Violet Spider’s Choice – 2/2 – T. K. Benjamin

Reading Time: 158 Minutes


Title: Violet Spider’s Choice
Author: T. K. Benjamin
Fandom: The Untamed, Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, Mo Dao Zi Shi
Genre: Family, Kid!fic, Paranormal/Supernatural, Romance, Slash
Relationship(s): Wei Wuxian/Lan Wanji
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: References to past child abuses
Word Count: 62,300
Summary: Yu Ziyuan was a bitter and angry woman who saw her world burn. With her last she knew she had to change and had the ability to do so. That one decision gave her a family, a gang of devious children and a Cultivation world she could be proud of.
Artist: Angelic Insanity



CHAPTER 10

“What’s wrong with your back?” Jiang Cheng asked. “You’ve been rubbing at it for days now.”

“Nothing. Don’t know. Must be the mattresses here. They’re hard as stone.” There was no way he would admit to his brother that he and Lan Zhan would enjoy the small desk in Lan Zhan’s private study area on a daily basis and then take a short nap afterward, usually in the same position they’d fallen into. And they’d been doing it for days now.

“Aha. Well, you’d better figure out how you’re going to deal with it when you marry into the Sect. maybe your ever doting Lan Zhan will get you a softer one.” Jiang Cheng grinned at him.

“Good idea. I’ll ask.” Wei Wuxian grinned back and then punched his brother’s arm gently.

“And if he says no just tell me and I’ll break his legs. My brother should not be uncomfortable in

“And if he says no just tell me and I’ll break his legs. My brother should not be uncomfortable in his new home. It’s his husband’s responsibility to ensure his comfort and wellbeing.” Jiang Cheng thrust out his chin, daring his brother to disagree.

“That’s what we told the peacock, isn’t it?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“Yep, and he’s building Shijie a Lotus pond. Or maybe it’s digging one. Whatever, she gets a lotus pond. Least Lan Wanji can do is get you a decent mattress.”

“Yes, A’Cheng.” Wei Wuxian smiled.

“What’s the least Wanji can do?” Lan Xichen asked as he met up with them. Lan Wanji right beside him.

“Well since you’re here. The mattress in A’Xian’s room is too hard for him. Look his back hurts. Can Lan Wanji replace it?” Jiang Cheng asked.

Lan Wanji lifted an eyebrow at Wei Wuxian. “I shall see to it before the day is out. Wei Ying should have said something.”

Wei Wuxian blushed and shrugged. “Didn’t want to make a fuss Lan Zhan. It’s not that bad.”

Lan Wanji walked over to him and ran a hand over Wei Wuxian’s back. “Will find a softer mattress for Wei Ying.” He said then leaned in to whisper in Wei Wuxian’s ear. “And perhaps some cushions for the study room.” Then he pulled away and joined his brother again. “Is everyone ready for Uncle’s test?” he asked.

“Did someone say test?” Nie Huaisang asked with a worried frown. He was a few paces away and heading in their direction his arms linked with A’Yao and a smirking A’Yang. Followed by the Wen Siblings, Wen Ning, and his sister Wen Qing.

“Mn. Uncle should set us a test in the next few days. We should study.” Lan Wanji told them.

Nie Huaisang clapped his hands. “Well then. I suggest a study group. My quarters tonight and tomorrow. Bring anyone that wants to come. The more, the better.”

Jiang Cheng shrugged. “It’s not a bad idea. As long as no one brings any chrysanthemum tea. Otherwise, we won’t be fit to stand tomorrow.”

“Chrys- chrysanthemum tea?” Wen Ning asked.

His sister started to chuckle, gaining all their attention. “Was it by any chance fermented? Perhaps brewed some days previously?”

Lan Xichen gave a small smile in answer while everyone else looked rather innocent.

“Oh, that’s wonderful. Uncle four would love that.” She finally stopped chuckling but kept smiling.

“Oh,” Wen Ning said, finally understanding. I’d forgotten that could happen with chrysanthemum tea.”

“Yeah, the only ones of us that were fit company the next day were the Lans because they’d been drinking actual tea.” Jiang Cheng told him.

“Although, I’m rather sure we behaved ourselves properly the next day. After all, no one was punished. The punishment for drunkenness in the Cloud Recesses is a flogging with a bamboo cane across the upper back, isn’t it Lan Wanji?”

“Mn, it is.” Lan Wanji said. However, there is no more of the tea. It was all finished that night. Xichen and I place restoratives into your morning teas the next day to help. I’ ha had no idea the tea was as powerful as it had been.” He brought both arms in front of him and bowed. “My most sincere apologies to you all .”

Wei Wuxian linked his arm through Wanji’s and pulled him upright. “Ha ha ha, Lan Zhan, don’t worry about it. Sometimes you have to pay the price for the fun you have. It was only until we drank our tea anyway, then the Lan restoratives worked very well and very quickly. Now we’d best hurry along before we’re late. Where is our class to be held today anyway?”

Wei Wuxian stared at him then slapped his shoulder before pulling him straight again. “Don’t be ridiculous Lan Zhan. We had a great night. The tea was very good. And what’s the fun of having a great night if one doesn’t have an interesting day in the morrow. The headaches or queasy stomach just make you remember the night before more fondly.”

Lan Zhan looked at his brother as if asking for confirmation of Wei Wuxian’s statement.

Lan Xichen shrugged. “I believe Nie MingJue says something similar.”

“Hmm,” Lan Wanji hummed. Then he laced his fingers with Wei Wuxian and started pulling him down the path again. “We shall be late if we do not hurry.”

The sound of scurrying followed them as they went to their next class.

“See you all at the meal break,” Lan Xichen called from behind them, a smile in his voice as well as on his face.

“I’m so hungry.”

“A’Xian, lunch was not so long ago. I know you’ve waited longer between meals at home when we help with the lotus harvest.” Jiang Yanli tried to scold but only sounded fond.

“I know shijie but we eat heartier meals at Lotus Pier. I’m not saying the meals here aren’t filling, but my belly empties faster here than at home.” Wei Wuxian whined and pouted.

“Well, we’ll just have to make sure Xianxian eats plenty from now on,” Jiang Yanli grinned and patted his cheek before taking her seat in the dining hall.

Quickly their table was filled with various bowls and platters. Wei Wuxian waited for his sister to make her choices then quickly made his own along with everyone else.

“A new spice oil, Wei Ying. I noticed your other one was almost finished.” Lan Wanji said as he sat down beside Wei Wuxian and placed a small jug in front of him.

Wei Wuxian smiled and opened the jug quickly, he poured a steady stream of red over his meal and sighed happily. “Thank you, Lan Zhan. You spoil your Wei Ying so much.” He leaned over and kissed Lan Zhan’s cheek quickly before Lan Qiren could notice and punish him for being disgraceful.

“Spoiling Wei Ying is my privilege,” Lan Zhan answered, then he took a selection of foods for himself and joined everyone in eating quietly.

Wei Wuxian smiled softly to himself. In the months of the lectures things had changed. Especially in the dining hall. Their table was now usually rather boisterous. But tonight in deference to Lan Zhan everyone ate quietly. The Lan rule of no talking while eating had stuck in all their minds. He somewhat fondly remembered the silent meals he’d shared in this hall for so many years, every time they’d visited. The strict and silent Lans were so disciplined among themselves, yet they made accommodations for other Sects’ students during lecture times. While the Lans themselves ate quietly, they did not censure their guests, ever the perfect hosts. He wondered if it had always been this way. He should probably find some of his older Sect brothers, the ones that had attended Lan Qiren’s lectures many years ago, and ask them.

Their plates emptied and cleared they sat together relaxing until they were ready to retire to their rooms. “Hey. I have a question.” Jin Zixun broke their contented silence.

Everyone looked at him. He glanced at everyone before setting his gaze on A’Yao.

The smaller man raised his eyebrows. “Hmm?”

“Zixuan said he and Lan Wanji went to your Courtesy Name Celebration. What is that? Everyone gets a courtesy name, why do you have a special day for it?” Jin Zixun asked. In the past, he’d have sounded aggressive and belligerent. Today he just sounded curious.

A’Yao looked at him and carefully tried not to fidget with his sleeves. “Not everyone has a Courtesy name. I did not. Mother didn’t think it was her place, she believed…. Anyway, regardless of why, I did not.”

“Me either,” A’Yang added. “Or if I did I couldn’t remember it.”

“Many children who come to Lotus Pier do not. So Master and Madame Jiang offer each one of us the choice. They will choose a courtesy name for each of us and bestow it on us on a special day. They do so every few years. This year there was a small group of us who came of age. Wei Wuxian, Jiang Wanyin, and Jiang Zhengzhou also decided to celebrate Courtesy Name Day with us. Master and Madame even offer us the opportunity to take the Jiang name as ours.”

“Hmm,” Jin Zixun bit his thumbnail thoughtfully. “So what’s your name?”

“Jiang Eryu,” A’Yao said with a perfect amount of pride in his voice. “Please allow me to introduce my Marshal brothers Wei Wuxian and Jiang Wanyin,” he gestured to Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng. “And this is my Marshal sister, Jiang Zhengzhou, the Pearl of Lotus Pier.” He bowed in his seat to Jiang Yanli who blushed rather prettily.

“A’Yao, you flatter me so.” Jiang Yanli smiled gently at him.

“If I didn’t know where my brother’s heart already lay, I’d be jealous and drinking vats of vinegar.” Jin Zixuan laughed as he offered his betrothed a paper flower he’d made after dinner.

She took it from him and carefully wound it into her hair, behind her ear with a smile.

“Zixuan,” she said as she rose gracefully. “Did you want to walk with me?”

He scrambled to his feet and bowed hastily to the rest of the group. “Always dearest,” he answered and offered her his arm.

She took it and they left already having a quiet conversation.

“Wei Ying?” Lan Wanji rose and offered Wei Wuxian his arm, smiling softly when it was quickly taken. They left the room with Wei Ying entwining their fingers, to the sound of a huff from Jiang Cheng.

“I do not think your brother approves,” Lan Wanji told Wei Wuxian.

“Jiang Cheng pretends he doesn’t approve of everything. He’s just being protective. Apparently, that’s his role in our lives.”

“But he is the younger, correct?” Lan Wanji asked.

“He doesn’t bother with years. He’s the next Sect Leader of Lotus Pier, so he thinks he has to protect everyone. Just watch how he looks at your brother. Every time he sees Lan Xichen try to be alone with A’Yao. He’s determined to pin your brother down about his intentions toward A’Yao very soon. Aunty Ziyuan will skin him alive, probably whatever he does. She thinks that’s her job.” Wei Wuxian babbled on.

“Jiang Cheng is and will ever be his mother’s son.” Lan Wanji nodded and drew Wei Wuxian into a dark shadow to kiss his betrothed breathless. “How long before we will be allowed to marry?”

“Lan Zhan, less talk, more kiss,” Wei Ying whined and pulled Lan Zhan into another kiss.

Wanji didn’t argue, just letting himself be kissed while he kissed back until he pulled away for a much-needed breath. He took Wei Ying’s hands and pulled them over his head while he plastered their bodies together and ground his erection into Wei Ying’s. They were too wound up to last long, seconds later they trembled in each other’s hold, breathing each other’s air to sigh and lean into the other content.

“We have to marry soon, Lan Zhan. I can’t keep doing this without wanting more. Especially after reading some of Nie Huaisang’s books and knowing how much more we can be doing.” Wei Wuxian complained.

“Mn. Will have to wait until Jiang Yanli marries. I love you, Wei Ying. I will speak to Xichen to see if he or father can think of something. Until then let me walk you to your quarters and say goodnight.” He took a step away and offered Wei Ying his arm. Wei Wuxian took it and then slipped their hands together to entwine their fingers. The student guest quarters weren’t far away and they walked there in silence.

Wei Wuxian slipped into his rooms after a short kiss at the doors.

“Go clean up and change and get to bed. Sword training starts tomorrow,” Jiang Cheng told him from his bed where he was reading a letter. “Mother will visit with father soon. She’ll want to see how much we’ve learned when they get here.”

Wei Wuxian nodded and sighed. He went to the bath behind the screen and rapidly bathed the day away before slipping into his sleeping robes and making his way to his bed. He sank into his mattress and giggled. “Lan Zhan changed my mattress.”

“Of coarse he did. You have that Jade wrapped around your finger. Just like A’Yao has the other one. I’m going to speak with mother and father about it. It’s time you and Lan Wanji got married, even if you are still young. And A’Yao and Lan Xichen need to be betrothed before we leave here and A’Yao’s reputation suffers. I suppose you’ll have to wait until Yanli weds first though. This is too confusing and annoying. Now go to sleep so I don’t have to think about this anymore. Good night A’Xian.”

“Um, goodnight A’Cheng.”

*****

“The Library?” Lan Xichen asked.

“No,” Lan Wanji answered quickly. “Perhaps in one of the Cloud Pavilions? That way everyone can fit and be comfortable. The Blue one?”

Xichen gave a single nod and gave his permission. “An admirable idea Wanji. A’Yao can you please lead everyone there, it is the pavilion I showed you the other day, the one with the Crane motif. Wanji, please stay, I think I need to speak with you.”

Wei Wuxian watched a blush steal over Lan Wanji’s cheeks, to rest on the tips of his ears. He stumbled after his brother when Jiang Cheng grabbed him and roughly pulled him to follow their friends.

“What did you do?” Jiang Cheng whispered furiously.

“What? Nothing.” Wei Wuxian argued.

“Lan Wanji just got in trouble with his brother. With his brother.” He emphasized. “That has to be your fault.” Jiang Cheng said back with a shrug.

Wei Wuxian looked down to avoid his brother’s gaze. He huffed but glanced back at the brothers as he followed his own. At least Xichen didn’t look upset, only indulgent, but Lan Wanji looked as if he wanted the earth to open up and swallow him whole.

*****

The sun was low in the sky when Wei Wuxian finally found his betrothed. Lan Wanji was kneeling in front of a tiny cottage near the outskirts of the Cloud Recesses.

“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. I’ve found you at last.” Wei Wuxian said with a laugh as he flopped onto the ground beside Lan Wanji. “What is this place? I’ve never seen it.”

Lan Wanji pulled Wei Wuxian closer to himself and sighed. “This was mother’s cottage. Before Yu Ziyuan came for her. Before she changed everything.”

“What happened?” Wei Wuxian asked softly.

“Mother and father were not always as they are now. There was a time they lived separately. Each in seclusion. Mother had to kill a man and the Elders wanted her executed for it. Father married her to ensure her safety, but the Elders declared they would have to be punished. She, for her assumed murder and he for despoiling himself by marrying a murderess.” Wanji spoke slowly, carefully.

“What?” Wei Wuxian squawked. “Show me these Elders. I’ll give them a piece of my mind. How can they be-”

Lan Wanji silenced him by judiciously kissing him quiet. “Hush love. They have been dealt with. Do you want to hear the rest of the story?”

Wei Wuxian nodded and cuddled closer into Lan Wanji’s arms.

“Uncle was raising us. For most of our childhoods, before The Purple Spider changed everything, Xichen and I hardly saw our parents. Uncle Qiren was our only parental figure. We would see him daily. We saw our father perhaps weekly and mother only one day per month. I loved the day I had permission to spend with her. I would sneak out of my bed before the sun rose and as she opened her windows I would be kneeling here for her to find me. We would spend our day speaking quietly. She would tease me and praise me for my diligence toward my work. We would spend our day as you see her interact with me now. I thank the day we came to Lotus Pier and I met you because that was the day my life changed. Your Aunt and Uncle changed my life in every way possible and I am indebted to them.”

Wei Wuxian pushed his head under Lan Wanji’s chin and sniffed into his neck. “Uncle and Aunty saved me. Saved my life and gave me everything too. I should thank them more often, but the times I have tried Aunty Ziyuan has practically punished me. She screams at me that thanking her is stupid because they were only doing the right thing then she rushes off and sends one of her maids to spar with me until I can barely move. She’s very confusing.” Wei Wuxian sighed and shook his head. “But why are you thinking of this now and here? Did you and Xichen have words?”

Lan Wanji sighed and shifted position until he was seated on the pebbled ground with Wei Wuxian in his lap. “Xichen pointed out that I should not take my gifts for granted, nor insult your Aunt and Uncle and our own parents by my behavior. Our antics have not gone unnoticed and I am placing your reputation at risk. I need to practice self-restraint where you are concerned. At least until our wedding.”

“No. Nope. Not at all do I like this solution. I am going to say I refuse to follow this solution. Lan Zhan, this is the only year we’ll have to spend as much time as possible together. To enjoy each other. I shall barely see you once the study lectures are finished and we return to Lotus Pier. that’s going to be hard enough without you stopping the memories we are creating to keep me through my lonely days and nights without you. Besides, we’ve barely done anything according to A’Sang’s books.”

Wanji chuckled and kissed Wei Wuxian’s temple. “Just because we behave properly, does not mean we will not spend time together. We shall still spend as much time as possible together, however, perhaps we shall have our friends and siblings around us, and the times we spend alone we shall behave with more decorum. Practice our kissing maybe? And soon we’ll be married and everything you want to try from A’Sang’s books will be available to us.”

“Hm,” Wei Wuxian huffed. “We can’t marry until after shijie marries her peacock. It’s going to be years and years. They’re going to make us wait years and years and years. They’ll probably make us wait until after Jiang Cheng gets married and he hasn’t even met anyone yet he wants to spend any time with. I thought maybe he and Wen Qing would get along, but no. Nothing.”

Lan Wanji sighed and held Wei Wuxian closer. “Just relax with me here, Wei Ying. everything will be fine.”

Wei Wuxian borrowed into his embrace and let himself go limp. “I know, I know. Oh, by the way, Jiang Cheng is going to speak to Uncle about your brother’s intentions towards A’Yao. Should we warn him about it?”

“Oh, I don’t think so. Your Uncle will speak with father first. Then they’ll speak with Xichen. After today I think my older brother deserves to have that conversation without warning.” Lan Wanji sounded like a cat who had eaten the cream. The smirk was obvious in his voice.

Wei Wuxian chuckled. “So what happened to those stupid Elders?”

“Oh, father and uncle dissolved the council of elders as soon as they returned from Lotus Pier. They tried to stop our betrothal because they wanted me and Xichen to marry women and have heirs. Father said he wouldn’t stand for their small-minded ways and interference in his children’s health and happiness. He and uncle invoked the right of a Lan of direct descent from Lan An to dissolve the council forthwith, and they sent them, as Uncle Qiren said, packing with their tails between their legs. I think they had forgotten just how strong a Cultivator father is because I heard tales about him and uncle fighting back to back when some of them tried to force father to back down. Those Elders have not been heard from since.” Lan Wanji sounded a little smug to Wei Wuxian’s ears.

“Did all the Elders leave?”

“Not all. Those that had no quarrel with father, mother and uncle, are still here.”

“Have they made trouble since?”

“I do not believe so. I think they have spoken to mother to apologize for their previous behavior once they were apprised of the type of man, mother had defended herself against. They even placed themselves into seclusion as penance for their behavior. Now I believe we should return. It is almost time for dinner and I do not want our brothers searching for us.”

“Very well. Although I am not in the least hungry.” Wei Wuxian stood and held his hands out for Lan Wanji to take. As their fingers twined together his stomach grumbled loudly.

“Mn.” Lan Wanji said, only raising his eyebrow.

“Shut up,” Wei Wuxian shouldered him while he blushed.

CHAPTER 11

“Who is that?” Wen Ning sounded a little breathless.

“Who? You know my betrothed, Wen Xu. he’s your cousin.” Nie Huaisang answered.

“No, I know my cousin. Who is the one sparring with him?” Wen Ning asked, his voice starting to sound a touch exasperated.

“Oh, that’s my brother. Nie Mingjue. You haven’t met him yet, have you? I’ll introduce you when they’re done.”

They were on the side of the training field watching Lan Xichen and Lan Wanji spar against each other and Wen Xu sparring with Nie Mingjue. Both were under the watchful eye of Sect Leader Qingheng-Jun. As they watched he called both sets of partners to a halt and demonstrated a disarming technique carefully before having them start again. Just breaths later Lan Xichen’s sword lay on the ground and Lan Wanji was stepping back from his brother and sheathing his own. A squawk of surprise pulled their attention to the other two as Nie Mingjue’s saber Baxia went flying end over end to land in the grass while Wen Xu looked on in surprise even as he sheathed his sword and took a step away from Nie Mingjue.

Wen Xu gave his partner a formal bow and then turned to bow to Qingheng-Jun. “Thank you for your teachings Lan Zhongzu. I never thought I’d be able to disarm Nie Mingjue.”

Nie Mingjue huffed as he called Baxia to him and carefully checked her blade. “If you can’t fight against me and win or at least draw, I can guarantee you won’t pass father and our mothers’ trials for marrying A’Sang. Just because you’re engaged doesn’t mean we think you’re good enough for him.”

“I would never consider myself good enough for your brother. I find myself in awe of him on a near-daily basis. I am lucky he decided to give me his consideration that day at Lotus Pier,” Wen Xu said.

Wen Qing shook her head. “My cousin has a silver tongue.” Her tone was dry.

“One he did not inherit from our Clan Leader.” Her brother agreed.

“What’s going on with Wen Ruohan anyway? No one has seen him in over a year. He even missed the last Cultivation Conference at Koi Tower,” Nie Huaisang asked into their small group.

Wen Qing pulled her lips into a thin line and Wen Ning looked away from them all.

“Well,” Huaisang sighed. “I’ll chalk that response up to none of your business A’Sang. It’s Clan business A’Sang and shut up about it. Come on, I’ll introduce you to my big brother. A’Xian is just holding on from running to Lan Wanji. If we make him wait any longer he might just burst something.” Nie Huaisang led the way onto the training ground now that swords had been put away and the Lan Clan Leader had left.

Wei Wuxian was held to a quick trot by the hands of his brother and sister wrapped firmly in the back of his robes. “Don’t embarrass your family by throwing yourself at him at every opportunity.” Jiang Cheng hissed.

“A little decorum please A’Xian,” Jiang Yanli whispered before she tugged him back and kissed his cheek to take away any sting from her words.

“Yes, Shijie. Yes Jiang Cheng,” he said quietly. Trying his very best to obey their request. The second Lan Wanji opened his arms however Wei Wuxian was flying into them. His robes were lucky to not be torn off his back. His sister’s chuckle and brother’s huff just a background to the thud of Lan Wanji’s heart under his ear as he hugged his betrothed tightly. His breathing became labored as Lan Wanji hugged him back. The arms that spent hours upon hours of meditational handstands were strong enough to make his ribs creak in protest. Wei Wuxian didn’t care about the pain, however. He just cared he was in the arms of the one he adored.

Lan Wanji relaxed his hold quickly. “Wei Ying. you must tell me if I hurt you.” He admonished softly.

“You didn’t,” Wei Wuxian protested.

“I felt your bones shift,” Lan Wanji argued. “One must not tell lies, Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian huffed and leaned on Lan Wanji’s chest. “I give up. A’Sang make introductions. And how have Wen Qing and Wen Ning never met Nie Mingjue?”

Wen Xu made the introductions and explanations instead. “My cousins have not been with us for many years. They only came to us a few years ago and Wen Ning was in no condition to meet people at the time. My cousin, his sister, Wen Qing has done everything possible to nurse him back to health. Cousins, this is Nie Mingjue, my A’Sang’s older brother. Future Clan Leader of the Nie Clan. Mingjue, these are my younger cousins. Wen Qing and her younger brother, Wen Ning. They both come from the Healer branch of the Wen Sect. Wen Qing is Leader of their branch of the Sect in her own right.”

They all turned to her.

“Wen Qing, you did not tell us this,” Jiang Yanli scolded gently.

“I-I-” Wen Qing stuttered.

“My cousin is shy about everything but, her skills as a doctor. Do not be upset with her about this. The circumstances of her rise to Leader are not happy ones,” Wen Xu said sadly, rubbing his cousin’s shoulder in support.

Wen Qing sighed and nodded. “My father was the Leader of our branch. There was an accident while on a night hunt. Our uncle, the clan leader was there. Wen Ning was with them. It was one of his first-night hunts. There was an accident. My father and mother were killed. Wen Ning was injured badly. Our uncle managed to subdue the villain and bring everyone else home safely. He took us in after that. Our grandmother has been looking after our branch while I am in Nightless City. Now stop looking at me. I don’t want this attention.” Wen Qing straightened her robes and looked far from comfortable.

“So, you were injured? How? You look fine now.” Nie Mingjue looked closely at Wen Ning.

Wen Ning blushed furiously and squeaked. Then jumped and hid behind his sister who huffed but let him use her as a shield.

“The situation left my brother with a weakness he should not have had. At times he can get ill. But we have worked hard to not let this be a hindrance to him.” Wen Qing answered Nie Mingjue.

Nie Mingjue, showing just how not polite nor politic he could be, pulled Wen Ning out from behind his sister and walked around the younger boy, eyeing him closely. “Well, he looks fine to me. Come on. I’m starving and I don’t particularly want to have Lan Qiren counting how many bowls of rice I eat. Let’s go to Caiye Town for food with flavor.” he grabbed Wen Ning’s arm and pulled him along. Everyone following in his wake.

“Well this could get interesting,” Wei Wuxian murmured to Lan Wanji.

“Very interesting,” Lan Xichen agreed, absently patting A’Yao’s hand where it rested on his arm.

Wei Wuxian nudged Jiang Cheng in the ribs and pointed his chin at Lan Xichen and their brother.

Jiang Cheng narrowed his eyes at the older Lan. “Lan Xichen. I believe my father and yours should have a specific type of conversation, before my brother’s reputation is tarnished.”

“Wei Wuxian’s reputation?” Lan Xichen’s voice was confused.

“No, A’Yao’s reputation. We all consider ourselves brothers after all.” A’Yang answered from directly behind him, making the older Lan jump in surprise.

Then he looked down to where he had clutched at A’Yao’s hand when he’d jumped and blushed softly. “Well, if A’Yao? Perhaps? I shall speak with father before the morning. Clan Leader Jiang and Madame Yu will be here in a few days yes?”

“Yes.” Jiang Yanli said smiling. “I wonder how many weddings can be celebrated at one time?”

“Not that it matters shijie. Yours shall be first as you are eldest and have been engaged longer than even Lan Zhan and I have been.” Wei Wuxian put in.

“Nie Huaisang might decide he should marry first,” Jiang Yanli said thoughtfully. “Then he could help me plan my wedding. What do you think A’Sang?”

“Hmm, let me think about it.” He said tapping his ever-present fan against his arm as it rested on Wen Xu’s. “A’Xu, what do you think? Should we marry soon? Just to make our friends happy?”

Wen Xu chuckled and kissed Nie Huaisang gently on his smiling mouth. “Whatever my A’Sang wants.”

“Stop kissing my brother where I can see it,” Nie Mingjue called back to them.

“You’re ahead of us. How can you even see anything.” Nie Huaisang yelled at his brother.

“Older brothers can always sense when younger brothers are getting kissed. Isn’t that right Jiang Cheng?” Nie Mingjue asked, without ever looking back.

“Correct,” Jiang Cheng agreed. “And it makes older brothers very uncomfortable knowing younger brothers are getting kissed.”

“But isn’t Wei Wuxian older than Jiang Cheng?” Wen Qing asked.

“Not in any way that matters.” Jiang Cheng shot back.

*****

“Where is A’Yang?” Jiang Yanli asked the group.

“He was here when we ordered. Wasn’t he?” Nie Huaisang looked around them.

“Yes, he was. Look there he is.” Jiang Cheng pointed to the back of the restaurant they were seated in. “What is he doing?” Jiang Cheng’s voice grew louder.

A’Yao sighed. “He’s flirting.”

“He calls that flirting?” Nie Mingjue asked, his voice worried.

“Well, it’s his version of flirting,” A’Yao took a sip of his drink. “Should I go get him?”

“Leave him be. He’s having fun.” Nie Huaisang answered.

A’Yang was laying on a table where two young men were seated. He was draped over it, playing with the wine in the mens’ cups before licking it off his fingers.

“Is he upsetting them?” Wen Ning asked.

“It looks as if they are enjoying his attention.” Wen Xu craned his neck to try and get a good look at the faces of the men seated. “I think, I think those are Song Lan and Xiao Xing Cheng. He quickly emptied his cup of wine and poured himself another one. “What do we do?”

Every eye turned to Lan Xichen. He looked back at them, his placid face twitching slightly. “Why is everyone looking at me?”

“Because, dearest, we need you to go and check that my brother isn’t about to do something rather stupid,” A’Yao told him, gently pushing at Lan Xichen’s shoulder to get him moving.

Blinking rapidly Lan Xichen rose from their table and made his way to the back. He spoke quietly to the men there before returning.

“Well?” Jiang Cheng burst out. His gaze flew from Lan Xichen and his crazy brother still draped over the back table.

“They said he was rather entertaining and they would return him to us before they leave. I do not think they are going to invite him into their bed. However, I am rather sure he is going to invite them into his.” Lan Xichen took A’Yao’s cup of wine and drank it quickly. “Do not worry Wanji, I shall burn the alcohol through my core. That conversation was rather, disturbing, and I need a drink.”

“Are they married? Are they even together?” Nie Mingjue asked, filling another cup of wine for Lan Xichen.

Lan Xichen shrugged.

“If they weren’t before, I’m sure they’ll start thinking about it now,” Nie Huaisang smirked and turned to watch as A’Yang drew his fingers through the wine cups and then ran them over the lips of the man dressed in black. He tapped on those lips until they opened and A’Yang slipped his finger in between them. The man in black stiffened and his hand shot toward his companion in white. “Oh definitely. They’ll definitely think about it now.”

“Oh god,” Jiang Cheng moaned. “He’s corrupting them, isn’t he? The Jiang Sect will never live this down if he corrupts those two. Corrupting the ‘distant snow and cold frost’ and the ‘bright moon and gentle breeze.’ The cultivation world is going to hate us. Let’s not tell mother and father about this.”

Jiang Yanli chuckled and patted his hand with a shrug when he looked at her. “No one can control A’Yang. One can only point him in the correct direction and hope he doesn’t blow up the world on his way.”

“And I thought A’Xian would put me in an early grave. At least he’s engaged to one person. A’Yang has set his sights on two. Someone pass me the wine and don’t bother with the cup. I’ll take it straight from the jug.” He grabbed the jug being handed to him and poured the contents right down his throat.

“Wei Ying, I think your brother is going to get drunk,” Lan Wanji whispered to his fiancé.

“Mhm. And that’s my wine he’s drinking.” Wei Wuxian pouted.

Lan Wanji flagged down a waiter to order more wine for his Wei Ying. He turned his attention back to Jiang Yanli. “You are not worried, young Lady Jiang.”

She smiled at him sweetly. “As their older sister, Lan Wanji, I shall always worry about my didis. However A’Yang can look after himself, and if, by any chance, those two cultivators hurt him…” She trailed off, rubbing her thumb over the whip bracelet she wore on her wrist. It sparked a gentle lilac and her sweet smile turned sharp.

Jiang Cheng, Wei Wuxian, and Jiang Eryu looked to their own rings as they sparked in sympathy with Yanli’s bracelet.

“Hey! What’s set everyone off? Does someone need to get stabbed? I have my daggers.” Jiang Liezun called from the back table, his fingers now busy playing with long dark hair.

“Nothing is wrong A’Yang.” Yanli called back. “Just assuring Lan Wanji that as your shijie I shall always take a great interest in your happiness. Please let your companions know we shall need to return to Cloud Recesses before curfew. And do not forget mother and father shall visit us soon. Perhaps even as soon as tomorrow.”

“Yes shijie, I know.” A’Yang returned his attention to the two men and smiled brilliantly.

“Well, now what?” Wen Xu asked.

Jin Zixuan shrugged and took a dumpling off the platter that had been set in front of them. He placed it into Jiang Yanli’s bowl before taking one for himself. “Now we eat and hope we don’t get the blame for the inevitable consequences.”

“Hey, Jin Zixuan. Is that your cousin?” Wei Wuxian pointed with his chopsticks toward the window. He smiled at Lan Wanji when he took them from him to place them carefully by his bowl of rice and chilli duck slices.

“Hmm?” Zixuan hummed and looked outside. “Yes, it is. He seems to be with someone. Who’s that?”

“Su Mingshan.” Lan Wanji answered.

“Still don’t like him?” Wei Wuxian asked quietly.

Lan Wanji shrugged one eyebrow but didn’t comment.

Wei Wuxian smiled and leaned into Lan Wanji’s shoulder, showing him support.

“Would it be alright with everyone if I invite them to join us? I feel responsible for him.” Jin Zixuan asked.

“I shall get them.” Lan Xichen stood from their table and went to the doorway when most of the table nodded.

“Why did Lan Xichen go?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“Because it will allow Su Mingshan to decide if he wishes to eat with the son of his Clan Leader or not. It also shows Su Mingshan that Xichen would not be adverse to his company.” Lan Wanji answered.

Lan Xichen soon returned to their table with the other young men in tow. “I am unsure if introductions have been made completely. This is Lan Disciple Su Mingshan, and most of you know Jin Zixun. Let me introduce everyone at the table.” He started by introducing Wen Xu and finished at Jiang Eryu, giving him a gentle smile as he did so. “Now that everyone has been formally introduced in this social environment, please sit, both of you.” Lan Xichen sat back in his seat beside Jiang Eryu who poured him a cup of tea and handed it to him. “Thank you A’Yao,” Lan Xichen smiled and took a sip.

“Thank you for inviting us to join you, young masters and mistresses.” Su Mingshan said formally.

“Please Mingshan,” Nie Mingjue waved his hand. “No formalities at this table. Half of us are related by blood or will be by marriage soon enough. And no doubt we’ll all get raked over the coals for tonight anyway. Might as well enjoy the meal and the company while we can.” He raised his wine in a toast to the table and drank it down.

Jin Zixun followed suit, letting his gaze flow over the room. He spluttered just as he was about to swallow. “What the hell?” He pointed to the back table.

Jiang Cheng nodded and sighed. “As Mingjue said, raked over the coals. It seems Jiang Liezun has found something to interest him.”

“A’Yang will be A’Yang,” Jiang Yanli shrugged and took a slice of chicken off Jin Zixuan’s bowl when he offered it to her.

Less than crumbs were left on the table when Lan Wanji stood carefully from his seat and made his way to the back table where Jiang Liezun was now seated between the two men. They were smiling and talking softly.

“What is he doing?” Nie Huaisang asked.

“Inviting them back to Cloud Recesses. It is time we left if we are to return before curfew.” Lan Xichen said, also rising to his feet and pulling A’Yao with him.

They watched as Lan Wanji bowed formally and returned to their table. “They shall escort A’Yang back. They are unsure of whether they shall accept our hospitality. A’Yang feels they should, rather strongly.”

“If they stay, I’m sure he’ll find a way into their bed,” Wen Xu Remarked. “He’s made no secret of what he wants.”

“Hmm, can’t say I don’t like how direct he is,” Nie Huaisang eyed his fiancé speculatively. Then blushed furiously when his older brother cleared his throat.

“We’re getting you married first A’Sang,” Nie Mingjue warned.

“Of coarse Da-Ge, of coarse.”

They left the restaurant chuckling, hearts and bellies full and happy. If most of them strolled along in pairs holding hands and whispering to each other no one said anything. If some couples disappeared for a few minutes into dark shadows to return flushed and laughing no one paid any apparent notice. Even Nie Huaisang didn’t tease his Da-Ge when he started to flex his arm muscles for Wen Ning to feel and appreciate. He did however catch Wen Qing’s gaze to join her as she rolled her eyes at the antics.

At the main courtyard of Cloud Recesses, they kissed cheeks and said chaste and quiet goodnights before parting and going to their rooms, while Lan Xichen and Lan Wanji lead the two rogue cultivators to their father’s study to make introductions. It wasn’t every day that one could say they had such esteemed guests.

*****

“Are you saying our children have been behaving scandalously?” Madame Yu rubbed her ring whip, Zidian on her finger, allowing it to release its purple lightning. Her voice was soft and no less dangerous for it.

Madame Lan smiled at her friend and patted her hand. “Not at all Ziyuan, not at all. Yet they are young and obviously in love. It would be cruel of us to demand they remain apart from each other.”

“What has Wei Ying gotten up to?” Jiang Fengmian sighed.

“No more than we expect of him. He is truly a ray of sunshine.” Qingheng-Jun sipped at his tea and smiled softly. “I could not have found a better match for our A’Zhan had I tried. He makes my son smile, he makes him happy. There is nothing more I could ask for. Their courtship is flourishing. We believe we should discuss the future of Jiang Eryu however. Then Jiang Leizun after him.”

“A’Yao and A’Yang? Please proceed.” Madame Yu’s eyes had narrowed.

Madame Lan sipped her own tea and smiled happily. “Xichen has come to us to request a betrothal between himself and Jiang Eryu. We would be happy to commence with such if you are.”

Madame Yu glanced at her husband, surprise bright in her eyes.

Jiang Fengmian put his cup down and cleared his throat. “We must say we are rather surprised by this offer. We knew that the boys liked each other, but had not anticipated this reaction from you. After all, we know that Xichen is Clan Heir and as such you may require him to marry a woman. Then there is the fact of A’Yao’s parentage and former position in life…” Fengmian trailed off uncomfortably.

Qingheng-Jun waved his hand in the air. “Please old friend do not trouble yourself. While it is true of my Clan in the past that we were rigid in our thinking, things have changed. They started changing when your Lady wife opened our eyes. Once I removed the Council of Elders, things were even better. A’Yao is rather brilliant and makes Xichen happy. That is all I require to know that he will be an exceptional spouse to my son. So, now that is sorted we can hammer out the details of the dowry as such later on. Can we announce the engagement later today?”

Jiang Fengmian looked to his wife. After a few seconds thought, she nodded her agreement. “Yes, the announcement can be made as soon as we’ve let the children know.”

“Now,” Yu Ziyuan clapped her hands together. “What has my little psychopath gotten himself into?”

Madame Lan laughed. “He has propositioned Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen.”

“Together or separately?” Yu Ziyuan asked.

“Oh, together, in a restaurant and in public no less.” Madame Lan beamed from ear to ear.

“Well of coarse he did.” Yu Ziyuan drank her tea. “Anything stronger?” she asked wistfully.

Madame Lan laughed and patted her friend’s hand kindly. “The two are still here if you’d like to meet them. They seem quite enamored with him. Even if they do not know what to do with him.’

“No doubt he could tell them exactly what to do with him,” Ziyuan muttered to herself. She put down her cup when she felt her stomach roil. She did not want to be ill in her friend’s home. “What else?”

“Is Wei Wuxian too young to marry?” Qingheng-Jun asked. “How old is he, do you know?”

Jiang Fengmian stroked his beard. “Truthfully I believe he should be close to Yanli’s age. She is of an age with your Wanji. Why?”

“Hmm, she is a year or so older than Wanji. We were wondering if we could start making plans for their wedding. Soon. Before things get awkward.”

“They cannot marry before A’Li. It would not be seemly. I shall discuss A’Li and A’Xuan’s wedding with my sister next month. As soon as A’Li is wed then we can start on A’Xian’s and A’Yao’s.”

“And there is no time to lose.” The voice was quiet but strained. They turned to see Lan Qiren hurry into the room, clutching a paper carefully in his hand.

“Brother? What has happened to agitate you so?” Qingheng-Jun flowed to his feet to catch his brother’s arms as he started to bow. “Didi, what has happened?”

“Da-Ge, da-ge. I went to speak with Wanji this morning. I took him tea to wake him. As I entered his sleeping chamber something caught my eye. Under his folded arms, just above his heart I saw this.” He showed the paper carefully cradled in his hand. It was a little paper man. “If you will channel a touch of spirit into it you will understand why I worry so.”

Each adult did as asked. They were stunned by the discovery.

“What is that silly child doing?” Yu Ziyuan clutched at her chest.

“When I asked Wanji, he said Wei Wuxian sends him a little paper man to sleep with every night because he told Wei Wuxian he found it hard sleeping away from him. Apparently, the boy infuses a little of his spiritual energy into the paper man that dissipates by morning.” Lan Qiren told them, now pacing the room.

“Only that isn’t Spiritual energy,” Jiang Fengmian said.

“No, it’s his soul. That fool boy is placing bits of his soul into the paper men so that Lan Wanji can rest easily. When will that boy stop carving himself up for the people he loves?” Yu Ziyuan asked.

“Does he even know this is what he is doing?” Qingheng-Jun wondered.

“Only one way to find out.” Madame Lan stood from her seat and left the room, the rest of them following on her heels.

CHAPTER 12

“WEI WUXIAN!” The bellow was heard throughout the entirety of The Cloud Recesses.

Jiang Cheng smacked his brother on the shoulder. “What have you done now to piss off mom?”

“Nothing. I swear. We’ve barely even started breakfast.” Wei Wuxian pointed at the still half-filled bowl on the table in front of him. “Besides you’ve been with me since we woke up. You know everything I’ve done. Lan Zhan, have I done anything stupid?”

Lan Wanji shrugged his eyebrows, not speaking while at the morning meal.

“Pfft, you’re no help,” Wei Wuxian huffed. Then he swallowed hard and looked at his brother as Jiang Cheng paled. “Uncle Jiang and Aunty Yu are already here.” Wei Wuxian gasped.

“Quickly now,” Jiang Yanli ordered as she stood smoothly from her seat, using a napkin to wipe her lips as she did so.

Wei Wuxian struggled up, almost tripping his brother in his haste. Jiang Cheng grabbed him by the neck of his robes to keep them both upright. “Thank you, thank you,” Wei Wuxian whispered, then was held still in his brother’s hands.

“Relax.” Jiang Cheng ordered. “You know she loves you. You call her mom at home these days and you could call her that in public if you wanted. Only your stupid self-sacrificing ass, is too worried about causing gossip and stops you from doing it. So relax and let’s go see what’s wrong.”

“Yes didi,” Jiang Yanli placed her arm around Wei Wuxian’s as she led them from the dining pavilion. “Besides that’s her I’m worried about you bellow, not her I’m going to whip everyone dead bellow.”

“Thank you young mistress Jiang, that is helpful to know,” Lan Wanji said from behind the siblings as he followed them to where they could just see all their parents waiting for them. “Brother,” Lan Wanji greeted his older brother as Lan Xichen hurried to catch up with them. He was followed closely by Jiang Eryu, Jiang Leizun, Song Lan, and Xiao Xingchen. Lan Wanji and everyone made hasty greetings as they went to meet the Clan Leaders.

“Forget the greetings. Wei Ying get yourself up here,” Madame Yu ordered brusquely, pointing at a spot in front of her feet, on a lower step of the deck the adults stood on.

Swallowing tightly Wei Wuxian did as he was told, grateful when he felt his brothers and sister on each side of him. Lan Wanji a solid presence to his back. “Aunty Yu? Have I done something to displease you? If I have, I didn’t mean it.”

“Silly child,” she chided as she took his wrist and channeled a thin stream of spirit into him.

Wei Wuxian felt it flow through his entire system, mind, body, and golden core.

“Well, I’ll want him seen by an accomplished healer to be sure but he doesn’t seem to be any of the worst for wear. His core has always been robust, and I think only a golden Core specialist could find if he’s sustained any damage from his reckless behavior. You have a look Qiren.” She passed Wei Wuxian’s wrist to Lan Qiren who did exactly as Yu Ziyuan had.

“Xichen, please ask Healer San to come here immediately,” Madame Lan told her eldest softly.

With a bow and a confused look at everyone, Lan Xichen walked off at a fast pace. Running might be prohibited at Cloud Recesses, but they had mastered the art of a fast walk that was practically a jog.

“Mother, what is happening? Is Wei Ying hurt? Sick?” Jiang Yanli asked. Her face was so worried she looked pale as parchment.

“Perhaps not. We are checking to ensure it.” Her father answered. “Perhaps we should retire back inside and sit while we wait.” He gestured to the open sliding doors behind him.

Lan Qiren nodded and soon everyone sat on the mats wherever they found room inside. More tea had been sent for as well as breakfast dishes since only Jiang Fengmian and his wife had eaten this morning, having had a substantial breakfast before they had set out from the town they had decided to spend the night in before arriving just as the gates had opened at Cloud Recesses.

A small commotion at the doors saw Healer San enter followed by Wen Qing and her brother Wen Ning. Behind them were Nie Mingjue, Nie Huaisang and Wen Xu.

“Someone open the windows. It is far too stuffy in here. Why is everyone here?” Madame Yu demanded.

The Nie brothers quickly obeyed. “We were all together, watching Healer San give private instruction to Wen Qing and Wen Ning when Lan Xichen came with your request.” Nie Mingjue answered. His voice came out a rough rumble.

Madame Yu gazed at the Nie brothers. “Mingjue, Huaisang, it’s been a while. Everything fine at home I hope?”

Nie Mingjue bowed. “Father is well, as are our mothers. I am sure they would enjoy a visit from you and Clan Leader Jiang if you have the time in the near future.”

“Hmm, well we might send a message while we are here and go back to Lotus Pier via the Unclean Realm. What say you wife?” Jiang Fengmian asked.

“Hmm, I think I like that suggestion Zhangfu. Now Healer San, what have you found?”

Healer San sat back and accepted the cup of tea she had been handed by Wen Qing. “Thankfully I have found no damage, either to Neither his Golden Core nor his Soul. I think it might be due to his age. Had he been trying this when he was aged, I do not believe his soul would have survived intact. As it is I can see where parts of him have been peeled away, but all I can see are scars, where his soul has grown over the wound and healed it. The boy’s inherent goodness and love shine through his soul like a blazing sun. I think that is the reason his soul has healed itself so thoroughly.”

Lan Wanji stood to his feet, his entire body trembling. “Will someone please explain what has happened? What has happened to Wei Ying?”

Wei Wuxian pulled Lan Wanji down beside him, barely noticing when Jiang Cheng scurried out of the way before Lan Wanji would have sat in his lap. “I’m fine Lan Zhan. I promise.” He whispered.

“You are lucky that’s what you are.” Lan Qiren scoffed.

“Perhaps Uncle will explain?” Lan Xichen asked his voice sharp and brittle with worry.

Lan Qiren put down his tea and sighed. “Yes, well. This morning I went to wake Wanji and found this little paper man. He told me Wei Wuxian made one for him every night so he could sleep. When I tested it I was surprised by its contents.”

“Wei Ying has been making those little paper men since his childhood. Why are you concerned about them now?” Jiang Yanli asked.

“What? Yanli, why did you not tell me?” Madame Yu asked. She kept looking paler and paler to Wei Wuxian’s eye.

“It never seemed important Aunty Yu,” he answered quickly. “Please stop being so upset. You look like you could faint. Please, Aunty.” Wei Wuxian begged.

“Come here you unbelievable child,” She ordered and Wei Wuxian crawled his way over to her, people quickly getting out of his way. Yu Ziyuan pulled him into her arms. “You are something else. Just like your mother and father. Selfless to the point of idiocy. You do not even understand what your little paper men are, do you? How did you even learn to make them?” She sighed and pulled a lock of his hair making him wince and grin uncertainly at her. “Wei Ying. Every time you have infused a paper man with spiritual energy, you have actually been infusing it with your own soul. Had any of those paper men been damaged before your soul had dissipated you could have taken a mortal wound and no one would have been the wiser for it. Not to mention if someone with diabolical intent had captured one then they could have used the connection to make you dance to their tune.”

“Oh.” Was all Wei Wuxian could say. The ramifications of his actions sank in. “I did not know.”

Lan Wanji had followed Wei Wuxian to his aunt, circling the group from the outside. He hiccoughed a stifled sob and crashed to his knees beside Wei Wuxian and Yu Ziyuan. He held out an arm uncertainly before Madame Yu pushed Wei Wuxian into him. Then he curled himself around his betrothed and buried his face in his shoulder. Wei Wuxian relaxed into the hold and patted Lan Wanji’s back. “I’m fine,” he whispered and kept whispering even as Lan Wanji quietly shook apart in his arms.

“We still don’t know how he did it.” Lan Qiren said now sipping his tea again.

“Perhaps I can answer that.” The soft voice was that of Xiao Xingchen. “My name is Xiao Xingchen. I am a disciple of Immortal Baoshan Sanran. The paper man is something all her disciples are taught. Who are Wei Wuxian’s parents?”

“Wei Changze and Cangse Sanren,” Jiang Fengmian answered. “We had hoped to introduce you at some point. I am glad you are here.”

“Thank you Clan Leader Jiang. I had not known my Sect sister had a child. This news has not reached Master’s mountain. Nor the news, I am assuming of her death?”

“I found Wei Ying on the streets a few months after his parent’s death. He has been a son of ours since then.” Jiang Fengmian answered.

Xiao Xingchen nodded and looked at Wei Wuxian.

Wei Ying met his gaze.

Xiao Xingchen smiled at him sadly. “I am sorry for your loss. I would be proud to call you family, if I may be allowed.”

Wei Wuxian smiled and nodded at him. “Will you tell of Master and her mountain? Of my mother?”

Xingchen smiled sadly. “I will tell you what I can. But your mother left the mountain before I arrived. I can however explain about the paper men.” His gaze returned to their audience. “Inhabiting inanimate objects is taught by Master. It is something we are taught early so we may communicate. With Master and with each other. We create and send paper men over long distances. One can also be left with someone we trust as a way of ensuring wellbeing. Master has a paper man of me. Of all of us. She knows of my health through it. And I can tell her of my Sect Sister’s child through it.”

“So she would know of Cangse Sanren’s death already?” Jiang Eryu asked.

“Perhaps. It is likely. However I have been in this world and away from the mountain for almost as many years as Wei Wuxian has been alive, so I am unsure. However, the paper men are there for this reason at least and to enable communication in extreme circumstances. We leave our energy in paper men that are meant to be for lack of a better word disposable. We leave a part of our soul with the one we leave in Master’s safe hands. I believe Wei Wuxian was left a more permanent one by his mother as a child. How did his parents die?” Xingchen asked.

“It was believed to be a night hunt.” Madame Lan answered.

“Hm, then conceivable, his mother left him a paper man infused with her soul so he would not be afraid. What do you remember of your parents Wei Wuxian?” Xingchen asked softly.

Wei Wuxian tunneled into Lan Wanji. Not wanting to think too hard about the past. Lan Wanji held him tighter and Wei Wuxian closed his eyes. “We would fly, from place to place on mother’s sword. We would also travel by donkey because I enjoyed it. Mother would leave a paper man with me if they had to night hunt but I could not go. They would always return before the paper man was only paper and I could no longer feel them in it. Then one night a new paper man flew through my window at the inn. It felt stronger. I could feel both mother and father in it. It was so strong I could feel them for days. They did not return. I kept that paper man with me always. I can still feel them in it. So when Lan Zhan said he could not sleep at nights I remembered and made him a paper man like the last one my parents made me. It was never as strong as theirs, but it helped. The other paper men I used to make were only toys, like the ones mother would leave me before, before the last one.”

His revelations were met only by silence. He dared to open his eyes a crack. Everyone was looking at him. “Lan Zhan, have I said something wrong?”

“No Wei Ying. Not wrong. Only unexpected.”

“Oh, okay then.”

That seemed to break the dam because the roar of sound rushed forward over him a breath later. Everyone beside Lan Zhan, Song Lan, and Xiao Xingchen was shouting at him. He closed his eyes and turned his face into Lan Zhan to wait them all out.

Hands smacking the table hard enough to rattle everything on it finally brought quiet to the room. Everyone’s attention turned to find Lan Alix standing at a sideboard. Her hands were flat against it and her eyes sparkling with fury. “If you cannot behave like anything but baboons then you shall leave.” She left the piece of furniture after clicking her tongue in frustration at the crack now running through the top and returned to her seat. “Wanji, help your Wei Ying to face us so we may ask him a few questions. I promise no one shall speak unkindly to him.” Her gaze flew to Yu Ziyuan and Jiang Cheng in particular.

After a few seconds of thought, Lan Wanji eased Wei Wuxian’s face from his neck and kissed his forehead. “Mother shall protect you.”

“Madame Lan. I never realized you were so strong,” Wei Wuxian said softly.

Lan Alix smiled gently. “Most forget I was quite the rogue cultivator in my time. I was known for strangling a demonic beast to save a farming community. By the time I caught it, all I had left was some rope. I made very good use of it. I never did get my old sword back from that swamp. I could not face returning to that stench, and truly the sword was not that suited for me. Did I frighten you when I made such a noise?”

Wei Wuxian shook his head. “At Lotus Pier, we are not used to quiet. I apologize for behaving like a child and hiding in Lan Zhan’s arms after I saw you quiet everyone. I think remembering my parents made me feel sadder than I expected.”

“That is quite understandable A’Xian,” Lan Alix reached over to pat his cheek. “Your mother and father would have been so very proud of you. I know we all are.”

Wei Wuxian blushed and looked away, finding himself the center of attention again. He cleared his throat and squared his shoulders. “What else did you want to know?”

“How did you do it? Did your mother teach you?” Yu Ziyuan asked quickly but quietly.

Wei Wuxian shook his head. “I don’t know how I learned to do it. It just felt right to do it the way I do.”

Xiao Xingchen gasped and shook his head. “Martial nephew, that is so dangerous. You could have lost all of you in the process any time you have done this. In essence, it is the splitting of your own soul. How did you even conceive of it?”

Wei Wuxian shrugged again. “I used the example of the paper man mother and father sent me. The last one until it felt like a weaker version of theirs. Does that make sense?”

Around him people shook their heads in confusion. “Here, let me show you.” He put his hand in one sleeve and rummaged around for some seconds. “Ah, here it is.” He pulled out a small bag and opened it carefully. He took out a piece of flat wood tied with a ribbon. “I wanted to keep it safe, always. The paper man is only paper and very old now. It was all I had of my parents. When I went to Lotus Pier I eventually found a flat thin piece of wood and broke it in half. I put the paper man between the halves and tied it tight.” Now he undid the tie and took off the first slice of wood. Beneath lay a little paper man, exactly like the one Lan Qiren held in his hand still.

Gasps echoed around the room. It was Xiao Xingchen who stood first. “May I?” he reached a finger toward the paper man. “I will not touch it, only channel some spiritual energy into it. To read the result.”

Wei Wuxian nodded and held the little man still, as precious to him as gold was to others.

Xiao Xingchen hovered his finger over the paper man and closed his eyes. When he opened them again tears streamed down his face. “They infused themselves into the paper man and sent it to their son. Their entire souls are in there. Both Cangse Sanran and Wei Changze.” He was shaking as he spoke. Shaking so hard he would have collapsed had Song Lan and Jiang Leizun not pulled him into them, settling Xingchen onto Song Lan’s lap while Jiang Leizun wrapped himself around them both.

“What? I do not understand?” Wei Wuxian was also crying, cradling his prize to his chest as if it offered comfort.

Lan Alix and Yu Ziyuan cleared their throats, but it was Yu Ziyuan who spoke to explain. “Wei Ying, it appears that at the moment of death your parents placed their souls into that paper man and sent him to you. Even if they could not be with you in body, they wanted to care for you as much as they could in death.”

“What?” Wei Wuxian couldn’t understand. His parents had died. Had left him because of it.

“Wei Ying.” Lan Wanji turned Wei Wuxian in his lap to face him.

“Lan Zhan, can you explain it?”

“Wei Ying, your parents loved you so much they sacrificed their chance of rebirth to stay with you always in this paper man.”

“Oh.” Wei Wuxian said. “I’m, I’m, I’m not sure how to deal with that?”

“Well of coarse you’re not sure how to deal with that you idiot, no one would be.” Jiang Cheng sounded like he wanted to hit him or hug him and couldn’t decide which one.

Jiang Eryu pushed Jiang Cheng until he almost toppled over, making everyone snicker as Jiang Cheng wheeled his arms in his seated position to stay upright.

“A’Yao!” Jiang Cheng sounded indignant.

“Yes, Chengcheng?” A’Yao asked innocently.

“I’ll give you Chengcheng,” Jiang Cheng growled then launched himself at his adopted brother who sprang to his feet and hid behind Lan Xichen. “Get out here you.” Jiang Cheng grumbled as A’Yao used Lan Xichen, who had also stood when Jiang Cheng attacked, as an effective shield. Jiang Cheng tried to get his hands on A’Yao for a few more breaths until Jiang Fengmian called a stop.

“Children.” His voice was firm but sweet. “Thank you for the distraction. Now please sit so we may make some decisions as to how to move forward.”

“Yes, father.”

“Yes Zhongzu.”

“I must send word to Master,” Xiao Xingchen said into the new silence. “She must know. Perhaps she may know what to do.”

“Can you contact her?” I thought no one could contact Baoshan Sanran.” Lan Qiren sounded intrigued.

“Contact her, yes. Return to her? Not without her permission or the price, you pay shall be high indeed. I shall need some paper and writing implements.” Xiao Xingchen told them.

Lan Xichen quickly stood and went to the same sideboard his mother had used. He opened the bottom cupboard door, using a little more strength when it stuck and a moment later a small writing desk was placed in Xiao Xingchen’s lap.

“Xingchen?” Song Lan asked quietly.

Xingchen smiled. “You remember how you asked me if you would ever have to meet my Master? Well, I think you are all about to meet Master.” With that, he started writing on a sheet of parchment. When he was done he folded it into the shape of a bird, rose from his seat, and walked with measured steps to the brazier in the corner. He pulled a hairpin from his hair and pricked his finger, allowing a drop of blood to stain the bird’s beak. Then he placed the bird on the red coals and watched it burn. “Now we wait,” he said with quiet certainty. He strolled back to his seat, patting Wei Wuxian on the head as he passed. Before sitting down again he looked at the hairpin he still held and with a small smile, he wrapped a lock of Jiang Liezun’s hair around his hand and used the pin to hold it in place. “So, Jiang Liezun, what should A’Lan and I call you?”

“After you have spoken with his Sect Leader and me you can call him A’Yang, and later still, you may call him Zhangfu.” Madame Yu told him in no uncertain terms, Zidian sparking on her finger. “A’Yang is as much our son as A’Cheng, A’Yao and A’Xian. I see courting in your future Xiao Xingchen. Otherwise, as soon as the business with your Master is concluded I suggest we never see you or Song Lan again.”

Song Lan stood beside Xiao Xingchen. “We did not mean to insult the Jiang Sect, Madame Yu. We did not know. This is all very new to Xingchen and I. However I believe a courtship is something we are both interested in.”

“Who knows the rules about three-way courtships?” A’Yang drawled.

“I believe there is something in the library,” Lan Qiren answered. “I’m sure we can find it.”

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian whispered.

“Hm?” Lan Zhan answered.

“Has this been a strange day or am I dreaming?”

“Wei Ying is not dreaming.”

“Oh. Okay then. Can you help me put my parent’s paper man back in his holder?”

“Would be honored to help Wei Ying with his parents.” Together they placed the paper man back between the wood that kept them safe and tied the whole thing closed. Once the precious package was placed into its bag the whole thing went back up Wei Wuxian’s sleeve.

“I’ll pull it back out when someone needs to see it,” Wei Wuxian told Lan Wanji.

“Mn,” Lan Wanji answered.

“Is it lunchtime yet?” Wei Wuxian asked.

Lan Wanji looked out the window to see the position of the sun. “Soon. Wei Ying must be hungry, did not finish a proper breakfast.”

“Aha,” Wei Wuxian rubbed at his empty stomach. “I hope we get to eat soon.”

CHAPTER 13

“Where is Wen Xu?” Wei Wuxian asked over breakfast.

“He was called back to Nightless City, the night your Uncle sent his message,” Nie Huaisang toyed with the rice in his bowl.

“Hm, that was three days ago. How many letters has he sent you since then?” Jiang Cheng asked with a grin.

Nie Huaisang dropped his chopsticks with a clang and looked up. His face was a mask of worry. “None.”

“A’Sang? What do you mean, none?” Nie Mingjue sounded stunned. “Your man sends you two letters a day at least. One to read with your midday meal and one to read before you sleep.”

“I know Da-Ge. I know.”

“Does anyone know if he arrived home safely? Maybe there was trouble on the way.” Jiang Cheng speculated. “Wen Qing?”

She wiped her mouth with her napkin and shook her head. “A’Ning and I have heard nothing. I’m sorry.”

“Wen Xu is a brilliant fighter.” Jin Zixuan said. “I’m sure he’s fine. Maybe his father sent him on an errand and his letters haven’t reached you yet.”

“A’Sang and Wen Xu have the same letterboxes as we have A’Xuan.” Jiang Yanli reached across the table to take Nie Huaisang’s hand and hold it tightly. “Please do not worry A’Sang. I’m sure everything will be fine.”

“What letterboxes?” Jin Zixun asked.

“I made boxes for A’Li and Jin Zixuan some time ago. They have a talisman carved into them so that a letter placed inside one will be delivered to the matching box immediately. Lan Zhan and I have the same. I even made a purse variety for Uncle Jiang and Aunty Yu. A purse is easier for them to carry than a box.” Wei Wuxian told him also playing with his breakfast.

Lan Wanji took Wei Wuxian’s chopsticks from his hand, then used his own to pick out some vegetables and hold them for Wei Wuxian to eat. “Wei Ying must eat. I know you are worried about Wen Xu and Immortal Baoshan Sanran, but you must still eat.”

Wei Wuxian sighed and took the food from the offered chopsticks. “Yes Lan Zhan, thank you.” After swallowing his mouthful he picked up his utensils and started to eat again, careful of spilling.

“Father is visiting today,” Nie Mingjue spoke into the silence. “I’ll ask him if they saw anything on the road. They will most likely have taken the same route here as Wen Xu took to get home. Now finish your breakfast A’Sang. You still have classes today.”

“Yes, Da-Ge.” The sigh accompanying the words came from Nie Huaisang’s soul, but he did as told and finished a decent amount of food.

*****

“A’Xun tells me you understand talismans,” Su Mingshan said from beside Wei Wuxian as they practiced sword forms under the morning sun.

“I find them fun. They can make things easier. Did you want instant letterboxes for yourself and Jin Zixun?”

“I-I’d never ask-” Su Mingshan stammered.

“You’re not asking. I’m offering,” Wei Wuxian cut in while smoothly changing stance from Wind Cutting Through Water to Lightning Ready To Strike. “Besides, I think you’re good for him. You’re the only one that’s managed to help him keep his feet out of his mouth more times than not. I’ve known that Jin since I was a child and he and Zixuan, would come to Lotus Pier for what Aunty Yu ended up calling our playdates. We all use to play on the Frames together and then practice our Golden Core Growth Training. Yes, that’s what it was called. How long do we have to hold this stance, Lightning Ready To Strike is hard on the arm.” He complained. “Anyway, Jin Zixun was always an ass. Jin Guanshan has too much influence on him. But this year, at least since you came along, he’s been different. Not too bad really. Still dumb as a rock, but getting better. Has he kissed you yet? Cause we can all see he wants to.”

Su Mingshan choked on his breath and lost his stance. Recovering quickly before the swordmaster could see him he sent Wei Wuxian a soft glare, which Lan Wanji sent back with daggers attached from beside Wei Wuxian. “Do you always talk so much?” He asked.

Wei Wuxian shrugged then flowed into Wind Through The Mountains stance, letting his arms down from above his head where they had held his sword Suibian angled down to now shoulder height, with Suibian pointing straight ahead. “So do you want the boxes? Wait you still live in with the other Disciples, yes?” He waited for a quick nod. “Then it might be better to make you a pair of purses. That way you can carry it with you and not risk someone else finding it and taking it. I’ll even make them waterproof in case you fall in the river or something.”

“That’s very kind of you. But not necessary. I doubt I shall ever have cause to see young Master Jin again after the Lectures are finished. I don’t exactly have the right breeding to mix in his circle.” Su Mingshan sounded sad but stiff.

“What do you mean?” The question was from behind them where Jin Zixuan and his cousin Jin Zixun had just moved to train, besides Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng, and obviously overheard the final part of the conversation.

“Um, well I. I’m sure Clan Leader Jin would like his nephew to keep in far better company than my humble self,” Su Mingshan murmured.

“A’Xuan?” Jin Zixun sounded scared and broken.

Jin Zixuan sighed and patted his cousin on the shoulder. “A’Xun, Su Mingshan. Do not worry about father. If you have my support, that is all that will matter. I have learned to see beyond the status of one’s birth to the station of one’s heart and soul. My father has not acknowledged any of his children but me, and he is the lesser for it. I have met all of the siblings I can find and I can tell you I am a man happier for it.”

“Besides,” Jiang Yanli said sweetly. “Jin Guanshan will not be Clan Leader forever.”

“Well then, that’s settled. I’ll start work on your letter bags as soon as possible.” Wei Wuxian grinned.

“And we’ll help,” Jiang Yanli agreed. “We’ll start after dinner, we should be able to have the bags sewn before curfew, then A’Xian just has to stitch the talismans into them. Did you need to make specific ones for Zixun and Su Mingshan?”

Wei Wuxian shook his head. “No, the talisman gets linked to the name of the person. As long as the same strip of fabric and the same skeins of string are used it should all work properly. Of coarse we’ll have to test them to make sure.”

“What are we talking about?” Jin Zixun asked. “I didn’t hear the beginning of the conversation.” He looked between them all then at the ground before his gaze returned to Su Mingshan.

“Everyone return to Sword Forms. Master is about to look this way.” Lan Wanji told everyone quietly.

They quickly took up Break the Mountain Stance.

“I’m making you and Su Mingshan some Instant Letter Purses for when you have to return to Koi Tower and he has to stay here. That way you two can keep in touch.” Wei Wuxian answered.

“Oh. Thank you. I had not thought about later.” Jin Zixun sounded sad at this.

Wei Wuxian shrugged. “No need for thanks. But wait, can you even write?” he asked then sidestepped with a laugh as Jin Zixun tried to skewer him on his sword.

Su Mingshan stepped in front of Jin Zixun when he tried to follow Wei Wuxian who was now hiding behind Lan Wanji. He wrapped his hand around Jin Zixun’s wrist and smiled up at him. “He is only teasing you A’Xun. You sounded sad. He did not want you to be sad. Wei Wuxian never wants anyone to be sad, I’ve realized. Now return to Sword Forms before we all receive punishment.”

Jin Zixun narrowed his eyes at Wei Wuxian but did as asked.

The sun was further along in the sky when they flowed into The Wind On The Plain, then they sheathed their swords. Bowed to the Sword Master and left to make ready for dinner.

“The Lan Sword Forms are too-” Jiang Cheng cut himself off with a huff. “How do you get from what we just learned to your style of fighting ?” He asked Lan Xichen over dinner. The other Lan usually joined them for every meal where possible.

“Practice. The Sword Forms you are learning are the beginning, the foundation. We learn to build upon that foundation. Eventually, practice and experience lead to knowledge which leads to speed and strength. But we all need the foundations.”

“Aren’t you worried you’re giving away your Sect secrets?” Jin Zixun asked. “Sect Leader Jin would never allow Jin Sword Forms to be taught to those outside the Clan.”

“There is a difference between Clan Knowledge and Clan Secrets A’Xun,” Jiang Yanli spoke from the other side of the table. “The foundations we learned today are Clan Knowledge, yes, but hardly Clan Secrets. They are the same Forms we’ve watched Xichen and Wanji practice for years. It is the same with the Climbing Frames we all used to play on as children. They were Yu Clan knowledge, but hardly a Yu Clan secret.

“Hm. I still can’t see Uncle letting anyone know our Clan Secrets or Knowledge.” Jin Zixun said, taking a sip from his tea. “We’re missing someone, where is he?”

“Clan Leader Nie arrived.” Jiang Cheng answered. “Nie Huaisang and Nie Mingjue are greeting their father.”

“So, we all meet up in Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian’s rooms after dinner?” Jin Zixuan asked.

“Bring something to drink and snacks.” Jiang Cheng answered.

“A’Cheng, you just ate dinner,” his sister scolded.

“Yes A’Li, we ate dinner now. But doing something like this takes time and energy. Besides, you know A’Xian will be hungry again two incense sticks after he eats.”

“I shall have the kitchens prepare a repast for us.” Lan Xichen offered. “What are we doing?”

“I believe it is called a Sewing Circle A’Huan.”

“Ah, thank you A’Yao.”

Wei Wuxian narrowed his eyes at his brother and lifted an eyebrow at A’Yao. A’Yao lifted his back and gave a small smile and nod. Wei Wuxian grinned broadly and pumped the air once.

“What are you behaving like an idiot about now?” Jiang Cheng asked Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian smiled at him and flapped his hand.

Jiang Cheng sighed. “Fine, tell me later.” Jiang Cheng stood to his feet and stretched. “Well come on A’Xian, if everyone is turning up in our rooms, we’d better make sure they’re clean.”

“Right, right. I have to find the material I want too. I think I have the right one in my trunk. You know the one I’m thinking about.” They bowed themselves away from the table and left.

“The yellow and white fabric?” Jiang Cheng asked.

“Aha, aha. That one. It matches those two, don’t you think?” Wei Wuxian asked.

Jiang Cheng nodded. “Yes, it’s a strong fabric too. I think I have some gold thread you can use. Let me see if I brought it with me. I think I did because I was worried about the gold embroidery on my dark purple robes. I could mend it if I had a problem. You can use that thread for the talismans.”

“A’Cheng, that’s an expensive thread. You’d let me use it?”

Jiang Cheng stopped in his tracks and looked at his brother wide-eyed. “I just offered you that thread for something for Jin Zixun. Quick I need the infirmary, I think there’s something wrong with me. I’m being nice to a Jin peacock.”

Wei Wuxian laughed and threw an arm around Jiang Cheng’s shoulders. “Here let me check your forehead.” He went to place his hand on Jiang Cheng’s head, pretending to check for a temperature.

Jiang Cheng scoffed and pushed the hand away even as he grabbed the one around his shoulders and held it tightly. “I think Jin Zixun has changed over the last year. He’s different. Not the boy we knew. Zixuan changed from the prissy peacock years ago when A’Li let him know he couldn’t walk all over her. Jin Zixun stayed a spoiled brat until we came here.”

“You mean until he was out from under Jin Guanshan’s influence and around Su Mingshan. You know Lan Zhan couldn’t stand Su Mingshan for years. That’s why we probably never met him before. Xichen told me that Su Mingshan tried to copy Lan Zhan and Lan Zhan hated it. Lan Zhan told me the other day that Su Mingshan has changed a lot too since Jin Zixun came. Lan Zhan can actually tolerate him now. So I think they are actually good for each other.”

“Hm.” Jiang Cheng grunted. “Good, I suppose?”

“Probably?” Wei Wuxian agreed. “Anyway, did Zixuan ever tell you why he stopped being a donkey to shijie?”

Jiang Cheng nodded. “Yeah, he told me ages ago. It was because he knew that she could look after herself in Koi Tower. He knew he wouldn’t be able to protect her all the time and the Tower is a complete viper’s nest. He was worried and scared for her. Then when she showed she was almost as strong and dangerous as mother, he knew he could stop worrying. Anyone fool enough to go after A’Li will find themselves dying painfully.”

Wei Wuxian smirked and nodded. “And probably slowly too.” They were still chuckling when they entered their quarters and began to put away their things so they’d have enough room for everyone later on.

An incense stick later and Wei Wuxian had his head in his trunk, looking for the fabric without making a mess out of everything else.”Ah. Got it.” He stuck his arm out triumphantly. “This one.”

Jiang Cheng took it from him and held it next to the thread he had laid on his bed. “Yes, this will go nicely. Where are your scissors? We can cut the pattern now, then you can draw the talismans on each layer of fabric so all that has to be done when everyone gets here is to sew on the design, then make the bags.”

Wei Wuxian rummaged in his trunk again and pulled out his scissors, handing them over to watch as Jiang Cheng cut eight perfect rectangles. He handed them over and Wei Wuxian took a cinnabar stick and carefully drew the talisman, including their names on each piece of fabric. Then he set the four squares of fabric meant for Jin Zixun on one side of his bed and the other set meant for Su Mingshan on the other side. He looked over to find his brother going through his own trunk. He pulled out a length of gold ribbon and one of light blue.

“Here, you’ll need these to tie them shut. Gold for Jin Zixun and blue for Su Mingshan.” Jiang Cheng placed the ribbon next to each set of fabric.

Wei Wuxian grinned at him.

“What?” Jiang Cheng asked. Then huffed when all he received was another grin. “Idiot. Looks are important. Even if you’d rather wear black so it hides the dirt.” Jiang Cheng suddenly smirked at him. “You know, when you marry Lan Wanji, you’ll be expected to wear white.”

Wei Wuxian clutched his hands to his heart as if in mortal pain. “How can you wound your brother like that,” he gasped. Then he threw himself at Jiang Cheng to wrestle him all over the floor. They rolled to the door as it slid open. Coming to rest against a pair of white boots.

“Wei Ying,” a soft voice sighed.

A hand came into Wei Wuxian’s line of sight. He reached for it and was drawn to his feet, with a giggle he came to rest on Lan Wanji’s chest, who wrapped him in his arms and nuzzled his temple. “Hi, Lan Zhan.”

“Hello, Wei Ying.”

“I can get up by myself, thanks,” Jiang Cheng huffed. “Everyone get in here. The faster this gets done the better. Who can sew, besides shijie? Great. Over there. Who can embroider? Great, come with me.” Jiang Cheng lead Lan Xichen, Su Mingshan and Jin Zixuan to the fabric on the bed. “A’Xian?”

“Right, right. Coming, coming.” He pulled himself away from Lan Wanji. “Okay. We need to stitch the talisman and names on each square of fabric. Once that’s done we stitch the bag together and thread the ribbon through. Then we check if they work and, done.”

They settled themselves in a circle and set to work. Jiang Yanli handed out each square of fabric. Wen Qing threaded the needles and Wen Ning gave them to whoever needed them. Then Wen Qing, Wen Ning and Wei Wuxian supervised as everyone started to stitch. With so many hands working they were done as the sun had set, setting the cloud Recesses to full dark.

They were testing the letter bags, eating walnuts, and drinking tea as they chatted when the knock came on their door. Jiang Cheng stood up to open it. “Yes?”

“This one was sent to ask you all to Spring Hall. Quickly please.” The disciple answered.

“Who has sent for us?” Lan Xichen stood up, pulling Jiang Ery with him.

“Thank you A’Huan,” Jiang Eryu smiled sweetly.

“Always A’Yao,” Lan Xichen smiled back.

“What has happened?” Lan Wanji asked, following his brother’s example and taking Wei Wuxian to his feet with him.

“This disciple does not know Young Masters. Only that the Clan Leaders have all called for you. Another was sent to find Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan.”

“Well if someone has gone for them, no doubt A’Yang will come with them,” Jiang Cheng mentioned. “Let’s go then. Good thing we were already done. Zixun, Mingshan, don’t forget your bags.”

CHAPTER 14

“This is, for all intents and purposes my grandson?” The woman who spoke walked around Wei Wuxian. She was small. Her voice was powerful. Stature straight. She dressed in solid black, with a red ribbon trailing down her back. She was beautiful in a way that made it impossible to guess at her age. Perhaps ageless better described her. A sword rested at her hip and another on her back. She twirled a dizzi in her long delicate fingers. She grabbed his chin and moved his face back and forth, gently. She looked stern enough to make Madame Yu appear soft. Then she smiled and the sun broke through the dawn. “Yes. I can see your mother in you. Her eyes, her smile, her mischief. Your father’s loyalty in your jaw and the set of your head. Yes, you are one of mine. Well done Xingchen. You have brought family to me. Where is your mother, child?”

Wei Wuxian looked around him. His tongue tied itself into knots in his mouth as if by the Lan Silencing Spell, which had not had reason to be used on him at least recently. Unfortunately. Blinking rapidly he didn’t know where to start. Hands at his sleeve got his attention. Lan Wanji was beside him and fiddling inside his sleeve. Looking for something. He drew out the wooden cards and carefully held them in both hands, letting Wei Wuxian untie the ribbon holding it shut. Wei Wuxian opened the cards carefully, showing the little paper man. The woman beside him gasped and carefully set her finger against the paper.

“Immortal one. This is all I have left of my parents.”

“I-I see. I had not known. I shall need some time. When Xingchen’s message said Sanren’s child needed me I did not think it was because she was gone. Her Soul Man is not dust at home. I did not understand until this moment what had happened. May I spend some time with this paper man, child? It shall come to no harm. There are other matters that need to be discussed I believe. And another I wish to see. Go to your friends, I shall be here.” Baoshan Sanren gently pushed Wei Wuxian to the other side of the room where the others had gathered around someone, giving Wei Wuxian some privacy.

“What else is happening?” Wei Wuxian couldn’t help sounding a cross between confused and sarcastic. It wasn’t every day one met their sort of Grandmother, an Immortal, showed her her disciple’s final soul infused paper man, and yet something else was happening in the same room.

“Baoshan Sanren found them on the road here. She brought them with her.” Nie Mingjue sounded worried. He moved aside. Nie Huaisang sat on the ground. Wen Xu’s head lay in his lap. Beside him sat another man, cradling his hands to his chest. Wen Qing and Wen Ning hovered over both men, treating what they could with what they had in hand. Wen Qing was turning the man with Wen Xu into a virtual pincushion, while Wen Ning tried to clean Wen Xu’s wounds.

“They ran from Nightless City.” Nie Mingjue rumbled.

“Father has gone mad. He found something years ago. Now he has more of it. He’s mad with it. He wants a war. He thinks the last piece of what he wants is here and wants it. I didn’t know what to do. He said he’d take Qinqe Nie first, then Cloud Recesses and if Lotus Pier got in the way he’d drown it. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know where to turn,” Wen Xu started to sob quietly.

“There is more,” the other man said. “More Master Wen does not know. That is why I had to help him get away.” He took a deep breath. “Thank you, Mistress Wen. The pain in my hands is gone. I’m afraid they may never be the same after this, however.”

“I will do more if I can Zhuliu. For those who do not know, this is Wen Zhuliu. Better known as The Core Melting Hand.” Wen Qing introduced him.

“You should say, once known as The Core Melting Hand. Wen Ruohan’s puppets have ensured I’ll no longer be burdened with that ability.”

“Let me see.” Baoshan Sanran had come to them. The wooden cards were held securely tied in her hand. She handed them back to Wei Wuxian. “I shall have need of them later. I cannot return your parents to you, but if you wish I can help them say goodbye and return to the well of reincarnation. It shall be your decision, child. Now let me see to this child, also a descendant of one of my disciples I think. I know of only one other with this ability. She left the mountain and died years later. She left a thriving family behind her. Let me see your heart, child.” She set her hands to his temples and closed her eyes. Wen Zhuliu’s eyes turned back into his head and he gasped, then she released him and he slumped against the wall. “Did I hurt you?”

“No, no Immortal one. I feel as if I have been dipped in cold water. It was a shock that is all,” Wen Zhuliu reassured quickly.

Baoshan Sanren nodded. “While it is true, your hands will never melt a core again, your own core is still quite healthy. And where my disciple could Melt a Core as well, she could also heal one. Beyond the scope of medicine. This ability is still within you. I dare say you could even return a Core, but you will need to train for this. And first, you’ll need to heal. I think as soon as the young Masters have rested they should tell us all that has happened. Then perhaps the unease I have been feeling since I stepped off my mountain shall make sense.”

“The remnants of Yin Iron are in the world again, Sanren. That is the unease you feel.” Everyone turned at the musical voice. A woman, dressed in Lan robes stood inside the doorway.

“Look Lan Zhan, bunnies,” Wei Wuxian exclaimed.

“Lan Yi.” The chorus of voices was from every Lan in the room, whispered reverently as they bowed.

“A’Yi,” Baoshan Sanren held her hands out to the other woman who practically flowed into them. “We have much to discuss wife, but first, what about the Yin Iron?”

Lan Yi leaned her be-ribboned forehead against the other Immortal’s. “It appears our plan all those years ago has failed. We lost so many years together so I could keep a piece safe and its corrupting influence away from the mortal world and other cultivators. Yet other pieces have been found, have been unearthed. I can feel their influence in the wind, in the waters. Its evil flows out into the world. Corrupting it. You were right Sanren. We should have found a way to destroy it instead of deciding to keep it away from everyone.”

Baoshan Sanren sighed and kissed Lan Yi. A chaste kiss right on the cloud emblem on her forehead ribbon. “Is yours still safe?”

Lan Yi nodded. “Yes, however, I can feel the others calling to it. Yin Iron calls to Yin Iron. we split the pieces, it yearns to be made whole again.”

“That means the one who holds the other pieces will come here,” Qingheng Jun said.

Lan Yi nodded again. “Yes, Clan Leader. Our lack of foresight has placed my Clan and family in danger. Please forgive this foolish one.” She bowed to him formally, hands clasped in front of her.

“Clan Leader, Master Lan Yi, please, there is no reason.” Qingheng Jun jumped to stop his ancestor from bowing to him. “I am unworthy Immortal Ancestor.”

She smiled at him softly and patted his cheek. Then she looked around her, smiling widely at the two young men who were surrounded by her rabbits. “They seem to like you. What are your names?”

“This is my youngest son, Lan Wangji, Immortal One,” Qingheng Jun began.

“The other scamp is Wei Wuxian, son of my Cangse Sanren. It seems we can both lay claim to grandsons of a sort.” Baoshan Sanren was grinning.

“They seem, close?” Lan Yi questioned.

“Betrothed, Immortal Ones.” Lan Alix answered. “From practically the day they met. Allow this humble one to make introductions and call for more tea.

Lan Yi nodded and Lan Alix took over as perfect hostess, including calling for a healer to check after Wen Xu and Wen Zhuliu.

“So, what do you think?” Wei Wuxian asked his brothers as they all sat quietly against the wall while the adults talked and made plans.

“I think this is going to be a stupid war that’s going to delay my marrying A’Huan.” Jiang Eryu muttered.

“A’Yao, you’ve only just been betrothed. Lan Zhan and I have been betrothed far longer than you two have. Stop sounding so sulky.”

“Now that Lan Xichen is betrothed, Lan Wanji won’t be able to marry until his older brother marries.” A’Yao sounded perfectly smug and vicious.

“W-What? No? Shijie?”

Jiang Yanli smiled sadly and shrugged. “There is also my marriage first A’Xian. I am sorry.”

“So unfair.” Wei Wuxian pouted, he rubbed his cheek against Jiang Cheng’s hand as it patted his shoulder in commiseration, then grinned when his brother smacked him on the back of the head. “But seriously, what are we going to do?”

“We let them talk themselves hoarse and try for alliances, meanwhile we deal with the problem ourselves.” Jiang Liezun was slowly running a dagger point under his nails. “I have two men I have many plans for. Many many plans. Those plans do not include either of them getting killed. We all have plans for our future. And stupid Wen Ruohan is not about to get in the way of any of them. Shijie will get married as soon as we can arrange it, then A’Yao, which makes the way clear for A’Xian, then me. Priorities, priorities. Shijie, stay here and make our excuses if they notice we are gone. A’Cheng, you come with us so someone will know our plans when we are gone. You’ll also have to sit on Lan Wangji and Xichen when they decide to come after us. You might have to sedate Song Lan and Xingchen if you can. Maybe have Wen Qing shoot them full of needles.”

Quietly they rose and followed Jiang Liezun out of the room, bowing quickly to Madames Jiang and Lan when the two women noticed they were leaving.

“So what are you idiots planning?” Jiang Cheng demanded when they were back in his and Wei Wuxian’s quarters.

“It’s obvious isn’t it?” Jiang Liezun asked.

“A’Yang, if it was obvious I would not be asking. Do not make me break your leg so you’ll tell me.”

Jiang Liezun sauntered up to Jiang Cheng and patted his cheek. “I know you only threaten us because you love us. I also know you won’t ever really hurt us. We love you too A’Cheng. A’Yao, won’t you tell A’Cheng what we are planning?”

A’Yao lifted his head out of the trunk he and Wei Wuxian were rifling through, coming up with a distracted look on his face and a large folded piece of fabric in his hand. “This one?” he asked Wei Wuxian.

After a second Wei Wuxian nodded and took the fabric. “Yes, thick and strong. Will hold the talisman well and won’t be easily ripped. I’ll start cutting it.”

“Now, what’s the problem, A’Yang?” Jiang Eryu asked.

“A’Cheng wants to know what we are going to do.” A’Yang drawled.

“Oh, well, simple really A’Cheng. We are going to kill Wen Ruohan. He’s ruining all our plans and hopes for the future, so we’re going to kill him. Before he can kill everyone we love.” A’Yao told them with a simple and tiny grin.

“What? What do you mean? I don’t understand. A’Yao?” Jiang Cheng fisted his hands tightly.

“A’Cheng, sit down, please.” He pushed his Sect brother to sit on the bed behind him and then began to pace. “Ever since Master Jiang found myself and mother and brought us to Lotus Pier, we have been safe and happy. Even if Madame Yu was truly terrifying at first, I soon saw we were safe, mother, aunt Sisi and me. I was even given the chance to be Jiang Eryu, mother and aunt Sisi became Jiang too under Sect adoption. Lotus Pier has become our home and sanctuary. As it has for A’Xian and A’Yang. I always had my mother, can you imagine what A’Xian and A’Yang would have become on the streets? Perhaps it is best you do not think about it. However, that never came to pass because Master Jiang found us and Madame Jiang made us strong and powerful in our own right. They shared you and Jiang Yanli with us. We saw and learned from your strength and protective nature. We learned to care under A’Li’s devotion to her family and those she loved. Between the four of you, mother and Sisi, and the rest of the Jiang Sect of Lotus Pier, we grew into strong, productive members of society. And we will be damned before a leach like Wen Ruohan destroys what we hold dear.” A’Yao poured himself a cup of water and drank it. “Wen Ruohan is a warmonger. He only allowed Wen Xu’s betrothal to A’Sang because it amused him and he knew it would cause bad blood and pain when he eventually broke it off. Now it seems he wants to destroy the Nie Clan, instead of a broken engagement. Of coarse he could fabricate a story where the Nie’s broke off the betrothal and the Wen attacked to save face. From there he’ll attack Cloud Recesses. For two reasons. One he wants the Yin Iron here. Two, Cloud Recesses is a powerful Sect that could stand against him. If he takes them by surprise he gets what he wants with minimal damage. Then it’s a hop, skip and jump to Lotus Pier. He could decimate the entire cultivation world in months, bringing everyone under the Wen Sun and under his foot. You saw how he treated his own son, his heir when Wen Xu did not agree with him. Will anyone else fare any better? Will he leave anyone alive that may stand against him? No, I do not think so.”

“A’Yao, I don’t disagree with you, but you are three and barely out of childhood as it is. How can you even hope to do this?” Jiang Cheng sounded terrified.

A’Yang threw himself on the bed beside the Jiang heir. “A’Cheng. You know we love you, right?” He waited for a suspicious nod before continuing. “A’Xian, A’Yao, and me, well we aren’t really children. We haven’t been since we found ourselves alone or, well where A’Yao first grew up. We see things a little differently and have no problems defending or protecting what we love. So yes we can do this. Yes, it might fuck us up a bit, but less than if we lost any of you. And how? No one notices little nobodies. Wen Ruohan won’t even know what hit him, or in his case who stabbed him. So, now listen to A’Yao’s plan and we’ll be just fine.” A’Yang patted Jiang Cheng’s clenched fist and stood from the bed to go help Wei Wuxian. “Oh and don’t worry, we’ll be fine. We have to get married, sure but we really all want to see what happens when you meet your fated one.”

Jiang Cheng growled and threw a pillow at Jiang Liezun before he started to chuckle. “Fine, fine. I’ll listen. So what are you planning A’Yao?”

A’Yao smirked. “In a day or so, the three of us are going fishing. We won’t return for a few days, but that will be expected because that is what we will tell people. When we do not return a few days after that and people start to worry, then you may tell them of our plan.”

“Hmmm, fine, but what is your plan?” Jiang Cheng asked again.

“We are going to take some of Wen Qing and Wen Ning’s robes. Slide into Nightless City, find Wen Ruohan, and probably slit his throat. Then A’Xian will move the Yin Iron into his new Resentment Binding pouches and from there we will destroy them. Not a very convoluted plan, quite simple. It shouldn’t take more than a few weeks. The hardest part will be traveling to Nightless City. Then traveling back.” Jiang Eryu kept smirking. “Plans do not need to be so convoluted. A simple plan has as good a chance of working as a complicated one, and it allows for improvisation if needed.”

Jiang Cheng gaped at him then swung his gaze to where Wei Wuxian was sewing. “A’Xian, tell me this is a joke. How are you going to restrain the Yin Iron before it drives you crazy? No one else has been able to do it. You heard Lan Yi. And you’ve heard the rumors and tales about it just like I have.”

“Calm down A’Cheng,” Wei Wuxian smiled sadly. “I know you love us, so calm down. A’Yao and A’ Yang are right. We can do this. We aren’t happy doing this, but we can do it and it will save a lot of death and bloodshed. Any father that can have his son beaten close to death, has forfeited his right to live in my opinion. As for how can I restrain the Yin Iron?” He held up the sack he was putting together.

“An Instant Letter Pouch?” Jiang Cheng sounded incredulous.

Wei Wuxian chuckled. “No a Resentment Energy Restraining Pouch. See the talisman. I designed it myself. It restrains resentful energy and grounds it. I’ll get the Yin Iron pieces into the pouches and seal them up, then drop the whole lot into a volcano. Done.” He smiled brilliantly at his brother. “And before you ask if the pouches work. Yes, they work. At least the Talisman works, so the pouches will too.”

“How do you know?” Jiang Cheng looked suspicious.

“Haven’t you noticed how Sect Leader Nie isn’t as angry as he used to be? And Nie Mingjue? A’Sang said he worried about his father and brother. Every previous Clan Leader has died from Qi Deviation, because of the resentful energy their sabers carry. It leaks into the wielder not only when they fight, but all the time, because the sabers are spiritual weapons and bonded to the owner like you are to Sandu and me to Suibian. So I started experimenting and eventually came up with this.” He shook the pouch he was holding and Jiang Cheng could see the outline of a talisman sewn into it. “I started with A’Sang’s saber, even if he doesn’t use it a lot it still carried some resentful energy. A’Sang said he couldn’t feel it anymore, but the blade responded normally, he even said it felt lighter. Then I treated Baxia. A’Sang begged his brother to let me. Mingjue wasn’t happy at first, but there isn’t much he won’t do for his Didi, so he let me carve the talisman into his scabbard and eventually Baxia’s hilt. He said he felt as if a weight had been taken from his heart and he and Baxia are even closer now. Her resentment is no longer angry and wishing to destroy. Nie Mingjue and A’Sang brought me their father’s saber themselves and ever since the bouts of anger and outburst have been gone. The Nie Healers have confirmed his Qi is flowing strong and as a normal Qi should. He had been having minor Qi Deviations for years, growing stronger and stronger almost monthly, and every time after meeting Wen Ruohan. Ever since the talisman however he hadn’t had one and Nie Mingjue went to the last meeting between the two leaders and he was sure Wen Ruohan kept trying to goad his father, but Clan Leader Nie wouldn’t be drawn in.”

“When did all this happen?” Jiang Cheng asked. “Why wasn’t I told?”

Wei Wuxian shrugged. “It was since we came to Cloud Recesses for the lecture series. I thought A’Sang had told you.”

Jiang Cheng sighed and his shoulders drooped. “I think he tried, but I wasn’t listening. I was complaining about how sickly sweet you were being with Lan Wangji, so he stopped trying to tell me and walked away. I shall need to apologize to him for my poor behavior as a friend. Okay, so what can I do to help, now?”

“You can find me lengths of rope or ribbon to keep the pouches closed,” Wei Wuxian beamed.

Jiang Cheng clapped his hands and moved to his trunk. His head turned to the door as it slid open and it seemed like everyone they knew at their age level fell into the room, tripping over each other in their haste to get in and close the doors.

“No one will tell us what’s going on,” Su Mingshan gave a quick bow.

“Spill,” Jin Zixuan demanded.

Jiang Cheng nodded his head to the beds. “Sit down and shut up. A’Yang? Wanna fill them in?”

The smile Jiang Liezun gave them was purely carnivorous. “We are going to stop a war and kill a tyrant, and you are going to help Jiang Cheng cover for us, anything else you want to know? Oh and Wen Qing? We need some of your Wen robes. They’ll help. Also, do you know of any hidden passages in Nightless Palace?”

CHAPTER 15

“Hmm, well isn’t that interesting.” Wei Wuxian didn’t ask a question as he used his chin to point toward the dais, where Wen Ruohan lounged with the Jin Sect leader, Jin Guanshan.

“It looks like shijie will be marrying a Sect Leader instead of an Heir,” Jiang Leizun whispered. “Right?” He looked to Jiang Eryu.

“A’Yao?” Wei Wuxian whispered.

A’Yao pulled his gaze from his father’s form as he lay with a Wen Concubine in his lap, his hand lewdly fondling her breast while she giggled. A’Yao’s face was pale and drawn, his lips twisted in revulsion. “I shall be ever thankful for Sect Leader Jiang and my half brothers for letting me learn the truth about the man that donated his biological material to create me. Yes A’Yang, shijie shall marry a Clan Leader. I think she will make a wonderful Madame Jin.” He set his tray of cups onto the out of the way table and watched Wei Wuxian and Jiang Liezun set down theirs. “A’Xian, you get ready for the Yin Iron. A’Yang and I shall dispatch those two. Which one do you want A’Yang?”

Wei Wuxian pulled the Containing Pouches from inside his sleeves and watched his brothers amend the plans between themselves quietly. Then with a nod, the two of them slid into the shadows while he waited behind a pillar. He shifted his attention from watching the shards of Yin Iron spinning above a hole in the floor. The whole Palace having been built on top of a volcano. Holes like this one lead to the heart of it and are being used as a heating source for the Nightless Palace. Wei Wuxian planned to carefully send each of his pouches to engulf each piece of Yin Iron one by one, then draw them back to himself so they could be disposed of, hopefully into a conveniently located volcano away from Nightless City. He slid his finger along the pouch that contained the piece of Yin Iron Lan Yi had protected. He’d stolen it from her care on their way out of Cloud Recesses. Sending his Pouch after it like a hound on the scent had not been difficult. Adults and Elders thought they had everything under their control all the time, they never thought about how devious younger people could be. Wen Ruohan was soon about to find that out for himself. He smirked as he watched and waited. This sharp and nasty realization couldn’t happen to a more appropriate pair. He just had to wait, out of sight until A’Yao and A’Yang had done their part. So he watched and waited. He wasn’t sure what the two had planned for the concubine. He didn’t think they would kill her, but he knew his Sect brothers had a cold and ruthless streak in them. It usually surfaced in the protection of those they loved.

The throne room was being prepared for the night’s banquet. One was held nightly. With entertainment that was more a bloody show than anything else. This night was to apparently have a hell of a show. That was why no one remarked on seeing extra servants around. That was the only reason no one paid the three of them any attention.

Wei Wuxian watched Wen Ruohan sit up straighter. “A’Chow! Where are you?”

Wen Chow pushed his latest Concubine off his lap and stood, walking over her prone body to be within his father’s line of sight. “I am here, father.”

“Good. Good. Not like your faithless brother. Bring in, my prisoner. I want him here before the dinner feast starts,” Wen Ruohan ordered.

Wen Chow bowed. “Right away father.”

Wen Ruohan turned to Jin Guanshan. “Only useful one I have, that one. Wen Xu has proved to be unfilial. Run off to that Nie of his. Well, I shall enjoy taking Wen Xu’s betrayal out of Sect Leader Nie’s hide. Tonight’s entertainment shall be quite the show. I’ve been pushing that fool to Qi Deviation for years. Tonight I’m going to break him, seal his meridians long enough to then send him back home to his worthless family so he can come to his bloody death in front of them. I’ll start by baiting him, then I’ll break his sword and break their spiritual bond. It’s a pity I won’t see him die but at least this way he might kill a few of his own people. The only good Nie is a dead Nie.”

Jin Guanshan had sent off his playmate as soon as Wen Ruohan had started speaking. “Then perhaps you could take care of the Jiangs for me. Perhaps hold back the Jiang girl here for me to play with. My milksop of a son doesn’t deserve to be her first. I could play with her before I grow bored of her.”

Wei Wuxian could hear everything from where he stood and ground his teeth. If these two didn’t have blades waiting for them, he’d stick some of his new boiling talismans down their throats. Those things could make anything liquid boil, including blood. How dare they speak like that of Sect Leader Nie. As for his plans for shijie? Jin Guanshan’s death could not come soon enough. The rattle of chains drew his attention to the back of the chamber. Wen Chow was struggling with a chained and furious Sect Leader Nie. Wen Chow had resorted to sticking the point of his sword under the older man’s chin just so he would walk and follow directions.

Wei Wuxian noticed Wen Chow and the Sect Leader had everyone’s attention so he quickly turned back to the dais and saw two shadows materialize. Then the two Sect Leaders stiffened before slumping forward. Pale hands pulled them back into a seated position as if nothing had happened. Wei Wuxian carefully threw out his pouches, using his spiritual energy to have each pouch float carefully under each piece of Yin Iron then the open mouth of each pouch slowly swallowed the Yin Iron floating above it. Within heart beats, Wei Wuxian was drawing the full pouches back to him and shoving them into his sleeves to deal with very soon.

“Father. Father, I have brought him. Your entertainment is here.” Wen Chow crowed.

“Father? Father?” He questioned when he received no response.

Wei Wuxian walked out from behind his pillar and bowed. “Sect Leader Nie. Did you want any help?” he asked even as he threw an exploding talisman at the chains holding the older man.

The older cultivator didn’t hesitate. As soon as his chains broke he wrapped an end around his hand and spinning on his heel he punched Wen Chow, then he wrapped the chain around the younger man’s neck and with a sharp movement broke the bones under his hands, letting Wen Chow drop to the floor while Wen servants ran out of the room.

“Well that wasn’t part of the plan,” Jiang Liezun drawled, sauntering towards Wei Wuxian.

“Adapt and overcome?” Wei Wuxian asked back.

“Well, it worked. Let’s get out of here. Sect Leader Nie, please follow us before the whole of Nightless City falls on our heads.” Jiang Eryu bowed formally to the Sect Leader who was still gaping at them.

“Ah. Um. Wen Ruohan?” The Sect Leader got out.

“Dead, I’m afraid. A headache I believe.” Jading Jiang Eryu held out a needle twice the size of his hand and wiped the blood off it.

“S,” Sect Leader Nie cleared his throat. “Sect Leader Jin?”

“I’m afraid he had the same affliction,” Jiang Liezun held out an identical needle and wipe the blood off on Wen Chow’s red robes. “Good riddance to bad rubbish.” He kicked the dead man’s foot.

“A’Yang.” Jiang Eryu admonished.

“What A’Yao. You know I’m right,” Jiang Liezun snapped.

Wei Wuxian huffed and looked at the gob-smacked Sect Leader. “See what I have to put up with. Aren’t you glad none of us are marrying into your Clan? Now can we please leave? We still have Yin Iron to destroy and loved ones to get back to.”

“Right. Let’s go.” Jiang Liezun turned and led the way out.

Wei Wuxian offered Sect Leader Nie his shoulder while Jiang Eryu brought up the back. “We’ll follow A’Yang, Sir. A’Yao will watch our rear. We’ll have you out of here in no time. A’Yang can get out of anywhere.”

*****

Sect Leader Nie stoked the fire they had built in the cave and sighed. They had walked out of Nightless City as the sunset and the warning bells started to ring. They were far enough away and hidden behind illusion talismans by full dark. Tiredness forced A’Yang to find the cave for them to rest and A’Yao and Wei Wuxian went to find food while A’Yang prowled their perimeter. Now bellies full and early warning wards set, they leaned back in the cave and relaxed for what felt like the first time in months.

“How long were we gone, Sect Leader?” Wei Wuxian asked.

Sect Leader Nie huffed. “It was two days before Yu Ziyuan forced Jiang Cheng to talk. That was three days before I was caught by Wen Ruohan’s men and taken to Nightless City. I was there for a day and last night. So less than a week. Once it was found you were gone, only Qingheng Jun and Lan Qiren could restrain the Jades from following after you.”

“Poor Lan Zhan and Lan Xichen. They knew what we planned of coarse, but we made them swear to stay behind and hide the fact we had gone for as long as possible. They were not happy with A’Yao and me. How did Wen Ruohan catch you? And Why?” Wei Wuxian rubbed the back of his neck and rolled his tense shoulders.

“After much deliberation, we had separated, each returning home to muster our forces. They took me from within my own home. A rat that I managed to kill before they could take me. Then they brought me here. As for why? Wen Ruohan has always said that Qinghe Nie lay at the feet of Qishan and we should belong to the Wen. I think he’s actually been trying to kill me slowly for years. Just by what he said to me when I was brought in. and now I even managed to lose my sword.” He rubbed his hands over his face and slumped backward. “How am I going to get Wangu back?”

“Oh I can help with that Sect Leader Nie,” Wei Wuxian spoke up quickly and made a strange sort of seal in mid-air. “Now we just have to wait for your sword to come to find us.”

“Wei Wuxian. No one can call for their sword from so far away. I don’t care how strong you are or how strong your golden core is.”

“Oh no Sect Leader Nie, I’m not calling for your sword exactly. I’m more calling for the talismans carved into your sword hilt and scabbard to come to me. Of coarse it might not work. I’m not really sure, but we’ll find out I suppose.” Wei Wuxian stretched his foot closer to the fire and moved his gaze everywhere, eventually coming back to the narrowed eyes of the Sect Leader.

“What talismans?”

“Um, A’Sang didn’t explain about the Talismans?” Wei Wuxian gulped at the older man’s shake of the head and explained about the Resentful Energy Talismans he’d placed on Wangu and Baxia, and even Nie Huaisang’s sword.

Sect Leader Nie was silent for a while before he blew out a deep breath. “Thank you Wei Wuxian. I think you might have saved my life and later that of Mingjue’s. I think you have saved it more than once. Both at Nightless City and multiple times since you placed this talisman on my sword. I could tell it felt lighter. Not as dark and hungry for blood yet just as willing to fight and protect. Wangu is after a righteous kill now rather than any kill. So thank you again.”

“You are very welcome, Sect Leader Nie. Now perhaps we should get some rest. Tomorrow we have a long journey ahead of us.” Wei Wuxian waited for the older man to lie back and close his eyes, then he looked at his Sect brothers where they lay back on the ground, just watching quietly. With nods to each other, they all relaxed a little and closed their eyes.

*****

“That’s a volcano, right? Please tell me we are halfway up a volcano.”

“Yes A’Yang, we are halfway up a volcano.” Jiang Eryu answered.

“Yes and as soon as we reach the top of the volcano I can throw the Yin Iron into it and we can fly off home,” Wei Wuxian told them from where he balanced on Suibian with Sect Leader Nie. the two of them flew a little lower due to the weight but were keeping up with the others. “But right now we need to land.” He angled Suibian down to the ground quickly, jumping off before the sword had come to a stop. He stumbled a few steps then spun round and formed a seal in front of his chest. There hovering before him was a long and sheathed spiritual sword. “Wangu I believe, Master Nie.”

Gaping Sect Leader Nie reached for his sheathed sword and then laughed at the familiar weight in his hand. “You were right Wei Wuxian. You were right. How did you know?”

Wei Wuxian shrugged and stepped back on Suibian. “I can feel my talismans. So I felt this one returning to me. Come on, we still have work to do.”

The rest of the flight to the volcano mouth was easier to manage. Then as they hovered along the edge, looking into the red inside, Wei Wuxian drew out pouch after pouch and tossed them into the middle, watching as each one disappeared from sight. After the last one, they headed down, the young men laughing as they went. The noise started when they were almost at the bottom. A rumbling deep within the earth. It was accompanied by a shiver along the pebbles and grasses. Then a tremble that grew more and more violent. The rumble grew louder and louder, the sound itself coalescing around them in the air like a living thing trying to squeeze the blood out of them. At the height of it all came an explosion of rubble and heat, steam and wind. The percussion all around them threw them off their swords and into the dirt.

Wei Wuxian rolled. Sky became earth then sky again multiple times before he stopped, fetched up against a tree. Its roots stuck up in the air as it lay on its side. He’d come to a stop along its massive trunk. Shaking himself he spat out the dirt he’d almost swallowed and tried to sit up. It took a few attempts before his head stopped spinning and he could push himself upright. He pressed his hands to his ears to try and stop the ring and echoes he kept hearing. Looking around he found his companions tangled in the roots of the tree. “A’Yao, why are you patting the tree?”

A’Yao looked up at him and grinned. “Because the tree saved me when it toppled over in the explosion and caught me in its roots as I rolled past. Otherwise, I might still be rolling somewhere. It caught all of us. Saved all of us. It deserves our thanks for giving up its life for us. Is everyone alright?”

They grunted yeses then groaned their way out of the root system until they all sat beside the tree’s trunk, where Wei Wuxian had originally found himself. “Well aren’t we a sight? All ripped up and shit.” Jiang Liezun scrubbed his fingers through his messy hair to shake out leaves and twigs.

“A’Yang, language.” A’Yao scolded, then scoffed when their brother just arched an eyebrow at him.

“Be grateful he feels like crap right now, otherwise A’Yang might have jumped you,” Wei Wuxian snickered.

“One would hope he wouldn’t behave like that in front of Clan Leader Nie,” A’Yao said primly. “Now. I think we’d better plan how to get back home. Has anyone seen our swords? I’m not sure where it landed after I was thrown off.”

“Only thing for it is to look around,” Jiang Liezun slowly got to his feet. “I’ll look this way. Let’s split up. He picked a direction and started off, a little unsteady on his feet but getting better very quickly.

They heard his scream as they saw him disappear from sight. Wei Wuxian was after him in a heartbeat. He threw himself to the ground where his brother had been. “A’Yang!”

Jiang Liezun groaned in reply. “Ow. What the actual fuck…”

“A’Yang?” Jiang Eryu asked as he too flattened himself beside Wei Wuxian. “Are you hurt?”

“Can you stand?” Wei Wuxian asked reaching his arm down into the sinkhole A’Yang had fallen through.

Jiang Liezun pushed himself up carefully. As he placed weight on his legs he screamed and fell back gasping.

“Stay still son,” Clan Leader Nie said from his own place at the mouth of the hole. “Stay calm. It appears your legs are broken from the fall. We’ll make a rope and come down for you. I’ve gotten our swords. We’ll get home as soon as we can. Wuxian? Jiang Eryu ? Do either of you have any rope?”

The two looked at each other then shook their heads. “No,” Wei Wuxian sat up and started to remove his ripped outer robe. “We can cut this up and braid a rope out of it. Then I’ll climb down and tie A’Yang into it. You two can pull him up. I’ll climb out after him.”

“Don’t you dare climb down here!” A’Yang yelled from his hole. “Just throw me the rope. My arms are fine. I’ll tie myself in then you can pull me up. Just figure out a way to get us home quickly. This fucking hurts.”

Clan Leader Nie had already ripped Wei Wuxian’s robes into strips and was busy braiding and knotting them together. “The Nie braiding techniques are useful for many reasons.” He winked at them even as his fingers kept weaving quickly. Then with a smirk and a flourish, he stopped, dropped an end into the hole, and wrapped the other end around his waist. “Tie yourself in securely.”

“Let us know when you’re ready?” Jiang Eryu called down while he and Wei Wuxian scrambled into place in front of the Clan Leader to help pull their brother up.

“Ready,” Jiang Leizun groaned from beneath them.

“Back up slowly,” Clan Leader Nie said and began to walk backward with the rope anchored around his waist and the other two pulling their brother up.

As soon as they could see hands over the edge of the hole Jiang Eryu threw himself to the ground and grabbed them, carefully guiding Jiang Liezun up and over the edge onto solid ground. “A’Yang, A’Yang.” He whispered.

Jiang Liezun groaned and covered his face. “I want a drink and to go home. Someone take me home.”

They could hear the tears he was holding back.

“The pain…” Clan Leader Nie trailed off.

Wei Wuxian fisted his hands in his hair. “What do we do? We can’t fly him? We can’t not fly him. A’Yao?” He looked to his brother who had tossed everything from his pouch onto the ground.

“A’Xian. Did you ever finish this?” A’Yao pushed a parchment at Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian looked at the thing in his hand and squinted before turning it the right way up. “The transportation talisman? I finally figured it out. But I’m not sure it could carry all of us to Cloud Recesses.”

“How far will it get us?” Clan Leader Nie asked. “We are closer to the Unclean Realm than Cloud Recesses.”

“Yes, A’Xian. Take us there. I’ll send a message to Xichen to come there.” Jiang Eryu was already writing a message to place into his messenger box to Lan Xichen.

“Tell him we might need strong healers for A’Yang. No offense Clan Leader.” Wei Wuxian gave a quick bow in apology then went back to finessing his Transportation Talisman. “Almost finished. I’ll activate it as soon as your Message goes. We’d better get closer. Clan Leader Nie I’m going to need a little of your blood to carry us through your defenses.” Within seconds the message was written and placed into the Messenger box and Clan Leader Nie was sheathing his sword again after having used it to nick his finger to drop a little blood on the Transportation talisman.

“Everyone take a deep breath and touch someone else. A’Yao you hold A’Yang. Clan Leader, please hold onto A’Yao’s shoulder and mine. Ready?” At the silent nods, Wei Wuxian activated the talisman and light and air disappeared.

CHAPTER 16

There were screams and shouting before Wei Wuxian could suck in a deep breath.

“Sabers down.”

“Sect Leader?”

“Sect Leader.”

“Sect Leader!”

“Yes. Yes. I’m your Sect Leader. These young and glorious fools rescued me. Now fetch the Healers. This young man is injured. And make ready for guests. Lots of them. Move. Move.” Sect Leader Nie ordered and his soldiers scurried to obey.

Wei Wuxian flopped to the ground. He was exhausted. He’d used his own spiritual energy to power the Transportation Talisman instead of letting it take energy from everyone. He’d been worried it would take from A’Yang as well and he knew his brother needed every drop of energy he had. So he’d powered the thing himself and taking so many people over such a distance was exhausting. Knowing he was behaving badly, and hearing Jiang Cheng chiding him for it in his mind he tried to sit up. Dizziness flowed over him and he thought better. Manners be damned. He was tired. He threw himself backward and let the ground catch him. He groaned and covered his eyes with his arm. “This ground is not comfortable, Sir,” He pouted.

Wei Wuxian cracked an eyelid and moved his arm enough to see. “Nie Mingjue? Why are you here? When did you get here?”

Nie Mingjue lifted an eyebrow at him. “Wei Wuxian is this or is this not The Unclean Realm and actually my home?”

“Oh. Um. Yeah?” Wei Wuxian shrugged and carefully struggled to sit up in the dirt. When the world stayed still he sighed and stayed seated. “Umm. When did you come home?”

Nie Mingjue huffed and bowed to acknowledge his father who Wei Wuxian could hear chuckling softly beside them. “If you had not brought my father home, I’d put you over my knee and spank you.” He reached out and offered Wei Wuxian a hand up.

Wei Wuxian eyed the helping hand narrowly. “Still planning on spanking me?”

Nie Mingjue burst out laughing. “I might have Lan Wanji trying to kill me if I did. Come on, kid. Let me help you up. A’Sang wanted to bring Wen Xu here to heal. Immortal Baoshan Sanren came with us as did Immortal Lan Yi. The Unclean Realm has been busy since you left. Now tell me everything. Including how you found father.”

Wei Wuxian dusted himself off and then waved his hands around. “Ask A’Yao to tell you everything. He’s better at reports than I am. I just need to sleep. That Talisman took everything out of me. Oh and I expect you’re going to have more guests as soon as the Lans can fly here. Oh, I should ask if A’Yao told Jiang Cheng about where we were going.”

“Wei Wuxian!” Nie Mingjue growled.

“Leave him be son. He’s had a hard time. They all have. We owe them more than you know. Help me show him to his rooms.” Sect Leader Nie pacified his eldest.

“His rooms shall have to wait. Sanren wants him in the infirmary.” The voice was smooth and crisp. Immortal Lan Yi glided towards them, a hoard of snow-white bunnies romping around her feet like a furry white blanket.

Wei Wuxian barely managed to bow to her before he was stumbling after the bunnies squealing. “Come here, come here. I have to show you to Lan Zhan.” He followed them as they ran away from him only stopping when he stumbled into a building. Looking around he found his mother’s teacher standing before him. Her arms were crossed. Her face was stern. Her foot was tapping and her eyes were narrowed. Wei Wuxian bowed as he gulped. She pointed imperiously to the bed by the door and feeling rather chastised Wei Wuxian went to lay down.

“I’ll deal with you as soon as I’ve finished with my future son-in-law.” She turned to the bed behind her and Wei Wuxian could see his brothers there. A’Yao stood holding A’Yang’s hand while Song Lan fed him spiritual energy while Xiao Xingchen mixed medicine under his Master’s instructions.

“A’Yao, did you contact A’Cheng and Shijie?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“Of coarse. I want to live.” He answered tartly. “I guess everyone will be here by sunset. “

“Oh good. Wake me up then.” Wei Wuxian turned over, closed his eyes, and took in a deep breath. Sleep swamped him on his exhale.

*******

“Hmm. Tea.” His voice sounded hoarse and slurred. Wei Wuxian slowly opened his eyes. Lan Wanji stood beside him holding a cup of tea. “Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian sighed.

“Wei Ying.” Lan Wanji’s voice sounded soft. “Sit up and drink your tea.”

“Yes, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian sat up slowly and took the cup from his betrothed’s hands. He tangled his fingers with Lan Wanji’s and used the other hand to bring the tea to his lips. He drank the liquid in a few swallows. It was Neither too hot nor cold and felt wonderful slipping down his throat. He smacked his lips at the slightest of medicinal tastes and eyed the empty cup.

“Xiao Xingchen hid your medicine in the brew. It will make you feel better. Father and I fed you spiritual energy as you slept. Now it is morning and you must wake. I wish you could rest more.” Lan Wanji told him.

Wei Wuxian shrugged and placed the empty cup beside his bed. “What have I missed?”

“A scolding you silly child. That’s what you’ve missed.”

Wei Wuxian swallowed and looked around Lan Wanji. “Muqin? Why are you in bed in the infirmary? Are you ill? Can I help?” Wei Wuxian was struggling to get out of bed to get to Yu Ziyuan’s side.

“Stay where you are before you hurt yourself.” She growled at him. Then she bit her bottom lip and smoothed her hands over her covers. “We flew here yesterday. I collapsed when we got here. Your friend, Wen Qing caught me and felt something different. The Immortals agreed with her. I’m pregnant. They think it’s twins. So now I’m on bed rest until they tell me otherwise.” She looked back at Wei Wuxian and scoffed. “Or at least until I can’t stand to stay in bed any longer.”

Wei Wuxian chuckled and clasped his hands before his face in as much of a bow as he could manage. “Congratulations Madame. I shall congratulate Sect Leader Jiang as soon as I see him.”

“You called me Muqin two breaths ago.” She commented. “You should continue doing so if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable. And Fuqin, if you wish. You do this in private. You could do so in public as well. Fengmian and I would be honored. You have always made us as proud as parents can be. You, A’Cheng, and A’Li. We could not be prouder of our children. All of our children. From the moment you came to Lotus Pier, you embodied our belief to, Attempt the Impossible. And more times than not you succeeded. A’Yao told us what you three did. Wen Xu told us everything he knew about his father’s plans. Wen Zhuliu told us the rest. What the three of you did avoided a war. Thousands of deaths. Years of struggle. Let me be the first to say thank you.” She brought her arms forward and bowed her head gracefully.

“I. I. Ahh. Aiya.” Wei Wuxian stammered. Then turned lantern red when Lan Wanji did the same. “Stop it. Both of you. Stop it.” He floundered.

“Well then enough of that,” Yu Ziyuan grinned and settled back in her bed. She turned to Lan Wanji. “Wanji, hand me that scroll and that lap desk over there. I have weddings to plan. Multiple ones. And I believe A’Xian wants to bathe. Arrange that will you?”

With an incline of his head, Lan Wanji did as requested. Up to and including carrying Wei Wuxian to the bathing chamber when his bath was ready.

*******

“Yinger, forgive us our stupidity. We are so sorry.” His mother’s spirit bowed to him as did his father’s.

Wei Wuxian watched his parents with tears streaming down his face. He hadn’t seen them in so long he could barely remember their faces. Yet there they were. Almost see-through and insubstantial but very much there. Baoshan Sanren had waited for him to get his strength back then somehow extracted his parents’ spirits from his paper man.

Now he stood before them. His loved ones standing with him. He could hear A’Cheng and A’Li sniffling behind him. He knew Jiang Fengmian was fighting back tears. His hand clasped tightly in his wife’s. Wei Wuxian didn’t have a voice to ask his questions.

“Why did you leave him?” Apparently Yu Ziyuan could ask Wei Wuxian’s questions for him.

Cangse Sanren looked to her husband who nodded. “Just before our demise we’d gone to Koi Tower. Jin Guanshan had invited us. We went. Little knowing why we’d been invited. He had this idea that I could be bought. He believed I was an easy woman. That I had intimate relations with men other than my husband. He believed the rumors about myself and Fengmian. Rumors which were a lie. When I refused he set a Bashe after us. The giant snake had our scent. It followed us as we ran. Eventually, we knew we couldn’t outrun it. We also knew we had to face it together. Neither of us was strong enough alone.” Cangse Sanren stopped speaking.

“The Bashe cornered us in a village.” Wei Changze took up the story. “We had nowhere else to run or even fly. It knew our scent and could follow quickly. So we left you at an Inn and paid the woman to look after you. We left everything we had with her and went to face the Bashe. We managed to kill it. But it also managed to kill us. If we had not left you when we did it would have killed you too. Just before we breathed our last, your mother sent our spirits back to you so we’d always be together.

Cangse Sanren took a step forward. “We know you have suffered. We were always there. We always saw, even if we could do nothing most of the time. Until Yu Ziyuan came to us and we told her where you were and Fengmian came to find you and take you to Lotus Pier.”

Yu Ziyuan almost choked on her own breath. “I came to you? When?” She managed once she had control again.

“My Wife speaks inaccurately, please forgive us. Physical speech has not been possible for us for a long time. We usually communicate with each other within our shared mindscape. It was Madame’s spirit that came to us. She was older and harder and angrier.”

“The spirit was not the Yu Ziyuan we see before us. Much sadness had befallen that woman that has not befallen this one. Even if her age is approximately the same at a guess.” Cangse Sanren’s spirit cocked her head to the side and then nodded. “Yes, they are very different women, the one before us now and the broken angry spirit she was then. She told us things needed to change and she could take the first steps to change them.”

“She also said she hoped she was strong enough to accept them and move on.” Wei Changze said with a small smile. “Did you Madame? Find the strength?”

Yu Ziyuan huffed loudly and crossed her arms over her chest. She screwed up her face like she’d eaten a lemon. Then her gaze moved to everyone around her and her face softened as she looked carefully at everyone. With a small smile, she performed a formal bow to the spirits of people she’d known so many years ago. “It appears I was. Thank you both for the gift you gave me. Had it not been for your son opening my eyes with how stupidly good and generous he is, I doubt I would have been. For years I thought I lived in your shadow, Madame. I believed the rumors about my husband’s feelings for you. Forgetting how his dearest friends had married and left him to form their own lives together. I forgot how Wei Changze and Fengmian had been brothers since their birth and blamed everything on you, Sanren. I must apologize for my own idiocy in this. I was jealous. Envious of your skill and beauty. And I originally wanted to take this anger out on your son, since you were beyond my reach. Yet his idiotic self-sacrifice opened my eyes to the treasure he is. So thank you. I wish it had all been different. That you were both standing here. That we could have raised our children together and faced everything as a family. He is a wonderful boy, that has given me pleasure to raise and a multitude of grey hair which Yinzhu hides well for me.”

Huffs of laughter and giggles went around the room while Wei Wuxian blushed and scuffed his feet until Lan Wanji held his hand tightly and pulled him into his side.

“I’m not that bad,” he muttered embarrassed.

With a scoff, Yu Ziyuan pulled a few strands of hair from her elaborate style and held them out. “Proof,” she told the room in triumph. “The stress you’ve given me does not show on my face, it shows in my hair. Especially after this little outing of yours. And for this one, I blame all of you. The Lan brothers knew what you were doing. Your brother and sister, along with a few Jins and assorted others you’ve somehow drawn into your circle of misfits knew what you were doing. So when on all the hells and heavens are you going to properly tell us what you were doing? And someone had better let the rest of your cohort know that hiding things from Sect Leaders, Clan Leaders, and Elders and parents has consequences.”

Wei Wuxian looked around him at all the people gathered. He hadn’t paid attention before but everyone he loved was in the room with him. There to support him. Somehow even Jin Zixuan and Jin Zixun were there as well as Su Mingshan. In their eyes he saw compassion and worry and just under that worry was a touch of angry steel. They were all a little angry at him. Some more than others and the Jiang’s anger was as close to the surface as their love and worry. Then he looked at his Lan Zhan and saw his anger was almost vibrating out of him.

Wei Wuxian groaned and pulled at his collar, his robes suddenly feeling stifling. “You’re all angry at me.”

“Well of coarse we’re angry at you!” Jiang Cheng exploded. “At all three of you. Somehow my three brothers run off, telling us they were going to fix everything and to not let anyone else know they were gone. Shijie, Lan Xichen, Lan Wanji, and I had to lie to our parents and pretend they’d just missed you. FOR DAYS! And we didn’t know anything about what you were doing. Any of you. We didn’t know if you were dead or alive. Nothing. My brothers were just gone! Every one of you has a betrothed, one of you even has two, don’t even get me started on how greedy that is A’Yang, and you just left us. All of us to do Gods know what!”

Eventually, Jiang Cheng wound down and flopped to sit on a cushion. “Oh and mum’s pregnant.”

Wei Wuxian started to chuckle, and soon all the Jiangs followed. Wei Wuxian went and sat beside his brother and threw an arm over his shoulder. Jiang Cheng threw it off him then seemed to think better of it and pulled it across again. “So are any of you going to tell us what actually happened?”

“Didn’t A’Yao?” Wei Wuxian asked, looking at his brother as he sat quietly next to Lan Xichen.

“I didn’t get the chance. Then Clan Leader Jiang told me to wait until everyone was together. Did you all want to hear it now?”

Jiang Fengmian nodded once and smiled softly. “Yes please A’Yao. Take your time.”

“Father? If I may ask something first?” Jiang Yanli spoke up in her firm quiet voice.

“Of coarse daughter.” her father answered.

“She turned to Wei Wuxian. “Why did it have to be you, A’Yao, and A’Yang who went to do this? Why could I and the others not help?”

Wei Wuxian smiled at her sadly. “Shijie we love you, you and A’Cheng and all our parents, you all consider myself A‘Yao and A’Yang family. True family regardless of blood status, but the rest of the world will never see anything other than the Jiang Clan offering charity to street rats. So we knew we had to take advantage of that. If our plan succeeded then our Clan could benefit, but if we were to fail then the Clan could disown us and still survive.”

“You planned on sacrificing yourselves if you failed and save Lotus Pier from repercussions,” Yu Ziyuan said softly, shaking her head. She looked to the spirits of Wei Wuxian’s parents. “See what I mean, stupidly self-sacrificial, and he’s infected the others.”

Jiang Fengmian laughed out loud. “Reminds me of someone,” he said, eyeing Wei Changze.

Wei Changze looked around him innocently then winked before laughing as well.

“Hmm,” Baoshan Sanren huffed. “Perhaps if the shenanigans are over we can get to the story? Please?”

“Well that sounded sarcastic, even to me,” Wei Wuxian muttered to his brother and coughed when he received an elbow to the stomach.

“A’Yao,” Jiang Fengmian began. “Now we know why, perhaps you should tell us what happened.”

“Of coarse Sect Leader, as you wish.” He bowed his head and after a few seconds of thought, he began. He started with the three of them sneaking out of Cloud Recesses after swearing the rest of the group to secrecy and misdirection and ended with them arriving at the Unclean Realm by using Wei Wuxian’s new Talisman.

“So that’s all that happened? You killed Wen Ruohan and Jin Guanshan? Saved Clan Leader Nie who killed Wen Chow? Destroyed the Yin Iron by throwing it into a volcano?

Then Transported yourselves here? That all? That it?” Jiang Cheng’s voice had risen word by word until he was almost screaming. He sucked in a few breaths then looked at his mother. “Mother? May I be in charge of their punishments? Please?” He waited for her nod before standing and grabbing Wei Wuxian by the ear. On the way out of the room, he grabbed A’Yao the same way. All the time muttering to himself.

CHAPTER 17

“I don’t see why we’re the ones being punished.” Wei Wuxian grumbled as he carried rocks one by one from one pile to another. “A’Yao? Say something.”

“Move your rocks A’Xian. I have my own pile.”

And he did. In fact, there were three piles of rocks. Some were small enough to fit in the palm of one hand and others that had to be lifted with both hands. None of them were heavy, maybe a little awkward but carrying them was of no issue. The problem with them was that the punishment was annoying. They had to lift and carry each rock, one at a time, from the current pile to make another, then back again until Jiang Cheng told them they could stop. He said they could stop when he was no longer angry. Knowing his brother Wei Wuxian didn’t think they’d be stopping anytime before say, the next Jiang was born.

“Just think of it this way A’Xian, he’ll cool down more once he sees A’Yang isn’t hurt anymore and can join us.”

“That’s not helpful A’Yao. I doubt Baoshan Sanren will let A’Yang out of bed for days yet. And then his two betrotheds, is that even a word, anyway I doubt they’ll let him do this as punishment, which will only set A’Cheng off even more. We’ll be doing this until we are old men. And I’d rather spend all that time with Lan Zhan than doing this. Wouldn’t you rather spend your time with Lan Xichen?” Wei Wuxian almost whined.

“Of coarse I’d rather spend the time with A’Huan, but I understand how upset everyone was at our disappearance. They’ll get over it sooner if they see us complying and stay where they can see us at all times. Even your spirit parents have been watching. Look they are over there with Sect Leader Jiang and Madame Yu.” He used his chin to point to a Pavilion on the side where indeed they all were.

Wei Wuxian glanced up and smiled. “Okay fine. It is sort of nice they were so worried. I just wish they didn’t have to be. We were fine after all. And what tea is Madame drinking? She keeps taking a swallow then grimacing.”

“It’s a tea Wen Qing made for her. It will settle her Qi. The babies keep messing it up. And yes we were fine, but it could have gone so much worse. After all, A’Yang did get hurt. Even if was on the way home. I’m actually grateful we are being punished. It feels good knowing we are this important to those we care for. No?”

Wei Wuxian sighed but nodded. “It does feel good. But don’t expect me to like the punishment. Jiang Cheng set this one on purpose. He knows I can’t stand being bored. This is just evil of him. Evil!” He yelled across to where his brother, sister, and the rest of their group lounged back in the shade.

In response, Jiang Cheng just raised his cup of tea at them. “I’m still upset,” he grumbled with a self-satisfied grin.

“Ahha,” Wei Wuxian muttered but kept moving his rocks from pile to pile, his heart warmer while his hands and back and feet made their feelings known. “Shijie? What are they discussing over there?” He called over when he noticed that more people had joined Sect Leader and Madame Jiang and his parents’ spirits. He could see the now widowed Madame Jin, Clan Leader and Madame Lan, Clan Leader Nie and his wives, and even Baoshan Sanren. They all looked quite serious as they spoke and Madame Jiang

Had even pulled out a scroll and was reading from it or writing in it as Yinzhu held her writing desk.

Jiang Cheng cackled like a fiend. “Your weddings of coarse. What else would they be discussing? All of your weddings have to be organized.”

“What! But shouldn’t we be there for that? Lan Zhan, you need to go and see they don’t make us wait forever. I need to stop them. Come on A’Yao let’s get over there.” Wei Wuxian dropped his rock and started to head to the pavilion.

“No!” One voice yelled at him.

“What? Why not?” he asked.

“Because if you go over there and get involved it means we all do. And I don’t want to?” Jin Zixuan sounded dejected.

“Why not?” Jiang Cheng looked at him through narrowed eyes and a clenched jaw.

“Because all I want to do is marry A’Li. With as much pomp and circumstance as she wants, not the way that a Jin is expected to marry. I’m hoping without me there that your family can rein all the gold back so we can at least have a little class at our wedding. Especially if the Lan weddings are being planned at the same time. Is that too much to hope for?”

Jiang Yanli smiled at him and patted his hand while everyone else just shrugged.

“Your guess is as good as ours.” Jiang Cheng sighed. “Get over here both of you. I’m sick of watching you sweat in the sun.”

Wei Wuxian crowed in delight and skipped to join them, throwing himself at Lan Wanji when he got there. “Did you miss me?” He asked as he cuddled into the other’s embrace.

“Always when you are not in my arms,” Lan Wanji whispered into his ear.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian sighed.

“I can’t wait till you are all married off and living in your new Sects,” Jiang Cheng grumbled.

“What do you mean?” Wei Wuxian asked. “Where are we going to live? What’s wrong with Lotus Pier?” Everyone looked at him. “What did I say?”

“Wei Ying and I can stay at Lotus Pier.” Lan Wanji told him.

“See there’s-” and then Wei Wuxian stopped as it dawned on him after all this time. “You are the Second Jade of Lan. Your brother is the next Sect Leader and you, his second as is your uncle to your father. Your Sect needs you there and your spouses would be expected to be there. So A’Yao and I would live with you two at Cloud Recesses. And Shijie is going to be the new Madame Jin as soon as she marries her peacock and goes off to live at Koi Tower. Baoshan Sanren has already said she’s keeping A’Yang for training on her mountain once he’s ready. I don’t know when he’ll marry Song Lan and Xingchen but I can’t see either of them leaving his side. One of them has been with him since we got here. They’ve poured so much energy into him that what should take weeks to heal will heal in days. That means Jiang Cheng will be alone at Lotus Pier. But I don’t like that. Not at all. I don’t want Jiang Cheng to be alone.”

“I won’t be alone you dummy,” Jiang Cheng smacked him on the shoulder. “I have a ton of martial brothers and sisters. I’m not saying it will be the same, but it will be fine. Besides, I’m sure you can all visit.”

“Wei Ying and I can stay at Lotus Pier for part of the year. This is acceptable while brother is not Sect Leader. Wei Ying would miss his brother otherwise. As I would in his place.” Lan Zhan told them. “Perhaps Lotus Pier in winter and Cloud Recesses in summer?”

“Can we visit Lotus Pier during the Lotus harvest?” Wei Wuxian asked as a tear slid down his cheek.

“Every year if that is your wish.” Lan Zhan wiped the tear away gently.

Jiang Yanli sighed and smiled.

Wei Wuxian chuckled wetly and curled more into Lan Wanji’s arms until Jiang Cheng threw a dumpling at them. Lan Wanji caught it with a stern gaze. Jiang Cheng scowled back while trying not to grin then groaned when Wei Wuxian ate the dumpling right from Lan Wanji’s fingers while smiling innocently at his brother.

“You’re incorrigible Wei Wuxian.” Jiang Cheng said flatly.

“That’s A’Xian to you,” Wei Wuxian told him as he launched himself out of Lan Wanji’s arms and onto his brother, all the while finding Jiang Cheng’s weakest points and tickling them mercilessly.

Gasping for breath all the young man could say was “A’Xian. Mercy. A’Xian. Mercy.”

Sitting back on his heels Wei Wuxian just kept grinning. Then he looked across at all the adults in their lives. “Hey, when did Wen Qing get there?”

“Just a little while ago,” Lan Xichen replied. “She came to give Madame Yu something to eat.”

“We’re just barely past the noon meal, mother doesn’t eat this early.” Jiang Cheng sounded confused.

“Baoshan Sanren and Wen Qing are taking your mother’s pregnancy very seriously, as they should.” A’Yao took another sip of Lan Xichen’s tea.

“A’Yao?” Jiang Yanli asked gently, but with a little edge to her voice.

The young man looked at them all, his brow furrowed. “Oh, um, I thought… Well maybe not. From what I overheard, it has been confirmed. I believe that Lotus Pier shall see the birth of twins.”

“Twins?” Jiang Cheng asked. “Are you sure it has been confirmed? Last I heard it was speculation.”

“Twins! Muqin was right.” Wei Wuxian jumped to his feet. Only Lan Wanji’s hold on his robes stopped him from racing off to the pavilion.

“Twins…” Jiang Yanli breathed looking at her mother and leaning her head on Jin Zixuan’s shoulder. “How lovely.”

He hummed his agreement and pulled her closer.

“Wei Ying sit down.” Lan Wanji pulled Wei Wuxian back down, where Wei Wuxian immediately climbed right into his lap.

“Twins, Lan Zhan. Jiang Twins. You know A’Cheng and I used to call ourselves Twins. The Twin Heroes, right A’Cheng? Now Lotus Pier will have another set. The question is, do we want a set of girls like shijie to spoil and care for? Or a set of boys to chase and shoot kites with? Not that it really matters. We can spoil them all regardless and shooting kites is something everyone at Lotus Pier learns.”

“A’Yao, what are you thinking?” Jiang Yanli asked. “You have a curious look on your face.”

A’Yao hid a smile behind his teacup for a second before holding it out to Lan Xichen to refill. “Thank you, A’Huan. And really I was just wondering how sweet it will be for your child and your new brothers or sisters to grow up together. After all, odds are they are going to be close in ages.”

“A’Yao! Shijie isn’t pregnant!” Jiang Cheng sounded scandalized, then he narrowed his eyes at Jin Zixuan while his hand fell to his sword.

“NNNNNo!” Jin Zixuan stammered. “I -I-I-We-We-”

“A’Cheng, behave yourself.” Jiang Yanli patted Jin Zixuan’s knee while glaring at her brother. “And that would be my business and decision A’Cheng, not yours. Like it is A’Xian’s decision, and A’Yao’s decision, and that will also be your decision when you wish to make it. So stop glaring. My question is to A’Yao, why did you say that A’Yao?”

He shrugged and looked between her and Jin Zixuan. “It might be mercenary of me but Jin Zixuan is now Clan Leader Jin, he’ll have to marry soon. You’ll have to marry soon if he’s to have any hope of being an effective Clan Leader for the Jin Clan. You’ll have to provide a united front before that viper’s den. The three of you really. A’Xuan, you A’Li, and the current Madame Jin. You’ll also be expected to have an heir soon or they’ll start conspiring against you before you know it. And then you’ll need guards on the baby just in case…”

“A’Yao, you make KoiTower sound like a- a- a den of iniquity.” Jiang Yanli opened her fan and used it.

“He’s not wrong A’Li. I’ve already spoken to your mother and mine. The Yu Clan will provide you with two maids like your mother’s. I know you can look after yourself, but I need you and our future children safe. And I’m going to be making a few changes that the Elders of the Clan won’t like.” Jin Zixuan said then bit his lip.

“Such as?” Jiang Cheng asked.

“Such as, acknowledging my brothers and sisters. I’ll start with every one of them I currently know of and keep going until I find them all. So A’Yao will find himself with Jin name of Jin ZiYao very soon. I always wanted siblings and now I’m going to get them. And if the Elders don’t like it they form their own Sects and shove off.” Jin Zixuan picked up his teacup and swallowed the contents in one gulp.

“Can I be there to watch you tell them that cousin?” Jin Zixun asked with an evil grin.

“Why?” Jin Zixuan asked him.

“Because I want to challenge any one of those old idiots that disagree with you.” He smiled.

“I thought you’d be the first one to tell me I was being stupid.” Jin Zixuan sounded confused.

Jin Zixun shrugged. “You probably are, I don’t know about that. But I’ve learned a lot in the past months. And even I know that the way the Jin have done things in the past has been selfish and wrong. I loved Uncle, but I never saw him for anything other than Uncle. My eyes have been opened and now I don’t want to shut them again. The privilege I have from birth is something I should aspire to, not expect it as my due.”

Jin Zixuan eyed his cousin narrowly. “Who are you and what have you done with my annoying cousin?”

Jin Zixun laughed and shrugged. Jin Zixuan glanced at Su Mingshan as he sat beside Jin Zixun and gave him a nod in acknowledgment.

Lan Xichen raised the teacup he shared with A’Yao in Su Mingshan’s direction and also gave a small nod, then grinned softly when Su Mingshan blushed and gulped his own drink.

“Well, haven’t all our lives changed in less than a year,” A’Yao said with a sigh.

“Indeed,” Lan Wanji agreed.

*****

“I can’t believe Madame Yu and Madame Jin were this organized.” Wei Wuxian panted as he ran from one side of Koi Tower to the other running errands, carrying decorations, and generally making sure that everything was perfect for the wedding about to start. He threw the final bolt of gold drapery at Jiang Cheng who was waiting for it. Jiang Cheng grabbed the end as it sailed toward him and tied it off then he flipped the other end back to his brother and jumped to the pillar to do the same before they let the thing settle over an intricate pavilion carved with lotuses and peonies. The happy couple would sit beneath it and accept well wishes from their guests.

“Just be glad Shijie is getting married this week and that Wen Xu agreed to it.

He said it would give him just enough time to finish healing and clearing out his father’s supporters.” Jiang Cheng sighed and stretched his back. It had been a long few days getting everything perfect.

A’Yao chuckled and handed him some water. “Yes, but did you hear what he told them?”

At the shaken heads he kept going. “He told them to pack their things and leave the area by week’s end before he let his new Spy Master decide their fate.”

“Oh? Who’s his new Spy Master?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“A’Sang, who else? When they didn’t take it seriously he aired their dirtiest, most well-hidden laundry and told them Wen Zhuliu was A’Sang’s enforcer. They’ve been leaving Nightless City ever since.”

“Hmm well, we’ve learned to never cross A’Sang, and now everyone else knows it too.” Jiang Cheng shrugged. “What’s happening to Wen Qing and Wen Ning. I haven’t seen them since we all left the Unclean Realm?”

“Wen Qing told me she was going to train with the Immortals when they returned to Baoshan Sanren’s mountain. I think. Wen Zhuliu will eventually go there for training his Core Healing skills. As soon as Nightless City is weeded out. I think Nie Mingjue has his eye set on Wen Ning. Mingjue loves making Wen Ning blush and stutter. But that’s still new, we’ll have to see. I’m pretty sure Mingjue didn’t pay so many visits to Cloud Recesses while we were at the lectures just to visit A’Sang and A’Huan.” A’Yao nodded to himself.

“He did visit a lot after Wen Ning was introduced to him, didn’t he. And all that sparring without his shirt on against Lan Xichen? Funny how shirts came off as soon as either you or Wen Ning turned up, no A’Yao?” Wei Wuxian teased.

“Hush you, I’m an engaged man.” A’Yao smacked Wei Wuxian’s shoulder.

“What are you smacking A’Xian for now?”

They turned to see A’Yang limping toward them with Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen at his sides.

“A’Xian is implying, A’Yang. Implying A’Huan took his shirt off when he was sparring with Mingjue only when I was watching.

A’Yang snorted loudly. “That’s not an implication, it’s the truth. If you or Wen Ning turned up shirts went flying. Robes fell off. They spent so much time looking to see if you two were watching I worried for their safety. So A’Li is getting married this week. Is it A’Sang and Wen Xu next month A’Yao?”

“Yes. A’Sang and Wen Xu at Nightless City. Have you bought your gifts yet?”

“I bought shijie’s gift years ago. And A’Sang. You?”

“Of coarse. I bought her and A’Xuan and pair of lotus flower hairpins that fit together to become one. Shijie and A’Xuan are wearing them for the ceremony. A’Xian, A’Cheng?”

“A’Cheng and I made and embroidered or carved a whole lot of robes, kerchiefs, and even beads with protection charms on them. We’ve been getting ready for this since we were children.”

“So who’s going to cry?” A’Yang smirked.

As the four of them watched Jiang Yanli marry Jin Zixuan they all cried. Tears rolled down their cheeks and noses were quietly blown. A’Yang was heard to mutter how beautiful his Shijie was in red. A’Cheng could only nod and hug his brothers. The ceremony was beautiful and dignified. The reception after was loud and only a little obnoxious because there was nothing subtle about anything Jin.

Jiang Cheng scowled at all the gold and gaudiness about the place. ”I can’t see my sister happy in this jewelry box.”

“Jiang Cheng, hold your tongue. If nothing else then A’Li will change things. Between your sister and my Martial Sister, Koi Tower will not be the same with a season. The rest of you, wipe your eyes. You’re being ridiculous.” Yu Ziyuan sniffed and walked off, walking into her husband’s waiting arm as he spoke with the leader of the Nie Clan.

“Wei Ying?”

Wei Wuxian glanced at Lan Wanji who was holding out a handkerchief to him. He took it with a wobbly smile and wiped the tears from his face. Looking at their group he found all his brothers wiping their faces. He blinked at Jiang Cheng. “A’Cheng? I know whose kerchief A’Yao and A’Yang are using. But that one isn’t yours.” Wei Wuxian frowned at Jiang Cheng who was scowling at the butter-yellow kerchief in his hand.

“Oh, ah, everyone this is my younger brother Mo Xuanyu. A’Xuan will give him his new name tonight at the feast and introduce him to everyone.” Jiang Eryu motioned to the young boy standing beside Jiang Cheng.

“So you’re going to be Jin Zi Xuanyu like, A’Yao can use Jin Zi Yao if he wants?” Jiang Cheng asked while confusedly handing the boy back his kerchief.

“Mhmm,” Mo Xuanyu smiled up at Jiang Cheng. “Is it all right if I stay here with you A’Yao? I don’t want to see my aunt’s family,” he asked shyly.

“You can stay with us as long as you like A’Yu. If your aunt or cousin bothers you we’ll let A’Cheng scowl at them until they leave.”

“Hey!” Jiang Cheng barked out.

“Yes, Jiang Cheng can frighten almost anyone away,” Wei Wuxian smirked and winked at his brother.

“He doesn’t frighten me. I think he looks nice. Safe.” Mo Xuanyu smiled gently up at Jiang Cheng who blinked at him before giving him a tiny shy smile back.

“Don’t worry about my brothers. They like to tease me. But they’ll never let me down. Have you met your new sister? Shijie?” Jiang Cheng asked.

Mo Xuanyu shook his head. “I only arrived here recently and the new Madame Jin has been very busy. I’m unsure if…”

Jiang Cheng huffed out an exasperated breath and held his hand out. “Come on, let’s go introduce you. She’s going to spoil you like she spoiled all of us.”

“Lan Xichen, can you plot Xuanyu’s stars please?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“Yes, A’Xian. As soon as I can.” Lan Xichen answered his eyes following Jiang Cheng like the rest of them.

*****

“Nightless City isn’t so dark now,” Wei Wuxian whispered to A’Yang.

“Must be A’Sang. Did you get him the painting materials he asked for? I don’t want him bitching at me because the quality here isn’t up to his standards.”

“Hmn I’m not an idiot. Of coarse I did. Did you learn how to do the protection talismans from Baoshan Sanren for the wedding couples’ hairpins? There’s still a bit of Yin Iron residue around here.” Wei Wuxian asked.

“Lan Xichen and A’Yao already delivered them. So you and Lan Wanji, A’Yao, and Lan Xichen are next. Are you ready?” He asked Wei Wuxian.

“Ready to marry my Lan Zhan? Yes. Ready to live at Cloud Recesses? I’m going to need so much chili oil. What about you three?” Wei Wuxian wondered.

“Jiang Liezun,” Jin Yan Li and her husband, the young Clan Leaders of Jin Clan came up behind him.”What are you hiding? You are hiding something. What did you do?” She crossed her arms and tapped her foot at him.

Wei Wuxian looked confused between them all.

“Nothing. Nothing Shijie.” Jiang Liezun shuffled his feet awkwardly.

“A’Yang. Tell family the truth.” Song Lan admonished affectionately.

“Do not be angry with A’Yang, please. My Master performed a uniting ceremony for us when A’Yang was still weak. We can have a proper one later. The ceremony aided in the acceptance of our spiritual energy.” Xiao Xingchen answered.

“Do you mean my didi got married without any of us being there?” Jin Yan Li demanded.

Song Lan grinned wickedly at them and a second later he’d spirited the other two men away and across the room.

Jin Yan Li pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. “As soon as you four are married, we are all going to that Mountain and getting them married properly. But oh it’s almost time for A’Sang and Wen Xu.”

*****

“A’Ying,” the whisper was from right beside him. Wei Wuxian turned a little and took the kerchief his husband handed him. Wei Wuxian dried his eyes and bowed to his parents’ spirit. Then he bowed to his other parents, Yu Ziyuan and Jiang Fengmian. He ended the parental bows by bowing to Madame and Clan Master Lan and knew Lan Wanji was doing the same.

From the corner of his eye, Wei Wuxian saw Lan Xichen and Jiang Eryu performing their own three bows to their set of parents, as he sat back on his heels. He steadied his breathing and looked back at the spirits of his parents. He knew he’d have to say goodbye to them soon. They couldn’t stay with him. They needed to return to the wheel ready for reincarnation into their next lives. They were only waiting to see him marry after all.

“Wei Wuxian.” The voice snapped him out of his thoughts.

“Yes Madam Yu,” the response was automatic. He heard titters of laughter around him and shrugged.

“A’Xian. Drink your tea.” She told him indulgently. “Wanji?” She turned to speak to the quiet man. “We hand you our son. I hand you, my son. Care for him. Look after him. Love him and keep him safe. Do not make me introduce you to Zidian. And Xichen. The same is your responsibility to our son A’Yao. Don’t ever give him a reason to cry. Now everyone, drink your tea. I need to lie down.” She said rubbing her belly and looking uncomfortable even as she blinked away tears with a tiny smile. She smiled gratefully at Jiang Shi when A’Yao’s mother handed her a ginger lozenge.

*****

“I should thank Madame Yu for ending our wedding ceremony early.” Wei Wuxian sighed as Lan Wanji pulled the pins out of his hair.

“I already did. As did my brother.” Lan Wanji told him.

“Oh? Why did you thank her?”

“Because now I can finally get my Wei Ying into bed sooner. Did you wish to bathe first? I can ask for a bath to be made ready.”

Wei Wuxian started laughing. Then stood from his stool and pulled aside a privacy screen. “I already asked for one.” With a blush he slipped his robes off, letting them pool at his feet before he stepped into the tub.

*****

“Lan Zhan you broke the tub!” Wei Wuxian squealed as he was swept off his feet and dropped onto their marital bed. Then he couldn’t say anything else when his husband stole his breath in devouring kisses.

Lan Wanji pulled Wei Wuxian’s legs around his waist, arranged both wrists over his head and held them there. Wei Wuxian squirmed and wiggled under him until something oily played at his entrance then pushed right in. Wei Wuxian gasped and froze.

“Wei Ying? Stop?”

“Don’t stop. More. More. Hurry.”

“Mn.” Two fingers pushed in. Then three. And then they moved in and out.

Wei Wuxian squirmed and whined under Lan Wanji. He groaned and gasped and bucked against him. “More. A’Zhan. More,” he whined.

“As my Wei Ying wishes.” Lan Wanji removed his fingers and slicked his cock before touching the head of it to Wei Wuxian’s entrance and pushing in slowly. Using his body to keep his husband still beneath him before his Wei Ying’s squirming could hurt them both.

“Too much. Too much husband. Have pity on your poor Wei Ying.”

“Does husband wish me to stop?” Lan Wanji asked while slowing down his inward thrust.

“No no. Never stop. Want this always.”

“As my Wei Ying wishes.” Lan Wanji kept going until there was nowhere else to go., fully inside his husband.

“Husband. Husband. Zhangfu. I feel everything. I feel all of you.” Wei Wuxian’s voice was barely a whisper. Then Lan Wanji moved and Wei Wuxian lost his voice to groans and grunts and in an embarrassingly short time gasps of ecstasy as he made a mess of his own stomach and felt warmth filling him inside.

“Is it past the Lan bedtime?” Wei Wuxian asked Lan Wanji while he lay curled in his husband’s arms, head pillowed on his chest.

“Mhm. Why!” Lan Wanji asked.

“Just wondering. Did you know we could do this before we were married and why weren’t we doing this all over Cloud Recesses all this time? I mean like every day Lan Zhan. Every day.”

Lan Wanji pulled him closer. “Uncle gave me the books on Marital Harmony not long ago. He surmised what we were doing in the library and made me read the books about respect and care before giving me the ones on intercourse and marital relations.”

“Hm. Can I read them?”

“Mn. Now sleep Wei Ying, or? Again?”

Wei Wuxian laughed easily “Everyday Lan Zhan. Every day. But not right now. Right now your Wei Ying is sore.”

“Yes sore. Wei Ying must rest. For tomorrow. Every day begins tomorrow.”

Wei Wuxian groaned and pressed his face into his husband’s neck. “Tomorrow,” he mumbled and fell asleep.

CHAPTER 18

“I know you must leave, but I don’t want you to go.” Wei Wuxian cried as his parents prepared to finally leave him. He’d been a married man for a full moon cycle. They had all made their way to Immortal Baoshan Sanren’s mountain. She did not seem to be happy about that, muttering about her privacy whenever she thought no one else was listening.

“I know you have to leave to be reborn but I want to be selfish and keep you. Spend time with you. Speak with you. Ask your advice.” He sniffed and wiped his eyes furiously.

His parents floated to stand on either side of him. “We love you so much A’Xian,” his mother lay a cool hand against his cheek.

“We are so proud of you,” his father lay a hand on his shoulder. “You have done so well. Now you need to live your life and be happy.”

“Love your Lan Zhan as your father loved me. And love your children and family with all you are. That is all we ask of you. To live and live as powerfully as you can. And Yu Furan requests you stop sacrificing yourself for those you love. Your father and I agree. We don’t want to see you on the way to reincarnation any time soon.”

“Lan Wanji, come see to your husband,” Wei Changze called and Lan Wanji appeared beside them, taking Wei Wuxian into his arms. “Thank you father, mother. And goodbye.” He said solemnly.

They nodded to him. Quickly hugged them both. Joined hands and bowed to everyone assembled. They’d already said their goodbyes. This was their time with their son. They nodded to Baoshan Sanren and slowly disappeared. She turned and crossed a talisman off on a paper man attached to an orb and the orb went dark.

“They are gone,” she said softly.

Wei Wuxian burst out crying. Huge wracking sobs and hiccoughs. Large rolling tears. The tears of a child. The child he’d been so long ago. The tears he hadn’t been able to shed as he fled and fought for his life on the streets. The tears he’d had to swallow ever since he’d found himself alone and tossed out by the Keepers of the Inn he’d been left at by his parents. The tears he’d controlled with the defiance of a child once he’d found himself alone. There was a difference, such a huge difference. This time he allowed himself to cry. And this time there were many arms to hold him and keep him safe. He felt himself being lifted off his feet and buried his face into Lan Wanji’s neck and let his tears flow. “Love Lan Zhan,” he whispered.

“Will always love Wei Ying. Will always care for Wei Ying.” Lan Wanji whispered into Wei Wuxian’s hair as he carried him away to eventually lay him on their bed, in their hut and curl around him while Wei Wuxian cried himself to sleep and allow the grief he’d never been able to feel roll through him and work itself out in his sleep. He dreamed of his life from before. His travels with his parents. He’d forgotten what his parents had looked like and now he remembered and their faces were vivid in his dreams. A tiny part of him almost resented having seen them again, because now he needed to say goodbye to them. As a child having lost them had been confusing and frightening but many things were confusing and frightening as a child. As an adult it was heartbreaking and he sought comfort, even in his sleep. Strong arms around him kept him tethered, safe and secure. He felt himself sigh and search for the scent he associated with safety and love. He found it and burrowed closer to it. “Love Lan Zhan.”

“Love Wei Ying. Sleep. Rest. I shall always be here for Wei Ying,”

*****

Wei Wuxian smiled at his husband when Lan Wanji poured some more chrysanthemum tea into his cup. They were finally back at Cloud Recesses. They had finished dinner in the Jingshi with Lan Xichen and A’Yao. Wei Wuxian leaned back on his hands and sighed. “I’m glad we’re home. What are you two planning next?”

“A’Huan and I are headed to Koi Tower in a few weeks. I’m going to give Zixuan a hand getting everything in order. Now we’re back though, I think for the next few days we’re just going to take it easy and relax into married life. What do you say A’Huan?”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea dearest.” Lan Xichen smiled softly at his husband. “Wanji?”

Lan Wanji moved a little back from the table and summoned his guqin. He strummed a note before he began to play softly and answered. “The same I believe. Wei Ying and I have some studies to catch up on. There are some works about talismans in the library we would like to read. Then I believe we shall go to Lotus Pier. Wen Qing will be there for the remainder of Madame Yu’s pregnancy as will Wen Ning. We will be there to support Jiang Cheng.”

“A’Cheng is going to need all the support. The last time someone even mentioned baby brothers or sisters he almost passed out with worry. He doesn’t think he’ll be a good big brother. Shijie and I kept telling him he was already a great big brother, so we’re going to take his mind off things.” Wei Wuxian sipped his tea slowly. “Lan Xichen, did you get a chance to run Zi Xuanyu’s stars? I think A’Cheng is slowly being hunted by a twelve-year-old.” Wei Wuxian chuckled softly.

“You may as well call me Xichen, we are brothers now. And yes I did chart his stars. They would be a match for Jiang Cheng’s even with the age discrepancy. But as A’Yao said, Zi Xuanyu will get older and after a few years the age won’t matter.” Lan Xichen answered.

“As long as you call me Wuxian or A’Xian. Now A’Yao, should we let him know?”

A’Yao hummed thoughtfully. “No, I don’t think so. It would only upset him and make him worry. Leave it for now. We can always tell him if he finally notices how my baby brother looks at him. At the moment A’Cheng sees A’Yu as a child, as he should. Let A’Yu grow a little, maybe even make the first move. Then we can pick up the pieces of our very confused A’Cheng and put him to rights.”

“Since we’re speaking about other people’s relationships, what’s happening with Nie Mingjue and Wen Ning?” Wei Wuxian asked.

Everyone turned to Lan Xichen. He chuckled. “Mingjue is quietly courting Wen Ning. although I’m not sure Wen Ning has noticed. He’s as interested in studying medicine as his sister. I think they’ll spend as much time with Baoshan Sanren and Immortal Yan Li as they can and study with them. Poor A’Jue will have to work hard to court that young man. However, the Nie’s have already had negotiations with Wen Ning’s family. In this case Clan Leader Wen Xu and Nie Huaisang. Apparently A’Sang was ruthless and it will all depend on Wen Ning accepting Mingjue’s suit.”

“Wanji, A’Huan? Why did your father and uncle ask to see you today? Was it important?”

Lan Xichen hummed carefully and looked at his younger brother. Lan Wanji nodded once. “A little important yes, but not urgent. They wanted to remind us that I am my father’s heir to become Clan Leader and that Wanji is currently my heir. They wanted us to start thinking about either having or adopting children in the future. It’s not something we need to think about now, but in the future.” Lan Xichen sounded a little nervous and glanced at his husband.

“I don’t think that A’Yao and I would be upset by that Xichen, after all, we were both adopted, in a fashion, even if A’Yao’s mother still lives at Lotus Pier as our Guqin teacher. We were all given permission to consider and call Uncle Jiang and Aunty Yu mother and father if we wished it.”

“I think A’Huan might be worried about my reaction to him having a natural-born child.” He patted his husband’s hand. “A’Huan, are you planning on setting me aside?” he asked with a grin.

Lan Xichen gasped and took hold of his husband’s hand and kissed it urgently. “Never. Never my own.”

“Then all shall be well husband. Any child of yours, natural-born or adopted shall also be my child and adored, loved, and as protected as I can ensure.”

“And A’Yao can be very protective.” Wei Wuxian smirked, fingering the Zidian-style ring on his finger that was a mirror of the same ring his brother wore. “We all can be. As for Lan Zhan? What are you thinking?”

“Wei Ying and I shall adopt.” His voice was flat and definite. His fingers kept playing his Guqin. His gaze however was fixed on Wei Wuxian who smiled at him like sunshine. “Wen Qing has already mentioned that Wen Ruohan’s tenure of leadership has left many families destroyed. Children are being adopted among their own families as much as possible, yet there are others with no family left. We shall have discussions with the Clan Leader at his convenience. I can suggest brother to Wen Qing as well if you wish? Wen Qing said she and her brother would like to visit our library in the next few weeks.”

Lan Xichen smiled at his brother and nodded. “That would be appreciated, Wanji. Thank you. As usual, you are thinking far into the future. Perhaps you should be Clan Heir instead of me.”

Lan Wanji struck an incorrect cord, causing the Guqin to clang rudely and narrow his gaze at his older brother. “No. Brother is Heir. As it should be. Do not be wicked about this Xichen. There is a rule about this type of wickedness.” He checked the tuning on the Guqin and returned to his playing.

Xichen chuckled. “As you say Wanji.” He stifled a yawn behind his hand and looked at his husband. “I think it’s time to retire A’Yao.” He stood gracefully and held his hand out. His husband took it and Xichen pulled him into his arms. “Wanji, Wuxian. Goodnight. We shall see you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, brothers.”

“Goodnight Xichen, A’Yao,” Wei Wuxian said through a yawn. He watched the two close the door behind them, then watched as Lan Wanji put his Guqin away. “Lan Zhan?”

Lan Wanji looked at him and a predatory gleam entered his eyes. “Wei Ying. Every day,” he said lowly.

Wei Wuxian gasped and surged to his feet. In a heartbeat he was running toward their bedroom, his husband following him calmly. He was caught before he could reach the bed, swept into strong arms, and tossed onto their bed laughing. “Everyday Lan Zhan. Every day.” he laughed before he couldn’t speak anymore because his husband was kissing him breathless.

The end xx.


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TKBenjamin

I’m an Author. I’m a Chef. I’m a mum to multiple fur kids. And on weekends I corrupt young women into thinking for themselves and asking multiple questions.

3 Comments:

  1. I adored the entire story. My favorite bit, however, may be the part where the three explained that they’d be setting off to assasinate Wen Rohan because fuck letting a war push back their marriages. I laughed so hard I cried. Thank you for sharing such an amazingly delightful fic ❤️

  2. How delightful! I really liked the take on the papermen, that’s definitely a new idea I haven’t seen anywhere.

  3. That was awesome. Love it , and seeing Madam Yu and Jiang Fengmian reconcile was brilliant. And to see their family grow as well, that was beautiful. Thank you for sharing an beautiful story!

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