Title: The Four Y’s
Fandom: The Untamed/Mo Dao Zu Shi
Genre: Action Adventure, Drama, Family, Hurt/Comfort, Kid!fic, Pre-Relationship, Slash
Relationship(s): Nie Mingjue/Meng Yao, others
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Hate Crimes/Hate Speech, Incest, Major Character Death, Slavery, Torture, Violence – Graphic, Violence – Domestic and/or Against Children, Dark Themes, Abuse Child, Abuse Domestic, Adultery, Death Minor Character, Discussion – Child Abuse, Discussion – Domestic Violence, Discussion – Murder, Discussion – Rape, Discussion Sexual Abuse, Discussion Torture, Disturbing Imagery, Violence Canon Level, Rape Off Screen, Murder
Word Count: 151,000
Summary: Wei Ying is once against being berated by Madam Yu, instead of taking it and watching as his brother is verbally lashed, he stands up to her. Not wanting to see his brother hurt by his own mother again. The woman turns on him and drives Wei Ying from the Jiang Sect he starts to travel around the Cultivation World, picking up a few people on the way to add to his own misfit little family. His hope as he travels is to find a home for himself and those he now claims as family.
Wei Ying was nervous. He knew that Jiang Fengmian and Jiang Yanli were going to be arriving that day. He was almost shaking and wondering if there was a chance he would be able to escape down to Caiyi Town. Though he didn’t think he would have a chance of that happening. So far, Meng Yao had been the one to stop him from doing anything but going to his lessons and then to join in the training that the other Nie Sect Disciples were doing, along with all the other guest disciples.
Wei Ying moved away from people and started to walk along the walkways. Ignoring the things that were going on around him. He had gone to the training fields for a few moments but had wandered away. He would end up getting hurt as he couldn’t concentrate on anything. Lan Zhan was the one to keep an eye on him this time, as the other man slowly walked beside him. Wei Ying was stopped when someone grabbed him from behind.
“What!” Wei Ying panicked for a moment, eyes wide.
“It’s fine,” Jiang Cheng told him from behind him, “I’m just making sure of something,” he said, “I know, that you’re scared,” he murmured and then looked at Lan Zhan for a moment, “Please excuse us Second Master Lan,” he said as he picked Wei Ying up and turned him around, huffing at the effort.
“A-Xian,” came the gentle call of a familiar voice, one that caused Wei Ying to burst into tears at the very sound of it, “Oh, my A-Xian,” Jiang Yanli said as she rushed over. Taking Wei Ying into her arms as soon as Jiang Cheng had let him go.
“Sh… Shijie,” he cried, as he held on tightly to her robes.
“I’m right here,” she murmured, running her hand through his hair, “You’ve gotten taller,” she said, “I have to look up at you a little now,” she smiled gently as she took a step back. She was right, he was now looking down at her a bit. Not by much, but it was still a little.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured, eyes still full of tears as he looked at the young woman that had cared deeply about him.
“It’s fine, we… understand why,” she told him softly, “Come, we’ve been given a room while we are staying here,” she said as she linked arms with him and began to walk to where Jiang Fengmian was waiting for them. Letting the two siblings reunite without him for a moment.
“A-Ying,” Jiang Fengmian said, as the teenager walked closer to him.
“Uncle Jiang,” he said, voice small, scared of what the other man would say to him about running away.
Jiang Fengmian shook his head as he could see the fear, still smiling at him he walked over and hugged him tightly, “I missed you so much A-Ying. So have the others. It’s too quiet,” he murmured into his hair as he held his nephew close. “Come, we’ll talk more in private,” he said as he led the way into their room. As soon as they were inside, Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli set up tea for the four of them. Letting their father reunite with his nephew, much as they had been able to do so.
“How… How have things been in Lotus Pier?” Wei Ying asked after a few moments of silence. He wanted to know what happened after he had left. Jiang Cheng had told him some things, but he knew that the other wasn’t telling him everything that had happened.
“A little more relaxed,” Jiang Yanli said, a happy smile on her face.
“Madam Yu has been confined to certain places only within Lotus Pier. So far, we have only allowed three servants that have been brought from Meishan to attend to her, as well as Jinzhu and Yunzhu. Grandmother knows what is going on as well, and we are all waiting for A-Cheng’s birthday to come and for her to take her away. That the contract between the two Sects will then be over,” Jiang Yanli smiled, happy that she wouldn’t have to see the woman again. Ever since she was a child, Jiang Yanli knew that her mother had never really cared for either of her children, even before Wei Ying had been brought home to Lotus Pier.
“That’s… good?” he asked, unsure if it was.
“It is,” Jiang Fengmian nodded, “Not one of the disciples will miss her. And we are all better now that they are being trained in the Jiang Sect Secrets. Though I hear that you already know a few of them. Oh, and I have something for you as well,” he said softly, pulling something out of a bag that was nearby.
Wei Ying looked at it, taking it slowly as he glanced up at Jiang Fengmian, a puzzled frown on his face, “Uncle Jiang?”
“It’s a book on the Jiang techniques, they should have been in the library but she had them removed. A-Li and A-Cheng already know about them all, so if you want to start practising here, then A-Cheng will be able to help you in learning them,” he smiled softly, “We have missed you so much at Lotus Pier, A-Ying.”
Wei Ying nodded slowly, biting his lip, “I’ve missed you all too,” he murmured, “But…” he trailed off, clutching the book tightly in his hands.
“But what A-Xian?” Jiang Yanli said as she gestured for him to try and drink his tea at least.
“I don’t think I will be returning back to Lotus Pier,” he said, finally looking up. While Jiang Cheng wasn’t shocked by the news, the other two Jiang’s were.
“You’re not coming back home?” Jiang Yanli asked him, eyes wide as she looked at her brother.
“No,” he shook his head, sighing deeply as he looked at her, “I know that to you Lotus Pier should be my home. But… I could never call it that because of her. She always made it feel like I never belonged there. So, I never kept it as close to my heart as you all do. I always referred to it as Lotus Pier, or where I slept, or where you both are. I-”
“You never once called it your home,” Jiang Fengmian nodded slowly, “I see,” he murmured sadly as he looked at his nephew.
“I’m sorry Uncle Jiang, I… I don’t want to seem ungrateful for all that you’ve done for me. I know that you took me in when you really didn’t have to. You… you taught me so much and gave me a place to sleep and food as well. Everything you gave me… you saved me,” he told him, worrying as he shook his head, “I… I know that others will see it as me being disloyal to you and that. But really, I’m not, not at all. I’m more than thankful for everything that you have done for me in the past,” he was beginning to babble now as he tried to get across to the three of them what he thought.
“Oh, A-Ying,” Jiang Fengmian muttered as he pulled the teenager towards him and held him tightly. “I know how thankful you are, you have always done your best to show how thankful you are. You take in everything that you have been taught and have made me proud of you. We never thought you were anything but grateful, even when you didn’t need me to. Though you know that I searched for you, your parents meant the world to me. I’m just sorry it took me so long to find you,” he sighed softly.
“It wasn’t your fault that you didn’t know where they were when they were killed. Or even that it took you so long to learn of it,” he told him, shaking his head. He leaned away from him so he could look his uncle in the eyes.
“Then understand that we love you, we get that you don’t think of Lotus Pier as your home, but you will always be welcomed there,” he told him, a smile on his face, “And A-Ying, you know the bell linking that you started doing before you left?” he questioned.
“Yeah, I remember,” he said, looking at his bell and taking hold of it.
“That linked me with your father. I could hold it and know that he was well. When he died, I knew the moment that it happened. The only problem was that the letter that had been sent to me about their current location had stopped. And someone kept telling me that it was different. So, when I finally found you, it was a complete accident. I had gone almost all over the entire cultivation world looking for you. But as soon as I saw you in that alley, I knew it was you,” he sighed softly.
“It… you knew?” he asked him, eyes wide.
“I did, I’m more sorry than you can imagine that I didn’t find you sooner. That it took me four, almost five years to find you,” he told him gently, pulling him closer again and holding him. His heart was still heavy with guilt that it took that long to find his beloved Nephew.
“Your room will always be waiting for you when you come back to visit us,” Jiang Fengmian told him, “Now, I want to hear about the ones that you found as you were travelling and where are you living now exactly?” he asked him. He could see that the clothing he wore was the traditional Gusulan Guest disciple robes that they always wore during lectures, that hadn’t changed in decades. But the crest that was on them, that was the Nie Sect Crest.
“Well, I travelled to Yunping City first. It was a good place to recover and build up a little more money. I met with one of Jin Guangshan’s children. His name is Meng Yao,” he said, a little grin on his face as the two of them recognised the name.
“The one that Sect Leader Nie is marrying?” Jiang Yanli asked him, she had heard all the gossip about the match. It had caused a bit of a scandal since Meng Yao was seen as a prostitute’s child and not worthy of marrying a Sect Leader. Though his smarts and work as one of the Nie Sect’s top advisors soon shut most people up about it.
“Yes,” he nodded, “The very same,” he grinned, “There are a few more things about him, but just know that he really does love Nie Mingjue a lot,” he added, making a face, “They keep getting caught kissing,” he laughed as he remembered some of the times they had been caught doing so. When we were travelling together, we came to a small village. Found another street kid there. He was only three at the time, the villagers were helping him as much as they could. But the Sect that was overseeing them, were taking more than their share of money and crops that they had. They even threatened to harm the villagers. Some of them had even been punished and one crippled because of them. The village had been trying to send someone to the Nie Sect about it, but they weren’t successful until we had chased them off and informed Nie Mingjue ourselves about it. He was able to sort it out and the Sect is now disbanded,” he said, a smirk appearing on his face, as far as he was concerned it was justice served as the formed Chang Sect leader and a few others were still in the cells of the Nie Sect for their punishment.
“Oh, and who is the one that you found in the village?” Jiang Fengmian asked, wanting to know about the small child they had come across.
Jiang Cheng grinned, “The kid is good,” he told his father.
“His name is Xue Yang and he’s now five, will be six just before my birthday,” he sighed, still unhappy about missing it.
“He also calls Wuxian, A-Niang,” Jiang Cheng laughed lightly.
Jiang Yanli began to giggle as Jiang Fengmian laughed loudly, “Well, we always did say he was a bit of a mother hen to the younger disciples,” the Sect Leader said, shaking his head as he let Wei Ying go.
“Well, he takes it a lot further for A-Yang,” Jiang Cheng said, “He even calls me shushu,” he smiled, happy to be called such by the five-year-old.
“I’ll bring him to Lotus Pier one of these days. And yeah, I ended up with the Nie Sect. They took me in and I have a home there. Nie Mingjue is… like a big brother,” he smiled softly.
“And believe it or not so is Nie Huaisang. You’ve seen nothing until you see him rush over to Wuxian and tell him that he should be taking it easy, or resting or doing something else and fretting over him because he stayed up so long to study or research something. Yao-ge is the same as well,” Jiang Cheng smiled, happy that he had been pulled into the little family as well.
“Well, after lunch, I would like to meet the two that you are calling family as well,” Jiang Fengmian said to Wei Ying, looking down at the teenager.
Wei Ying nodded, “I will, Yao-ge is really smart, he’s been helping me a lot. He didn’t even have a Golden Core when I found him. But he was able to develop one quickly and he’s quite strong now. He’s been training since we met and he does so with Nie Mingjue as well,” he said, telling them all he could about Meng Yao and Xue Yang before they had to stop for lunch.
“I would be happy to meet with your family,” Jiang Fengmian told him as they got up, “They sound wonderful,” he smiled, happy that Wei Ying had found something he had been looking for. Though there was some sadness that it hadn’t been with the Jiangs that he had found it with.
Lectures were over for the day and as Lan Xichen had said. He had changed it so that they were also going to be on the training fields a lot more. Even the Lan Sect were now training more regularly than what Wei Ying had seen when he had first arrived. Jiang Fengmian stood to the side as he watched his sons and daughter training against each other. Getting both the Jiang and the Nie Sects to take part in it. Sparring against each other in a friendly manner. It was nice to see the two Sect’s getting along so well. The Lan was even joining in a little. Though it was mainly Lan Zhan that was doing so because Wei Ying had dragged him over to join them.
The Jin were off to one side. One of them, that Jiang Fengmian recognised as Jin Guangshan’s nephew, was sneering at the others, saying something to Jin Zixuan, who was continually telling him to shut up, by the look and sound of it. He turned as someone walked up beside him.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” Meng Yao greeted with a bow, having spent some time yesterday with the man, getting to know him as Wei Ying’s Uncle, he found he liked the older man, “It’s good to see you,” he smiled at him, “Are they doing well?” he asked, as he looked over at the training that was going on.
“They are, there were a few mistakes, but A-Ying and A-Cheng were quick to spot them and correct them,” he answered softly, “They are doing very well. They have most of the movements down. A-Ying is very good with the Baoshan style that I taught him. His mother taught me as well, which I’m glad for since it meant I could pass that on to him. The Jiang style comes easily to him,” he said, as he watched Wei Ying go through both styles in rapid succession.
“He’s good with the Nie Sword Style as well since there aren’t many that use it,” Meng Yao said, “I’ve been learning it as well, but he is rather ahead of me with that,” he chuckled lightly, smiling as he watched his younger brother stop his own practice to correct someone.
“He learns everything quicker than anyone else that I know,” Jiang Fengmian nodded, smiling.
“He does,” he said, “I’m glad to have him as my brother. And to find out that A-Yang is my actual half-brother, well, I’m rather happy to have some family that I like to claim,” he laughed a little.
“Xue Yang is your half-brother?” he asked, frowning, “How did you find that out?” he added, as he glanced down at him.
“A-Ying came up with a talisman that helped us. He’s tweaked it a little more since then so that it doesn’t just show blood relations but also that of sworn siblings since the bonds are made in blood after all,” he answered him easily.
“So, A-Ying would turn up as my nephew?” he asked him.
“Nephew by sworn brotherhood and cousin by blood,” he answered, glancing back to where Wei Ying was laughing with Lan Zhan about something.
“It would be interesting to see if it worked,” he murmured, “A-Ying is one of those true geniuses, he gets that from his father though,” he said, a fond smile on his face.
“I think that is one of the reasons why he doesn’t wish to return to Lotus Pier. You all see him as his father or as his mother’s son. Not for who, Wei Ying is himself,” Meng Yao said quietly, sighing a little when he saw the wince on Jiang Fengmian’s face.
“I don’t blame him,” he said, “I have to admit that I do see his parents a lot in him. But he is also A-Ying, and his own person as well. For me, it hurts a lot to know that they aren’t there to watch him grow into the fine young man that he is becoming. They should be here to celebrate his achievements and they aren’t,” he told him, turning to face Meng Yao.
Meng Yao nodded, “He knows that you miss his parents a lot. While he does have a family with you, he told me that it never really felt like his own,” he said, a small smile on his face.
“That I can understand. I’m trying to get rid of her influence on things. The last thing she has a hold of in our life is over A-Li and her betrothal to Jin Zixuan,” he sighed softly.
“And you don’t wish for her to marry him?” he asked, curious as to what the man really thought of the Young Jin Heir.
“Why would I? He has upset her more times than I care to count. Now that Madam Yu has been constrained, I’ve not had to send him away since he hasn’t visited with his mother. Madam Jin knows that I wish to break the betrothal. I’m getting a letter from her about it at least once a week,” he sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose, “I want A-Li to make the decision for herself. It should be up to her who she married, who she wishes to be with for the rest of her life. Not me, not her mother and not those around her either. But her own mind and heart.”
Meng Yao smiled happily at the news, “I know that A-Ying was worried about that. He feared that you would wish to save the face of the Sect, from breaking the betrothal without a reason.”
“There are plenty of reasons to break it. There have been for a very long time. But Madam Yu kept hold of everything to do with that. She even tried to organise a betrothal with someone from the Ouyang Sect for A-Cheng. They had a daughter that is just a little younger than A-Li. But since only the Sect Leader can now decide on such things within the Jiang Sect, she has no say over it. Which is why he doesn’t have a betrothal at all,” he explained, “I just wish I had thought to change the bylaw of the Sect to make sure that she didn’t have the power to do so. It would have been nice for A-Li to know that she had a choice from the start,” he muttered, more to himself at the end than to Meng Yao.
“All shall work out. If the Jin Heir is his usual self, then he will do something that will upset her and she may just see that he isn’t worth it,” he sighed.
“I thought you might have been on the side of Jin Zixuan, he is your brother?” Jiang Fengmian asked him, curious as to why he didn’t like him.
“I may have done, should he have been kind to me. Instead, when he looked at me, he sneered and it was only with a few home truths did he shut up that cousin of his. He is no brother to myself. A-Ying and A-Yang are my brothers. A-Sang as well, and even A-Cheng has become a brother,” he smiled as he looked at the three that were there, “I’m proud to call them my brothers. They are smart, kind and loyal. Yes, they are loud, but they are good in their hearts, and I know that they will be great men. Whether Jin Zixuan turns out to be such, remains to be seen. He is…” he trailed off, trying to find the right word to describe him.
“Egocentric?” Jiang Fengmian suggested, “He thinks too highly of himself. That he has put himself on a pedestal and the only way down from there is going to be a fall. It will happen and he will embarrass himself because of it. I’m just hoping that it won’t be one that will cost him.”
“True and I hope not. While he is very much the type to make a bad choice, I’m hoping that he doesn’t take after his father anymore. He has recently learned the truth about why I exist and about many other half-siblings he has out there,” he added.
“The talisman?” he asked him.
“Yes,” Meng Yao answered, “They were trying to make me feel ashamed about my origins. It didn’t work, I know my value to those that love me. And it has nothing to do with where I was born or even why. So, A-Ying decided to teach them a lesson. Used it on Jin Zixuan, showed him how many half-siblings he has out there,” he said, “While it doesn’t do anything to those that it goes towards. They don’t see it unless they are close by. We are testing it and they can be traced.” he said, “I wonder if he would even wish to find the other siblings he has, he knows where at least two of us are.”
“Hm,” Jiang Fengmian nodded, “He is a young man now, he’s no longer a child. He’s eighteen now,” he added.
“As am I, we were born on the same day,” Meng Yao said, “It was A-Ying that talked me out of going there, to Koi Tower. And I’m glad he did. I’m happier where I am, not having to think of the man that brought me into this world,” he murmured.
The words shocked Jiang Fengmian as he pieced them together and what exactly that Meng Yao meant, “No wonder Madam Jin is so determined to keep the fact that you exist quiet,” he murmured, shaking his head.
“I know and I don’t care about that. Those that I care about know anyway, but they are all that matter to me,” he shrugged, “Now, if you don’t mind, I believe that I am going to join them for a little training,” he smiled as he walked over to them and joined in.
Jiang Fengmian watched them for a little longer. A smile on his face as he wished that Wei Ying would return to Lotus Pier. But he knew that wasn’t going to happen, permanently. He would be there for a visit now and then. He would have to be happy with that, at the least.
Wei Ying walked beside Lan Zhan as they headed towards the Jingshi. Wei Ying had learned that Lan Zhan had only been living there a couple of months before the guest disciples had arrived. Going around the back of it, they climbed over the small fence that had been put around the hutch that the two of them had built together. There in the middle of the small clearing were the two bunnies that Wei Ying had caught for Lan Zhan.
“They are still so small,” Wei Ying murmured, “When do you think they will start growing?” he asked, he knew that they were only babies when he had found them a week ago. Old enough to be away from their mother at the least since there were no sign of other rabbits in the area.
“They are getting bigger,” Lan Zhan pointed out to him as he walked over and picked up one of them that had come towards him. He handed the small white rabbit over, “See, they used to fit in your hand when they first arrived, now you need two to hold him,” he told him, a little smile appearing on his face.
Wei Ying laughed lightly as he nodded, “Yeah, you’re right,” he grinned as he looked up at him, sitting down on the grass, he let the little rabbit settle onto it as the little black one began to head over to them as well.
“They are very close, they don’t like to be separated at all,” Lan Zhan told him as he scooped up the black one and placed it with the white one. The little black one snuffled around the other for a moment before shuffling closer to him and settling down to eat the treats that Wei Ying had brought with him and laid out for them both.
“They are so cute though,” Wei Ying nodded, smiling as he looked up to see Lan Zhan watching him. Wei Ying couldn’t help the blush as he glanced away from the intense stare.
“They are,” Lan Zhan nodded, “Like Wei Ying,” he added quietly.
Wei Ying only just heard the words as his face flamed to red, “You… you can’t say something like that. I’m… I’m not cute, you… you are!” he called out, eyes peeking through his hands as he brought them up to cover his face in embarrassment.
“Wei Ying is cute and handsome,” he said with a nod.
“I… You’re really handsome as well. Very handsome. So much better looking than your brother,” Wei Ying said, hoping that speaking the same things would embarrass Lan Zhan. But there was nothing, just a soft look on Lan Zhan’s face as he sat down beside him and moved a little closer.
“… Like Wei Ying,” he murmured hesitantly.
Wei Ying froze at the words. Not sure how he should respond to the words. He wanted to run, to hide so that he could think it through. Did he like Lan Zhan as well? He loved spending time with him. Thought the world of him as well. But did he like him like that? He thought hard and as deeply as he could. He didn’t want to leave Lan Zhan, he knew that much. The thought of leaving and going back to Qinghe was as bad as when he had left Xue Yang. But not quite the same.
Almost an hour later, he finally said something as Lan Zhan had waited patiently beside him to say something, one way or another. He looked at Lan Zhan, “Like Lan Zhan too,” he said, a soft hesitant smile appearing on his face.
Jiang Fengmian looked at his son and nephew as they spoke, “So, you wish to see if there will be a Night Hunt available to do together, with the others as well?” he asked them both.
“Yes, I’ve been talking to Sect Leader Lan and he says that it would be fine for us to go on a few Night Hunts with the others. So, he said that he would look into some, do you know of any that would be close enough for us to do Uncle Jiang?” Wei Ying asked him, eyes alight with hope.
“I can certainly see, but I believe it would be best if you left it to Lan Xichen. He knows the areas around here better than I. And the nearest ones that I am getting word of are all within the Jiang Sect territory,” he murmured.
“That’s fine, some of them could do with learning how to deal with different environments. Not all of them have had to fight in a swamp,” Jiang Cheng grinned, as Wei Ying laughed, trying to imagine someone from the Jin Sect trying to do so. He knew that the Lan Sect would do all they could to help no matter the situation.
“So true. I think A-Sang would even cry if he had to fight in a swamp. He wouldn’t want to ruin anything. Though those haughty Jin… could you imagine?!” Wei Ying grinned, as they continued to walk towards the buildings again.
“Why would you think that I would want to be married to someone as plain and weak as you?” came a voice from nearby.
Wei Ying instantly recognised it as Jin Zixuan. He shook his head and sighed. All three of them continued to head over to where the voices were coming from.
“I am neither weak nor plain, that is your opinion and one that I will no longer count as something important to me,” came the sharp retort.
That stopped all three of them in their tracks as they hurried to see what was going on. In front of them was Jin Zixuan, standing against Jiang Yanli and Meng Yao, who had been speaking with her and almost acting as a chaperone while she was alone in Cloud Recesses. Since he was considered all but married. He was fine to be around women, especially since he was marrying another man.
“You’re hanging around this? And you expect me to believe that you are the kind of woman that would do well within the Jin Sect. You’ll be eaten alive. You’re nothing but a woman that has nothing to show. Your cultivation is weak, the sword you carry is no more than for show. We all know that you never use it,” he told her, shaking his head, “I don’t know why my mother insists that you and I would be a good match. There is nothing in common between us.”
“You’re right,” Jiang Yanli said, standing up straighter, “We have nothing in common, as you don’t even take the time to get to know someone before you start throwing aspersions on their name and character. You have belittled and sullied my name one too many times. I have no idea why Madam Yu would think that I could marry someone so unsuited for the life of a devoted husband. But then again, I only have to look at your father to find out what type of son he might have. I had once believed that you were going to be more like your mother, a kind young man that cared about those they loved. It now seems that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. And I am not the one that behaves inappropriately and goes into two and speak and flirts with all the women there,” she said, eyes narrowed as she aimed her words to hurt.
“I believe that my daughter has finally made her decision?” Jiang Fengmian asked as he looked at Jiang Yanli, “A-Li, are you alright?” he asked her softly, reaching out to his daughter, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“I am fine, father,” she smiled happily, “I have made my decision, the betrothal between the Jin and the Jiang Sect shall be broken. I will no longer put up with the belittling remarks of someone that is far beneath my notice,” she told him as she stepped closer to her father and was pulled into a gentle hug.
“If that is your decision, then I will do it straight away,” he told her, holding her for a moment before letting her go and stand with her brothers, “A-Yao,” he said as he turned to Meng Yao, “Thank you for looking out for my daughter.”
“Your daughter is a very strong young woman, she did not even need my help or counsel over such things,” Meng Yao bowed and went over to the others.
Jiang Fengmian then turned his attention to Jin Zixuan, his cousin Jin Zixun was standing next to him, a sneer on his face, “Jin Zixuan, from this moment on your betrothal to my daughter is broken. I will not put up with the type of behaviour that you have shown towards my only daughter. She is a strong cultivator, despite the weakness that her illness caused her. It seems to me that it is the Son of Lanling Jin that is not worthy of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect’s only Daughter. Please refrain from coming near my daughter again,” he told him, “I will be sending word to your parents about the broken betrothal as well,” he added.
Jin Zixuan paled significantly, “I…”
“Please leave my sight, before my words become less than polite,” Jiang Fengmian advised the teenager.
“You’ll regret doing this Sect Leader Jiang, my uncle-”
“Your uncle is nothing but a philandering asshole who doesn’t even know what it means to be loyal to their spouse. No matter the circumstances,” Jiang Fengmian interrupted him, “Now, get out of my sight,” he ordered, this time his voice was stronger than before. Gone was the usually soft Sect Leader that most people assumed was Jiang Fengmian. Most forgot that he wasn’t just a Sect Leader, but at his core, he was a Rogue and a Hunter.
The two Jin’s left, walking away with their heads held high. Wei Ying shook his head as he watched them leave, “Really, those two are something else,” he muttered, “The idiot one, the cousin, what’s his name?” he asked as he looked towards his brothers and sister for help.
“His name is Jin Zixun, and he’s always saying things like that, that the Jin are the best in everything. Thing is, he doesn’t know how to do anything himself,” Jiang Cheng snorted, “Don’t forget that he proudly stated that he was excellent at archery, tried to tell you that you weren’t any good at archery and that you should try against him, that was a year before you left, he and the Jins came to Lotus Pier,” he added, trying to get Wei Ying to remember, he knew that the other often had trouble with his memory when it came to certain things.
“Oh yeah! He said that he was really good and could do it blindfolded, so we had a contest for it,” Wei Ying grinned, laughing, “He almost shot Sect Leader Jin in the arse, he got so turned around.”
“Sect leader Jin had to protect the jewels,” Jiang Cheng snorted, eyes alight as he looked at his brother, “I doubt he would have moved so fast otherwise,” he laughed.
Wei Ying grinned and nodded, “Yeah,” he laughed brightly as he turned sombre and looked at his sister, “I’m sorry Shijie, I know that you liked him.”
“I may have liked him A-Xian, but how can I continue to let someone like that in my life. He has done nothing but belittle me for so long. I won’t stand for it now. I won’t take it from Madam Yu, why should I take it from him either,” she said with a nod, “Now, let’s do something more pleasant for the rest of the day,” she smiled at her brothers.
“Well,” Wei Ying said hesitantly, “I want to go and see if I can get a couple of more bunnies for Lan Zhan’s enclosure. There are some in the forests just outside of Cloud Recesses,” he said, smiling as he thought of the bunnies and the small confession that they had made while sitting there.
“Do you think he would be alright with having a few more bunnies?” Jiang Yanli asked him, seeing the happy and contented smile and then the little blush that was now on her little brother’s face. She was curious as to what put it there.
Wei Ying looked up at her and nodded, “Yeah I do,” he grinned, “Even Master Lan has said that since they were gifts that he couldn’t get rid of them. And that as they were also companions for Lan Zhan, so he doesn’t get lonely when I have to leave. They could stay there.”
“Then let’s make sure he has a few more gifts then,” Jiang Yanli said as she hooked her arm with her brothers and the two of them went towards the entrance, only stopping to get permission to leave for a little while.
“Why are you always spending so much time with Lan Wangji?” Jiang Cheng finally asked his brother as he lay close to the ground, trying to coax a little bunny to come to him.
“He’s really nice, and funny as well,” Wei Ying answered him, not really paying attention to the look that Jiang Cheng was giving him, “You might not think it, but he’s really rather shy too. That’s why he has a lot of trouble making friends. He doesn’t know how to, because those here are always compared to him because he’s already so strong compared with his age mates. But we’re also rather strong as well, so he doesn’t feel the need to shy away from us as much. We won’t really tease him or bully him for being who he is,” he added, grinning as he came up with another little while bunny.
“Right,” Jiang Cheng nodded, “Though I know that something else is going on between the two of you though,” he added, sighing as his brother clammed up quickly at the remark.
“Nothing much,” he said quickly as he went over to where Jiang Yanli were keeping the two that they had already caught, entertained with little treats so they wouldn’t leave them.
“We have three more,” Jiang Yanli smiled as she saw her brother approaching with a white bunny.
“Make that four,” Meng Yao said as he walked over, a small black and white bunny in his arms. It was small as well, like all the others. Though not a baby like the two that Wei Ying had come across last time.
“I think that should be enough for now,” Wei Ying said as he looked at his siblings, getting nods of agreement from them all, “Now, don’t forget that you need to hide them to get them into Cloud Recesses,” he added, laughing as he began to explain how to hide them well enough that they wouldn’t be spotted by the guards at the gate. It didn’t take them that long to hide them properly. They headed back to Cloud Recesses and were able to get through the gate easily without the bunnies being spotted.
“Right, let’s go to Jiang Cheng’s room for now,” Wei Ying said, knowing that it was the closest. Wei Ying smiled a little as he could feel the strength in the barrier as they walked through it. The Lan’s were training more now and it showed in the strength of it.
“Sure,” Jiang Cheng said, rolling his eyes as he knew that he would just end up giving in if he even tried to argue about it.
They walked inside and put the bunnies down, with the four of them doing their best to keep them in the middle of the room. “Right, I’m going to go and find a basket and see if I can get them a little food for them before I take them to Lan Zhan. Keep them entertained,” Wei Ying grinned as he quickly got up and left the room.
Jiang Cheng watched him go, eyes narrowed, “Okay, tell me that you all see that as well?” he asked them, “Please, tell me you do.”
“Yes, I see it, he has a crush on Lan Wangji,” Meng Yao said, laughing lightly as he sat down near the table and pet the two bunnies that he was now holding on his lap.
“A-Xian,” Jiang Yanli said, shaking his head, “I wonder if he will say anything to Lan Wangji,” she questioned as she looked at the little white bunny in her own lap, “They are so soft,” she commented as she stroked the little creature that was happily nibbling on her robes, “O dear,” she giggled as she saw what it was doing.
“We can hope he says something. If not I’m all for locking them in a room together. I will not put up with the moony eyes going on for too long,” Jiang Cheng grumbled.
“I don’t even think that would work,” Meng Yao said, chuckling as he watched the young teen start to pace, all the while holding a little black bunny in his arms as he did so.
“Sit down A-Cheng,” Jiang Yanli told him, shaking her head, “We’ll think of something. Though maybe we should just speak with A-Xian about it before we do something… drastic,” she suggested.
“Maybe,” he muttered, heading over to his sister and sitting beside her.
Wei Ying rushed back into the room a few moments later, a basket in his arms and nibbles for the bunnies within it, “Right, let’s put them inside,” he grinned as he knelt down and began to take them and put them inside. Happy that they didn’t fight him as they quickly started eating. “I’m going to go and surprise Lan Zhan. I know that he’s at the library at the moment, do you think one of you would be able to go and tell him to meet me at the Jingshi in about ten minutes?” he asked them, looking hopeful.
They nodded as he then darted away to the Jingshi. He reached the enclosure and went over the fence. Seeing the two little ones were already out of the hutch, which was plenty big enough for all of the bunnies to shelter in. He slowly took the bunnies out of the basket and set them down. Watching carefully as the two original ones went over to snuffle at them and see who was invading their home. He turned around as he heard someone walk up behind him.
“Surprise Lan Zhan!” he called out, gesturing to the new bunnies that he had brought in, “I thought the other two could do with some more little friends as well,” he said, a little grin on his face as he watched Lan Zhan break out into a small smile.
“Thank you,” he said as he climbed over the small fence and walked over to Wei Ying. Taking his hand, he squeezed it, before gathering a little courage and leaning over, kissing him on the cheek.
Wei Ying went red in the face with the actions but carried on smiling as the two of them settled down in the enclosure to spend some time getting to know the new bunnies and make sure that all six of them would get along.
Jiang Fengmian looked at his sons and his daughter as they were saying their goodbyes. Jiang Yanli was upset, as she was unsure of when she would be able to see Wei Ying again. Though the younger teenager had promised he would come to Lotus Pier at some point to visit. They wouldn’t go over two years without seeing him this time. But they would no longer see each other every day as they had in the past.
“A-Li, we need to leave soon,” he told her gently, going over and taking her into his arms, to calm her tears for a moment.
“I’m sorry father,” she apologised, wiping her tears away.
“It’s fine, I understand,” he told her, “I really do. I wish nothing more than to stay and to be around him as well. To make sure that he will come home with us, but that’s not his path anymore,” he added gently.
She looked up at him and nodded, a watery smile on her face, “A-Xian,” she called out to her little brother, turning to face him, “You take care of yourself, and this time, you will write to us. A lot, I want to know everything that you’re doing,” she told him.
“I will, I promise as well, that I’ll stop by Lotus Pier sometime after the Lectures and I’ve seen A-Yang. Maybe I’ll even bring him with me so you can meet him,” he smiled, “And you… I know that Sect leader Nie will tell you that you are welcome to come to Qinghe to visit as well,” he told her, “So don’t ever be a stranger,” he pointed out to her, a soft warm smile on his face.
“I won’t,” she promised, moving away from her father and to her youngest brother, “A-Cheng, you’re doing so well here, I’m so proud of you,” she smiled, hugging him tightly, “I’ll see you when you come home.”
“I’ll keep making you proud A-Jie,” he said, as he hugged her just as tightly. From the moment that Wei Ying had been kicked out, the three Jiang’s had become a lot closer. Jiang Cheng had a better handle on his temper as well, as he didn’t wish to be anything like Madam Yu and let it consume him.
“Bye,” she whispered once more to the two of them, waving at Meng Yao and saying, “I believe that you are very lucky, you have the best traits of your mother, and I have no doubt that she was a very special lady,” she told him.
“I believe so as well,” he told her. Though his mother had been half in love with the Jin Sect Leader. He couldn’t blame her for that, he had made so many promises to her during their time. Even offered to buy her freedom, only to turn around and cruelly withdraw the offer when he was done with her.
“I shall see you all soon,” she smiled as she and her father finally walked through the barrier and headed down the mountain a little before they took to their swords and headed for home.
“What is this I hear about you cancelling the betrothal between my daughter and Jin Zixuan?!” came an angry voice as Madam Yu glared from where her area was as Jiang Fengmian walked past. She wasn’t allowed or even able to cross the barrier unless there was an emergency and something happened. Then it would come down automatically and let her out. It was the same thing that was used on the cells in the dungeon area of Lotus Pier.
“Doing what is needed to make sure that I will be happy,” Jiang Yanli was the one that spoke, her voice cold as she glared at the woman, “Were you really going to expect me to marry such an arrogant and egocentric idiot?” she asked her, stalking towards the barrier.
“He would have been good to you, an-” she began.
“Fuck that bullshit!” Jiang Yanli sword, taking a few lessons from her brothers, “He would have been just as bad as his own father in this case. All he wanted was to be the best of anything and to my face Madam Yu, he said that I wasn’t good enough. That I was plain and weak and that I was not a good fit for a prospective Madam Jin. I can see why I don’t have the same arrogance and belief that I can tread on everyone around me to get what I want. Instead, I work hard for what I would like in my life, just like a Jiang should!” she yelled at her.
“A-Li, this was your chance to leave here, to not be trapped here like I am,” she said, eyes wide as she stared at her daughter, “I am stuck here, not able to do anything. You… You would have been free from this dreadful place.”
“This place is my home. It might never have been that for you, since you were determined not to let anything work, unlike father, who did his best. But Koi Tower would have been a prison for me, with a man that would have no compunction on raping a woman, just because he wanted to. And don’t tell me I don’t know what I speak of. I know that he has at least one child out there because he raped the mother,” she growled, her eyes flashing with a burning hate at a man that would do such a thing to a woman.
“He would never, Madam Jin would never put up with it,” she told her daughter, shaking her head, “She wouldn’t, she just wouldn’t ha-”
“She would have done what?” Jiang Yanli snorted as she turned away from her, “Castrated him? Kicking him out? Yelled at him? No, she would have done nothing because she never has when confronted with that type of news. When she learned that her husband had bought a child, one that was bought before she even became pregnant, what did she do? Nothing, she did nothing but sweep it under the rug and tried to make sure that the news would never come to light. I believe that A-Yao is worth a lot more than Jin Zixuan is any day. Pity that he is already taken, he would have been a fine choice of husband. But I’m glad that he isn’t part of the Jin Sect. I wouldn’t want to be in that snake pit at all. They are all ready to bite and poison you,” she sneered and then walked away.
Jiang Fengmian went over to his wife, though soon enough, that would no longer be the case. As she would be alone, back with her mother Sect. A shame on her own name for her behaviour and the utter disregard of the traditions of another Sect. “She will never be forced to marry anyone. If she decides to find someone to love, then I will be there to support her, no matter what. And you will have no say on who she does or doesn’t marry. She is a strong young woman that you tried to keep weak and controllable. But she knew she had to train in secret. Her brothers made sure of that. And I also have something for you to see,” he told her. Pulling out two talismans. “I got these while I was in Gusu, they tell you the relations between family members, which include a sworn family,” he added, “Would you like to see what they show for me?” he asked her, glaring at the woman and daring her to say something.
“Let’s see your little show then,” she sneered. And with that Jiang Fengmian took one of them and began to activate it. Cutting his finger and then putting the blood gathered on it. Sending it a little Qi, he let it burn in front of him.
A second later, in front of him, hovered for a moment a number of coloured balls of light. A pink, though it was joined with a deep grey. Two balls of white as well as three balls of blue and several more pinks. They then darted away from him. “Do you want to know what they all mean?” he asked her, getting no answer he continued, “The blue is aunts and uncles, I have three left and they are now Jiang Elders. The full pinks mean cousins, I have several of them. And the two white ones are A-Li and A-Cheng. The little pink and grey mix, the pink is for cousins. The grey means the child of a sworn sibling. Orange is a sworn sibling. You would have had an orange one considering that Madam Jin is your sworn sister,” he told her, “Wei Ying is that pink and grey,” he added, “Not my child, but my cousin, my nephew,” he said as he then turned away from her. Letting her think over what he had told and showed to her. He stopped, “Oh, you know, you can use this one if you wish. Since you know of your relatives, you’ll be able to see how it works. All you need is to put some blood here and send a little Qi into it and it will do the same as it did for me,” he told her as he passed it through the barrier and let it go, walking away from her.
Madam Yi watched him leave, seeing the talisman that had fluttered to the ground. She scowled at it as she turned away and walked back to the water pavilion that she spent most of her time sitting within.
Jiang Fengmian looked up as he called for the disciple to come in, “Madam Jin is here to speak with you,” he said as he bowed towards his Sect Leader.
“Please, bring her in here,” he said, “And also, send for A-Li and tell her to come as well. I believe that it would be best that she come here for this meeting as well,” he added, a little smirk on his face. He knew that his daughter wanted to talk with Madam Jin about a few things. May as well do so now.
“I will Sect Leader,” he bowed once more before he left the room.
It didn’t take long for the door to open and Madam Jin to be escorted inside. As soon as the door closed, “So, you really broke it?” she asked him, there was no greeting at all, just the question.
“Considering what I heard him say to my daughter, I believe he got off lightly,” Jiang Fengmian answered her, gesturing to the seat on the other side of his desk, “Also, A-Li is heading this way as well. And for your information, I will not be reinstating the betrothal, no matter what is said,” he added, looking at her, “So don’t even think you can pressure her into agreeing to it again. Then again, I very much doubt A-Li would let that happen,” he added as there was a gentle knock on the door, “Enter!” he called out.
“Father,” Jiang Yanli greeted him as she walked inside, “Oh, Madam Jin, it’s nice to see you again,” she smiled pleasantly as she walked over to her father’s side and sat down gracefully at his gesture.
“You as well A-Li, you are looking so well, and you’re even wearing a Jiang Sect Uniform?” she murmured as she smiled at the young woman, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in it before,” she said. She had hoped for a daughter as well, but after refusing to spend time with Jin Guangshan after that first year of marriage, she knew it would never happen in the end.
“I am training once again now that Madam Yu isn’t forcing me to keep away from it,” Jiang Yanli said, a hard smile on her face.
“She would ne-” she began, shaking her head.
“She would,” Jiang Yanli countered quickly, “She never wanted me to get strong, thinking that if I was meek and weak that the Jin Sect would be happier with me. Turns out that nothing would make your son happy with me apart from breaking the betrothal,” she told her, shaking her head.
“What… What did my son do to make you both so sure that you will not change your minds about the marriage?” Madam Jin asked the two of them, a small frown on her face. She loved her son, and while he had his faults, he couldn’t be that bad.
“He called me plain and weak, I may not be the outstanding beauty he desires, that I will readily admit. But that does not mean that he is free to call me such things,” she glared, “He had belittled me and my family far too much for me to even wish to be with him any longer. He has the potential to be a nice man. But at the moment he has nothing about him that I wish and want in a husband,” she told her mother’s friend and sworn sister, “I suggest that you start breaking him of his habits before he falls in line with what his father is like,” she finished with a warning to the woman, thinking of the few times that she has seen him flirting and surrounding by women while he was at an inn or restaurant in the past.
“He wouldn’t dare do such a thing to his wife!” Madam Jin exclaimed, shaking her head frantically, not wanting to believe that he would be like that towards anyone. She had taught him better than that.
“And if he does not love his wife? He would go elsewhere, would he not?” Jiang Yanli pointed out, “Many men are the same. There are very few that would not take that advantage,” she added, glancing at her father, who was one of those men, “I know that, even though they do not love each other, father has always been faithful to Madam Yu. He has never once strayed from her, honouring the vows he had taken.”
“My son wouldn’t do so either,” Madam Jin was sure of it.
“Maybe, maybe not. But I will not be the one to find out as I will never become his wife,” Jiang Yanli told her bluntly, “I consider you closer than my own mother, as she has done nothing but harm me. Please, think carefully about what you need to teach your son. He could be a good man, but with his father, there is always a chance he could go down the wrong path, especially with that cousin of his spreading poison into his mind,” she advised as she stood up, “Sorry to cut this short father,” she said, “I need to get back to my training,” she bowed and then did the same to Madam Jin as well, before leaving the room.
“I think I will return to Koi Tower soon,” Madam Jin said, she had a few things to think about, “May I please speak with Ziyuan before I leave?” she then asked.
“I will allow you to speak with her for a moment. But she will be behind a barrier at all times. I will not let her walk free within Lotus Pier after she tried to attack and kill A-Cheng,” he told her.
“She did what?” madam Jin asked, eyes wide.
“Just over a year ago. A-Cheng was training, he was attacked by her as he was doing so. He carries the scar of the attack. I’m just glad that for some reason she collapsed to the ground in pain, otherwise, I have no doubt that I would have lost my son that day. She was confined after that, and will not ever be free to roam around Lotus Pier again, or even Yunmeng Jiang. And only that because of the contract,” he said, growling in frustration. He had nothing he could do against the woman until the contract was void. And while she could return to her mother sect, he could also pursue her for what she had done and tried to do to Jiang Cheng later.
“Right,” she nodded, shocked at what the woman had done.
Jiang Fengmian showed her to the place where she would be able to speak with Madam Yu, sitting down and resting, though there would be a barrier between them.
The day after Madam Jin left Lotus Pier, a letter arrived about the next discussion conference. This time it was going to be held in Qinghe. Jiang Fengmian was rather happy about that, as he watched to speak with the Nie Sect Leader about not telling him that Wei Ying was with him, safe and sound. And he wanted to see where his nephew was now living and calling home, to make sure that he would really be happy there. The days counting down to when they would need to leave came and went quickly. Jiang Yanli had talked her father into letting her join him this time. Wanting to know more about running the Sect. She may never do so, but she wanted to be able to give her brother and father a chance so they would be able to leave on longer Night Hunts if they needed to or wanted to.
Arriving in Qinghe a few days after leaving Lotus Pier, they were greeted by the Nie Sect Leader and one of his advisors. Jiang Yanli was easily able to see the small pout on the Sect Leader’s face as the advisor next to him wasn’t Meng Yao. She hid a giggle during the greeting and walked inside. She hadn’t been to Qinghe since she had been little and had joined her father on an excursion before the previous Sect Leader had passed away. She had met the then thirteen-year-old Nie Mingjue and the six-year-old Nie Huaisang. Her brother at the time had only been five years old, and she herself had only been eleven. Her father followed her instead as they took their seats in the hall, waiting for everyone else to arrive for the first day of the conference to start.
It was a few hours later that Jiang Fengmian finally got the chance to speak with Nie Mingjue without having others around them. Though he had almost had to corner the man to do so, “May I ask why you didn’t tell me that A-Ying was with you?” he asked him, rather bluntly. He knew that the man respected those that were blunt about what they wanted instead of those that would talk all around the main subject and even those that tried to wheedle things to go their way.
“Because he was scared. You have no idea what it was like when he first arrived. He worked so damn hard all the time. Thinking that I would be kicking him out for one little thing. It took a few weeks, even a couple of months for him to feel more relaxed here. He thought that when I realised who he was that I would just kick him out, as he felt like the Jiang had done. When I heard his story, I knew that I would never do that to him. And I know that you care about him enough that you would never have kicked him from the Jiang Sect,” Nie Mingjue snorted, “You love him as your own. He knows that, and so do I.”
“But you still didn’t tell me. Do you have any idea how worried about him I was? Thinking that something might have happened to him. It’s only thanks to the Jiang Bell that I was able to feel a little relief that he was still alive,” he said, shaking his head, trying to convey how worried he felt.
“I know you were, and he was so scared that he would be taken back there. To have to be under her watch again, that he did all he could to keep away. Anything that took him near the Jiang Sect territories frightened him. Scared him and that kid isn’t one that is to scare that easily,” he added.
“Unless it’s dogs,” Jiang Fengmian murmured with a nod.
“True with that,” Nie Mingjue nodded, “But he was scared, and I listened to him a little while after he came to us. Let him tell me what happened in his own words. And I told him that he would always have a home in the Nie Sect if he wanted it. That I wouldn’t throw him out at all. He’s damn smart as well and has done a lot for the Sect already. He’s my top disciple within the juniors and at least half, if not more of the seniors as well.”
“I know, he’s good. Learns everything so quickly,” he muttered, “But why didn’t you tell me that you had at least seen him, talked to him. Told me that he was safe.”
“Because when I finally saw you, he had decided to write you a letter, to tell you that he was happy and safe. That he was doing well and had found a place to live,” he replied. “Look, he wanted you to know he was safe, just not where he was. And if I had spoken to you then.”
“I would have figured it out,” he nodded, “Thank you for at least explaining it to me, I hope I also get to meet the other nephew that I have here. I believe he is called Xue Yang?” he said, a little smile on his face.
“I’ll make sure to introduce the two of you,” Nie Mingjue chuckled, “He’s the excitable type,” he warned him.
“That’s fine. A-Ying was most of the time unless he found something to keep himself occupied with,” he said he then went around the Banquet to speak with others.
“Ah, Fengmian, my friend,” Jin Guangshan went over to him, “Why in the world would you cancel the betrothal between my son and your daughter?” he asked him as though there was nothing to blame his son for. That it was just a decision made in error.
“Because your son is a little toe rag and an idiot,” Jiang Fengmian said easily, almost glaring at the man, “And before you even think about calling me out for insulting your son. You should know that he insulted my daughter for the last time. He has done so many times over the years. I have left it up to her if she wanted to break it, and now she has finally decided that she is worth more than the Jin Sect Heir. That boy has done nothing but belittle her instead of getting to know her,” he told him, “So watch what you say. I’m no longer taking any bullshit from people, Jin Guangshan,” he warned him, “Oh, and just for your information, we’re not friends, we may be fellow Sect Leaders, but nothing else. I don’t think I could be friends with someone that would happily rape a woman and leave them pregnant. I won’t be friends with a man that would abandon his children because he thought he was better than them,” he said, giving him a cold look as those around them stopped what they were doing to listen to the two of them.
“I have done no such thing to a woman. I have only bedded those that were willing,” he sneered at Jiang Fengmian, angry that the man had the gall to bring up his infidelity.
“But you don’t deny that you have had children from other women,” Jiang Fengmian smirked.
“How dare you accuse me of doing such things-” he began.
“We all know it’s true. I know for a fact that you’ve had at least two children from different women,” Nie Mingjue told him, as he moved closer.
“And how would you know that they are mine!” Jin Guangshan challenged them both, glaring at the Nie Sect leader now. The entire hall was now silent as they were listening to what was going on.
“A case came across my desk some time ago,” Nie Mingjue began, “A young woman had been raped and left with a child. Abandoned by her family because of it as well. She had nothing and wished for the father of her child, to pay for what he had done. And I don’t blame her for it, no man should get away with such an act,” he sneered at Jin Guangshan as he then added, “So one of my disciples, who is rather gifted when it came to talisman creation, came up with one. It would show if a child had been conceived because of rape or not. It would also show if they had any siblings and other family members. The talisman showed that the unmarried man already had a child out there and that the child before me had been a product of rape. The man in the end confessed not long after he was placed into prison for his crimes. For those that wish to know, the mother and her child are doing rather well, and are well taken care of, as is the second child that was found,” he said, as he could see that some wished to ask her about.
“Then may you use that My dear husband?” Madam Jin said snidely as she walked over to them, “To prove that you’ve had no others?”
“I-” he began, looking at his wife.
“There is one of his children here at the moment. But I do not wish for the stigma to be on him at all,” Nie Mingjue hesitated.
“There will be none on him at all,” Jiang Fengmian told him, shaking his head, “I know of who you speak of and he will, in a sense, be a nephew to me,” he added.
“That is true, and you did wish to meet with him as well,” Nie Mingjue nodded as the others around him murmured that there would be no stigma on a child should he be brought out. Nie Mingjue then looked at one of the guards around the hall and nodded. They darted out to fetch Xue Yang and a few talismans he kept. Just in case people wanted to find out their own families and to make sure what they were seeing was the truth.
“How does it work?” someone from the gathered crowd asked them.
“After adding a drop of blood to it and activating it, lights will appear and will tell the relationship between people. If someone isn’t in the room then the light just fades away and goes nowhere else. But it shows that there are others out there that are related to you,” Jiang Fengmian said, “I’ve used it myself to prove a point to someone. It also shows the relationship between sworn siblings and their children,” he added, “But they are a different colour from blood-related colours.”
“Then we shall see this, and who would it be best to be used on?” was the next question.
“It would be better from the child,” Nie Mingjue said, “Though the disciples are also working on it to make sure that it would work from the adult as well,” he added, “Though it deals with blood on the seal.”
“Jue-Gege!” Xue Yang rang over as soon as he entered the hall, “Min-ge said that you needed me?” he asked as he looked up at him. The five, now almost six year old, looked around at those that were gathered.
“I need your help with something. We found someone that is related to you,” Nie Mingjue said as he knelt before him.
“Oh, who?” he asked, frowning, not really comfortable with everyone staring at him.
“Your father,” he said softly, “But we need to make sure it is him first,” he added, hesitating a little. He wondered if Wei Ying and Meng Yao were going to kill him for this. It was a possibility from both of them, they were both rather protective of Xue Yang after all.
“Sure,” he nodded, “But I don’t want to know him, Yao-ge said he’s not a nice man,” he added, causing Nie Mingjue and Jiang Fengmian to stifle their laughter at that little proclamation.
“Well, will you be able to do the test again?” Nie Mingjue asked him.
“Okay then,” he nodded, holding out his hand. Nie Mingjue took one of the talismans that had been handed to him and quickly made a small pinprick on Xue Yang’s finger. Nie Mingjue explained everything that he was doing and then before them all balls of light began to appear. Coloured as they were and then once more, they darted off.
Jin Guangshan gasped and clutched at his chest. A sharp pain had gone through it as the light had reached him, “What was that?” he gasped out as the pain faded away.
“The pain is from the relationship. If it was nice and warm, then it would mean that you were a true father to the young boy. If it was cold, then you were mostly absent in their life,” Nie Mingjue explained, he had done his best to test it out on a lot of families. Wanting to try and find out what everything had meant, “The pain and the red light means that you forced yourself on his mother,” he said, a little more bluntly than he had intended to. Especially since Xue Yang was still in the room.
“So, this is the bad man father?” Xue Yang asked as he peeked around Nie Mingjue to glare at Jin Guangshan.
“Yes, he is,” Nie Mingjue sighed, “I’ll-” he began, only to stop, eyes wide as he saw Xue Yang come out from behind him.
The little five-year-old rushed over to the man and kicked him as hard as he could on the shin. It caused Jin Guangshan to fall on the floor, to clutch at it. Only to receive another kick to the groin, causing him to scream loudly at the pain, “Mean man that hurt Yao-ge and my Mama!” he yelled out as he was quickly picked up before he could kick at the man a third time, and taken away. He was still yelling rather rude things to the man as Jiang Yanli had the sense to take him out of the room.
“I think that proves it,” Nie Mingjue told everyone around him, “That pile of garbage, raped that young child’s mother, she was left, abandoned to survive on her own, trying to bring up a baby in a world that shunned her. She died doing her best to make sure that little boy lived. Leaving him alone when he was only three years old,” he said, “A baby still.”
“I-” came a wheezing word from Jin Guangshan.
“And before you can say anything else, that you have done right by any of your children. I don’t count the one that was birthed by Madam Jin. Only one of your children had you in their life. There are at least twelve more out there that we know of, and you will never pay enough for what you have done to their mother and to the children themselves,” Nie Mingjue hissed as he and the others walked away. No one was wanting to help the man up from the floor as he groaned in pain. Though there was another yelp from him as Madam Jin walked past him and paused for a second before she carried on to talk with some of the other wives in the room.
Wen Ruohan looked around the banquet hall. Jin Guangshan had finally been helped and taken to one side of it by a loyal friend. Though how long that would last, well, one couldn’t tell at that moment in time. The Wen Sect leader looked at the Nie Sect Leader as he talked to one of the Nie disciples that had just walked in. He instantly recognised the man that he had been looking for, for almost the last two years. One that he had hoped would join him on his side. He began to head over there, walking quickly through the crowds as the man began to head out of the room again.
“Zhao Zhuliu,” Wen Ruohan said, “I would ask that you stop where you are. I wish to speak with you,” he demanded.
Zhao Zhuliu didn’t know if he wanted to turn around and see the man that had driven him from his home and family. He was half tempted to turn around and punch the man out. But he knew that it would look back on the Nie Sect if he did so. So, with a deep, calming breath, he turned around and faced him, “Sect Leader Wen, I believe,” he said as he glared at the man.
“I’ve been looking for you,” he said, “I understand that the village in which you lived and the very Sect that was your home had kicked you out,” he added conversationally like he hadn’t been the one to cause such a thing to occur.
“And what of it?” he asked, just keeping his face blank and hoping that he would be able to get away from the man soon. He wanted nothing to do with this man, or even with his Sect. Nothing the man could promise him was worth what he now had with the Nie Sect. He had friends and had even started to court one of the young healers as well. He has family in Wei Ying, Meng Yao and even the little brat Xue Yang, who had claimed him as his grandfather.
“I would like to offer you a place within my Sect. We have a good position for you there. And you would also be able to adopt the name Wen if you so wish it. It would mean that you would become part of the Clan, not just the Sect. We could always do with someone of your… talents. I’ve heard many things about them after all, and would love to learn more as well,” he said, trying to sweet talk the young man into joining him.
“I will have to politely decline. I have a home here, and people that are family to me,” he said, shaking his head, about to turn and walk away from the man.
“And how long will it be before someone here decides that you’re too dangerous to keep around. That you will seek to harm those around you with your abilities. You won’t have to face that within the Wen Sect. We look after all those that have abilities that are unique and strong,” he called to him before he could get too far away from him.
“I believe that my disciples said that he has a home here, and he truly does,” Nie Mingjue said, as he caught the anger on Zhao Zhuliu’s face. He could see that the man wanted to get away from Wen Ruohan and he didn’t blame him at all. The man was part of the reason why his father had ended up suffering from Qi Deviation when he did.
“I was talking to Zhao Zhuliu,” Wen Ruohan said as he looked over at the Nie Sect Leader, wishing to dismiss the man from his presence.
“And you are talking with my disciple that has already given you an answer in regards to where his home is,” he said, maintaining the polite tone, though he too wished to rip the man’s head off and roll it down the nearest hill.
“And what of his ability? Are you not scared of what he could do to you and the others of your Sect?” Wen Ruohan asked, trying to play on the fears that most would have in losing their core.
“His ability is one that has saved a number of lives within my Sect. It is a boon to have such a man with us. Not only that but he is a great man to have at your back. I trust him with my life and that of my brothers. As well as those in the Sect, they all trust him the same. And, as we have both said. His home is here,” Nie Mingjue said as he looked at Zhao Zhuliu.
Zhao Zhuliu smiled and nodded at the Sect Leader before turning to face Wen Ruohan once more, “I have a family here and a home that I love. I will not be giving it up for you, or anyone else either,” he told him, as someone ran over to him and wrapped small arms around his legs. He looked down, “I thought you were told to stay out after you kicked Sect Leader Jin?” he asked the child that was now attached to him.
“I was bored and I could always kick him again, he really hurt Yao-Gege,” he said, huffed as he was finally picked up by the man, “You were going to show me how to fight, remember?” he reminded him, eyes bright and happy at the thought of learning more while the other adults were in the stuffy hall.
“I’ll be with you shortly, I’m just having to do something at the moment,” he told him, laughing lightly as Xue Yang clung onto him as Zhao Zhuliu tried to put him down, “A-Yang,” he said gently in that little warning tone that he usually used to get the child to do as he was told.
“Not leaving,” He said as he then turned to glare at the man that had upset his zufu, “What are you doing?” he asked him.
“I was asking Zhao Zhuliu to come and join my Sect,” Wen Ruohan said, almost glaring back at the rude child.
“You’re leaving Zufu?” Xue Yang looked at him, eyes already filling with tears at the thought of him leaving.
“No A-Yang, I’m not. This is my home, just like it’s yours,” he smiled softly as he tapped the child on his nose, “I’m sorry Sect Leader Wen, but I will not be leaving here. And if you continue to try and use the fear of my ability against those within the Nie Sect, you will soon find that they are grateful for it. Not only that, but one of the people here, a good friend of mine, was able to make something that would mean I could no longer harm someone, even if I ever lost control,” he told him, holding up a gloved hand, “Now, if you will excuse me, I promised this young man, that I would go through the basic sword forms with him, so he can impress his A-Niang when they return,” he said as he walked away, Xue Yang now happily chattering at him in his arms.
Wen Ruohan watched them go, angry that he hadn’t gotten his way. He stormed away from Nie Mingjue. His son, Wen Xu, seeing the anger, quickly went after him, knowing that it would be better for him to do so. He followed him to a small hallway near their rooms when Wen Ruohan rounded on him and sent him flying with a punch to his sternum. Wen Xu got to his feet, ignoring the lingering pain from the hit as he went back to his father.
“You are useless!” he yelled at him, lashing out a second time, and sending his son crashing to the floor with even more force this time. He glared, “I asked you to do one simple thing and you couldn’t even do that,” he kicked him, as Wen Xu lay on the floor, doing so several times before he stopped.
Wen Xu coughed a few times, “My apologies, father,” he gasped out, trying his best to get to his knees to kowtow, hoping that would be enough to lessen his father’s anger.
Wen Ruohan stared down at the head of his son and spat, “You disappointed me once again Wen Xu, I expect better from my son. My plans are now in shambles because of you,” he growled as he stormed away.
Wen Xu didn’t move from where he was, for fear of his father returning and heaping more abuse on him. He almost jumped as he felt a gentle hand on his head. He knew that it didn’t belong to his father. His father hadn’t been this gentle with him in a very long time.
“Please, you need to get up,” came a gentle voice as Wen Xu finally lifted his head from where it was pressed against the ground.
“Maiden Jiang,” he murmured, one eye was already beginning to swell up as his body protested the movement as he was helped to his feet.
“Young Master Wen,” she said, “Come, we should get you somewhere else, so someone can see to your injuries,” she told him gently, “Your father has no right to do such a thing to you,” she added, shaking her head as the man had no choice but to lean against her as they made their way to a set of rooms nearby.
“I’ll be fine, really. This… This is normal at the moment Maiden Wen, my father is very… Driven at the moment and I keep disappointing him with the tasks that he has set me,” he said, wincing at how weak the excuse sounded, even to him.
“It’s not an excuse to harm you. He is your father, and he should be doing his best to help you and teach you. Not to harm you,” she told him, huffing a little as she helped him to settle near a small table, “Now, stay there, I’m going to get a healer to see to your injuries. And do not tell me that you don’t need one, the injuries that I can see on you tells me differently,” she stated as she saw him about to protest.
Wen Xu sighed and nodded his head, “I thank you Maiden Jiang, but it would not be a good idea to remain in this room with you alone. I do not wish to do any harm to your reputation.”
“You let me worry about that,” she smiled at him, as she turned and walked out of the room.
Wen Xu remained where he was. Closing his eyes, thinking deeply as he thought of his father. He had enough of what the man was doing. Wen Xu knew that the man was out of control. His younger brother was too busy bedding that new concubine of his all the time to even bother with anything that their father was doing. But Wen Xu, he was the oldest, he had no choice but to follow their fathers lead or suffer the consequences. He had done so for the last few years. But he no longer wished to. He had seen the harm that the man was doing and he wanted no part of it. He lowered his head, not paying attention to when the door opened and people began to walk inside. It was only when a hand touched his shoulder that he opened them again, looking up into the worried eyes of Jiang Yanli.
“The healer is here, you can go behind the screen so he can assess you,” she told him gently, helping him to his feet and letting the healer take over as he guided the young man behind the screen.
Jiang Yanli watched him go, worried for the young man. He was only two years older than her, and it looked like he was even older and knew that it was from a heavy burden that he was carrying. She turned as the door opened again and Jiang Fengmian walked in, “Father,” she greeted as she went over to him and got him to sit down, “I think that there is something going on with the Wen Sect, the young Heir may need some help, or even asylum,” she told him quietly, so as not to be overheard by the Nie Healer or even Wen Xu himself.
Jiang Fengmian nodded at his daughter and sat down. He had been told a little of what was going on before he had left the banquet to follow his daughter as she passed while she went to take a healer to their rooms. The two sat there in silence as they waited for Wen Xu to be seen. It took a little while, but he was soon seated with them and the healer went from the room. The young man’s face looked a little better, though his right eye thankfully hadn’t fully sealed itself, though only a slight of his eye could be seen, “How are you feeling?” he asked him.
“Better, I thank you, Maiden Jiang, for your help,” Wen Xu smiled at her, “The rumours of your kindness and your gentle heart don’t do you justice at all,” he told her softly.
“I thank you for the compliments,” she smiled back as she poured all three of them some tea and handed one over, before doing the same to her father. She sipped at her own tea as she waited for someone to speak.
“I… I think you should know what my father has been planning for the last few years,” he said after a few moments of silence between the three. He then told them everything, all the plans that Wen Ruohan had been making, but hadn’t yet implemented because he didn’t have the right weapon, he wanted to threaten people. The one he wanted had been Zhao Zhuliu, but he had failed, so the plans were on hold. He spilled everything that he knew. From the attacks that he had helped to plan, to the offices that Wen Ruohan had already started to put up and use to take over the smaller Sect’s nearest to Qishan. He breathed, almost relieved to have told them, “I don’t like it. I know that it’s going to end up leading to war and I really don’t want that. While I want the Wen Sect to be one of the best, doing it this way… It isn’t right,” he sighed, looking away from them so he could see their judgement.
“What do you plan to do?” Jiang Yanli asked him gently, placing a hand on his arm, comforting him.
He looked at her, “There is only one thing that I can think of doing and I really don’t wish to do so,” he murmured, pain in his eyes.
“To kill one’s father,” she murmured, nodding, understanding where he was coming from. She had often thought of doing the same with Madam Yu a few times when things got bad. Some days she wished she had gone through with it.
“Exactly, It’s… It’s the only option that I see available to us… To me,” he said, quickly correcting himself. “I do not want a war with the other Sects. I don’t want the Sect’s that my father is trying to subjugate to disappear into the folds of the Wen Sect. They are all individual, and he has been doing so more and more,” he sighed heavily, the burden on him weighing him down, “I will think things over, Maiden Jiang,” he said to her, “I… Thank you, when… When things are truly over, may I write to you?” he asked her gently, almost scared of the answer he would get.
“I would like that. I hope even with the decisions that you are left to make, that you will be alright,” she told him as he stood up.
“As do I Maiden Jiang,” He smiled, “Sect Leader Jiang, Maiden Jiang, I thank you both for listening to me, I know that the information that I have given you would be enough to fight against the Wen, I ask that you wait for now,” he bowed to them both.
“What you have said will remain with just us two for now,” Jiang Fengmian told him, “But if things are not resolved within a year, I will make sure the other Sect’s know what is going on.”
“I thank you for the consideration,” he bowed deeply before turning and walking out of the room.
Jiang Yanli kept an eye on Wen Xu throughout the rest of the conference. Speaking with him a few more times when they could both meet in secret, with only her father knowing of it. Back at Lotus Pier, four weeks after the conference, news reached them that Sect Leader Wen Ruohan had passed away. There was no word on how it happened, but a number of theories had flown around the Cultivation World. It didn’t take long after that for the first letter to arrive from the new Sect leader Wen Xu to one Maiden Jiang Yanli.
Lan Qiren returned to Cloud Recesses after the Discussion Conference in Qinghe and began the first music lesson for the guest students. He settled them down, letting Lan Zhan and Lan Xichen lead it by showing them all Clarity. Wei Ying listened and then started frowning when he could see that it was affecting the minds of those around them. He waited until the music ended and raised his hand.
“Yes, Wei Wuxian?” Lan Qiren asked him, wondering what the teenager wanted this time.
“I’m just wondering if there is a piece of music that can help to cleanse resentful energy?” he asked, frowning, he hadn’t found anything within the library. Though he knew that it should be possible as the Lan Sect did help the Nie Sect with their problem.
“There are a few pieces that can be used to do so. Some are stronger than others,” Lan Qiren answered him.
“There are?!” he exclaimed, a smile appearing slowly on his face, “Can… Can someone play one of the more powerful ones please?” he asked, hoping that they would be able to do so for him.
“Of course,” he nodded, looking at his two nephews and nodding. The two began to play Cleansing, one of the stronger pieces they had that would get rid of resentful energy within a body. It was often used alongside Rest, which was a weaker version of it, as it also got rid of resentful energy. But those that would be within spirits that were ready to move on, but couldn’t quite make it yet because resentful energy remained within them.
Wei Ying listened intently as it was played. There were certain notes that were infused with Qi that made the music work as it should. He glanced towards the Nie Sect disciples and nodded as he concentrated on them, he could see the resentful energy that was building up in their sabres lessening. He grabbed some paper and his bell. He started to write a few things down as the music echoed around the room. “That’s it!” he yelled out as the music came to a stop, “Thank you so much, Master Lan, Sect Leader Lan, Lan Zhan!” he grinned at the three of them, eyes bright.
“What is it, Wei Wuxian?” Lan Qiren asked him, puzzled as to why he was so excited.
“I think I might have figured it out. But I need to test it first,” he nodded to himself, “A-Sang,” he called out as he glanced over at his friend, “I need to borrow your sabre for a bit,” he told him.
“Go for it,” he told him, picking it up from where it was resting on the floor next to him and handed it over, “Just… try not to break it, Da-ge wouldn’t be happy with me,” he added, wincing as part of him wanted that to happen.
“I won’t, promise,” he grinned at him, “I’m just going to add something to it, hopefully, I can get the spirit within it to accept it as well,” he added, as he then darted out of the room. Only to appear back inside for a moment with a sheepish look on his face as he bowed, “Sorry Master Lan, I-”
“Go, dismissed,” he told him shaking his head at the over-excitable teen, “I can see that keeping you in class at this moment in time would be… Futile,” he added.
“Thank you,” he grinned.
Lan Zhan’s eyes followed Wei Ying as he walked out of the room, a little more calmly this time. Lan Xichen, seeing the look on his face said, “Wangji, why don’t you go with him. Make sure that he doesn’t come to any harm with whatever it is that he has planned.”
“Thank you, brother,” he said, as he put Wangji away and got up. He quickly followed Wei Ying out of the room. It didn’t take him long to find Wei Ying in the middle of the training field. Holding the sabre out in front of him, the young teenager looked like he was meditating. It took a while for him to open his eyes and see Lan Zhan standing there.
“Lan Zhan,” he smiled, “Come and sit with me, the spirit in the sabre is fine with what I want to do,” he told him, patting the grass beside him.
“And what is that?” he asked, curious as to what the other was going to be doing.
“Well, the music that you and Sect Leader Lan were playing, Cleansing. It was helping the spirits within the sabres cleanse the resentful energy within them. But I was thinking that maybe I could carve the tones into the sabre. So, it can be activated after a fight to help the sabres get rid of the resentful energy,” he said as he looked over at him.
“And how would you do that?” Lan Zhan asked, frowning as he tried to work out how that would work.
“Well, I was thinking about the arrays that are used in the Jiang Bells, they have different tones to them as well. So, I was thinking that maybe I could redo them a little more and I could even replicate the tones that are used in Cleansing to cleanse the resentful energy. What I want to do will be carving them onto the sabre. Now that I have the spirit’s permission to do so it will be easier. They don’t like the energy either, they just use it because it makes them strong enough to protect their wielder,” he smiled at Lan Zhan as he answered.
“I have never spoken to Bichen,” he murmured, he knew that it was possible. Though most would never talk with their spiritual weapons.
“It’s not that hard to do, but most don’t,” he smiled with a shrug, “I talked to Subian a lot when I first got him. In the end he told me to shut up, that he got sick of having to listen to me all the time,” he laughed, “But, yeah, meditate with Bichen, find the link that you have with them and concentrate on it. You’ll be able to feel them after a while and then communicate with them. It’s why I work so well with Subian, and Jiang Cheng does with Sandu. We communicated with the sword spirits to forge a deeper connection.”
“Thank you,” he nodded, planning on trying to do so at a later time.
“Right,” Wei Ying said as he went over his notes that he had been making during the lessons. “So, if I do this and then add this,” he started to murmur to himself, nodding as he then brought out a small knife, and since the sabre had given him permission. The blade allowed the knife to cut into it, carving a very small array onto it.
Lan Zhan watched in fascination as he worked. Others were beginning to join them as the lessons finally finished. His brother walked over to them, curious as to what the young teenager was doing. Nie Huaisang and Meng Yao settled across from their friend as Jiang Cheng hovered for a bit before joining them.
“Right, done!” He yelled out as he finished, only to find that he now had an audience around him, “Sorry,” he grinned as he rubbed his nose, “A-Sang,” he said as he looked at the older teenager, “I need you to go through the full all-out sabre forms, from start to finish,” he told him, handing over his sabre once more.
Nie Huaisang looked at it and sighed, taking the sabre. He got up and walked to the middle of the field and began to go through the forms after a small warm-up. Wei Ying watched and was soon able to feel the small sliver of resentful energy going into the sabre. Just as normal. Nie Huaisang flew through the forms, just as he had been taught. He finished up with the last one, not out of breath, as many would have thought, and with no sweat either. While he wasn’t a fighter like his brother, that didn’t mean that after Wei Ying had been hurt that he shirked his training as much as he once did. He stopped and then looked at Wei Ying, wondering what else the teen had in mind.
“So, what now?” he asked him, shouldering the sabre for a moment as he waited.
“Right, you see the array on your blade, near the name?” he asked him, it was slightly decorative, and the array was carefully hidden within it. So, it didn’t look too out of place on the blade itself.
“Yes,” he nodded, moving his sabre so he could see it.
“Push a little bit of Qi into it,” he instructed him, a little grin on his face.
Nie Huaisang gave him a curious look and then did as he was told. A few notes rang out clearly around them and the blade almost seemed to shudder in his grip. Nie Huaisang’s eyes went wide, the blade no longer felt angry to him, it was calm. Much like it was when he had first held the blade when it had first been forged. He looked at Wei Ying, “What… What did you do?” he asked him in a shocked whisper.
Wei Ying grinned and laughed, “The resentful energy that builds up in the Nie Blades. It’s what causes the problem, right,” he said, as Nie Huaisang nodded, he had seen the research that Wei Ying had done over the last year. “Well, the music of the Lan Clan, the ones in Cleansing is focused mostly on six different notes, played in the right order. The rest of the music is to help it sound nicer and to help keep the person being cleansed calm. So those six notes are somewhat the same as what the Jiang Bell plays, though that is more Clarity. They do the same type of things,” he said, “I put the notes into a bell-like array. If you do that after every fight and practice, you will never have to worry about Qi Deviation. It cleanses the blade of Resentful energy. Though I believe that those that have already reached the tipping point, they will need to go through a full Cleansing with the Lan Clan first along with their blades, that may take some time though,” he said, looking over at Lan Xichen.
“I will see what I can do to sort all that out,” he smiled, happy to know that his friend was now no longer in danger of going through a Qi Deviation. It had been the main thing he worried about ever since he was young and had met Nie Mingjue and found out what always happened to those of the Nie Sect. No matter who it was. Some lasted longer, others died young before they were even thirty in some cases. The Nie Elders were the ones that put their blades up while still young, it was the only way to make it to an older age within the Sect.
“Good,” Wei Ying grinned, flopping back and staring up at the sky. He was elated that he had found a solution to the problem. He didn’t care that he now had tears running from his eyes as he closed them. His friend wasn’t going to be hurt anymore because of the way they cultivated. They would be fine.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan called him softly, as he took hold of his hand, “You okay?” he asked, as the others finally noticed the tears.
“Sorry,” he said, shaking his head, “I… Was working so hard on this as I didn’t want to lose another family. I don’t want to lose A-Sang or Jue-ge,” he said softly, “I didn’t want Yao-ge to lose his betrothed either,” he added, wiping away the tears.
“It’s fine,” Meng Yao murdered, rubbing Nie Huaisang’s back, who was having the same reaction, “I can understand,” he said, voice full of emotion as he grabbed Wei Ying’s hand and pulled him into his arm and held him, reaching out and doing the same with Nie Huaisang, “So, this works,” he said after a while, letting the two of them go.
“Yeah, I just have to test it on others, just to make sure. But those that are further along in their training and that might need more,” he said as he began to think of all the problems that could come with this method.
“From what you’ve said, Cleansing will be needed for them all,” Lan Xichen said softly, calmly as he looked at the teenager, “Let us start with that, and then you can see how it all works afterwards. I know that a lot of weight was on you to fix this problem. And you’ve now done something that no other has been able to do.”
“It’s because I use natural Qi a lot,” Wei Ying confessed as he looked over at the older teenager. “I’ve always been sensitive to Resentful Energy. It’s what happens when you are around the Burial Mounds a lot. And I… Was in Yiling for about four, almost five years before I went to Lotus Pier. When I got there, it was… Different, the Qi around there was clean, kind, helpful as well. It wants to be used and wants to help. Everything around you has its own Qi, that’s the natural Qi of the world in a way. Or rather, what I believe,” he told him, a little smile on his face, “I don’t really understand it, but because I worked with it, let it help me get stronger. To catch up to others, it helped me to see how Qi works for people and the same for Resentful energy. That… Knowing that and being able to sense it, and now even see it when I concentrate, helped a lot in figuring this problem out,” he finished, knowing it was the best explanation he could give for how he solved it, but it would have to do.
“Well, it’s good to know,” he smiled at him, “Now why don’t you all go down to Caiyi Town to celebrate what you’ve done, while I send a letter to Mingjue about what has happened as well. You can send your own later. I’ll also start organising it so that some of the Lan Sect that are well versed in Cleansing can make a start there,” he added.
“Thank you,” Wei Ying grinned, as he squeezed Lan Zhan’s hand, who had been able to keep hold of it even with Meng Yao pulling him away, “A meal down in Caiyi Town sounds like a good idea. We’ll be back before curfew,” he added, knowing that they had at least four hours before then. That would be enough time for them to fly down to the town and back after a good meal.
“Okay,” he said, getting up, “I’ll inform Uncle that I have let you all go, before sending the letter.”
“Thank you,” Wei Ying nodded, as he gathered up his research, “Your letter will arrive first, so make sure to tell him that I will send him a proper report on the research and what I’ve done as soon as I’ve compiled it together fully,” he added, as he got up, the others doing the same.
Lan Xichen smiled as he watched them all head towards the Entrance, before heading to speak with his uncle about what he had been told and seen.
Lan Zhan watched as Wei Ying went through the sabres of the Nie Sect disciples that were at Gusu. Adding the array to them all after communicating with the sabre spirits first. Each of them giving permission to the addition. The teenager had been doing this since the early morning. Some of the Nie Sect had even travelled to Gusu to meet with him. The last few days since the first had arrived had been almost none stop work for Wei Ying. No one else would be trusted for a while. Not even those within the Nie Sect would be able to do this work yet. They knew that soon enough that Wei Ying would be able to train someone else to be able to do it. For now, it all fell to Wei Ying.
Lan Zhan walked away, leaving Wei Ying to his work as he sought out his uncle and brother. He needed to speak with them before he took one more step before Wei Ying could leave. He found his brother first, as he went to his office.
“Wangji,” he smiled at him, looking up from the paperwork he had to go through and the letters that had arrived. The Swearing in of Wen Xu was soon, and he had even brought in a side branch of the Wen Sect to help him in clearing up the Wen name and making sure that those that Wen Ruohan had been subjugated were helped and healed.
“Brother,” Lan Zhan said softly, “I wish to speak with you and uncle,” he said, looking down at the floor for a moment before glancing up at his brother.
“Of course, he’s in his office, grading the test from this morning’s class,” Lan Xichen said as he got up, glad of the distraction from the paperwork. He put everything away and walked alongside his brother to his Uncle’s office. He knocked on the door, seeing that Lan Zhan was hesitating a little.
“Enter,” came the calm call from inside. The two brothers walked in, surprising their uncle with their presence, “Xichen, Wangji, it’s good to see you both, but weren’t you both busy?” he asked the two of them as he gestured to the cushions in front of him.
The two brothers walked over and with a flick of their arms, they sat across from him gracefully, their robes fluttering to the floor. “I have something that I wish to speak of to you and brother,” Lan Zhan told him quickly, as he looked up. There was almost a trace of fear in his eyes.
Lan Xichen watched him, “Mn,” he hummed under his breath, the fear was screaming at him. He worried about what was going on in his brother’s mind to cause such a look.
“What is it, Wangji?” Lan Qiren asked him, keeping his voice gentle. Knowing that Lan Zhan was a little too prone to clamming up when voices were raised even in the slightest way.
“I wish to court Wei Ying,” he stated, “I… We have both spoken to each other and we do like each other. I would like to court him, with intent to marry,” he added, “I do not know who I should speak with. Sect Leader Jiang as his Uncle or Sect Leader Nie as his Sect Leader and… Adoptive brother in a sense,” he said, a little confused about the situation.
“Hmm, I would say to send a letter to the both of them,” Lan Xichen suggested, “It will be Young Master Wei’s birthday in three weeks, yes?” he asked him.
“Yes, he was most upset that he wasn’t able to be there for Xue Yang’s birthday. Though he sent a number of gifts for him, as did I send one as well,” Lan Zhan nodded.
“A letter to both would be best,” Lan Qiren agreed with his eldest nephew, “I would send them and ask them to come by as well for his birthday. I know that he would like to see them again. Since his birthdays haven’t been with his whole family. I would… Keep it as a surprise and tell only a few around him. Young Master Meng Yao, Young Master Jiang and Young Master Nie would be the best ones to speak to,” he added, nodding slowly. The man had, after some reflection, took the advice of his nephews and watched and learned about the type of person that Wei Ying was. He liked what he saw when he was no longer holding the past over a child’s head.
“I will, and thank you, Uncle,” Lan Zhan bowed, “I will write the letters and send them off tonight. To make sure to give them all enough time to make arrangements,” he added, bowing again before he quickly left the room.
Lan Xichen turned to look at his uncle, “Are you really suggesting that Wangji and the others surprise Wei Wuxian for his birthday?” he asked him, a little shocked at such a suggestion from the man.
Lan Qiren nodded, “He is an amazing young man. While I thought that he was going to be more like his mother, he really isn’t. Yes, he has her… Playfulness but he is very much his father’s son. Smarter than him, yes, and a strong young man that has had a hard time. It would help I think, to have them here for his birthday. He deserves that much at the very least for the things he has done. And, this will also be the first time since he left the Jiang Sect, that he will be able to have his entire family together if he wanted,” he added, a tiny smirk making its way onto his face.
“I take it then, that you have finally warmed up to Wei Wuxian then?” he asked, shaking his head minutely.
“I have. You were right in that I was letting old feelings and a grudge that should never have been cloud my mind. Instead, I put all that aside and I realised that the young man is more than I first thought,” he told him honestly, taking up the pot of tea and pouring them both some tea.
“Good to know. They have grown so close in such a short time,” Lan Xichen murmured as he glanced out of the window.
“Much like your father and mother,” Lan Qiren sighed softly, “One look and they knew that they were destined to be with each other,” he added quietly, a wistful look on his face.
“Will you… will you ever tell us what happened?” Lan Xichen asked him. He had wondered what had caused his parents seclusion since he was a child.
Lan Qiren looked at him and nodded slowly, “Your mother was an honest and kind woman, but she was also very strong, in will and power. A good match for your father. She was attacked, not long after they married, or rather, eloped,” he snorted, shaking his head, a small smile on his face, “I was the only one to know of it at the time. I found out that Xiao-ge was up to something, so I followed him. Ended up witnessing their bows,” he told him, looking at his nephew, “She was able to fight him off, but he was killed during it. He was a… beloved… Teacher,” he sneered slightly, “to most of the Sect and no one wanted to believe that he would or even could do such a thing. She was to be executed, but it was revealed that the two of them were married. Some of the Elders forced them into seclusion, separating them. Only able to visit each other once a month. As you visited your mother the same. He wasn’t allowed to see either of you if you visited her. He would not deny her seeing her children, even though he wished to see you both,” he sighed heavily, looking down at the tea in his cup.
“What happened next?” Lan Xichen asked quietly, almost scared to speak in case his uncle went silent again.
“It was a couple of years ago that we learned that she wasn’t the first one that he had attacked and harmed in such a manner,” he looked at his nephew, his eyes full of pain, “My brother doesn’t wish to step foot in Cloud Recesses and as such he has remained where he is. He will not come here, even to see you. He does not wish to be part of a Sect that locked away his wife, his true love, his soulmate, and killed her and that forbade him to even speak a word to his sons. He has never even seen you, not when you were babies. But he doesn’t wish to be here, he wishes to leave more than anything. He is tired after all that has happened. He feels no connection to Cloud Recesses or even the Lan Clan anymore.”
Lan Xichen was silent for a moment, nodding slowly. He had to admit that he had no proper connection with his father, had never seen or met him. “I can understand him wishing to leave. Maybe… maybe he should, for his own sake. We can always visit him in other places,” he said after a while. Maybe he would get to meet him one day, but it wouldn’t be within Cloud Recesses, he knew.
“I believe that maybe you should be the one to speak to him about such things. He feels as though he can’t leave. He can’t walk into Cloud Recesses with anguish taking over his mind and heart,” he said softly, a pained expression on his face as he spoke.
“What happened?” Lan Xichen asked, knowing there was something more going on.
Lan Qiren paused for a moment, “The only time he tried to leave the hut that had become his home from before you were even born, to see you both after the truth was learned, about three years ago. He almost went into Qi deviation. I was able to help him, get him back to the back mountains and his home. I believe that the only way for him to set him free is to drug him to sleep. So, he wouldn’t be able to wake up until he was free from Cloud Recesses,” he stopped for a moment, “Though there is always going to be a worry that it would happen again anyway, just being away from his… Prison,” he muttered.
“That will be up to him if he wishes to chance it. We have methods to help with such things,” he pointed out, remembering some of the things that those of the Nie Sect had told him. In case something happened when they were doing the cleansing for the other disciples in Qinghe.
“Talk with him, I will take you there,” he said. It was only him and two others that were the only ones that would be able to get through the barrier that had been put up around his hut, to let him feel safe that the elders couldn’t get near him and force him to leave.
“Thank you, Uncle,” he said, trembling a little at the thought of finally seeing and even speaking with his father for the very first time. He only has vague recollections of his mother speaking about him.
Lan Qiren watched his nephew for a few moments and came to a decision, “Do you wish to meet with him now?” he asked, he wanted his brother to be free, as the man hadn’t been in over twenty years.
“I… I think I will,” he said, getting up and then waiting for his uncle to do the same. He didn’t want the chance that he would change his mind. Lan Xichen followed his uncle, watching as the scenery changed as they travelled through Cloud Recesses and into the Back mountains. They went even further than normal until Lan Qiren stopped and made a sign. Opening the barrier and letting Lan Xichen through it.
“Xiao-ge!” he called out as he walked towards the small hut that was settled against the side of the mountain that was in front of them.
The door opened but no one stepped foot out of it. Lan Qiren shook his head as he walked in, Xiao-ge,” he called out again as he walked in, seeing that his brother was sitting at the small table in the very bare room. “I… brought someone to speak with you,” he said, as he moved aside.
Lan Lixiao looked up from what he was reading and froze when the face he was looking at was so young. But there was something about the eyes, something that screamed at him, “You…” he trailed off, voice shaking.
“This is your eldest son,” Lan Qiren said gently, “Lan Xichen,” he added, “Just as you wished,” he told him as he walked forwards and guided Lan Xichen into the room as well.
“My… my son,” he whispered, eyes wide as he tried to memorise what the young man before him looked like, “It’s so good to finally see you,” he added, tears beginning to fall down a pale face as he then waited for his son to say something. He knew he wasn’t the best father, he wasn’t there for his children, he wasn’t allowed to be.
“F… Father,” he greeted bowing quickly, “I…” he trailed off, fighting back his own tears, his mind all over the place as he tried to come to terms with actually being able to see him.
“No… no formalities, please,” he said, shaking his head, “Come, sit with me,” he told him, moving aside a little so Lan Xichen would be able to sit beside his father.
Lan Xichen went over and sat beside him, “I… I wish to know something, it’s why I’m here,” he told him, instead of asking the many questions that he wanted to. He could always do that another time. Now, now was the time to try and help his father achieve the freedom he deserves.
“Oh?” he asked, frowning from his son to his brother.
“Do you… Wish to leave Cloud Recesses? To find somewhere else to live?” Lan Xichen asked him, “I know… I know that it would be hard to be here. While Wangji and I are fine to remain living here. It’s not fair to you, to be here all the time, especially when it pains you so much. You… Should be able to be out there as well, seeing the world.”
“I tried leaving here before, it was not… Good,” he admitted, looking down.
“But this time maybe it will be. Uncle told me what happened when you tried to come and see us. We don’t want anything to happen to you. But if you… If you want to leave, we could find you a place to live away from here. Wangji and I would love to be able to visit you, for you to be able to be part of the world again,” he told him, smiling softly. Though his heart was pained at the thought of losing his father to the wider world, he knew it was the right decision to make.
“I think… I would like that,” he told him, “I can’t be here, where she passed. Where they drove her to her death,” he said gently, “She… She did not deserve what they did to her and I can never forgive them for it,” he told his son, shaking his head slowly.
“I can understand that it might take a while, but I… Will sort something out for you so that you can live in Caiyi Town if you wish, or even somewhere further away,” Lan Xichen suggested, wanting to find a place where he would be comfortable to live.
“Caiyi Town will be just fine,” he nodded, “It was where we first met, your mother and I,” he smiled sadly, “Next… next time you come, will… Would you bring your brother? I would love to see you both before I leave here,” he added.
“I will,” Lan Xichen promised, “We will talk more then, I… Do not wish to know things without Wangji being here,” he said when he got a questioning look from the two men in the room, “I already know a lot and I will be speaking with Wangji about it as soon as I see him. I think he should know all before coming here as well,” he added.
“I understand,” Lan Lixiao nodded, agreeing with him.
Lan Xichen stood up, “Uncle, I.. Will leave you here for now. I need to start making a few arrangements for this and for other things as well,” he added, before he left them, leaving the hut quickly.
“He… Suffered as you did when he took up the mantle of Sect Leader. He did so two years ago, though I still take care of a few things. He deals with most of it. The Elders deemed him old enough to do so,” he sighed as he began to speak of his brother’s sons once more. As he had done each time he had visited him over the last twenty-something years.
Lan Zhan looked at those that had gathered, each of them had been staying, hiding in some of the homes that were closer to the mountains so that Wei Ying wouldn’t find them. He looked at Nie Mingjue and Jiang Fengmian and nodded as they gestured for him to go over to them. Jiang Yanli and Zhao Zhuliu were doing their best to keep Xue Yang occupied so that he wouldn’t go and run off to find Wei Ying and ruin the surprise.
“So, your letter,” Jiang Fengmian said, as he had found out that Nie Mingjue had also received one that was very similar to his own as well.
“I wish to court Wei Ying, with your permissions to do so,” he said as he bowed to the both of them. Hope in his voice as he waited for their judgement and answer.
“You are truly serious about this?” Jiang Fengmian asked him seriously, “I do not wish for A-Ying to be hurt.”
“Neither do I. I wish to do this properly as he deserves,” he told the two of them, “I know that he is… Worth the trouble and more,” he said, not sure what he could say that would get the two of them to agree, “I care about him deeply, more than I have anyone,” he added quietly.
“That was what I was waiting for,” Nie Mingjue said as he looked at the young teenager, “You’re what, sixteen at the moment?” he asked him quietly.
“Yes,” he nodded, “I turned sixteen in January before the disciples came here. I know that Wei Ying is younger than me,” he added.
“But he will be sixteen in two days,” Jiang Fengmian added, “A long courtship should be fine. I agree and give my blessing to you. I have heard that you and A-Ying have become closer,” he said.
“I agree and give my blessing as well,” Nie Mingjue added quickly.
“Thank you, we have become close. We spend a lot of time together,” Lan Zhan said and then winced inside as he realised what he had just said.
“Well, that will be over now,” Nie Mingjue chuckled lightly, “But yes, you may court Wei Wuxian. The two of us will enter negotiations on his behalf when the time comes. I have no doubt that your brother and uncle will be there for it,” he told him, “Though I really don’t wish to lose my best disciple,” he sighed.
“We will split our time between the Sect,” Lan Zhan suggested, “I believe that would be the better option,” he added.
“You have thought this through then?” Jiang Fengmian asked him, curiously.
“I have done so many times over the last few weeks,” he found himself saying. He had been speaking a lot more since he had met Wei Ying and he didn’t dislike the change that he had found in himself.
“Have you the first courting gift sorted?” Nie Mingjue then asked him.
“I do,” he nodded, “He has an interest in Musical cultivation and has been learning the dizi the last few weeks. I wish for him to have his own, so I have had one crafted for him. Along with a more traditional courting gift in our sect,” he added, keeping the secret of the second part to himself.
“Well, we’ll hide out here until it’s his birthday and then we’ll surprise him,” Jiang Fengmian said as he looked at those that were now in the room with him. There were only five of them, but it was enough to make it a little bit noisy since Xue Yang wanted nothing more than to go and find Wei Ying now and not have to wait.
“I want to go to A-Niang!” Xue Yang cried out, stomping his foot in anger as he glared at Jiang Yanli and Zhao Zhuliu.
Lan Zhan shook his head and walked over to him, “A-Yang,” he said as he knelt before the child.
“Zhan-ge, I want to see A-Niang but they won’t let me,” he pulled a sad face, “Why not?” he pouted, lower lip trembling.
“You have been told that it is Wei Ying’s birthday soon, yes?” he asked him, getting a nod. “Then you know that we want to surprise him on that day. He will be even happier to know that you are there for his birthday, but you are going to be making him jump,” he told him, hearing a lot about surprise parties from the guest disciples over the years.
“How?” he asked him, frowning.
“When it is Wei Ying’s birthday, I will be taking you to a special room where we will be having a party. With food, cake and sweets,” he added, knowing that the last one was a magical word in Xue Yang’s world, “You will all hide around the room as I bring Wei Ying in and then you jump out going happy birthday to him,” he told him.
“Oh, and then he will jump and then I can have sweets?” he asked him.
“If you are good and stay here until I come and get you for the party,” he told him, making sure that he understood that was the condition of getting some.
Xue Yang thought for a moment and then nodded, “Okay, I will be hidden,” he told him, smiling.
“Good boy, A-Yang,” he said, patting him on the head a few times before he stood up. He left the room now that Xue Yang had agreed to remain within the rooms until it was time.
Wei Ying stood there, eyes wide as people jumped out and shouted happy birthday to him. Xue Yang ran over to him, yelling it even more as Wei Ying dropped to his knees hugging his son as tightly as he could, “What… what is all this?” he asked, as he looked around. Finding his uncle and Shijie there, alone with Nie Mingjue and Zhao Zhuliu. He couldn’t believe that they were all there for him and his birthday.
“Happy birthday, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said softly, as he helped him to his feet. Keeping a hand on his back as he guided him into the room fully and closed the door.
Wei Ying was shocked as so many went over to him, wishing him a happy birthday. “I can’t believe,” he murmured again as he went from person to person. Receiving a few gifts and hugs as well as promised for later on. He looked at Lan Zhan, who was watching him with a small secret smile on his face and walked over to him.
“Wei Ying,” he nodded, “Happy?” he asked him, one simple word, but it held a lot.
“Very, was this… Was this you?” he asked, glancing around again.
“And uncle and brother,” he nodded, “We wanted to make sure that you had all your family here for you today,” he told him, as he realised that there were now a number of eyes on him, on them, “I… I have something for you, and something that I wish to ask.”
“You can ask me anything you know that, Lan Zhan,” he smiled in reply as he waited for Lan Zhan to say something.
“Wei Ying, I like you a lot and I wish to court you. Will you allow me to court you properly?” he asked him, suddenly feeling very nervous as he brought out the two gifts that he had for this day.
“I… Oh…” his eyes were wide as he then smiled widely, “I would love nothing more than to be courted by you Lan Zhan,” he laughed lightly as he was handed the first gift. He opened it, seeing the beautiful dizi that lay inside, it was made of a dark cherry, almost black wood. It was gorgeous. “Oh, Lan Zhan, it’s beautiful,” he murmured as he took it out and began to play one of the pieces that he and Lan Zhan had started to compose together.
“That’s so pretty A-Niang!” Xue Yang said, as he gripped Wei Ying’s robes and pulled to try and get a better look.
“It is, isn’t it,” Wei Ying said as he finished playing a few notes, “Thank you so much, Lan Zhan,” he told him, “I… I wish I had known you were going to do this, then I could have had something prepared for you as well,” he murmured.
“I have one more gift for you,” he said as he then pulled out a small box. It was something that he had to ask permission to have made. He handed it over as Wei Ying took it.
Opening it, he looked inside and gasped, “Really?” he asked him.
“Mn, a traditional gift for a Courtship in the Lan Clan. So, we may visit each other and show that you are welcome and trust in our home,” he told him as he looked at the now sixteen-year-old, “Happy birthday, Wei Ying,” he murmured quietly.
Wei Ying smiled up at him, hugging him tightly, and even daring to kiss him on the cheek in thanks before the two were congratulated and the party began once more.
Four days later and there was another gathering to celebrate Jiang Cheng’s sixteenth birthday. One that he had been looking forward to since he had learned that Madam Yu would be sent back to Meishan Yu. He was hoping when he got back to Lotus Pier that he wouldn’t even have to see her at all. Hoping that he would never have to see her again. He wanted nothing to do with the woman.
“Jiang Cheng,” Wei Ying said as he walked over to him, “I didn’t know what you would like for your birthday,” he said softly.
“There is only one thing that I would want, and that is to swear brotherhood with you as our fathers did,” he answered him easily, “That is the only thing that I want,” he repeated, “I want to make sure that everyone knows that we are not just friends, but we are brothers. We are family and that we will always be as such to each other.”
“Okay,” he nodded, he had hoped one day that the two of them would be able to do so, but with Madam Yu as a large shadow over them, Wei Ying had almost given up hope of it.
“You can do so in front of the Ancestors of the Lan Sect, and know that your own will be watching as well,” Lan Xichen suggested softly.
“Thank you,” the two said as the party continued on for a while longer.
Jiang Fengmian walked over to his son, “A-Cheng,” he smiled proudly at him, “A gift, one that is passed down in the Jiang Sect,” he told him as he brought out Zidian. It had been taken from Madam Yu a few weeks after he and Jiang Cheng had returned from trying to find Wei Ying.
“I…” he said, hesitantly, remembering being lashed with it. And the fact that Wei Ying had the same done to him, made him not wish to take it.
“I’ve been waiting for you to get that,” Wei Ying smiled at him, reassuring him that it was okay to take it, to use it.
Jiang Cheng smiled at his father as he took it, “Thank you, dad,” he said as he put it on, and looked at it. He had been taught how to use it. To prepare for the day he would take it and wear it. He had never thought he would have it now. He thought that when he took over as the Sect Leader, that he might get it then.
“You will be able to use it a lot better than she ever did. It was meant for a Jiang, I only gave it to her, to try and show her that I wanted our relationship to work. You have the right skills already to do a lot more with it, but I will teach you even more, when you return home,” he told his son, grasping his shoulder and squeezing it.
“Thank you,” he smiled as he then turned to Wei Ying as they talked about it for a bit.
It was past dinner time when they were taken to the Lan Clan’s ancestral hall, for the swearing ceremony. Jiang Fengmian watched with pride as his son and nephew did the same thing that he had done almost thirty years ago. A smile on his face and tears in his eyes as they became brothers on a level that not many had. Since it took true trust for the brotherhood to really take its spot within their hearts. Those that didn’t trust everyone within the brotherhood, found it hard to ever trust a person that was near them, even if they changed.
“Congratulations,” he said to the two of them, “I am so proud of you both. I know that A-Ze would be so happy that the tradition had carried on for a second generation,” he smiled, hugging the two of them tightly for a moment.
“Thanks, Uncle Jiang,” Wei Ying smiled, a burst of happiness in knowing that he was really family, that it wasn’t just a small link. But something bigger. He could feel that little spark that told him Jiang Cheng was just as happy as he was.
“Thanks, Dad,” Jiang Cheng said, grinning at Wei Ying, feeling better now that he knew that there was no chance that anyone could tell him that Wei Ying wasn’t his family. He was never going to have to put up with the naysayers ever again.
“I’m glad that you have both done this,” Jiang Yanli said as she offered her own congratulations to her brothers, hugging them as soon as their father had let them go.
“Thank you A-Jie,” Jiang Cheng murmured.
“Yeah, thank you Shijie,” Wei Ying smiled only to receive a tap on the nose as he was let go.
“No more Shijie, it’s A-Jie now,” Jiang Yanli smiled at him, cupping his face.
Wei Ying smiled as tears gathered in his eyes, “Okay… A-Jie,” he said, receiving a beautiful and happy smile from his sister.
The rest of the night was a happy one as they enjoyed a little more fun before they all went to bed.
Jiang Fengmian had been looking forward to this day for a long time, as he sped across the sky and back to Lotus Pier. Beside him was Sect Leader Yu, and a few of his disciples as well. He had already sent Jiang Yanli ahead with a few of the disciples that had gone with them and stayed in Caiyi Town when they had been there for his son’s birthdays. He also helped in relocating the former Lan Sect Leader, to a small house on the outskirts of Caiyi Town. He had waited around until the man had woken, talking with him a bit before he then left to head over to Meishan to bring the Yu Sect Leader. He had only told Madam Yu’s mother what was going on, knowing that she would, or should have told the others.
“So, why are you kicking her out in such a way?” Sect leader Yu asked him, he wanted to hear the reason from the man himself, and not from others.
“I thought your mother would have told you what was going on,” he said. The woman had been angry at him for basically locking her daughter away for the last year, since her attempt on Jiang Cheng’s life.
“I want to hear it from you,” he told him, “I need to understand what you are thinking,” he said as they landed just outside of Lotus Pier.
Jiang Fengmian landed and turned to face him. The Yu Sect Leader was older than Madam Yu, by four years. He sighed and shook his head, “She attacked Wei Ying… Wuxian,” he told him.
“The child of your lovers?” he asked him, to clarify.
“Why does everyone think that!?” Jiang Fengmian exploded, “For years that has dogged me, and No, Wei Ying isn’t my son. He is my adoptive son, yes. But not one by blood. He is my nephew, my cousin in blood,” he yelled out, shaking his head as he glared at the man.
“A-Yuan has always said that you were too close to Cangse Sanren,” he told him, a little more calmly, though his eyes narrowed as he watched him, “And I believe her when she told me that you brought back your bastard.”
“She is your sister, but I have told her many times over the years that we have been together that I have never held those types of feelings for A-Ren. She was a very good friend,” he sighed, shaking his head, “She was my best friend, my sister. But that was all she was to me,” he told him, “A-Ze was my cousin, our mothers were sisters. When they passed away, my parents took him in, we were raised together after that point. And it was one of my uncles that wanted me to marry Yu Ziyuan, not me. But I was determined to give it a go, to give the relationship a try. I watched A-Ze and A-Ren fall in love, they became so close so quickly. I was there when they married and I was overjoyed for them and wished for the same between me and Madam Yu. But that wasn’t to be, because of her. Cangse Sanren and Wei Changze were my sworn siblings. I swore brotherhood to A-Ze when we were fourteen, and then I added A-Ren a few days before they married,” he told him, his eyes sad as he thought of his two best friends, two that he had hoped would still be beside him.
“And she never listened to you?” he asked him, frowning slightly.
“Not once in our marriage did she listen to anything that I said to her. She only… bedded me to get the children, who I had thought she loved,” he snorted, “But it turned out that she wanted to control them and what they would do, just like she tried to do with the Sect. She drove A-Ze and A-Ren from the Jiang Sect, from their home, their ancestral home in Wei Changze’s case,” he added, making sure that the message got through.
“Ancestral home,” he murmured, looking at him, frowning.
“Yes. The Wei family have been part of Lotus Pier since the start. The Jiang Sect came about with their help. A Wei has always been at the side of Jiang Sect Leader, their second and their trusted. A-Ze’s father was the same, it’s only because my aunt wanted to travel that they did when he was a little older. They tended to be sent out for the longer missions around Yunmeng. Which is how they ended up in a village that was going through a bout of sickness, they both became ill and passed away, leaving A-Ze alone, my father went to get him and brought him home,” he informed him, his face showing nothing at the moment. “She drove him away and when I brought his son back here, to his home, the home of his ancestors. Where he should have been born, where he should have been safe. She did nothing but attack him, never listening to me at all. I did my best to make sure that A-Ying was welcomed here. But she drove him away, as well,” he told him, turning to face the Sect gates, “I loathe her these days and not just because of that,” he added, growling and eyes flashing as he tried to keep hold of the anger he held within him at Madam Yu’s past actions.
“And what else has she done?” he asked him, “You can understand why I wish to ask such things. What is so terrible that you would kick her from the Sect?” he added as they finally entered through the gate and into Lotus Pier.
“She attacked them both that day A-Ying left, both A-Ying and A-Cheng. I first stripped her of her place as Lady of Lotus Pier. So that she would no longer be able to do many of the things she enjoyed. Then I found out that she hasn’t taught anything that she had been instructed to when she agreed to take over training the Jiang Sect Disciples. I’m only glad that A-Ying took over the juniors, otherwise so much would have been lost. Our special skills, the ones that make us Jiang, she refused to teach. Instead, she did her own thing. Running the disciples into the ground so much that some of them almost died from the exhaustion she would force on them,” he told him, “But the very last thing that made me confine her happened not long before A-Cheng turned fifteen. She found him, while he was training in the fields, he was working on the things that I had been teaching him. She became so incensed by it that she attacked him, he now has a scar on his side from where she managed to stab him with her blade. She collapsed to the ground in pain not a second after. If she hadn’t done so, I have no doubt that I would have lost my son. And nothing would have kept me from killing her then, I want her dead even now. I want to make sure that she will never be able to get near my children, any of them ever again. I ask that when you take her, she will be locked away because if I ever do find her when I am out of Lotus Pier, I doubt there will be anything on this earth that would stop me from driving a blade through her blackened heart. She was taken and confined to the building that I made for her, a barrier keeping her in there. Making sure that she will never walk freely through Lotus Pier,” he finished as he carried on to where Madam Yu was kept imprisoned.
“She attacked A-Cheng?” he asked, shocked, not wishing to believe that his own sister had done something like that.
“Yes, as I said, I would have killed her, and only the contract stopped me. But now, it’s void. It no longer counts. Neither A-Lie or A-Cheng want anything to do with Madam Yu. They no longer even call her mother. She is nothing to them after what she has done. I don’t know if they will ever forgive her,” he added.
“I see,” he nodded slowly, “Then letting her go with me is the only thing that will save her life at this moment in time.”
“Exactly. She will not be allowed to set foot in Jiang Sect Territories, and I have had word from Sect Leader Nie that she is not to do so within theirs either, on pain of death. The Lan may follow and do the same as well,” he told him.
Sect Leader Yu stopped for a moment and looked at him in confusion, “And why would that be?”
“Because Wei Ying is now living with the Nie Sect, and is a beloved disciple there. He no longer thinks of Lotus Pier as his home, thanks to her,” he answered, “And as for the Lan Sect, their Second Young Master, Lan Wangji, has asked for a courtship with him, which has been granted. None of them will want him to be in any danger at all. And the fact that she had tried to harm him so badly, and tried to attack his sworn brother,” he smirked, “My son, A-Cheng, well, no one will be wishing her well, that is for sure,” he finished as they reached the barrier that kept Madam Yu confined to the building. It wasn’t large, just a small three-roomed building and a pavilion that looked out on the water.
“This is where she has been kept?” he asked Jiang Fengmian, as he glanced over at him. He didn’t know if he could even be angry at the treatment of his sister for what she had done. She had done several unforgivable things to a number of people, and it now had a more far-reaching impact than she ever expected. He just hoped that her actions wouldn’t be pushed onto the Yu Sect in the end. The woman was banned from the territories of three of the Five Great Sects.
“Yes,” he nodded, as he tapped on it and began to pull. Making sure that Madam Yu was being brought to the barrier. It didn’t take long for the woman to appear.
“Fengmian,” she spat as soon as she saw him. Not even noticing that her brother was almost hidden behind him at all, “What are you doing here you piece of shit. As soon as I get out of here you are a dead man, and those useless fucking children,” she seethed again, a threat she had only spoken to him. She had been hoping that she could talk Jiang Yanli into freeing her, but so far she hadn’t been able to.
“A-Yuan!” Sect Leader Yu exclaimed, eyes wide in shock at the words coming from his sister’s mouth, “How could you even say such things about your own children?” he asked her, horrified.
“Because she can no longer use them against me,” Jiang Fengmian was the one to answer, shaking his head, “You will be escorted to Meishan Yu,” he told her, “You will not be allowed back into the Jiang Sect Territories, or even the Nie Sect. The Lan Sect may impose the same restriction as well. You have brought that on yourself,” he finished, adding one last thing, “And if I ever see you out there again, I will kill myself.” He let the barrier finally break. She had no weapons, having had them all taken from her before she was put into the barrier. Everything was always counted from what went in and out of the area. Strict control had been enforced.
“I want you dead, you took my life from me!” she yelled going to attack him.
Jiang Fengmian easily sidestepped her as he grabbed her arm and hauled her to her feet before she could fall. Her hair was plain and braided down her back. The robes she was wearing were no longer the luscious ones that she once wore, but a plain and muted grey. He slammed a talisman onto her back, making sure that she wouldn’t be able to do anything to anyone. “You are to return to your mother Sect,” he said as he then nodded to the servants that had been sent to attend to her. They would be leaving straight away, Madam Yu would be leaving with her brother and a guard of Jiang Disciples around them, to make sure that she left. They would be with her until the edge of Yunmeng Jiang and then they would leave the group.
Jiang Fengmian watched as they left, standing at the gate and breathing a sigh of relief. She had tried to struggle, to attack him again, but it had been her own brother that made her stop. Jiang Fengmian had given her one last warning, that the disciples had been told to kill her should she try and break free, or even enter Yunmeng Jiang again. Sect Leader Yu had tried his best to assure him she wouldn’t, but he wouldn’t put it past her for trying at some point to get to him. He would be waiting.
“Father,” Jiang Yanli called as she walked up behind him as he walked back from the training field he had gone to after Madam Yu had been taken. Wanting to work out some of his frustrations there for a while. She hadn’t wanted to see Madam Yu before she was taken. She never wanted to see the woman again.
“A-Li,” he turned to her, smiling, “She has finally gone,” he added, feeling free for the first time in a very long time. The only thing he was grateful to Madam Yu for was for his children.
“Good. But father, there is someone here to meet with you,” she said, a little smile on her face as she led the way to his office, “I was the one to greet him, so you don’t have to worry,” she added when her father frowned. Usually, he was the one that would greet any guests.
Walking into his office was Sect Leader Wen, standing there. “Sect Leader Wen,” he greeted, a little puzzled as to why the young man was standing there.
“Sect Leader Jiang, I’m sorry for my surprise visit. But there is something that I wish to ask you and your daughter, if you are willing to listen to me,” Wen Xu said as he bowed to them both.
“And what would that be?” Jiang Fengmian asked as he sat down, gesturing for the other two to do the same.
“I wish permission to court your daughter if she agrees to it?” he asked, glancing between the two of them, “She has been a comfort to me from the moment I met her in Qinghe, three months ago. She is a wonderful young woman, kind and strong. Able to see things that others don’t, or didn’t wish to,” he added, as he looked at her, “You… both know what I have done. I trust you and her with what I have done. But I also trust her with all that I am, and what I wish to become and I know that if she is by my side I will do all I can to be the best husband, and maybe even father,” he added, smiling at her softly.
Jiang Yanli reached out to him, taking his hand and holding it, “So, you did carry it out then,” she murmured softly.
“I did, I had to,” he shook his head, “He was going to attack the Cloud Recesses next year, before taking the Sect Heirs as hostages. The Jiang and Nie Sects were next on his list after that,” he told them.
“You have done well to bring up the name of your Sect since you have taken over from your father. You are very different from him,” Jiang Fengmian smiled, glancing at his daughter, “A-Li, this is all up to you. This is your decision,” he told her gently.
She smiled at him, “I would like to, father,” she told him and then looked at Wen Xu.
Jiang Fengmian sighed and nodded, looking at Wen Xu, “I give you my permission to court,” he smiled at the two of them, “Now… All I need is for A-Cheng to find someone he likes and maybe all three of my children will have their future set with someone they love,” he chuckled lightly as the young man smiled at him.
“Thank you, Sect Leader Jiang. I will do my best by and for her and I hope that we will be a happy couple,” he smiled.
“That is all I ask for her, is for her to be happy. As long as she is, I will say nothing against you,” he smiled.
Wen Xu bowed before adding, “Thank you,” once more as he said that he had a gift for her, their first courting gift. He pulled out a long box and handed it over.
Jiang Yanli opened the box and looked inside, there laying on silk were two hair comb slides, connected by a chain of delicately forged golden flowers, “They are beautiful,” she whispered.
“Granny Wen, my father’s mother, she was given them by my grandfather the day they began their courtship. When my grandfather passed away, she went back to the Dafan Mountain, to spend her last years there. She came back to Nightless after father passed,” he said softly, “When she found out that I was going to ask to court you, she insisted I use these.”
“I…” Jiang Yanli said as she ran a finger over the tiny details on the comb, “Thank you,” she smiled.
Wen Xu smiled back, “I look forward to seeing you wear them,” he told her.
Jiang Fengmian shook his head but carried on smiling fondly at the new couple. Though he wondered if Jiang Cheng would find someone at all. The teen was shy at times, though he was beginning to come out of his shell a lot more since he had to take over as Head Disciple. The first Jiang to ever do so. “A-Li, show him around the lakes,” he told her, “But make sure that Madam Rong goes as well,” he told the two of them, letting them have some time to speak while chaperoning. He may as well remain in his office and get a few things sorted. The two left him alone to his thoughts. A lot had happened, his ex-wife now finally gone from his life and his daughter entering a courtship. Shaking his head, he picked up his brush to write a letter to Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying, knowing they would want to know of the new development of their sister’s life.
The last few days that Wei Ying spent at Cloud Recesses were filled with spending as much time as he could with Lan Zhan. Though either Jiang Cheng or Lan Xichen was with them. Not letting the two of them be alone for long. Mostly to make sure that they were doing nothing that would be inappropriate considering their courtship. He had complained to Meng Yao but then found his brother doing the same. Nie Huaisang had been given the honour of chaperoning them as well, but since he had left them each time, he was no longer trusted to do so. Much to Wei Ying’s disappointment, since he was then able to spend time with Lan Zhan without everyone watching their every move.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying said as he stood on the steps of Cloud Recesses, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to see him for a while.
“Wei Ying,” he murmured, looking at him and taking hold of his hands, “Will miss Wei Ying,” he added.
“Will miss Lan Zhan as well,” he murmured in reply.
“I will come to Qinghe in a month to meet with you,” he told him, “I will count each day until I see you again,” he smiled softly.
Wei Ying smiled back, “I will as well. I look forward to seeing you again when you arrive. It’s going to be so nice to have you there,” he told him, moving closer so he could hug Lan Zhan one last time before they would have to leave.
“Wei Ying,” Meng Yao called out to him, shaking his head at how long they were taking to say goodbye.
“I know,” he called out, moving away from Lan Zhan a little. He sighed heavily as he looked up at him, “Going to miss you so much Lan Zhan, see you soon,” he said as he dared to lean up a little and kiss him on the cheek, before daring off to join the other Nie Disciples. The Jiang Sect had left a few hours before and Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying had promised to meet up for a Night Hunt at least once a month. And for him to Visit Lotus Pier with Xue Yang in two months.
“Wei Wuxian, decorum!” Lan Qiren called after him, shaking his head in exasperation and watched as the Nie Sect finally took down the mountain to return home.
Wei Ying was still laughing as they all took to the air. Nie Huaisang had been training properly for the last few weeks since the carving had been put on his sabre. The fear that he had held onto for so long was no longer there. No one else had suffered from Qi Deviation since he had been carving all the arrays onto the Sabres. No one was gathering the energy according to Nie Mingjue and the Lans that had been at Qinghe to help out.
Wei Ying looked at Meng Yao, “So, next year?” he asked him, grinning.
“Yes, A-Jue had told me the date when he came for your birthday. But I didn’t want to overshadow the day with it, so I kept it to myself,” he smiled, happy that he finally knew when he was going to be married. He would just be turned nineteen by that time, and he couldn’t wait. He had been looking forward to marrying him for so long now.
“I’m happy for you Yao-ge,” he smiled at him, “Really happy.”
“I never thought I would find someone to love me. Not with my past. But he really doesn’t care, all he cares about is the fact that I should be happy. And I know that I will be, standing beside him,” he murmured.
Wei Ying nodded, “You deserve it,” he said softly.
“Oh, and he told me that a lot of people are starting to come forward within the Jin Sect about Jin Guangshan. He has a daughter, who thought she was the daughter of one of his good friends. Turns out that he… Raped his own friend’s wife. That their daughter is one of his,” he said, disgust on his face, “How could you do something like that to a friend, to harm their wife, someone that you know. The young woman is rather upset as you can imagine, both the daughter and her mother. Also, he is being told off for touching another young lady. Though Mingjue is thinking about taking them in. They are in a rather bad place at the moment,” he said softly, “The child is only four, a little younger than A-Yang,” he told him, telling him everything he could about what he had learned from Nie Mingjue while he had come to the Lan Sect for Wei Ying’s birthday.
“Glad that he’s having to face what he has done finally. I doubt there will be much of a punishment for him, because of who he is, which is fucked up,” he sorted, still angry that that was often the case.
“Don’t worry, I think that Madam Jin will be wanting to do something to him if any more come out. So far six have stepped forwards. So, there should be another, six I believe,” he shook his head, having forgotten how many children that Jin Guangshan had most of the time, “And since neither I nor A-Yang will be going near them for anything, that should be it,” he pointed out.
“Good,” he nodded, “She should do it. He’s done too much to influence people in trying to get them to leave him be when it comes to his actions in the past. It’s about time he is held accountable for them.”
“Yes. I think I made the best decision I could by going with you that day. I was going to head to the Jin Sect, going to see that man, and if he would take me in at all. I wrote him a letter when mother first got ill, thinking that he would help her. He never did. But she was so sure that he would want to see me and being bought as I was. I thought that she was right but in the end. He never wanted any children, he just wanted control over the women. And when he was finished playing with them, he left them. I sometimes wonder if there are any children out there that didn’t make it, that… That passed away with their mother or something, waiting for him to do something,” he sighed softly. Eyes sad as he thought of Xue Yang and what could have happened to him as he was left out on the streets to survive.
“There’s no way of knowing,” Wei Ying murmured, “But, all we can do is to make sure that those that we have found are all well taken care of.”
“True,” he sighed again as he nodded and carried on. They reached a small village that marked the halfway point between Cloud Recesses and Qinghe. Landing as soon as they saw it, it didn’t take long for someone to grab onto Wei Ying, laughing. The teen yelled out in surprise and pain as he fell onto the ground.
“A-Niang!” Xue Yang smiled brightly, laughing at him as he sat down on his chest and looked down at him, “You’re so silly sometimes, you know,” he shook his head. The six-year-old was happy and bright, a joy to be around. When he wasn’t upset about being left alone for a little while.
“What do you expect to happen when you jump on me like that and I didn’t know that you’re there? Do you really think I would remain standing after being attacked by a monster!” Wei Ying exclaimed as he then began to tickle the child, not letting him escape as he tried to wiggle free.
“Come on my little menace,” Zhao Zhuliu said as he walked over, grabbing the child and saving him from Wei Ying.
“Hey, I was having fun then!” Wei Ying complained as he got to his feet.
“I know, but I can hear his screaming for miles and I need his help,”, he said, smiling and shaking his head.
“Don’t you mean you have to get me some sweets so I don’t tell anyone that I saw you kissing someone,” Xue Yang grinned, laughing at the look that appeared on Zhao Zhuliu’s face.
“And there goes your sweets,” he said, looking down at him, “You told.”
“No, I didn’t!” he yelled out, pouting at the man.
“You did because you said something about it when there are others around you,” he told him, shaking his head, and laughing lightly as he tucked him under his arm as he continued to protest.
“Seeing someone Zhao Zhuliu?” Wei Ying and Meng Yao asked as they caught up with him and walked on either side.
“Maybe,” he murmured as he looked at the two in turn.
“Just tell us?” Meng Yao said sweetly, a smirk slowly appearing on his face.
“Please,” Wei Ying said, giving him his pouting and pleading look.
Zhao Zhuliu sighed, “Yes, I’m seeing someone, we started to court a few months ago and things are going well at the moment,” he turned to face the two of them,” Now, please, don’t tell anyone. We’re trying to see what becomes of it before we do,” he told them, “She’s… really nice and I like her a lot,” he added quietly, “Now, drop it,” he ordered them, giving the two one last look.
“We won’t,” they nodded, agreeing to his demands. “I’m happy that you found someone,” Wei Ying added, remembering what the man had said when they talked about the future, that he never thought that he would find someone that would want to be with him.
“A-Jue!” Meng Yao called out as he looked around and spotted the Nie Sect Leader. He laughed brightly as he went over to him, happy that his betrothed was there to meet them, “I didn’t think I would be able to see you until I got home,” he said, as Nie Mingjue wrapped his arms around the smaller man and held him.
“I thought it would be a nice surprise for you all and to make sure that A-Sang actually comes straight home instead of going off on his own again,” he chuckled as Nie Huaisang pouted at his brother.
“I don’t do that anymore,” Nie Huaisang grumbled.
“A-Yan,” Nie Mingjue said as he looked at his brother, smiling softly, “I know that you don’t. You’ve come a long way since you were always escaping to hide from things,” he shook his head.
“A-Yan?” Xue Yang asked, puzzled at the name.
“Yes,” Nie Huaisang murmured, a little pale, but a tiny smile on his face, “Nie Yan, my birth name. I… Haven’t really been called that in a long time,” he said as he glanced at his brother. “You know,” he paused for a moment, “I don’t think I mind it that much anymore. I used to get really upset when it was used,” he sighed, though it was a little shaky, “It hurt to be called that. But maybe it’s time,” he added, looking at his brother.
“A-Yan, I can finally call my little brother that again?” He asked him, looking at him and trying to make sure that the young teen was okay with it.
Nie Huaisang nodded, “Yes you can,” he smiled. “A-Yan, A-Yao, A-Yun, A-Ying and A-Yang,” he said as he looked at the others and then glanced back at his brother, “And then there is you, A-Yi,” he smiled.
Nie Mingjue laughed, “All alike,” he said with a nod.
“Yeah,” his brother grinned back.
Wei Ying watched them all for a few moments, a smile on his face as he saw Zhao Zhuliu tossing Xue Yang above his head as the child laughed so hard, he was being told off for being useless as a keeper of secrets. Not that the child cared, he was having fun.
The two Nie brothers were smiling, happier than when he had first seen them that day that he walked into the Nie Sect searching for a home. The worry and fear that had hung over them with the sabre spirits was now gone. Meng Yao was on Nie Mingjue’s arm, smiling happily. They looked like a happy family.
Wei Ying couldn’t help but smiled even more as he realised that he really did have another family now. He has someone that he thinks of as a son. Brothers and friends right in the Nie Sect. He had a home again, for the first time in his memory he had an actual home. He didn’t think he had one anymore. That he had lost it when he had lost his parents. He had thought that he had found one when he was in Lotus Pier, but that didn’t last very long. He believed that he was doomed to never have a home, that he had lost his siblings and uncle and the only place he could remember feeling vaguely safe and able to rest. But that was lost to him when he was chased out. But now, he had a home, one that was truly his and truly safe. The Jiang Sect, with his uncle and siblings, he still had them. His leaving hadn’t changed how they felt about him, just as it hadn’t changed the fact that he loved them just as much. They were still family, they still loved him. And he could always go and visit them when he wanted to. His room left for him for when he did go there.
“Come on A-Ying!” Nie Mingjue called out, “We’re getting lunch,” he told him, as the Nie Sect disciples had disappeared towards the inn that they had booked out.
“Coming,” he called out and ran over. Grabbing Nie Huaisang by the next and laughing as he protested and told his friends that he was a delicate flower and shouldn’t be manhandled.
The next day they would arrive back in Qinghe, Wei Ying would be home, with his family. Though that will of course expand over the next few years.