He sounds horrified.

Bringing his hands up to his eyes, Wei Wuxian finds he is crying. He laughs lightly, “Ah, don’t worry! I’ve just been having a rough few days…”

Neither Jin Zixuan or Jiang Cheng look too comfortable with the idea of comforting him, which is just what he wants.

“Well! Nice to meet you. Goodbye!”

This time nobody stops him when he takes off.

He ends up wandering around the mountain for a bit – as in shock as he is to hear his Shijie is still alive – he knows he still has to finish his task before he can relax. As long as he’s under the curse of the Soul Summoning Array there’s the chance for the ritual to kill him again. He refuses to put her through that. To tell her he’s back – how sorry he is, only to die? Wei Wuxian knows people think of him as a monster, but he won’t be that much of one.

In the distance – there’s a pulse of spiritual energy, dark and cold and hungry.

The mountain is crawling with cultivators, but if Jin Ling was able to sneak away so easily, then others could as well.

He snaps a small bamboo shoot in half – digging through the saddlebags on Little Apple for a knife – he turns in the direction of the energy.

 


 

Wei Wuxian hadn’t been in Yiling, hadn’t run from one end of the Cloud Recesses to the other, hadn’t been seen in days. Lan Wangji had even tried Inquiry – with a feeling neither hope or dread that Wei Wuxian had passed on, only to have no response.

And now –

Lan Sizhui had told him about what had happened in Mo Village before his arrival, about Mo Xuanyus odd behaviour and the timely intervention of the corpses that had kept the junior disciples alive until his he had gotten to the manor.

It had been the same day as the last sighting of Wei Wuxian – an odd coincidence considering the man seemed to be a demonic cultivator as well.

And now –

The flute is out of tune, falling flat or screeching sharp in equal measure, but the melody.

He’s played that song for two people – one has heard it once in a cave where he thought they may both die, and the other is also watching wide-eyed as a stranger plays a song he used to listen to as a lullaby.

Mo Xuanyu – but is it Mo Xuanyu – slowly backs away from the remains of the statue, Wen Ning following him obediently. He backs away and away and Lan Wangji moves