Everyone has the soulmarks. They write their names across your skin the moment you meet. Unfortunately, they don't indicate whether their name is for love or hate. You never know until one dies, enemies barely pinch when they fade to gray, love freezes as they depart.
Meng Yao had known the moment he met Lan Xichen that his mark would freeze like his mother's if it faded. He cherished the itch of his name as scratched into his skin.
He thought little of it when Wen Quonglin's name had itched into his skin. The winds of war were blowing, surely any Wen would be his enemy, even if he seemed unsuited to the harsher emotions.
When he became Jin Guangyao, he felt his father's name write itself on his skin. Of course his father would love him soon. He just had to prove himself worthy. Of course.
Jin tower left his skin nearly black with names, fortunately they couldn't pass his collar or wrists, else he'd have no clear skin left. At this point, he'd come to almost enjoy the pinch of his enemies' deaths. Xue Yang was the only one he'd ever seen with more names. It was improper to show them, but Xue Yang always enjoyed taunting his victims. He definitely enjoyed the pinches, there were rumors in the brothels of his antics in bed and out.
After the Phoenix Mountain hunt, he was hurrying toward his terrible cousin, Jin Zixun, as he harassed yet another guest when his breath caught at the sudden cold on his skin.
He caught Lan Xichen's eye, who was rubbing his chest, pained. It's fortunate he had helped him improve his alcohol tolerance, he thought as Xichen downed the wine. He shouldn't have to pander to Jin Zixun, but maybe the burn of the wine would ease the chill. Lans had terrible alcohol tolerance.
Wei Wuxian interrupted before he had to interfere on Lan Wangji's behalf. His wild dramatics distracted everyone and gave him and Lan Xichen a good idea of their missing soulmate. They remained silent in their grief, comforting each other only when in private that night.
Jin Guangyao kept his silence on the matter of Wei Wuxian as an offering to his lost soulmate. Without his urging, the cultivator clans were in disagreement on the subject, hints and rumors flying over the inhumane conditions at Quongqi path. He had to push very little to keep the arguments at a stalemate. It would take as little to push them the other way.
One day, some weeks later, his knees almost gave out when the mark burns again with a bitter, unnatural cold. In Gusu, Lan Xichen clenched his fists in grief and anger. Could Wei Wuxian not corrupt their lost love with his demonic sorcery? Let their lost one rest in peace and not do his dark bidding? The rumors soon began to turn in force against Wei Wuxian.
The ambush at Quongqi path failed to free him, almost fatally wounding his brother. Jin Zixuan survived but was bedridden for weeks, saved by a cracked bell.
The surrender of Wen Qing and her corpse brother was demanded by the Jin in return. When they arrived, Wen Quonglin was immobilized with talismans and hidden by Jin Guangyao. His sister was given mercy before she was burned and her remains set aside. His fireplace was emptied for the show of spreading their ashes.
"Young Master Jin? Why am I here?" Wen Quonglin asked hesitantly in his chains when the talismans were removed.
Jin Guangyao was surprised, "You know me? Are you yourself again, how?" A hand behind his back had Xue Yang pause, pouting.
Wen Ning ducked his head, showing more shyness with his actions than his face could now express, "You, Master Wei, my family, and Lan Xichen are the only names that came back when Master Wei woke me back up. All the rest stayed gray. My sister's gone now too, isn't she? I can only feel a few names left." He sounded as though he would weep if he could.
Jin Guangyao silently held up his sister's urn and a small tablet with both their names on it to his chained hands. Wen Ning traced his sister's name with stiff fingers.
"As touching as this is, I'd like to get these nails in and get back to work. Places to go, people to kill." Xue Yang held up two long iron nails and a mallet with his usual sadistic grin.
"Nails? What for, Young Master Jin?" Wen Ning asked with absent curiosity, looking at Jin Guangyao.
Xue Yang answered before he could, "Control, of course. They should suppress your mind again, make it easier to study you."
"Oh. When I saw you, I hoped..." Wen Ning closed his eyes and went silent, slumping in defeat. Jin Guangyao made no outward reaction.
That night, a Jin butterfly left for Cloud Recesses. The next morning, a dungeon wall was found to have broken outward, nothing but shattered chains left within. Jin Guangyao set a bounty on Yao in the nearby area, claiming one had escaped from where they had been studying new suppression methods after the death of the Yiling patriarch in the destruction of the Tiger Seal.
Xue Yang pouted for weeks at the loss of his potential pet corpse, until Jin Guangyao distracted him with live test subjects.
Meanwhile, in Cloud Recesses, Lan Xichen built a small house just beyond the wards in secret. It was a well built, if simple, cabin, inaccessible except by climbing a sheer cliff or approaching by air. Small cushions made spots of color against the polished wood, misty blue, gold with white, and a few of the flame patterned red that hadn't been seen since Sunshot ended. Wards for hiding hooked into the clan wards, with a certain flavor of sunlit gold to the cool clouds. The Lan had to travel further away for night hunting as the supernatural threats in their area dropped to almost nothing. The common people praised the noble Lan of Gusu for their diligence.
Jin Guangshan died a quick and shameful death. It was said his appetite overwhelmed his constitution and his heart gave out. Jin Zixuan became Sect Leader, elevating his brother to his most trusted advisor. Jin Guangyao walked more in the light under his brother's shielding hand, a sinister knife only when necessary instead of by habit. A few months of listening to Sect Leaders Yao and Ouyang made him pleased to stand at his brother's side, a voice they couldn't dismiss.
He was relieved when Xue Yang wandered off one day, informing the other sects that he had escaped captivity. Nie Mingjue offered a high bounty for Xue Yang's head, a lesser one for his still living body. Nie Mingjue's rages continued, his slow decline to qi deviation progressed without Jin Guangyao. He'd had idle thoughts of hastening it with the song of turmoil, but had killed his father before he needed to. Let him fall on his own, Xichen had enough worries already.
Once a month, Jin Guangyao met with Lan Xichen in the hidden house, where they would share tea and conversation served by corpse cold hands. Sometimes they would spend nights held gently in those dark veined arms.
Until one day, many years later, Wen Ning felt a frozen name burn on his skin and felt his soul tugged by the sound of a flute. He rushed away, fine cloth snagging in the branches as he passed.
Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli startled and met each other's eyes when the ice flared on their skin.
"What? Mother, Uncle, what's happening?" Jin Ling demanded imperiously.
Jiang Cheng huffed and looked away, purple lightning flickering over his wrist, staring at the golden tapestries of his sister's room.
Jiang Yanli smiled tearfully, "I think we'll be meeting another of your uncles soon."
Jin Ling rolled his eyes, "Another one? I have enough already."