The First Year
The tavern is noisy, crowded with cultivators from multiple sects. Decked out in their various sects' uniforms, the sight is a wonder to behold. Many of the cultivators, between their celebration, glance over towards the table in the center, where the sect leaders and seniors sat.
"Good riddance that Wei WuXian is dead. I always said he would get his retribution!"
"It's a pity, he had a brilliant mind, when he was younger, many predicted he would shake the world. This probably was not what they envisioned. Why did he choose to go down such a road?"
"Who cares? He probably wanted more power and didn't want to work for it. Typical of these arrogant geniuses."
"What do you think, HanGuang-Jun? You grew up in the same generation as Wei WuXian, didn't you?"
Lan WangJi's movements halted for a split second before he resumed eating as if he didn't hear anything, single-mindedly focused on his bowl. His eyes, however, grew noticeably colder.
"Do you even need to ask? Of course he would agree! No one hates Wei WuXian more than HanGuang-Jun. Haven't you heard of their hostility towards each other, even back when they were young?"
The cultivator that was talking laughed sinisterly, hatred in his eyes. He sneered, "That ingrate should have been left on the streets. It was a waste of Sect Leader Jiang to have adopted that wretch."
Jiang Cheng, who had been ignoring everything that was going on, suddenly stood up and slammed his bowl down.
"Do not mention my father and that bastard in the same sentence again." He spat, before leaving with fury written in his brows.
A soft crack came from the pair of chopsticks in Lan WangJi's hand. Unknowingly, his hand had tightened until the fragile wood had snapped. His brother looked over at him in concern.
Lan WangJi, too, stood up, casting a chilling look at the cultivator dressed in the uniform of a LanlingJin elder. His expression frosted over like winter had arrived ahead of time and the cultivator couldn't repress a shiver, as if the chill wasn't just in Lan WangJi's eyes but manifested in reality.
"Ridiculous." Lan WangJi said, his tone cold enough to freeze fire. He turned and left with his sleeves billowing behind him from the speed of his departure. Lan Xichen stared at him for a moment before sighing, turning to apologise for his brother's rude behaviour.
Lan WangJi, meanwhile, had already sequestered himself in the room he shared with his brother. He sat, in silence, for a good half an hour before breaking from his statue-like stillness, pulling Wangji from his Qiankun pouch.
He lay the guqin on the table and slid his fingers across the strings. A mournful melody drifted from the quivering strings. Lan Xichen, still sitting down below, let his eyes drift upwards for a second before he continued chatting with Nie Mingjue as if nothing had happened.
When Lan Xichen headed upstairs two hours later at 8.30, he found his brother sitting on the bed, meditating.
He looked at the guqin left on the table, sighed, and sat down on his own bed.
The Second Year
For the first time in a year, Lan WangJi returns to LuanZang Hill, where Wei Ying lived – where Wei Ying died.
He was sent there by his sect, to take care of the remaining wandering corpses trained by Wei WuXian. The wandering corpses had been personally trained by the YiLing Patriarch himself, an ordinary cultivator would find himself outmatched by them. Lan WangJi was sent both as a show that the GusuLan Sect was willing to take their part of the responsibility for the siege and because he was the strongest cultivator of his generation in the sect besides his brother.
Several disciples of the GusuLan Sect were accompanying him to LuanZang Hill, but their speed was considerably slower than his. As such, they lagged by a fair bit, only spots in the distance.
Lan WangJi descended towards a couple of fierce corpses that came into view. He leapt off his sword at the same moment Bichen slashed out in a burst of blue light and the corpses collapsed to the ground like puppet with their strings cut.
Continuing to travel on foot, Lan WangJi dispatched the increasing numbers of corpses that continued to appear, steadily heading towards LuanZang Hill. The place where Wei WuXIan used to live was little more than a cave in the hill that had been cleared out and furnished. The old furniture was still there, albeit covered in dust and broken into pieces. The cultivators who raided his ‘den’ had gleefully destroyed whatever was not useful or valuable, probably to take out some of their pent-up anger towards him.
Lan WangJi looked back in the direction he had come from. The cultivators from his sect were nowhere in sight. With the amount of corpses still remaining in the forest around LuanZang Hill, it would take them some time to catch up.
Lan WangJi walked into what was Wei WuXian’s sleeping quarters when he was alive, and sat down on what remained of his bed, just silently staring at the room. Suddenly, his senses picked up on a faint presence.
It was a familiar presence, once he knew very well.
Lan WangJi waved his hand and his guqin appeared on his lap. His fingers danced and the melody of Inquiry resounded in the air. Despite his efforts, no spirit appeared, and Wei Ying didn’t respond. The presence faded, and Lan WangJi was left sitting alone in a dusty room. The presence was just like a mirage, Lan WangJi wasn’t even sure if it was real.
The Third Year
It is evening.
Lan WangJi sits, eyes closed and Bichen at his side, by the lake. His guqin is placed on his lap and his fingers lightly rest on the strings. A calm wind blows, rustling his hair and causing the ends of the silk ribbon tied around his forehead to ripple behind him.
Lan WangJi takes a near inaudible breath, before his hands flash and a burst of music fills the air. The melody is soft and questioning, but drills into the soul of the Junior Disciples on the opposite side of the lake.
His heart calls out, a plea for an answer. Nothing shows on his face, Lan WangJi is the picture of calmness. There's no answer even when the song is finished. He isn't bothered, and he tries again. Wei Ying is still alive - he has to be.
The sun descends, past the horizon line and disappears. Night falls, the disciples have already long returned to their rooms. In the murky darkness of night, Lan WangJi is a lone spot of white, contrasting the dim stillness of his surroundings. The Cloud Recesses forbid loud music at night, so he plays Inquiry one last time without much expectation. There is a period of silence, when the presence of someone appears without any warning and a weak note sounds out.
Lan WangJi’s eyes sharpen instantly and hope diffuses through his golden-coloured pupils. He waits patiently, not taking his eyes away from the guqin. Close to ten minutes pass before the strings vibrate once more.
Then, the presence vanishes, just like it had never been there before. Lan WangJi isn’t anxious, though.
Wei Ying is alive.
The Seventh Year
Lan WangJi leans against the tree, staring silently into the campfire’s flames. The firelight dances across his pupils and turns them a bright orange. He waves his hand, and takes out his guqin.
He plays Inquiry, something he made into a habit to do. Even if the elders at his sect disapprove and his uncle is less than pleased. His brother looks at him sadly with knowing eyes whenever he does, and even if Lan WangJi plays when nobody is around, his brother always manages to know when he’s played the song again.
This time, something seemed different. Usually, there would be no response, the air would be cold and still. This time, the air felt charged, and Lan WangJi felt as if there were eyes watching him.
As if the something heard his thoughts, a few stilted notes rang out from his guqin, played by invisible, intangible hands.
Hey. Lan Zhan. Missed me?
There is a period of silence.
This is. The first time. I ’ve seen. You look. So shocked.
Did you. See a ghost?
Happiness rises up in Lan WangJi’s chest.
The Tenth Year
Lan WangJi stares at the guqin in front of him, a questioning note sounds.
“Was your soul damaged during the siege?”
A beat, and then slowly, a series of notes plays out.
It was obvious, huh?
The backlash from my powers backfiring hurt my soul badly. I ’m sorry.
Why? You waited for seven years! You ’re still asking why? ”
Lan WangJi chuckles, faintly – uncharacteristically. There’s a faint hint of fondness in his eyes.
“Wei Ying.” He says, warmth spilling into his voice. “I love you.”
Almost immediately after that declaration was said, Wei Ying’s presence vanishes and Lan WangJi is left alone in his room. Lan WangJi doesn’t mind. If anything, he’s patient, and he’s sure of himself in everything he does.
He keeps the guqin, and waits for when Wei Ying comes back.
The Twelfth Year
Lan Zhan …
Do you know what happens if a soul is given a new body?
Lan WangJi stays silent, but there is an inquisitive look in his eyes. His guqin rings out with a few, clear notes.
The body won ’ t fit the soul perfectly. In the process, the soul is damaged … and some memories will be damaged too. The more important the memories, the more likely they are to be damaged.
“Wei Ying,” Lan WangJi, begins, solemnly, “Don’t worry.”
The guqin is silent for a while before it rings out with bright notes that resemble laughter.
Hahaha! HanGuang-Jun, how do you always know what I ’ m thinking about?
I know, I know. Even if I forget, you ’ ll make me remember, won ’ t you? That ’ s why I love you, Lan Zhan.
Lan WangJi smiles softly.
The Thirteenth Year
Wei Ying didn’t respond.
Lan WangJi tries to push the worry out of his head, but it grows in him, festering like something poisonous.
Wei Ying is strong, he wouldn’t disappear so easily.
Lan WangJi puts his guqin away and stands up.
In the distance, a bright flare shoots up in the sky, from the direction of Mo Village. Bichen slides out from its sheathe with a bright blue glow and Lan WangJi steps on it elegantly. The blade and its owner speed towards the direction of the flare.