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A Glimpse of Past Glory

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“Ugh!”

Lan Jingyi stumbles backwards into Lan Sizhui, who just about manages to catch him before he knocks both of them out.

“Jingyi!” Lan Sizhui calls. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, but this is getting ridiculous,” Lan Jingyi mutters. “How are we supposed to give him a satisfying duel if he comes at us so aggressively? You’re the best swordsman here and you already tried!”

Their shidis throw frantic glances around at Lan Jingyi’s words. Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi glance back to the ghost silently hovering with his sword in hand.

The ghost had not been a cultivator but he’d still trained himself with a sword his whole life. Before he had a chance to become a famed swordsman, he died due to a chicken falling out of a cart and onto his head that led him to slip on mud and break his neck in the fall. His death was so pointless and insignificant that his one last wish was to have one good sword duel before he moved on.

True to the ghost’s words, he was skilled. The condition is that they can’t use their cultivation since the ghost was a non-cultivator and wants a normal sword duel. This was all fine and well until they realized that none of them could win against him, lasting no more than few blows before having their swords and dignity flung out of their hands.

“It’d be easier to just eliminate him,” Lan Jingyi mutters. “Otherwise we’ll be here forever.”

“Jingyi,” Lan Sizhui scolds.

Lan Jingyi is right, of course, but the whole point of elimination is that it’s the absolute last resort. Although it’s not within their own ability to liberate this ghost, there’s…

Lan Sizhui glances at Wei Wuxian, standing idly by while he picks at under his fingernails. When he notices Lan Sizhui’s glance, he smiles.

Most of them are too proud to ask him for help; if it was anything else, they would have no problem asking Wei Wuxian about anything, but they already know what the solution is. It’s just that with their own swordsmanship being put to test…

Lan Sizhui takes a deep breath. He’s nothing if not humble.

“Wei-qianbei,” Lan Sizhui calls. “Won’t you duel him?”

Wei Wuxian raises his eyebrows. “Why should I do that?”

“It’s clear that none of us are good enough to match him.” Lan Sizhui is sweating a little under Wei Wuxian’s piercing gaze, but he persists. “I know that if you weren’t here, we would have to resort to suppressing him, but… It would be cruel of us to do that when we could grant him his dying wish.”

Wei Wuxian hums. He stops leaning against the tree and stretches his arms.

“Well done, Sizhui.” He smiles. “Putting aside your pride and recognizing your own limit is just as important in a night-hunt.”

Lan Sizhui sheepishly smiles back, warmed that Wei Wuxian is indulging him in this. Wei Wuxian stretches his sides and finally his legs before he accepts Lan Sizhui’s sword. He rolls his shoulders as he approaches the ghost, who silently regards him.

The ghost assumes position for a duel and Wei Wuxian does the same. They stare at each other for one, two beats before the ghost strikes first.

Wei Wuxian parries with ease, one of his arms tucked behind his back and meeting every strike with a block as he hops backwards. All of them gape; Wei Wuxian makes dueling with the ghost look so easy with his relaxed stance and his light footwork, but they know firsthand that this is no easy feat.

The air is thick with awe as they hold their breaths and watch the scene before them. None of them have seen Wei Wuxian with a sword before, but they’ve all briefly heard of how Wei Wuxian was good enough to match even Lan Wangji before he delved into demonic cultivation.

Lan Jingyi had wrinkled his nose with disbelief when Jin Ling had told them, who heard from a merchant who’d lived in Yunmeng since before the Wen siege of Lotus Pier, who’d apparently heard from the younger Wei Wuxian himself right after he’d gotten back from Cloud Recesses. It wasn’t that Lan Sizhui doubted it; if anyone could match Lan Wangji in a fight, it would be Wei Wuxian. It was just a little hard to imagine anyone matching Lan Wangji in the first place, was all.

None of them can doubt it now.

“All of you made two mistakes,” Wei Wuxian shouts above the sound of swords clashing.

They all rip their eyes away from Wei Wuxian to look at each other. Two mistakes? Lan Sizhui frowns in thought as he reassesses their solution and watches Wei Wuxian duel the ghost at the same time. The ghost presses on but it doesn’t phase Wei Wuxian as he blocks all blows with equal amounts of skill. Lan Sizhui follows every exchange as he attempts to unravel what Wei Wuxian means and thinks back to the ghost’s original wish.

Wei Wuxian hasn’t made an attempt to attack yet.  

“I get it,” Lan Sizhui replies, and Wei Wuxian glances over while he parries two more strikes in quick succession. “We thought he wanted a satisfying duel, but his real wish was to show off his skills that he worked so hard for.”

Wei Wuxian smiles. “And the other?”

“Uh…”

Wei Wuxian clicks his tongue and dodges another swing by stepping aside. “He died by a chicken falling on his head,” he reminds them. “For a normal person that would’ve been embarrassing enough, so how humiliating must it have been for someone who considered himself to be a great swordsman?”

Very humiliating,” Lan Jingyi mutters.

“He probably wanted to die gloriously in battle one day,” Wei Wuxian agrees, “and only by someone else he deems better than himself.”

Wei Wuxian ducks before he sidesteps the ghost, the sound of sword grinding together ringing in the air as he instantaneously flips the roles between them. He makes sudden advances with incredible agility, and the Gusu Lan disciples’ blood boil with excitement as they watch.

Wei Wuxian made the solution sound so easy, but only because he has the skill to carry out the solution himself. None of them here could’ve achieved what he’s doing now, his swiftness full of sharpness as he attacks and gives the ghost no chance to do anything else but block him. Lan Sizhui had thought he had the basic grasp on some of the Yunmeng Jiang sect’s sword techniques, but it pales in comparison to how Wei Wuxian utilizes it now.

With a final flurry of movement, Wei Wuxian disengages the sword out of the ghost’s hand and stabs through where his heart would be. The ghost sucks in a breath as if he can still breathe, and closes his eyes in defeat. They all feel the ghost dissipate and leave the plane of existence, liberated.

In the silence that follows it, Wei Wuxian’s harsh breath is the only sound that exists in the summer night air. He wipes sweat off the side of his face with the back of his hand as he walks back to them.

“Of course, there’s no such thing as glory in death.” Wei Wuxian hands the sword back to Lan Sizhui, who remembers to snap his mouth shut as he accepts it. “Once you’re dead, you’re dead.”

All of them are lost for words, too stunned by what they just witnessed.

Someone lets out a shout that they’ve been holding, and it breaks the collective silencing spell that fell on them. The cacophony that follows is just as overwhelming, all of them circling around Wei Wuxian and chattering and asking him questions as quickly as Wei Wuxian’s sword.

Finally, Lan Jingyi’s voice projects over all of them, asking the one big question on their combined minds.

“Why did you ever stop using your sword?” he questions. “Demonic cultivation might be useful and convenient, but—but you’re so good! You’re obviously skilled with the sword! Not cultivating with it is such a waste!”

Wei Wuxian raises his eyebrows. He opens his mouth, and everyone quietens to hear his response better. What was the real reason for Wei Wuxian to abandon the way of the sword and start the era of Yiling Laozu’s demonic cultivation when he was already so powerful?

“I,” Wei Wuxian answers, “hate sweating.”


“That Jingyi,” Wei Wuxian later grumbles in Lan Wangji’s lap. “I really didn’t think he’d ask so directly.”

The sound of night bugs chorusing carries through the open window and settles in the lowly lit Jingshi. Lan Wangji continues to massage Wei Wuxian’s arm up and down. “You didn’t have to duel.”

Truthfully, Wei Wuxian could’ve dismissed the ghost with a wave of his hands if he really didn’t want to use the sword. Though the ghost’s lasting resentment was strong enough for him to withstand the presence of Yiling Laozu—he really must’ve hated dying by that chicken—dispelling the ghost would've been easier than squishing an ant for Wei Wuxian.

“How could I say no to Sizhui looking at me with such big sparkly eyes, Lan Zhan?” pouts Yiling Laozu. “Asking me so earnestly, too. He looked like he was going to cry if I said no.”

Lan Sizhui wouldn’t have, but Lan Wangji doesn’t refute his cultivation partner as he concentrates on working out the strains from Wei Wuxian’s arm.

It’s one thing for Wei Wuxian to momentarily use Suibian to cut up a watermelon or use Lan Sizhui's sword to carve himself a bamboo dizi, but it’s another to engage in a deliberately prolonged exchange of blows while wielding a cultivator’s sword—heavy even for cultivators with low cultivation, let alone for Wei Wuxian who’s yet to form a golden core.

But this was the choice that Wei Wuxian made, so Lan Wangji does what he can do now to help ease the consequences. In this case, muscle aches.

“Well, it’s not like I don’t understand their eagerness,” Wei Wuxian continues. “After all, it isn’t as if they had a lot of chances to observe a real sword duel that wasn’t carried out within training grounds. The ghost wasn’t so bad, but the children still need more training if they can’t even manoeuvre around someone of that skill.”

“You’re right.”

Wei Wuxian grins as he leans back and scratches under Lan Wangji’s chin. “Still, it was a nice chance to work up a sweat. Lan Zhan, I was thinking that my goal is to form my golden core before the end of this year. Then we can duel again and give the kids something really exciting to see. How does that sound?”

Lan Wangji squeezes Wei Wuxian tighter in his arm. “That sounds good.”

Wei Wuxian laughs. He lays kisses along Lan Wangji’s jaw and up to his flushed earlobes, and shifts in his place on top of Lan Wangji’s laps.

“So, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian croons softly as he hooks his arms above and behind Lan Wangji’s neck, “hurry up and help me cultivate one already.”

Lan Wangji complies, accompanied by Wei Wuxian’s breathless laughter.