A plaintive moan echoed through the street as a dark shadow drifted past the noiseless buildings. The night was pitch black, and not a single window was lit. Shrouded in darkness, the creature inhaled deeply, and a long, gurgling sniff resonated through the street. As it took another raspy breath, footsteps were heard from inside a house and a lamp was lit with shaking hands.
“What – what is it?” a trembling voice wondered – a young boy clutched his mother’s skirt in horror as they stared out the window.
The woman’s face contorted in a mix of disgust and terror as she slapped a hand over her son’s eyes. “Get back to bed,” she demanded, pushing him behind her, still not taking her eyes off the creature on the street. “It’s–” Her breath hitched in disbelief. “It’s a giant nose!”
“WHERE’S MY LAN DADDY?”
A furious female voice resonated through the Cloud Recesses as Bina stormed down the corridor. Her usually smooth dark hair was tangled, and she dragged not one, but two heavy swords behind her, menacingly scraping their points on the ground as she walked.
“Lady Bina,” a junior cultivator stammered from his post, “Master Lan was called out to investigate that ghost nose that’s been terrorising the villages. He – he told us not to wake you–”
Bina hurled one of her swords to the ground, where it landed with a clang that resounded down the previously silent hallway. “You let my Lan Daddy go out without me?” she demanded, her eyes flashing with rage.
The junior gulped, terrified to face the wrath of Lan Qiren’s lover. The fearsome and striking Bina was revered throughout Gusu as the only person to have ever stolen the stoic heart and firmly knotted forehead ribbon of Lan Qiren.
Bina clicked her tongue with a resigned sigh. “I should’ve known that he would go out alone, my foolish, brave, charming hero. I just want to stroke his beard and feel that lovely, smooth moustache again…” she trailed off dreamily.
“Lady Bina…” the junior interjected nervously, very much in awe of the love Bina felt for Lan Qiren. “Are you going to go out to look for him? Because I – I can get your coat for you if you want–”
Abruptly brought back to reality, Bina shook her head. “I have no need for a coat!” she declared, sprinting for the exit before she had even finished speaking. “I’m off to seek Lan Daddy’s warm embrace!”
“Stay back!” Lan Qiren warned the other cultivators, extending his sword as he cornered the ghost nose. It was large and bulbous and oozed resentful energy, but Lan Qiren had no fear as he faced the hideous creature. His only desire was to save the common people from near-certain death by inhalation and return home safely to his precious Bina.
Lan Qiren was nearly certain that they had finally caught the ghost nose, but then it sniffed – a deep, guttural sound – and one of the cultivators standing behind him was sucked up into its dark nasal passages.
A menacing growl escaped the nose as, to all the cultivators’ horror, it spoke. “Delicious,” it intoned, and Lan Qiren had to force himself to stand his ground. “These weaklings have such an impressive flavour.”
Lan Qiren took a fearless step closer to the nose. “There’s no escape,” he announced, preparing to strike as the nose savoured its meal. “You have taken one of our cultivators and terrorised innocent villagers! This is a deed I cannot forget! I do not know where you came from or who you used to be, but you have strayed from the righteous path!”
It was only when he noticed a tiny, barely visible growth on the side of the left nostril that Lan Qiren faltered. Surely that couldn’t be another nose sticking out from this horrendous beast! But upon closer inspection, it seemed that his sudden realisation rang true – this nose had once been a victim of the deadly human nose disease!
Lan Qiren was now so close to the nose that he could feel its breaths, and the opportunity to slice it in half was tantalising, but his mind was reeling. Yes, the human nose disease had ravaged the lands, but that was over eight hundred years ago – and this nose had only been at large within the past few months!
“You – you–” he muttered, desperately trying to solve the puzzle, but it was too late. In his moment of confusion, the nose struck, inhaling deeply.
Lan Qiren dodged the attack, leaping out of the way with exceptional agility, but the nose followed him easily, as it was over twice his size. The nostrils rose above him, and just as he thought he would be sucked into that frightful abyss, a figure slammed into him, pushing him out of harm’s reach.
“Lan Daddy!” Bina screamed, a fearful battle cry, piercing the nose with her sword as it inhaled – a last, desperate attempt to snatch Lan Qiren.
As the nose fled into the distance, Bina leaned over to embrace Lan Qiren, before realising that something absolutely vital was missing.
Lan Qiren’s nose had disappeared.
Bina gasped, gently stroking Lan Qiren’s face as she helped him to sit up. Somehow, his nose had disappeared without a trace, and the skin where it should have been was perfectly smooth and unblemished. His face was still elegant and regal, but his nose, such a fine feature, was very much absent.
“Bina…” Lan Qiren breathed, pulling her into a deep kiss, disregarding the presence of the other cultivators. “Why are you looking at me so strangely?” he wondered as they separated.
Bina bit her lip. “Lan Daddy… the ghost nose took your nose,” she revealed, shaking her head in sorrow, before an idea came to her. “You can have my nose!” she declared, already lifting her sword to her face, prepared to undergo a heroic sacrifice for the man she truly loved.
Lan Qiren took her hand, clasping it in both of his own. “No, Bina,” he said sincerely, tucking a loose strand of her hair behind her ear. “This is your nose and I’m not going to take it from you. It isn’t righteous to take something so necessary for you.”
Bina was conflicted. Of course she wanted to keep her nose, but she couldn’t bear to see Lan Qiren live out the rest of his days noseless, breathing only through his mouth. With resolution, she decided, “We can share my nose. It can float between us as we both use it. Only a revolving nose can benefit us both.”
Lan Qiren was lost for words. “Bina…” he murmured, reminded once again of his endless love for her.
They both stood up, their fingers still entwined as Lan Qiren used his sword to carefully engrave two characters in the ground at their feet: 鼻拿
“Bina, you truly live up to your name,” he sighed, his deep voice smooth and lovely as he intoned the next two words: “Nose take.”
And so, Lan Qiren and Bina embarked on their quest to hunt down the ghost nose and find Lan Qiren’s missing nose. The revolving nose between them a constant reminder of their passionate connection, they tirelessly sought information on the mysterious nose.
As they pored over musty books and cracked parchment, Bina pointed out, “For the ghost nose to have originally been a person with the human nose disease, it must have been cursed. The human nose disease outbreak happened too long ago for it to be because of that.”
Lan Qiren nodded slowly. “You’re right. We should warn the other sects so that nobody lets their guard down. If there’s someone going around cursing people with an eight hundred-year-old disease, then this matter is not to be taken lightly.”
Several days later, Jin Guangyao, Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang arrived at the Cloud Recesses. Shaken by the news, they had alerted their sects and set off as quickly as possible. Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji, who were also deeply disturbed by the recent events, appeared as well, although to Lan Qiren’s dismay, Lan Wangji apparently refused to be separated from Wei Wuxian.
Jiang Cheng looked extremely stressed when he revealed, “My sister and her husband have also been taken by the nose.” He glowered as he added, “It’s probably her good-for-nothing husband’s fault. That man just can’t look after himself!”
Everyone muttered amongst themselves, wondering how Jiang Yanli and Jin Zixuan could possibly have been inhaled.
At the sight of Nie Huaisang’s confused face, the incredibly irritating Wei Wuxian piped up, “Oh, Huaisang-xiong, where’s your brother?”
Nie Huaisang’s lip trembled before he muttered, “I don’t know!”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” Wei Wuxian demanded, and Lan Qiren wished he would just shut up. “Surely you can say more than those three words!”
Nie Huaisang shook his head desperately. “No… I really don’t know where he is!”
The room fell silent, and Lan Qiren was deep in thought. Nie Mingjue was an exceptionally strong warrior, and that ghost nose had also been one of the most fearsome creatures he’d ever encountered. “How long has it been since you’ve seen him?” Lan Qiren inquired, hoping he was wrong as his heart sank in apprehension.
“Three, four months?” Nie Huaisang responded, still managing to sound unsure. “He said he was going away for something, but I don’t remember what it was! And I know it wasn’t meant to take this long!”
Bina took a sharp intake of breath. “You don’t mean… Lan Daddy, you think that ghost nose used to be Nie Mingjue?”
Lan Qiren nodded gravely. “I’m afraid so. Nie Huaisang, I would advise you to stay close with those of us here at all times. If it is true that your brother has been killed and cursed with the human nose disease, then for all we know, you may also be a target.”
Tears pooled in the corners of Nie Huaisang’s ever-widening eyes. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered, hiding his face behind his fan. “I just don’t know!”
“Lan Daddy!” Bina hissed, their revolving nose obscuring her vision as she tried to signal to Lan Qiren without drawing attention to them. “I heard a sniff to my left. I think we’ve found the ghost nose!”
“Let’s pinpoint its location and corner it,” Lan Qiren decided, blowing Bina a kiss as he headed off through the trees in the opposite direction.
Before long, Bina, Lan Qiren, Lan Xichen, Jiang Cheng, Jin Guangyao and Nie Huaisang had formed a barrier around the ghost nose, but the heavy foliage hindered their sight. They waited in suspense for the nose to reveal itself and fall into their trap.
But despite their days of planning for this very moment, the ghost nose was one step ahead. It had used the forest to its advantage and had amplified the trees’ rustling sounds in order to create a false impression of its location, and now, it took its chance.
“Lan Daddy!” Bina realised far too late, once again leaping to rescue Lan Qiren from the nose. Their shared, revolving nose hovered in front of them, casting some sort of protective barrier around them all.
With a slurp, the ghost nose took another deep breath, and broke through the revolving nose’s barrier, failing to capture the other four cultivators but once again sucking their noses off their faces and inhaling them.
In a state of shock, Nie Huaisang demanded tearfully, “How? Why didn’t it take us as well? And where’s my nose?”
Jiang Cheng smacked him on the back of the head. “Stop worrying about your own nose! We’re all in the same position here! Our noses may be missing, but my entire sister is gone!”
“My previous Bina and I have been undertaking extensive research and experimentation,” Lan Qiren revealed, linking arms with Bina, “and we’ve concluded that the nose only takes those who show signs of weakness.”
“But in our case,” Bina continued, “something different is happening, and we think the nose is up to something.”
Jin Guangyao gingerly ran a finger over his now smooth face. “Well, I hope we can get to the bottom of this quickly, because I’d love to get my nose back,” he pointed out unnecessarily, adjusting his robes with a rather aloof expression. “I envy Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji for having the sense to not come on this failure of an expedition.”
Jiang Cheng glowered at him. “You envy them? They’re probably off gallivanting around the countryside on a romantic escapade, with not a care in the world. I’d much prefer to be here actually getting things done rather than sharing kisses with an idiot under the moonlight.”
“I’m sure Wangji is perfectly fine,” Lan Xichen said breezily, shaking his head. “And there’s no use worrying about our noses. The only important nose right now is Nie Mingjue’s!”
Lan Qiren and Bina exchanged a glance, wordlessly coming to a conclusion as they listened to the breathy voices of those whose noses had been unfairly stolen.
“If it’s any help,” Bina offered, extending her arms, “Lan Daddy and I are very much willing to share our nose with you all. Of course, it’s probably better if we split into smaller groups from now on, because the ghost nose can sense us easily when we’re all together, so we won’t all be near the nose at once.”
“You can, however, access the nose’s breathing ability from a distance by repeating the password Bina set,” Lan Qiren added with a barely noticeable smile.
Bina and Lan Qiren stood smiling dreamily at each other for some time, before Jiang Cheng demanded irritably, “So? What’s the password?”
“You have to say ‘Lan Daddy’s beard is the softest and his eyes make me swoon’ three times out loud before you gain access,” Bina declared, running her fingers through Lan Qiren’s beard.
Jin Guangyao suppressed a choke, Nie Huaisang looked like he was about to start crying again, Lan Xichen shook his head at the thought of saying that about his uncle, and Jiang Cheng spluttered with rage.
“I’d… rather breathe with my mouth and not smell anything for the rest of my life,” Jin Guangyao said rather petulantly, looking as though he had sucked on a particularly sour lemon. “I’m going back to my sect. You can all have fun searching for that ridiculous nose without me.”
Having separated from the others, Bina and Lan Qiren continued their quest, but soon found themselves in unfamiliar territory when a pack of animals surrounded them in the middle of an open plain. The animals were tall and strangely buff as they stood on their hind legs, with long, muscular tails and slightly pointed ears. And if that wasn’t peculiar enough, they seemed to be wearing strange footwear – thick green clogs with holes, presumably for aeration.
The revolving nose sniffed suddenly, as though aware of something else, and before long, the next horde of animals appeared – a pack of rusty-orange dogs.
Bina and Lan Qiren were cornered by creatures they would never have imagined even in their wildest dreams.
They were so bemused by the strange animals that it was almost a relief to hear what sounded like a human voice demanding, “Who are you and what have you done with my Shizun?”
To their dismay, the man leading the creatures was definitely part demon, his dark, curly hair cascading over his broad shoulders. There was a flaming mark on his forehead, and his robes were a little loose, revealing a glimpse of his muscular chest. He wore the same clogs as the strange creatures following him.
“We don’t know who your Shizun is!” Lan Qiren declared boldly, caught off guard by this man whose obsession with his Shizun was so great that he summoned an army of animals to avenge him. “We’re just two travelling lovers who want to see the world!”
Bina had to suppress a sigh at Lan Qiren’s words. Pretending to be innocent passers-by was all good and well, but making such a bold claim while not even concealing their spiritual energy was just thoughtless.
“In fact, we should be the ones asking who you are!” Bina declared, tossing her long hair over her shoulders. “And what are these creatures you’ve brought to threaten us with?”
The man’s fearsome exterior melted away as he pouted. “I’m Luo Binghe, and the love of my life has gone missing!”
Bina’s brow furrowed. “What does your Shizun look like?” she asked, casting her mind back to how the nose had inhaled one of their cultivators. “We’re currently investigating a ghost nose that has been kidnapping innocent civilians. Maybe your Shizun was one of them.”
Luo Binghe sniffed pitifully, seeming less and less threatening by the moment. “Shizun is the most beautiful man in this entire universe!” he declared passionately, and Bina could’ve sworn that there were tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “He’s ethereal and wonderful and heavenly and talented! I look up to him in every way possible! How could he possibly have been abducted by this beast?”
Lan Qiren sighed in exasperation. “Luo Binghe!” he demanded, and he suddenly seemed at place in the situation, as though he was reprimanding a hysterical student. “That description is insufficient! How can we help you if all we know is that we’re looking for a beautiful man?”
Bina had expected Luo Binghe to be offended by the direct command, but he eagerly obliged. “Shizun has long dark hair and a pleasant face,” he began, and Bina had a feeling they might be there for a while. “His eyes are full of warmth and kindness for all beings, and he is selfless and genuine. He’s shorter than me and usually wears light colours, complementing his eyes and giving him an air of heavenly beauty and grace!”
Bina could sense Lan Qiren’s frustration at Luo Binghe’s vague, flowery description of his Shizun, and took his hand. “Lan Daddy,” she breathed, entwining their fingers and giving his hand a light squeeze. “Don’t worry. We’ll solve this mystery, and then we can go home and spend all night–”
A low growl resonated through the open air, cutting off Bina’s extremely suggestive statement – which was probably for the best, as Luo Binghe certainly didn’t need any ideas on what to do when his Shizun returned.
The ground below them rumbled and shook, before it finally split open and a massive, obese fox rose out of the depths below. At first, Bina and Lan Qiren were shocked, wondering what other animals Luo Binghe had at his disposal, but then Bina noticed the figure sitting elegantly on the fox’s back.
He was strikingly handsome, and the eyepatch obscuring one eye didn’t detract from this at all – in fact, it gave him a devilish air, like a sexy pirate.
Bina could tell that Lan Qiren felt threatened by this incredibly good-looking man, so she stroked his beard and whispered, “You look better with no nose at all than he does with even one eye.”
“Luo Binghe!” the sexy pirate called, floating down to meet Luo Binghe’s eye level and unsheathing a scimitar. “How dare you speak of His Royal Highness in this way! Surely you know of our relationship! If you insist upon courting him, I will fight you to the death!”
Luo Binghe looked as confused as Bina felt. “H-Hua Cheng?” he stuttered, backing away from the pirate and his fox, which bared its teeth and snarled at him. “What? You think I want your prince? No! I’m not talking about Xie Lian!” he blurted, reddening profusely as he suddenly realised that Hua Cheng had misunderstood.
Hua Cheng looked surprised, and allowed his fox to back away slightly and appear less menacing. “Oh… But you were clearly describing him before,” he said, bemused. As he suddenly averted his gaze, he looked more like a devilishly sexy pirate who had been caught in the act of doing something shameful.
Luo Binghe stamped his foot, clearly aggravated by Hua Cheng’s behaviour. “I’m talking about Shizun!” he hollered, throwing his sword to the ground in a fit of temper. “My Shizun – Shen Qingqiu – is missing, and these people think he was taken by a nose! I’m not trying to court your stupid prince!”
Bina had expected Hua Cheng to retaliate to Luo Binghe’s indirect insult to Xie Lian, but to her surprise, Hua Cheng only spluttered with laughter. “Well, of course you’re not referring to His Royal Highness,” he pointed out, patting his overweight fox on the head. “He would never allow himself to be captured by a nose, of all things!”
Luo Binghe growled, raising his arm to signal to his beastly army to attack. “I went all the way to a foreign demon realm to recruit this army,” he pointed out. “The world turned upside down and I had to walk in a handstand just to get there – and it was worth it,” he threatened. “These kangaroos could kick you all the way up to the heavenly realm, and these dingos will bite your noses off before I even tell them to!”
Hua Cheng smirked, raising an eyebrow at Luo Binghe’s confidence. “If they’d bite my nose off before you told them to, they I guess they aren’t very well-trained, are they?”
A vein throbbed in Luo Binghe’s temple, and he was just about to issue the attacking command when two figures floated down from the sky, landing right next to Luo Binghe.
Wei Wuxian leaped out of Lan Wangji’s arms, landing lightly as he exclaimed with a laugh, “Ah, Luo Binghe! It’s you again!”
Lan Qiren glowered at them. “Wei Wuxian!” he demanded. “You know this man, and yet you let him nearly kill us?”
Bina ran a comforting finger down Lan Qiren’s arm.
Wei Wuxian shrugged insolently. “We didn’t know you’d come across him. You’ve got to forgive Binghe; he’s just stressed about his Shizun.”
“WHERE IS HE?” Luo Binghe sobbed, clutching one of his kangaroos and burying his face in its neck. “I MISS HIM!”
Wei Wuxian gave him a consoling pat on the shoulder. “There, there,” he sighed, and Lan Wangji in turn patted Wei Wuxian on the shoulder. “You’ll be glad to know that we can confirm that Shen Qingqiu was taken by the nose!”
Hua Cheng snickered, and Luo Binghe slapped his kangaroo in distress. “NO!”
Lan Wangji turned to Lan Qiren and explained, “Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi and Jin Ling were captured by the nose, so we’ve been tracking them for the past few days. They actually insisted upon coming with us to search for it, but when they finally saw it in all its monstrosity, they were terrified. The nose sensed their weakness and–”
“Slurped them up,” Wei Wuxian declared, shaking his head at the memory of their juniors’ capture. “We couldn’t do anything to stop it.”
Luo Binghe finally looked up from the kangaroo’s neck. “So… so you’ve also lost people you care about…?” he asked, tears dripping down the tip of his nose.
Wei Wuxian nodded, a little confused as to why Luo Binghe was asking him this now. “Yeah… we’re looking for our juniors. You can come with us, if you want.”
Luo Binghe’s eyes widened. “No! You’re coming with me!”
Lan Wangji wrapped an arm around Wei Wuxian’s waist, clearly feeling threatened. “Wei Ying isn’t going anywhere without me.”
Luo Binghe let out another wail. “WHY DOES EVERYONE THINK I’M TRYING TO STEAL THEIR TRUE LOVE?” he demanded, hugging the kangaroo, which was starting to look rather irritated.
“If you’re not trying to whisk me away on a romantic holiday, then what are you trying to do?” Wei Wuxian inquired, grinning at Lan Wangji’s response to the flustered Luo Binghe.
Luo Binghe sniffed. “You can come to the demon realm with me and we can all cry about the people we’ve lost,” he suggested. “Lan Wangji can come, but Hua Cheng and that couple sharing their stupid revolving nose are not invited. They insulted my Shizun!”
It was surprising, Bina thought, that such a buff-looking man was actually such a cry-baby.
“We don’t want to go to the demon realm!” Wei Wuxian protested, trying to back away, but their path was blocked by the snarling dingos. “We just want to look for our juniors!”
“You can let Hua Cheng and the nose people look for them,” Luo Binghe declared, grabbing each of Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji’s wrists. “You should come with me and tell me about your love life! Shizun is always reluctant to try new things…” He trailed off, looking abashed.
Lan Wangji tore his wrist out of Luo Binghe’s grasp. “Shameless!” he reprimanded, his eyes flashing. “What Wei Ying and I do in our spare time is none of your concern!”
Luo Binghe pouted, knowing that neither of them would agree to come with him, so he clicked his fingers, and before he had even finished moving his hand, the dingos had taken hold of both Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji.
“See?” he gloated, patting the closest dingo on the top of its head. “Just because they move before my command, it doesn’t mean they’re badly trained!”
As the dingos carried Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji away, Lan Wangji called, “Lan Qiren! Bina! Don’t come looking for us! Just save the others!”
Bina and Lan Qiren were reluctant to abandon their friends in the demon realm, but also didn’t want to delay the search for the ghost nose, but Hua Cheng made their decision for them. He muttered something about needing to see His Royal Highness and floated into the heavens on his obese fox.
Lan Qiren rubbed his temples as everyone disappeared as quickly and unexpectedly as they had arrived. “Let’s go to the demon realm, Bina, my love.”
Within the cultivation sects, there was chaos. Villagers claimed to have seen Nie Huaisang, Jin Guangyao, Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen all disappear, sucked into the ghost nose.
“How could this happen?” exclaimed one villager, shaking her head and wishing that those cultivators would just get rid of that damned nose.
“I heard that the nose takes the weak!” another pointed out as though it was the most scandalous thing he’d ever heard.
“Didn’t they all get their noses stolen?” a third villager mused. “I think they were sharing somebody else’s nose…”
“Maybe they got sick of sharing a nose and showed weakness!” the first villager suggested in a moment of realisation. “If they were all really angry, it would’ve been easier for the ghost nose to get them!”
The other villagers laughed at what they thought was her ridiculous idea, but the first villager was right. That was exactly what had happened.
“Bina,” Lan Qiren said seriously as they prepared to enter the demon realm. “You gave me your nose, so I think it’s time I gave something to you.”
Bina opened her mouth to protest, but Lan Qiren unsheathed his sword and sliced off his beard faster than she could imagine was humanly possible.
“We need to disguise ourselves if we are going to infiltrate Luo Binghe’s lair,” he announced, handing her the beard. “I want you to wear my beard. It’s full of all my love for you.”
Bina felt tears pooling in the corners of her eyes. “Lan Daddy…” she murmured, clasping his hand in hers as she attached the beard to her own face. “You’re just as beautiful without your beard as you are with it! Let’s go save our friends!”
They crept through the demon realm, somehow managing to avoid detection, but when they finally burst into Luo Binghe’s palace, they were met with a surprising sight.
Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji and Luo Binghe were all reclining in plush chairs, drinking tea. There was nobody standing guard to ensure that Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji didn’t escape, and they didn’t even look like they wanted to escape!
“Lan Wangji! Wei Wuxian!” Lan Qiren thundered. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Bina crossed her arms in disappointment. “If you’re able to leave here freely, shouldn’t you be helping us catch the nose? Luo Binghe, what have you done to them?”
Luo Binghe started to protest, but Lan Wangji elegantly placed his teacup down and rose to his feet. “We apologise, Bina, Lan Qiren. At first, we tried to leave, but then we realised how pitiful Luo Binghe really is. I, too, have experienced what I thought was unrequited love.”
At these words, Wei Wuxian also stood and wrapped his arms around Lan Wangji’s waist. “Lan Zhan and I have been telling Binghe about our childhood,” he revealed with a sentimental smile.
It was only when they stood up that Bina noticed that they were wearing the same green clogs as Luo Binghe and his kangaroos. “What are those?” she demanded, pointing at the peculiar footwear.
Surely Luo Binghe couldn’t have chosen to wear these shoes, she thought. They were rather fashionable, but clearly didn’t match his style.
“We’ve got someone living with us right now,” Luo Binghe began, but he was interrupted by another person hurtling through the door, screaming curses as he entered the room.
“LUO BINGHE! DID YOU FUCKING HEAR THAT SHIT NEWS?” interrogated the new arrival, who was dressed in green from head to toe, including a pair of the strange shoes that just about everyone was wearing.
Bina suddenly knew who had introduced Luo Binghe to the shoes.
“This is Qi Rong,” Luo Binghe announced, shooting him a glare. “He recently got into a fight with Hua Cheng, who filled his house with vicious butterflies, so he’s been living in my palace for the past few days.” Motioning to his feet, he added, “While he was homeless, Qi Rong took a short vacation to a far-off country and brought back these shoes.”
“THEY’RE CALLED CROCS AND THEY’VE GOT BOTH AN ATTACK MODE AND A DEFENCE MODE!” Qi Rong hollered, lifting his foot and shaking it in Lan Qiren’s face. “THEY’RE THE BEST FUCKING SHOES YOU’LL EVER WEAR!”
Luo Binghe showed his first genuine smile since Bina and Lan Qiren had met him. “They really are,” he beamed, showing them how the strap on the shoes could be flipped to accommodate for the wearer’s speed and agility.
Bina and Lan Qiren nodded their heads, partly admiring the shoes but also wondering when they’d be able to finally leave.
Apparently, Qi Rong also had more pressing matters to attend to, because he interrupted Luo Binghe’s introduction of the crocs, yelling, “THE FUCKING HEAVEN OFFICIALS ARE ENTERING A DANCE TROUPE COMPETITION WITH MY COUSIN AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN FUCKING INVITE ME TO JOIN THEM! BUT THEY INVITED FUCKING HUA CHENG AND HE’S A DEMON TOO!”
The room was silent as everyone processed Qi Rong’s news.
“Hua Cheng… is participating in a dance troupe?” Lan Qiren wondered, remembering the sexy pirate demon whose good looks threatened his ego.
“YOU SHOULD ALL COME WITH ME AND CRASH THE COMPETITION!” Qi Rong roared, stomping his crocs on the ground.
Luo Binghe winced as the teacups rattled on the table.
“We shouldn’t ruin their fun,” Lan Wangji countered. “They must have worked extremely hard for this. After all, Hua Cheng did disappear suddenly when we set off to come here.”
“I think we should talk to Hua Cheng again,” Wei Wuxian announced suddenly. “He’s a really powerful demon and probably knows a lot more about curses like this human nose disease.”
“WHO’S A POWERFUL DEMON?” Qi Rong demanded, whacking Luo Binghe’s shoulder. “I’M A FUCKING POWERFUL DEMON!”
“Do you know where the competition is being held?” Bina asked quickly, trying to steer the conversation away from Hua Cheng, who was the reason behind Qi Rong’s homelessness.
Qi Rong tossed his hair. “IT’S IN THE HEAVENS WITH ALL THOSE FUCKING SHIT OFFICIALS! LET’S GO CRASH THEIR STUPID PARTY!”
Luo Binghe put a nervous hand on Qi Rong’s shoulder, not at all used to being the sensible one. “Qi Rong… Maybe we shouldn’t ruin their competition… I think it would be better if you asked them politely why they didn’t invite you.”
Wei Wuxian applauded. “Binghe, you’re really becoming so mature.” He wiped an imaginary tear from his eye and put a hand over his heart. “Your Shizun will be so proud.”
At the word ‘Shizun’, Luo Binghe patted Qi Rong’s shoulder more roughly. “Shizun…” he sighed dreamily. “Shizun… I’m coming to rescue you!”
Qi Rong grudgingly agreed not to crash the competition, but showed them the way to the venue. An ornate gold gate blocked the way into the building, and two men stood in front of it.
“WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?” Qi Rong hollered, storming up to the men, only for Bina and Lan Qiren to grab onto him and haul him away.
“We’re here to regulate entry into the heavenly competition,” the first man declared, looking Qi Rong up and down. His head was smooth and bald, but his eyebrows were thick and angular. “I don’t think you’re the kind of person we want in our audience, especially with those hideous shoes and that vulgar language. You’re blocked from the event.”
Luo Binghe stepped forward. “Who do you think you are, mate?” he demanded, showing off his own crocs and the single kangaroo he’d brought in the case of a fight.
The second man, who had long, greasy hair and no eyebrows, clicked his tongue patronisingly and made a note on a clipboard. “Aggressive attitude. And we don’t allow pets inside. I guess you’re going on our blocklist.”
Wei Wuxian gasped. “Su She!” he announced, staring at the first man. “I hardly recognised you without your hair. And Wen Chao is here too! With no eyebrows!”
They had expected Su She and Wen Chao to be aggravated by Wei Wuxian’s teasing, but to all of their horror, Wen Chao crooned, “Ahh… My Su She looks so delicious with no hair… It really brings out his luscious eyebrows.”
Su She ran his fingers through Wen Chao’s oily hair. “Wen Chao, my love, I’m nowhere near as beautiful as you. Your lack of eyebrows really bring out your tasty, slimy hair!”
Bina clutched Lan Qiren’s hand, feeling incredibly disturbed. She was used to flirting with her Lan Daddy, but she had never seen two people so obsessed with the other’s ugliest characteristic!
“I just want to spread Dorito crumbs all through your eyebrows and lick them off…” Wen Chao breathed, clutching Su She’s shoulder for support as he suddenly felt weak at the knees.
“This is disgusting!” Lan Qiren boomed, losing his temper. “Just let us in! We want to watch the competition!”
Su She gasped in mock terror. “Oh no! You’re soooo scary! Are you judging us for our relationship?”
Wen Chao nodded gravely. “I can see that judging look in his little eyes,” he cried, leaning over and licking the inside of Su She’s ear. “You’re blocked for discrimination!”
“What are you saying?” Bina demanded, unsheathing her swords and taking a menacing step towards Su She and Wen Chao. “Lan Daddy is a fair, beautiful man! He would never look down on your relationship, no matter how strange you two are!”
Su She pouted, sucking on a strand of Wen Chao’s hair as he wrote something down. “You’re getting blocked for associating with this man,” he declared. “Also, no violence! We’re innocent!”
Lan Wangji cleared his throat. “Su She. Wen Chao. We are acquainted with one of the performers in the competition and we really want to watch his group dance. Surely you can overlook this inconvenience.”
He spoke so politely that Bina was almost certain that Su She and Wen Chao would give in, but Su She spluttered. “LAN WANGJI, I HATE YOU!” he screamed, sobbing into Wen Chao’s shoulder. “Why do you always act like you’re so much better than me? Why do you have to be so mean?”
Lan Wangji looked shocked, and Wei Wuxian piped up, “What are you saying? Lan Zhan’s never been mean to anyone in his entire life!”
Tears poured down Su She’s face. “BLOCKED! BLOCKED! YOU’RE ALL BLOCKED! I HATE LAN WANGJI SO NOW I HATE ALL OF YOU!”
Wen Chao stroked Su She’s smooth head, tears forming in his own eyes. “Don’t worry about them, my love. They’re just freaks!”
Bina shook her head in exasperation and pushed the two sobbing lovers to the side. “Let’s go inside!”
They hurried through the gates and into the main building just in time to hear a man’s amplified voice declare, “And now for the first performance from some heaven officials and everyone’s favourite demon lord! Over to Mei Nian to introduce the competitors!”
His voice dipped slightly on the word ‘favourite’, and Bina knew he was referring to Hua Cheng.
Another male voice announced, “Thanks, Jun Wu! The members of this group are Xie Lian, Shi Qingxuan, Ming Yi, Mu Qing, Feng Xin and Hua Cheng! Please make everyone feel welcome! And don’t forget to bet on who you think will win the competition!”
Bina had nearly forgotten about Qi Rong, who had remained silent for most of their encounter with Su She and Wen Chao, but now he ran ahead of them, yelling, “COUSIN CROWN PRINCE! DON’T FUCKING IGNORE ME! THIS IS A SHIT COMPETITION, BUT I STILL WANT TO FUCKING DANCE!”
Xie Lian poked his head out from behind the curtains. “Qi Rong? How did you get here?”
Hua Cheng’s hand emerged to shut the curtains. “Don’t worry about him, Ge-ge.”
“WHY DID YOU STATION SUCH FUCKING AWFUL GUARDS?” Qi Rong continued. There was apparently no limit to his rage. “WHY WOULD SOMEONE LIKE YOU HAVE SUCH A SHIT RULE ABOUT NOT LETTING PEOPLE IN?”
Xie Lian appeared again, an apologetic smile on his face. “Oh, Su She and Wen Chao? They’re not official guards; you can just ignore them. They were meant to be in Jin Guangyao’s dance troupe, but they spent too much time plucking each other’s eyebrows and making out in costume rooms that he kicked them out and put them on door duty. I guess they took their job too far after all…”
Bina’s eyes narrowed and she stroked her – or rather, Lan Qiren’s – beard in thought. “Wait… Jin Guangyao? I thought he wouldn’t dare to appear in public without his nose…”
Behind her, Wei Wuxian muttered something to Lan Wangji.
Xie Lian tilted his head to the side. “Without his nose? What do you mean? Jin Guangyao’s nose is perfectly intact.”
“What do you mean?” Lan Qiren demanded, his eyes flashing. “I witnessed the fearsome ghost nose steal Jin Guangyao’s nose with my very own eyes!”
Lan Wangji added thoughtfully, “What about Lan Xichen? Jiang Cheng? Nie Huaisang? Are they here too? And do they have their noses?”
Xie Lian nodded, ignoring Hua Cheng’s attempts to pull him backstage. “Everyone’s fine and I haven’t heard anything about a nose. But then again, we haven’t really interacted with the other competitors…”
“I DON’T CARE ABOUT A NOSE!” Qi Rong bellowed, climbing over seats in the audience and clambering up onto the stage. “LET ME DANCE, YOU FUCKERS!”
Xie Lian looked taken aback. “Do you really want to dance, Qi Rong?”
When Qi Rong didn’t say anything, Xie Lian added, “We all thought you wouldn’t want to participate in something as frivolous and fun as this…”
Qi Rong stormed towards the curtains, and Hua Cheng stepped out to shield Xie Lian from any potential attacks.
“I JUST WANT TO FUCKING DANCE WITH EVERYONE!” Qi Rong roared, and just as he was about to pounce at Xie Lian, Jun Wu turned the music on.
All the members of Xie Lian’s dance troupe skipped out to the beat of the lively song from behind the curtains, engulfing Qi Rong. Bina expected him to be swept up and tossed off the stage, but to her surprise, they formed a semicircle around him.
Qi Rong just stood there for a moment, but Hua Cheng hissed, “If you want to dance so badly, then dance!”
A rare smile lit up Qi Rong’s face and he bared his teeth in glee, kicking one leg high into the air with unexpected flexibility. His robes slid up his leg, revealing his thigh-high green crocs as he pumped his arms wildly and spun in a circle.
Luo Binghe’s jaw dropped and he whispered audibly to Wei Wuxian, “Do you think he’ll give me a pair of those?”
Qi Rong executed a few more rather obscure dance moves before moving to the side and copying as Xie Lian, Hua Cheng, Shi Qingxuan, and the extremely reluctant-looking Ming Yi, Mu Qing and Feng Xin continued their dance.
From the judges’ panel, Jun Wu and Mei Nian looked exceedingly pleased, and Jun Wu declared, “It’s just splendid to see our heaven officials being so inclusive of others!”
“Qi Rong’s dance moves have certainly added an unexpected flair to the performance!” Mei Nian added, nodding his head in approval. “And he’s doing an excellent job of following the others!”
Even with Qi Rong’s clumsy improvisation, the group’s dance was spectacular; the members moved across the stage with such elegance and liveliness that one would hardly believe they were all capable warriors.
When they took their final bows, Jun Wu announced, “Thank you for this wonderful performance. Now it’s time for the second group, led by Jin Guangyao.”
Bina waited with bated breath, eager to learn what had happened to Jin Guangyao and the cultivators whose noses had mysteriously been returned.
“This group consists of Jiang Cheng, Nie Huaisang, Jin Zixuan, Jiang Yanli, Lan Xichen, Jin Ling, Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi and Shen Qingqiu,” Mei Nian declared, and with a flourish, the curtains opened, revealing the missing cultivators Bina and Lan Qiren had been searching for!
“SHIZUN!” Luo Binghe screamed, his voice cracking as he rushed towards the stage, but Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji held him back.
“Let’s let them have their fun first,” Wei Wuxian hissed, “and then we’ll interrogate Jin Guangyao.”
The song this group danced to was a more modern-sounding piece in comparison to the first group, and Jin Guangyao stepped into the centre of the line, striking a dramatic pose. He tossed his hair and twirled around while the others made a circle and lifted him up into the air.
Although the first group’s dancing had looked more fluid and effortless, Jin Guangyao’s group’s performance had a certain flair to it that Bina supposed could only be displayed by a member of the wealthy and regal Lanling Jin sect.
As soon as they had finished dancing, Lan Qiren thundered, “WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS? HOW DID YOU ALL GET HERE? AND WHO RETURNED YOUR NOSES?”
Jin Guangyao offered a grin as he took another sweeping bow. “I’m afraid I’m to blame for this,” he crooned without a trace of guilt on his face, not sounding apologetic in the slightest.
Luo Binghe gasped, and this time he managed to escape from Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji’s grasp and scramble onto the stage to cling onto Shen Qingqiu. “How could you do this?” he demanded, tears spilling down his cheeks.
Jin Guangyao held up his hand in protest. “Don’t misunderstand me,” he cut in, ignoring the accusing stares and shocked gasps from all the audience members, who had only come to watch the dancing but were now entertained by whatever scandal was playing out in front of them. “I’m the one who formed this dance troupe, but I haven’t been going around stealing noses. How absurd,” he scoffed.
“Of course you haven’t been stealing noses!” Nie Huaisang called from his position on the stage, sounding more confident than anyone had ever heard him. “You may not rank first on the list of best-looking cultivators, but you certainly don’t look like a ghost nose!”
“Excuse me?” Jin Guangyao gasped, affronted, putting a hand over his heart. “How dare you insult me in this way!”
The audience members gasped, captured by this exciting development, as Nie Huaisang continued, “Jin Guangyao, you killed my brother! And then once you dismembered him, you cursed him with the human nose disease that spread eight hundred years ago! Strengthened by the disease, his nose became a fierce corpse and has been running rampant!”
This time, the gasps didn’t just come from the people in the audience.
Wei Wuxian cried, “Jin Guangyao! How could you do something like this to your sworn brother? What did he ever do to hurt you?”
Jin Guangyao’s face contorted into a snarl, but nothing was more unexpected than the words he said next. “Nie Mingjue refused to enter this dancing competition with me!” he spat petulantly, stamping his foot with a force that Luo Binghe, king of tantrums, would have been proud of. “He told me that it was frivolous and ridiculous and would tarnish our reputations forever! I told him that if he didn’t start living his life properly, he wouldn’t have a life to live, but he ignored me and refused to acknowledge him, so I followed through with my threat and ended his life. I cursed his nose a second time so that it would inhale people that I could use to form my dance troupe and show Nie Mingjue that I always get my way!”
The hideous ghost nose, which was hovering behind him, let out what sounded like a burp. “Delicious,” it growled.
Lan Wangji stepped forward. “This is absurd! Shameless!”
“This is not righteous!” Lan Qiren added, shaking his head in disbelief and disappointment.
Next to Jin Guangyao, Lan Xichen’s eyes started to fill with tears. “A-Yao…” he murmured, taking hold of Jin Guangyao’s hands and pleading with him. “Tell me this isn’t true. Tell me you would never do this to our sworn brother!”
Jin Guangyao shook his head, removing his hands from Lan Xichen’s grasp with surprising gentleness, considering his murderous nature. “Nie Mingjue is dead, Xichen. And I would have gotten away with it all if not for his stupid younger brother!”
He pointed an accusatory finger at Nie Huaisang, who quivered and hid behind his fan again. “M-me? Everyone was going to find out eventually, seeing as they all saw you get your nose taken…”
Jin Guangyao had just opened his mouth to argue when Luo Binghe gasped. “Qi Rong!”
Qi Rong and the other members of Xie Lian’s dance troupe had all returned to the side of the stage to hear the scandalous news. Qi Rong replied, “WHAT THE FUCK IS IT?”
“Who told you about the competition today?” Luo Binghe asked, suddenly seeming more like an actual demon lord than he had ever before.
Qi Rong grumbled to himself as he thought. “I was looking for some… uh… food… and I’d just chosen a particularly tasty-looking… meal… when a STUPID FUCKING ANNOYING MAN CAME OVER AND TOLD ME NOT TO EAT IT! HE SAID I’D BE BETTER OFF GOING TO WATCH THE FUCKING DANCING COMPETITION IN THE HEAVENS!”
“So you think… that man was Nie Huaisang?” Bina wondered, stroking Lan Qiren’s moustache, which looked like it was about to fly off his face and strangle Jin Guangyao.
“I never thought Huaisang-xiong would be this smart…” Wei Wuxian mused, crossing his arms. “I guess if you heard that we had encountered Luo Binghe, you could always count on Qi Rong to complain to him. And with any luck, we’d be there, ready to accompany Qi Rong and discover everything… You really are crafty after all!”
Nie Huaisang looked momentarily proud of himself, but then sniffled again. “But in the end… it doesn’t even matter. My brother is dead.”
Lan Xichen put a comforting arm around Nie Huaisang’s shoulders. “I’m sorry, Huaisang–”
“BUT IS HE ACTUALLY DEAD?” shouted a member of the audience, and all heads turned.
Two men stood in the audience. One looked rather normal, while the other was clearly a demon.
Luo Binghe’s face lit up. “MoBei Jun!” he cried, taking Shen Qingqiu’s hand and leaping off the stage to greet his friend.
Shen Qingqiu looked somewhat less pleased to see the other man. “Shang Qinghua…” he muttered, dragging back against Luo Binghe’s grip. “What’s he doing here?”
Shen Qingqiu ignored him, and directed his voice to the cultivators. “Have you ever heard of the Sun and Moon Dew Flower Seed?” he asked them.
It wasn’t a rhetorical question, but nobody answered, because they had never heard of such a thing.
MoBei Jun continued, “We could explain it in depth, but that would be boring. So, long story short, Nie Mingjue’s spirit can come back to life in another body. He took precautions years ago, just in case he was ever killed before he had accomplished his life goals.”
The room fell silent – even the audience members who had no idea who Nie Mingjue was.
After what felt like an eternity, Nie Huaisang and Jin Guangyao simultaneously cried, “WHAT?”
MoBei Jun took Shang Qinghua’s hand and together they pointed to the stage.
Everyone turned their heads again, just in time to witness a body crashing through the back wall of the stage.
“I’M HERE!” Nie Mingjue announced, dusting off the splinters of broken wood.
The room erupted in chaos.
Nie Huaisang and Lan Xichen both latched onto Nie Mingjue, hugging him tightly. Jin Guangyao looked exceptionally displeased, and took off his hat, hurling it across the stage in fury.
Before anyone could say anything important, two more figures hurtled through the hole in the wall.
“We finally caught him!” Liu Qingge panted, and Wen Ning patted his shoulder.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened. “Wen Ning? What are you doing here?”
Wen Ning dropped his gaze. “I’m sorry… Earlier this morning, I came across this man wandering around the fields, insisting upon seeing Jin Guangyao, but when I approached him, he ran away.”
“I was searching for Shen Qingqiu when Wen Ning passed me and asked me to help him catch this man,” Liu Qingge explained.
Jin Guangyao was about to say something when a wet sniff emerged from Nie Mingjue. “I… A-Yao… I’ve been wrong!” he blurted, tears suddenly running down his face and causing him to look uncannily similar to his younger brother. “I’m sorry I didn’t respect your wishes! We should have formed a dance troupe years ago! Now that I see how much fun everyone’s having – even these demons – I realise that we’ve been missing out!” He paused to take a shuddering breath. “A-Yao, everyone, would you let me dance with you all?”
Now even Jin Guangyao had tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry for killing you and dismembering you and cursing you!” he hiccupped, wrapping Nie Mingjue in a tight hug. “I’ve always wanted to form a dance troupe with you–”
In their moment of weakness, Jin Guangyao and Nie Mingjue were both inhaled by the ghost nose, but as it was cursed to bring its victims to Jin Guangyao, it spat them out straight away, accompanied by the sound of a nose being blown.
“Lan Qiren! Bina!” Jin Guangyao declared, tossing his hair. “For restoring my friendship with my sworn brother, I grant you your noses back!”
In a mist of sparkles, Bina’s nose affixed itself to her face, and Lan Qiren’s nose shot out of the ghost nose and landed with a squelch on his face.
Oblivious to the others, Bina stroked Lan Qiren’s cheek. “Lan Daddy,” she whispered in a voice that was somehow both sweet and seductive, “we may have our own noses back, but we will forever be one. After all, who nose what’s going to happen once we get home?” she added with a smirk.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Lan Qiren warned, strangely captivated by the body-part puns. “We don’t want our love life to be toetally public and revealed to everyone here.”
Bina giggled and pulled Lan Qiren into a deep kiss. “Lan Daddy,” she said breathlessly when they finally broke apart. “Wo eye ni.”