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a stone to break your soul, a song to save it

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Wei Wuxian smiled and extended a hand to Lan Wangji who looked like he wanted to stay and grill Wen Qing some more. “Lan Zhan, Wen Qing-Jie has tried her best. Don’t make it more difficult for her,” Wei Wuxian said. “Come on.” He gestured until finally Lan Wangji stood up though he didn’t take his proffered hand.

“How is your back?” Wei Wuxian asked once they were back outside in the noonday sun. “I forgot to have Wen Qing check it again.”

“That’s not important,” Lan Wangji said, clipped. He sounded almost angry.

“Of course it is,” Wei Wuxian said lightly as they walked down the white pebbled pathway. “You still have a long time to live, after all. You need to take care of yourself.”

“Wei Ying…” Lan Wangji turned to him, frowning.

“Lan Zhan, don’t look so serious. You should be relieved,” Wei Wuxian said. He smiled. “You won’t even have to annul the marriage. This troublesome person will be out of your life soon.”

“Do not joke,” Lan Wangji said in such a serious tone that Wei Wuxian felt a little shiver run down his spine.

“All right, all right, I know you care about me,” Wei Wuxian said, a little embarrassed to be saying it out loud. “But that’s why.” He didn’t have long to live anyway—did pride really matter? He stopped walking and reached out to take Lan Wangji’s hand, so much warmer than his own. He took a deep breath and smiled at him. “That’s why you have to take care of yourself after I’m gone,” he said. He met Lan Wangji’s eyes.

When he finally loosened his grip, Lan Wangji held his fingers tighter, refusing to let go. “Wei Ying.” His mouth opened but he seemed to have a difficult time deciding what to say.

Just then, a voice spoke up from behind Lan Wangji. “Young Master Wei, Wangji, are you all right? Uncle told me you were disciplined for you copying texts from the Sect Alliance Library.”

“Sect Leader Lan, when did you return?” Wei Wuxian asked, dropping Lan Wangji’s hand and turning to his elder brother. He felt his face heat up, wondering if Lan Xichen had heard that whole exchange.

“Just last night,” Lan Xichen answered. “Wangji, how are you feeling?” he asked. “I should not have let you go.”

“Brother,” Lan Wangji said.

Although Lan Wangji’s face changed only minisculey, Lan Xichen suddenly frowned. “Wangji, what’s wrong?” he asked. “What happened?” He glanced at Wei Wuxian. “Did something else happen?”

Wei Wuxian quickly shook his head. “Everything is fine,” he said, glancing at Lan Wangji. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of something no one could help. “Wen Qing just discovered a few things about my demonic cultivation,” he said. “She can tell you later, but more importantly, you’ve been at Koi Tower for two weeks,” he said, changing the subject. “Has Chifeng-Zun returned?”

Lan Xichen looked like he wanted to ask more but stopped at the question. “No, but HuaiSang received a letter from him two days ago,” he said. “Mingjue-xiong apparently experienced the beginnings of a qi deviation which must have been what you witnessed,” he said. “So he immediately went into secluded meditation to suppress it. He wasn’t able to let us know ahead of time, but he spent a few days at Golden Cloud Mountain to calm his spirit.”

“Then where is he now?” Wei Wuxian asked. He was truly impressed with Jin Guangyao’s deception—there was even enough of the truth in the story to explain what Wei Wuxian saw at least in part.

“The letter said his condition is still not good so he returned to Qinghe, and will be spending a few weeks in secluded meditation so not to disturb him,” Lan Xichen answered. “All the QingheNie cultivators also left Koi Tower for the Unclean Realm yesterday.”

“And you believe it?” Wei Wuxian was glad for the distraction. “If Lianfang-Zun is really so innocent, then why did he not mention it when I accused him?” he asked. “Even if you believe that Nie Mingjue really left in such a hurry that he didn’t tell anyone, wouldn’t people have at least witnessed him leaving? Koi Tower has been full of security since the attack—you can’t believe that not one person witnessed him leaving?”

No matter how well Jin Guangyao lied, he couldn’t make another Nie Mingjue magically appear. Lan Xichen was far from foolish, and Wei Wuxian could tell from the small frown on his face that he’d also been noticing the holes left in that story. “HuaiSang has gone to check on his brother—I expect correspondence from him soon,” Lan Xichen said.

“Sect Leader Lan, I’ve been thinking about the events at Koi Tower and I think I know what happened,” Wei Wuxian said. It should not take long for Nie HuaiSang to check whether Nie Mingjue really had returned to the Unclean Realm, but Wei Wuxian also might not have much time left. “I know it’s a sect secret, but can you play me the Sound of Clarity?”

Lan Xichen gave him a mildly curious smile. “Young Master Wei, have you not married Wangji?” he said. “You are a part of our sect now. I would be happy to play the song for you, but may I know the reason?”

“I know you don’t want to suspect Jin Guangyao,” Wei Wuxian said. “But it’s what I saw. That song is supposed to calm Sect Leader Nie’s spirit, right?” he said. “But instead, after he heard it, he went into qi deviation. If there is a song that can calm his spirit, then there may be one that leads to qi deviation as well.”

Lan Xichen frowned. “But I have played the Sound of Clarity for Mingjue-Xiong before,” he said. “He knows what it sounds like—he would recognize it if A-Yao played him a different song.”

“Then maybe Jin Guangyao only changed the song you taught him,” Wei Wuxian said. “Everyone knows Lianfang-Zun is clever and has a perfect memory,” he said. “He could have slipped something into the song.”

“Come with me,” Lan Xichen said finally.

Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji followed him to the Hanshi. Wei Wuxian was acutely aware of Lan Wangji’s presence beside him, but he didn’t say anything to Wei Wuxian, and for once, Wei Wuxian was intensely grateful for his silence. Lan Xichen gestured for them to sit at the table where he took out his own guqin.

“This is the Sound of Clarity,” he said and began to play.

The song sounded the same as the one Wei Wuxian had heard twice now. If he hadn’t been listening for it, he never would have noticed the one place where the song was different—just one phrase of the song had been changed, and so masterfully that Wei Wuxian had to ask Lan Xichen to play the song again to confirm it.

“This is the one I heard,” Wei Wuxian said, taking out his own flute. Then he played the entire melody that he had heard Jin Guangyao perform. “Did you hear it?”

“Please play that part at the end of the fourth phrase,” Lan Xichen requested. “Wangji, did you hear it?”

Lan Wangji, who had up until now, been sitting silently next to Wei Wuxian, frowned. “I apologize, I was not paying attention.”

Wei Wuxian turned to him, surprised. This was the first time he’d ever seen Lan Wangji not paying full attention to the task at hand. Lan Wangji’s hands were clenched in his lap, but as Wei Wuxian reached out, not sure what exactly to say or do, he repeated himself. “Play it again, please.” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “I will listen.”

Wei Wuxian bit his lip and withdrew his hand. He raised the flute to his lips again and played the song from beginning to end.

This time, Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji exchanged a glance. “The last phrase is incorrect,” Lan Wangji said, apparently back to his usual self again.

Wei Wuxian nodded. “Lianfang-Zun has a perfect memory. He even remembers details about people he has only met once, and Sect Leader Lan must have taught him this song more than once.”

Lan Xichen slowly nodded.

“There is no way he would have misremembered then,” Wei Wuxian said. He looked between the two brothers. “My guess is that that changed phrase does something to agitate the spirit. Since it’s such a small change in the Sound of Clarity, it must have taken a long time for it build up effect in Chifeng-Zun.”

Lan Xichen shook his head. “Jin Guangyao is clever, yes, and his mother taught him music since a young age,” he said. “But he didn’t become a cultivator until later in life, so he would not be skilled enough to write such a subtle change as this one in guqin cultivation technique and have the effect you claim it did.” He frowned. “It’s possible that he just misremembered,” he said but he seemed to be trying to convince himself. “If it really has such an effect, it could be a coincidence.”

Everyone knew Jin Guangyao, born Meng Yao, was the son of Meng Shi, a famous courtesan in the Yunmeng area. She had been well known for her beauty and charm, so Jin GuangShan insisted on making a visit to her when he passed through the area years ago. When she gave birth to Meng Yao, she had high hopes being brought into the Jin clan and spent all her money on purchasing cultivation manuals to educate her son. But although he had been smart and clever, most manuals that circulated in regular society were fraudulent and useless. It hadn’t been until Meng Yao joined Nie Mingjue’s forces that he’d really begun to learn to cultivate. It would have been even later than that when Lan Xichen was able to teach him the Sound of Clarity. Even infusing pieces of music with spiritual energy took years of practice to learn, so that Jin Guangyao had learned the one song was already impressive enough. To learn the the GusuLan music technique so well as to compose with it and with such a dark purpose would be difficult even for Lan Xichen or Lan Wangji.

“The Room of Forbidden Books,” Lan Wangji said.

Wei Wuxian caught on immediately. “That’s right! He didn’t have to compose it himself—if there already exists music that can do such a thing, Jin Guangyao could have just copied it,” he said. “Copying a piece is far easier than composing one.”

“We will search,” Lan Wangji said, and the three of them headed for Library Pavilion, bringing the guqin with them to test the music they might find.

Although Wei Wuxian had spent a lot of accumulated time in the library, he had never seen the secret chamber beneath the floor that Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen led him to now. At an empty corner of the library, Lan Xichen lifted a floor panel and stairs descended down into a dark room.

Lan Wangji lit the lanterns that had been hung around the chamber, and Wei Wuxian saw a large chamber filled from floor to ceiling with shelves of old texts.

He let out whistle as he looked around. “GusuLan sure takes its books seriously—even your secret library is huge,” he said.

“Brother was able to save many of these books after the Cloud Recesses were burned,” Lan Wangji said. “Jin Guangyao hid him for some time.”

“I trust A-Yao,” Lan Xichen said. “It did him no good to hide me back then—if not for him, I might have been caught by the QishanWen Sect,” he said. “He even washed my clothes for me because I would accidentally rip them. He would never harm me—even less Mingjue-xiong,” he said. “If not for him, A-Yao never would have had a chance to return to LanlingJin.”

Wei Wuxian could understand being reluctant to doubt a person he trusted, but he had seen it with his own eyes. “Sometimes,” he began. “Sometimes people change,” he said. “The person you knew back then had nothing to lose—no power, no fame, no riches—now, he has everything to lose.”

“Perhaps,” was all Lan Xichen said, and he sounded sad.

The three of them began to search through the stacks, pulling out any musical notations they could find. Once they had gathered all the books to a table, they began the tedious task of reading through them. After a few hours, Wei Wuxian was too cold in the basement and restless as well, so he got up from the table and began to wander around. He bounced up and down as he wandered from shelf to shelf, looking around curiously at the secret GusuLan library, occasionally pulling out an interesting-looking book to flip through before continuing his way.

He left the Room of Forbidden Books sometime in the afternoon to get a servant to bring them an early dinner since he and Lan Wangji hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and then sent someone else to Apothecary Pavilion for fresh ointment and bandages for Lan Wangji since he didn’t want to go himself in case he ran into Wen Qing again.

“Food is not allowed here,” Lan Wangji said when Wei Wuxian returned with a tray of food enough for three.

“No one’s here to see us and you haven’t eaten all day,” Wei Wuxian said, pushing aside a few books to make room for the tray. “You’re still recovering.”

“We will eat upstairs,” Lan Wangji said.

“The food’s already here,” Wei Wuxian said. “It’s fine just this once. I’m sure your brother wants to find this score as soon as he can too for the sake of Nie Mingjue.”

Lan Xichen put down the book he had been skimming. “Young Master Wei is right,” he said. “Let’s take a break and eat. You’re still healing.”

Wei Wuxian smiled and tugged on Lan Wangji’s robe. “Take off your robe before you eat. I can change the bandages for you first.”

Lan Wangji obediently did as told, stripping himself of his robes until his back was bare again, and the two brothers took a quick break to eat while Wei Wuxian changed Lan Wangji’s bandages for him.

“How are the wounds?” Lan Xichen asked as Wei Wuxian worked.

“A lot better after the cold springs, actually,” Wei Wuxian said, pleased. “You should go again later when we’re done here,” he said to Lan Wangji. “A few more hours in there and you might not need the bandages at all.”

“Mm,” Lan Wangji answered. “Wei Ying, eat first.”

“No speech while eating,” Wei Wuxian said, imitating Lan Wangji’s tone of voice and grinned at him when Lan Wangji shot him a disgruntled look. “Your rules,” he pointed out. “Anyway I’m almost done.”

After the brothers finished eating, Wei Wuxian ate himself while flipping through yet another stack of books. This time, he tired more quickly than before, and took a break to bring the food tray back upstairs to hand to a servant. Outside, it was already dark, he saw. He walked a few circles around the library to wake himself up before returning to the Room of Forbidden Books.

“Wei Ying, if you are tired, go to rest,” Lan Wangji said when Wei Wuxian sat down beside him again, yawning.

Wei Wuxian shook his head. “We’re not done yet,” he said, ignoring the fact that he hadn’t been helping much in the last few hours anyway.

Lan Wangji frowned. “Are you feeling all right?” he asked.

Wei Wuxian smiled. “Yes, of course. You don’t have to worry so much,” he said, but gave in when he felt another yawn coming. “All right, I’ll just take a short nap and keep searching,” he said. “Wake me in an hour,” he told Lan Wangji, pillowing his head on his arms and shut his eyes.

 


 

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sleeping when he heard the murmur of quiet, low voices.

Although it had been cool in the basement earlier, he felt warm now with something heavy draped over him. It smelled like sandalwood, a calming scent that made Wei Wuxian want to sleep again except for the voices disturbing him.

“Is Jiang WanYin still at Koi Tower?” Lan Wangji asked.

The mention of his brother’s name made Wei Wuxian a little more aware, though he was so comfortable he didn’t want to move. He realized that sometime during his sleep, he’d either moved or else been moved so he was now laid on his back with his head pillowed on something firm and warm.

When he cracked his eyes open, he could make out Lan Wangji’s form above him and realized he’d been placed on Lan Wangji’s thigh, though he hadn’t noticed Wei Wuxian was awake.

“He is,” Lan Xichen answered. “He said he intends to help his sister transition, but the other YunmengJiang cultivators have stayed as well, so I think he’s waiting until ZiXuan-xiong is fully recovered.”

“If we find the song, do you intend to return to Koi Tower?” Lan Wangji asked.

“If it truly was A-Yao, I will speak to him,” Lan Xichen said.

Lan Wangji fell silent for so long that Wei Wuxian began drifting to sleep when he spoke. “When you go to Koi Tower, please tell Jiang WanYin that he and Young Madam Jin must come see Wei Ying,” he said.

Wei Wuxian heard the pages Lan Xichen had been flipping pause. “Wangji, what has happened with Young Master Wei?” he asked.

If Lan Wangji told Lan Xichen about Wei Wuxian’s condition now, he was sure Lan Xichen would stop searching and they didn’t have time for delays. On impulse, Wei Wuxian whined and stirred, turning onto his side to bury his face against Lan Wangji’s stomach and making the robe fall off his body. The shiver from the cold wasn’t all an act, and worked to distract Lan Wangji.

“Wei Ying? Nightmare?” Lan Wangji asked, unbearably gentle. He felt Lan Wangji adjust the robe over his shoulders again.

Wei Wuxian whined again, wondering how much Lan Wangji would let him get away with, and was surprised when he felt a hand stroke down his hair, soothing. It felt familiar, in the outer edges of his memory, like he’d been in such a position, like he’d experienced this before. But that time, he’d been too warm and his whole body hurt, and instead of sandalwood, everything had stunk of blood. But the voice murmuring to him had been the same, and the hand pressed to his brow was the same.

“Xuanwu…” he whispered.

He felt the hand stroking his hair pause. He recalled a vague dream back then when he’d wanted to lie in Lan Wangji’s lap, partially because the stone he was leaning against was hard, but mostly just to be near someone. The real Lan Wangji had refused, of course, but in his dream, Lan Wangji had put Wei Wuxian’s head on his lap and when Wei Wuxian told him where it hurt, he had tried to take care of him as much as he could. Wei Wuxian remembered thinking, in the dream, how nice it would be if Lan Wangji would take care of him in real life. He drifted to sleep again thinking that, in some ways, it seemed his dream had come true after all.

 


 

The next time he stirred into consciousness, it was because Lan Wangji was helping him sit up. “Wei Ying, wake up,” he said. “I have found the song.”

Wei Wuxian stared at him, disoriented, until the words sank in. Then he straightened up. Lan Wangji’s arm immediately slid away from him, and Lan Wangji’s outer robe slid off his shoulders, exposing him to the cold air. “Where?” Wei Wuxian asked, pulling the robe back up over his shoulders and moving closer to Lan Wangji, a little disappointed when Lan Wangji didn’t put his arm back around his waist.

Instead, Lan Wangji put a book in between him and Lan Xichen.

“There is a page missing,” Lan Wangji said.

When Wei Wuxian flipped through the book, he found it was true, though whoever had torn it out had done it so carefully that unless someone were looking specifically for it, it was hardly noticeable.

Wei Wuxian pulled out his flute and played first one page, which sounded similar to the phrase in the Sound of Clarity, though not exactly the same. The second page was an entire different song. In other words, the page that had been removed most likely contained the actual phrase in the Sound of Clarity, though, with the page gone, they could not prove it—which was the whole point.

He flipped the book to look at the cover. “The Collection of Turmoil?” Wei Wuxian read the title out loud.

“It’s a score from Dongying,” Lan Xichen said, his expression complicated. “According to the inscription inside, these songs were collected by one of GusuLan Sect’s cultivators when he traveled by Dongying. It says that the songs in this book, if played with spiritual energy, can harm others—everything from shutting down the senses to agitating the spirit. If you have enough spiritual power, you could even take a life…”

“Then this is the one,” Wei Wuxian said, excited. “Jin Guangyao’s spiritual energy is low so he wouldn’t have been able to kill with this music—it would have been too obvious if he’d done it that way, anyway, but if he put in just that phrase into the Sound of Clarity and played it for Chifeng-Zun over months, wouldn’t it have acted like a slow poison?”

“It is possible,” Lan Xichen said slowly. “But we do not have the page, so we cannot determine if it really is this song.”

That was, of course, Jin Guangyao’s entire reason for removing it. In case anyone discovered the problem in the song, they would never be able to prove it with the actual score missing.

Wei Wuxian sighed. Even now, Lan Xichen didn’t want to doubt Jin Guangyao. “Chifeng-Zun is missing, we’ve found that phrase that Jin Guangyao must have woven into the Sound of Clarity. If these two pieces of proof still won’t convince you, then I have a third.”

“A third?” Lan Xichen asked.

Wei Wuxian nodded. “When I saw Chifeng-Zun go into qi deviation, he attacked Lianfang-Zun and knocked his sword away,” he said. “Lianfang-Zun only had the guqin nearby so he played a second song that took away Chifeng-Zun’s spiritual energy.”

“Impossible,” Lan Xichen said. “I’ve never heard of such a song.”

“What’s impossible is only what hasn’t succeeded yet,” Wei Wuxian said. “If it’s possible to create a song that causes qi deviation, it should also be possible to compose a song that cuts off spiritual energy.” He shrugged. “If you don’t believe me, I remember that one too and I can play it for you.”

So saying, he took the flute from his waist again. “I’ll play it once and then one of you will have to play it with spiritual energy,” he said. Since he had no golden core himself, the song played by him, would only be a song.

Then he played that second song he had heard. It sounded like one of GusuLan’s musical attack songs that warded away corpses, if the performer were making mistakes everywhere. Wei Wuxian had studied music long enough to know a proper melody when he heard it, and this one was anything but pleasing to the ear.

Clearly, the brothers felt the same way because both of them grimaced any time a particularly jarring note came into the song.

After he finished, Lan Xichen nodded. “Wangji, no need for us both to test it. Why don’t you go upstairs?” he suggested.

“Brother…” Lan Wangji said.

“I will be fine,” Lan Xichen said with a smile.

Lan Wangji finally nodded and went back up the stairs. Once the door had shut, Lan Xichen put his hands on the guqin. “Then, I will play it now,” he said.

As Wei Wuxian had demonstrated on his flute, Lan Xichen strummed the notes on his guqin. On that instrument, it sounded even more similar to one of Lan Wangji’s guqin attack songs. Wei Wuxian could feel the spiritual power that came with each note—Lan Xichen truly was a strong cultivator.

He had played only about half the song when his fingers stilled on the strings. Wei Wuxian felt no different, but Lan Xichen was staring stunned at the instrument.

“How is it?” Wei Wuxian asked.

To his surprise, the door opened from above and Lan Wangji came back down.

“Qi has been suppressed,” Lan Wangji said.

“You could hear it from outside?” Wei Wuxian asked.

Lan Wangji shook his head. “Very little, but I could feel it,” he answered. Spiritual energy, like sound, could be contained with enough distance and interference. But again, like sound, if the distance wasn’t long enough or the walls thick enough, spiritual energy as strong as Lan Xichen’s could naturally still be felt though it would have a decreased effect. “I may be able to force my meridians open since the suppression is weak.”

“No don’t. You might hurt yourself,” Wei Wuxian said quickly. “What about Sect Leader Lan?” he asked. “Your brother only played half the song,” he told Lan Wangji. “But if it already worked on you even with a door between us.”

Lan Xichen had been staring down at his hands. “How is this possible?” he whispered. It was probably the first time either of them had ever been without spiritual energy, Wei Wuxian thought, and he knew how it felt to be powerless.

“What about you?” Lan Wangji asked, looking at Wei Wuxian who shrugged.

“No effect on me,” he said cheerfully. “See? Demonic cultivation still has its uses,” he said. “That’s probably why it didn’t affect me in paperman form either—can you imagine if my resentful energy had been suppressed then?” He laughed. “Jin Guangyao would have killed me for sure.”

“Wei Ying—”

“It turned out fine,” Wei Wuxian said and turned to Lan Xichen. “Do you believe me now, Sect Leader Lan?” he asked.

Lan Xichen turned to look at him. The smile on his face was sad. “I have no choice,” he said. “But until I have solid proof, I cannot act.” He held up a hand to stop him when Wei Wuxian began to protest. “All of these things together are concerning,” he said. “But Jin Guangyao has a silver tongue—until I have undeniable evidence, he will try to talk his way out of it.” He sighed. “And I will want to believe him.”

“We can help you,” Wei Wuxian offered. “If we return to Koi Tower and find the Yin Tiger Seal, won’t that be proof enough?”

Lan Xichen shook his head. “If you return right now, he may try to accuse you,” he said. “Stay here and take care of my brother,” he said. “Leave this to me.”

Wei Wuxian suppressed the impatience and nodded. “All right. Then we’ll leave the rest to you,” he said, getting to his feet and stretching. He gave Lan Wangji’s robe back to him. “Lan Zhan, shall we go?”

 


 

Outside, the sun was just rising in the sky. Lan Wangji had let him sleep through the night, Wei Wuxian realized, as he and Lan Xichen worked. He smiled, moving a little closer to Lan Wangji.

“Lan Zhan, do you want to eat first or sleep first?” Wei Wuxian asked as they walked down the pathway.

Lan Wangji didn’t answer, only walking silently beside him.

“Come on—are you more hungry or tired? If you want, you can go sleep and I’ll ask someone to bring food,” Wei Wuxian said. “They must be serving breakfast now—everyone here wakes up so early.”

“Mm,” Lan Wangji said which wasn’t an answer at all. He only continued to walk, quiet, even quieter than usual for Lan Wangji, which was hard to do.

“Lan Zhan, stop looking like your wife died,” Wei Wuxian said, grinning as he nudged him with his elbow. “I’m not dead yet.”

If possible, Lan Wangji looked even more glum.

“All right, all right, I’ll stop joking,” Wei Wuxian said, keeping his tone light. “Really, though, it’s not like there’s anything we can do about this, right? At least your brother believes us now.” He smiled. “The Wen family is safe here. Jiang Cheng is doing well as sect leader. Once things are taken care of at Koi Tower and my shijie is safe, I can go in peace.”

He was about to say more when Lan Wangji stopped walking. Wei Wuxian turned to him, a question on his lips, when Lan Wangji suddenly spoke.

“What do you want?” he asked. In the early morning sun, Lan Wangji stopped on the white stone path and turned to Wei Wuxian, looking intently at him. In the sunlight, his eyes shone gold. “Wei Ying, what do you want?”

Wei Wuxian stared at him, the rest of his words dying on his lips.

It was a question he had never heard before in his life. Wei Wuxian’s earliest childhood memories were dim. After his parents died, he’d had no choice but to live on the streets and fight stray dogs for scraps of food. After being adopted into the Jiang family, they’d taken him in and taught him cultivation, though he’d never had a real decision to make when the alternative was to stay a street urchin. After he’d learned demonic cultivation, he’d naturally joined the Sunshot Campaign, reigning terror down on the QishanWen Sect and received the envy or criticism of cultivators everywhere, though not one person asked if he’d ever wanted to cultivate this way. When things had gone bad and he’d escaped to the burial mounds with the Wen family, they’d needed him, giving him no choice but to help. After Jiang Cheng had made this arrangement with GusuLan, it had been for him, to keep him safe. But no one had ever asked him this question—what he, Wei Ying, wanted.

Wei Wuxian bit his lip and looked away, smiling. “Goodness, Lan Zhan, if you said that to a girl, she’d fall at your feet,” he said.

“I’m saying it to you,” Lan Wangji said, undeterred. “Name anything, and I’ll give it to you.”

Wei Wuxian felt his face heating up. He took a deep breath and smiled as he began walking again, turning the question over in his mind. In his short lifetime, he’d already seen a lot, experienced too much—he used to be one of the most promising young cultivators before he’d lost his golden core, then he’d become arguably the strongest cultivator in the world with demonic cultivation. He’d had an exciting life, money, fame, the attention of girls everywhere he went.

“I guess I’d just like to live normally for once,” he said after a moment. “You know, I’ve never really had a chance to before.” He glanced over at his companion. “Don’t you think it might be nice? To retire and live as an ordinary person for awhile? Have a nice family, get a little cottage somewhere, tend the fields, weave clothes, go to the market and bargain for deals.”

“Is that what you want?” Lan Wangji asked.

Wei Wuxian laughed. “You’d really give it to me if I asked for it?”

“I would,” Lan Wangji said.

Wei Wuxian laughed harder, making Lan Wangji frown. “Good Lan Zhan, you really would keep every promise,” he said. “Don’t worry, I won’t make you give up cultivating,” he said and tilted his head. “How about you just take me to a lotus pond?” he said. “It’s been awhile since I got to go.”

“Mm.” Lan Wangji nodded and before Wei Wuxian knew it, he felt a sudden burst of spiritual energy and he was being lifted up onto Lan Wangji’s sword and they were flying out of the Cloud Recesses.

“Lan Zhan! That was dangerous—what if you injured yourself?” Wei Wuxian said, grabbing onto Lan Wangji’s shoulder, surprised at the suddenness.

Lan Wangji raised an eyebrow. “Qi suppression was weak,” he said. “And you want to go to the lotus pond.”

“Now?” Wei Wuxian asked.

Lan Wangji glanced at him. “Is that not what you meant?” he asked mildly as they continued to fly.

Wei Wuxian stared back at him and laughed. “Who knew Lan Er-Gege could be so impulsive?” Everything about this was reckless and irresponsible. Lan Wangji was still healing, they should really rest and sleep and wait and see what Lan Xichen would find, but all he wanted—all he truly wanted was to go with Lan Wangji right now. “All right.” He smiled and held on a little tighter. “Now it is.”