Lan Xichen hasn’t seen his brother since last night.
There is a growing question in Lan Xichen’s mind at that fact, and he finishes writing the letter responding to the one from Lanling Jin and puts his brush to the side. It’s odd, he decides finally. Lan Wangji is not one for sudden disappearances. His routine in the Cloud Recesses has been repetitive and unchanged ever since he was seven years old, except for the additional duties age has brought him, and Lan Xichen could normally pinpoint where his little brother is in the Cloud Recesses with minute accuracy according to the time of the day— honestly, any Lan disciple could.
This morning, when Lan Wangji didn't appear for breakfast, Lan Xichen had thought that perhaps he was busy with some urgent breakthrough in his cultivation, for he could see no other reason why his notoriously steadfast little brother would miss the mealtime without any prewarning.
Then, though, Lan Wangji continued not to appear for lunch and dinner.
Surely, a sudden breakthrough couldn’t take so much time? Lan Xichen glances at the flickering candle on his desk, at the dark winter evening outside, and feels consumed by a sudden and inexplicably strong worry. It’s past eight already, far too late for a visit to another’s rooms within the bounds of courtesy, and his brother must be halfway ready to sleep by now, but…
Lan Xichen gets up with a decided set of his shoulders, promising himself that he will copy Conduct thrice once he’s made sure that his little brother is perfectly fine.
The paths from his study to the Jingshi are well-lit. There are stone lanterns at every step that illuminate the serene gardens in flickering, orange firelight. The stars are bright through the thin mountain sky, and the trees cast calm shadows. Lan Xichen doesn’t understand the feeling of unease that crawls steadily, slowly further into his belly the closer he gets to his little brother’s residence.
He stops when he comes close to the Jingshi. There is something wrong. For a small second, he doesn’t know why the sight is so disconcerting… But then he realizes it.
There windows are dark. The Jingshi is cast in darkness, not a single lit candle flickering light out of the windows. It’s so silent that there couldn’t possibly be anybody preparing for bed inside, even though Lan Xichen knows for certain that his brother is home. It couldn’t possibly be that Lan Wangji decided to sleep early today? He would never do that, not unless he’s too sick to keep himself awake…
Lan Xichen takes in a calming breath, soothes over his churning thoughts, and takes the next few steps up onto the porch of the Jingshi. A few bamboo trees rustle in the wind nearby, and that’s the only sound that accompanies his footsteps.
“…Wangji?” He calls, not wanting to just burst in. Silence answers him. “Wangji, may I come in?”
The building unease coils into something cold and material.
…Is Lan Wangji really out? Without reporting his absence to Lan Xichen, his brother and Sect Leader? Lan Wangji?
Lan Xichen adds five more copies of Conduct to his punishment and slides open the doors of the Jingshi without waiting for permission. He enters the room. It truly is dark, the empty living area illuminated only by the bleak starlight streaming through the windows. Lan Xichen steps quietly, but they still seem to echo in his ears as he walks past the living area and to the bedroom.
He can hear the faint breaths of another person in the room.
Unless Lan Wangji disappeared from his room and someone else appeared in his place, it’s certainly Lan Wangji. But why wouldn’t he answer Lan Xichen’s call?
Lan Xichen enters the bedroom nervously and turns to the bed. “Wangji,” He starts, “Is everything..?”
Lan Wangji is there, sitting up on the bed with the blanket over his legs, looking out of the window, his palms lying open on his lap as if forgotten there. His hair is pulled away from his back and tied into a loose ponytail that pools over his shoulder in a hairstyle that Lan Xichen recognizes from their mother but has never seen on him. The way Lan Wangji holds himself is terribly stiff, his shoulders bunched and neck straining in what Lan Xichen can only guess must be pain.
“…Wangji?” Lan Xichen asks hesitantly as he approaches the bed.
Now, many people have said that Lan Wangji’s emotions are impossible to read, expressions impossible to ascertain, and some have even claimed that they don’t exist at all. Lan Xichen of course knows that this is completely wrong, and he knows that his little brother actually feels things much more deeply than most others, so he’s made sure to work hard on being able to read the miniscule shifts of Lan Wangji’s face.
There is always emotion on Lan Wangji’s bearing. Always an opinion this way or that, always a thought, always at least an outer aura of the things he feels so fiercely inside. He brightens with happiness, wavers with shock, grows heavy with anger, droops with sadness… There is always something.
There is nothing.
Lan Wangji turns his face from the window towards Lan Xichen, and there is nothing in his expression. It’s not like back when Lan Xichen was still young and trying to read the ever shrinking tells of his little brother, when it felt like there was a blank wall between him and Lan Wangji’s heart. This is not the barrier of a wall.
This is different. Horrifying. There is nothing on Lan Wangji’s face.
Under the starlight shining from behind him, Lan Wangji’s eyes are less light and more metal, gold and dead and barely seeming to look and see. His lips are pale, his lashes tilting down over blank eyes, his hands slack and fingers open. There is nothing in his expression in the same way there is nothing inside an empty vase, the same way there is nothing on a barren wasteland, the same way there is nothing in a corpse.
Lan Wangji says nothing. When Lan Xichen also finds himself unable to speak, eventually Lan Wangji turns back to look outside the window, though it’s debatable if he’s seeing anything there or if he only did it to look away from Lan Xichen.
“Wangji what’s wrong?” Lan Xichen finally manages to blurt, as the coiled unease in his guts erupts into full-blown panic. He hurries to sit down on the bed, touching Lan Wangji’s shoulder and startling at the way he winces. “Are you injured?” Lan Xichen exclaims, “Wangji, we have to go to the healers if you’re in pain— why didn't you say anything?!”
Lan Wangji’s ponytail slithers when he shifts away from Lan Xichen. “…is Sect Leader Lan mocking me?” He asks in a hoarse, tiny voice.
Lan Xichen flinches back as if he was struck. “Wangji?”
“…why are you here, Brother?” Lan Wangji asks quietly, “There is still a week until A-Yuan’s next visit.”
“I— I don’t understand. Why didn't you come out today? Who’s A-Yuan? What’s wrong, Wangji?”
At this, the tense posture Lan Wangji was holding becomes even tenser, and he slowly turns to appraise Lan Xichen with those cold, doll-like eyes. “Brother,” He murmurs, “Do you need a healer?”
It’s so contrary to the situation that Lan Xichen almost lets escape a hysterical laugh.
“Wangji isn’t allowed to go out,” Lan Wangji says, before; “A-Yuan is my son.”
Suddenly, Lan Xichen feels some puzzle piece in his mind click into a cluster of others and the picture becomes so clear that he nearly relaxes. Okay, he thinks, Lan Wangji believes he’s our mother. Hadn't Nie Mingjue once mentioned something like this —delirium, the confusion of memories, fictional reprisals of traumas— when he told Lan Xichen about the various qi deviations that had happened to Nie cultivators?
A qi deviation. He can deal with a qi deviation. He would prefer a qi deviation to the unknown fear of the moments before.
“Come on, Wangji, let’s go to the healers, okay?” He says gently, once again reaching forward with the thought of soothing Lan Wangji’s meridians with spiritual energy, only to draw back when Lan Wangji pulls deliberately away from him.
No touching. Okay. Lan Xichen understands. He remembers how skittish Lan Wangji had gotten after their mother had died, the moment his touch aversion had started, and how long it had taken for him to get to a point where they could hug again. With a qi deviation going on, it’s reasonable that Lan Wangji’s back to avoidance.
Lan Xichen doesn’t reach for him again, but he draws up a gentle smile as he moves to get up. “Let’s go,” He says and he stands at the side of the bed, “Come on, Wangji. Listen to Brother, alright?”
Lan Wangji looks at him. He doesn’t follow.
“Wangji, get up,” Lan Xichen says, wanting desperately to pull him up but not wanting to startle him into a more volatile state, “The healers will help, so we have to go.”
Slowly, very slowly, Lan Wangji’s brows furrow. His eyes are still too blank, but that’s at least a smidge of an expression. “Brother,” He says quietly, “You must go to the healers.”
“Yes! Go to the healers. Let’s go!”
“No,” Lan Wangji says, “You must go alone.”
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen starts again, anxious, “I need to take you—”
“I cannot get up.”
Lan Xichen pauses. “It must be worse than I thought,” He mutters to himself, before saying louder; “Okay, I’ll go get the healers. You stay here, Wangji try to regulate your qi—”
Lan Wangji lets out a long, stifled exhale that is as close to a sigh as it gets with him.
“It is very cruel,” Lan Wangji whispers, before he turns around slowly, his hands reaching for the lapels of his thin inner robes. “It is very cruel of you to forget the punishment you ordered. What do you remember, Brother? How far back are you?” Lan Wangji pauses, the pale robes loose, and continues in a haunting, broken voice, “Is Wei Ying dead yet, Brother, for you?”
For the life of him, Lan Xichen cannot comprehend what Wei Wuxian has to do with anything.
Then, Lan Wangji drops his inner robes and Lan Xichen forgets to think about anything at all. His blood has frozen into ice in his veins. There is a distant roaring in his ears that make it hard to hear his own breaths.
His little brother’s back is covered from top to bottom in hideous wounds —discipline ruler— half-healed and half-gaping-bloody-open, all of them filled with the sort of rigid spiritual energy that slows healing and grows permanent scars —discipline ruler— and there are dozens and dozens of them. They’re not even bandaged. Of course they’re not. Properly utilised, the discipline ruler is agonising and crippling and near-deadly, but the spiritual energy protects from infection and blood loss even as it punishes. Bandaging them would be needless and nothing less than torture.
Lan Xichen feels like he’s lost all feeling in his extremities, something between terror and fury shaking his hands. Someone has whipped Lan Wangji. Someone has whipped Lan Wangji with the discipline ruler. And so many times, so harshly, it’s a wonder Lan Wangji’s still alive.
Someone has whipped his little brother.
“Who.” Lan Xichen hisses, barely able to keep still and not rush outside to gather all the elders and wring the truth of who dared to cripple his little brother from them. The discipline ruler cannot be used without the knowledge of the Sect Leader, let alone to punish his little brother for some imagined slight. How dare they— how dare they—
“Go to the healers,” Lan Wangji murmurs, closing his eyes and drawing his robe back with a badly hidden shudder of pain, “Get out.”
Lan Xichen blurts; “Wangji—?”
Healers. Lan Xichen prioritises, and he leaves with near-running steps to fetch the healers. He can talk to Lan Wangji after he’s been plied with enough pain medication —something that’s forbidden to take for wounds from the discipline ruler, but this time the ‘punishment’ is the work of a traitor so it doesn’t count— that he feels comfortable even with those grotesque wounds.
When he comes back with the Head Healer and her assistants, Lan Wangji is still in the same position, with the same distant eyes.
He lets the healers examine him and flit around without so much as looking at them, let alone any fuss. He clearly doesn’t like them touching him, but he doesn’t react. It’s unnerving. Lan Wangji looks like a life-sized doll being moved around.
“Yes,” The Head Healer declares finally, to Lan Xichen, “Definitely the discipline ruler. But I don’t understand… Some of those wounds are almost healed, while some others look brand new. How could Second Young Master have looked so healthy just yesterday, with those wounds? I’ve never seen a case like this, Sect Leader.”
“I understand,” Lan Xichen says, “Will he be alright? What can we do?”
“He’ll likely be scarred for life, but other than slight aches and the occasional discomfort, he shouldn’t be affected too much. I didn't sense anything wrong with his qi flow, though. Is Sect Leader certain that there is a problem with his mind?”
“He thinks he has a son, Laoshi, and that he’s not allowed out of the Jingshi…” Lan Xichen sighs, giving another worried glance at his brother who is looking towards him with a tiny furrow of his brows. “And he said something about Young Master Wei being dead..?”
“Wei Wuxian?” The Head Healer raises her brows, “What does the Yiling Patriarch have to do with anything?”
Lan Xichen shakes his head. “I don’t know. Wangji was friends with him, but…”
“Isn’t the Yiling Patriarch still hiding up in the Burial Mounds with his followers?” The Head Healer hums thoughtfully, “And that he thinks he has a son, and that he’s in forced seclusion… Yes, I see why you thought of qi deviation.”
The only warning they get is a sucked in breath, shocked and shuddering.
Then, all of a sudden, Lan Wangji throws himself out of the bed without any consideration for his crippling wounds and bursts out of the restraining hands of the healer assistants. Lan Xichen is still frozen in shock when Lan Wangji leaps past him, summoning Bichen to his hands and dashing out of the Jingshi.
“Wangji?!” Lan Xichen blurts out then, running after his errant little brother. “Wangji you can’t walk around— what are you doing?! Wangji!”
He hears a murmur of a sound, Lan Wangji’s hoarse whisper to himself— “He’s alive..?”
And then Lan Wangji is rocketing into the night sky on Bichen, wounds already starting to stain the back of his robes pink.
Lan Xichen draws Shuoyue to chase after him, but despite the six year age difference between them, his brother had already been his match when they had been teenagers; let alone now, after years more of cultivation and war. Lan Wangji wobbles and slides on his sword, but still he’s so fast that Lan Xichen can hardly catch him.
He loses sight of him at around the western borders of Gusu.
“Wangji…” Lan Xichen says, breath hitching, “Wangji please be alright…”
There is little he can do here. All he can do is trust that his brother will come back home. Instead, he turns back around for the Cloud Recesses and swears that he will inflict thrice the suffering of his little brother onto whichever traitorous elder was the cause of all of this.
Lan Wangji crashes down when he finds the Burial Mounds clear and the small houses all standing, the fields covered in tiny green saplings, the people in a flurry of loading carts and packing bags. A-Yuan is riding on the shoulders of Wen Ning in coarse brown robes, laughing cheerfully like he hasn’t since that terrible fever overtook him and the rules stifled whatever cheer was left afterwards. Granny walks along with them, tugging at A-Yuan’s robes and smiling whenever the boy inevitably disorders it again.
The night is so oppressively dark here, where the stars don’t shine and the air is heavy with resentful energy— but there are lanterns on every house and path, lit cheerfully, firelight dancing with the chatter of the Wen remnants.
There is not a single trace of the burnt black ruins he found that day.
Lan Wangji doesn’t know what he’s feeling, other than that it crushes onto him like a tall wave; a moment of stillness as it hangs in the air where he doesn’t think of a single thought, then the roaring, overwhelming fall, the rush of its weight as it slams into his body and leaves him battered and with his lips trembling. The endless possibilities burst suddenly back into life, bright and colourful in front of him where there had only been a single bleak grey road to walk for the rest of his life.
His entire body is shaky when he finally remembers to pull his legs under him and hurry past the cautious Wens, the curious fierce corpse, the excited A-Yuan.
He heads up.
He takes the same path he took that day, through the still smoking, bloody ashes. He walks up towards the Demon-Slaughtering Cave where Wei Wuxian died.
There is candlelight streaming out of the opening.
Lan Wangji stumbles in, past the blood pool, past the messy inventions, past Wen Qing—
Wei Wuxian is there.
He’s sitting on the bed, covered in cheap bandages, his hair loose on his back and his robes bunched up around his hips. His eyes are low and dark, looking distant and hazy and just as exhausted as they had been when Lan Wangji had finally gotten him to calm down days after the Nightless City.
Lan Wangji feels like he has been teetering on the edge of a final collapse for so long now, like he’s been cracking slowly into fragile pieces since Jin Zixuan’s death. If Wei Wuxian pushes him away once again, if he doesn’t hear his pleas once again, if he once again refuses to look at him, Lan Wangji doesn’t know what he will do. Such a fragile, badly handled existence; he could shatter so easily.
Wei Wuxian looks at him. Lan Wangji falls to his knees by the bed.
“Wei Ying,” He whispers, his hands trembling as he touches the bed but doesn’t dare touch Wei Wuxian, “Wei Ying.”
“Lan Zhan, ah,” Wei Wuxian says, and his eyes are aware and present even as he draws himself up and reaches for Lan Wangji. “You did it.”
Lan Wangji finds himself enveloped in a loose embrace, his nose pressed onto a bandaged, bloody shoulder that still smells like all Wei Wuxian smelled of after the Nightless City— blood and dust and not a single trace of that beloved spice that Lan Wangji chased after for so long. But Wei Wuxian’s hands rest lightly on his back, and Wei Wuxian’s breath is faint in his ear, and Wei Wuxian says, with the most inaudible thread of levity; “You did it, Lan Zhan. You saved me. You saved us all.”
Lan Wangji starts crying.
“Aiyah, Lan Zhan don’t cry!” Wei Wuxian whispers as Lan Wangji’s hands clench over his thighs, the nearest place where he can hold Wei Wuxian so that he can’t go, and as Lan Wangji sobs into the crook of his neck, shoulders shaking in his hold, Wei Wuxian says; “Thank you. You did it, Lan Zhan. Like I told you, you saved us!”
Lan Wangji can’t say anything, he can only lean as much as he possible into the warmth of the embrace, feeling like Wei Wuxian’s arms around him are the only thing holding the shattered and badly reattached pieces of him together. He feels Wei Wuxian’s one hand rest on the back of his head, his palm big and scarred as he runs his fingers through Lan Wangji’s hair, and when Lan Wangji tucks himself even closer into Wei Wuxian, he can feel his heartbeat under his lips, his every breath on his hair.
Lan Wangji’s heart shakes, but it’s a good shaking. Freeing. Shedding off something truly terrible. His tears pool down on shabby bandages as they drip onto Wei Wuxian, and his wet lashes clump and stick to the warm skin on his neck. He hasn’t cried since that time when he found A-Yuan and nothing and no one else.
It feels good to cry. He had forgotten that.
“Huh,” Comes Wen Qing’s voice from the side, her tone somewhat hesitant and somewhat hard, “He really did come back in time with you, huh? You were telling the truth.”
Wei Wuxian pulls away from around Lan Wangji to straighten up on the bed, and Lan Wangji ends up with his head pillowed on Wei Wuxian’s thigh, trying to get himself back under control. His back is a raw patch of pain, but it has always been so, and Lan Wangji doesn’t pay it any more attention than he does the discomfort under his knees.
“You didn't believe me?” Wei Wuxian asks, lowering his hand to rest on Lan Wangji’s head, and Lan Wangji doesn’t even care about this conversation anymore. If he could stay here like this for the rest of his life, he’d be content.
Nothing teaches a man just how many things he’s taken for granted the way losing them does; like Wei Wuxian’s warmth under the blankets, his voice washing over him as he talks with Wen Qing, his hand moving through Lan Wangji’s hair simply because he wishes to do so, and not even trying to push Lan Wangji away. Lan Wangji knows now how privileged, how lucky, how ungrateful and greedy he had been his entire life, having all of this and still wishing for more, still getting mad and jealous of Wei Wuxian’s attention, still going and forcing a kiss on him while he was blindfolded and confused.
Lan Wangji doesn’t care about those anymore. He will hold all of his greed back, take only what he’s given and be satisfied with it. He could be satisfied with it. He could be more than that, if only Wei Wuxian was to live happily, if only Lan Wangji could receive a fraction of his brightness, Lan Wangji could live the rest of his life content.
Wei Wuxian’s hand pets his hair gently, and Lan Wangji closes his eyes.
Later, much later, Lan Wangji learns that Wei Wuxian has convinced the Wens to leave. By then, Lan Wangji’s tears have dried and his heart calmed down, and his chest feels empty with all that the crushing wave has dragged out of him.
He’s still as he was, knelt on the ground and leaning against Wei Wuxian’s leg, and although he’s so tired that he could fall asleep just like this, he doesn’t think there’s anything else he’d rather be doing but watching Wei Wuxian’s face move as the man explains what he has planned.
Lan Wangji learns that the Wens will leave the Burial Mounds, and change their names. That they will try to find new lives in whichever town or village allows poor strugglers to make a home. That they will likely never see each other again, and that they will without a doubt never see Wei Wuxian again, and that everything, every effort and every sacrifice Wei Wuxian has done for them, will end up with nothing but Wei Wuxian’s reputation besmirched and his future in tatters.
Wei Wuxian plans to destroy this place and make people think he’s gone mad and killed everyone and then himself.
“It’s better that way,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, looking down at something gold and glittering peeking out from under the threadbare blanket. Lan Wangji realizes that it’s a letter from Lanling Jin; the invitation to Jin Ling’s hundredth day celebration that he delivered himself.
Wei Wuxian closes his eyes and pushes the gold corner back under the blanket.
“...better this way.”
“You’re so intent on making us all part ways,” Wen Qing scoffs from where she’s throwing heaps and heaps of papers into the fire, burning Wei Wuxian’s research so that no one can find it and use it for nefarious purposes when they’ve all left. “I could find a way to hide myself and Wen Ning away, become nothing but a common doctor in some isolated village, but what will you do alone? You’re badly injured from this time-travel thing, Wei Wuxian. Will you live on the streets until infection kills you? Is that what you want?”
At that, Lan Wangji’s breath hitches.
One last time, he thinks, just like he’s thought every other time before this. One last time. I’ll ask just one more time.
“Come to Gusu with me,” He asks, looking up into Wei Wuxian’s tired eyes when the man glances at him. “Wei Ying.”
“No one will think I killed myself if I’m a prisoner of the Lan Sect,” Wei Wuxian huffs, turning away from him, and the fright that fills Lan Wangji at that is so large that he straightens up and catches Wei Wuxian’s hands with his own, squeezing tight, not letting go.
Wei Wuxian pauses. “…Lan Zhan?”
“Okay,” Lan Wangji says, and if the fate of dying from infections on the streets is what awaits them, then so be it. He’s not leaving again. He can’t leave again. “Whatever Wei Ying wants is okay. Then, I’ll stay.”
“What? Lan Zhan, you—”
“No, wait.” Wen Qing interrupts, thoughtful, and Wei Wuxian turns to her. “Actually Gusu might be a good idea, if Second Young Master Lan isn’t against hiding a fugitive in his Sect. They might not be able to protect you publicly, but if Sect Leader Lan agrees then it wouldn’t be difficult to hide you in some remote place. Nobody else has to know, do they?” She pauses, looking at Lan Wangji, “How about it, Second Young Master Lan? Can it be done?”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji says, heart in his throat as he watches Wei Wuxian’s brows furrow and relax, watches the churning river of thoughts swirling behind those dark eyes. “Wei Ying?”
“…isn’t lying against your rules, Lan Zhan? You already did enough.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Lan Wangji says, “Whatever you want is okay. It doesn’t matter as long as you live.”
Wei Wuxian sucks in a breath, eyes squeezing tight, and his hands tighten around Lan Wangji’s own as if unconsciously. Lan Wangji doesn’t understand what he’s said that seems to be causing him so much pain, and he wishes he could take it back— but he meant every single word of it, so he couldn’t anyway. Maybe it’s for the best that he doesn’t know what it was.
“Go to Gusu,” Wen Qing says decidedly, “We can take care of ourselves while you heal, and you can’t do that homeless and alone. I think Second Young Master Lan has long since proven his trustworthiness, hasn’t he?”
Wei Wuxian opens his eyes. They look directly into Lan Wangji’s own gaze.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji pleads, already breaking his previous promise to ask just one more time, “…come to Gusu with me.”
And, miraculously, incredibly, impossibly, Wei Wuxian nods and says; “…okay.”
Something bubbles up inside Lan Wangji that he cannot push down, something warm and trembling and fluttery under his ribs. It rushes through his heart, through his entire body, heating him up all the way to his cold fingertips, warmer than any spiritual energy. He did it. He did it. His heart is beating so fast that he feels like he will burst with it.
It doesn’t fade even as Wen Qing shoos him away to rest in one of the beds from the wounds on his back while she finishes bandaging the terrible injuries covering Wei Wuxian’s own body— the ones that Lan Wangji tries not to remember must have come from his dying self, the same way Lan Wangji’s own wounds have merged with his younger body.
The last thing he hears from that cave is Wen Qing’s curious voice; “So how did the Second Young Master of the Lan get caught up in your time travel array anyways..?”
“He’s the one that activated it for me.”
You saved me, Lan Wangji remembers, heart clenching in a bit of pain and bit of lightness. You saved us all.
He did it. He succeeded.
Wei Wuxian is coming to Gusu with him.
The Burial Mounds have exploded in a maelstrom of resentful energy. The news spread far and wide, attracting the attention of every Sect in China, bringing disciples from all around to the town below the Burial Mounds that stands miraculously safe.
“Aiyah, I knew the lad, good kid, always went around with Little Ning and that son of his,” Says an elderly innkeeper when anyone asks, making them all uncomfortable, “Tsk tsk. Such a shame, such a shame, it’s always the good ones that go fast! Why, my own husband when he was twenty-eight years of age—”
“Lady, please, we’ve heard that story five times,” One of the cultivators sitting in the corner of the inn groans into her food, “Just tell them what they want to hear and let them leave!”
“Ah, then, Respected Cultivator,” The elderly innkeeper says shrewdly, “What do you want to hear?”
“Do you have any clues why this happened?” The leader of the disciples in gold asks, “Did the Yiling Patriarch go mad? Did he try an experiment that was too much for him to handle? We found bodies matching the description of his army and that of himself, but they were all too destroyed to glean any hints as to the reason for his demise. Even his own body was all a burnt skeleton, nothing to explain how the explosion happened,” The leader grumbles then, “Plus Yunmeng Jiang took it away so fast… Wasn’t he supposed to have been thrown out of the sect? How can they go around claiming rights to his corpse?”
“Son,” The elderly innkeeper says, patting the hand of the leader of disciples with pity in her eyes, “You talk too much.”
The disciples sputter and bristle at the insult to their leader, but with the rest of the inn-goers laughing loudly, they can’t do anything but glare.
“All I know is what the boy told me before the explosion,” The innkeeper nods to herself, turning away to head to the kitchen, “He said he had some evil amulet that he’d made, that he was going to destroy it. Told me not to be alarmed if there was a minor explosion.”
“Minor explosion,” One of the disciples scoffs, derisive, “And then he and his minions all died off, heh. Got what he was asking for, in my opinion.”
“Shut it, Jin Zibao,” The leader sighs, “We’re in so much trouble if he destroyed the Seal.”
For all their greed and cunning, it’s not like the Jin Sect can steal something that no longer exists. Desperate, they focus all of their attentions on scouring the remains of the Burial Mounds that grows more and more evil with each passing day, until everyone knows that one day soon it will return to the death trap it used to be.
So focused they are on looting, none of the sects notice the couple dozens of inconspicuous farmers and elderly villagers leaving the town in small groups, heading for distant villages.
Just the same, no one notices the reputable Second Young Master of the Lan Sect spiriting away a Wen child and his Xian-gege.
The burnt husk of a corpse that matches the description of the Yiling Patriarch is destroyed on the anonymous request of all the clans, and Yunmeng Jiang takes his ashes away, promising to keep an eye on them.
The Yiling Patriarch himself walks into a small house in the back of a quiet mountain, and squeezes the small hand in his palm to draw strength. It's warmer and cozier than anywhere he has been for the last few months.
He wonders if he can finally rest, here.
A-Yuan's excited giggle at their new home says yes.