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Chronicle (Part 1)

It had been years since anyone had dared invoke the name of the Yiling Patriarch in a discussion conference. He belonged in the stories mothers told their children to scare them into obedience. He was a fixture of tales told by cultivators to embellish on their night hunts. He was not welcome in the grand hall of Jinlintai, currently crammed with anxious sect leaders and their most promising disciples to talk about war.

Lan Qiren shook with rage at Jin Guangshan for daring to subject them to this. “Jin-zongzhu is not wrong. We are losing,” intervened Lan Xichen before his uncle could launch into invectives.

If they were overcome by this wave of Wen expansion, they would lose the battle for their survival. Their collective victory in the War of the Sects centuries ago would become inconsequential. All their emblems would be swallowed up by the sun.

“That demonic cultivator is everything we stand against,” Lan Qiren protested. “If we turn to him for help, we might as well have lost.”

“I’ll thank you not to speak on my sect’s behalf, Lan-zongzhu,” said Nie Mingjue. “I will not have any Nie sect disciple suffer at the hands of the Wen, especially not out of some petty indignation about the Yiling Patriarch.”

At his side, the usually meek Nie Huaisang spoke. “Does anyone even know how to summon him?”

Jin Guangshan cleared his throat. “A disciple of my sect has come into possession of some of Wei Wuxian’s notes. There is a ritual that could summon his soul into the caster’s body.”

“Countless people have tried summoning Wei Wuxian for centuries,” Sect Leader Yao pointed out. “Why would this work simply because Wei Wuxian designed this array? We should talk sensible strategy, not fanciful experiments.”

“It will work.” Jiang Wanyin’s voice struck sharp and clear across the hall like a crack of thunder. It was the first time he had spoken since the Yiling Patriarch had been brought up.

They had all been carefully averting their gazes from the Jiang sect all day. Not a month ago, the Wen sect had burned down Lotus Pier, killing an untold number of disciples as well as Jiang Wanyin’s parents. They had not thought Jiang Wanyin would attend after such a heavy blow; had seriously considered that this was the end of Yunmeng Jiang.

But since Jiang Wanyin was here, he could speak with more authority than most on the topic of the Yiling Patriarch. After all, when he had been alive, Wei Wuxian had been a Jiang sect disciple.

“I know the array you are speaking of, Jin-zongzhu. You are not being forthcoming,” said Jiang Wanyin. “That ritual will work because it ties the summoned spirit to the caster’s body permanently. The caster’s life will be forfeit.”

Gasps rippled across the hall.

Jiang Wanyin cast a flinty gaze at Jin Guangshan. “Do you still think this is a good idea?”

Jin Guangshan sat up straighter. Jiang Wanyin had been been a sect leader for several weeks at most. How dare this whelp use that tone with him. “I already have a disciple who volunteers.”

A boy wearing the robes of a Jin junior disciple stepped forward. The murmurs around the room turned to unabashed cries of outrage.

“A child!” Nie Mingjue roared.

“Your child?” Nie Huaisang guessed.

Jin Guangshan jumped to his feet, jabbed a shaking finger at Nie Huaisang who ducked behind Nie Mingjue. “How dare you!” he said, though everyone noted he did not deny the accusation. Behind him, Jin Zixuan closed his eyes, as if to contain himself.

“What is your name?” Lan Xichen asked the volunteer.

The boy looked between Lan Xichen and Jin Guangshan and began to shake.

“You can speak, A-Yu,” said Jin Zixuan.

“M-my name is Mo Xuanyu,” said the boy. “I am willing.”

“What have you been offered in return?” asked Lan Xichen.

Mo Xuanyu turned red. “My mother —“

“That’s enough,” said Jin Guangshan. “I don’t see any of you offering a solution to the Wen problem up on a plate. I provide one ready to be deployed and you insult me.”

“Then you won’t take offence if I insult you further,” said Jiang Wanyin. “Anything of Wei Wuxian’s is property of my sect. How did you get your hands on these papers?”

“I do not question my disciples when they bring me solutions. I only ask that they work,” said Jin Guangshan coldly. “Well? Do any of you have a better idea?”

Lan Qiren shook his head. “To think we would be reduced to this.”

“Do not act the moral pillar, Lan-xiansheng,” Jiang Wanyin said. “I warned you the Wen sect was overstepping when we found that waterborne abyss in Caiyi town. I told you what they did to the Yueyang sects. Yet, you chose to do nothing.”

“Jiang Wanyin, you will watch your tongue,” said Lan Xichen.

“Just as you all watched yours when Lotus Pier burned?” Jiang Wanyin snarled. “I would offer myself to spare that poor boy but I am all that is left of my family’s legacy now that you have sat on your hands and let the Wen take what isn’t theirs. Only when your homes and your family have all turned to ash, only then will you have the right to ask me to hold my tongue!” Jiang Wanyin’s face was incandescent with rage. The ring on his finger crackled with a violent purple energy. It was the last thing his mother had given him before she had pushed him onto the boat, told him to run and live.

“So are you agreeing with my proposal or not? While we argue amongst ourselves, the Wen approach,” said Jin Guangshan.

Jiang Wanyin stood up and gave the deepest of bows to Mo Xuanyu. Mo Xuanyu skittered backwards in dismay. “I am very sorry, Mo-gongzi. I place my hopes in you.”

The entire Jiang sect cluster rose behind him and bowed as well. Then Nie Mingjue and the Nie sect followed suit, as did the Lan sect and all the smaller sects that had gathered there. Only the Jin sect remained in their seats. The Jin sect disciples shot anxious looks at Jin Guangshan, who put out his jaw. Mo Xuanyu was beneath him and he refused to bow.

Eventually, it was Jin Zixuan who went round the table and put his arms around Mo Xuanyu. “I am so sorry, A-Yu,” he said. His voice was wet. Mo Xuanyu blinked and hid his face in Jin Zixuan’s shoulder.

+

Since Mo Xuanyu had volunteered his life, it did not seem polite to ask him to draw the array himself. Unable to sit aside doing nothing, Lan Wangji ignored Lan Qiren’s protests and offered to do it.

A small hall was chosen. Mo Xuanyu talked Lan Wangji through Wei Wuxian’s notes, which he had studied thoroughly over the last few months.

He would have made an excellent scholar, thought Lan Wangji. Any life that had to be forfeit was a tragedy but to give up such a bright young boy…

“He came to us too late for us to train his golden core and as far as sharp minds go, A-Yao is smarter,” Jin Zixuan admittedly reluctantly. Mo Xuanyu was expendable.

Jin Zixuan’s grief surprised many of them but Lan Wangji understood that it was not all to do with the love he bore his half-brother. Some of it had to do with the betrayal of the person he’d thought his father was. Jin Zixuan had always known Jin Guangshan was not the most honourable of men but to ask his son to die for this...

“Xuan-ge,” said Mo Xuanyu.

“Perhaps we can give Mo-gongzi one last good meal,” said Lan Xichen, escorting both Mo Xuanyu and Jin Zixuan out of the hall, leaving Lan Wangji alone to finish the array.

He had to stifle a shudder whenever he dipped his fingers into the bowl of blood Mo Xuanyu had provided. The way his back seized and the hairs on the back of his arms stood; everything told him this was a terrible idea. That they should back down. But the sect leaders had agreed. What could Lan Wangji say against them?

He finished the array and wiped his fingers on a handkerchief.

“What in the world? Are they trying to kill the boy?” said a voice over his shoulder.

Lan Wangji snapped around, his hand on his sword.

There was no one behind him; the hall empty but for him.

A gust of hot wind blew in, ruffling Wei Wuxian’s notes. Lan Wangji caught a laugh in the wind. He would suspect a resentful spirit if he’d not been certain Jinlintai was warded against them. “So lucky I was nearby,” he heard the voice say.

He told all this to a frowning Lan Xichen.

Lan Wangji was the last person to be given over the flights of fancy. It all suggested that someone was watching them, but it was impossible to tell how significant that was. “Did you sense any malicious intent, Wangji?” asked Lan Xichen. Lan Wangji shook his head. “Then I think it’s safe. As safe as can be hoped.”

Displeasure was written in every line of Lan Wangji’s body. “Jiang Wanyin was right. We did not move when we should have.”

Lan Xichen’s chin dropped; an admission of guilt. Now they must act like desperate men because they were.

+

An uneasy hush fell over the hall as Mo Xuanyu stepped into the array.

Off to the side was a woman who, despite efforts to contain herself, was sobbing into Jin Zixuan’s fine robes. She wanted to see what was happening and at the same time seemed unable to bear it. Her shoulders shook.

“It’s okay, mother. Xuan-xiong has promised.” Mo Xuanyu swallowed, eyes bright and glossy. “I’ve always promised you I would make sure you are taken care of. No one will look down on you again.” With all the courage he possessed, he took a deep breath and activated the array.

The doors of the hall were forced open by a gale, shocking the cultivators into battle stances, their swords unsheathed. The wind circled Mo Xuanyu. Wei Wuxian’s notes rose from the corner Lan Wangji had left it in and were sucked into the small tornado gathering around Mo Xuanyu.

“Wei Wuxian,” Mo Xuanyu cried, “I offer my body!”

Abruptly, the wind died. The shutters of the window slammed shut, plunging the hall in darkness. Someone threw up a lighting talisman. More and more went up until it looked like there was a blanket of stars.

“Did it work?” one person whispered.

A muffled thump of a body falling to the floor. A cry. “A-Yu!”

Mo Xuanyu’s mother broke free of Jin Zixuan and stepped into the array, gathering her unconscious child to her bosom. The men yelled at her to get out of there, lest there be some confusion and Wei Wuxian took her instead. One cultivator took her elbow but she threw him off. Another cultivator got a kick to his shin for his troubles.

Amidst the chaos, they all nearly missed it: the ringing sound of laughter above them.

Someone opened a window. The lighting talismans were extinguished. A golden rectangle of light was painted into the hall. Up in the rafter was a man with robes as dark as midnight. With long fingers, he twirled a bamboo flute. The dizi exuded so much resentful energy it looked to be made out of it.

The young man leaned forward, elbow on a propped up knee. “You are all respectable cultivators,” he said in a lilting tone even as the veritable army below him pointed their swords at him. “Was this really the best way you could think of to get my attention?”

 


Chronicle (Part 2)

Uncertainty spread quickly around the hall. “Isn’t the Patriarch supposed to inhabit Mo Xuanyu’s body? Why does he have his own?”

The young man leapt down, landing with the grace of a deer. The men closest to him shrunk back, holding out their swords before them like protection amulets. He made his way to the middle of the hall to Mo Xuanyu. “Step away from him, Mo-furen.” His voice had a disused quality, like a flute filled with dust.

Mo Xuanyu’s mother clutched her son closer to her.

The young man stepped into the array, breaking the blood circle as he did so. He knelt down so he was eye-level with Mo Xuanyu’s mother. “Mo-furen, a contract has been made. He is no longer yours.” He grabbed Mo Xuanyu’s wrist and with a sharp tug, Mo Xuanyu tumbled out of his mother’s arms into Wei Wuxian’s.

“No!”

The men around her held Mo Xuanyu’s mother back before she could do anything stupid like attack the Yiling Patriarch. They dragged her struggling out of the hall. They ignored the names she called them, the curses she swore against them and Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian watched her go, rocking Mo Xuanyu in his arms as if he were a toy. “Are you all stupid? Why did you even let her in here to watch her son die?”

No one quite knew how to proceed. They had expected Wei Wuxian to be wearing Mo Xuanyu’s body. Mo Xuanyu was physically weak. It would have been nothing to overpower him. But such considerations were no longer relevant. They could not tie up Wei Wuxian’s hands, not when his arms were full with Mo Xuanyu.

A Jin sect disciple aimed a body-locking talisman at him. Wei Wuxian slapped it away like an annoying fly. “Is this really how you want to open our conversation?” said Wei Wuxian, sounding exasperated.

Lan Wangji came forward, joined his hands and saluted Wei Wuxian. “Yiling Patriarch. We have called you to aid us against a sect that threatens our homes.”

Wei Wuxian shifted Mo Xuanyu so that his left arm was under the boy’s elbows and stood up from where he had been sitting in the blood array. He approached Lan Wangji. The cultivators on either side of Lan Wangji backed away.

“Which sect are you referring to?” asked Wei Wuxian.

“The Qishan Wen,” said Nie Mingjue. “Their sect leader is Wen Ruohan. He has sent his sons and generals to wipe out sects and claim their territory. They now want our allegiance in return for our lives.”

“Surely your lives are more valuable than your sect,” said Wei Wuxian. “I started a sect once. It didn’t take. I’m still fine.” He walked in a circle around the array. With every turn, the circle got wider. With every step, they backed away from him as if afraid his touch would curse them. In this way, Wei Wuxian backed them all against the walls while he carved out a larger and larger space for himself in the middle. As he strolled, Mo Xuanyu’s arms dangled like a doll’s.

Jin Zixuan glared at him. “Can you treat him with more respect?”

Wei Wuxian stopped in front of him. He gave Jin Zixuan a slow once over. “I think I knew one of your ancestors. You have the same nose.”

“You are here because of us. You cannot deny us now,” said Jin Guangshan.

Wei Wuxian’s gaze slid from Jin Zixuan to Jin Guangshao, as smooth and unpleasant as an oil slick. “Oh, can’t I?”

“Please,” said Lan Xichen. “The Wen have already attacked Lotus Pier. We need your help.”

“Where are the Yunmeng Jiang?” said Wei Wuxian.

“Here,” Jiang Wanyin said.

Wei Wuxian came over to him and slung an arm over his shoulder. Mo Xuanyu’s head lolled forward. His forehead dropped onto Jiang Wanyin’s chest. From afar they looked like brothers supporting a nephew who’d passed out. Here, the sheer rudeness of Wei Wuxian’s touch raised hackles.

The Jiang sect disciples raised their swords. Jiang Wanyin held up his hand. He was holding himself so stiffly his back muscles ached. He would bear this if it meant Wei Wuxian would help.

“If you still have any loyalty left to the sect that raised you, you will help me get my revenge,” said Jiang Wanyin.

Wei Wuxian’s smile was not pleasant.

+

They agreed to take the fight to Wen Ruohan in Nightless City. Wen Ruohan would never leave his stronghold and the war would not end unless the threat of Wen Ruohan was dead.

What they could not agree on was where to launch the first attack.

Each sect wanted the supervisory offices the Wen had installed in their territories to be dealt with first, but they did not have sufficient forces to take out all of them at once. Not to mention to divvy up their forces like that so early on was the height of lunacy.

No matter how much Lan Xichen tried to play peacemaker, each sect leader besides Jiang Wanyin was convinced their home was the next the Wen were going to burn.

They turned to Wei Wuxian. With his demonic cultivation, he could raise an army of the dead. With such an army, surely they could return to their initial plan of attacking the supervisory offices all at once.

Wei Wuxian nodded. “You want me to raise the dead in your territory to take down the nearest supervisory offices?” The sect leaders blanched. No, not of their territory. The locals would riot. They would not be able to face their ancestors if they allowed Wei Wuxian to turn out their cemeteries. Wei Wuxian stared at them. “Then where do you suggest I get my dead? It’s not like I can transport them over long distances. They will fall apart.” Wei Wuxian frowned. “Did you really think this through before you summoned me?”

They took out the offices in Lanling first, for sheer proximity; all the while feeling like Wei Wuxian was laughing at them.

+

Nie Mingjue’s group was heading towards Yunmeng to take down the supervisory office there when Wei Wuxian approached Jiang Wanyin and said, “The ones you are looking for are close by.”

“How do you know?” asked Jiang Wanyin. He had asked Wei Wuxian to be kept with him at all times during the campaign. The speculation was that Jiang Wanyin felt some degree of responsibility over Wei Wuxian because he’d once been a Yunment Jiang sect disciple. Beyond that…well, there were few individuals more well-equipped to exact revenge on your behalf than the Yiling Patriarch.

Wei Wuxian pointed forward at the sky. “Traces of resentful energy. It hangs over their trail like a stench. It stinks now.”

The Jiang sect disciples around him stumbled in their footsteps. “You can track resentful energy?”

Wei Wuxian laughed. “Why are you so surprised? You think I can use resentful energy but don’t know how to track it? How funny you are!”

Following Wei Wuxian’s bloodhound senses, they found Wen Chao and Wen Zhuliu hiding in the basement of a courier station.

Nie Mingjue let out a noise of triumph. Wen Ruohan’s remaining son and his best general. Nie Mingjue could not have asked for finer bargaining chips. He gave his men the order to tie them up and padlock their rooms for good measure. Before they could act on his commands, however, his body froze up. From the corner of his eyes, he could see his men blink in surprise as well upon realising their bodies were not responding.

Wei Wuxian came forth from behind him, lowering his dizi. “Sorry, these are mine.”

Nie Mingjue and his men watched in cold horror as Wei Wuxian cut open Wen Chao’s throat and dug his hands into Wen Zhuliu’s chest to scoop out his golden core. “I heard this is what you do,” Wei Wuxian crooned as the infamously unflappable Wen Zhuliu became pale with fear. “You melt a cultivator’s golden core and you destroy their future.”

On the other side of the room, drowning in his own blood, Wen Chao gurgled, “Wen Zhuliu, help. Wen Zhuliu, save me.”

“Hm,” said Wei Wuxian and destroyed the golden core. It flared, casting cold shadows over the grim satisfaction on Jiang Wanyin’s face, and died. “I wonder if it’s greater mercy now to kill you or to bring a healer.”

That night, Wen Zhuliu succumbed to his injuries and the other cultivators to their nightmares. In them, they saw Wei Wuxian wrenching out their golden core and eating it whole.

+

“If we win against the Wen, what do we do with him?” was a common question in the following days. Many had taken to putting up protection talismans around the tent. They flinched whenever they saw midnight black robes from the corners of their eyes.

Their tempers were worn thin with anxiety over the inevitable fight with the Wen and their inability to predict what Wei Wuxian would do next. It felt like they were fighting enemies on both sides.

The one day, on their way to Xiongliu Ridge where a scout reported a Wen encampment, Jin Zixuan went into Wei Wuxian’s tent and carried out Mo Xuanyu’s body.

“What are you doing?” said Wei Wuxian.

“He is my brother,” said Jin Zixuan coldly. “Since you are not using his body, I am going to take care of it and give it a proper burial.”

“No, I need him.”

It had only been a theory. That Wei Wuxian was in truth inhabiting Mo Xuanyu’s body but was using what little spiritual power Mo Xuanyu had to project himself as he had been when he’d been alive. It was a waste of spiritual power but no one wanted to confront Wei Wuxian over it. No one knew how to frame such a question without implying Wei Wuxian suffered from severe vanity.

Jin Zixuan unsheathed his sword and held its tip against Mo Xuanyu’s side. “Is it true then?”

“Don’t!” said Wei Wuxian, but Jin Zixuan had already nicked Mo Xuanyu’s side, just below his ribs. Wei Wuxian clutched his own side, wincing. When his hand came away, it was red.

“I will be taking custody of my brother’s body,” said Jin Zixuan. “When we reach Xiongliu Ridge, you will march out to fight with us.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking.”

“My little brother gave up his life so we could win this war with your help. So far you have done nothing but kill our hostages and scare our men. I will not let you waste his sacrifice.” He scooped up Mo Xuanyu in his arms and marched back into his own tent.

And they all breathed a sigh of relief.

Finally. They had found a way to restrain Wei Wuxian.

+

They caught wind of a couple of Wen sect scouts and sent a group of fast riders after them. By the time the larger group caught up, it was a ruin of a village; bodies strewn everywhere and the baking heat of the sun making the stench unbearable. It turned out that the Wen scouts had fled into the village and the locals had refused to give the scouts up to the cultivators who were so obviously going to run them through with their swords.

“So you stormed the village?” said a horrified Lan Xichen.

Opinion became divided in the camp over whether the group of fast riders should be punished. On the one hand, they had slaughtered civilians. On the other hand, those civilians were Wen sect sympathisers and there were many who did not care for those.

“They might not have swords, but they fight the same battle if they choose a side,” argued a Jiang sect lieutenant, who had dispatched the group in the first place. “Isn’t that right, Jiang-zongzhu?”

Jiang Wanyin frowned but kept his opinion to himself. The Jiang sect disciples exchanged looks. Not two months ago, they had heard their sect leader vow the death of every Wen. Why would he choose now of all times to keep silent?

“This is regrettable, but in war people who stand in the way will get hurt,” said Nie Mingjue gruffly. “The group will not be punished. I will have my disciples give the villagers a proper burial.”

“Mingjue,” protested Lan Xichen.

Nie Mingjue shook his head. “There are four of us here and both Jin Zixuan and Jiang-zongzhu have abstained from giving their vote. We are at an impasse. Better to let this go.”

Lan Xichen relented but insisted that disciples from every sect help out with the burial.

Once they’d dug up the graves, they returned to collect the bodies only to discover that someone had cleared them up. Curious, they ordered a search of the entire village but did not have to search for long as there by the communal well, the villagers were all standing next to one another; their eyes the milky white of a fierce corpse.

The cultivators drew their swords, ready to receive an attack. The newly made fierce corpses stood silent, facing them with their blank stares. A few swords lowered in dismay when they saw a hunched grandfather amongst them. By his feet, a child who barely reached his hip. The murdered Qishan Wen scouts stood with them but their eyes skipped over them in favour of the woman that stood to their left. Her stomach was rounded.

Wei Wuxian came out from behind the line of fierce corpses, dusting off his hands like he’d finished a hard day’s work. “Since you were going to bury them, I thought I’d do you the favour of lining them up. Have you chosen a spot? I can walk them there for you.”

The cultivators did their best not to count the dead.

“We’ve prepared the land next to their ancestral hall,” said Lan Xichen weakly. He could guarantee none of them had ever beheld such a display.

Whenever they encountered fierce corpses during their night hunts, the corpses acted individually, moving with such clumsiness as if any beauty of movement life had taught them had been severed by their death. These fierce corpses were downright disturbing in their stillness.

Wei Wuxian nodded. “Oh, before we go there, there’s something I’d like to do. I find that it really helps with preventing souls from turning into resentful spirits.” Before any of them could ask what it was, Wei Wuxian pursed his lips and whistled.

The jaws of the newly dead dropped in unison and out of their gaping maws came the screams. Injected with all their rage, their shock, their frustration at their lives suddenly cut short. They screamed and screamed and screamed, and as the last scream died into a whimper, Wei Wuxian whistled again and marched the corpses to their final resting place, barely sparing a glance at the gathered cultivators who were unable to move, their knees quaking, the hairs of the back of their arms stood on end.

+

The clash at Xiongliu Ridge was brutal, as predicted. By the looks of it, the Wen cultivators had been waiting for more of their numbers to arrive before setting off for Gusu. If that made the Gusu Lan cultivators more lethal than they usually were, no one commented on it. Still, the Wen outnumbered them and their battle line was being pushed back.

Jin Zixuan flew up, from the dip of land where the battle was thickest, to the hill crest where Wei Wuxian was perched and levelled his sword at him. “Did you forget our agreement?”

Even this high up, he could hear the cries of men being slaughtered and the iron stench of deep red blood rolled his stomach.

Wei Wuxian was frowning. Not the frown of one horrified by the battle but one of a sour memory. He twirled his black dizi between his fingers. “There aren’t enough dead yet.”

Jin Zixuan stared at him, stunned. How many was enough? He pressed the blade closer to Wei Wuxian’s throat. “Are you toying with me?”

Wei Wuxian sighed. “You are young.”

Abruptly, Jin Zixuan remembered that Wei Wuxian was a ghost story. That no one has been able to agree on when he had lived because no two documents could agree. Even the spirits who had mentioned him could not. Jin Zixuan gritted his teeth and held his nerve. He had faced a demi-xuanwu that was four centuries old in Dusk Creek Mountain. Wei Wuxian was nothing compared to that creature.

One of Jin Zixuan’s lieutenants scrambled up the slope towards them, bleeding from the temple from where an arrow had grazed him after he’d tried reaching them by riding his sword. “Jin-gongzi, we need to pull back,” he gasped. “Our center has fallen. Hanguang-jun has gone to the front to help out but our reserves are getting tired too.”

Wei Wuxian snorted. “Alright.” He climbed down to a ledge that had a better viewpoint of the battle in the valley.

A few Wen cultivators saw him and shot arrows guided by and imbued with spiritual power. Wei Wuxian ducked and caught one of the arrows in his hand. The arrowhead was stained with blood, having been pulled out of a recent corpse.

Using the arrowhead like a brush, he drew a talisman and threw it over the valley. The talisman paper disintegrated, re-knitted itself into a red, glowing net spread across the far side of the Wen encampment.

Only Jin Zixuan saw as everyone was too engrossed in the fight. So only he had the time to clap his hands to his ears, his animal hindbrain screaming at him to do so, as Wei Wuxian lifted his dizi to his lips.

The first notes were innocuous, if strange. Not the start to any melodic sound. Only the Gusu Lan sect made music cultivation a priority and their melodies were always pleasant, even if not sweet. Whatever Wei Wuxian was playing was like a child testing out notes on a new instrument. They did not go together.

Jin Zixuan felt unease rise within him like poison spreading outwards from the back of his spine. Yet as a point of pride, he refused to look away from Wei Wuxian to make sure he kept his end of the bargain.

Wei Wuxian tilted his head, a musician easing into his piece.

Jin Zixuan jumped when somebody fell against him. It was a healer, who had been rushing between tents. The healer was clutching his head, screaming. Looking behind him at the tent where they had put the wounded, he could see through the open flap the men twisting in on themselves as if tortured by some invisible instrument. Jin Zixuan made to threaten Wei Wuxian again - he was supposed to attack the Wen, not their own forces! - but then he saw what was happening down in the ridge and the blood rushed so quickly from his face he felt winded.

The cultivators who had fallen had risen, their bodies not yet stiff with rictus, and they were chasing after the Wen cultivators. The fierce corpses kicked and bit even when the cultivators stabbed them in the chest. They continued to hop after them even when their legs had been chopped off. The Wen sect cultivators recoiled in horror as they hacked at the bodies of those they had known as friends. The cultivators fighting the Wen screamed, as the Wen sect hacked at the bodies of those they had known as comrades. Those the fierce corpses killed immediately rose to join Wei Wuxian’s forces and in this way, they pressed in on the Wen, broke through their battle line and forced them to retreat. Retreat and become entangled in the red net Wei Wuxian had set up in advance.

There was only one way this could end.

At the sun set, a hill of the dead rested against Wei Wuxian’s red net as he finally stopped playing. He released the talisman. The net disappeared. The bodies tumbled onto the ground; their sects indistinguishable as all uniforms were stained a dark red and muddy brown.

Jin Zixuan was breathing heavily. He had forced himself to look. He was the one who had ordered Wei Wuxian to help them so honour dictated he be aware of the result of his actions.

As Wei Wuxian stopped playing, Jin Zixuan finally lowered his hands from his ears. He walked a little way away where the grass grew tall and retched.

+

There had been demonic cultivators after Wei Wuxian, of course. Jiang Wanyin himself had hunted down plenty because they’d claimed they learned their trade from Yunmeng. Still, he had never seen anything of this scale. Even the competent ones struggled to control more than five fierce corpses at once. Each fierce corpse had its own will and it was no small thing to override that with the cultivator’s own. What Wei Wuxian could do belonged in the realm of those stories children told each other to scare themselves. Since when did legends live up to their name? Since when was the bogeyman every bit as terrifying as your mother said he was?

“I would recommend you sift through the bodies and find your men now. Once the blood dries, the smell becomes unbearable. The flies are annoying as well,” said Wei Wuxian.

The cultivators who had returned alive darted looks between Wei Wuxian’s fingers and his dizi, wondered if they could get a sword to his throat faster than Wei Wuxian could draw it out. But then, it would be useless to do so with this body, wouldn’t it? It was Mo Xuanyu’s throat they needed to slit.

“No,” said Nie Mingjue sternly. They had gathered in his tent to discuss their next strategy, not to quarrel with one another. “Not until Wen Ruohan is dead. And Jin-gongzi is right. This is what we summoned him to do. Don’t let your fear destroy our greatest weapon.”

Wei Wuxian grinned. “That’s right. I’m only trying to be helpful. Do you know how quickly blowflies desce— Lan Zhan, what do you think you’re doing!” Wei Wuxian yelped, jumping away from Lan Wangji, who had been patting his sides as if checking for bruises.

The gathered cultivators were stunned. Lan…Zhan?

“The arrows. Did any strike you?” said Lan Wangji.

“It wouldn’t matter if they did,” said Wei Wuxian, voice strangely high-pitched. “No, don’t come near me. I told you to stay away.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said plaintively, but Wei Wuxian apparently had had enough and stalked out of the tent, abandoning the post-battle discussion without so much as a by your leave. Lan Wangji bowed towards Lan Xichen and the other sect leaders and followed Wei Wuxian out like a worried mother hen.

The same cultivators stared at the opening of the tent after them. Wei Ying?

They stared at one another in great confused consternation. They have never heard Lan Wangji addressed by his birth name. The Second Jade of Lan, the newly titled Hanguang-jun, was famously stoic and difficult to befriend. Even his brother, Lan Xichen, would be hard-pressed to say he had any friends at all. So for Wei Wuxian of all people to claim Lan Wangji as a friend by using his birth name and for Lan Wangji to acknowledge that claim by replying in kind, he —

The other cultivators turned to Lan Xichen in a silent plea. Lan Xichen wore a pained expression, as if he wished he were anywhere but here. “Jiang-zongzhu and I can explain.”

 


Marginalia

Here is another way to tell this story. This version is not about the war with the Wens, though it clings close as ivy. This one starts with Lan Wangji and Jiang Wanyin.

+

The moment Lan Wangji heard the Yiling Patriarch speak, he recognised it as the voice he had heard in the wind. While the sect leaders closed themselves in a room to discuss battle strategy, Lan Wangji followed Wei Wuxian to the guest room he had been assigned in Jinlintai.

When he had snatched Mo Xuanyu from his mother’s arms and swaggered around the hall before the sect leaders, Wei Wuxian had treated Mo Xuanyu’s body like a large doll. It surprised Lan Wangji when he saw Wei Wuxian lay Mo Xuanyu gently on the bed.

“Lan-gongzi,” Wei Wuxian greeted in surprise when he saw him at the door and then quickly amended, “Lan-er-gongzi. What are you doing here?”

“You were already watching us before we summoned you. How?” asked Lan Wangji.

Lan Wangji was used to people flinching at his brusque manner. His brother had once spent an evening telling him how small talk and veiled words could achieve a great many things. In spite of that, Lan Wangji did not have the talent of finding words suitable for small talk. So he always spoke only what was immediate in his mind and the people around him suffered.

He was taken aback when Wei Wuxian huffed and his mouth moved as if he were trying not to smile.

Someone had left a prepared tea set on the table. Wei Wuxian gestured towards it. He sat down before the table and poured them both a cup. He did not have any trouble picking up the teapot or drinking the tea. Lan Wangji wondered if Wei Wuxian was expending Mo Xuanyu’s spiritual energy to make his own body corporeal to do all this, or if in fact half of this was an illusion. He did in fact pour the tea. But maybe he did not actually drink it.

“What are you thinking about, Lan-er-gongzi? Does this tea give you insight into some philosophical conundrum you’ve been contemplating? That might sound like a joke but you’d be surprised how often tea does that,” said Wei Wuxian, draining his cup and pouring himself another. “This is a good brew. I wonder what leaves they used.”

Wei Wuxian was quite a chatterbox. Lan Wangji had not expected that from a malevolent spirit. He was thirsty too. He finished the teapot. If the drinking of the tea wasn’t an illusion, Lan Wangji wondered if the tea was nourishing Mo Xuanyu’s body. Or did it have some effect on Wei Wuxian’s illusionary body?

Wei Wuxian sighed. “Fine, fine. I’ll answer.” He reached for Lan Wangji’s untouched cup. Lan Wangji moved it away from him. He wanted that tea. Wei Wuxian stared at him and did that complicated thing with his mouth again. Except this time, his brows creased as well. As if he thought Lan Wangji was a puzzle he couldn’t yet solve. “There was talk of war everywhere. I was minding my own business. No one likes to get involved in a war, you know. But then, I heard the lot of you were gathering here and I knew you were going to try and summon me, so I decided to save some time on travel.”

So many words and yet so little was actually said.

“How did you know they would summon you?” said Lan Wangji.

“People are simple,” declared Wei Wuxian. “When terrible things happen, they jump straight to extreme measures. When the Yueyang sects fell, you were not ready. Not desperate enough yet. Now you are.” Wei Wuxian’s smile was as empty as his gaze. “You think someone could burn the place where I grew up and I wouldn’t know?”

Spirits of cultivators often held ties to their sects. That much was true. But Wei Wuxian had been cast out of Yunmeng Jiang. He was a malevolent spirit. Yet, his reasoning was…generous almost. He had come because he knew his former sect would want him here.

“Are you really a malevolent spirit?” asked Lan Wangji.

Wei Wuxian snatched his cup of tea and tossed it out the window. Lan Wangji was surprised at the needless show of aggression. Now the tea set was incomplete.

“Go back to your war strategy, Lan-er-gongzi. Come back to me when you have decided who you want me to kill.”

+

Jiang Wanyin had no doubt as to who he wanted killed. He told Wei Wuxian their names as soon as they set out of Jinlintai.

Wen Zhuliu had melted Yu Ziyuan’s golden core and Wen Chao had slit Jiang Fengmian’s throat. Then Wen Chao had kicked them both into the lotus pond so they drowned beneath their home. Jiang Wanyin wanted that insult repaid.

Jiang Yanli had tried to temper his rage; her urge to protect her little brother stronger even than her grief over losing her home and parents. Jiang Wanyin distracted her with promises of his safe return and left her at Jinlintai. He would rebuild Lotus Pier. He would rebuild his sect. But not until Qishan Wen was salted and burned and every cultivator bearing the name of Wen had regretted ever setting sights on Yunmeng.

Wei Wuxian was silent as he heard Jiang Wanyin’s tale. He had requested a carriage from the Jin sect so he could carry Mo Xuanyu’s body. The Jin sect was rich. They could spare four horses.

“Revenge has consequences,” said Wei Wuxian eventually. “You think you are ready to pay the price but you never are.”

“I didn’t ask for your opinion,” Jiang Wanyin snarled. He rubbed his thumb over Zidian when Wei Wuxian laughed.

“I’m not saying I won’t do it. I’m just warning you as a respected senior of your sect.”

Jiang Wanyin rolled his eyes. Wei Wuxian was many things but he was definitely not a respected senior.

“You remind me of my brother. He used to shout at me all the time,” said Wei Wuxian.

Jiang Wanyin ran his memory back across several generations of his family tree, wondering which of those names was the brother Wei Wuxian was referring to. The treasure pavilion of Lotus Pier had once housed Wei Wuxian’s diary and Jiang Wanyin had snuck a look at a couple of pages. But Wei Wuxian never used any names, only affectations. Even his best friend, a powerful cultivator from the Gusu Lan sect, was only ever referred to as ‘Lan-gege’.

“What happened to him?” asked Jiang Wanyin.

“I heard he lived well and then died in a night-hunting accident,” said Wei Wuxian.

That was a clue. The library at Lotus Pier was in tatters but perhaps the historical record of his family survived. “You heard? You died before him then?”

“Hm,” said Wei Wuxian.

The carriage wheel went in and out of a hole in the road and Wei Wuxian hit his head against the top of the carriage. Mo Xuanyu’s body fell out of his lap and its left elbow hit the edge of the opposite seat on the way down. Wei Wuxian moaned, rubbing the crown of his head, and picked up Mo Xuanyu’s body.

Jiang Wanyin watched Wei Wuxian from the corner of his eye until they decided to stop and set up camp. Wei Wuxian did not once touch his left elbow.

+

It had been some time since they had summoned Wei Wuxian and they had all got used to seeing him around. Still, Lan Wangji wondered why no one would mention the obvious: Wei Wuxian was beautiful.

It could not be that they hadn’t noticed. Lan Wangji has overheard some Nie sect cultivators mentioning how Wei Wuxian did not look anything like the ogre depicted in his portraits. But they stopped short of saying that Wei Wuxian had a long, graceful neck like a swan and that his pink lips were distracting. That the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled made hearts race. The sound of his laugh was as uplifting as summer birdsong.

Lan Wangji has never found anyone attractive before, so to the average person, Wei Wuxian must be devastating.

Wei Wuxian burst out laughing when Lan Wangji told him. “Oh Hanguang-jun, this will not do at all. Don’t you see Lan Xichen frowning whenever he sees us together? If he knows you think of me this way, he will lock you up in Cloud Recesses forever to guard your chastity.”

“Nonsense,” said Lan Wangji, sending Wei Wuxian into further peals of laughter even though he had not said anything funny.

“Little else would make me happier than to see you settled well and happy, so stop looking at me, Lan-er-gongzi.”

“Why?” asked Lan Wangji. He and Wei Wuxian had never crossed paths before the war.

Wei Wuxian hummed. “You remind me of an old friend. He was very precious to me. If you are happy, I can convince myself he is too.”

“Where is your friend now?” Lan Wangji wanted to ask ‘who is he?’ but that felt too intrusive.

“He died a long time ago.”

He must have been an important friend if Wei Wuxian still thought about him, thought Lan Wangji. What had their relationship been like? What sort of person had this friend been? In what way did Lan Wangji resemble him? Lan Wangji wanted to ask all this and more but he had never been good with words and around Wei Wuxian, he was worse.

+

As the only two people who dared come into regular contact with Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji became well acquainted with Jiang Wanyin. They became drinking buddies after a fashion with Jiang Wanyin buying whatever liquor the nearest town had and Lan Wangji taking tea.

The night after they buried the screaming villagers of Yuntian village, Jiang Wanyin came with two jars into Lan Wangji’s tent. “I can’t look at my own disciples,” Jiang Wanyin admitted. “They really thought I’d condone this massacre. They really think me that heartless. They have known me their whole lives. Shouldn’t they know better?”

“They saw you rage in grief,” said Lan Wangji. The Jiang Wanyin who had attended the Lanling discussion conference would have allowed the Yuntian Massacre. In truth, Lan Wangji was surprised. He’d thought Jiang Wanyin would rage a lot longer.

“Consequences, huh,” Jiang Wanyin muttered. Not having heard him properly, Lan Wangji tilted his head inquisitively. Jiang Wanyin shook his head. “It’s nothing.” He sighed. “But what was that Wei Wuxian thinking? I bet you he’s given everyone nightmares for a week now.”

Lan Wangji decided not to mention how Wei Wuxian had already accomplished that when he’d torn out Wen Zhuliu’s golden core for Jiang Wanyin. “He was angry.” Lan Wangji had sensed it the moment news about the village reached them. But it was neither the hot rage of someone outraged or the cold fury of the deeply shocked. Instead, Wei Wuxian’s anger was resigned. “It is an old anger,” Lan Wangji said.

“You think something about today reminded him of something of his past? You might be right.” Jiang Wanyin huffed. From the tone of his voice, he knew something.

“What is it?”

“He was probably thinking of the massacre that he was responsible for.”

“Which one?” asked Lan Wangji. Since no one could agree on when Wei Wuxian had lived, they agreed even less on what he had done to earn his reputation. Nearly every plague, tragedy and supernatural malady has been attributed to him at one point or another.

“Ah, I forget that not everyone’s read his diary before.”

Lan Wangji’s brow climbed high. Jiang Wanyin had Wei Wuxian’s diary?

Jiang Wanyin made a careless gesture with his hand. “After he died, my sect made sure to collect everything that was his and stored it in Lotus Pier. That was why I was surprised that Jin Guangshan had his notes, if you remember.” Lan Wangji inclined his head. He did. “Among those things was his diary. I only managed to skim it since I wasn’t supposed to be reading it in the first place. It’s a lot of run-on rambling. If you think the way he talks is bad, the way he writes is worse.” Lan Wangji could imagine. “He had this best friend. He mentions him every other page. That friend got killed protecting him in an ambush meant for him. He lost control and killed everyone in the vicinity. Civilians included. He spiralled downwards after that and then shortly after he died.”

So it wasn’t anger. It was guilt.

He had no hand in killing the villagers of Yuntian but by making them scream, he’d conveyed the weight of his guilt to the rest of them. It was…kind, almost. If one considered that Wei Wuxian might be doing it so they would be spared from making the same mistakes he had.

“What’s your fascination with him anyway?” asked Jiang Wanyin. The question was a strange one. Everyone was fascinated by Wei Wuxian. Only, they were too afraid of him to do anything about it. Jiang Wanyin shook his head. “Maybe it’s a Lan thing.”

“What do you mean?” said Lan Wangji.

“The best friend who died for Wei Wuxian was a Lan.” Jiang Wanyin shrugged when Lan Wangji pressed for a name. “I would like to know as well but in his diary, Wei Wuxian just refers to him as Lan-gege.”

+

Lan Wangji didn’t think it that surprising. Wei Wuxian had been a respectable disciple of Yunmeng Jiang. It did not stretch the imagination to consider that he’d crossed paths with one of his ancestors and became friends. Yet when Lan Wangji shared that tidbit of information with his brother, Lan Xichen’s expression clouded over.

“He has been particularly friendly towards you, hasn’t he?” said Lan Xichen.

Lan Wangji had not observed how Wei Wuxian behaved around the others so he could not make a fair comparison. In all fairness, everyone else treated Wei Wuxian as if he was one breath away from casting a curse on them so Wei Wuxian being friendly with him was not the damning proof Lan Xichen likely thought it was.

“Listen,” said Lan Xichen, “you wouldn’t remember much of this but it’s important that you know now.” Lan Xichen then launched into a strange story about Lan Wangji’s birth, how it rained the whole day, how labour had been difficult and the astrologer could not decide whether this was a good or bad sign. A hundred days later, the astrologer came back, as was customary, to help their parents name the child. Instead of the usual list of lucky names, the astrologer only had one. Their parents had been confused but the astrologer had been confident. Lan Xichen continued, “It was the same when it came time to choose your courtesy name. Uncle had several ideas but you wouldn’t respond to anything else. You have stubbornly always been Lan Wangji, born Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wangji didn’t understand what was so strange about this. Why would he ever answer to anything other than his name? Also, how was this relevant? “Do you think Wei Wuxian was behind my naming somehow? Or that my name is related to our ancestor whom he knew?”

“You are not this slow, Wangji,” Lan Xichen chided. “Our ancestor died and Wei Wuxian killed everyone around him for it.”

Ah, thought Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian must have been in love with his ancestor, the so named ‘Lan-gege’. Lan Wangji frowned. Jiang Wanyin had said they’d been best friends. If this Lan-gege had known how Wei Wuxian had felt about him, why had he remained a close friend? Surely it would have been kinder to retreat and let Wei Wuxian’s affections fade.

“You think our ancestor had been in love with him too,” said Lan Wangji. That was why he’d protected Wei Wuxian in the ambush.

Lan Xichen’s stare remained pointed. Patient.

Lan Wangji could see where his brother’s reasoning was taking him but the pieces did not fit. “If I really am that ancestor reincarnated, if the strange circumstances around my naming has something to do with this, it should follow that our ancestor bore the same names as me. But I am the only Lan Wangji in our family tree.” The only Lan Zhan as well.

“I could be wrong,” said Lan Xichen, though his tone implied that he did not think he was, “but thankfully we have a way to find out. We can just ask him.”

If it were true, thought Lan Wangji. If it were true that he was the reincarnation of Wei Wuxian’s Lan-gege and that his soul had somehow contrived to keep his previous names despite the compulsory tabula rasa of passing through the reincarnation cycle, what would that even mean for him?

The weight of it all pressed in, like someone had signed away his life and neglected to tell him.

+

It had been two days since he talked with Lan Xichen and he could not stop thinking about it. They were getting closer and closer to Xiongliu Ridge and Lan Wangji could not afford to be distracted by this when he was called to enter the fray.

“Is it true?” Lan Wangji asked Wei Wuxian. “Am I the reincarnation of the Lan sect cultivator you were friends with?”

Wei Wuxian stared at him for a long while, taken aback. Eventually he said, “‘Friends’ is perhaps an understatement. We were soulmates.”

That explained things a little. But there had been other tales of soulmates and Lan Wangji has never heard a soulmate pairing consisting of a malevolent spirit and a reincarnated one who refused to give up his name. Why were they different? What made them special?

“Did he bear my name?” asked Lan Wangji.

Wei Wuxian smiled wryly. “Your names. I called him Lan Zhan. He called me Wei Ying.”

“Not ‘Lan-gege’?”

Wei Wuxian looked at him curiously. “Only as a joke. We were the same age. Why?”

“There is no record of a Lan ancestor with my name in our line. I have confirmed it with my brother.”

“Mm,” said Wei Wuxian. “There wouldn’t be. They struck you off for staying friends with me.”

The breeze was cold around them. Lan Wangji should get up and add more wood to the fire. Wei Wuxian got up and did it for him. Once again, Lan Wangji was astounded by how solid Wei Wuxian’s body was. He glanced down Wei Wuxian’s torso at the same place where Jin Zixuan had nicked on Mo Xuanyu’s body earlier that day.

“Does it still hurt?”

Wei Wuxian rubbed at his side absentmindedly. “It would be easy for me to steal back my vessel. I’ll let them keep it for now since it seems to make them feel better. They should still let me bathe it though unless they want him to stink.”

Lan Wangji promised to pass the message along to Jin Zixuan. “How much do I resemble the Lan Wangji you know?”

For the first time, Wei Wuxian looked completely caught off guard. “Lan Zhan, don’t.”

Lan Zhan. No one has ever called Lan Wangji that. Even as a child, they called him A-Zhan. Zhan-er. No one since had ever got close enough to him to dare. Lan Zhan.

“Why are you asking?” said Wei Wuxian.

Talking to Wei Wuxian now made him feel - Lan Wangji didn’t quite know what he felt. The closest thing he could ascribe to it was hunger. He wanted to know. What would make a malevolent spirit who was secretly kind, secretly generous, who was terrifyingly powerful and disarmingly beautiful, fall in love?

“Tell me,” said Lan Wangji.

Alarm passed behind Wei Wuxian’s eyes. He bit his lip and said nothing.

“Wei Ying,” said Lan Wangji.

Wei Wuxian hid his face in his sleeves. “Fuck,” he said. “Fuck,” he said with more feeling. “It’s like you’re here. It’s not fair.” Wei Wuxian was a centuries-old spirit. He was a thorn in the side of the sect leaders. He swaggered and sneered and made cultivators afraid of the dizi. Wei Wuxian was turning red, as discomposed as the newly widowed. “Stay away from me.” He fled.

Lan Wangji watched him flee, stunned.

+

Something had rattled Lan Wangji, thought Jiang Wanyin as he made his way to Jin Zixuan’s tent. He’d never seen Lan Wangji look so lost. What had Wei Wuxian said to him? Jiang Wanyin didn’t put it past Wei Wuxian to lie just to put Lan Wangji off-kilter.

Still, Lan Wangji had tasked him with a message. Jin Zixuan needed to be told that Mo Xuanyu still needed to be bathed.

Jiang Wanyin had never thought about it since he’d considered Mo Xuanyu as good as a corpse. But Mo Xuanyu’s body was very much still alive. Jiang Wanyin could still feel his pulse in his wrist with his fingers.

Jin Zixuan’s tent was empty. Jiang Wanyin thought to flag down a passing servant to fetch a bath but decided against it since there was no easy way to explain if Jin Zixuan walked in on him stripping his little brother’s body. So he decided to wait. It was not like he was in a hurry.

Jiang Wanyin lowered Mo Xuanyu’s arm onto the bed. His eyes travelled up the arm to the elbow hidden by the sleeve of his Jin sect robes.

Jiang Wanyin thought, it wouldn’t hurt to test it out, would it?

He drew out his sword and as gently as he could, pressed the sharp edge against the inside of Mo Xuanyu’s forearm until it bled. He wiped up the blood with a handkerchief and held it there until the bleeding stopped and what was left was an angry red line running down the length of the arm, which would heal in a few days.

Jiang Wanyin had meant to tell Lan Wangji first but Lan Wangji had been in Lan Xichen’s tent and Lan Wangji assured Jiang Wanyin that any secret was safe with his brother. Jiang Wanyin conceded. What he had to tell was no secret but rather a troubling revelation.

There had been no mark at all on the inside of Wei Wuxian’s arm. He had not even known that Mo Xuanyu had been cut.

“Mingjue will not be happy to learn this,” said Lan Xichen. Just when they thought they had a way to rein in Wei Wuxian.

“What I don’t understand is why Wei Wuxian makes such a big fuss over Mo Xuanyu as his vessel if injuring him doesn’t do anything to him,” said Jiang Wanyin. Carrying Mo Xuanyu in the carriage slowed them down. They have been delayed by days when a carriage wheel had broken. “Or does he need him close by to keep up the illusion of his body?”

“I’m still not certain that his body is an illusion. We have never encountered illusions that can move solid objects,” said Lan Xichen. His guess was that Wei Wuxian was using something similar to the paperman technique. He was inhabiting Mo Xuanyu’s body, as the sacrificial ritual had dictated, and was projecting his consciousness onto a separate object which he had charmed to look like his body when he’d been alive using illusions.

Jiang Wanyin nodded to show he was processing Lan Xichen’s theory. Something about it still felt off. He was relieved when Lan Wangji shook his head.

“Papermen cannot conjure up spiritual power,” said Lan Wangji. And Wei Wuxian obviously could.

“That’s why I said it may be like the paperman technique. He may be using something different altogether with different spiritual limitations,” said Lan Xichen.

“Think about this a different way,” Lan Wangji suggested. “Wei Ying does not know Mo-gongzi was cut because they are not connected.”

Jiang Wanyin told himself not to stare at Lan Wangji. Wei Ying?

“Impossible. I saw the array when you drew it out. It forces the named spirit to inhabit the summoner’s body like his own,” said Lan Xichen.

Lan Wangji offered no rebuttal. He did not retract his previous statement either.

Jiang Wanyin rubbed his temples. “Okay, hypothetically, if Wei Wuxian is not in Mo Xuanyu’s body, it would mean that the array failed. We never considered that a possibility since the whole point of that array was summoning Wei Wuxian. But we’ve already previously established that we didn’t need to summon him. He was already at Jinlintai watching us.”

Lan Xichen looked at Lan Wangji in awe. “Wangji.”

“Mn,” said Lan Wangji, reinvigorated.

“What?” said Jiang Wanyin.

“If the array truly did not work, then Mo Xuanyu’s body may still be housing his soul. We could still save him,” said Lan Xichen.

Jin Zixuan would be happy to hear that, thought Jiang Wanyin. That still didn’t explain the Lan brothers’ reactions. They had no particular connection with Mo Xuanyu. “And?” he said.

“And if Wei Wuxian is not using Mo Xuanyu’s body - and we’ve already established that he has some sort of body - whose body is he inhabiting?” Lan Xichen didn’t need to spell it out further. Jiang Wanyin wasn’t simple. Still, Lan Xichen continued. “Who can actually confirm that Wei Wuxian ever died in the first place?”

 


Chronicle (Part 3)

“So while we’ve not confirmed it, we highly suspect that Wei Wuxian faked his own death,” said Lan Xichen miserably to his slack-jawed audience of the post-Xiongliu Ridge battle discussion. “What we have is not the malevolent spirit of the Yiling Patriarch but his whole self in truth.”

“Who is immortal,” Jiang Wanyin thought it prudent to add.

“But this is good news,” Nie Mingjue declared. “Not only is Mo-gongzi’s life spared, but surely we can come up with more ways to restrain Wei Wuxian now that we know he is flesh and blood like any one of us.”

“We thought he was flesh and blood before this. What good did that do?” said Jiang Wanyin.

“No, we have something else,” said Jin Zixuan. “We have Hanguang-jun.”

Lan Xichen paused for a beat before saying, “Please explain.”

“If you are right and Hanguang-jun is Wei Wuxian’s reincarnated soulmate, he will not want him harmed. We can use Hanguang-jun the same way we’ve used A-Yu.”

The light glinting off Lan Xichen’s eyes was cold, the tone in his voice warning. “Jin Zixuan.”

Jin Zixuan took a half-step away from Lan Xichen. The Jin sect disciples behind him reached for their swords. The Lan sect disciples standing by Lan Xichen responded in kind.

“Xichen, he’s right,” said Nie Mingjue, placating. “We are not going to do anything to Wangji. The threat of it may be enough for Wei Wuxian.”

“You might want to make sure of that,” said Jiang Wanyin. “The last time something happened to Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian killed everyone.”

+

The secret was out, yet no one was willing to acknowledge it. They let Wei Wuxian continue to pretend that the safety of Mo Xuanyu was paramount to his survival and they continued to allow him the carriage all the way to Nightless City. Better to let Wei Wuxian think he still had them fooled, Nie Mingjue had said. He forbade even Lan Wangji from letting Wei Wuxian catch on.

It was not a difficult thing for Lan Wangji to do because Wei Wuxian had been serious when he’d asked him to stay away. Lan Wangji put his focus on winning the fight against the Wen. He did not know what else he could do since whenever he called out to Wei Wuxian, Wei Wuxian would flinch as if Lan Wangji himself was stabbing him in the heart.

+

Jiang Wanyin felt like he should have seen this coming. After all, he was the one who had warned the rest of them that Wei Wuxian was no stranger to taking drastic actions when it came to Lan Wangji. He was also the one who had heard Wei Wuxian talk regretfully about the consequences.

In his defence, he hadn’t realised how little self-preservation Lan Wangji had. They had given him the title of Hanguang-jun because he always went where the chaos was thickest.

Jiang Wanyin would argue that the chaos was on the plaza ground where they were currently storming to get to Wen Ruohan’s palace. Cultivators were being cut down on the steps. It was impossible to tell friend from foe and it didn’t help that the dead under his feet kept trying to rise in answer to Wei Wuxian’s dizi.

Lan Wangji, however, had a different opinion and had flown up to the rooftop palace where Wen Ruohan was fending off a joint attack from Nie Mingjue and Jin Zixuan and by the looks of it, he was winning.

Jiang Wanyin had left them to it, keeping his own eye out for his own hide and his sect disciples. It was disorienting at first, fighting alongside fierce corpses, but he quickly got used to it because it was difficult to tell who was a fierce corpse and who wasn’t when it was all he could do to parry swords on all sides.

Jiang Wanyin didn’t realise something was wrong until he realised the Wen sect cultivator he was fighting against had milky white eyes. Jiang Wanyin skewered the fierce corpse’s chest and put a talisman on it for good measure. “Wei Wuxian, what do you think you’re doing?” he cried, not even sure where Wei Wuxian was or if he could hear him.

He flew up onto a statue to get a better vantage point of the battle and saw that Wei Wuxian was standing in the middle of the plaza. He was hemmed in on all sides by Nie, Jiang, Lan and Jin sect cultivators and he was looking up at the palace rooftop, where on one of the eight ridges stood Wen Ruohan. At his feet, Nie Mingjue and Jin Zixuan were bleeding out. Wen Ruohan’s large fist was closed around Lan Wangji’s throat.

“I would sympathise with you, Wei Wuxian, if you were not fighting against me. Soulmates are a rare thing and a situation like yours even more so,” said Wen Ruohan.

Jiang Wanyin’s heartbeat was thundering in his ears. How did Wen Ruohan find out? Did they have a spy in their camp?

“Would you risk waiting for him again? Or will you kill them all for me?” said Wen Ruohan. His fingers tightened around Lan Wangji, who fell limp against him.

Jiang Wanyin turned to look at Wei Wuxian in alarm. The cultivators surrounding Wei Wuxian too were edging away nervously, no doubt remembering what he and Lan Xichen had told them about the last time Lan Wangji had died. But Wei Wuxian made no move to raise his dizi. He was glaring at Wen Ruohan but his body was still, his expression unreadable.

“Who said I waited for him?” said Wei Wuxian.

Jiang Wanyin realised what was going to happen a heartbeat too late. By the time he launched himself towards him, Wei Wuxian had already leapt forward at one the Nie sect cultivator’s swords and sliced his neck open the same way he had cut Wen Chao those months ago.

It was a smart move. Lan Wangji was only a high-value hostage because of what he meant to Wei Wuxian and what Wei Wuxian could do. By taking himself out of the equation, Wei Wuxian ensured that Lan Wangji was no longer valuable to Wen Ruohan. All this played out in the rational part of Jiang Wanyin’s head as he cradled Wei Wuxian’s head on his lap, pressing his right hand over his bloody neck and screaming for a healer.

 


Testimony

Jiang Wanyin thought Wei Wuxian’s diary had been lost to the fire when the Wen sect had burned Lotus Pier. He was therefore shocked when they recovered it from Wen Ruohan’s vaults. Just as he had remembered, Wei Wuxian’s writing style had been near incomprehensible. It was no wonder his teenage self had only skimmed it. But now that he knew Wei Wuxian, he felt compelled. Lan Xichen found him in Wen Ruohan’s throne room, turning page after page.

After making an attempt at a joke by commenting on Wei Wuxian’s atrocious calligraphy, Lan Xichen asked, “What does it say?”

“Nothing very new. Another war. Another tragedy.” Jiang Wanyin nudged the book against Lan Xichen’s hand. “Here."

+

Hundreds of years ago, there were thousands of small cultivation sects, the most prominent of which was the Gusu Lan. So when they sent out invitations for other sects to attend their lectures, of course Wei Wuxian would take them up on it. The Cloud Recesses library was famous. Gusu’s liquor even more so. Wei Wuxian couldn’t wait!

He wondered what the Gusu Lan sect would teach him. As it turned out, nothing much other than the fact that his calligraphy was worse than he thought and no amount of rule copying could improve it. He didn’t regret it one bit though because if he hadn’t come, he wouldn’t have met Lan Zhan, their most prized disciple.

Even then, Lan Zhan had already been betrothed to a distinguished young lady from a different sect. Lan Zhan was the sect heir. He was expected to carry on the line. As his best friend, of course Wei Wuxian supported him.

Then war broke out. Over what, Wei Wuxian could not remember. Some insult from one sect to a different sect with complicated allegiances that ended up dragging all of the cultivation gentry into the fight. It dragged out into the war they would eventually call the War of the Sects. By the time they were able to declare peace, many sects had been wiped out and five cultivation sects emerged larger and more powerful.

Wei Wuxian had to move out of Yunmeng Jiang because of the demonic cultivation he’d developed during the war. Even though it was this very cultivation that had helped the Jiang sect survive. So, Wei Wuxian moved to his birthplace of Yiling and tried to start a new sect there with the cultivators whom the war had displaced.

But times did not stay peaceful. Sects did not stay happy with their demarcated territories. Scuffles frequently broke out at the borders. Yiling was often caught in the crossfire so Wei Wuxian had taken it upon himself to settle many of these fights. He didn’t care if the other sect leaders were angry at him. It was their fault for instigating.

One day, Lan Zhan came by to hand-deliver an invitation to his son’s one-month celebration. Wei Wuxian had not seen his best friend since the wedding. Lan Zhan had looked so handsome in red, even though he had not smiled even once. Wei Wuxian admitted he had been avoiding Gusu. He found it difficult to be around Lan Zhan now that he belonged irrevocably to a wife. But he spent that entire day with Lan Zhan in Yiling since Lan Zhan had travelled all this way. They shared a meal and Wei Wuxian sent him off.

Then, on his way back to his sect headquarters he was ambushed by the sect leaders he had made angry.

They had made sure to attack him when none of his sect disciples were accompanying him. They’d also made sure to clear the land of corpses so Wei Wuxian couldn’t take advantage of his demonic cultivation. So Wei Wuxian fought only with his sword, his talisman and his wiles, and strongly considered that he might die in this fight.

He didn’t know when Lan Zhan arrived, only noticed him when he slid between him and the blade of a sword meant for him. It pierced his heart. In, then out. One moment and then the next. Lan Zhan was gone.

Wei Wuxian could not remember what happened next but everyone told him he’d killed all in the vicinity; cultivators and non-cultivators alike. He’d decimated entire sects there and then.

In retaliation, his small sect in Yiling had been wiped out. No one had been spared. Wei Wuxian was so angry he could have killed them all. He would level the entire cultivation world. There was enough corpses for him to raise the largest army in the world. Just watch him.

But Lan Zhan’s son was part of that world. And Wei Wuxian was so tired. He felt hollow, like a paperman who’d been ripped apart and carelessly glued back. He’d lost Lan Zhan. He’d lost his sect. The only one left he’d felt any tenderness for was Lan Zhan’s son.

+

The entries stopped there though Jiang Wanyin could easily imagine how it would have continued. If Wei Wuxian had watched over his Lan Wangji’s son, why would he not also watch over his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren, and so on. Until he saw that one of his descendants also bore the name Lan Zhan. Lan Wangji. His best friend reincarnated at last. And if the time ever came when this Lan Wangji was in danger and needed him, of course he would come.

+

The final pages were water-stained, Wei Wuxian’s calligraphy at its worst. ‘If I’d never told him that day that I was in love with him, he might not have come back for me. He might have still been alive.’

No wonder Wen Ruohan had figured it out so easily.

Lan Xichen handed the diary back to Jiang Wanyin. He looked as if someone had just slapped him. Jiang Wanyin figured he would look like that too if he’d learned his little brother was part of an epic love story spanning centuries.

“What are we doing with Wen Ruohan?” Jiang Wanyin asked him since it was Lan Xichen who’d dealt the killing blow in the end.

“Cremation with the rest of his cultivators first thing tomorrow. I’ve assigned my sect disciples watch duty over their bodies in the meantime.”

Jiang Wanyin nodded. “I’ll ask my men to relieve them come hai shi.”

Lan Xichen nodded in thanks. “And how are they?” He didn’t need to clarify who he was talking about.

Jiang Wanyin had personally carried Wei Wuxian to the healer’s tent, transferring spiritual energy to keep him alive with such speed that Jiang Wanyin had felt dizzy. Lan Wangji had stumbled in shortly after him. Jiang Wanyin had been surprised to see him since he’d expected him to either be dead or passed out for at least a day after Wen Ruohan’s rough treatment. But Lan Wangji had knelt down next to Wei Wuxian, grabbed his wrist, his fingertips to the pulse in his inner wrist and done …something. Jiang Wanyin didn’t know what he did but it was definitely something because the next thing he knew, Lan Wangji had collapsed in a dead faint and both he and Wei Wuxian had slipped into a long sleep.

The healers had come to Jiang Wanyin’s aid then, assuring him that the best thing he could do then was rest. The healers had not given him any optimistic updates since. The two continued to sleep.

To Lan Xichen, Jiang Wanyin shook his head. “I’ve sent out messages to an old acquaintance who might know someone who can help.” Xiao Xingchen had traveled far and wide and would know more miraculous healers than Jiang Wanyin. Though Jiang Wanyin knew it was a long shot.

Even the Wen medical cultivators (whom they had found imprisoned in the torture chamber and therefore had pardoned) had pronounced that there was nothing they could do for Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. As an immortal, Wei Wuxian’s qi was not one to be messed around with. If they tried, they might enter the same long sleep as Lan Wangji.

“They’ll have to wake up on their own,” said Jiang Wanyin.

“Mo-gongzi is awake at least. And very confused.” A small silver lining in the midst of this mess. Lan Xichen squeezed Jiang Wanyin’s shoulder and left him to his thoughts.

 


Coda

“First, eyes, then a golden core and now this. Who do these people think I am? I’m immortal, not a miracle worker.”

Wei Wuxian woke up to Baoshan Sanren’s grumbles. He hadn’t heard from his old friend in decades. He must really be in trouble. He tried to feign unconsciousness for a while longer but it didn’t work.

“Do you know how close you were to entering the reincarnation cycle?” said Baoshan Sanren.

“They wouldn’t let me in anyway.” He laughed and winced when he felt the new skin pulling at his throat.

He noted that they were no longer in Nightless City because he couldn’t taste sulphur in the air. Yet, the air was not thin enough for this to be Baoshan Sanren’s place in the mountain. Everything in the pavilion, from the bed cloth to the ceramic to the wall hangings, was white. Many generations later, Gusu Lan’s sense of decoration was still the same. Wei Wuxian wanted to laugh.

In the bed next to him was Lan Wangji, who unlike him, was still properly unconscious. Wei Wuxian bit back a curse. “What happened?”

“You nearly didn’t make it.” Baoshan Sanren forced a bowl of dark medicine into his hands as he moved up to sit on the bed. “Lan Wangji grabbed your soul with both hands and pulled it into himself to keep you safe. Your healers had no idea what to do since they’ve never dealt with soulmates. I nearly lost you both.”

This time, Wei Wuxian didn’t bother stopping himself. He swore. After all he had done, he’d still put Lan Wangji in harm’s way. What good was three hundred years of experience if he still failed in the one thing he wanted to do?

“Foolish man,” Wei Wuxian declared. “He doesn’t even remember me.” He’d watch him grow up. Like his Lan Zhan, this Lan Wangji was great at following rules. So what part of ‘stay away from me’ had Lan Wangji not understood? “How is he now? Will he be alright?”

Baoshan Sanren nodded. “As will you.”

“Let’s get out of here then. Before he wakes up.” Wei Wuxian didn’t understand why Lan Wangji was so much more stubborn this time around but he refused to let Lan Wangji endanger his life again.

Baoshan Sanren folded her hands in her lap. Wei Wuxian steeled himself. He recognised that look on her face. She was going to tell him something he didn’t like. “You know, I have lived a lot longer than you,” she said. “I’ve known more people than I can remember. I have never seen someone so like their previous incarnation as your Lan Wangji.”

It was true. Wei Wuxian had been shocked stupid by the similarity every time he came in to check on Gusu Lan. It had been especially bad the year Lan Wangji had turned sixteen; the same age Wei Wuxian had first met Lan Zhan.

Baoshan Sanren continued, “He must have fought very hard to keep as much as himself as he could, trusting that if you were out there somewhere and that if he was still the same person, you would find it within yourself to love him again.”

Ah. There it was. The killing blow.

Hot tears were dripping on his lap before Wei Wuxian even realised he was crying. This Lan Wangji might not remember him. Their bond might not be the same. But didn’t Wei Wuxian owe it to him to try? Didn’t he owe it to the both of them?

He wished he was well enough to crawl over to Lan Wangji’s bed and hold him. He wished he had the right to pepper his lips with kisses and call him stupid to his face. He settled for letting Baoshan Sanren pet his hand, as if he were a small child instead of a three hundred-ish year old man.

“Drink your medicine now. When he wakes up, give it to him too,” she said.

+

“Was someone here?” asked Jiang Wanyin, looking at the two empty bowls; the residue of dark medicine drying at the bottom.

“Hm? Who do you mean?” said Wei Wuxian. He could never admit Baoshan Sanren was here. Her disciples still thought she never left her mountain.

“Never mind. It’s good you are both awake. Your brother has been very worried,” Jiang Wanyin said to Lan Wangji. “He’ll be by shortly. He needed to sort out something with Jin-zongzhu.”

Wei Wuxian was surprised when Jiang Wanyin handed him his diary. He had not seen that thing since - well, Wei Wuxian could not remember. He could not even remember writing the damn thing. As he flipped through the pages, Wei Wuxian wished Jiang Wanyin had burned it instead. He groaned. “Wen Ruohan read this?”

“I read it too,” said Jiang Wanyin as if this utter violation of privacy was completely alright. “So did Zewu-jun.”

“Just kill me now,” Wei Wuxian muttered.

Lan Wangji reached out for it. “May I?”

Jiang Wanyin was already handing it over when Wei Wuxian smacked it out of his hand. “No! No one else is allowed to read it again. Ever.” Two things should always stay private: a man’s greatest regrets and a man’s greatest love. That diary had both and if Wei Wuxian had the energy to destroy it with the power of his mind, he would have already.

“It’s all about you anyway, so maybe it’s best if you didn’t read it,” said Jiang Wanyin.

“Jiang-zongzhu!” Wei Wuxian cried. “You cannot say that to him.”

“Why not?” Jiang Wanyin raised his brow. He looked tired. He had mentioned that the other sect leaders were here too. They must be gathered in Cloud Recesses for a discussion conference to decide how things were going to be now that the war was over.

Wei Wuxian hated to be the cynic but he doubted anything of actual importance was being discussed in the conference.

“Lan Zhan shouldn’t have to know about his past life. It’d be cruel to let the burdens of a previous life carry over into the next.” Wei Wuxian thought that had sounded quite persuasive. Lan Wangji only held out his hand more expectantly. Wei Wuxian gaped. “Why are you so stubborn this time?”

“I want to know what you know,” said Lan Wangji quietly, “so that when you look at me a certain way, I know what it’s about.”

“I don’t mean to look at you any certain way.”

Jiang Wanyin bristled at the growing awkwardness. “Honestly, how are you two so bad at this when this is your second go?” He turned to Wei Wuxian. “Lan Wangji risked his life to save yours. Again. What makes you think he’ll back down?”

Wei Wuxian bit his lip. He’d thought it was enough that he hadn’t slipped out with Baoshan Sanren and disappeared out of Lan Wangji’s life like a bad dream. He’d thought it downright generous of him to agree to start his friendship with Lan Wangji anew, regardless of the bond they had shared in the past. As Lan Wangji pushed, however, he realised that maybe it was a bit more than that.

Lan Zhan was killed in his last lifetime because he’d felt obliged to help Wei Wuxian out. Especially after Wei Wuxian had told him he’d been in love with him all along. Wei Wuxian had regretted it. If Lan Wangji found out, he might no longer want to have anything to do with Wei Wuxian. If that were the case, Wei Wuxian would rather bow out now. It would be better than living in a world where Lan Wangji was disgusted with him.

Of course he wasn’t going to admit to all that, so all he said was: “I only ever made things difficult for Lan Zhan, whether in this life or the last.”

Jiang Wanyin sighed loudly. “Look, obviously none of us can make you do anything you don’t want; least of all, continue some great romance from generations ago —”

Huh? “What? No, it wasn’t like that between me and Lan Zhan.”

Jiang Wanyin blinked. Even Lan Wangji’s silence gained a dumbfounded aspect. “Excuse me?” said Jiang Wanyin.

“It’s true that I loved Lan Zhan, but he did not return my feelings. We were friends.” Wei Wuxian turned to Lan Wangji to get him to back his words. Lan Wangji might not remember his previous life but confirming his present feelings to be the same would help.

Lan Wangji stared at him. “He never told you he loved you?”

“Why would he? Feelings cannot be forced.” Wei Wuxian knew they were young but how naive were they?

Jiang Wanyin’s jaw went stiff. “No. I refuse to be part of this stupidity.” He glared at Lan Wangji. “One lifetime has been wasted. I will lose all respect for you if you let that happen again.” He stormed out of the pavilion.

Wei Wuxian frowned, shaking his head. “Don’t mind him. The discussion conference must have made his temper short. Shorter,” Wei Wuxian amended. “Who is he to tell you what to do? Lan Zhan?” Lan Wangji had padded over to his bed and sat down. He edged closer. Wei Wuxian skirted backwards, heart in his throat. “What are you doing?”

“If you are right and everything about me is the same as before...” said Lan Wangji. His gaze left burning trails all over Wei Wuxian’s skin.

“Lan Zhan, don’t. You’re not him. And you most definitely aren’t in love with me,” said Wei Wuxian.

Lan Wangji was exactly as Wei Wuxian had remembered him from his first life. His face. The way he moved. His voice. The way he said his name. It was the worst. Wei Wuxian had spent so long locking up his regret securely in a place where it wouldn’t hurt him too much, had tried his best not to look too closely at how he felt about Lan Wangji because it brought it with the piercing reminder of how he had failed him. He didn’t expect anything anymore from Lan Wangji. It wasn’t fair for Lan Wangji to give him hope.

“Wei Ying,” said Lan Wangji. “He was in love with you. I - I may be close to falling too.”

This was too cruel.

Wei Wuxian gripped Lan Wangji’s neck and smashed their lips together. Their teeth clacked. It was closer to a head butt than a kiss. Wei Wuxian shoved him away, snarling. “There. You still think you want me?”

Lan Wangji must be recovering his wits now. Must realise that he was not actually attracted to Wei Wuxian, that he had just been swept up by the grand romance of their story.

Lan Wangji leaned in and kissed him gently, fingers running down his throat. Wei Wuxian felt his breath caught in his chest, his lips tingle with pleasure. His hands bunched in his bed sheets. It hurt. It fucking hurt. He sobbed. This could not be pleasant for Lan Wangji. Not when his nose was running and he could not stop weeping long enough to keep his mouth closed for a proper kiss.

“I don’t want you to get hurt,” Wei Wuxian rambled. “If you stay with me, you will.” He was an immortal. He was one of the most powerful cultivators. He absolutely did not feel overwhelmed by the way Lan Wangji was holding his wrists.

“Wei Ying, stop trying to make my decisions for me.”

If Lan Wangji ever regretted this, Wei Wuxian was sure he would die. And yet, had he ever been this happy?

“Wangji, how are you feeling? Oh.”

With Lan Xichen’s entrance, Wei Wuxian tried to disentangle himself from Lan Wangji but he was already pressed against the headrest. If he leaned any further back, he’d fall off the bed. He did his best to wipe his face discreetly. He daren’t think how this must look.

“I - um - am glad you seem to be feeling better,” said Lan Xichen, trying his best to look at them without actually looking at them. “Though I - um - perhaps I should start appointing a chaperone. Jiang-zongzhu has nominally claimed Wei Wuxian as part of Yunmeng Jiang. I don’t think I’d be able to face him if I let you do anything more before an…an agreement has been reached.”

Wei Wuxian laughed, not sure how else to react and hid his face in Lan Wangji’s shoulder. The hand that rested on the back of his head was too tender. “Lan Zhan,” he gasped.

“Yes,” said Lan Wangji. “I am here.”

After three hundred and thirty-two years, he really was.

 


Epilogue

There are few absolutely true things known about the aftermath of the war.

The Qishan Wen sect was disbanded. The branches of the Wen clan petitioned to be acknowledged as a number of different sects and the major sects are yet to decide on their fate. The same major sects have taken responsibility over any supernatural unrest in Qishan until the smaller sects, which the Wen had formerly destroyed or assimilated, have a chance to re-establish themselves. Mo Xuanyu was returned to his mother with no memory of anything that happened after he performed the ritual (“Not that I’m complaining, but why didn’t the array work?” he asked.) and in Jinlintai, he now enjoys the status and trappings of an acknowledged son of Jin Guangshan, thanks to Jin Zixuan twisting a few arms.

But, the villager might ask, what happened to the Yiling Patriarch?

It is no secret that the major sects used him to win the war. What happened to him? Did the sects kill him all over again? Nie Mingjue would say that they had. Lan Xichen would not answer. Jin Guangshan would turn red when asked and Jiang Wanyin looked like he would kill you for trying.

And, the villager might ask next, what about the rumours that Hanguang-jun and the Yiling Patriarch were lovers? If the Yiling Patriarch had not been killed, did they elope?

But no one has dared ask the illustrious Hanguang-jun to verify such rumours, not even when they see him walking through Caiyi Town on his way back to Cloud Recesses. He leaves Cloud Recesses regularly. On night hunts presumably. Though that did not explain why he looks so calm, almost happy, whenever he leaves for these night hunts.

It has been reported that one day, a child in Yiling was returning from playing with her friends and decided to take the long path home that wound close to the Burial Mounds. Through the forest she heard a melody in the wind. It sounded like a dizi accompanied by a guqin. It sounded like a love song.

She hummed it as she helped make dinner and when she told her curious parents where she’d heard it, they scoffed and told her it was impossible. Didn’t she know? The Yiling Patriarch haunted the Burial Mounds. He lived and died a cursed life. Why would he be playing a love song?

The child admitted she didn’t know. She didn’t know anything about the Yiling Patriarch, or Hanguang-jun, or wars between sects. But the melody sounded happy. That’s good enough, isn’t it?