Life’s Final Star is Brotherhood – 3/5 – Duochanfan

Title: Life’s Final Star is Brotherhood
Author: duochanfan
Fandom: The Untamed/Mo Dao Zu Shi
Genre: Action Adventure, Drama, Family, Hurt/Comfort, Pre-Relationship, Slash
Relationship(s): Lan Zhan/Wei Ying, other pairings
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Hate Crimes/Hate Speech, Major Character Death, Slavery, Torture, Violence – Graphic, Violence – Domestic and/or Against Children, Dark Themes, Abuse Domestic, Adultery, Death Minor Character, Discussion – Domestic Violence, Discussion – Murder, Discussion – Rape, Discussion Sexual Abuse, Discussion Torture, Disturbing Imagery, Violence Canon Level, Rape Off Screen, Murder, Miscarriage, Child Death (newborn)
Beta: Arete
Word Count: 122,600
Summary: Going to Cloud Recesses for the Lectures was going to be boring for Wei Ying. Instead, he finds a deep and lasting friendship with Meng Yao and Nie Huaisang. Their ideals and their minds could easily change the course of the Cultivation World will take in the coming years.
Artist: SilverCircuit



Chapter Twenty-One

A couple of weeks of intense training later and they were almost at Nightless City, ready for the competitions and the discussion conference that was going to be taking place. Wei Ying couldn’t wait anymore and rushed ahead of everyone. He wanted to hurry up and find Lan Zhan. He wandered into a clearing and spotted a young teenager, practising archery. He watched for a moment, nodding as he saw good form and some strength behind the pull.

“Wow, you’re really good,” Wei Ying called out. Forgetting for the moment the basic rules when it came to archery. Not to disturb the archer when they are practising, as they are focusing solely on the target.

The poor teen turned and shot his arrow before he had the presence of mind to stop it, “Oh no!” he cried out, eyes wide in horror.

Wei Ying hissed slightly as the arrow sliced against his arm, “Good aim,” he nodded, chuckling lightly as he put a hand over the small cut. It wasn’t deep, just a little long and bleeding slowly.

“I’m so sorry,” he called out as he rushed over, wide eyes and looked at him. He reminded Wei Ying of a baby deer.

“It’s okay, I should have realised not to disturb you like that,” he told him, a smile still on his face.

The young man looked at him and then spotted the blood that was beginning to seep through his fingers, “You’re… you’re bleeding,” he stuttered.

“Just a little bit, it’ll be just fine,” he reassured him, “You’re really good you know,” he told him, trying to distract him from the blood.

“Co… come on. I’ll take you to my jiejie, she’ll… she’ll be able to patch you up,” he said, sounding hopeful as he looked at the older teenager before him.

“Okay,” he sighed, agreeing with him as he saw that the teen wasn’t going to let it go, “I’m Wei Ying, courtesy Wuxian,” he greeted with a bow, one slightly bloody hand.

“I’m Wen Ning, courtesy Qionglin,” he bowed back, “please, you should come and see my sister now. I know that you’ll be taking part in things,” he added, looking a little nervous.

“Okay, I said,” he smiled, laughing lightly at the nervousness. It was adorable.

“Good,” he nodded furiously as he then started to guide him away from the field that he had been practising in and towards a small group of buildings.

“Jiejie!” he called out as soon as he walked into a small building, “jiejie!” he called again as soon as a young woman walked into the room.

“A-Ning, what are you doing?” she asked him, “I told you to remain here, we need to keep out of people’s way,” she said, worry in her voice.

“I know A-Jie, I didn’t get seen at all by Wen Xu or Wen Chao,” he said, oddly proud of that fact. The smile on his face dropped, “But when I was practising, I accidently hit Young Master Wei,” he said softly.

“Young Master Wei,” she said as she then noticed that there was someone standing just behind Wen Ning.

“Sorry, I disturbed him while he was practising. I forgot for a moment that you shouldn’t do that and ended up with this for my trouble,” he smiled gently, “it wasn’t his fault at all. It will heal just fine on its own,” he added.

“Let me determine that,” she told him, huffing a little as she pulled Wei Ying into the room fully and settled him onto a chair. She was able to, with a few sharp words, get him to disrobe a little so she could get to the cut. “Just a small one,” she murmured, “cleaning it and it should be fully healed by tomorrow morning,” she told him.

“Thank you,” he smiled, as she began to clean it. Her hands were sure, competent as she worked. Not paying attention to anything but the wound on his arm. She covered it up and finally let him redress himself.

“Make sure to keep it clean, do so before you go to sleep. it should be fully healed by tomorrow morning since your Core is rather strong,” she told him.

“Thank you,” he told her again, “And you are?” he asked, hoping for a name.

“Wen Qing, a member of the branch family of the Wen Clan,” she answered him quickly.

“We’re all healers,” Wen Ning smiled, proud of that.

“That’s really specialised,” Wei Ying said, impressed.

“All the branch that we are part of are not all cultivators. Most of us are artisans and farmers and the like. Those of us that do cultivate, well, we’re all healers,” Wen Ning added.

Finishing up with tying his robe, he nodded, “It’s a good profession and a well-respected one. Though I didn’t know anyone in the Wen Sect would want to be seen as such,” he added. Thinking about what Wen Chao and Wen Xu were like, thanks to the rumours that came out of the Wen Sect about them.

“Not all of us are bloodthirsty monsters,” Wen Qing snapped at him, a glare on her face.

“No, no, I’m not saying that. I just heard a lot about Wen Xu and Wen Chao and how they are like outside of the Wen Sect. I’m just thinking that you’re nothing like them, at all,” he told the two of them, holding his hands up.

“Good,” she nodded, “And those two are idiots! Wen Xu may have a few more smarts than his brother, Wen Chao, but not by much. Both of them tend to use their family name to get what they want,” she spat, she hated them both. They were the ones that had ended up getting her and her brother sent to Nightless City because they thought they weren’t doing enough for the Sect as healers. They wanted the two of them to learn how to fight.

“Not happy then,” Wei Ying nodded, “I’ve heard a few things about them as well, and to be honest, none of them were good,” he told the two of them.

“If you have any young women in your party, make sure that someone that can protect them is nearby,” Wen Ning advised, “We’ve had to rescue a few people that have been accosted by Wen Chao. We’ve ended up taking them to the branch village at Defan,” he added, though his sister had hissed at him to try and get him to shut up.

“Enough A-Ning, he doesn’t need to know that,” she said, almost scared that he was revealing too much to the man before them.

“No, it’s fine,” he told them, hoping to reassure them that he was fine to talk to. He had no love for the Wen Sect, especially when he had found out that it was them that had chased the Waterborne Abyss to Baling Lake.

“It doesn’t matter if it is or not, we should not speak ill of our Sect,” she gave her brother a pointed look.

“Even if we disagree with what they are doing?” Wen Ning asked her, a sad and forlorn look on his face.

“Even then. Don’t forget what they did to our parents when they tried to oppose him,” she warned him, “And he will go after our family. We have to keep them safe,” she added gently, running a hand over his head, “I know you A-Ning, I know you don’t like it, but we have no choice but to keep them safe,” she said softly.

Wei Ying watched the two of them for a moment, taking in what they had been saying. “I need to get going, they’re going to be starting the parade soon,” he said softly.

“Yeah, it starts soon. Do you know where they are going to be meeting?” Wen Ning asked, a shy smile on his face.

“No, not really,” he answered with a grin, “I should get going through,” he added, glancing out the window as he stood up.

“I’ll take you,” Wen Ning was quick to volunteer.

“Just take care of yourself and keep out of sight of the others,” Wen Qing warned him once again.

“I will Jiejie,” he grinned at her, before turning a shy smile to Wei Ying and then leading him out of the small building.

“So, what do you do?” Wei Ying asked him, as they walked out of the house and towards the meeting rounds, “Are you a healer as well?” he continued.

“I’m a healer, though I mostly just help Jiejie with the poultices and medicines. I’m good at brewing them,” he answered, “Though I do go on smaller Night Hunts occasionally. To help out the area that we live in, but I’m not that good of a cultivator,” he said with a sigh, “I’m pretty good at hunting game though. That helps popo a lot,” he said with an eager nod.

“That’s good. Hunting is a great skill to have” Wei Ying praised, “And hunting game can be a little harder than most would believe,” he added.

“Not to Sect Leader Wen,” Wen Ning sighed, “he thinks we’re all useless since we’re all healers. We all refuse to take a life, all we want to do is to heal,” he told him, giving him a small shy look.

“Healing isn’t useless, if something happens, you are the first people that we go to. We need healers to help us when we’re hurt. To help and heal the sick is a special gift and not many are good at it,” Wei Ying told him, shaking his head.

“Maybe,” he sighed, “But until he sees that. He’s keeping us close and trying to force us to fight,” he murmured.

Wei Ying nodded as he saw the purple of Yunmeng Jiang, “Ah, there they are,” he said, “Thank you, Wen Qionglin,” he told him, a smile on his face, “Hope to see you again,” he added.

“I think Jiejie is going to keep me at the house now until the Sect Leader calls for us. Which might be after the competitions,” he said with a nod.

“Keep safe then,” he told him as he then rushed off to find his family. He grinned when he spotted Jiang Cheng, looking around for him.

“There you are! where the fuck were you?” Jiang Cheng hissed at him, grabbing his arm and pulling him to the front of the formation that was going to be parading in.

“Sorry, got a little side tracked by a few things,” he grinned in answer, “look, you don’t have to worry about me,” he told him, trying to reassure as he followed Jiang Cheng.

“Well don’t, and since you were so late, now you won’t get to see your precious Lan Wangji until we’ve all been introduced,” he smirked, as Wei Ying looked upset at the thought

“But I really wanted to see Lan Zhan, that’s why I left you all so early,” he groaned as he began to look around for the familiar robes of the Lan Sect.

“Well, that’s a little tough,” he told him, grabbing him by the arm once again as he saw that Wei Ying had found out where the Lan Sect were waiting. They were going to be the second to enter the parade area, with the Jin Sect going first. Yunmeng Jiang was last. “It’s your loss, A-Jie was going to go over and say hello to Lan Xichen, but she stopped since she wanted to go with you. So, you’re the one to blame for that,” he added, poking his arm a few times.

“Mean,” he muttered as he went over to Jiang Yanli, “Shijie,” he muttered, “Xianxian is sorry for not being here,” he said pitifully.

“A-Xian, it’s okay, we can see them later on. Though I noticed that there is someone new with the Clan that the last time I saw them,” she said as she looked towards the Lan Clan.

“Oh?” Wei Ying murmured as he looked and then spotted someone with both of the Twin Jades of Lan, “Oh, I know who it is,” he grinned as he looked towards Jiang Yanli, “That’s Lan Zhan’s father, he finally came out of Seclusion just before we left,” he said quietly, “I don’t think they told anyone that he was coming out. So, he’s going to be getting a few looks.”

“Oh, that’s good. I know that they must have missed him a lot,” Jiang Yanli smiled.

“Yeah,” he nodded, “I know that Lan Zhan did,” he was about to speak even more about it when the drums started and the parade began.

They fell into line and then began to walk inside. He could see Jiang Fengmian at the head of the group as he and Jiang Cheng took their place behind him. Jiang Yanli with them as the rest of the disciples walked in two lines behind the three of them. It was showtime, and time to bring down Jin Zixuan.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Finally, the parade was over and now they were able to go and mingle with the other Sect disciples. Though the Wen Sect remained where they were standing. Keeping away from the other Sects. Wie Ying glanced around, smiling when he spotted Lan Zhan and rushing over to him. His sister quickly followed him, since Lan Xichen was standing next to his brother.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying grinned as he reached him and grabbed a hand, “Missed you,” he told him, sighing happily as he moved a little closer. The Lan and the Jiang disciples crowded around them, to make sure no one else saw what was going on.

“Missed Wei Ying,” he murmured.

“Missed Lan Zhan,” he returned the sentiments, shaking his head as he leaned against him, “I hated it when you left, I was so alone without you,” he murmured.

“As was I,” he replied solemnly.

“They are so adorable together,” Jiang Yanli sighed as she smiled at her younger brother.

“They are,” Lan Xichen agreed as he then looked at Jiang Yanli, “How are you?” he asked her, truly wishing to know.

“I’m well. A-Xian and A-Cheng have been getting me to practice a little more than I usually do. Mother hasn’t been happy with what is going on as well,” she sighed softly. “I love her, I do. But she is still demanding that I put aside what we have, what we are doing so I will follow her wishes,” she told him, “I’m not listening to her, and I’ve told her several times that I won’t. Filial Piety is one thing, but I will not keep sacrificing my happiness for her own desires. She isn’t the one that has to live my life.”

“Good,” he told her gently, “Good,” he repeated softly, “I know that it’s hard to go against a parent. I have done the same against Uncle, and he has been a father to me for years. But you are doing this for yourself. It is all you that is doing this. I am… I am glad that I have this chance, but should you not find me… desirable, then I will put things in your hands.”

Jiang Yanli turned to him, “I do,” she smiled sweetly. “You are more than I could dream of. You talk to me, ask me things, get to know what I am like. And even take an interest in what I enjoy doing. And I must thank you for the cookbooks that you sent. They were all handwritten and so beautifully presented,” she told him.

“I wrote them out for you. I know you enjoy cooking,” he said softly, “So I wanted to make sure that the courtship gift suited you properly,” he added.

“Thank you, they have become some of my favourites to read through,” she told him, “You do have such lovely writing,” she added, giggling a little as she blushed.

“Thank you,” he nodded at her, “Though I do have another gift for you,” he told her softly. He pulled something out and handed over a cloth-covered comb, “I found this as we were travelling here, and it reminded me of you,” he told her.

Jiang Yanli took it and uncovered it, “Oh,” she said as she revealed the jade come that had small flowers dotted around it. They were carved perfectly into the handle, “It’s so beautiful, thank you,” she smiled at it. She would have to leave soon to join with her father on the dais. But as she was partially a disciple, she was to remain with them until the competitions began. The first would be the mathematics and the other softer competitions. Tomorrow would see the archery and riding contests.

“You’re welcome,” he smiled, glad that she had liked it.

She smiled back at him as the Wen Sect finally started to move around the area. Talking with the odd disciples that weren’t part of their own Sect. Though it wasn’t much that they were talking about. It was more like they were trying to find out what the other Sects were up to. Whispers were around about what they were asking. The Waterborne Abyss, the fact that it had been destroyed was being talked about. Those that had been at the lectures were pointing in their direction.

A young Wen disciple, walked over to them, looking a little reluctant to be there, “I heard that the Jiang Sect’s head disciples, Wei Wuxian was the one that had destroyed the Waterborne Abyss,” he said, as he looked around, trying to figure out who that was.

“Yes,” Lan Zhan answered, eyes narrowed as Wei Ying refused to say anything at all.

“And who is that?” he asked, glancing towards each of them in turn.

“That would be me,” Wei Ying said finally as the man looked towards Jiang Yanli a little longer than was proper.

“So, you’re Wei Wuxian, did you really destroy it?” he asked, not believing the accounts that he had been hearing from other disciples.

“He did, what of it?” Jiang Cheng said, stepping beside his brother in a show of solidarity.

“I was just wondering how that was possible? A Waterborne Abyss isn’t exactly easy to get rid of,” he said, sneering a little as he looked Wei Ying up and down as though he was trying to assess his worth.

“That isn’t any of your business,” Wei Ying answered him, “What was done was my own ability,” he added, not sure what he should say to the man. He just wanted to get rid of him. He didn’t like the fact that this strange person was trying to talk to him. He moved unconsciously towards Lan Zhan as Jiang Yanli did the same with Lan Xichen.

“Fine,” he shrugged as he walked off. Talking to a few of the disciples of the Wen Sect as he and the other began to make their way over to their own Sect group again.

“Wonder why they were asking about it?” Wei Ying queried as he looked at the others.

“Doing as you did no doubt brought you to the attention of all the Sects,” a voice said behind them as Nie Huaisang stood there, smiling and waving his fan.

“Sang-er-ge,” Wei Ying teased as he grabbed his friend and hugged him tightly, “We heard from Yao-ge how well you were doing in your training,” he grinned at him, pulling him over to the others.

“Yeah, he was training me so much. I thought I was going to die,” he told him, shaking his head, “I hated it, but I did it. For you and for Lady Jiang,” he said as he gave the young woman a warm smile.

“Thank you, but what does your training have to do with me?” she asked, smiling back, but there was a little frown between her brows at the odd remark.

“Well,” he said as he looked at Wei Ying.

“Well,” Wei Ying repeated as he looked at Jiang Cheng.

“Well,” Jiang Cheng added as he glanced towards the Twin Jade and sighed, “Well,” he repeated once more as he knew he would be the one that had to answer the question, “We’re going to knock Jin Zixuan off the top five stops on the List of Young Master. Which is why we’ve all been training so much. It’s to make sure that we will all be able to beat him. He’s so sure of his place in the world that we wanted to…” he trailed off, trying to think of the right words.

“We want to knock him off the throne that he sits on. To him it’s not third place, he really believes that it’s first. Because there is no one in this world that can compare to the gentlemen that are the Twin Jades of Lan,” Wei Ying remembered. Knowing what most other cultivators felt towards the Twin Jades of Lan and what their standing in the list sounded like to others.

“Ah,” she nodded slowly, “You… you should do it because you want to be on the list,” she told them all gently.

“We are doing it because we want to,” Wei Ying reassured her, “But mostly that. Shijie, he made you feel horrible, he believes that he is owed by everyone because he is one of the best Young Masters. And only third because of Lan Zhan and Lan Xichen,” he told her, “We’re trying to make him see that his standing means nothing if he doesn’t have the right attitude.”

“He will never be able to make a match the way he is either, not unless he changes. The only ones that he will end up with are those that want the money or the name that comes with Koi Tower. There is no respect in that tower at all. His father is all over the place, not caring who he beds as long as he can keep getting away with it,” Jiang Cheng pulled a face at the thought of the man.

“He isn’t very nice to anyone, brother has kicked him out of Qinghe twice for some of the things he has tried to do,” Nie Huaisang said, there was no smile on his face as he looked more serious than he had done in a long time.

“Oh?” Jiang Yanli murmured, blinking in shock. She hadn’t heard anything like that before.

“Why do you think father doesn’t let him enter Lotus Pier unless you’re away?” Jiang Cheng told her, a little more bluntly than he intended as he added, “He’s made a number of remarks about you in the last few years.”

“I’m the one that heard him say them. It was after that, that Uncle Jiang started to send you away each time he came to visit. Usually, you would be sent to Meishan to see your grandparents for a week or two,” Wei Ying finished for him.

“So, you’ve been protecting me from him?” she asked softly, a hand going to her chest and clenching. She didn’t know if it was anger that she had been so sheltered, or grateful that they had done so.

“Yes, why do you think we were so against Jin Zixuan, it wasn’t only because he was a fucking shit to you. But because he is too much like his father. I don’t want you to be hurt like Madam Jin is all the time because of her husband’s behaviour. You deserve better than that, just like she does,” Jiang Cheng told her, reaching out to hug his sister, “We care about you, and we want you to be happy,” he murmured into her ear.

“Thank you, A-Cheng,” she smiled as she hugged her brother back.

“We protect each other,” Wei Ying told her, smiling, “don’t forget that.”

“I won’t, but that means you need to let me do so occasionally as well,” she smiled, letting her baby brother go.

“So, where is Yao-ge?” Wei Ying then asked as he turned back to Nie Huaisang, ignoring the words his sister had spoken.

“Da-ge left him in charge of the Sect while we’re gone. He didn’t trust anyone else to look after everything. He thinks everyone is incompetent compared to Yao-ge,” he grinned.

Wei Ying laughed, “Well, they are,” he agreed with the assessment of Nie Mingjue, “How has everything been with the sabres and the new weapons and that?” he asked, wanting to know first-hand how things have changed.

“Well,” Nie Huaisang began, “I don’t know if you were about to see Da-ge before he went up on the dais, he has his sabre on his back and a short sword at his waist. He’s relearning how to fight as well. He is doing it really quickly, he’s been able to get back to his original level already.”

“That’s good to know that it’s been working for you all,” Wei Ying smiled, relieved that all seemed well.

“The healers are all saying that the damage done by the sabre spirit is lessening as well. And that the Lans that have been visiting every now and then to play Clarity, have been helping reverse a lot of the damage,” Nie Huaisang smiled, “Brother has been well. His temper has lessened a lot,” he added, happy that his brother was more like what he remembered him to be when he was a young child.

“That’s great, I didn’t know if the damage that had been inflicted would be able to be reversed at all,” he said with a nod putting an arm around Nie Huaisang’s shoulder, “I’m so happy it’s working.”

“Same here,” he nodded, gripping his fan tightly, “I… I was so scared that I would lose Da-ge before he got any older,” he said quietly, looking down. “But now, I don’t have to worry so much,” he murmured.

Wei Ying hugged his sworn brother, “I’m glad,” he told him sincerely, “Really glad,” he repeated. He smiled at how Happy Nie Huaisang was about what had happened. That his brother was really going to be fine, and be able to live a happy and safe life with Meng Yao. Though he wondered how long it would be before the two of them married. The gongs echoed loudly around them and everyone was quick to line up with their Sects, the competitions were about to start.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Jiang Fengmian walked with the other Sect Leader’s up to the dais. Madam Yu was beside him, though he could do without her input at the moment. She was still angry with him that he hadn’t backed her when it came to the betrothal between Jin Zixuan and their daughter. He wanted Jiang Yanli to be happy, and Madam Yu just didn’t care as long as she got the connection to Madam Jin that she wanted.

The Jiang Sect Leader almost stopped when he saw who was already reaching the top of the dais. He moved that little bit quicker as he made his way over to the Lan. “Lan Zhiqiang,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper, shocked that the man had made an appearance at the conference at all.

Lan Zhiqiang turned around, a gentle smile on his face that was much like his eldest son, “Jiang Fengmian,” he greeted him, “It has been a long time.”

“It has, I’m glad to see you out again, I had thought that I would never have the chance to see you at one of these gatherings,” he said softly as he stood by his old friend. While Lan Qiren was only a year older than Jiang Fengmian, and Lan Zhiqiang four years older than his brother, Jiang Fengmian had been closer to the older of the two Lan brothers when they were younger. The relationship with Lan Qiren souring before Jiang Fengmian had even become Sect Leader.

“I didn’t think I would be as well,” he told him, “And don’t call me that, you know I hate it,” he muttered, a little lower so as not to be overheard by anyone.

“I’m too old to call you Gege now,” he replied, rolling his eyes.

“Qiang-ge will be fine, or da-ge, like you used to when you were actually being truthful,” he laughed.

“Da-ge, it’s been a long time since I was able to call someone that,” he sighed, glancing towards the field where he knew that his sons were, “A very long time,” he murmured, thinking about Wei Changze.

“I know, too long. I wish… I wish many things,” the Lan Sect Leader said, “But things happen outside of our control every day,” he sighed as someone else approached them.

“Lan Zhiqiang,” came a smooth voice from behind, “It has been such a long time since you have graced us with your presence.”

“Ruohan,” he greeted with a nod of his head, “It has. I thought it was about time to change that,” he smiled politely.

“What happened to put you into seclusion for so long? No one knew,” he asked him. He, like many others, was curious as to the goings-on in the Lan Sect that had forced their Sect Leader into seclusion for almost twenty years.

Lan Zhiqiang sighed, “The woman that I was courting, Meihui,” he began, “She was attacked, almost raped and killed. She was able to fight off her attacker but killed him in the process. I learned of the attack too late and then found out that some of the Elders in the Clan were going to punish her and execute her. I… wouldn’t allow it. The only thing we could do was to elope. She would be at least protected from death, as a member of the Lan Clan will only marry once in their life. Even should their partner pass on. There will be no other in their heart.”

“I do wonder what you would have done if she hadn’t accepted the proposal?” Wen Ruohan asked him, eyes narrowed slightly.

“I had made many arrangements to get her away, as far away as possible. So that she could and would be able to live freely without the worry of someone coming after her. I even had plenty of money ready for her to do so. But,” he sighed, “She chose to stay with me. I don’t know what I had hoped for. But when the Elders learned of the marriage. They forced us both into Seclusion. We… we were forced to be apart. They used talismans and threats to keep us compliant. To make sure that we would obey them. I asked A-Ren to search for the truth, for proof so that the other Elders would be able to stop it. It took him until A-Zhan was six to find out the truth and to get proof of it.”

“That was… ten years ago now? So why didn’t you come out then? If you knew the truth and it had all come to light, there would be no reason to remain,” Jiang Fengmian asked his friend.

Lan Zhiqiang smiled sadly, “A-Mei was pregnant, almost seven months they said. When the truth was going out, we were going to be coming out of seclusion. Something happened and A-Mei went into early labour. A-Ren suspected that someone had poisoned her and the baby, which caused the early onset. When I got to her home, she had just given birth to our daughter. But… she was bleeding heavily, and no Spiritual Energy we could give was helping her. She passed away holding our daughter. She… our daughter she… she only took a few precious breaths on this earth before she joined her mother in death,” he said, his voice shaking only slightly as tears brimmed in his eyes as he remembered those few precious moments, he had his daughter in his arms to say goodbye before she passed. He knew that they would always haunt him. He had felt so helpless and unable to do anything in that moment, “A-Ren was right to suspect. Three of the Elders were executed for the plot in killing A-Mei and our daughter. Seven more were forced into permanent seclusion. Nine were stripped of their title of Elder. I think only six Elders remained after A-Ren was finished.,” he told them the aftermath of what happened.

“So, you remained in seclusion from grief?” Wen Ruohan asked, nodding his head, his heart understanding what grief could do to someone.

“I did. Forgetting that my sons had just lost their mother and had basically never even had the chance to meet with me. As the deal of them seeing their mother once a month was that they would never be able to see me,” he told them, shaking his head. He looked at the two, “I forgot that I had two wonderful sons that I should have been with. I mourned for my wife and daughter, and they mourned for their mother. We should have been together to do so.”

“Your sons are a credit to you,” Jiang Fengmian told him, “They came to Lotus Pier recently to visit. They were welcomed guests. Though I didn’t know that you had come out of seclusion,” he added, giving him a pointed smile.

Lan Zhiqiang chuckled, “I wasn’t ready for the rest of the world. I was taking the time to settle back into being Sect Leader. And, since this conference was coming up. I decided that it would be nice to show up today, to let everyone know that I’m back,” he said, a little smirk playing on his lips, “And thank you,” he nodded at his friend, “I have met your sons. They are a credit to you. A-Ying, he is…”

“Energetic, a terror, smart and kind,” Jiang Fengmian said, nodding proudly.

“Very much all that. He was the one that helped me to end my seclusion,” he laughed, “He had come across where I was staying and talked to me. Making me realise what an idiot I was being,” he smiled. “Your youngest, Jiang Wanyin, he is a strong and dedicated young man. He has a good head on his shoulders. I can see him doing very well for your sect when it’s time to pass on the torch,” he added as he glanced down at the field before them.

“They both do me proud, A-Cheng is a good young man. He’s growing so fast and well. I find no fault with him. He knows how to rally the disciples behind him, to get them all fired up and ready to take on the world. And his manners are better than A-Ying’s,” he chuckled as he thought of how wild Wei Ying was compared to Jiang Cheng.

“Maybe so, but A-Ying has his own charms. He is a rather smart young man, with what he was able to do. I was shocked to learn just what he is capable of. The things that he has done to help with the Nie Sect is just one. He’s a very capable young man and a credit to your Sect,” Lan Zhiqiang told Jiang Fengmian.

“What did he do?” Wen Ruohan asked curiously. He had been hearing a lot about the young man in question. He glanced down, trying to spot the young man that they were talking about.

“A Waterborne Abyss turned up at Billing Lake,” he said, though Wen Ruohan could hear the slight reprimand in his voice and understood that the man knew exactly where the Waterborne Abyss had come from.

“Yes, I heard about that,” Jiang Fengmian nodded, “A-Cheng has told me all about it.”

“Yes, he was able to destroy the Waterborne Abyss, though he claims that he had helped with that,” Lan Zhiqiang told him, “He is a smart young man that can think on the go, it’s a rare trait.”

“He’s much like his mother, she could do the same,” Jiang Fengmian smiled at him.

“Cangse Sanren was a clever young woman. She would have been able to go even further if not for what happened,” he murmured.

“A-Ze was the same,” Jiang Fengmian added quietly, “Ze-ge had his own abilities, and they matched with Sanren well.”

“Those two were so in love from the moment they met each other,” Wen Ruohan snorted as he remembered being at the lectures at the same time as them both. He had seen the two of them dance around each other. He had been the last Wen to attend the lectures. He hadn’t sent his sons, he knew that neither of them would have learned anything there, not because the lectures weren’t good enough, but more because they both didn’t learn in that way.

“They were,” Jiang Fengmian nodded.

Wen Ruohan moved away from them, nodding to Madam Yu as she walked over, “Madam Yu,” he greeted with a polite bow, “It’s good to see you at one of these. I was just speaking about your ward, Wei Wuxian, and how he seems to be the talk of everyone around here at the moment, for his good deeds.”

“I really don’t see why he should be. He’s a useless boy that will amount to nothing in the end. He…” she growled as she stopped herself from saying.

Wen Ruohan frowned, “Obviously there is something that annoys the Lady,” he said.

“He annoys me. I don’t enjoy a little upstart coming into my home and doing better than my children,” She said, turning back towards him for a moment, “He is nothing but a servant’s son, and he should have remained as such.”

“A servant?” Wen Ruohan shook his head, “Neither Cangse Sanren or Wei Changze were servants. I know that they were both very strong and capable cultivators. I remember them both at the lectures and they would often run rings around some of the others that were there,” he said, frowning at how misinformed the woman was.

Madam Yu snorted, “Then you are all wrong, he was nothing but a servant in the Jiang Sect,” she spat.

“He was not a servant, never a servant,” Jiang Fengmian said once more, sighing heavily at the lie that Madam Yu was perpetuating. He looked at her, “You may wish that to be the case, but he was a full member of the Jiang Sect, and my sworn brother,” he reminded her again, his voice hard and even slightly angry. He was sick of telling her the same thing he had done for the last twenty years.

Madam Yu huffed as she walked away, head held hid and ignoring the words of her husband once more.

“My apologies for her,” Jiang Fengmian said as he turned towards the two men he was speaking to.

“No offence was taken, but it seems as though she had her own rather unpleasant opinions on your ward,” Wen Ruohan turned to the slightly younger man. The three of them were around the same age. Though Wen Ruohan was the older of the three, by four years.

Jiang Fengmian sighed heavily, “She does,” he murmured, “She isn’t happy that A-Ying can run circles around everyone within the Sect, bar a few of us. He trains the Sect very well too. Making them some of the strongest disciples that have ever been in the Sect. His methods are… different and she doesn’t like it at all. She also doesn’t like the fact that should A-Cheng and A-Ying carry on learning the way they both are, that the two of them are going to easily surpass her within another year or two,” he said, a proud smile on his face at how strong his sons were.

“I would be rather proud of them as well,” Wen Ruohan nodded, agreeing with the man, “Let us get ready for the beginning of the competitions. I do wonder if there is going to be any changes to the Young Master List this time,” he smiled.

“I wonder as well. I know that my sons have been working very hard to improve themselves recently,” Jiang Fengmian chuckled lightly as he remembered the way that Wei Ying had come up with a regime for the two of them without taking away any of their duties to the Sect.

Walking back over to where their seats were set up. The Sect Leaders looked at Wen Ruohan as he walked a little higher. His chair, overseeing them all as his youngest son took a place at the same level as them.

“This does not bode well,” Lan Zhiqiang said, shaking his head as they all sat down. Madam Yu sat at the table just behind him. The others that would be joining them came up. Nie Mingjue was looking so proudly at the fields. He saw his brother was still down there when normally he would already be scurrying to join his brother instead of remaining with the other disciples for the competitions.

“Father, mother,” Jiang Yanli smiled as she walked over to them. The comb still in her hand.

“I see you, have another gift A-Li,” Jiang Fengmian said as she quickly showed it to him, “He has rather good taste,” he smiled, happy at the look on his daughter’s face.

“He does, it’s so beautiful father,” she sighed happily as she settled into her own seat and waited for the competitions to begin.

The first day was slow to go by, the competitions were more of the mind than that of the body. They didn’t make a fun show for those that were watching. But to Master the Six Arts was something that every Young Master strived to do, improving their standing with the matchmakers.

“Thank you for gathering this day,” Wen Ruohan said as the last competition ended, “The results will be given out shortly,” he added. The list was argued over a little before the last of the results were in and presented to Sect Leader Wen to read out.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Wen Ruohan looked over the crowd that was gathered and nodded as he started to move. The disciples and even the Sect Leaders were all waiting for this moment. Wen Ruohan moved closer to the edge of the dais, making sure that his voice would be heard, he began, “For the rites, Lan Xichen, Lan Sect. Lan Wangji, Lan Sect. Jiang Wanyin, Jiang Sect. Wei Wuxian, Jiang Sect. Nie Huaisang, Nie Sect. Xiao Xueqin, Nie Sect. Zeng Huishang, Jiang Sect. Hau Huiliang, Lan Sect. Jin Zixuan, Jin Sect. Wen Qionglin, Wen Sect. Those are the top ten, in order of first to tenth place.”

There were some murmurings over the list, and a little outrage about Jin Zixuan not scoring high as he usually did.

“You did really well there Nie-Xiong,” Jiang Cheng said as he nodded over at the younger Nie brother.

“I knew you could do it,” Wei Ying grinned at him, “Knew it,” he laughed lightly.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan nodded from where he was standing, giving Nie Huaisang a quick glance.

Wen Ruohan waited a moment before quiet descended as he then called out, “Now, mathematics,” he said, “Lan Wangji, Lan Sect. Wei Wuxian, Jiang Sect. Lan Xichen, Lan Sect. Nie Huaisang, Nie Sect. Jiang Wanyin, Jiang Sect. Wen Qionglin, Wen Sect. Wen Jinhai, Wen Sect. Hau Huiliang, Lan Sect. Jin Zixuan, Jin Sect. Su Meishan, Lan Sect. Well done all, the last one that was done today was Calligraphy,” he said as he began to give the top ten for that list as well, “Lan Xichen, Lan Sect. Lan Wangji, Lan Sect. Nie Huaisang, Nie Sect. Jiang Wanyin, Jiang Sect. Wei Wuxian, Jiang Sect. Wen Qionglin, Wen Sect. Jin Zixuan, Jin Sect. Wen Jinhai, Wen Sect. Hau Huiliang, Lan Sect. Su Minshan, Lan Sect.”

“He did it,” Nie Mingjue said, eyes a little wide.

“Well, it does seem that this is the year for surprises,” Jiang Fengmian laughed, raising a glass to the Nie Sect Leader and then looked at his friend, Lan Zhiqiang.

“It does,” Lan Zhiqiang chuckled, nodding, “They had done rather well.”

Wen Ruohan waited for the congratulations that went around and that. He smiled, though it appeared more of a smirk as he then added, “Now, we have just the top five rankings for the day. “For joint first place, Lan Xichen, Lan Sect and Lan Wangji, also Lan Sect. For third, Wei Wuxian, Jiang Sect. For joint fourth, Jiang Wanyin of the Jiang Sect and Nie Huaisang, Nie Sect.”

Wei Ying couldn’t help it as he looked over to where Jin Zixuan was standing, his mouth open as he stared at Wen Ruohan as he spoke about the listing for the top five.

“What the hell, Zixuan, you should be on that list,” Jin Zixun huffed on behalf of his cousin.

“Maybe he shouldn’t have pissed off the wrong people,” Jiang Cheng muttered darkly, sending them a glare.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Jin Zixun said, about to go over to them. His cousin stopped him and shook his head, “But-”

“We still have tomorrow, and it won’t be hard to beat them with those,” he said, sending the two Jiang disciples a glare.

Wei Ying smirked, “Like to see you try,” he snorted as he then went back to ignoring them.

With that he dismissed them all, giving the appropriate congratulations to some people. They went to get ready for the banquet that was going to happen that night, with the other Sects. The next day would be the last half of the competitions, though Music was going to happen before the others. That would be the morning. A good way to wake up was with the music composition of many cultivators that were taking part.

The banquet meal was quickly over and they were free to speak to others once again. The perfect time to make those connections that most disciples were encouraged to make with other Sects. It helped mostly when Night Hunts happened and they were missed. It was always best to know those that you were going to be working with already.

“I can’t believe you,” Madam Yu hissed as she stalked over to Wei Ying and cornered him.

“Madam Yu,” he frowned, puzzled as he turned to look at her.

“You just had to get them talking about you. You’re always taking everything away from A-Cheng,” she snapped as she got that little bit closer, so no one would be able to hear them. Though it wasn’t hard to do so. Since the two were close to a few other disciples. Lan Zhan, seeing the confrontation, quickly coming to stand next to his hopefully future cultivation partner.

“I have done nothing Madam Yu,” he told her, “They know what happened and they talk about it because some of them saw it.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit,” she hissed, eyes flashing a little, “You’re always telling lies to people. First the Nie Sect and how you have supposedly helped them. Now you are claiming to have been able to destroy a Waterborne Abyss,” she scoffed, shaking her head as people began to gather, easily hearing her as her voice became louder as she berated Wei Ying. “A Waterborne Abyss can’t be destroyed like that. And saying that you have done so is ridiculous,” she sneered.

“Madam Yu,” Lan Zhan said, as he glared at the woman. He didn’t like the way that she was speaking to Wei Ying, “He did destroy it.”

“He was able to get it to break away into little pieces so that others around him could kill them. Without him doing what he did, the Lan Sect would have had to seal it away and let it dissipate over time,” Nie Huaisang told her as others joined in, telling her what they had seen that day.

“You’re a disgrace,” she told him, before storming off to find her husband. She wanted to get him on her side before anyone else could try and praised the almost seventeen-year-old.

XxXxX

Jiang Yanli glanced around, a smile on her face as she spotted Lan Xichen and went to head over to him. She was stopped when someone stepped into her path.

“Well, hello. What a fine young lady you are,” a smarmy voice said as the man looked her up and down, lust in his eyes as he took a step towards her.

Jiang Yanli took a step back, “I ask that you please show me a little courtesy and leave me alone, as I do not wish for your attentions,” she told him.

“Come on,” he said, as he reached out to grab her arm, “It wouldn’t hurt for us to talk a little. maybe even get to know each other. A delicate flower like you is just begging to be plucked,” he smirked.

A hand grabbed him before it could get too close to her, “She told you to leave her alone Wen Chao,” Lan Xichen said. He had seen the man go near the young woman and knew of his reputation when it came to the women that he decided to turn his attention to.

“And who are you to decide if the young lady will speak to me or not?” he sneered at Lan Xichen.

“We are courting at the moment, with marriage in mind at the end of that. Therefore, she is not someone that you can put your unwanted attention on,” Lan Xichen reminded him of the propriety and courtesy when someone is in a courtship. “Don’t think I don’t know what happens to those that you decided to lavish attention on. We all know that you’re married after all and that you also have a concubine that you like to parade around most of the time,” he added, a slight hint of disgust in his voice.

“I could always do with a second wife,” he smirked, once more he ignored the warning as he glanced over at Jiang Yanli, looking her up and down.

“I am the daughter of a Sect Leader,” she told him bluntly, standing with poise and authority as she looked at him, “To have the second son of a Sect Leader offer me a position as Second Wife is not only an insult to me personally but to my Sect. I would reconsider your words, Second Young Master Wen,” she told him, her words sharp and cutting as she glared at him.

“How dare you insult me! I am a proud son of the Wen Sect,” he growled as he took a threatening step towards her.

Lan Xichen stood in the way before he could get too close, “I would watch your tongue,” he reminded him, looking down at him., “You are a Young Master of the Wen Sect, yet you are acting like an uncouth man with no thought of your standing in this world. Think of the shame that you must be bringing to those around you with your actions,” he snapped at him, “Are you a gentleman or are you nothing but mud?” he asked him.

“I am the Second Young Master of the Wen Sect,” he said as he stood against Lan Xichen, “I am more than worthy to have as many wives, concubines as I wish. And no one should stand in my way,” he spat at him.

“You are an uncouth man who lusts after others with no thought to your wife or even the concubine that you seem to hold in high esteem. You have been told that she is taken, that she is not interested in you at all. Yet you try to force the issue. Carry on and I will ask for an honour duel against you, and you will lose,” he bit out. it wasn’t often that his temper flared. Most of the time he was rather placid, peaceful, but occasionally, his temper came out and people should watch out. There was a reason why he kept it in check.

XxXxX

Lan Zhiqiang looked around the hall. Smiling as he saw his eldest son talking with someone from the Nie Sect for a moment. He continued to look around as Wen Ruohan walked over to him, “Ruohan,” he greeted kindly, nodding his head, “How are you?” he asked him, actually wishing for a truthful answer.

“I am… doing well,” he replied, nodding his head slightly.

“I heard about your wife,” he said softly, looking at the man. The two had been a love match, which had surprised many when it came to the Wen Sect. They often went with arranged marriages. But Wen Ruohan had fought his father for the right to choose his own wife and when he won, he was granted that right, “Her loss was felt even within the Lan Sect, she was a wonderful woman,” he told him truthfully. The news of Lady Wen Xiaohui’s death had shocked everyone. She was a strong woman.

“I thank you, and I’m sorry about your loss as well. I could not imagine losing a child as well as my wife at the same time,” he said quickly.

“It still hurts even now. I have no doubt that it will always hurt,” he sighed, as he turned to look towards his eldest son.

“It was… a sudden illness. It came on so quickly, surprised us all and nothing could be done to save her,” he lamented, nodding a little as he thought of his late wife. She had come into his life when he was just the Heir to the Sect. A young teenager that had gone out on his own, without his name to try and find out what type of person he wanted to be. Instead, he found a fiery young woman that was ready to throw down on anyone that tried to cross her. She had been a self-taught cultivator. His father had been against the match. The fight they had was legendary. Even Lei Xiaohui had argued with the Sect Leader. In the end, he had no choice but to accept the young woman as part of his family. In the end, the previous Sect Leader had been glad of it, the two were well suited

“She was a good woman,” he nodded agreeing with him, he then frowned as he watched his son go over to Jiang Yanli. “Hmmm,” he hummed, “I believe there seems to be a little trouble going on,” he said as he and Wen Ruohan went that little bit closer so they could hear what they were saying.

Wen Ruohan sighed heavily as he watched, listening to the words coming from his son. The embarrassment that he was causing his own father for being so foolish. “That boy,” he muttered under his breath.

“I would quickly do something to reign him in, there are some that would take exception to what he speaks. And my son is correct, he isn’t acting like a Young Master. I know you would have taught him better than to behave like that,” Lan Zhiqiang shook his head at the disrespectful behaviour.

“And who would,” he asked, not correcting the behaviour just yet. He had hoped his son would quickly see that he was outmatched.

“Madam Yu. Do not forget that is her daughter, and that woman has a temper on her,” he warned, “She will not take too kindly to what your youngest is saying about Lady Jiang’s honour,” he added, looking at the man, a slight frown on his face as he wondered why the man was waiting.

Wen Ruohan nodded, knowing where his fellow Sect Leader was coming from. Yu Ziyuan had always been the same, a temper that would ignite at any time, for anything. Age had not softened her at all, in fact, she had only gotten worse as time had passed. “I was hoping he would see that he was behaving out of line,” he huffed slightly, “Looks like I will have to remedy this myself,” he nodded at Lan Zhiqiang and moved a little closer to the three, “Chao-er,” he called to his son.

Wen Chao sneered one last time at Lan Xichen before he went over to his father, “Father,” he bowed to him, ignoring the man next to him. Not caring that he was being rude.

“Have you no manners at all?” he spoke harshly, “You bow to Sect Leaders,” he reminded him, gesturing to Lan Zhiqiang. For a moment he couldn’t believe that this was how his child was acting. He had been brought up better than that.

“My apologies,” he said, though he didn’t sound the least bit remorseful as he then turned to the man, “Sect Leader Lan,” he said bowing, though it was still rudely executed.

“Sect Young Master Wen,” he greeted back, with a slight nod of his head. He turned to Wen Ruohan, “I fear that I must go and speak with my eldest,” he said, “I have no doubt you would remember A-Mei’s temper. He has inherited it, though he has inherited my ability to keep calm. To a point,” he said with a small quirk of his lips.

Wen Ruohan nodded, “That I do,” he nodded.

“Ruohan, it was good to speak with you again, felt just like old times when we would night hunt with Fengmian, Changze and Sanren,” he said, “along with Nie Nianzu,” he told him, a genuine smile on his face before he walked off to meet with his eldest son.

Wen Ruohan waited for a second before he turned to his son and hissed, “Follow me,” he walked away from the main part of the banquet and to a quiet corner before he said, “I can’t believe the scene that you made with Young Master Lan. How dare you act like an uncouth brat instead of the gentleman that you say you are!” he snapped at him, “How could you embarrass in front of all of them! Lan Zhiqiang is a good friend, and was someone that even your mother enjoyed speaking with whenever she had the chance,” he told him, “He and Fengmian were my friends at one point. And you have embarrassed me for both of them, and could have even caused problems with them. Get out of my sight. I don’t want to see you until tomorrow morning at the very earliest. if you can’t behave then you can leave,” he told him, gesturing for him to leave.

“Father,” he said, shaking his head, “I was just trying to find a second wife, the one t-”

“The one you have is a fine young lady, who would bear you a child or several. One that you also said that you loved. Though I see you with that concubine all the time. You have decided to shame your own wife in making your concubine more important. You really have no shame in your actions,” he told him, shaking his head, “No, leave,” he ordered, this time there was no way for Wen Chao could argue back.

Wen Chao looked at him, anger in his eyes as he slowly walked away. Leaving the Banquet Hall, but not before he sneered in the direction of Lan Xichen who was speaking with his father. The young Lady smiling beside him. “She will be mine, I’ll see to that,” he sneered as he went to find Wang Lingjiao to complain about the unfairness of it all.

Chapter Twenty-Five

The morning of music and the early afternoon for the equestrian competition had quickly come and gone. The standings for them would go out later that day, after the archery contest. Which they were all looking forward to, well most of them.

Nie Huaisang walked over to his friends, “Are you sure that I should be doing this?” he complained. He had done well in most things so far, but he was quickly hitting his limit. He didn’t like all of this after all.

“Just this one last thing left,” Wei Ying told him, patting him on the back, “Come on Er-ge,” he grinned at him, “You can do this,” he cheered him on.

Nie Huaisang slumped where he stood, “You owe me one didi,” he told him, glaring at him, his eyes only just above the edge of his open fan, “You have no idea how hard Yao-ge has been working me. And let’s not forget about Da-ge, he’s been so happy to see me doing some form of training,” he pulled a face as he lowered his fan.

“I can’t believe they let you in,” someone from the Wen Sect called out as the young teenager that Wei Ying had met earlier the day before was standing on the edge of the group.

“Hey!” We Ying called out, fawning, “He’s done well so far, even been able to get on the list a few times. He’s more than earned his place to be here.” Wei Ying shook his head as he walked over and pulled Wen Ning with him, “Come on, come and meet some of the others before we have to go in,” he told him, grinning as he started to introduce everyone to the shy young teenager.

They looked up as the gates opened and headed inside. Splitting up to try and cover as much ground as they could. It wouldn’t hurt to make sure that they would be able to find as many targets as they could. Wei Ying burst into a run, enjoying the thrill as he quickly pulled his bow back and let loose another arrow. The Jiang Sect Crest lighting up above them. He could see that there were a lot of the Jiang and Lan Sect Crests, and quite a few Nie Sect as well. Not as many Jin Sect, which he was rather happy about. Wei Ying even had a feeling that the Wen even got a few more hits in than the Jin were getting. Mostly he believed that it was mainly for Wen Ning, the shy young teenager that had entered as well.

Wei Ying was about to shoot another of the targets that flew in front of him when an arrow flew behind him, almost grazing him and then took out his intended target. With a growl, he saw the Wen Crest light up. He turned to see a gloating Wen Chao standing there.

“So, it wasn’t enough to make a mockery of your father last night but to also steal other people’s targets and follow them,” Wei Ying snorted at the man as he then headed off. Only to find that Wen Chao and the small entourage were following him. Each time he went to take a target, Wen Chao took it first, his entourage getting in Wei Ying’s way to stop him from shooting. Or trying to make him shoot even though the target would be gone before his arrow had even left the bow. They were trying to get him out of the competition.

Wei Ying smirked as Wen Chao went to shoot at a target only for it to be taken before his arrow could reach it, “Well, I guess that means you’re out,” he said, turning to face Wen Chao.

“That was nothing but a dirty-” he began, face going red in anger.

“That was a dirty trick?” Wei Ying mocked him, “Oh so it wasn’t when you were the one doing it to me to get me disqualified, but if someone does it to you, it is?” he rolled his eyes, “You really sound like a child that didn’t get their own way,” he mocked him again.

“How dare you!” he yelled, aiming an arrow at Wei Ying and letting it go.

Wei Ying rolled his eyes as he moved out of the way, he glanced to his side as someone landed beside him, “Oh, Lan Zhan,” he greeted with a warm smile.

“You are out Second Young Master Wen,” Lan Zhan said, a glare on his face as he stared Wen Chao down for daring to try and harm Wei Ying. “Disgrace,” he added.

“How dare you! You Lan’s all think that you’re better than me,” Wen Chao yelled out, almost looking like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum as he stomped his foot on the ground.

“You flaunt the rules that the Wen Sect put down for this competition, when things don’t go your way, you change them to suit you. Spoilt Young Master, or should that be Maiden,” Wei Ying said as he looked at Lan Zhan for an answer.

“Mn, worse than a Maiden, a Maiden knows how to behave, they are stronger than he,” Lan Zhan said, Wei Ying, nodding in agreement with him as the younger of the two thought of Jiang Yanli.

“Ho-”

“Leave, you are not wanted. You are out of the competition and if you carry on trying to compete then you’re losing face for the Wen Sect and your father once more. You’ve already been warned of your behaviour. Since you decided to act so shameful during the banquet towards my sister and future brother-in-law,” Wei Ying growled at him, “Don’t think I will forgive you for trying anything with her. She is well above your station as a Second Son.”

Wen Chao snarled and then calmed, smirking as he remarked, “She’s a pretty young thing, I doubt she would even last a day in my bed. Then again, she wouldn’t be worth it to keep.”

“How disgusting are you!” Wei Ying said, eyes flashing as he took a step towards Wen Chao.

“Later, deal with him later, finish the competition first,” Lan Zhan said, distracting his betrothed.

“Hm, I will,” Wei Ying nodded, “Since that idiot is out, we’ll carry on and then maybe I can ask for an honour duel between the two of us, Young Master Wen,” he mocked, “Not like you’ll be much competition for me anyway,” he added casually.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan nodded in agreement. The Second Young Master Wen hadn’t been able to place in anything so far. Not even in the top twenty that was released after the banquet, so people could know their standings.

“I will make you regret that choice,” Wen Chao called after them as he stormed off after being reminded that his father would not like that, he had made an embarrassment of himself even more than he already had.

Wei Ying huffed as the young man rushed away from them, the others with him following, “Thank you, Lan Zhan,” he smiled at his partner.

“Welcome Wei Ying,” he nodded, “you would beat him,” he added, “But should not fight for no reason.”

“There is a reason, he has dishonoured my sister, and he was doing the same to your brother as well. When he decided that he would try and be a bastard towards her and gain her favour even after she said no,” he told him, eyes narrowed.

“Mn, brother will deal with him, brother has priority,” he nodded as he then looked at Wei Ying, “Will see Wei Ying later?”

“Of course, I need to do my best to try and beat you after all,” Wei Ying grinned as they stared at each other for a while longer before the two of them finally parted and carried on with the competition.

XxXxX

The competitions were over and those still in it walked out of the Hunting Grounds and began to gather. Nie Huaisang spotted his friends and went over to them, flopping onto the ground in front of them and facing the sky, “Save me from ever having to do that again!” he begged them all.

“You did well Er-ge,” Wei Ying teased him as he knelt and poked his friend. An evil glint in his eyes as he grabbed Nie Huaisang’s fan and darted to his feet before the man could even reach for it.

“Didi! Give me back my fan!” he yelled as he got to his feet and tried to reach for it, only for Wei Ying to dance out of the way.

Lan Zhan smiled softly as he watched the play between the two sworn brothers. After a few moments, he plucked the fan from Wei Ying’s hands as he went past and gave it back to Nie Huaisang.

“Thank you, Lan Wangji,” he smiled brightly as he took the fan and moved away from Wei Ying. Almost hiding behind Jiang Cheng, who was rolling his eyes at the two. Though happy that Wei Ying had someone else to plague with his childish behaviour.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying pouted at him as he stood face to face with the man, “That was mean,” he complained, “I was playing with me Er-ge,” he told him, huffily.

“Nie Huaisang is tired, he would fall over if you carried on,” Lan Zhan told him, hearing a cry of protest coming from said fan wielding young man.

“True,” Wei Ying laughed and then smiled as he looked at Lan Zhan, “Lan Zhan,” he murmured, reaching up, “Your forehead ribbon is crooked, let me sort it,” he smiled as he pulled it off to the mutual gasp of everyone around them.

Lan Zhan just gave a small smile as he took it from Wei Ying’s hands and instead tied it around his wrist, kissing the hand it was tied on.

XxXxX

Lan Qiren watched as Wei Ying was running around his youngest nephew. He had arrived with everyone else and had decided instead of sitting with the others, he would sit with his brother to watch the last of the competitions. Doing his best to keep an eye on his disciples.

“Oh,” Lan Zhiqiang said as he watched what happened as Wei Ying went over to his youngest.

“I… shameful behaviour, utterly shameful,” Lan Qiren muttered as he watched, “He… they… w-”

“Calm yourself, brother. They have been courting for a while. I know that Wei Wuxian understands what the ribbons mean to those of the Lan Clan. They are just letting everyone else know that they are together,” the Lan Sect Leader told him quietly.

Lan Zhiqiang looked over at Jiang Fengmian and nodded as the man spoke, “I believe there is an announcement that we should now make,” he smiled.

“Yes,” he agreed with a nod, “With that one move they are now engaged,” he smiled, looking at where Wei Ying and Lan Zhan were just staring at each other.

“They look rather happy,” Wen Ruohan commented as he watched their behaviour as he walked down from the top dais.

“They are,” Lan Zhiqiang told him, turning to face the man, “He was the one that made me realise just what I was missing with my sons. And now that the two of them are courting,” he smiled, happy and pleased that he was around to see them.

Madam Yu huffed, “A Cutsleeve,” she muttered darkly, “That boy is no end of his disgrace for the Jiang Sect, you should have left him where you found him.”

“I feel that my son is very lucky to have such a resourceful, kind and strong cultivator like Wei Wuxian in his life,” Lan Zhiqiang told her, shaking his head at how this woman was constantly belittling anything that the Head Disciple of the Jiang Sect did. Doing so in front of others and not just those of her clan was bad. She was even willing to do the same in front of other Sect Leaders, some of whom had been taking to heart some of what she spoke of, which could lead to a number of problems.

“Wei Wuxian had brought my nephew out of the shell he had retreated into after his mother’s death,” Lan Qiren said with a measured smile on his face. He might not like Wei Wuxian that much, the boy was too much like his mother for his taste. But he understood in the end, just like his parents, that the boy had a good heart, and that was what his nephews and his brother were seeing in the teenager. A young man that would stand up for anyone.

Madam Yu sneered at the good things the two Lan’s were saying, “He’s a brat, and always will be one,” she snorted, turning her attention towards her daughter.

“Mother,” Jiang Yanli said, a little fire in her eyes, “Do not speak of A-Xian in such a way,” she told her, before ignoring the woman again. She had been doing so for much of the last few months. Since she had tried to get her to agree to marry Jin Zixuan once more.

A Wen disciple rushed to the Sect Leader and handed something over before scurrying away again, “It seems that the results of all the competitions are in,” he said. A second later a gong sounded around them as all the disciples lined up with their Sects. Waiting for the New Young Master List to be read out for everyone.

“Ah, it will be nice to see if my son has made it past the Twin Jades this time,” Jin Guangshan said, a smirk on his face.

Wen Ruohan hid a smirk as he began to read out the placements for the Music, Equestrian and Archery Contests. There were the beginnings of murmurs amongst everyone as they were read out. “Now, the last thing we have to announce today is the Top five of the Young Master’s List,” he said, smirk still on his face as he started, “In first place with a total 56 points, Lan Xichen of the Lan Sect. Following right behind him with 55 points is Lan Wangji of the Lan Sect. The Twin Jades are once more the top two Young Masters on our list.”

A round of applause went up, as the Twin Jades nodded their heads at the attention, but remained silent.

“Now, in third place, we have a change, with 48 points is Wei Wuxian of the Jiang Sect,” he said, nodding as people clapped for the young man.

“Yes! Take that Peacock!” Wei Ying yelled out joyfully.

Wen Ruohan had to stifle a laugh at the cry as he then carried on, “In fourth place, with 43 points is Jiang Wanyin of the Jiang Sect,” more applause broke out with Wei Ying hooting in happiness, “And finally in fifth place, which will surprise many here, with 42 points, is Nie Huaisang of the Nie Sect!” he called out the last one.

Jaws dropped at the last name on the list. Nie Mingjue sat there, stunned and then looked like he was about to cry as he said, “Finally!”

Chapter Twenty-Six

Jin Zixuan was steaming as he walked around the banquet at the end of the night. Everyone was talking about the new listing. That he had placed seventh, also being beaten by Wen Qionglin to the list. He couldn’t understand how he had ranked so low. Even the useless Nie Huaisang had ranked higher than him. That was just an insult to his social standing. He was the heir of the Jin Sect, one of the richest around. Yet now he was nothing more than a Seventh Ranked Master in the cultivation world. Most would be happy about that, but he knew he should be at the top.

“How could I have been beaten,” he muttered to himself as he stalked around a little more, trying to find someone that wanted to talk to him, but not about the rankings. He was done discussing his new place on it.

“You were beaten because you don’t deserve to be on that list at all,” Wei Ying said as he came up behind the slightly older cultivator. Lan Zhan stood beside him, he had done so for most of the night.

“I am a young master, of course, I deserve to be on that list. More than you and he do, you’re both… Cutsleeves,” he muttered, pulling a face.

“And one day, you’ll realise there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Cutsleeve,” Wei Ying snorted at the petulant tone.

“I-”

“You claim to be a young master, but each and every time you could show that you are one, you fail at doing so,” he said, shaking his head, “You treat everyone like they are so far below you and that isn’t how a young master should act. They are to be paragons of virtue, helping those in need. Instead, you think more of how they can help you. All you are is another rich cultivator that thinks they are a true young master.”

“I am a Young Master, I have been third on that list since I was only fourteen years old,” he spat, the now almost eighteen-year-old had used his place on that list for a number of things in his life.

“And when I entered it, I was fourth. Now I’m third. And that is all because I worked hard,” Wei Ying smirked, “and now you lose out because you’re not a true young master,” he added, “come on Lan Zhan, I want to go and find Shijie,” he grinned.

“Jiang Yanli?” Jin Zixuan asked, he had tried speaking to her, but she had ignored him. She didn’t even seem to be able to hear him when he tried to speak with her. Though he was only doing so because his mother had ordered him to.

“Yes, my Shijie. The one that you’ve done nothing but insult time and time again and finally she was able to break away from you. Realising that she could be with someone that would treat her a lot better than what you have ever done,” he smirked as he then walked away from him. Leaving Jin Zixuan still steaming about the list and the telling off that he had received from Wei Ying.

XxXxX

“A-Li,” Madam Jin smiled as she finally got the chance to speak with the gentle young woman.

“Madam Jin,” She greeted back, a soft smile on her face. The woman was pleased to speak with her. But she was always trying to talk about her son. Making him out to be a young gentleman of note. But Jiang Yanli knew better than to listen. She knew that he wasn’t worth her tears or her anger.

“I heard that you were the one that didn’t wish to carry on with the engagement anymore,” she said gently, a smile on her face, though it was a strained one.

“I did,” she answered easily, “I will no longer allow myself to be belittled all the time. He needs to grow up Madam Jin. He’s a child still, he might be eighteen soon, but he is no more than the sullen boy he was when I first met him ten years ago,” she told her, shaking her head.

“He will grow up A-Li, you know this,” she told her, reassuring her that her son was still a good choice for a husband.

“He will not,” Jiang Yanli snapped slightly, “I’ve waited, and I’ve waited for him to do so. To even have him show me just the slightest modicum of respect. But instead, I get told that I’m useless as a cultivator. And that I’m not strong,” she was shaking her head as she began to walk away, her hands clenched in her sleeves.

“A-Li,” she called, “Please, you two have known each other since childhood. I truly believe that the two of you would be happy. it would be such a nice way to get the two clans to be linked together as well,” she added, hoping that would be an incentive to agree to the match once more.

Jiang Cheng walked over and pulled his sister to his side, placing a hand on her arm to help her calm down, “Madam Jin, she has already told you that she will not be agreeing to the match again,” he told her firmly, “I’m done watching my sister crying over the callousness of your own son.”

“He is just a young boy,” she began.

“I’m a young boy compared to him. He’s older than me by almost two years, yet he acts more of a child than our youngest shidi do,” he shook his head, “You keep making excuses for him, but at this moment in time, he needs a reality check. He doesn’t even understand the hurt that he has caused at all. And now… why would I allow my sister to be corralled by you and our mother to try and force her into a marriage that would leave her alone and miserable. Especially when someone has already stepped up to court her,” he said, a little smirk appearing on his face.

“Courting?” she asked, looking from him to Jiang Yanli for confirmation.

“Yes,” Jiang Yanli smiled beautifully, nodding, “I am being courted, the gift in my hair is one from him,” she told her.

“That one gift is more than what you have ever received in the ten years since you met Jin Zixuan as your betrothed,” Jiang Cheng said, rolling his eyes, “Not once did he even attempt to give you a gift of any kind. And the one time he took you out to the town at Lotus Pier, he left you alone. Which is why he was never able to take her again,” he said, turning to Madam Jin, “Neither myself nor Wei Wuxian would let her go without a chaperone to make sure that she remained safe. Not that he ever asked again.”

“He only asked me to go because he was pushed to do so by you Madam Jin,” Jiang Yanli sighed, “Everything he has ever done is always at your behest.”

“I’m trying to make sure that he has a good match. One that I know will serve him well in the future,” she said, shaking her head as he moved closer to her, “I-”

“No, you want a way to be closer to my mother. To tie yourselves in more than the sworn sisterhood that you two share. I am not going to fall in line with the wishes that the two of you have. I am my own person and I deserve some happiness. I will not get it within the Jin Sect,” Jiang Yanli told her, a little more bluntly than she intended to, “I’m rather happy with my current courtship,” she smiled a light blush on her face as she thought of Lan Xichen.

“Considering the gifts that he has given you and the time you’ve been able to spend together. I’m sure you’ve gotten more from him in the last few months of your courtship that even what Wei Wuxian and I give you,” Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes, but smiled at his sister, “And definitely more than what that Peacock has ever gotten you,” he added with a snort.

“How dare you call my son such a name. Don’t think that I didn’t hear that pathetic Wei Wuxian calling him the same thing. Such a disgrace of a cultivator and then pulling the ribbon from that Poor Lan Wangji,” she said, shaking her head in disgust.

Jiang Yanli’s eyes narrowed, “That Wei Wuxian is my little brother,” she said through clenched teeth, “He calls your son that since he parades around like a Peacock, expecting everyone else to look at how shiny he is. When in fact he is nothing but… but an asshole,” she huffed, breathing hard, “And as for that ‘Poor Wangji’ you speak of, well, they are engaged. They were making sure that everyone around them knew of it,” she said, a little smirk appearing on her face as the idea for doing such a thing hadn’t come from her brother but from Lan Zhan himself.

“How could you call my son such a name A-Li,” she frowned, “I thought better of you,” she had been shocked by the words spilling from the normally kind young woman.

“I can call him such as I am the one that had to put up with him and his deplorable behaviour towards myself and family,” she told her, “Now, if you will excuse me Madam Jin, I wish to go and see someone,” she said as she bowed, “A-Cheng, tell A-Xian that I will speak with him later and don’t forget to congratulate him on his engagement,” she smiled as she then walked away.

“I will, A-Jie,” he nodded about to leave the banquet and to try and find his errant brother.

“Jiang Wanyin,” Madam Jin said as he watched Jiang Yanli walk away with her head held high, “Who, who would dare approach the daughter of a Sect Leader for a courtship?” she asked him, eyes narrowed.

“Someone that I know will treasure her and someone that has admired her for a long time. And he has done since they first met. He stayed his hand until the engagement between her and your son was broken. When it was, he took the time to get to know her properly. Making sure that it would be something that she would want before approaching my father for his blessing. And then he asked A-Jie if this is what she wanted. She is the one to agree to it,” he informed her, a little smirk on his face still.

“But who?” she asked again, “And why would A-Yuan think of letting someone else near her daughter, we made a promise to each other that our children would marry,” she spoke quickly.

“That is never going to happen,” Jiang Cheng smiled, “And as for the who. Well, the Young Master of the Lan Sect, the First Jade of Lan and the one that has been at the top of the Young Master list since he was thirteen years old,” he listed before adding, “Lan Xichen.”

“Lan… Xichen?” she blinked, shocked that such a prominent young man would wish to marry someone as plain as Jiang Yanli. Even she had to admit that the young girl was nothing like her mother.

“Yes. He has admired A-Jie for a long time. But when he learned that the engagement between the two of them, he respected it and left her be. Though his feelings for her never wavered. And then, when she was at Cloud Recesses, the two began to talk, mostly about our brothers, Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian. They bonded over being older siblings. Talking about poetry and cooking, and other things. And then, your son, his callousness hurt her deeply once more. This time, she refused to put up with it anymore and asked for the engagement to be broken. Our father agreed so it was called off. Lan Xichen made sure that she was okay, listened to her as she ranted about your son, how he had never treated her well and constantly belittled her and us as well,” he sighed, shaking his head at the behaviour of Jin Zixuan.

“He-”

“Let me guess, he didn’t tell you about everything he said?” he snorted, “Listen, he called her weak, useless, plain and anything else he could think of to insult her. Each and every time they cut her and make her feel worse and worse about herself. But she still loved him, cared about him, because she had been told to. But after a while, she finally realised that she has never cared about him, she actually dislikes him because of what he’s like. Now I have better things to do than to tell you of all the wrongs that your son has done against my sister. If you want to know more, then question your son and make sure he tells you the truth. Madam Jin,” he nodded and bowed. walking away from her because she could say anything else.

Madam Jin watched as he walked away, leaving her with questions of just what her son was actually like to those around him if everyone one of them had worked together to push him off the List of Young Masters. She walked away, head held high, but she knew that there were rumours that were going to be going around about her son. There was no way that she was going to let him become anything like his father.

Spotting the young man, she hissed, “With me,” the order startling her son as she walked past him and out of the banquet hall or the Wen Sect.

Jin Zixuan followed his mother and soon found out why she had wanted to talk to him. In the end, he told her everything he had ever done towards Jiang Yanli. Madam Jin slowly realised what a disappointment her son had been. Madam Jin now had a clear idea as to why her son had been rejected and why there was never going to be a chance for the two of them to be together. No matter how much her son apologised and changed his behaviour, Jiang Yanli was forever out of his grasp.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Instead of returning straight to Cloud Recesses, Lan Zhiqiang and some of the Lans followed the Jiang Sect back to Lotus Pier. Wei Ying and Lan Zhan were eager to set a date for their wedding, they really didn’t want to wait any longer. The two were sure that they weren’t going to be changing their minds at all. And Lan Zhan was pretty sure to tell the Lan Elders that Wei Ying was his fated one. That would never change.

Jiang Fengmian led the way to his office, he already knew that Madam Yu wouldn’t want to be part of this discussion at all. She was still against it. Though she was against everything that her children wanted to do. It had been over a year now since they had attended Cloud Recesses, and for Lan Zhan and Wei Ying that was long enough. They two were seventeen now, and neither of them could wait until they were able to marry. It had been hard enough stopping the two of them from wanting to elope.

Lan Xichen followed them for a while before breaking off from the group. It had been just over a year since his courtship with Jiang Yanli had started. He knew what was in his heart, and he hoped that she still felt the same as well. They were both of age and he wished she would agree to what he was planning in asking her. He stopped and looked out at the Lotus Ponds, seeing that one of the pavilions was already set up for tea and Jiang Yanli slowly walked towards it.

“Father,” he called out before they could enter the office, “I wish to speak with Maiden Jiang for a moment, if you don’t mind?” he asked him.

“Of course, I trust that you will remain a gentleman?” his father said, a little smirk on his face.

“Father,” Lan Xichen rolled his eyes and shook his head, knowing the man was joking. His sense of humour had shocked him when he had first learned of it. The man was one to joke about things often. And reminded him of how their mother had been when she was alive.

“Go and speak with her,” he smiled as he then carried on and followed Jiang Fengmian. It had been a long time since he had last been at Lotus Pier. He believed it was the wedding between Jiang Fengmian and Madam Yu that was the last time he was seen in public. Jiang Fengmian had looked so happy and so had Madam Yu at the time. He wondered what had soured their relationship. The two were in love and he knew that Cangse Sanren and Wei Changze had already run off and eloped. Neither of them had any of the patience for a wedding to be planned and thrown for them.

Lan Xichen walked towards the pavilion, smiling as he saw that Jiang Yanli was now sitting there, watching the swimmers that were out in the water. He walked to the pavilion and stood there for a moment before calling out, “Lady Jiang,” his smile still there as she turned to look at him.

“Young Master Lan,” she smiled back, happy to see him, “Please, come and join me,” she gestured to the seat beside her.

“A-Li,” he murmured, “It’s good to see you again,” he said, sitting down, she had asked him to call her so informally. He hadn’t dared to do so at the Conference, not wishing to send the wrong message to people.

“A-Chen, we only saw each other this morning, as we left the inn to get here,” she giggled lightly, covering her mouth with her sleeve.

“And that is too long to go without seeing your smile,” he told her, as she poured tea for the two of them.

“It has been nice to spend so much time in your presence. It has been a blessing,” she told him truthfully, handing him one of the cups.

“Thank you,” he nodded, “It is, which is why I wished to ask you something. We have been courting for over a year now. I would very much like to marry you should you wish it. Jiang Yanli, you are a wonderful, kind and loving woman. Stronger than any I have met, will you please honour me in becoming my wife? You are already my soulmate,” he told her.

Jiang Yanli blushed at the words and nodded, “I… I would like that very much,” she smiled beautifully at him.

“You have just made me the happiest man in this world, you don’t even know how happy I am,” he said, his smile wide and unrestrained as he reached up and untied his ribbon, “This ribbon in my restraint. The only one to touch it are my family, my spouse… my one true love,” he told her as he reached for her wrist, “May I place it on your wrist?” he asked her, “It will remain there until we are wed, when I will tie it around your forehead,” he told her, a small tradition within his Sect.

“I would be very happy,” she smiled. She watched as he delicately wrapped it around her wrist a few times before tying it securely to her wrist. She ran a finger over it, a gentle smile on her face as she looked up, “What about you? she asked, hesitating for only a second before she ghosted her fingers across his forehead where his ribbon had rested.

“Each ribbon is made as a pair. The other is within my home in Cloud Recesses. We wear one and then give it to our love when we are engaged. Then we started to wear the second one. We give away our first because all that we have been has just waited for our fated one to walk into our lives. All that I am, and all that I will be, will be because of you being beside me,” he explained, a gentle smile on his face.

“So, that is why A-Xian still has Lan Wangji’s ribbon?” she asked, nodding to herself.

“Yes, they are now considered engaged within my clan. Though… with the way it was done, it should have been tied back to say that the engagement will be formalized soon. As we weren’t going to be announcing their upcoming marriage until ours,” he chuckled at how brazen Wei Ying and Lan Zhan were being about their relationship.

“Ah,” she smiled and laughed lightly, “Interesting,” she added.

“It is, I have so much I would like to tell you I don’t even know where to start,” he sighed.

“Tell me more of the traditions of the Lan Clan?” she asked him.

“Okay,” he smiled back and began to tell her a few of them, their meaning and why they exist.

XxXxX

Wei Ying and Lan Zhan followed behind the two Sect Leaders after Lan Xichen walked off. The two knew that he was going off to go and find Jiang Yanli. She had disappeared to freshen up as soon as they landed, while the rest of them had talked and eaten a little before the two Sect Leaders had taken them to Jiang Fengmian’s office.

“Now,” Jiang Fengmian said as he settled at his desk, the other three settling on the other side of it.

“Engagement, I believe that my eldest will be asking your daughter for marriage at this very moment in time,” Lan Zhiqiang said as he settled.

“I believe so as well, over a year has passed,” he smiled at his friend, “And she has been so happy for that year. There was a difference between before she had met him to afterwards. It’s nice to see that she is becoming the woman she always hid away,” he added, looking at him.

“I’m just happy that my sons will have their wish and that they are going to be just as happy with their spouses as their spouses will be with them,” he said, glancing towards where Wei Ying and Lan Zhan were just staring at each other.

“Yes,” Jiang Fengmian laughed, causing the two to startle and look at the two older men, “Now,” he said, happy he got their attention, “Engagement, they are seventeen at the moment. So, there will be at least a year before they are to marry. Now as for A-Li, she is of age as is your son. But we should let them decide when they would like to marry,” he suggested.

“That would be fine,” Lan Zhiqiang agreed easily, about to say something more.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said as he held Wei Ying’s hand tightly, brushing his fingers over the ribbon that sat there, “Will be with you always, even when we are apart and until we wed,” he told him.

“Oh Lan Zhan,” he whispered back, galling into Lan Zhan’s arms and holding him.

“And their engagement needs to be formalised, we should see about finding a matchmaker to find an auspicious date,” Lan Zhiqiang chuckled and shook his head.

“Yes,” he nodded in agreement, “We’ll send out the news about them as soon as we set the dates. I’ve already had the matchmaker come in to give a few days for each couple. I hope you don’t mind?” he asked, he had hoped that seeing such a thing would get his son in the mood to find someone as well. But it hadn’t worked at all.

“It’s fine,” he said as he watched the younger man bring out some paper with the dates on. They began to go over them, trying to figure out when would be best for the two couples. Though they would choose a few of them for Lan Xichen and Jiang Yanli, letting them decide the actual day.

“This one,” Wei Ying said as he glanced over. It was the first one on the list for the two of them, and he didn’t want to wait around at all.

“Too soon,” Lan Zhiqiang told him, “Maybe this one?” he suggested, suppressing a smirk.

Wei Ying pulled a face, “In three years! No, a year and a half. The winter after my birthday, that I will accept, but no later than the first day of spring,” he added, eyes narrowing, “Or we will just elope,” he smirked, warning the two of them.

“You drive a hard bargain Young Master Wei,” Lan Zhiqiang laughed, shaking his head, “It’s been a long time since the Lan Sect has hosted a wedding, and I know that we will be hosting Jiang Yanli and Xichen’s wedding there, but Lotus Pier… will be hosting the wedding for Wei Wuxian and Wangji,” he suggested looking at Jiang Fengmian to hear his thoughts.

“Agreed. Though I know that A-Li will live at Cloud Recesses after her marriage, what about A-Ying and Wangji?” he asked.

“Both,” Lan Zhan was the one to answer the question, looking a little embarrassed about interrupting the two of them.

“Both?” Jiang Fengmian asked, wanting him to clarify what he meant.

“Mn,” he nodded, “Both, half a year at Lotus Pier and half a year at Cloud Recesses. Both of us have duties and responsibilities, we should be able to carry them out in that way.

“I agree, Cloud Recesses is beautiful, but I would miss the liveliness that is Lotus Pier,” Wei Ying added a smile on his face as he looked at Lan Zhan. He couldn’t help watching Lan Zhan, he looked a little odd still without his forehead ribbon in place.

“Then I believe that is all we need at the moment. I will send the message out for A-Ying and Lan Wangji at the end of the month,” Jiang Fengmian smiled.

“And I will do the same for Xichen and Jiang Yanli. Though I’m hoping that I will get the chance to know my future daughter in law while I am here. I’ve heard a lot about her from my son, but haven’t really had the chance to meet her. I do not count the conference as a chance to get to know her,” Lan Zhiqiang said softly.

“Of course, you are all welcome to spend a few days here before leaving,” he suggested to his fellow Sect Leader.

“That would be wonderful, thank you for the hospitality,” he nodded as they all got up. With Lan Zhan helping Wei Ying to his feet.

XxXxX

Wei Ying was sad as he watched the Lan’s leaving again. He wanted nothing more than to go with them. Jiang Yanli and Lan Xichen had also decided on a date for their own wedding. Which would be in a year’s time. While his and Lan Zhan’s would be around six months after theirs. During the winter of the same year, while Lan Xichen and Jiang Yanli would have a summer wedding.

“I wish I could go with him,” Wei Ying pouted as he watched his betrothed leave. Both of the Lan brothers would be returning to Cloud Recesses without their forehead ribbons. He wished that Lan Qiren had joined them, he would have loved to see his reaction to seeing Lan Xichen without his as well. It wasn’t every day that both of your nephews were engaged to be married at the same time.

“Now, the only problem I have left,” Jiang Fengmian smirked as he looked at his youngest, “Is for my youngest to stop scaring off all the matchmakers that come with his lists,” he smiled, laughing at the look on Jiang Cheng’s face.

Jiang Cheng shook his head, getting rid of the horrified look on his face, “I’ll decide if I wish to marry or not!” he yelled, walking off in a huff, stomping all the way.

The three of them watched him go, smiling and laughing at his dramatic exit. A little further off was Madam Yu, watching them, still unhappy about the two weddings that were going to happen. She still wished for her daughter to marry Jin Zixuan and had even brought it up in front of the Lans that were in attendance at dinner the day before. As for Wei Ying’s, she had called it all kinds of wrong, but every single one of them had just ignored the bitter woman.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Wei Ying was going back home to Lotus Pier, he had been at a small village just outside the boundary of Yiling. It hadn’t been a hard Night Hunt, one that he had been sent to do by himself. He often did a few of the easier Night Hunts alone. He had sent a message to the others, seeing how everyone was doing while he was gone. Now, on the walk back, he was bored and contemplated if he should just get on his sword and fly home. He hadn’t been injured, and the fight with the three corpses had been over before it had really begun. Now he hoped that Jiang Fengmian had something else for him to do when he returned. Something that would at least give him a bit more of a challenge. Most of his Hunts were alone, though he would sometimes have Jiang Cheng with him when the other could get out of his duties within the Sect, and if his mother didn’t intercept them before they could leave.

Wei Ying started to walk a little slow, he could feel a few people nearing him. There was something about them that had put him on alert. He gripped Subian that little bit tighter, ready to leap into action. Which was needed not even a second later when six cultivators leapt out of the trees to surround him. Wei Ying smirked as he unsheathed Subian in time to parry a blow and to slice at one of the men as two of them rushed towards him.

Wei Ying didn’t speak a word to ask why they had attacked him. Instead, he moved swiftly, while occasionally using a talisman to try and take the attackers down. He didn’t notice that there were several more who were getting something ready to use against him. Wei Ying then felt a strong blast of something coming his way. He did his best to deflect it, but it soon overpowered him. He collapsed to his knees as his vision began to fade. Soon enough he fell to the ground unconscious.

XxXxX

Wei Ying woke up slowly, he didn’t know how long he had been out for. He looked around and could see he was in a basement of some sort. He could see that there was still a little bit of sunlight coming through a small window that was at the top of one wall. Though it was weak, it made him wonder if it was either early morning or late evening. If it was the former, then he would have been out for a long time. The latter meant he had only been knocked out for a few hours. He sighed as he tried to figure out what exactly was going on and who had taken him.

Wei Ying shifted, growling as he felt the bindings on his wrist and around his chest and legs. They tied him to the chair that had been set in the middle of the room. He couldn’t sense Subian anywhere near him either. He looked around as he heard movement above him. Two people, he would guess as they began to get further away and then started coming close as they came down to the basement.

“Good to see that you’re awake,” Wen Ruohan said as he walked over to him. A lamp in the hand of the one followed him. It was set on a table at the other end of the room, lighting most of it up. Though it was too far from Wei Ying to be of any help in his situation.

Wei Ying tried to bring up his Qi, only to find that it was locked away. “I’d rather be asleep at home,” he told him, “It’s getting late and I need to get used to those Lan bedtimes after all,” he joked, hiding his true feelings behind his words.

“Cocky,” he muttered, “Just like your mother if I recall. She was a strong woman. Never listened to anyone telling her what to do. Though she would pay attention to what was going on and would act accordingly. The only one she really listened to was your father. Besotted with each other they were,” he snorted, shaking his head and then smirking at Wei Ying. “You are much like them, I’ve found out. Strong, determined and so smart. The Waterborne Abyss destroyed from what you’ve done. The Nie Sect and their little problem that they’ve had centuries to solve, solved by you, after working on it for what? A few weeks? A couple of months? And now they are stronger than ever before, maybe even more so,” he added, eyes narrowing at him.

“Good to know that I’ve done some good for others. Though… not like the Wen Sect of late. Your Sect was the one that had chased the Waterborne Abyss down there after all. Are your disciples so weak that they don’t know how to lock one away?” he asked, a little smirk on his face, “Though, I would like to talk to you about your youngest son,” he then added, eyes flashing as he remembered the rudeness that Wen Chao had shown his sister.

“Oh? And what about Chao’er?” he asked, eyes narrowed as he refrained from making the young man pay for his remarks about his disciples.

“He’s an uncouth man. I understand that is he married?” he asked, getting a sharp nod, “Yes, and he has the audacity to make a move on my Shijie. And has a concubine that he lets attend events where his wife is the one that should be on his arm. He has no manners, and trust me, I came very close to calling an honour duel on him for the remarks he made about my Shijie,” he told him, pushing down his fears to speak. The longer he could keep them talking the longer time his mind had to try and work out how to free himself.

“My son can do as he pleases,” Wen Ruohan dismissed it. Though even he was on his last nerve with his youngest. At least his oldest honoured his wife.

“He does and it shows that you have no control over him. He is also showing that the Wen’s have no honour. At least… you do from what I’ve heard. You are a hard taskmaster, yes. You do well by your Clan and Sect and always have, apart from this little kidnapping. But your sons are out of your control and have no love for the Sect and the Clan that you have sacrificed everything for. You honoured your wife to her dying breath and still honour her from what I’ve heard, “he told him, “I’ve… learned a lot about you over the months, from Sect Leader Lan and Sect Leader Jiang. You at least have honour. Though… I’m beginning to suspect that it is drying up fast,” he finished as he glanced around him. He could see Wen Zhuliu in the corner, he had been the one to bring in the lap, watching over his Sect Leader.

“You’re right,” he said, thinking about maybe answering somewhat honestly may help with his goal, “I am disappointed in my sons. They have both dishonoured me and their mother time and time again. Though A-Xu is a little better than his younger brother at least,” he added, annoyed at how on the nose the young man before him was. Both of his sons were five and ten years older than Wei Ying and yet he possessed the poise of someone that was decades older.

“I would start looking outside of those two to become the next Sect Leader after you. They won’t know what they should do to do right by the Wen Sect. You would have a better chance of them listening to you if you have someone outside of your main branch. Though… the madness that some people are claiming that you are going through… is beginning to show,” he warned him, his eyes hardened as he then snapped out, “Now, let me go. I wish to return to my home.”

“I invited-” the Wen Sect Leader began.

“Invited! You call this an invitation,” Wei Ying laughed, interrupting the man, “No, this is a plain old kidnapping,” he snorted, shaking his head.

“I wish for you to join me in the Wen Sect. Just think of what you could do if you did. We have a lot of resources at our disposal,” he said, ignoring the words, “You would-”

Wei Ying stopped him again, this time by a simple shake of his head, “I am happy where I am. I love my family. I’m also to marry as well. I won’t be leaving my home,” he told him.

“I had a feeling you would say something like that,” Wen Ruohan said, standing up straight, “But don’t worry, we will change your mind.”

“I won’t be changing it,” Wei Ying told him, a little smirk on his face, “You know,” he said, “Should I ever meet your youngest again, I may just end up killing the little bastard,” he warned him.

“Oh?” he said, frowning at him, his eyes beginning to swirl with something that Wei Ying couldn’t fathom.

“He insults everyone around him. Pushes his attentions onto any woman he comes across. I’ve no doubt that his wife wishes to be free of a bastard that thinks more with his dick. I know Madam Jin would wish the same if not for her son. I’d also think she’d like to have someone that would love her. I would dissolve that marriage before that concubine of his gets ideas above her station and tries to organise an accident,” he said.

Wen Ruohan stood there, staring at him for a while. He had just told him exactly what he had already stopped. He had sent the wife of his youngest son away from Qishan. In a moment of clarity, he could see that his safety was not to be had within Nightless City. The whore had made a try on her life not three days ago. Thinking that she would be able to marry his son. He had made sure that she could do nothing more and got her away.

Wei Ying had noticed the look, “She’s already tried, hasn’t she?” he asked, smirking and shaking his head, “I hope that she doesn’t have a child with him, the wife that is. She will be forever in danger as soon as she does. That concubine thinks well above her station. I would do something to put her back in her place before she tries to destroy the rest of your family,” he warned him.

Wen Ruohan looked away and left the room. Wen Zhuliu stared at Wei Ying before following him out, taking the lamp with him. Wei Ying was alone once more in a darkened room now the sun had set.

Wen Ruohan snarled somewhat when he reached the room above the basement, “I can’t believe how he was able to figure out what is going on in the Wen Sect so easily!” he yelled, beginning to pace as he tried to calm the thoughts that were swirling in his mind.

“I will help you change his mind. He will join the Wen Sect. He should know that you have the thoughts of the cultivation world at the forefront of your thoughts,” Wen Zhuliu said calmly as he looked at the Wen Sect Leader.

Wen Ruohan nodded and walked away, “Make sure that you do. Do not destroy his core, no matter what. His smarts are what we need, and his ability as a cultivator is key,” he warned as he then left. He had other things to see to, after all.

XxXxX

Wei Ying sighed as he started to try and break through the bonds that bound him to the chair. He didn’t want to remain there any longer. He wasn’t an idiot and he knew that Wen Ruohan and Wen Zhuliu would do something to try and change his mind. The Man was out of his mind most of the time, ordering his disciples to take over many of the smaller Sect over the last few years. It had been slow at first, but recently the madness had gained speed. More and more were being taken over and united under the Wen Sect Flag. No one was happy, but no one had even dared to do anything about it.

Some had raised a few questions about it, but no one really took them seriously. Now with him being kidnapped as he had been, they might just take things seriously. But he doubted it. Sect Leader Jiang might be one of them, maybe even Lan Zhiqiang as well. But that would be it. It was hit and miss, but since he was the sworn brother of the Nie Sect Heir and Nie Mingjue’s ‘bride’ to be. The Nie might join in. The Jin Sect, well he wouldn’t trust them as far as he could throw them at all.

“I will get out of here Lan Zhan,” he muttered to himself as he carried on. Trying to force his core to be free as well. He hated the feeling of it being trapped. it was like it was trying to burst out of his dantian all the time. He shuddered as it pulsed in his dantian.

He carried on fighting, struggling as he heard footsteps above him. Someone was leaving the building. He hoped that the two were just going to leave him here. But he had a feeling that he wasn’t going to be alone for long since he could now hear someone coming towards him again. He hoped he would be able to get away, he wanted to go home and be with his Lan Zhan and family again.

He grinned as he broke free of the binds and began to move. Looking around and trying to find Subian in the dark. Cursing as the door opened. He rushed towards it, only to be grabbed and hit across the temple. His vision blurred and his body swayed, quickly becoming sluggish. Wei Ying felt himself being caught as he began to fall and taken back to the chair. He felt himself slump and his vision going black. Not noticing the man that had tied him up, smirking as he now had someone else under his control and at his mercy.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Wei Ying was tired, he wished against that he had access to his core. If he did, then he would have been able to practice Inedia. Since he was being systematically starved at the moment. The last two days with not a drop of good or water had been given to him. Though his body was crying out for water at the moment. All he wanted was a small drop. He closed his eyes, letting his head drop against his chest. he knew that Lan Zhan and the other would have noticed that he was missing by now. Though he wondered why they hadn’t sent him any messengers yet. Or maybe they didn’t wish to alert anyone that was keeping him captive that they knew and were planning something.

The door to the basement opened again and Wen Zhuliu walked in and over to him. He grabbed Wei Ying’s hair and tipped his head back, letting the water in the jug he had poured into his mouth. Wei Ying did his best to try and drink some of it while avoiding choking on it as well. He was let go as soon as the jug was emptied. Wei Ying coughed a number of times, clearing his lungs of what water had been able to get into them.

“You know that people will end up becoming scared of you after a while. Of your smarts, of what you can do,” he said, as he gripped Wei Ying’s chin to make him look at him.

“What… what would I care about the masses for when it’s the people that love me that matter,” Wei Ying coughed a few more times, breathing harshly as he looked up into the eyes of his captor.

Wen Zhuliu laughed in his face, letting go of his chin as he walked away from him, “You really believe that?” he asked him, shaking his head, “No, they won’t always be on your side. They will come to hate you and fear you. Then what will you do?” he asked him, “Nothing because you’ll be alone with people around you who want you dead,” he spat.

Wei Ying shook his head, “No, I won’t be. I know those around me. They love me as I love them. I will do all I can to make sure they live, just as I know that they would do the very same thing for me,” he smiled, “You have no idea what the true value of family is. And I know my family, I know my friends, I know the one I love.”

Wen Zhuliu snorted again, “How naïve of you. I thought that you were this great wannabe cultivator that was going to take the world by storm. Instead, I find a child, someone who thinks that the people around them will always stay with them.”

“And what would you know?” he snapped at him, glaring.

“I was the same. Naïve thought that my family would never abandon me. That I would be able to be with them always. But then they found out about this little ability of mine,” he answered, holding up his hands and a flash of his Qi suddenly surrounded them. “I’ve learned how to control it, simply enough. Just don’t build Qi around my hands,” he snorted, “But that didn’t stop them from fearing me when I took someone’s core for the first time. They were an asshole and didn’t deserve their core at all. So, I took it, making sure that they wouldn’t be able to harm anyone else. And what did I get from those that I had protected? Respect? Gratefulness?” he laughed and then sneered, “No, nothing but hatred and fear. They didn’t look at me favourably. They drove me out and my own family turned their backs on me. Made sure that I would never be welcomed again.”

“Then maybe you should have let them have their own justice,” Wei Ying muttered, “Not everyone believes in the permanent solution that is the taking of a core.”

“Then you are an idiot,” he growled at him, “I was alone, walking here and there trying to find a place that I could call home! And then Wen Ruohan found me. Instead of fearing me and what I could do, he embraced me. Gave me a home and a porpoise. I will do all I can to aid him in what he is planning. The Wen Sect will be the greatest. And it will take over the world. The Sect’s will fall in line one by one.”

“No, they won’t,” Wei Ying snorted, “They won’t want to be controlled. So far, they’ve put up with things. But after a while, even a caged tiger will bite the hand that feeds them. Do too much and they will march on the Wen Sect. It might not be now, or even a year from now, but they will do something when you go too far. They will go out there to kill them. To kill you and wipe them all from the map. And with how vindictive that some people can be when they’ve been hurt, they won’t care about the civilians or those that took no part in this. They will want them all dead.”

“They won’t even get the chance. Wen Ruohan will prevail. He will win any war that comes to his doorstep. He’s stronger than you think than anyone thinks,” he snorted, smirking as he shook his head, “Within the Wen Sect, the people look up to me, they can see that they have my help, and now I have a family again.”

Wei Ying burst into laughter, “No, no you don’t have family or even people that look up to you in the Wen Sect. What you have is people fearing you. Too scared to do something or even to say something to you, Wen Ruohan or anyone else. For fear that they or their families will end up dead. How many Wens has Wen Ruohan killed for questioning him in the last few years? One, two, more maybe even dozens of them?” he asked him, shaking his head, “I bet you it’s a lot. He rules with fear and with you at his side he will continue to do so. There is nothing he can do in the end. People will have had enough of the fear and they will fight back. It’s how we all work,” he reminded him, “Flight or fight and when flight is out of the question, it will be a fight and we will fight hard.”

“I have no doubt that they will try, but we’ll crush them. They won’t have a chance against us in the end,” he smirked, “And as for you. Well,” he smirked as he moved closer, lashing out and hitting him full force into his stomach.

Wei Ying choked out a gasp as the pain radiated through him. He couldn’t help but throw up the water he had drunk. The locking of his core weakened him enough that he wasn’t able to soften the blow. He continued trying to keep himself from crying out in pain as the man carried on beating him. Blow after blow rained down on him.

Finally, breathing heavily Wen Zhuliu took a step back and looked at the trembling teenager, “There, now let’s see how your mouth runs,” he snorted, smirking at him.

“Wow, you beat up a kid. Your ancestors must be so proud of you,” Wei Ying managed to spot out, turning his head and spitting blood onto the floor. He could feel it building up as he coughed a few more times. Little splatters of blood spewing out of his mouth.

“Really. You really can’t help it, can you,” Wen Zhuliu shook his head, “Nothing but a loud-mouthed brat. You should have been drowned at birth. But no, I suppose you do have some talent, I agree with that. A talent that could be very useful in the future. Do you want to protect human life? Then maybe you should think about agreeing to join us.”

“Agree to join you?” he snorted, coughing a few times, “Why the fuck would I do that,” he shook his head, blood dripping down his face, “No… I won’t do that.”

“You will in the end. They always do. There is only so much a person can take after all,” he smirked, grabbing Wei Ying’s chin, forcing their eyes to meet, “You want to preserve human life. Help us, show us how we can use what you’ve done to bring them all to heel and then no one will get hurt,” he told him.

Wei Ying jerked his head away from the gripping fingers, “Not going to happen. You wouldn’t even stop even if I joined you. Which by the way, won’t ever fucking happen? So please, don’t get your hopes up. They’ll only be slammed against the nearest rock, like your brains will be when I get free,” he smirked, eyes blazing as he was determined to make the man pay for beating him, for taking him from his loved ones. He hated to worry anyone after all.

Wen Zhuliu laughed, “You’ll change your mind,” he repeated once more as he walked away.

Wei Ying watched him leave and then slumped where he was tied up in the chair still. He was so tired and drawn out. All he wanted to do was to go home. To maybe even find Lan Zhan and cuddle with him for a bit. He wanted to see him, Shijie and Jiang Cheng. He just wanted to be home. He let his head rest on his chest as he tried to sleep for a while. He didn’t know when Wen Zhuliu would be back.

XxXxX

Wen Zhuliu walked away from the brat and up the stairs towards the bedroom that he had taken over for his own. He grabbed a cloak and walked out of the building. Slapping some talismans onto the door as he went. Making sure that no one else would be able to enter the place. He had somewhere else where he was needed. It didn’t take him long to meet with the young person that he had arranged to meet. Smirking as his business with them was quickly concluded he walked back to the Wen Office building that had been set up in the middle of Yiling. The young woman that took care of the place was a Wen, one that Wen Ruohan wanted to keep a close eye on. There was also a young teenager. One that had done rather well for himself in the tournament for the Young Master List. It had been a long time since a Wen of any kind had been on that list.

“You, healer,” he called out to the woman, not bothering with her name.

“What is it that you need?” Wen Qing asked as he walked over to him. She had a blank look on her face as she had already made sure that her brother had hid before she had walked out to greet him.

“I’ll be in need of your services soon. I expect you to come as soon as I call for you. The person is a prisoner of the Wen Sect at the moment,” he told her, not giving her many details. It wasn’t for her to know.

“What are the injuries that I will have to treat?” she dared to ask him.

“That isn’t your concern at the moment, all you need to know is that you will be called,” he sneered.

She looked at him, eyes blank, “It is when I will need to treat them. If they are serious enough and I bring the wrong things, then they may not survive me going and getting the right medicines and herbs that may be needed or anything else that I may need,” she warned him. If this prisoner was important enough for him to have asked her to come and heal them up. Then it might be the case that she will be able to get an answer from him about this.

Wen Zhuliu looked at her, staring at her as if he was trying to decide if she was telling the truth or not. “He has been beaten. Chest and stomach area mostly, along with at least two blows to the head. There may be more when I call for you,” he answered after a few tense moments of silence between them.

“So, concussion is possible, fractured or broken ribs. Internal injuries,” she noted, nodding to herself.

“Yes,” he nodded back, though he wasn’t sure she was being truthful still, but she was a healer, her task was to heal only. “I will call for you when you are needed, do not come before then,” he wanted her as he turned away and began to head out of the door.

“Be careful of hitting their head again. If you hit it too much it can cause permanent damage to a person. If their breathing changes at all, call for me immediately as it means that there has been an internal injury that is going to cause their death pretty quickly without treatment. Especially if this person does not have access to their core. Either through its destruction or being locked away,” she told him, making sure that she heard her warnings.

Wen Zhuliu turned and nodded in her direction once before he carried on out of the room. He still had a little brat to beat up a little more before he called for her… assistance. He wanted to make sure that he got the message through to him. That Wei Ying was at his mercy and he didn’t have a lot of it for brats like him. He smirked darkly as he made his way through the empty streets.

Chapter Thirty

Wen Qing followed Wen Zhuliu through the room. The man had called her a few moments ago. Wanting her to heal up the young man in his care. Though she wondered a little of what state this man was going to be in. She suppressed a heavy sigh as she was taken down to the basement of the office that had been taken over by the Wen in Yiling, this was the third such building in the town. One she worked in, and the other, further out, was this one. The last one was used by some of the Wen’s that were entrusted to her to keep safe by her Sect Leader.

Wen Zhuliu opened the door and let her in, “Take care of him and make sure that he’ll live. That’s all I want you to do, so don’t heal everything up,” he ordered her as he then turned and left the room. Locking it up behind him. He didn’t trust her, no matter what Wen Ruohan had said.

Wen Qing stared at the door for a moment, before closing her eyes and hoping that her brother was doing as he was told for once and was keeping out of sight. To make sure that no one saw him. She had Wen Zhuliu believing that he was still somewhere in Nightless city and she didn’t want him to know the truth. She knew that Wen Zhuliu and even Wen Ruohan were not above killing family, nor would they care about using her brother against her. She turned back to the room and began to walk. It was dark, though she could hear breathing and see the basic outline of someone in front of her. Pulling out a small fire talisman, she lit it, letting the flame hover over it to light up the room. There in a chair in front of her was a man, slumped over. She walked over and wondered if she would be dealing with another cultivator that had lost their core to the man.

Wen Qing shuddered at the thought, so far, she had treated seven people in the last month for the same thing. All of them Wens, and all of them had been high up in her uncle’s circle of close confidants. They were now shadows of their former selves. They never wanted to talk about anything either. It was as though their lips had been sealed from the loss of their core. She knelt and glanced at the young man.

“Wei Wuxian,” she murmured, remembering the vibrant young man that her brother had brought to her.

The young man began to look up, barely hanging onto consciousness. One of his eyes was starting to seal itself shut from the swelling, “Oh, Wen Qing,” he said, a small smile on his face, though it looked so red from the blood, “What are you doing here, mixing it up with those bastards,” he murmured, his breathing somewhat laboured.

“Having no choice as my family are being held hostage by that bastard that calls himself a Sect Leader,” she hissed at him, quietly afraid that the one above them would be able to hear her.

“Where are they all?” he asked her, worried for her family, especially for Wen Ning, the boy was just too innocent.

“Here in the town most of them are just elderly. We’re all healers, and Wen Zhuliu is in charge of making sure we don’t go anywhere. He’ll melt the core of anyone that gets in the way. He… he seems to do what he wants most of the time,” she murmured, shaking her head, “Look, I need to heal you up, you concentrate on yourself and I’ll see about getting work out of your family,” she promised him with a nod.

“Contact Lan Zhan, Lan Wangji,” he told her, “Do not inform Lotus Pier,” he warned her, “Madam Yu won’t want to do anything against the Wen Sect,” he added, “She… doesn’t really care as long as her children are fine. Not about the sect or anything else. Just them and herself.”

Wen Qing nodded, “I’ll get word out to them as soon as I can,” she promised.

“Thank you,” he smiled at her as she began to examine him as best as she could with him tied to the chair.

She cleaned him up and healed the wounds as best as she could, “If I had my way you’d be in a bed and resting for a good few days. With your core unlocked,” she grumbled, not happy that she was once again healing someone that Wen Zhuliu was enjoying playing with. That was until he tired of them and killed them. Though it was off that the young man hadn’t had his core melted yet. It was still there, just sealed away.

“Yeah, I think I would be happy elsewhere as well,” he grinned at her, “But there’s nothing we can do about that at the moment.”

“Well, I’ll do what I can,” she said as she finished healing him. The door opened to the basement and Wen Zhuliu walked in.

“Are you done yet?” he demanded to know, sneering at the woman.

“Almost,” she said quietly as she healed up as much of the internal injuries as she would with her Qi. Speeding it up, though he wasn’t fully healed. It would be the best that she could do.

“Done?” he asked her again, getting annoyed that she was taking too long. At the moment he needed to keep the young man alive. He would be useful if he joined them.

Wen Qing stood up, keeping her face blank as she nodded, “I warn you now, be careful, too much more damage and he would be harmed,” she informed him as he escorted her from the room.

“I’ll take it under advisement,” he sneered as he then waited for her to leave the building. He then went back down to the basement and closed the door, locking it behind him once more. Wen Zhuliu walked over and stood over the young man, “You know, joining us wouldn’t be so bad,” he told him, “You fight to keep your loyalty to your sect. Though it’s been over a day since we’ve taken you, and they haven’t even thought of you as missing yet,” he added, smirking.

“Do you really think I would want them to come after me?” he snorted, “That would be putting them in danger. And I would never want them to be hurt because of bastards like you.”

“Wrong choice,” he said as he began to untie him.

“What are you doing?” Wei Ying asked, a small jolt of panic running through him for a moment before he was thrown to the floor. He scrambled to his feet, this time he was able to almost fight back. He was still sluggish and in pain. It was causing his movements to be off. He aimed a punch towards Wen Zhuliu’s head.

Wen Zhuliu laughed as he moved around the young man. There was nothing that he would be able to do to him, not with his core sealed. Part of him wanted nothing more than to melt the core of the young man. But Wen Ruohan was right, he would be more useful with it. He cursed slightly to himself as he had stopped paying attention and almost got hit. “You are rather good,” he muttered, but in the next moment, he quickly beat Wei Ying down. Sending the young cultivator to the ground.

Wei Ying lay there panting, his body shuddering in pain as he tried and failed to get back up. “Bastard,” he muttered, eyes flashing between anger and fear.

“I am, and damn proud of it,” he sneered as he pulled him to his feet. “You know, I think you might be best taken down by something else. Or rather, you would be persuaded by something else,” he chuckled darkly.

Wei Ying got to his feet as slowly as he could. Trying to ease himself up as he was scared that he would end up hurt even more should he move wrong. He shuddered in pain as he finally stood on his feet.

“You’re strong, I have to give you that,” Wen Zhuliu said, shaking his head slowly, “But you’re going to be here for a long time. And if your little family,” he snorted, “Doesn’t come for you. Then what do you think is going to happen to you?” he asked him, curious if he wondered what the young man thought.

“Dead,” he said bluntly, “I’m going to end up dead and if they are safe then you know what. I can live with that. I can really live with that,” he snorted, looking at Wen Zhuliu challengingly.

“Well, maybe not dead, but close to it. I will break you and I will make you feel as though the only thing that you can do is to follow my orders. You won’t be the first one that I’ve done this to, and you won’t be the last,” he wanted him, smirking as he then went towards him again.

Wei Ying tried to put up another fight as he was beaten again. He could feel his body weaken even more. Knowing that he wasn’t going to be able to keep his core around enough to strengthen him and heal him. Once more, Wei Ying ended up on the floor, panting and shaking in pain as he tried to keep himself together and get up. Though this time, his body refused to listen to him.

“You ready to try,” he said, going closer to him as he pulled Wei Ying to his feet.

Wei Ying bit back a groan as he almost fell back to the floor. His legs didn’t want to work properly for a moment. Instead of letting him go, Wen Zhuliu began to drag him out of the basement. The sun was already down when they walked outside. They headed through the village, no one paying them any mind. Those that did glance towards them, were quick to look away and pretend that nothing was going on. Wei Ying could see that most of those that came across them were scared.

Wen Zhuliu took them out of the village and towards the burial mounds. Wei Ying could already feel the call of the resentful energy inside. The need for vengeance wanted to overtake his mind as soon as he got near it.

“You can feel it can’t you?” he sneered as he looked at him, he smirked and laughed.

“So, what, nothing is going to harm me there!” he yelled out, putting up a brave front. He didn’t want to show how scared he actually was. He had heard so much about the burial mounds. Even when he was a child in Yiling he had heard about it. It was a way for the street vendors to scare the homeless kids away, threatening to send them there for the dead to take them. “I lived around here for a while, I know all about the burial mounds, they-” he was cut off as a hand slapped across his face.

“Oh, shut the fuck up,” Wen Zhuliu rolled his, turning back and dragging him the rest of the way.

“Not a chance!” Wei Ying wheezed as he scrambled to keep up.

Wen Zhuliu was gleeful when Wei Ying went silent as they started to walk up the small path that led them into the centre of the Burial Mounds. He stopped them near the bottom of it and threw the young man down onto the ground. Kneeling, he tied him up and then using another talisman he placed it on Wei Ying’s chest. The young man wouldn’t be able to move with it being there.

“What are you doing?” Wei Ying asked him, looking around. He was doing his best to hide his fear of the place. All he wanted to do was to curl up and hideaway. The press of resentful energy was starting to get stronger, and without his core to help fight it, it would be a fight he would lose.

“I’m going to be leaving you here. It will give you some time to think about what you want to do. This should help in changing your mind,” he snorted as he then set out a number of talismans around Wei Ying, as though he was creating a circle of some sort.

“What…” he muttered as he tried to get a better look at them.

“Well, I don’t want you dead… just yet. Just broken enough that you’ll agree to what I want you to do,” he laughed as he set the last one and then moved away from him. Activating them, “I’ll leave you here for a while and see what being here does to you. Most will break with this, but let’s see about you,” he grinned as he turned around and started to walk away.

Wei Ying watched him leave. He glanced towards the mounds behind him, he couldn’t really move much with the talisman on his chest. Just enough that he could look around. He took a shuddering breath as he tried to figure out what he should do. He wanted to leave, to get away and get back to his family. He began to struggle in what little way he could. He would have to get the talisman off first. He blew on it, he could already see that it wasn’t stuck on properly. Wen Zhuliu had been too arrogant to seal it on him properly. If he had, Wei Ying wouldn’t have been able to move at all. It took a while, but finally, the thing fluttered to the ground.

Wei Ying let out a relieved laugh as he was now able to move around a lot more. Though the bonds that were keeping him tied up were still there, he might be able to get them loose. His breath caught in his throat as he looked around frantically. It felt as though the world around him was being cut off. He stopped moving and everything went back to normal. The sounds, sights and sounds of the world were back. He tested the bonds again, the same thing happened when he started to try and struggle too much.

“What can I do,” he muttered to himself, cursing his luck. He needed to figure out a way to get out.


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