As usual, it all began with that goddamned nephew of his.
Since Jin Ling had come into the position of clan leader following a succession of evil Jin tyrants, it only made sense for all that devil blood to rear up and bite Jiang Cheng in the arse when he was least expecting it.
Not only did his nephew propose that the sects resume their annual Discussion Conference where they could bring up the major concerns of the various sects, ‘seeking a common understanding’ and ‘working towards the betterment of the people’, he also suggested with the full approval of the Lan sect that the meeting could be held at Gusu Lan that year.
On Jiang Cheng’s part, he was fairly sure those were rules 804 and 2056 respectively that Jin Ling had blithely plagiarised in his invitation. He was even more certain that the entire farce had been orchestrated by his idiot nephew so that he would have a legitimate excuse to spend time with his best friends. God only knew how Jin Ling managed to persuade Hanguang-jun to go along with it, but Jiang Cheng had had the opportunity to meet Lan Sizhui once and he figured that that explained a great deal. On one memorable night hunt in Yunmeng, he had bumped into Lan Sizhui and that horrid Wen ghoul, and before he knew it, Jiang Cheng found himself cooking the kid dinner, offering him spare blankets, and packing him breakfast the next day. Stronger men than he had fallen, there was no shame in admitting that.
In any case, when it came to the Discussion Conference, Jiang Cheng would have laughed in anyone’s face back then if they had suggested in any way that the conference would turn out to be one of the most important events in his life.
It certainly hadn’t seemed that way when day one had already made him agitated enough to want to send his table flying across the room. His fists were itching to thrash the living hell of Sect Leader Yao for his snide insinuations that Yunmeng Jiang was leeching off the largesse of his nephew, but thankfully, Jiang Cheng had the presence of mind to storm out of the hall before Zidian awoke and made his murderous fantasies come to life. After thirteen long years, the weapon’s spirit energy and his had melded to the point where he had often woken up from nightmares to see violet energy crackling across his bedchamber, as though Zidian had sensed his unrest and was looking to banish the source of his unhappiness.
Unfortunately, storming off was only a good idea until you realised that you were stuck on a mountaintop with nothing but trees and rock every which way.
In Jiang Cheng’s defence, anyone in his position would also have pounced on the first helpful looking guide they came across.
‘TELL ME WHAT YOU KNOW!’ Jiang Cheng bellowed at the bewildered rabbits.
And that was how Lan Xichen first met Jiang Cheng after he entered seclusion.
If Lan Xichen had to think of a word to describe Jiang Cheng on that first meeting, it would undoubtedly be a word that few would think would fall from his lips.
Yet he could not deny that the young man’s somewhat unhinged expression, which was swiftly followed by the most transparent please-kill-me-now expression of mortification he had ever seen on anyone’s face, was the single most hilarious thing he had seen in the past year. Before he could stop himself, he burst out laughing, the laughter making his sides hurt and tears come into his eyes.
Jiang Cheng told him later that he had been tempted to storm off for the second time that day, but Lan Xichen was the first person he happened to meet after an hour’s wandering after all, and also, it was difficult to dislike anyone who laughed so openly like he did, even if it was at his own expense.
When Lan Xichen invited a reluctant Jiang Cheng into the Hanshi for a cup of tea, he fully expected the other to bolt the instant he was done drawing a map of the way back to the main area.
What he didn’t expect was for a chance meeting to turn into an hour’s discussion of the conference (which was more of a one-sided rant by his visitor), and for that to turn into two more hours of chatting. By a mutual silent accord, both parties steered clear of wounds that were still too fresh to prod at, preferring to talk instead about the things that happened after that nightmarish day at Yunping City.
By the time Jiang Cheng took his leave, the younger man had already extracted a promise from him to meet with him again the following day. One day turned into two, and two days turned into three.
Though he was still in seclusion and found it difficult to sustain any interest or pay attention to the world’s affairs, there was something about the straightforward and simple manner in which Jiang Cheng spoke that made Lan Xichen feel incredibly comforted. With Jiang Cheng, he was always included, but never forced to engage.
Over the past few months, he had been alone in seclusion, thinking that that was what he needed to reflect on the choices he had made over the past few years. There were nights in which his thoughts seemed to go nowhere and yet they kept him awake with their endless repetition, asking him what he could have done, should have done, and would have done if he could do it all over again. He knew that there was no point in asking for the impossible, but he couldn't help himself. Night after night, the thoughts crept into his mind and left him shaking.
He wrote lengthy missives to Yunmeng, and received in turn, letters that were much shorter and to the point. Unlike his reputation, which painted him as a violent and unkind man with an out of control temper, Jiang Cheng’s letters were always written with care and they never failed to make him feel better.
They didn’t say that he was forgiven.
No one can do that except yourself.
They didn’t tell him that he would soon forget.
I know how these memories can last a lifetime.
They didn’t urge him to return to being a sect leader.
I don’t want you to be anything else but well again.
And as the seasons flowed one into another, Lan Xichen found himself one day taking up a brush again and penning a letter to his closest friend.
…my friend, you know me better than anyone else at this point, which is why I know it will not surprise you to hear that as of tomorrow, I will officially be leaving seclusion and resuming my duties as the Sect Leader.