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Hope Planted Like Radishes

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng

Year 18 - Jiǔyuè {September}

Yunmeng - Lotus Pier

I frowned at the scroll in front of me, staring at the clean calligraphy and the gold leaf peony stamped at the base of the page. A-Jie would be disappointed in my scowl, but I just couldn’t help it. Even the damn ink carried flecks of gold. The fucking peacock. 

Yu XinYi cleared her throat of a sound I’d label as humored frustration. I flicked my eyes up to her pale face, now clear of any emotion other than the pride that was always present in her features. Swathed in purple robes, she reminded me painfully of my mother. 

“Prepare our reply to accept the reinstatement of my sister’s engagement to Jin ZiXuan,” I grumbled, passing her the official request. Delicate fingers gripped the corner of the page and she pulled it from my grasp. 

“Yes, Sect Leader Jiang. Is there anything else?” She asked, glancing briefly at the missive before returning her focus to me. I stared at her longer than was appropriate. Dark hair was swept up into a simple knot, free of any adornment. Her face was clear of cosmetics, but her skin was smooth, large eyes a brilliant violet. She looked so much like A-Jie, people often thought them siblings. The third daughter of Meishan Yu was a companion I’d never expected to have, and I was grateful for her more and more each day. But she was not the person I’d wanted by my side. Her eyebrow arched lightly before her face settled into a soft smile. It was the smile that was reserved for me as her cousin, not as her sect leader. She knew where my thoughts had drifted. I knew she didn’t hold them against me.

Wei WuXian should have been the one standing in front of me, as my second in command, as we shared a look of derision directed at Jin ZiXuan. But he wasn’t here. We were not the Twin Prides of Yunmeng. My First Disciple hadn’t been home in months, instead dwelling in the peaks of Yiling. Yu XinYi took my sour look as answer enough, bowing before closing me in my office. 

I rubbed my eyes before returning to the stack of paperwork, sipping at the tea that had long since cooled. I penned my response to Baling Ouyang, assuring them that Wei WuXian had not defected to start his own sect, that he had not eloped with Wen Qing, that he is not a threat to the cultivational world at large. I had to pause briefly, wondering for just a moment if my statement was entirely true. Certainly he hadn’t eloped, but he and Wen Qing were... Close. I decided to stop that line of thought before it went any further, finishing out the letter with a flourish and a stamp of purple ink. Sighing, I snagged the next missive and replied, nearly verbatim to the last. This entire pile was much of the same, the letters from the three other major sects at the bottom. My frustration bled into each stroke of the brush, and I found myself unable to reply with political courtesy when some of the letters neared outright accusations of treason. Perhaps I’d have A-Jie reply to Gusu Lan, Lanling Jin, and Qinghe Nie before I copied her words with my own hand.

My wayward brother had left me with quite the delicate political situation to navigate. It was multi-faceted, and Yungmeng Jiang Sect was still newly rebuilt, our status tenuous at best. I needed to be making allies, not enemies. Thankfully Jin ZiXuan had kneecapped the opposition with his claim that he’d given Wei WuXian permission to take the Wen remnant, but he was still trying to smooth things over with his father. 

I didn’t envy his situation, with Jin GuangYao recognized just last year and an unknown number of bastards just waiting in the wings. I’d like to say that no sect leader would disown their only trueborn son in favor of a bastard, but Jin GuangShan was capricious enough that I was hesitant to state that as fact. Jin ZiXuan would be walking on eggshells for the foreseeable future, and I disliked the idea of A-Jie marrying a man with a fragile grip on his status. But she loved him, and once the peacock had realized he loved her in return, he’d become damn dedicated to proving it, even protecting a man he couldn’t stand just because he knew YanLi would want him to. I couldn’t begrudge him a situation that my brother had caused, much as I wanted to. 

The situation with Lanling Jin could have been much worse. Even so, there were many other concerns. The war was over, but the Wens were still the enemy in the hearts of the people, and Wei WuXian had made himself their leader, intentional or not. And now that his Demonic Cultivation wasn’t winning them a war, the sects viewed his methods with scorn and paranoia. The Stygian Tiger Seal was too great of an object for any one man, any one sect, to wield. And as more and more inventions flowed out of Yiling, Wei WuXian’s genius was a cause for concern, not celebration. His cultivation was in line with Zewu-Jun and HanGuang Jun, but he had none of the respect afforded to the other cultivators in his class. 

I could see the other sects’ growing concern, but I had no idea how to stop it. I had no idea how to protect my brother. And so, I defended him in each letter, reminding everyone that he was the First Disciple of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect, that he was under our protection. 

Just as I’d reached the last handful of scrolls and the sun was fading, Yu XinYi called from the door as her knuckles rapped in a soft knock. 

“Sect Leader Jiang?” 

“What is it?” I asked, voice soft from lack of use. She slipped inside quickly, shutting the door firmly behind her. She gave me a look of a soft concern before bowing, and I stood, knees cracking from sitting for too long. I was too young for my joints to make such noise. 

“There is… A cultivator. A rogue cultivator. Looking for Young Master Wei,” she murmured, confusion clear across her features. 

“What cultivator, rogue or no, doesn’t know where Wei Wuxian is? He’s the talk of the cultivation world,” I snorted, gesturing to the stack of outgoing letters. She shrugged, clearly just as bewildered. “Where are they?” I asked, straightening my robes. 

“I left her in the main hall.” She winced at my sharp look of disapproval. “Mistress Jiang is with her, Sect Leader, offering greetings,” she defended quickly. 

“Very well. Please make the regular preparations.” 

“I have already requested that tea be brewed, Sect Leader.” She bowed as I moved past her and out the door. What could this cultivator want with Wei Wuxian? What rock had they been living under for the past five months to not know of his location? 

When I entered the main hall, A-Jie was speaking with a delicate woman wearing rough-hewn robes that had seen better days. She was small in stature but large in presence, her voice carrying through the halls of Lotus Pier. YanLi noticed me first, greeting me with a bow in light of our guest. Her face was as kind as always, but I noticed the strain at the corner of her eyes, a look of warning that I didn’t understand. 

“Sect Leader Jiang, may I introduce our visitor, MingDai SanRen?” She gestured to the diminutive woman, who gave me a strong bow, hands clasped in front of her. SanRen. Rogue Cultivator. My mind flashed white with panic, ears ringing, breath stolen from my lungs. What cultivator wouldn’t know of Wei WuXian’s location in Yiling? One that had been living atop a mountain, high above the concerns of normal society. 

“Sect Leader, thank you for meeting with me. I have come looking for Wei WuXian.” Her voice was sonorous, conflicting with her size. I racked my memory from two years past, trying to remember if I’d heard her voice during the week I’d spent on the mountain before quickly giving up. I only remembered one voice, the one belonging to BaoShan SanRen. It was soft, calming as cool hands had brushed across my forehead. It was a voice that gave me calm support during times of stress. I could only hope MingDai hadn’t been involved in my care. Please don’t recognize me. 

“MingDai SanRen, my brother is not here,” I replied with the barest hint of a tremble. She gave me a wide smile, one that reminded me so much of Wei WuXian that I’d say it was genetic if I didn’t know better. Her eyes were a dark, shining obsidian, and they spoke of mischief. 

“So your sister has said. If you could just point me in the right direction, I will be on my way,” she murmured with only the slightest tinge of disappointment. 

“We can take you to him, SanRen Daozhang,” YanLi’s voice rang out, faster than I could reply. I shot her a sharp look, but she continued, unapologetic. “We’ve been meaning to visit, right Jiang Cheng?” YanLi smiled at the both of us, and I internally floundered even as my mouth opened to agree without my consent. 

“Yes. It would be no trouble to prepare rooms for you, MingDai SanRen. You are welcome to stay at Lotus Pier until we depart.” Her eyes brightened with delight. My hands locked into fists behind my back. 

“You are too kind, Sect Leader. Thank you for your hospitality.” I nodded mutely, grateful as Yu XinYi appeared from nowhere to lead the rogue cultivator to the guest wing. I gave YanLi a look of pure, abject horror.