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The last Dragon

Chapter Text

In the beginning, there was a lonely Soul traveling along the empty lands of what they now call earth in their realm.

The nameless lonely Soul could see nothing, feel nothing or hear anything. For centuries it traveled on top of the earth alone, perhaps searching for something but not knowing what or why.

Centuries passed and the earth began to change slowly, forming mountains and seas as the lonely Soul kept on walking and crying. Yet there was no other life. The lonely Soul learned to be self aware, learning it existed and felt emotions. It began to yearn for something more. Alone in the darkness, unable to age or die, it kept on roaming the lands. Planting life everywhere they went.

Years went by in darkness, and one faithful day the Soul was given a gift. A fire that would never die, displayed on the sky above them.

They called it the Sun. A burning fire which light up the whole sky and warmed the freezing land the Soul walked on. The Soul was mesmerized by the Sun, treating it as its God and savior. The Soul fell in love with the Sun, living only for it and forming the earth to make them happy. The Sun was pleased with the Souls work, finding earth quite beautiful.

The Sun asked for one more thing, ordering the eager Soul to build them five palaces on top of earth, places of worship. The Soul agreed immediately, taking centuries more to build the places of worship. They created five buildings, the first ones on earth. They were spread out over the land, in different places of the beautiful earth the Soul had created.

The Sun was pleased, gifting the Soul with five pieces of itself, to show its love and appreciation towards the Soul. The Soul was given a name, Mother Nature. Nature was gifted with five beautiful daughters. Dragons, who each lived in one of the palaces built on top of earth by Mother Nature herself.

Earth was now a place she could call home, something she had built with her own hands for centuries. Working together with Sun, her lover and master, she created the rest of the earth they all knew today. Her daughters helped, creating their own Sects. There was harmony and earth was peaceful. Yet like the darkness in the beginning of everything, nothing would last forever.

Mother Nature's youngest daughter Wen slowly became greedy. She saw the beautiful mountains that her sister Nie had and the gorgeous lakes Jiang lived next to. She was envious of the beautiful clouded sky that Lan always got to enjoy and the amazing weather Jin had. She was itching with envy, wanting it all for herself as well, unable to see the good in what she already had.

Greedy, Wen roamed the earth, stealing and destroying. Mother Nature, saddened by her youngest daughters behavior, punished her by turning her into a powerless creature. Looking nothing like her previous self, she was now unable to fly or breathe fire. Filled with anger and hate towards her mother, Wen tricked Mother Nature into trusting her again after many centuries. Mother Nature changed her back, only partly. Wen was now able to switch forms between a dragon and the useless form that would be later known as a human. Not happy with what her mother had done, Wen was filled with anger and the want for revenge. She killed Mother Nature.

The four sisters mourned for their dead mother, trying everything in their power to bring her back. Even going as far as giving up half of their powers, and turning into half-lings like Wen herself. It was no use, Mother Nature was dead and would never return back. Earth no longer changed, staying the same.

The five sisters continued to live, creating their Sects. The Sects which were supposed to be equal and live together in harmony on the earth that Mother Nature had built for them. That never happened, as the sisters began to fight. Forming wars and breaking the ties between them that had formed since birth. Becoming enemies and forgetting their peaceful roots. Earth was soon engulfed in flames.

 

‘I believe this is all the time we have tonight for reading.’ Madam Lan smiled, hearing the two children whine and pout at her words.

‘But Mother!’ Lan Xichen spoke, feet pointing underneath the blanket he was covered with. ‘We still haven’t learned how we got here! I want to know how we came on this earth, from Goddess Lan. Aren’t we all her children?’

‘Now that is a question that the answer would take too long to explain tonight, Prince.’ She cooed, finger tapping against the other's small button nose gently. Lan Xichen pouted, short arms crossing. This only made Madam Lan smile wider.

‘Will we still get to hear the rest of the story some day?’ Lan Wang Ji’s quieter voice asked, looking up at his mother with big eyes.

‘Of course, tomorrow evening i will come back and read you again.’ She promised, seeing the twin’s eyes light up like stars. ‘But now you both need to rest, sleep well through the night.’ She reminded her sons. The twins looked at each other, thinking whether or not to agree with their mother or try to get her to change her mind somehow. Luckily for Madam Lan, her otherwise stubborn sons both let out big yawns and nodded their heads in defeat.

Moving gracefully, Madam Lan tucked both of the boys into their beds, reminding them of the proper sleeping position before kissing their foreheads after removing their ribbons. She placed them down gently, looking at them for a while in the candle lit room.

‘Mother.’ Lan Wang Ji’s voice was heard, only a whisper. ‘When will father return?’

Madam Lan’s eyes didn’t leave the familiar ribbons, smile on her face dying and turning into a somewhat sorrowful expression. She blinked her eyes a few times, turning to look at her son’s again.

‘Soon.’ She said. ‘He will return soon.’ She said followed by a cough. ‘Now sleep. Both of you.’ She smiled again, not wanting to worry the boys with her sad eyes. Yet they could both see through the facade. Their father, the King would never return.

Saying nothing, the two boys began to sleep as quietness surrounded them. Neither of them knew that was the last time their mother read a book for them, kissed their foreheads before saying good night. They had no idea it would be the last time they saw her alive.

That night, as their father and his men never returned from their battles, the Wen’s attacked Cloud Recesses.

*

Flying high above the clouds, a skilled dragon dodged all mountains and trees as it flew past and through them. Flying downwards, his tail touched the river he flew over. Salmon were jumping up a stream, bumping into his stomach in a way that tickled. Heading back up, he soared even higher than before, darting through clouds and heading towards the sun above. It’s warm rays touched his dark scales, wind blowing past him gently. Tail swinging behind him gracefully, he took a nosedive down. His red eyes were watering due to the wind yet he ignored it, a low rumble escaping his mouth as he blew a cloud of fire in front of him.

The crowd down below cheered and yelled in awe as they saw their senior fly through a ring of fire so gracefully, without any trouble. The youngest ones of them all looked with mouths open, swords falling down onto the grass. The great grey dragon on the sky showed a few more tricks, enjoying the attention he was getting. A pair of deep purple eyes was staring at him from somewhere not too far, stepping forward and parting the crowd like the sea as he walked over to the practicing grounds.

‘Wei Wuxian!’ Jiang Cheng’s voice echoed, making the rest of the crowd bow if they hadn’t already noticed him just by his strong vibe that he carried everywhere with him. Servants walking behind him, Jiang Cheng crossed his arms and waited for the idiotic dragon above to come down already.

Wei Wuxian flew down after making a few rounds around the practicing grounds, making few of the people around them laugh at his antics but they all stopped as soon as they saw Jiang Cheng glare at them. Finally landing, the grey dragon shifted quickly between their eyes, forming into the lean young man everyone recognized him as.

‘You called, your highness?’ Wei Wuxian asked in a joking tone, ignoring the look Jiang Cheng gave him. The King didn’t quite appreciate him disrespecting him in front of others, wishing he would act his role.

Ignoring the joking tone in his voice, Jiang Cheng continued to do what he came down to the practicing grounds to do in the first place. ‘Join me and the rest in the pavilion. Now.’ He murmured, quickly turning around and leaving the grounds on foot. His guards followed behind him quickly, eyes never leaving their leaders back.

Wei Wuxian sighed, kicking a rock in front of him before following his brother.

 

Wei Wuxian was leisuring on the ground next to his seat, using the cushion as a pillow underneath his head while rolling a smooth stone in his hands, barely paying any attention to the conversation happening around him. Jiang Cheng had already told him about the important meeting days ago, ordering him to join him when meeting the Yunmeng Jiang Sect congressman. Wei Wuxian didn’t know why his younger brother wanted him there, as he never let him voice out his own opinions, saying he was only saying rubbish. So Wei Wuxian stayed quiet, head up in the clouds as he reached over and took a sip from his tea.

Jiang Cheng stood straight, position great and showing off his decorated robes. The King looked quite serious, purple eyes staring at the congressmen who spoke about his Sect. He glared over at Wei Wuxian, lips drawn into a line as he fought back the urge to swear at him.

He sighed instead, nodding his head and allowing the men to sit down after telling him everything. ‘So everything will be taken care of once we leave?’ He asked again, one of the men assuring him that everything was thought of and taken care of. Jiang Cheng nodded his head, still deep in thought. He turned to his brother again, clearing his throat.

‘I see that you have anything against your arranged marriage then?’ Jiang Cheng asked, taking a sip of his own tea and grinning as Wei Wuxian spit out his own onto the table and floor.

‘What?!’ He coughed, wiping his mouth onto his robes. Wei Wuxian stared at his brother in shock, trying to remember what he heard being spoken of- remembering nothing as he paid zero attention. Like usual, and Jiang Cheng knew this, only playing a trick on him.

‘Serves you right for not listening.’ The other snarled, making Wei Wuxian glare at him. ‘One of these days i won’t be joking, then you will feel sorry for not listening to me.’ He added with a threatening tone.

‘You’d never do that to me, you love me.’ Wei Wuxian grinned, seeing the other's face turn sour.

‘You wish.’ He spat, placing down his tea cup.

Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng had a unique relationship, as adopted brothers. They knew each other since they were small children and Jiang Cheng couldn’t really even remember a time when he didn’t have the other by his side. Wei Wuxian was a son of a non Sect members, poor and alone once both of his parents passed away in the earliest Wen attacks. Jiang Cheng’s father and the previous King Jiang Fengmian took him in as one of his own, raising him with love and care like his two other children. Wei Wuxian had a hard time getting used to living in the Lotus Pier palace, still finding himself stealing food and money when he didn’t have to. It was a habit he had gained while living alone in the streets as it was the only way to survive. Slowly but surely, he got used to having a new loving family. Parents and siblings. Soon all that was taken away from him again.

The Wen’s came, destroying everything on their way like none of it mattered. In those fires, died Jiang Cheng’s parents and their dear sister Jiang Yanli. Though she was just a child like the two of them, she made sure her little brothers were safe. Pushing the small boat out into the empty lake while limping with a broken leg. Bleeding badly, she collapsed onto the burning pier. The waves of red fire swallowing her soon later. It was the last time Wei Wuxian or Jiang Cheng saw her. It was the last time the now King felt something.

Sometimes now even though it has been years and they are no longer kids but young masters, both Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian wake up from that same nightmare covered in sweat. Smelling and tasting the burnt wood and flesh, like it was still happening.

Fire was a strange thing. It was a breathing living thing, taking control of itself unless controlled. As Dragons they came in contact with the element almost daily, yet they somehow still managed to fear it. How could they not, as it had ruined so many things in their lives. Killed so many people, destroyed so many precious things and memories.

Jiang Cheng lost his childhood, becoming the King and leader of his Sect at the age of fifteen when the elders deemed him worthy of becoming the King. Before him, the Sect elders took care of the fallen Kingdom and helped repair what was left of it. Once Jiang Cheng became the King, the people had hope again. With him, they would rebuild the Yunmeng Jiang Sect. And they did.

The Sect was nothing like before the attack, but it was better than after the tragedy. Jiang Cheng had used countless hours working on his Kingdom, creating something that they could call their home again. Wei Wuxian was grateful for that, finding the other to be much stronger than what he was. He wasn’t sure he could bounce back up in a way like he did, doing something of worth with his time. Wei Wuxian had spent the years trying to figure out what he wanted from life. He still isn’t sure if he has found the answer.

In fact they were all trying to figure out what to do, now that it was the calm before the storm.

‘We leave tonight.’ Jiang Cheng repeated himself, telling Wei Wuxian everything again with a tired sigh. ‘The Twin Jade’s of Lan will be waiting for us as the Cloud Recesses. We will discuss the plans for what to do against the Wen’s.’ Jiang Cheng spoke of the forbidden Sect like a swear word, words filled with poison. Wei Wuxian swallowed down a lump in his throat, hearing the cursed name.

He nodded his head, fighting back the urge to say something. Yet when he knew how much Jiang Cheng hated his opinion on the matter, he decided to go easy on the other today and let it go. He was never much in favor of being the peacemaker, but something about fighting fire with fire- literally- didn’t feel right for him. The Wen’s had done many wrong things, hurt many people in ways no one else could understand. Jiang Cheng and the other Kings had been discussing the matter through letters for quite some time already, finally deciding to meet and discuss the plan. The plan for an attack, to put an end on the whole Sect.

Ignoring the bad taste in his mouth, Wei Wuxian decided to follow his brothers orders.

*

‘Prince Sewu-Jun, we have received a message from the closest watchtower that the invited Yunmeng Jiang Sect members will be arriving shortly.’ Jin Guangyao bowed down deeply, smiling gently. The royal servant stood up straight again, receiving a smile from the man dressed in pure white.

‘Thank you Meng Yao, i appreciate your quick work.’ He sang, looking up at the sky from the patio. It was a cloudy day, like always. He hoped that the cultivators arriving from Yunmeng knew how to navigate through the clouds and high mountains without much trouble. The clouds had always been there to protect them from intruders, making it hard for visitors to enter too.

Luckily the visitors from Yunmeng seemed to have figured it out, as Lan Xichen soon saw a shadow fly above him. She stepped aside, making space for the pure black dragon who landed on the large patio. Behind him soon arrived the rest. The black dragons looked like they didn’t belong there, the white surroundings of the Gusu Lan Sect fighting with their black auras. Ignoring the unusual sight in their Cloud Recesses, Lan Xichen sported a sweet smile on his face as he and Jin Guangyao approached the visitors.

The dragons shifted into their human forms, dressed in bright purple. It was quite the sight in Cloud Recesses as everyone else was dressed in white, a part from Jin Guangyao who wore múted yellow robes underneath his white ones as a way to feel a little closer to his previous Sect, the Lanling Jin Sect.

‘King Sandu Shengshou, may i present to you his royal highness Prince Sewu-Jun.’ Jin Guangyao bowed, arm pointing towards Lan Xichen who stepped forward with a polite bow. Jiang Cheng did the same, his men standing behind him in a neat row.

‘Please, call me brother.’ Lan Xichen smiled, asking Jiang Cheng to follow him as he began walking away from the landing patio. Jiang Cheng smiled, a rare thing to see.

‘Brother Sewu-Jun, i ask to bother you for a moment more. One of my men is… Is late.’ He murmured out, smile beginning to fade and turning into an annoyed look instead as he looked up into the sky. Lan Xichen did the same, letting out a small laugh.

‘Young master Wei, i assume?’ He asked.

Jiang Cheng nodded his head, brow twitching. ‘I am afraid this isn’t the only thing he will be late with or ruing during our stay here, i apologize for him in advance for everything he does.’ He said not amused.

‘That is quite alright.’ Lan Xichen assured him, hands behind his back. He stared at the sky calmly even though Jiang Cheng was tapping his feet against the floor nervously and anxiously. He would beat the other into a pulp once he arrives. Like on cue, everyone soon saw the grey dragon fly down onto the patio in swirls.

Wei Wuxian shifted into his human form, still spinning around a few times while laughing loudly.

‘Amazing mountains!’ He yelled, stepping through Jiang Cheng’s guards, a huge grin on his face. He turned a bit more serious as he noticed the fine looking men standing besides Jiang Cheng, realizing they must be important members of the Gusu Lan Sect. He hurried to their side, bowing down quickly.

‘Young master Wei, may i present to you his royal highness Prince Sewu-Jun.’ Jin Guangyao bowed, looking slightly unsure as Wei Wuxian didn’t show quite a respectable side of himself. If Jiang Cheng hadn’t told about his half brother joining them Jin Guangyao would have thought he was a bum from the towns nearby and would have ordered the guards to take him away. The other looked nothing like a member of the royal family, robes tied lazily and posture bad even when bowing in front of royalty.

‘It’s a pleasure!’ Wei Wuxian smiled widely, Jiang Cheng feeling close to having an aneurysm as he watched his brother embarrass himself in front of him. Luckily for the both of them Lan Xichen didn’t seem like a strict person, quite enjoying Wei Wuxian’s bright aura and smiling back at him.

‘Likewise.’ He said, looking up and down at the other. ‘Quite fancy flying skills you have, Young Master Wei.’ He commented, creating small talk as everyone else was dead silent.

‘Oh that?’ Wei Wuxian rubbed the back of his neck, grinning like an idiot. ‘It was nothing, just something simple! I am sure that Prince Sewu-Jun could beat me at a competition any day of the week!’ He said innocently, yet everyone else looked like they had just seen a ghost, turning pale.

Lan Xichen didn’t miss a beat, smile never dying. ‘That would indeed be amusing to see.’ He laughed, beginning to walk back with Jin Guangyao who looked at Wei Wuxian like he had just called the Prince a piece of crap. Wei Wuxian lifted a brow, wondering what he had said to upset the other. It didn’t help that Jiang Cheng looked like he wanted to punch him in the stomach as well.

Wei Wuxian swallowed deeply, walking with the rest towards the beautiful white building.

*

‘How was i supposed to know that he can’t fly!?’ Wei Wuxian asked, feeling wronged and like he was being bullied as Jiang Cheng screamed at his face now that they got away from the rest, staying in a otherwise quiet study room.

‘Everyone knows that!’ Jiang Cheng growled, face red and hands formed into fists. ‘Literally everyone else on this cursed earth knows that!’

‘Well i didn’t.’ Wei Wuxian sighed, crossing his arms. He felt like an asshole. He had assumed that Lan Xichen could fly, as most could. But he had just learned that he couldn’t from Jiang Cheng. The older twin of the two Jade's was injured as a young child, the night of the burning of the Cloud Recesses. He experienced bad burns to most of his body, losing one of his wings as the damage happened while he was in his dragon form. He survived just barely, yet could never fly again.

Wei Wuxian hit himself on the head, cursing underneath his breath. ‘I feel like an idiot.’

‘You are.’ Jiang Cheng agreed, trying to calm himself down a little. Just then there was a knock on the door and both men looked at each other before staring at the large white door. Jin Guangyao opened the door with one last knock, smiling again like he hadn’t glared angrily at Wei Wuxian before as he bowed.

‘King Sandu Shengshou, young master Wei, i apologize for interrupting anything.’ He spoke gently, sounding a little fake. Well now that Wei Wuxian thought about it, all servants sounded fake in his ears. There was no way anyone could be that kind all the time, it felt suspicious. ‘But you have a visitor.’ He then added.

‘Who is it?’ Jiang Cheng asked, curious as he couldn’t remember anyone who wanted to meet him.

‘Prince Nie has just arrived with his guards, he wishes to see you as soon as possible.’ Hearing that made Jiang Cheng’s face lit up, then clearing his throat as Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes.

‘Please, bring him in.’ He asked, watching as Jin Guangyao bowed and exited the room before coming in again. With him was a man dressed in green, a fan moving before his face. Yet even Wei Wuxian could recognize the man as an old friend.

The three stood around awkwardly for a second, waiting for Jin Guangyao to leave the room. And as he did, the three burst into laughter hugging each other tightly.

‘It’s been so long Huaisang!’ Wei Wuxian smiled, patting the other on the back. The Nie Prince nodded his head, fan covering his face again. The three of them had been friends for as long as they can all remember. They were around the same age, met a lot as kids when their parents organized meetings and trained together at the other Sects. They got up to quite a lot of trouble, before Jiang Cheng was crowned as King. After that they weren’t able to really meet or spend time like before, now being adults with responsibilities.

‘What made you change your mind?’ Jiang Cheng then asked, staring at the other.

Jiang Cheng had sent out an invitation for both the King and Prince of the Qinghe Nie Sect asking them to come and join them during the planning in Cloud Recesses, yet both had rejected the invitation and told they weren’t interested in participating in something so ridiculous. The King, Nie Mingjue didn’t believe that it was ever possible to defeat the Qishan Wen Sect and didn’t want to send out his men into a battle that would only end up in a blood bath. Yet his little brother, Prince Huaisang was here suddenly.

‘Brother had a change of heart.’ The quiet Prince spoke. ‘He still isn’t too sure, but he wanted me to come, so i could tell him the plan personally. He was too busy to come himself, but he expects me to bring him back the news of the plans so he can make a decision.’ Nie Huaisang explained.

‘So King Nie Mingjue still isn’t completely out of the plan?’ Jiang Cheng asked, feeling hopeful.

Nie Huaisang nodded his head after a while. ‘I guess. But you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high, you know how much he changes his mind.’ He murmured.

The two brothers really were like water and oil, very different from each other. Nie Huaisang was shy, skinny and tiny. He never learned sword fight and only uses his dragon form for transport. Perhaps he didn’t even know how to create fire. He was very… dainty. His brother was nothing like him. King Nie Mingjue was strong, skilled with swords and a master at creating fire in his strong dragon form. The members of the Qinghe Nie Sect had a special talent, as their dragon forms were a little different from the members of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect.

Yunmeng Jiang Sect members dragon forms were pure black and they all had purple eyes. They were of course skilled in creating fire but they had a special feature that none of the other Sects had. They had learned how to create lightning. With their large mouths they had learned how to make striking purple lightning as well as red fire. Every Sect had some special feature to them.

The Qinghe Nie Sect members dragon forms performed very well on ground, thriving near the rocky mountains of their home land. Their dragon forms were large, yet skinny. They slightly resembled lizards, able to tuck in their wings and crawl around and between the mountains and rocks. Their scales were tinted with green and had yellow eyes. But their scales could transform from green to grey and even black in order to fit in with their surroundings. They were masters at hiding.

The Lanling Jin Sect members were very skilled with arrows in their human forms, and they had learned it all from their dragon forms. They were able to shoot extremely precise balls of fire even at the fastest targets, hardly ever missing if they had spent any time practicing. They were the smallest dragon species, scales orange, but they were not to be looked down upon.

The Qishan Wen Sect members dragon forms were the largest in size out of them all, as they lived the nearest to volcanoes and thrived due to the heat and fire. They were crimson red, eyes black. They were able to cough up chunks of lava, doing great damage and harm to their enemies. They were also the largest Sect at the moment, army large and powerful.

The Gusu Lan Sect members spent most of their time meditating and learning. They were calm, and tried not to participate in any fights as it was against their rules. They were the same even centuries ago, when their ancestors first learned their Sects special ability. Through meditating for many days straight, their dragon forms were able to unlock a channel inside themselves. Now they were able to spew out fire as well as ice. The skill was quite fitting, as their outer appearance looked like ice as well with their pure white scales and blue eyes.

All Sects were very different yet special in their own way. Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but feel jealous at times when looking at his purebred friends. He was a mongrel himself, of mixed breed and could only create fire. Yet his unique small but powerful size made him an expert at flight. His scales were dark grey and eyes bright red.

‘I hope you can bring him good enough news that he will fully change his mind.’ Jiang Cheng spoke. ‘We need all the help that we can get when battling against those damned Wen dogs.’ He cursed.

‘Funny of you to think that the Gusu Lan Sect will help us.’ Wei Wuxian said, arms crossed. ‘Don’t they try to stay away from war and battles for as long as possible? I thought they were very religious too…’ He murmured, remembering that the Gusu Lan Sect members were very much in love with their many rules and worshiped the moon and the Lan Goddess very seriously.

‘True, but King Hanguang-Jun seemed very agreeing in his letter. He too holds a grudge against those Wen’s.’ Jiang Cheng said.

Wei Wuxian let out an amused laugh, making the two look at him. ‘So starting a war is alright just because you two hold some grudges? Doesn’t sound too smart in my opinion.’ He spoke. Jiang Cheng glared at him, making Nie Huaisang look uncomfortable between the brothers as he hid behind his fan even more.

‘You almost sound like you don’t hold any grudges towards those damned dogs. Were your parents not also killed by them?’ Jiang Cheng asked, almost immediately regretting his words. He didn’t take them back however, studying Wei Wuxian’s reaction. He swallowed deeply as Wei Wuxian’s hand reached to fix the sleeve of his left arm as a habit Jiang Cheng knew too well. He didn’t want people to see the huge burn mark on his otherwise perfect skin.

‘Of course i hold grudges.’ Wei Wuxian said dryly. ‘Doesn’t mean i’ll go ahead and start a war just because of them.’ He added.

‘Of course it doesn’t and i never would.’ Jiang Cheng defended himself. ‘My own personal grudges are the least thing i care about. I care about the hundreds of people dying every week because of them. Because of Wen Ruohan.’

The cursed King of the West. King Wen Ruohan was a powerful and cruel King, taking after his father. He had one goal, that similar to the one of the Goddess Wen herself. He wanted to take over the earth, killing off every other Sect one at a time. He had almost managed to do so before falling sick not too long ago. Even though he had two sons he didn’t want to move the crown down yet, only taking a small break while still ordering his men in the battle field. But he was weak and ill, everyone knew this and wanted to take advantage of it. Jiang Cheng knew they needed to do something now or they may never have another chance to bring him down. That was why he needed the help of the other Sects.

‘Uh-hahhah, brothers please.’ Nie Huaisang laughed nervously, stepping between the two. ‘We should get ready to meet King Hanguang-Jun soon, perhaps leaving this topic for another time.’ He spoke while stuttering slightly. Jiang Cheng stared at Wei Wuxian for a moment more, then drawing his eyes away and nodding his head.

‘Yes, i agree.’ He sighed. ‘I truly hope you don’t embarrass yourself again by doing something in front of the King. I bet Prince Sewu-Jun already told him what you said to him before.’ He added as a way to bully the other and it worked as Wei Wuxian was reminded of what he had said to Lan Xichen before, feeling regret wash over him. That reminded him, he needed to apologize to the Prince as soon as he sees him again.

Instead of saying something snarky back at his brother, Wei Wuxian decided to be a good brother and didn’t want to be an embarrassment to Jiang Cheng as he asked him quietly. ‘Is there anything i should avoid saying or doing in front of the King?’

‘Just don’t bring up dead parents and we should all be fine.’ Jiang Cheng said dryly.

*

‘I apologize for my brother, King Hanguang-Jun will arrive shortly after gathering his thoughts after his long flight back.’ Lan Xichen smiled sweetly, watching as Jin Guangyao poured tea to all of the cultivators. The three sat next to each other, Wei Wuxian devouring the snacks that had been presented a while ago while Nie Huaisang dark his tea. Jiang Cheng sat still, quite nervous as he was meeting the King for the first time.

He was quite used to King Nie Mingjue’s presence as well as King Jin Guangshan as he met the other's many times before after becoming a King himself, but he had never met the Gusu Lan Sect King. In fact none of them had. This was the first time the Gusu Lan Sect had accepted guests since many years. The Cloud Recesses used to be a well known place for travelers and for people who wanted to learn. The Cloud Recesses were quite famous for its many libraries an study rooms. Many came to learn, before The Gusu Lan Sect decided to close its doors suddenly. No one never really knew why, but ever since the Wen Sect had attacked and even though the Gusu Lan Sect members were able to save most of the books and writings they had, they never opened their doors again.

Looking around himself while eating, Wei Wuxian enjoyed the beautiful architecture and art around him. The Cloud Recesses truly was a heavenly and gorgeous place, only something Wei Wuxian had heard about. Though everything around him was white and causing him a slight headache with the brightness, he still found himself enjoying his surroundings. While looking around himself he noticed a pair of eyes staring back at him.

Locking eyes with an older man from the Gusu Lan Sect, Wei Wuxian blinked his eyes a few times as he realized the man was pouting while looking at him. Seeing that Wei Wuxian had noticed him staring at him, the man looked away while caressing his beard between his fingers.

Wei Wuxian decided to ignore the odd man for now, continuing to eat as he was bored.

Lan Xichen kept up the conversation, speaking about whatever came to his mind. He asked about their own Sects and what they were like as he had never visited any of them, only reading about them from books. That must have been very boring, Wei Wuxian thought to himself. He had now visited all of the Sects, apart from the Wen’s. He loved to travel, fly anywhere his heart decided to take him. Thinking about this made him swallow slowly, realizing why the Prince probably never traveled anywhere else even though his brother did. He was unable to fly after all.

Wei Wuxian’s thoughts were interrupted as a voice echoed in the palace suddenly, a servant walking in through the front door. ‘Entering, his royal highness King Hanguang-Jun.’ He spoke with a clear voice before stepping aside.

They all got up from their seats, Wei Wuxian struggling just a little before bowing down like the rest. He didn’t lift his head up for a while as he didn’t want to seem disrespectful. He only peeked a little once he heard footsteps pass him, seeing the long white robes tag behind his strong frame. Wei Wuxian’s mouth fell open as he stared at the young King. How shameless of him, to stare down at a royalty like this with an almost drooling mouth. Yet he couldn’t help it.

The young King was indeed handsome, like his brother. The two were twins but not identical. In fact they looked very different and had completely different auras to them. Lan Xichen was smiling most of the time, very polite and happy in a way. Which was surprising as he had went through so much.

Lan Wang Ji however wore a straight expression on his face, not really pouting but not smiling at all either. His face was very handsome, figure looking strong even when covered with so many robes. Wei Wuxian tried to imagine what the two brothers would look and act like if their roles were switched, like they were supposed to.

Lan Xichen was older, just by a few minutes but still. He was supposed to be the King, the one in Lan Wang Ji’s spot. Yet he wasn’t crowned as the King, not after what happened to him. The Prince lost a wing while in his dragon form many years ago, making him weak and unable to become the King. His brother, younger by mere minutes was crowned as the King instead. Like Jiang Cheng, both were way too young when they became Kings. It felt unfair, knowing they never had a proper childhood. Well, none of them had a proper childhood thanks to the Wen Sect.

‘I apologize for being late, King Sandu Shengshou and Prince Nie.’ King Lan Wang Ji spoke, low voice surprising everyone in the room. He looked just as young as Lan Xichen, yet his voice was a few octaves lower. His voice was special, something Wei Wuxian wanted to hear more. He almost forgot the way the other forgot to mention him at all. He pouted, perhaps this King was just as ignorant as the rest. Not many people cared about Wei Wuxian’s presence, knowing he wasn’t blood related to the Yunmeng royals. And everyone knew he was a mongrel, not finding him worthy of respect.

Jiang Cheng nodded his head, sitting back down. ‘Quite alright, King Hanguang-Jun.’ He said. ‘I must thank you again, now face to face, for allowing this meeting to happen.’

Lan Wang Ji nodded his head, a servant handing him something that looked like a thick stack of papers. Wei Wuxian let out a deep sigh, realizing this meeting would end up being a long one. How wonderful.

‘It was about time the Sects came together to discuss the acts of the Qishan Wen Sect.’ Jiang Cheng continued. ‘As you already most likely know, the King Wen Ruohan has fallen ill due to unknown reasons. He is weak and unable to order his men as powerfully as before. It is now or never, that we decide to do something about them before it is too late and they attack us all again with more serious consequences.’

Lan Xichen’s own smile had faded a long time ago, standing on his brothers left side while listening to Jiang Cheng’s speech. Jiang Cheng didn’t hold himself back as he said everything that had been in his mind for quite some time. He knew what the Gusu Lan Sect members thought about war and battle, but he needed to try and get them on their side. The Yunmeng Sect could not fight this war on their own as that would just be a suicide mission.

Lan Wang Ji’s expression did not change a lot, staring at Jiang Cheng before looking back down at the papers. Wei Wuxian now realized they were the plans and maps that Jiang Cheng had sent him along with the letter, the King dressed in white studying them again.

‘I understand.’ Lan Wang Ji spoke, placing the papers down again. ‘But i ask you to look at things from our perspective.’ He added.

Jiang Cheng lifted a brow, letting out a cough as he cleared his throat. ‘Of course?’

Lan Xichen stepped forward, that smile displayed on his face again. ‘What brother means, is that he wishes you understood a little more of our culture and ways before asking for something so… Violent, as joining into battle.’ He explained.

The Gusu Lan Sect members were very religious, known as calm and careful with their actions. They spent a lot of time meditating and praying for their Goddess and the moon, which they believe gave them the skill of using ice along with fire. They were quite different from the Yunmeng Sect, as they spent most of the time practicing battling and preparing for war since a young age. Both Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng remembered battling with swords ever since they knew how to walk. Jiang Cheng’s eyes traveled along the twin’s frames, noticing swords there but they looked more like decoration.

‘I completely understand, that it is against your traditions and teachings.’ Jiang Cheng said. ‘But the Qishan Wen Sect does not care about any of those, if they decide to attack you again.’ Perhaps he was being too rough with his words, seeing the Prince look at him a little differently. But he didn’t regret his words, finding it important that he spoke some sense into the strict twins.

‘Mentioning the cursed Sect aloud is forbidden inside the Cloud Recesses.’ A voice spoke, all of them turning to look at the old man dressed in white standing by Lan Wang Ji’s right side. ‘Had you respected our Sect and it’s rules even a little, you wouldn’t have said such a thing in front of the King.’ He spoke, voice filled with anger and face slightly red. It was clear that the elder was bad with controlling his emotions.

Jiang Cheng didn’t immediately know what to say, finding himself in trouble as he disrespected the other’s culture. He had known the Wen’s were not looked nicely anywhere, but not even allowing their name to be said out loud seemed a little overkill. He was thinking about something to say that would calm down the situation, but let out a small curse as a figure got up next to him.

Wei Wuxian smiled while bowing, making everyone look at him. ‘I apologize for my King.’ He spoke, attempting to sound as sincere as possible. ‘We were not aware that naming the other Sect was against your rules.’

‘Hmph.’ The elder said, avoiding eye contact with the other. ‘Not surprising from someone like you.’ He finally said, making Wei Wuxian look at him weird. This old man who he has never met before talks of him like he has known him for all his life, already hating him like Wei Wuxian had shaved off that dumb looking beard he grew on his chin when he had never seen him before till this day.

‘I am afraid i do not understand?’ Wei Wuxian asked carefully, attempting to look and sound as proper as possible.

‘A mongrel like you doesn’t deserve to understand.’ The elder then spat, making everyone in the room quiet. ‘It is forbidden for muts to study in the Cloud Recesses, you are unable to ever learn.’

From the quiet slowly rose a laugh and everyone looked at Wei Wuxian with wide eyes as he laughed in the elders face like a mad man.

‘I see.’ He said between fits of laughter, trying to calm himself down. Jiang Cheng’s hands had formed into fists. No one knew if it was because he was mad at Wei Wuxian or the old man who disrespected his brother in front of everyone. It must have been the second one, as he soon got up and stared at the old man with his bright purple eyes.

‘I apologize for my own mistake, i was unaware of your rules before.’ He said, teeth biting together tightly. ‘However, that does not allow you to disrespect my own brother.’ He spat.

The elder looked a bit more serious, clearing his throat. ‘Young master Wei is not your brother by blood, King Sandu Shengshou. He is merely a respectable figure of the royal family due to his bad reputation and rotten bloodline.’ He explained, making Wei Wuxian’s shoulders lower.

‘I suggest you take your words back, Senior.’ Jiang Cheng spoke, threatening the man. Nie Huaisang looked like he was about to pass out, anxious due to the serious mood around him. A bead of sweat fell down his forehead as he kept waving his fan in front of his pale face.

Wei Wuxian stared at his brother, unable to believe the other was really defending him. Wei Wuxian wouldn’t have blamed him if he decided not to do anything, as that would have been better for the situation right now. Yet it seemed that there was a fight about to break out, when they had began this meeting only minutes ago. Jiang Cheng should have guessed getting the Gusu Lan Sect on their side would not be easy.

‘My apologies King Sandu Shengshou, but i am not obliged to apologize to the mongrel.’ There was that word again, pricking against Wei Wuxian’s heart like a strong needle dipped in poison.

Jiang Cheng bit onto his bottom lip, not liking the way the old man spoke. He was thinking whether to start yelling or pull out his sword, luckily Wei Wuxian saw his inner battle and stopped him before he did something he would regret.

‘Understood. Quite clearly understood.’ Wei Wuxian spoke, smile on his lips. He turned and bowed down to King Lan Wang Ji who was still avoiding him completely. ‘My apologies for this interruption during such an important meeting, please carry on.’ He spoke.

‘No need.’ The King then said suddenly, surprising Wei Wuxian as he lifted his head and saw the pair of piercing blue eyes staring back at him. ‘Meeting is over.’ He added.

‘Wh-’ Wei Wuxian managed to sigh, seeing the King get up from his seat. Jiang Cheng had turned pale, staring at the King in white with an unreadable expression.

‘It is quite clear that were are unable to come to a decision due to our differences. I wish that the King Sandu Shengshou, his men as well as Nie Huaisang rest through the night before leaving the Cloud Recesses tomorrow morning.’ He spoke, voice low and not filled with any emotion. He looked at each of them once again, nodding his head once before exiting the room with Lan Xichen and the old man following him. Lan Xichen turned around before walking past the door, bowing down with a sad smile on his lips.

*

‘I can’t believe that just happened.’ Jiang Cheng cursed, kicking his shoe off and throwing it to some corner of the room. He ripped open his outer robes, annoyed and clearly showing it. ‘I can’t believe i said that!’ He yelled, lowering his voice as he was reminded of the rules again. No loud talking allowed after the sun sets. What a bunch of crap these rules were.

‘I ruined everything.’ Jiang Cheng whined, sitting down on the floor, giving up on removing the rest of his robes. Wei Wuxian sat on the window, humming a song and looking at his brother pitifully.

‘You didn’t.’ He assured him. ‘If it was anyone, it was me,’ He sighed.

‘What do you mean?’ Jiang Cheng asked. ‘You weren’t the one who said the forbidden Sect name out loud in front of the King.’ He said with a pout.

‘Yeah, you did fuck up on that part.’ The other laughed, making Jiang Cheng glare at him. ‘But you weren’t the one who pissed of that Sect elder just by existing and breathing towards his direction.’

Jiang Cheng sighed. ‘He is Lan Qiren. The uncle of the twin Jade's.’ Jiang Cheng explained. ‘He hates everyone who breaks the rules, and isn’t fond of anyone who isn’t purebred.’

‘Hmph. Rude.’ Wei Wuxian sighed. ‘Is it really my fault i was born this way?’ He asked, not expecting an answer.

‘Don’t think about it, what he said was all wrong.’ Jiang Cheng murmured. ‘You know who you are, your blood doesn’t decide anything for you.’

Blinking his eyes a few times, Wei Wuxian’s lips twitched with a smile. This must have been one of the only times now that they were adults that Jiang Cheng had his back and supported him through something. The other was usually always going against him, as Wei Wuxian had a bad habit of doing dumb things that would get him into trouble. If Jiang Cheng had said nothing when the elder was calling Wei Wuxian all those cursed names then perhaps Lan Wang Ji would have ignored his uncle and kept the meeting going. But instead he called it over quicker than any of them could have guessed. Which was a huge shame as now they didn’t have The Gusu Lan Sect on their side, which meant that Nie Mingjue wouldn’t support them either. They were all alone again, and now Wei Wuxian couldn’t stare at the handsome King anymore, truly a shame.

‘I need to catch some fresh air, also let you think about this all for a moment alone.’ Wei Wuxian said, jumping down from the window and onto the roof right below. Jiang Cheng ran to the window, yelling after him as he saw the other switching forms. But the other was too far away already to hear anything, flying away somewhere.

 

Wei Wuxian didn’t know where he was going, flying through the thick clouds and dodging the mountains. Flying through the Gusu Lan Sect was hard even during the day was hard because of the clouds, but it was almost impossible during night when it was dark and even the moon above didn’t give him enough light to see where he was going clearly.

Eyes widening, Wei Wuxian let out a small growl as he hit a mountain straight on, hitting his head hard and falling down. His dragon form fell down like a leaf from a tree, but way less delicately. In fact, his frame was bumping into trees and ripping down branches with him on his way down. He hit the ground with a loud sound, letting out a painful growl. He attempted to get up from the rocks, a scream escaping his throat as his leg ached. His red eyes glowed in the dark as he gave up, shifting forms.

It was dangerous shifting forms when you were injured, as the bones and flesh shifted and changed position. The shift made his leg ache even more, feeling the damage in his human form.

‘Fuck…’ Wei Wuxian cursed, looking at the damage. Well his head felt like his skull was broken from such a hit and his leg didn’t feel any better either. It didn’t look nice either, covered in blood and the middle of his leg now had something sharp pointing underneath the robes. He didn’t even need to lift the robes to know that it was a bone sticking through his flesh. He ignored the feeling of wanting to faint, moving his body on the rocks so he was leaning against on.

He closed his eyes, attempting to keep his breathing stable. The last thing he needed was to faint because of the blood, die during his sleep because of blood loss. He jumped slightly and let out a yelp when he heard a voice coming from somewhere above him.

‘Flying after sunset is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses.’

‘Yeah shit, i don’t really need to be reminded right now.’ Wei Wuxian said tiredly, nearly choking on his spit as a figure landed down in front of him. ‘King H-hanguang-Jun!’ He stuttered, eyes wide and face turning pale.

The King dressed in white stood in front of him, looking down at him with a straight face. He was clearly upset that he had broken the rules, yet Wei Wuxian could care less about that when the other grabbed his collar and pulled him up.

‘You will come with me to receive your punishment.’ He said simply, voice cold and emotionless.

Swallowing deeply Wei Wuxian couldn’t find the strength to fight back, nodding his head ever so slightly. The King looked slightly surprised that the well known troublemaker wasn’t putting up a fight, beginning to pull the other after him. He paused immediately when he heard the other scream out loud. Looking back at the other, he saw how he was staring down at his leg. Lan Wang Ji followed his eyes and saw the others injured leg.

Wei Wuxian suddenly felt very weak, woozy due to the injury that he took. He struggled to stand up straight and Lan Wang Ji’s grip on him got tighter in order to keep him up. Wei Wuxian couldn’t believe the other didn’t just leave him there like a piece of trash. He must have really wanted to punish him for breaking the rules. He opened his mouth, wanting to say something but failing. He felt the hand holding him up push him down gently, his eyes closing.

Wei Wuxian saw the flash of white before him before his eyes closed completely, a pair of scaly arms holding him.

Chapter Text

Head pounding, Wei Wuxian stirred in his sleep and fluttered his eyelashes open slowly. The room he was in was bright, sun shining through the white curtains. The rays of sunlight hit his skin, warming him gently. He stared at the ceiling quietly for a moment, attempting to remember where he was and what had happened to him.

Those white curtains… Ah! This wasn’t Lotus Pier at all, but the Cloud Recesses. The memories of flying over to the white palace just yesterday rushed to his mind, as well as the meeting that didn’t go as planned. His head ached, frowning as he closed his eyes again. He opened them again almost immediately, getting up and supporting himself on the edge of the bed. He get out a groan, realizing his leg was injured. So hitting the side of a mountain last night wasn’t a dream after all. He had indeed idiotically flown right against one of the many mountains guarding the Cloud Recesses and busted his head and broke a leg when falling down such a height.

He cursed underneath his breath, throwing his injured leg down off the bed and sitting up straight. He blinked his eyes a few times, studying the neat bandages around his ankle and leg. Had someone taken care of him? Where was he anyways and how’d he get here?

“Young master, you have awoken.” A voice spoke, surprising Wei Wuxian in a way that made him move a hand closer to his sword, only to notice it wasn’t resting against his waist after all. Wei Wuxian glared at the direction of the voice, expression softening when he saw a limping older woman come his way. “You took quite the hit last night, looking at your injuries.” She spoke, lips drawn into a big smile. The older woman wore white robes as well as a familiar forehead ribbon.

Wei Wuxian relaxed a little, seeing this woman wasn’t there to harm him. In fact she must have been the one to take care of his injuries. Looking around himself Wei Wuxian noticed the other beds around him and though they were empty now, they were used by other injured people. He was in a infirmary of some sorts.

“What happened?” Wei Wuxian then asked. “I mean, after my accident.” He added, remembering how he got his injuries now that his mind wasn’t as cloudy as right when he woke up.

The lady smiled, wobbling a little as she walked over to him and took a seat on the edge of his bed. Wei Wuxian trusted her and didn’t find anything suspicious looking about her, so he let her come near him. He also noticed his sword propped up near his bed, ready to grab it in case anything bad would happen.

“Do you not remember who brought you to my care?” She asked, smile disappearing. She looked as Wei Wuxian paused to think for a while, then shaking his head. She nodded her head, placing a hand on his knee and giving it a slight squeeze. “Perhaps you will remember one day.” She then said, confusing Wei Wuxian.

“Wait, you don’t know who brought me in either?” He asked.

“Of course I know, I know everything that goes around these areas.” She laughed.

Wei Wuxian blinked his eyes a few times, looking at her like she was crazy. “But you still won’t tell me?” He asked, making sure.

“I will not, young master.” She repeated herself, hand squeezing Wei Wuxian’s knee a little harder. “Learning that will be for you to do on your own. If you cannot remember then perhaps you aren’t supposed to remember it for a good reason.”

“That doesn’t make any sense!” Wei Wuxian spat out, immediately placing a hand on top of his lips to make him lower his own voice. “Why can’t you just tell me?” He asked again, really not understanding why the lady was teasing him like this. He couldn’t understand why she couldn’t just tell him right now, instead making him figure it out on his own. He blamed his idiotic memory and that damn mountain he hit his head against.

‘Young master, you need to figure out your savior on your own. It is a part of your own story that you need to unfold on your own.” Okay, now Wei Wuxian was sure this lady was just spewing whatever came to her mind in an attempt to make him crazy, and it was kind working. His eyebrow twitched as he looked at her smiling face, letting out a deep sigh.

“My own story, yeah alright.” He murmured. “If you won’t tell me who brought me here, then will you at least tell me how to get out?” He asked.

“Of course.” She laughed loudly, tummy shaking. Even though a member of the Gusu Lan Sect, she seemed to be very kind and laid back when compared to the other Sect members Wei Wuxian had met. Compared to Lan Qiren who seemed to be around her age, this woman was a saint.

“I have already informed your brother, the King about your condition and he should be here soon to take you with him.” She then said, making Wei Wuxian cough suddenly. Damn, he forgot all about Jiang Cheng. He is going to snap his other leg so it will match his bandaged one nicely. Though afraid of seeing the other after running of and hurting himself in such a dumb way, Wei Wuxian would rather be by his side then in the infirmary. He then nodded his head.

“Uh, thank you for taking care of me, Madam.” He said sincerely. The older woman nodded her head once, standing up and walking away from him, probably to meet with Jiang Cheng who would be arriving later. Left alone again for a moment, Wei Wuxian’s mind wondered. He wondered how long it would take to heal his leg or get rid of the headache bothering him ever since waking up. Could he be able to leave the Cloud Recesses today like they were supposed to? Many things were bothering him, all at once. Yet none of them seemed to matter as much as the annoying feeling he had in his gut when he wasn’t able to remember who saved him. If he could only remember their name, a face or even their voice. But he was unable to remember anything, only falling through the trees and collapsing when he hit the ground. Could he really remember the person who saved him, like the lady said?

*

“How could you be so stupid?!” Jiang Cheng yelled, having received Wei Wuxian from the infirmary and brought him back to their stay. The other man sat still, receiving his insults and screams without a complaint. Jiang Cheng sighed, robes moving as he rested his hands on his hips. He shook his head while looking outside the window in front of him. “I should have guessed you would cause some kind of trouble while we were here.” He murmured quietly, teeth bit tightly together.

Wei Wuxian stayed quiet, fingernails ripping away the rough skin around his cuticles as a nervous habit, listening and watching Jiang Cheng. He could see that the other was sincerely mad and upset at him, deciding it wasn’t the best time to try and joke about the situation. He too understood it was serious, knowing the King wanted them all to leave today. Yet Wei Wuxian had gone and injured himself badly, making the trip back home very hard and even dangerous. The lady at the infirmary ordered him not to switch forms for a few weeks, making sure the injury on his leg gets better before that. Ignoring her instructions could have bad long lasting effects on Wei Wuxian’s leg. The only other choice that they had was to transport Wei Wuxian back to Lotus Pier in his human form, which was also very dangerous.

Opening his mouth to say something to his worrying brother, Wei Wuxian was interrupted by a knock on the door. Both turned to look at the direction of the sound, Jiang Cheng clearing his throat. “Please enter.”

The heavy front doors opened and Jin Guangyao stepped inside the room, bowing politely with great posture. He smiled, lifting his face and looking at Jiang Cheng. “King Sandu Shengshou, I must bother you with my presence without a short notice, I apologize.” He spoke, with such talent and care that Wei Wuxian wanted to throw up after hearing him. He couldn’t understand how anyone managed to speak in such a proper way. He would have never managed to live as a servant. Someone, most likely Yu Ziyuan would have ordered his head to be snapped clean off of his body once he accidentally disrespected her, if she was still alive today.

“Please, what brings you here?” Jiang Cheng asked, standing with his back straight.

Jin Guangyao nodded his head. “My masters, Prince Sewu-Jun and King Hanguang-Jun have asked you to join them, in a sudden meeting about your departure now that young master Wei has been injured.” He said, surprising Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian.

Though confused and surprised about what the other told him, Jiang Cheng managed to nod his head and answer without pausing to think for too long. “Tell the twin Jade’s of Lan that we appreciate their help and the time they took to discuss this, and that we will join them shortly.” He said, nodding his head as Jin Guangyao bowed and exited the room.

Wei Wuxian was a little shocked to hear that the two knew about his injury. But then again, this was their kingdom. They must know everything that happens even behind closed doors, as quick servants like Jin Guangyao were always there to spy on others and whisper the news into their ears. Though he was glad that the two royalty cared about their return back home, Wei Wuxian was slightly nervous to be there as he had basically wasted their time by injuring himself. If he hadn’t done such a dumb thing and was still healthy they could all leave today like they were supposed to. Slightly nervous, Wei Wuxian made his way behind Jiang Cheng, supported by guards.

 

Other than Nie Huaisang who greeted them with a wave and a smile, everyone else in the room seemed serious and quiet. Even the somewhat oblivious Nie Prince was able to notice the atmosphere in the room and hid behind his fan once again. Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng made their way to sit beside their friend, Wei Wuxian trying to walk the rest of the way without the help of the guards and managing to do so without limping too obviously. Having taken their seats, Lan Xichen who was seated next to his brother cleared his throat and smiled at the new participants.

“Young master Wei, I hope you aren’t in too much pain to participate in this sudden meeting.” He asked, honestly worried for the other's well being. Wei Wuxian felt a little embarrassed, hoping no one would speak about his stupid injury anymore.

“Thank you for worrying Prince Sewu-Jun.” He spoke, bowing. “I am honored that you took the time to invite us over to discuss our departure.” He said, avoiding eye contact.

“Of course.” Lan Xichen smiled. “Brother wouldn’t have let you leave while injured.” He suddenly added making all of them look at his silent brother sitting next to him, King Lan Wang Ji.

Cold expression not changing, Lan Wang Ji nodded his head towards his brother. Silently thanking him and allowing him to sit back down. He lifted his eyes from his desk, looking at the three of them.

“I believe it would be cruel of me to let our guests leave in such a short notice, when one member of their party is badly injured.” He spoke. Wei Wuxian stared at him intensely, realizing this was the longest he heard the other speak ever. His voice was lovely, low yet calming. He wanted to hear more. He almost misheard the way the other treated and spoke of him, a huge difference to yesterday when he didn’t even look his way or greet him. He wondered what was behind such a change.

“I ask you to stay, until you are all well rested and healed enough to travel back to Lotus Pier. I also hope we can redo the meeting regarding your plan against the Qishan Wen Sect.” Lan Wang Ji added. Before Wei Wuxian’s brain could even process what he had said, Jiang Cheng got up from his seat and bowed deeply.

“My apologies King Hanguang-Jun, and sincere thanks for changing your mind.” He said, staying still for a few seconds before looking up at the King dressed in white. “I also thank you in place of my brother, we both sincerely appreciate your decision.” This woke Wei Wuxian up from his daze, struggling a little to get up but managing to do so and standing besides Jiang Cheng.

He bowed, frame shaking a little as the pressure being put on his injured leg sent flashes of pain up his whole body. He ignored it, bowing before rising back up. ‘My sincere apologies and thanks, King Hanguang-Jun, for spending your precious time on us.” Wei Wuxian dared to look towards the other, his red eyed meeting his icy blue ones. The King nodded his head.

As Wei Wuxian’s heart did a flip inside his chest, the King moved his eyes to look at Jiang Cheng. Wei Wuxian blinked his eyes a few times, using all the strength his body had left to not fall down onto the floor underneath as his leg and head ached like his skin was on fire. Jiang Cheng thanked him once again, mentioning the meeting quickly. Wei Wuxian was no longer really paying attention, counting the minutes before he could go lie back down and receive healing from their Sect members who arrived with them. With their help he could get better faster and he’d be in less pain. Right now, he was fighting back the urge to cry due to the pain in his leg. He cursed at himself in his head, asking why he had to be such an idiot and leave to fly the previous night. His mind was brought back onto earth when Lan Wang Ji began to speak again, his voice ringing in his ears.

“Before the meeting and while staying in the Cloud Recesses, I wish you to take the time and learn a little about our culture and ways in the sacred library.” He spoke. “This is the first time we have opened our doors to visitors and no outsiders have been learning from our teachers since the cursed burnings, this is a wonderful opportunity for you to learn whatever your heart's desire.” The King spoke, a hint of happiness in his voice. Wei Wuxian couldn’t understand why however as he was only speaking about a bunch of books. What was exciting about a bunch of books anyways? Wei Wuxian had never been a fan of reading, finding it boring and horrible. He preferred to do things instead of reading about doing them. He was sure he’d stay as far away from that library as possible.

“Of course, I hope you follow all the rules while in the library.” He added, eyes now cold again. “One of them being, only purebreds are able to learn in the Cloud Recesses.”

Ah, there was that sentence again, hitting Wei Wuxian like a slap across the face and stinging there for a while. He didn’t know why he felt offended, having found the books and the library a boring and useless thing he had no interest towards before at all. But now when he was suddenly told he couldn’t do a thing, he wanted to do it more. Just to prove a point that he could indeed do it. Had the person who said those words been someone he was a little more familiar with, he would have stood up and cursed at him. Asking who they thought they were, putting down ridiculous rules for Wei Wuxian to try and follow. But this wasn’t any regular person. This was Lan Wang Ji, Hanguang-Jun, the King of the Gusu Lan Sect. The way his cold blue eyes stared back at Wei Wuxian made the other shut up, bite his bottom lip tightly.

All the affection and care he had felt coming from the other before, when he decided to hold this meeting and letting them stay longer as he was injured, were all gone when he said those words. Even though the old man Lan Qiren was nowhere to be seen today, his spirit still clearly hanged around, as his nephews had the same beliefs. But who could he blame, every purebred on this earth thought about him and the rest in a bad way. To them mongrels were nothing but trash, the dirt underneath their feet. Perhaps Wei Wuxian was wrong for believing the other was different from the rest.

*

A few days passed quietly. Jiang Cheng spent most of his days inside the library, reading and learning until the black lines on the white paper began to form into one big mess. He did this in order to learn as much of the strict and complicated culture that the Gusu Lan Sect members had, so he wouldn’t make another mistake like the previous one during their next meeting. He would take breaks when he would go flying with his guards, wanting to see more of Cloud Recesses. Not like a dumbass however, he did this during the day so he wouldn’t end up like his brother.

Wei Wuxian spent his days receiving healing sessions from the nurse they brought with them from Lotus Pier as well as the Lady from the Cloud Recesses infirmary. Whenever Wei Wuxian saw her, he would ask about the person who saved him, but she would only laugh and say nothing. Wei Wuxian was beginning to lose hope on ever finding out, as his own memory still wasn’t the best. It had never been, maybe due to all of those hits he took against his head as a kid. He was a master at falling on his head.

But not being able to fly around like usually or annoying Jiang Cheng like before made him bored. He was basically withering away, not having anyone there by his side to bully or annoy close to death. Jiang Cheng asked of him to stay out of trouble and behave himself, but that was way too hard to actually do when you were Wei Wuxian. He lived off of annoying other's and performing tricks on them. When that was suddenly taken away from him, he was basically starving. Jiang Cheng had told him to stay away from Nie Huaisang too and told him not to annoy him, but Wei Wuxian had no other choice.

So there he was, sitting besides Nie Huaisang in his room. Someone was talking, blabbering about whatever came to their mind for hours and hours. For the first time in his life, Wei Wuxian was the one being annoyed, having to listen to the other complain about his older brother and life in general. Wei Wuxian now understood why the other got so well along with Jiang Cheng, as the two were almost perfect for each other. Boring as hell. Wei Wuxian leaned against his arm, eyes blinking slowly as he stared into some void he had created with his mind as Nie Huaisang continued to talk about the time his elder brother took away all his fans because he hid away for a whole day and missed some meeting. Wei Wuxian almost fell from his chair as a door behind them opened after a knock.

Wei Wuxian didn’t know who he had expected to see there, but it definitely wasn’t Lan Xichen. Both he and Nie Huaisang got up quickly and bowed. Wei Wuxian’s leg was healed to the point where he could now stand up without huge pain, but he still needed to be very careful not to twist it or cause too much damage to it by moving a lot. Lan Xichen quickly asked them to take a seat again, worried that Wei Wuxian would hurt himself.

“Prince Nie, young master Wei.” He spoke while standing in front of them. “I was wondering if the two of you would be interested in some afternoon tea together with me and Meng Yao on the north wing.” He then asked. Wei Wuxian didn’t miss the way he spoke of his servant, using his birth name. The two must be very close, he noted in his head.

‘“I’d be honored to join you.” Wei Wuxian then said, not letting Nie Huaisang say anything. The other was too busy mumbling something quietly behind his fan. But he managed to nod his head in agreement.

“Lovely, right this way.” Lan Xichen smiled, walking in front of the two and leading them through the Cloud Recesses. He walked slowly on purpose, making sure not to go too fast as Wei Wuxian was still injured. The other appreciated his help, noting the way he seemed to take care of everyone equally. Lan Xichen always wore a gentle smile on his lips and treated everyone with kindness. Wei Wuxian wondered if he was really like that or was that the image he had grown over the years. He was a little afraid to know, in case Lan Xichen turned out to be exactly like his uncle Lan Qiren. Speaking of the uncle, Wei Wuxian had been able to breath and sleep his nights well knowing that the evil man had left to deal with some things in a town below the mountain. Wei Wuxian didn’t need to hear him curse at him for now. Ignoring all that for now, he and Nie Huaisang followed the Prince.

They arrived in a small, beautifully decorated room that was filled with servants and maids. They all noticed them arriving from further away, bowing and exiting quickly. Only leaving a smiling Jin Guangyao waiting for them.

“Prince Nie, young master Wei, I am glad to see you join us.” He said while bowing. Both Nie Huaisang and Lan Xichen hurried him to lift his head, relax a little. Perhaps this was why Lan Xichen asked them to join them, so they could get to know each other a little better and leave unnecessary honorifics behind them when away from the rest.

After they all took their seats in front of the table filled with tea and small snacks that looked too pretty to be edible, Wei Wuxian let out a small laugh, eyes meeting with Lan Xichen’s. “Prince Sewu-Jun, I must first do something I should have done days ago.” He said. Lan Xichen and the rest stared at him curiously, the Prince never losing the smile on his face.

Wei Wuxian cleared his throat, placing his hands on top of the table. “I was supposed to apologize to you as soon as possible, but I was unable to meet you quicker than I hoped.” He explained. Lan Xichen said nothing, nodding his head slightly, asking him to continue. Wei Wuxian swallowed down the slight feeling of anxiety, taking a breath in. “I apologize for bringing up your old injury back when we first met, I was ignorant and unaware of your inability to fly.” He said.

Though Lan Xichen’s expression didn’t change one bit, Jin Guangyao’s expression turned a little sour and sad. Wei Wuxian ignored it for now, only looking at Lan Xichen. The Prince let out a small laugh, shaking his head. “Young master Wei, I hope you were not worrying about this all this time after our first meeting. That would make me sad.” He said, reaching and bringing his tea cup closer to himself, taking a whiff of the aromatic tea before drinking a small sip.

Wei Wuxian was able to let out a sigh of relief, happy knowing the other didn’t hate him for what he had said. Lan Xichen lowered his cup down, looking down at it. The smile on his lips never left, yet there was something shining in his eyes. Sorrow.

“The injury that I received all those years ago still haunts me daily, yet I do not hope others to feel wronged for mentioning it.” He confessed. “I cannot change the past and neither can you, so I wish you wouldn’t think about it too much. It is better for the both of us to move forward, forget the past.” He added while staring at the other.

Though his mouth felt somewhat dry, still unsure this was the answer he had wanted to receive, Wei Wuxian nodded his head and took a sip of his own tea quietly.

For a while they spoke together. Nie Huaisang and Lan Xichen spoke the most and Wei Wuxian learned that the two had known each other for some time already as Nie Huaisang’s brother had ordered him to send some letters as he was too busy. Lan Xichen had read those letters and sent a few back and forth with the Prince of Qinghe Nie Sect and got to know him a little. They spoke like old friends, Wei Wuxian feeling like he was an outsider. His eyes shifted away from the two and landed on the quiet Jin Guangyao instead.

“Young master Jin.” Wei Wuxian started, surprising the servant with such a fine title. “I was a little curious, learning your family name and seeing you wearing the traditional Lanling Jin Sect color underneath your white robes. What brought you to the Cloud Recesses?” He pointed out, receiving a weak smile from the other.

“Young master Wei truly has sharp eyes for detail.” He complimented.

“Please, call me brother.” Wei Wuxian laughed.

Jin Guangyao hesitated for a moment, finding it unruly for a servant like him to call someone like a Prince’s brother without honorifics. But he saw the delighted smile on Wei Wuxian’s face and the small nod that Lan Xichen gave. He nodded his head, placing down his own tea cup,

“It may come as a surprise, but I am actually a royal family member of the Lanling Jin Sect.” He then said, making Wei Wuxian choke on thin air. The other wasn’t expecting to hear such a thing at all, taken back by it.

“A member of the royal family!?” Wei Wuxian asked, Nie Huaisang looking very curious as well. Well who wouldn’t be, this must be the most interesting thing he had heard all week since arriving at the Cloud Recesses.

Jin Guangyao nodded his head. “I am the illegitimate son of King Jin Guangshan.” He added, making all the color fade from Wei Wuxian’s face. So this person he has been seeing as a mere servant for all this time, was actually a crown Prince and higher in rank than Wei Wuxian himself. He suddenly felt very small, in a room filled with Princes while he was only adopted into the Yunmeng Sect royal family.

Jin Guangyao must have noticed the shocked look on his face, smiling gently. “Young master Wei- or should I say brother?” He asked, receiving a nod from the other. “Please do not feel awkward around me now that you know my family background. I am nothing close to a royal, as my father expelled me from the Lanling Jin Sect after finding out I was his son. I am unable to return even if I wanted to, as the crown already has a next heir. Prince Jin Zixuan will become the next King.” He spoke.

Though he kept on smiling, expression never really changing from the positive one he always wore on his face, Wei Wuxian could see this topic was hard to talk about for him. And it wasn’t surprising as it was truly shocking to learn that King Jin Guangshan had an illegitimate son who he had also abandoned and expelled from ever entering their kingdom again.

“As to how I became a member of the Cloud Recesses servants, I can only thank Prince Sewu-Jun.” He added, glancing towards the Prince dressed in white. Wei Wuxian looked at the two of them, seeing that they were very close to each other and knew each other well.

“Meng Yao came flying into the Cloud Recesses one dark night, hungry and in need of shelter.” Lan Xichen then began to explain. “He had been traveling for weeks, trying to find a place that would take him in. He hadn’t told anyone the reasoning behind him getting expelled from the Lanling Jin Sect, in order to protect himself. But he told me, and I understood him.” He said, voice much lower now, like a whisper.

“I took him under my wing, making him my personal servant so no one other could question him or order him.” He added, taking a sip from his tea. Lan Xichen was truly a kind man, taking care of everyone. He had a big heart and Wei Wuxian could see that.

“I am forever grateful for Prince Sewu-Jun, for changing my life.” Jin Guangyao said, turning to look at Wei Wuxian and Nie Huaisang. “What we have just now told you is something no one else knows, apart from the King, and I ask you to keep my secret.” This truly was juicy gossip, something that would cause the whole Cloud Recesses to whisper and send looks towards the Prince and his personal servant. Wei Wuxian nodded his head, lifting up three fingers and holding them up.

“I, Wei Wuxian promise that your secret is safe.” He said, smiling lips wide. “Do not worry, I will tell no one.” He assured the other again.

“Thank you, brother.” Jin Guangyao said sincerely. Nie Huaisang did the same, asking a few more questions from Jin Guangyao as he found his background very interesting. While the two spoke together, Wei Wuxian turned to Lan Xichen. Now that they had began to speak comfortably in front of each other, even sharing such secrets, Wei Wuxian hoped the Prince could answer a few of his questions he had been thinking of in his head for quite some time.

“Prince Sewu-Jun, may I ask you something?” He began, catching the other's attention. He received a nod, allowing him to continue. Wei Wuxian thought for a few seconds more, figuring out what to ask first before opening his mouth.

“I hope I am not being too disrespectful for asking about such a thing, but it has been in my mind for some time already.” He began. “I have been meaning to ask you, why do your people despise mongrels like me so much?”

Instead of looking taken back or shocked at the serious question, Lan Xichen looked almost prepared to answer it immediately, as if he knew Wei Wuxian would ask him something related to it someday. He placed his hands onto the table neatly, looking at the other.

“Young master Wei, are you aware of the fact that your birth mother studied at the Cloud Recesses?” He then asked, making Wei Wuxian look at him like he had seen a ghost.

His birth mother? Cangse Sanren? Wei Wuxian’s mother who had died in the Qishan Wen Sect attacks along with his father when he was just four? Wei Wuxian didn’t know a lot about her, only that she was the pupil of the famous Baoshan Sanren, a rogue cultivator. Wei Wuxian knew nothing more, not even remembering his mother's face or voice as it had been so long since her death. If he attempted to remember her, he would only remember the smell of burning wood and flesh as he was brought back to the burning scenario he almost died in as a child.

Swallowing once, his hand moved to rest over the robes covering his left arm. Wei Wuxian shook his head. “No, I was not aware at all.” He said dryly.

Lan Xichen nodded his head, smiling slightly. “She was indeed one of the many pupils studying in the Cloud Recesses, before the attacks and us closing the doors of our library from outsiders.” Lan Xichen began to explain. “She was a very well known trickster, making jokes and causing small trouble.” Though Wei Wuxian didn’t remember his mother, he still thought of her with a positive mind. Hearing that he was quite similar to her made him smile.

“Back then it wasn’t surprising to see people from all Sects studying here, and it didn’t matter if they were purebred or not. Everyone was welcomed to come and learn.” Lan Xichen explained, eyes staring into his tea cup. Nie Huaisang and Jin Guangyao spoke about their own topics together, ignoring the two for now.

“So what caused the change?” Wei Wuxian asked, curious.

Lan Xichen’s smile died a little, only a mere grin remaining on his lips. “You must have realized that my uncle, Senior Lan Qiren treats you differently. More strictly and with little respect.” He then said, surprising Wei Wuxian.

“When your mother, Cangse Sanren studied here, my uncle fell in love with her.” He then said, truly shocking Wei Wuxian. “Uncle asked for her hand in marriage, being very young and thinking the young lady wanted to spend the rest of her life with her. But that wasn’t what young lady had in mind. She wanted to travel the lands, visit every Sect. She wasn’t interested and my uncle couldn’t understand why.” Lan Xichen explained with a sour expression.

“Heart broken, he made a request to the then King, asking to ban all mongrels from ever learning in the Cloud Recesses after she left. He didn’t want to ever see her again, locking himself inside the Cloud Recesses and barely ever leaving.” Though Wei Wuxian held little to no sympathy over a man like Lan Qiren who had disrespected him in such a way during their first meeting, he couldn’t help but feel sad for him. He had never thought that the Gusu Lan elder had loved his mother, now hating Wei Wuxian as well because she had rejected him.

“Uncle had learned about your mother's death years ago, becoming angry and secluded. He never loved anyone like he loved her, staying single and never marrying anyone other.” Now that was sad, Wei Wuxian had to admit. He couldn’t help but wonder if Lan Qiren saw his mother in him when they first met each other. Wei Wuxian remembered the way the elder man stared at him for a long while, most likely seeing the smallest resemblance he shared with his mother. It must have felt like a punch to his stomach, seeing a part of his dead loved one. Wei Wuxian felt sad for the old man, even when he had called him such things.

“He must have felt many things when looking at me.” Wei Wuxian murmured, taking a big sip from his tea, wishing it was liquor instead. But that too was of course forbidden in the Cloud Recesses.

“You share a similar resemblance, I have to admit.” Lan Xichen then said. Wei Wuxian looked at him with wide eyes.

“You know what my mother looked like?” He then asked quickly, almost tipping over the teacup he placed down.

Lan Xichen nodded his head, something glimmering in his eyes as he smiled. “Young master Wei, there are a few portraits of her stored in the Cloud Recesses from her studying days, would you like to see them?” He asked innocently, not realizing how important his words truly were to Wei Wuxian. He would get to see his mother's face, for the first time in years. A face he had already long forgotten.

“Yes!” He laughed, grabbing Lan Xichen’s arm in a way that could have been seen as very rude and disrespectful, but Lan Xichen only smiled wider. “Seeing those portraits would mean the world to me!”

“Very well, I shall ask the librarians to find them for you, so you can look through them as soon as possible.” Lan Xichen said, making Wei Wuxian realize that this could take a while. The library was huge, with many stories and underground sections. It was almost the size of the whole palace, built right next to it. It could take even days for the librarians to find her portraits for him. Though eager to see them as soon as possible, Wei Wuxian realized he needed to wait. He let go of the others arm with a nod.

Lan Xichen saw the slightly disappointed expression on his face, clearing his throat once. “The King is an expert at navigating through the library, I am sure that if you were to ask him for a favor he could help you find the portraits.” He said.

Wei Wuxian looked a little confused, staring at Lan Xichen oddly. “Now why would the King help me? Doesn’t he hate me just as much as your uncle does?”

Lan Xichen shook his head slightly. “Incorrect, you must remember that Wang Ji is very much affected by the company of our uncle. He does what he is being told. However I am sure he doesn’t believe in everything that uncle does. I believe he actually cares about you. Doesn’t him cancelling your punishment hint towards that?”

Wei Wuxian looked back at him with big eyes. “What punishment?” He then asked.

Lan Xichen looked at him back, seemingly feeling just as confused as Wei Wuxian as they looked at each other in silence. “Uhm, young master Wei, what do you exactly remember after your injury?” He then asked.

Wei Wuxian shrugged his shoulders slightly, sighing. “I only remember hitting that damned mountain, falling down and breaking my leg. Then I passed out due to the pain and woke up in your infirmary. Why do you ask Prince Sewu-Jun?”

The other nodded his head, a sly smirk on his face. “So you do not remember who saved you and brought you back?” He then asked.

Wei Wuxian shook his head, eyes then widening and looking at the other. “Do you know?”

‘Perhaps.” Lan Xichen said. Wei Wuxian was just about to open his mouth, ask the other to please tell him. But quite the like old lady at the infirmary, he shook his head and laughed.

“I believe it is for the best if you figure it out on your own, young master Wei.” Lan Xichen spoke.

“Why does everyone keep saying that!?”

*

Wei Wuxian didn’t know why he was so nervous, standing in front of the quiet Jingshi while looking at the huge door decorated in delicate portraits. He took a deep breath, pointing his hand forward to knock against the white wood only to pull back away and curse underneath his breath. This repeated for a few times. Wei Wuxian was sure guards would soon come to find him, seeing as he entered the royal wing of the Cloud Recesses and hadn’t came out for a while. He did indeed look suspicious just standing there, yet he couldn’t bring himself to knock on the door. He sighed turning around and beginning to walk away. He jumped a little, shoulders rising as he heard the sound of the door opening.

Turning around, Wei Wuxian let out a choked sound before quickly bowing. Lan Wang Ji looked at him, blue eyes glowing and meeting with Wei Wuxian’s own red eyes as the other lifted his gaze from the marble floor.

“King Hanguang-Jun, I apologize for showing up in front of your personal study.” Wei Wuxian spoke. “I was told by Prince Sewu-Jun that I might receive some help from you in a personal matter.” He explained his reasoning behind arriving in front of his door. Lan Wang Ji didn’t say anything or do anything either, there was a pause. After a while of awkward silence, he opened the doors to his Jingshi wider and walked back inside without closing the doors. Wei Wuxian stood still for a while, biting the inside of his mouth before daring to step forward.

The Jingshi was indeed beautifully decorated, neat and well organized. Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but compared it to his own room inside the Lotus Pier. His own room was a mess always and he couldn’t help but feel out of place in the neat room. He noticed the many books displayed everywhere and the beautiful zither that stood alone in a corner dedicated just for it. Wei Wuxian wondered if the King enjoyed to play it often, realizing the room reminded him of the other quite a lot. Just like Lan Wang Ji himself, everything was perfect. There wasn’t a spec of dust on the floor or anything placed crookedly. Wei Wuxian stood in front of the other's desk for a moment before sitting down as gracely as possible. His leg was much better now, having been receiving healing for almost a week now. It was hard to believe they had been staying in the Cloud Recesses for a week already. What was even more hard to believe was the fact that it took Wei Wuxian this long to finally muster up the courage and show up in front of the King’s Jingshi.

Wei Wuxian had hoped to receive the good news from Lan Xichen about his mother's portraits for a few days already, yet there was nothing. The librarians were working hard trying to find them and Wei Wuxian was beginning to slowly lose hope in ever seeing them before they had to leave again. So now he really had no other choice but to turn to look for help elsewhere. He cleared his throat, seeing Lan Wang Ji was waiting for him to explain why he was here.

“Prince Sewu-Jun told me about the reason behind why people like me are not allowed to learn in the Cloud Recesses.” He began, catching the others attention. “He told me about Senior Lan Qiren and about my mother, Cangse Sanren. I have been trying to get my hands on her portraits for a few days now with Sewu-Jun’s help. But there hasn’t been a lot of progress made, so I came to you, King Hanguang-Jun.”

There was a pause, an unknown feeling lingering between the two of them as Lan Wang Ji thought about what to say. “The library forbids you to enter it.” He then said.

“I know.” Wei Wuxian answered. “That is why I came you ask for your help.” He added. “Prince Sewu-Jun told me about how well you know the library, he thought you could help me to find my mother’s portraits.”

When mentioning his brother again, Lan Wang Ji’s expression changed. He sighed, feeling somewhat helpless. Like he had no other choice but to help Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian almost wanted to cancel his words, tell the King that he didn’t need to help him. But the other suddenly got up from his seat and walked over to one of the stacks of books set on the side neatly. Wei Wuxian stared as he looked through the books quietly, getting a big scare when the other spoke suddenly.

“The librarians wouldn’t have been able to ever find the book you were looking for.” He said, low voice sending shivers down Wei Wuxian’s back. The other was about to ask him why, when the other found what he was looking for. Carrying the thin book in his arms, Lan Wang Ji then placed the old book down onto his work table. Wei Wuxian looked at it with fascination, seeing the beautiful cover.

Lan Wang Ji pushed the book forward, looking at Wei Wuxian. “This is one of the many school albums we have saved here in the Cloud Recesses, filled with portraits made of the students.” He explained, watching as Wei Wuxian opened the book carefully. He looked through the first page, searching through the names mentioned. Wei Wuxian hadn’t even realized he had been holding a breath in for all this time until he let it out, seeing the familiar name appear between the many lines. Cangse Sanren. There it was!

Wei Wuxian flipped through the pages, stopping when he arrived in the right one. He looked at the image painted onto the page, a smile spreading onto his lips.

A woman dressed in white Gusu Lan Sect robes sat on a chair, smiling towards the painter who had immortalized her face onto the pages in the book that Wei Wuxian was looking at. She looked youthful, full of energy and hope for the future. Her hair was a little messy when compared the the other women sitting besides her. She really did look like him.

“She was gorgeous.” Wei Wuxian sighed, fingers tracing over the black ink. He cleared his throat, reminding himself that he wasn’t alone in the room. He fought back from tearing up, removing his eyes from his mother’s face. “Thank you for showing me this, King Hanguang-Jun.” He then said.

Wei Wuxian continued to flip through the pages, seeing a few more portraits with his mother added into them. Wei Wuxian still had a hard time believing this person painted onto the book in his hands was his mother, the one who cared for him and brought him into this world. His smile froze a little, seeing his mother painted next to a familiar person, who looked a little younger than now.

Lan Qiren was smiling, standing next to his mother. The sight of the man smiling must have been a rare thing to see even back then, so they decided to immortalize the sight in the book. Perhaps the old man would still be smiling the same today, had things turned out different. But then Wei Wuxian would not be here, if his mother never met his father. Faith had a funny way of working.

Wondering if the reason behind why Lan Wang Ji had this book was because Lan Qiren was in it, Wei Wuxian flipped on to the last page with his mother in it. He saw a portrait of her mother smiling, standing next to a lady from the Gusu Lan Sect as her forehead ribbon was clear even in the old painting. He stared at the two for a while, eyes traveling down to look at the names written underneath. Cangse Sanren, his mother and..!

“Madam Lan?” Wei Wuxian asked, looking up at Lan Wang Ji. “Our mothers knew each other?”

After a pause, Lan Wang Ji nodded his head. He too was staring at the book on the table between the two of them. “They studied together, and I believe they knew each other very well.” Wei Wuxian stared at the picture, finding Madam Lan to be quite beautiful and she shared a resemblance to the King sitting in front of him. Wei Wuxian swallowed down a lump in his throat, he wondered what things would be like if they were still here. Seeing their sons growing older.

“I am glad they were friends.” Wei Wuxian then said, making Lan Wang Ji look at him.

“Friends.” Lan Wang Ji repeated the word quietly.

“Yes, friends.” Wei Wuxian laughed. “It is always important to have friends there by your side, right?” Lan Wang Ji said nothing, moving his eyes away and looking at the book again. Something sat weird at the bottom of Wei Wuxian’s stomach as he watched the other. He slowly realized that the man, the King around his own age sat in front of him, didn’t have any friends.

Wei Wuxian stayed quiet for a while, then closing the book slowly. The image of his mother smiling back at him from the pages still stayed in his mind. He wished he would never forget it.

“King Hanguang-Jun, what would you say if we paid respects to our mothers together?” He then asked.

The other looked a little taken back, looking at the other with a hard to read expression. “The altar for the dead cannot be visited during these hours.” He then said, fixing his posture.

Wei Wuxian let out a small laugh, shaking his head. “I didn’t exactly mean that, but i’d love to visit the official altar too together with you King Hanguang-Jun.” He explained. “But what I was thinking, was that we too became friends like they were!” He suggested innocently.

He expected the other to call him foolish or disrespectful or say he had no shame. Instead he saw the other blush slightly, ears turning red.

“Ridiculous.” He finally managed to stutter out.

Wei Wuxian nodded his head, crossing his arms. “Ah, I should have known a King like you couldn’t accept a mere mongrel like me as their friend.” He said, half joking half serious. Lan Wang Ji however didn’t take it as a joke, looking back at him with wide eyes.

“Young master Wei-”

“Please, call me Wei Ying.” Wei Wuxian added quickly, enjoying the way the King’s face turned even redder.

Ignoring his words, Lan Wang Ji continued while trying to remain proper. “Young master Wei, I hope you understand my culture and the ways of my people. The rules set down for us are there for our own good, though some may seem unfair.” He explained.

Wei Wuxian nodded his head, leaning forward to prop his elbows onto the table. “Because I am unable to read or learn here, I don’t know your rules and what comes to making friends. But I am sure there can’t be a rule forbidding you to be friends with me?” He asked.

Lan Wang Ji let out a sigh, shaking his head as a sign of defeat.

Wei Wuxian let out a delighted sound, smiling widely. “Then it is agreed! I, Wei Wuxian, Wei Ying of the Yunmeng Sect, am the first friend of King Hanguang-Jun of the Gusu Lan Sect!.”

Wei Wuxian didn’t receive an answer, but the look of the other sitting in front of him, completely flabbergasted was enough to make him happy with what he had done. He was smiling like and idiot while exiting the Jingshi that evening, strutting down the hallway with his head held high and hums of a song escaping his lips.

Chapter Text

Even before the sun was completely up, its rays shining some light through the thick clouds covering Cloud Recesses and protecting the palace, Lan Wang Ji opened his eyes and looked at the ceiling above him. This was a routine he had gotten used to years ago as a mere child, waking up at dawn sometimes even before the roosters would sing their horrid songs.

His Jingshi was a calm and quiet place, perfect for meditating and figuring out his thoughts. Yet today morning his mind was filled with such heavy worries that he couldn’t bare to spend anymore time in there after getting ready. He needed to take his mind off of things, find some peace and calm. Having gotten dressed, he fixed the royal decorative heirloom on top of his head, keeping hair up and away from his face. Lan Wang Ji walked past his work desk, pausing as he stared at it for a moment. Memories of the evening before filled his mind, and unknown expression forming onto his face.

Thinking about the newcomer from Yunmeng Sect made him feel many things. He found the other slightly obnoxious with his loud voice and bad posture. Yet he couldn’t help but feel the skin on his ears getting hot and blushing as he thought about what the other said to him yesterday.

“Then it is agreed! I, Wei Wuxian, Wei Ying of the Yunmeng Sect, am the first friend of King Hanguang-Jun of the Gusu Lan Sect!.” The words kept ringing in his ears, his voice clear as ever. Lan Wang Ji pouted, stepping outside of his Jingshi.

Guards always ready to be by his side, four began to follow him as he made his way through the Cloud Recesses hallways. Sometimes it was a little suffocating, always having someone follow you around wherever you went. But Lan Wang Ji had already gotten used to such treatment a long time ago. He always had someone watching and protecting him even when he was a Prince. Things of course only got a little stricter when he became the King.

Whenever he needed time away from the guards and his responsibilities, he would come here. Ordering his guards to stay put and not follow him, Lan Wang Ji headed towards one of the landing patios and switched forms. Stretching his wide wings, the white dragon flew off into the sky.

The Gusu Lan Sect members were truly the most skilled in flight. They had learned how to navigate through the thick clouds and dodge the high mountains as they began to learn how to fly as soon as they knew how to switch forms. Most learned how to switch between the ages of four and ten and then began their flying lessons. As the Gusu Lan Sect was known for their peaceful way of life, you’d think that they only paid attention to learning how to fly and ignore self defense and attacks. But those were only rumors. In fact the Gusu Lan Sect members thought that learning how to use self defense and fight was just as important as flying. But in order to start self defense or fight classes, it was important to first learn how to unlock the channel inside them which allowed them to use their special ability, believed to have been given to them by Goddess Lan herself.

That was why Lan Wang Ji came here, on top of the highest mountain protecting the Cloud Recesses. On top of it grew a lonely crooked tree, branches grey and leaves no longer growing. It was here, underneath the tree where he was able to unlock his own channel all those years ago through meditation, reaching enlightenment.

It took him many tries, meditating for days without moving, drinking or eating. He had to give up many times to come and try again. He was merely a teenager when he decided he needed to unlock the icy energy hiding somewhere deep inside of him. But it was difficult, when his system was still filled with fiery anger. Only when he was able to let go of his grudges, forget his hard past and move on to live in the now instead of hating what had happened in the past, only then was he able to use his special ability. He needed to forgive what had happened in order to get where he was, yet he still wasn’t sure if he had been able to forgive the evil doers in his life completely.

Shifting forms, Lan Wang Ji walked underneath the tree in his human form and sat down on a flat rock. He closed his eyes and let his mind be cleansed from his worries. Many things were worrying him on this particular day. Most of them came from the grudges he held inside of him. These grudges were brought back into his attention after he spoke with Wei Wuxian.

Lan Wang Ji hadn’t looked at the portraits of his mother in a long time for this particular reason. Instead of being able to look at her face on the paper with a smile like Wei Wuxian was able to, Lan Wang Ji could only feel sadness and hatred brewing inside of him. The memories of that night coming back into his head, a nightmare that had truly happened. And it would never end, not when he was still reminded of it daily.

His brother was living proof of the Qishan Wen Sect attacks that night. Before attacking the Cloud Recesses, they had taken down the army of Gusu Lan Sect men who had been protecting the outside ring of the Sect and the small towns in it. His father died before ever coming back. When the red dragons reached the Cloud Recesses and the palace it was already too late to do anything. Lan Wang Ji only remembers bits and pieces from that night, waking up in the middle of the night as his brother woke him up with his cries.

Everything was on fire, engulfed in flames and burning into ruins. He and Lan Xichen were only four years old, unable to do much for themselves. Everything was a haze and all Lan Wang Ji remembers was how he and his brother attempted to leave their then shared room to find their mother. They never did find her. Shifting into their dragon forms, they managed to escape their burning room and fly outside. Thinking they were out of trouble, they flew near the ground in the hopes of finding someone. It was then that one of the Qishan Wen Sect members flew in, spewing out fire and coughing lava towards them. Lan Xichen was hit, badly.

Lan Wang Ji doesn’t remember much from that point forward, only seeing flashes of white and blue as guards came to their rescue with the lead of their uncle. Lan Qiren took them into his care from that day forward. They still had someone to call family, a home that was rebuilt. Yet nothing could ever fix Lan Xichen’s injuries, or bring back their dead parents. Nothing could ever erase the horrid images that run through Lan Wang Ji’s mind when he thinks about that night.

Opening his eyes he realized he was panting, beads of sweat falling down his forehead. This isn’t what he wanted from meditation. Instead of feeling calm and collected he only felt more distressed and angry at the world. Letting out a deep sigh, he got up. Perhaps there was another way, something else he could do to bring some peace into his mind again. He knew what that something was, not liking the way it sounded. But he needed to do it. The important meeting with the Prince’s of the Qinghe Nie and Yunmeng Jiang Sect would be held later today. He needed to clear his mind before that.

Switching forms once again, the white dragon flew away and down the mountain.

*

Lan Wang Ji walked along the road leading down the side of the mountain, watching the farmers working far down below in the nearest town. He drew his eyes away from them, focusing on the road beneath his feet. He arrived at his destination, looking at the sacred building in front of him. The altar for the dead, read on the wooden plank placed above the open door. He placed his hands behind his back, taking a few steps forward. It had indeed been a long time since he last arrived here. A mix of guilt and regret stirred in the pit of his stomach.

For a moment he even thought about turning back, feeling like perhaps he arrived at the wrong place. This feeling only got worse when he heard footsteps coming from behind him. He stood still, waiting for something to happen. He didn’t know why he felt nervous, this was his palace after all and he was allowed to be here if he so wished. Yet he felt out of place, in front of his own mothers altar.

‘King Hanguang-Jun.” A voice spoke, muted and odd sounding. Lan Wang Ji almost didn’t recognize it until he turned around and saw a familiar face staring at him. Wei Wuxian walked up to him lazily, balancing an apple in his hand as he continued to chew on the chunk he had taken from it with a big bite. Lan Wang Ji studied the other for a moment, noticing how lazily he had tied his robes and how his hair looked like he had just woken up. Even though it was way past dawn already.

“Young master Wei.” Lan Wang Ji nodded his head, seeing the way the other frowned at his greeting.

“Didn’t I ask you to just call me by my birth name, Hanguang-Jun?” He asked, a finger scratching his head. “Even brother would be better than young master.” He murmured. “Why the need to be so proper between friends?”

“No such thing.” Lan Wang Ji then said, turning his frame just the slightest so he wasn’t looking at the other anymore. Wei Wuxian’s playful expression turned into a frown once again, taking one last bite from his apple before chucking it into a bush, thinking Lan Wang Ji didn’t see it.

“Hmph.” He sighed, crossing his arms. “Ignoring your friend. Saying that in front of your mother, don’t you think she would feel sad for you?” Wei Wuxian then whispered.

Lan Wang Ji blinked his eyes a few times, staring at the building in front of him. He found himself unable to answer his question, at a complete loss for words.

“Ah.” Wei Wuxian then let out, noticing the others reaction. Perhaps he now realized his jokes didn’t fit very well with someone like Lan Wang Ji. “King Hanguang-Jun, I apologize for my words. I didn’t mean to sound disrespectful.” He said sincerely. He stepped a little closer, wanting to see the others face. He expected him to look somewhat mad or upset at him, but he seemed more gloomy and sad. Wei Wuxian looked at the building in front of them, taking a step forward.

“I promised that i’d visit the altar together with you yesterday, and one thing you should know about Wei Wuxian is that he never forgets a promise.” He said with a smile, looking back at Lan Wang Ji.

He could have turned around and simply left. He could have ordered his guards to take away the other and tell them to keep him as far away from him as possible. Hell, he could even order him to leave the whole Gusu Lan Sect if he wanted to, expelling him. He was the King after all and Wei Wuxian was just a party member of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect, a brother to their King but only through relationships and not through blood. He could have done any of those things, yet for some reason he decided not to.

Hesitating for a moment, Lan Wang Ji gave in and followed the other inside.

The altar for the dead looked just like before when he visited the last time. Now that he thought about it, his last visit was years ago. There was that guilty feeling in his stomach again. Yet he liked to believe his dead parents spirits understood why he never came, as it was too painful to relive the memories. At least he liked to think so. It kept his mind somewhat sane.

The two kneeled down in front of the beautiful golden altar, picking out the incense sticks from their placeholder before using one of the many lit candles around them to light them up. Without saying a word, both bowed three times, showing their respects to the dead around them. Lan Wang Ji closed his eyes, leaving a silent letter to his parents he hadn’t visited in way too long. It was calm in the room and quiet. Lan Wang Ji was surprised that Wei Wuxian had it in him to be quiet for such a long time.

The other was sincerely praying, focusing on being as respectful as possible in front of Lan Wang Ji’s ancestors. The two of them finished around the same time, putting out their incense and looking at their hands. Lan Wang Ji was about to get up, then suddenly hearing Wei Wuxian’s voice echo in the room even though he only whispered.

“King Hanguang-Jun.” He began. “This may be disrespectful, but I must ask. May I pray and show my respects to my birth mother and father? They were never buried or had a place of worship of their own. I have been using the altar back at Yunmeng Jiang Sect to pray for them as well as my other parents, King Jiang Fengmian and Madam Yu Ziyuan, as I believe they can receive my message from any place of worship.” He explained.

Lan Wang Ji blinked his eyes a few times, staring at the others innocent eyes. He then nodded his head, seeing the others sincerity. He watched as the other picked up another pair of incense, bowing again and proceeding to pray. Lan Wang Ji stayed still for a moment, swallowing down a lump in his throat as he too picked up the incense again. Wei Wuxian peeked behind closed eyelids, seeing if he was just imagining the other moving. But he hadn’t imagined anything as Lan Wang Ji, the King of Gusu Lan Sect was showing his respects to his parents, who had been mere mongrels.

Wei Wuxian felt himself pause for a second, unable to think or do anything as he looked at the other sneakily, before going back to praying to his parents, not forgetting to apologize for the pause. The two of them were there for a while, only getting up and leaving the building built for respecting the dead when both of them were ready.

Lan Wang Ji’s knees felt numb from kneeling down for so long, yet his shoulders felt light and heart not restricted ass a weight had been lifted off. Feeling a ton lighter.

“That was… Nice.” Wei Wuxian broke the silence as they walked away from the altar. Lan Wang Ji wasn’t a fan of small talk, yet he still found himself humming an answer.

The other looked at him, red eyes glimmering in the sun. “You know, King Hanguang-Jun, I think they are all very proud of us.” He then said.

Lan Wang Ji looked down at his feet as they walked, pace slowing down the slightest as Wei Wuxian’s words hit him. There was something stinging in his eyes. Biting down against the flesh inside his cheeks, he breathed through his nose and picked up his pace. The other didn’t know what his words made him feel, or what those eyes looking back at him caused him to think.

Lan Wang Ji didn’t know what the other wanted from him. Was it attention? Respect? Whatever it was, Lan Wang Ji didn’t know why he was chosen as the target. Wei Wuxian was being oblivious to what he was doing, beng so nice to him and attempting to be his friend, or whatever he said before. It all sounded ridiculous to Lan Wang Ji. It didn’t help that the other acted as if the night when he found him injured didn’t happen at all. That was what confused Lan Wang Ji the most about him.

Walking back together in silence, side to side, made him remember that night again.

He had just seen a dark grey dragon fly up into the sky after curfew from his Jingshi’s window. Lan Wang Ji knew the other was breaking rules, finding the newcomer from Yunmeng to be quite idiotic for doing such a dumb thing when he was bound to get hurt. Only a fool would try to fly through the clouds during night time, especially if they were new to the Cloud Recesses. He could have just told his guards, asking them to get him and receive his punishment. Yet he was driven to go after him for some odd reason.

Following the other was quite easy as he flew through the most obvious routes, only to stop as he hit the side of the mountain straight on. He didn’t see him injure himself, only the aftermath as he followed the broken branches and found him laying down near the rocks. The other had shifted into his human form so Lan Wang Ji did the same, walking up to him. Not only did he break the rule of flying past curfew and destroying the plantation growing in the Cloud Recesses, he shamelessly cursed right in his face. Lan Wang Ji could not lie, hearing Wei Wuxian curse in front of him in such a way made his blood boil and anger peak.

He had lifted the other from the ground, threatening to bring him back for his punishment. He had expected some kind of a fight from the other, thinking he would put up a fight, but there was none. Slightly taken back, Lan Wang Ji still decided to stick by the rules and began dragging him with him. Only for Wei Wuxian to let out a painful scream right by his ear. It was only then that Lan Wang Ji noticed his injuries, hate towards the other being replaced by guilt.

Lan Wang Ji didn’t think for too long, shifting his form and carrying the other back carefully. He took Wei Wuxian into the Gusu Lan Sect’s infirmary, kindly telling the Lady working there what had happened. The old lady wasn’t expecting to meet the King, let alone at night or with someone in his arms. Lan Wang Ji had looked a little taken back, having to carry the others lifeless body in his arms like a ragdoll. Lan Wang Ji laid Wei Wuxian down on one of the beds, whole body freezing as the other gripped onto his arm.

Passed out, Lan Wang Ji couldn’t understand how the other had the strength to hold onto him, and so tightly even. He began to unlock the others grip on his arm, only for him to grab onto his hand instead. Lan Wang Ji let out a choked sound, looking down at their intertwined fingers. This man was truly shameless! Now he was sure the other was just playing a sick trick on him, attempting to open his fingers. Lan Wang Ji ignored the way his own ears and face felt hot as he took a step back from the other. Breathing in deeply he stared at the other for a moment, trying to think of what to do. The other should be punished for breaking the rules, countless of them. Now adding physically harassing the King onto the long list. Yet the only thing Lan Wang Ji could do was let out a deep sigh before leaving.

Even now when walking next to each other, Lan Wang Ji’s hand itched. He parted ways with Wei Wuxian quietly, knowing the two of them would meet again soon for the meeting. He wasn’t able to decide if that was a good or a bad thing.

*

Jiang Cheng looked the most nervous he has ever been before in his whole life. This was his moment to shine, speak out his plan to King Hanguang-Jun without disrespecting anyone. He has stayed up for many nights and days now, reading the over three thousand rules that the Gusu Lan Sect members have written down over the past few centuries for younger generations to learn and live by. His mind was foggy, each rule forming into one large blob in his tired brain. He fought back the urge to close his eyes and fall asleep right then and there. The annoying tapping that came from Wei Wuxian’s feet was enough to keep him awake and alert.

He felt a little lightheaded, realizing he hadn’t eaten the whole day as he spent every hour in the library. His mouth felt dry, hands clammy. His whole reputation could be ruined today if this second meeting doesn’t work out the way he hopes. He has been given another chance to change the other King’s mind and if he cannot make him side with him then perhaps Jiang Cheng wasn’t supposed to be the leader of his people after all. Everyone depended on him, their lives in danger.

Jiang Cheng was barely an adult, having just passed his teen years. He was a little childish at times, sometimes a bit too serious. He made mistakes just like everyone else on this earth, yet people expected him to be perfect. That was a lot of pressure that was being put on anyone's shoulders, his own feeling like they weighed a ton.

“Brother Jiang Cheng.” A gentle voice whispered, Jiang Cheng blinking his eyes a few times before looking to his left. Nie Huaisang smiled at him gently, fan lowering to reveal his face. “Do not feel nervous, I am sure the meeting will proceed better than last time. Have hope.” He spoke while looking at the other.

Hope. Jiang Cheng swallowed dryly, nodding his head. He took a deep breath in through his nose and let it out through his mouth, Nie Huaisang still studying him closely. The two met each other yesterday, speaking briefly about whatever came to their minds. Jiang Cheng’s mind had been too focused on the meeting, almost missing the way the other Prince stared at him with a genuine smile while telling him how much he had missed him. Jiang Cheng’s heart had done a flip inside his chest, staring at the blushing Prince with a soft expression.

Jiang Cheng would be lying if he said he hadn’t missed him as well. When they were just children, not Kings or next up to inherit the crown, they were innocent souls living only to play and learn. Things changed when they became teens, their relationship changing into one more similar to mere acquaintances as they no longer saw each other as much as before. Yet neither of them forgot each other, picking up things where they had left them when they met again. It was nice, Jiang Cheng thought, having someone who knew him as something more than just a King.

Having the other seated next to him calmed him down, making him almost forget the anxious feeling pooling inside his stomach as the doors to the room opened. They were all quick to show their respects, watching as the Gusu Lan Sect members entered the room and took their seats on their respective seats.

Deciding he should first show his thanks towards the King dressed in white, Jiang Cheng bowed for longer than the others and spoke after standing up straight. “King Hanguang-Jun, I must once again show my great gratitude towards you and your decision to redo the meeting.” He received a nod from the other, giving him permission to take a seat.

Jiang Cheng was able to let out a sigh of relief, seeing that he was able to speak without stuttering. Wei Wuxian stood next to him, looking at him seriously. He could see how nervous he was, hoping his brother would be able to succeed in this meeting and not repeat the same mistakes as before. He also decided to stay completely quiet, realizing he might anger some of the elders with just his presence as a non purebred member of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect. This meeting was very important, they wouldn’t get another chance to make things right again. There were no room for mistakes.

The meeting began, serious atmosphere in the room through the whole thing. Jiang Cheng began by explaining his plan from the start, telling the Gusu Lan Sect members how he thought they could defeat the rotten King Rouhan for good, not repeating the same mistake as before by saying his or his Sects name out loud again. Lan Wang Ji and his brother Lan Xichen besides him listened carefully, following the papers that were given to them before of the same plan. Wei Wuxian studied their reactions carefully as Jiang Cheng continued to speak, seeing if there was a change in their seemingly expressionless faces. He couldn’t spot any and he wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes wandered as his brother spoke, looking at the elder man sitting a little further away from the twins. Lan Qiren was looking at Jiang Cheng seriously as he spoke, fingers combing through his beard. Wei Wuxian swallowed down a lump in his throat, looking away slowly. Ever since learning why the man treated him so badly during the first meeting, Wei Wuxian felt mixed emotions towards him. Anger and pity all mixed together. Even after learning why he hated him so much and hearing about his feelings towards his mother Wei Wuxian still thought his actions were too selfish. He had indeed made the then ruling King inhibit mongrels from entering and learning in the Cloud Recesses, out of pure hate towards his mother. No matter how angry or sad he had been, Wei Wuxian couldn’t agree or understand his actions. Ignoring the unsettling feeling in his mind, Wei Wuxian focused on the meeting once again.

“- Once we have passed the Qiongqi road together, with every Sects help we are able to push through the enemy Sects and enter Nightless City. The enemy Sect has many men protecting the palace, but with every other Sects help and strength we are able to attack the weak and ill ruler. Bringing him down for good” Jiang Cheng spoke, voice loud and clear.

“The name of our attack, The Sunshot Campaign.” Jiang Cheng continued, a flare of purple fire glowing in his eyes. “We will put an end to their rotten empire, ending their cursed bloodline.” His voice was low, filled with anger and desperation. He needed for the others to agree with him, deciding to join his side in this battle. If they didn’t, this was all for nothing and they had failed. If they didn’t get everyone on their side and proceeded with the plan in time, King Wen Rouhan would heal enough to force another wave of his men that would destroy what was left of their Sects.

Lan Wang Ji understood this, and he understood his own people were in great danger as well. No one could tell when the cursed Sect would attack again, repeating history. Cloud Recesses had already been destroyed once, almost killing them all in the fire. They had bounced back up then after some time, but could they be able to do it again? Or would they even be able to, in case the red dragons came once again and left no survivors. They all knew King Wen Rouhan’s plan and desire to kill of every other Sect expect for his own. He wanted to become the only ruler on earth, a God.

Everyone in the Gusu Lan Sect knew that the possibility of another deadly attack existed. They knew they had to fight back at some point, yet the thought of being the ones attacking felt cruel and against their beliefs. But could they just wait to be attacked like all those years ago before fighting back? They all felt confused and conflicted. Jiang Cheng now understood why better, after reading about their history and rules better. It was forbidden to attack and kill, yet that rule had to be broken sometimes. Otherwise they could just kneel and wait to be murdered.

His speech coming to an end, Jiang Cheng sat down quietly, nervously waiting for some kind of response from anyone. Lan Wang Ji lowered his head, looking down at the papers before folding them neatly and looking up again with his icy blue eyes. Instead of looking at Jiang Cheng, he instead looked at the Nie Prince next to him.

“Prince Nie Huaisang.” He began, making the dainty Prince nod his head weakly. “What is your brothers, King Nie Mingjue’s stance on this plan?” He then asked, making everyone look at the other. Nie Huaisang swallowed nervously, everyone's attention on him now. He swallowed once, beginning to speak honestly.

“Elder Brother is yet to decide. At first he declined the invite to arrive here, not allowing me to come either. But he had suddenly changed his mind, deciding to send me here to be in the meeting. He wishes me to return back with good news revolving King Hanguang-Jun’s decision. If you were to accept the plan and participate in the Sunshot Campaign then Brother would surely also accept King Sandu Shengshou’s plan.” Hearing this Lan Wang Ji nodded his head slowly, mind filled with more thoughts.

“So the only one absent from this meeting is King Jin Guangshan, who hasn’t given a good reason behind his cancellation to the invite.” Lan Wang Ji spoke, both Wei Wuxian and Nie Huaisang looked over at Jin Guangyao who stood in the corner at the mention of his father, yet neither of them noticed a change on his face. Perhaps his presence in the Gusu Lan Sect had something to do with the fact that his father decided not to come and join the meeting., not even sending his son Prince Jin Zixuan to fill his space.

“I am sure King Jin Guangshan will decide to help us after he hears that everyone else has decided to join in on the plan. He doesn’t want to be seen as someone going against the rest of the Sects in such a situation.” Jiang Cheng then said, hoping his words would only courage Lan Wang Ji to side with him. “Besides, the Lanling Jin Sect is very close to the Qinghe Nie Sect as neighbor Sects, they will surely fight by King Nie Mingjue’s side.”

Lan Wang Ji hummed, looking over to his brother who nodded his head. Lan Xichen got up from his seat, smiling slightly as he looked over at the other Sect leaders and members. “I thank you all for attending.” He began, Jiang Cheng biting the inside of his cheek as he turned nervous. Now was the time to hear what the Twin Jade's of Lan had decided on, the fate of all of their futures resting on their decision. “I believe now is the perfect time for a short break, and during said break, Brother and I will decide on our stance towards King Sandu Shengshou’s plan along with the members of our Sect elders.”

There was quiet murmuring inside the room as guards and servants from all Sects whispered and gossiped, stopping as Jiang Cheng glared at them. He then nodded his head, slightly disappointed that he still wasn’t able to hear an answer. But he would get to hear one soon, very soon. The Gusu Lan Sect members exited the room, going to discuss the plan on their own before making the last decision. His stomach was empty, yet he wanted to puke as it kept twisting and turning as his anxiety peaked.

*

Wei Wuxian felt bad for his brother, watching him go through so much. He wished he could share come of the burdens he was carrying over his heart and the worries in his mind. But Jiang Cheng was the King, the man responsible for his people's safety and future. He wouldn’t allow anyone else take his spot or share his duties because of his stubborn brother. All Wei Wuxian knew to do was be there for him as support, squeeze his shoulder as he stood next to him.

“It will be alright.” Wei Wuxian assured him, when in reality he wasn’t too confident in his own words. If Lan Wang Ji decided not to join them that would mean the Nie’s would turn back as well, which meant that the Lanling Jin Sect wouldn’t support them either. They would be left all alone. He tried not to think about that outcome, thinking about the positive option. Then again, every outcome would lead up to a war filled with death and destruction. There was nothing positive about that.

Jiang Cheng nodded his head once, looking tired and worn out. Wei Wuxian frowned, understanding his brothers feelings well. He couldn’t wait for the day to be over so that they could all at least sleep through the night.

Wei Wuxian needed a little time away, excusing himself as he got up and walked away from the others. He stepped outside, taking a deep breath in and filling his lungs with fresh air. He leaned against the fence protecting him from falling down the side of the mountain, looking up into the distance. The sun was setting, making the clouds in front of him appear as a shade of pink and orange. It was beautiful, and he couldn’t help but stare at the scene for a while.

Only when he heard footsteps behind him get closer was he able to remove his eyes from the clouds and look at the person behind him. A little surprised, Wei Wuxian bowed quickly as he recognized Lan Qiren standing there. “Old master Lan, what brings you here?” He asked, wondering why the other wasn’t with the other Lan Sect elders who went to continue the meeting with the twin Jade's.

Standing with his arms behind his back, Lan Qiren looked at the other with a hard to read expression and then looked away completely. Wei Wuxian continued to watch, seeing that the other wanted to say something but wasn’t able to. Wei Wuxian swallowed once, looking at his hands.

“I was told about you and my mother.” He then finally said, making the other look at him with wide eyes. Wei Wuxian ignored his gaze, looking anywhere else. “I guess your history with her is the reason behind why you treat me and other mongrels such a way.”

Lan Qiren let out a sound, unamused laugh as he flailed his sleeves back with a quick movement. “Your mother has nothing to do with you.” He said, voice angry. “Her unruly actions were just the tipping point when creating the rules forbidding mongrels from entering the Cloud Recesses libraries, even before her the previous mongrels studying here were looked down upon due to their bad spirits. You are all the same, unwilling to do better.”

Wei Wuxian’s expression changed sour, hearing the man talk badly of his mother. “How are we able to change ourselves if you will not give us the change to learn?” He asked, questioning the others words. “You said I am unable to learn or change myself, but how can I even try to prove you wrong if I am not given the chance?”

“You do not deserve a chance!” Lan Qiren said, voice a little louder than needed. Now Wei Wuxian was sure he was only spewing hate onto him that had been built up inside of him meant towards his mother. Lan Qiren didn’t even know him as a person, only identifying him as Cangse Sanren’s son and as a mongrel. Those two things alone were enough to make him hate Wei Wuxian without a better reason. He was indeed quite childish for his age, acting like a toddler going through a bad temper tantrum.

Wei Wuxian shut his mouth, deciding to stop himself from saying anything more. He wanted to be the good guy in this situation, forcing himself not to continue fighting back anymore. Things could escalate quickly and the last thing they needed was a sword fight that would end up in Lan Wang Ji cancelling the meeting again and ordering them to leave for good. So Wei Wuxian bit the inside of his cheek, managing to fight back the built up rage inside of him and bow down to the other. Lan Qiren watched with wide eyes as the other began to walk away, flabbergasted.

Wei Wuxian let out a surprised sound, feeling the other grab onto his arm. Eyes blinking a few times, fighting back the urge to let out a sound as Lan Qiren’s fingers dug into the scarred skin in his left arm.

“Young master Wei, I will not allow you to go unless you kneel down in front of me as an apology for disrespecting me.” The elder spoke, staring at Wei Wuxian’s red eyes. Wei Wuxian’s frame shook slightly, staring back at the elder while biting his teeth tightly together.

“Let go. Now.” Wei Wuxian then said with a hiss, black swimming together with red in his eyes as his hands formed into fists. The elders eyes widened, looking at him with pure rage written all over his face.

“You-!’ Lan Qiren began, voice now loud and face red.

“Enough.” A voice spoke, making the two look away from each other and towards the voice instead. Lan Wang Ji walked over to the two, looking at his uncle while only glancing towards Wei Wuxian. Lan Qiren let go of him immediately, making Wei Wuxian stumble back a little as he looked for his balance again. His other hand reached to press down over the robes covering his left arm, skin feeling hot even through the many layers of clothes.

Lan Qiren began to yell, explaining what had happened to Lan Wang Ji while Wei Wuxian could only stand in silence and look down at his feet. Lan Qiren’s words formed into a bunch of mess inside his head, just lies that the other was spewing out in order to make Wei Wuxian seem as guilty as possible. Disrespecting the elder, questioning the Cloud Recesses rules and much more. Wei Wuxian counted the crimes he had done according to Lan Qiren. It was safe to say he was expecting to receive quite the punishment.

Lan Wang Ji stood there quietly, listening as his uncle continued to speak. Wei Wuxian didn’t know if he was just imagining it or if he really felt the others eyes stare at him through all that time that ended up passing until Lan Qiren was done. The elder was waiting for Lan Wang Ji to say something, perhaps to decide on the others punishment right then and there. Instead Lan Wang Ji let out a slight sigh, looking at his uncle.

“Uncle, I wish this situation would be resolved after the meeting.” He then said, voice gentle and calming. He didn’t want his uncle to have a stroke, seeing how upset he was. “I ask for you to join the other Sect elders, we will begin soon.” He said.

Lan Qiren looked quite mad still, glaring at Wei Wuxian like he wanted to slash him open with his sword.

“Please.” Lan Wang Ji then said, staring at his uncle with a stern look. He was Lan Wang Ji’s uncle, his elder and the one who raised him after his parents passed away. He knew him better than anyone else and respected him more than anyone else. Yet there were times when Lan Wang Ji had to use his King’s position to remind his Uncle he was the one in charge. Though stubborn, Lan Qiren realized this was not the time to punish the other. He lingered for a moment more, then finally leaving.

Wei Wuxian would have hoped to feel somewhat relieved after the elder left, yet he felt even more nervous as he was now left alone with Lan Wang Ji. Expecting to receive his punishment or at least to be told about it, Wei Wuxian stood still nervously as none seemed to come as the other stayed just as quiet as him. Wei Wuxian didn’t dare to look at the other, afraid he would see how disappointed or angry he was at him. He was afraid to make any sound, breathing stopping as he just waited for something to happen. Yet when Lan Wang Ji took a hold of his arm, he let out a surprised sound and pulled away quickly.

Finally looking up at the other, Wei Wuxian saw the others serious face looking straight at him. “Let me.” Lan Wang Ji then said, making Wei Wuxian’s mouth drop open. His other hand which was protecting his once injured arm tightened around the robes as he shook his head.

Lan Wang Ji looked a little taken back, probably as he never received a no as an answer from someone below him in rank. Wei Wuxian was truly stepping in thin ice right now, already in trouble because of Lan Qiren, yet he was ignoring Lan Wang Ji’s orders as well. Just like he expected, Lan Wang Ji didn’t take his no for an answer and reached again. This time Wei Wuxian let him, only flinching a little as the other took a hold of his left arm.

Wei Wuxian studied Lan Wang Ji’s face, realizing just how close they were standing, his hand touching his wrist. Wei Wuxian swallowed once, looking down as Lan Wang Ji’s long fingers dipped underneath his sleeve and began to roll it up. As a natural reaction, Wei Wuxian attempted to pull his arm away from the other but failed as Lan Wang Ji’s grip tightened. Lan Wang Ji gave the other a stern look, a silent order to stay still. And for some reason Wei Wuxian decided to obey.

Lan Wang Ji lifted up his sleeve, first revealing tan smooth skin and his fingers glided along it slowly. His fingertips reached the burned, scarred skin and his movements slowed down, lifting up Wei Wuxian’s sleeve to rest on top of his shoulder, whole arm revealed. Wei Wuxian couldn’t remember the last time he let someone see himself like this. Perhaps to healers when he was still just a teenager and thought the horrid mark on his body could be removed somehow. But even the most skillful healers in any Sect wouldn’t be able to heal such burns, that ran almost as deep as bone did.

Even Wei Wuxian found himself hideous and disgusting, finding it hard to look at himself at times. He tried to not let it rule over him, ignoring it most of the time. But sometimes it was just impossible, when he still experienced phantom pains or had the nightmares from that night. The night he lost his parents and received his burns.

Wei Wuxian stayed quiet, following Lan Wang Ji’s eyes as the other stared at the scarred skin. His thumb moved over the rough skin, Wei Wuxian feeling nothing due do the loss of feeling in his nerves. Only once the King pressed his thumb down harder, was he able to feel something but just the slightest. Lan Qiren however had grabbed him tightly before, fingernails digging deep into the skin due to the anger he felt towards Wei Wuxian. The pain was enough to make him want to let out a cry.

“This burn…” Lan Wang Ji then spoke, voice only a whisper. Wei Wuxian blushed, again reminded that the other was standing very close to himself. “Done by the…” He continued, words caught in his throat.

The Wen’s, a forbidden word he couldn’t say out loud. Yet Wei Wuxian still understood him, nodding his head slightly. “It was the day I lost my parents.” Wei Wuxian then said, trying to imagine what it would feel like as Lan Wang Ji’s fingers moved up his skin so gently yet he was unable to feel it. His eyelashes fluttered as he stared at the others blue eyes. The King was truly so close to him, enough to feel his breath blowing against his face and smell the fragrance he wore on him. Wei Wuxian’s cheeks felt hot, still blushing with embarrassment. Did the King realize what he was even doing to his poor, weak heart? Was the other even aware of the cut-sleeve rumors Wei Wuxian had swarming around himself? Perhaps not, as he wasn’t disgusted with being so close to him.

Lan Wang Ji’s brows furrowed, knowing Wei Wuxian’s body was also tainted with scars like his brother by the cursed Wen’s. He felt anger building up inside himself, reaching and pulling down the others sleeve to cover his arm again. Wei Wuxian took a step back, own hand reaching up and making sure his scars were covered by the black sleeve. Lan Wang Ji watched him as he did so, a sad expression on his face.

“They hurt you.” He then suddenly said, making Wei Wuxian look up at him.

Wei Wuxian stared at him for a moment, nodding his head lazily. “They hurt a lot of people. Including you.” He then said. “I don’t think there is a single person on this earth who wasn’t hurt by them. Either physically or emotionally.” He said dryly, only stating the facts.

Lan Wang Ji nodded his head, placing his hands behind his back. There was silence for a moment, the clouds around them moving and taking new shape. Lan Wang Ji shifted a little, standing a bit more to the left as he surprised Wei Wuxian by asking him something.

“Do you think they deserve to be punished for their actions? Do you agree with King Sandu Shengshou’s plan, in taking them all out and ending their bloodline?” Lan Wang Ji asked, seriously wanting to hear his opinion. Wei Wuxian hadn’t expected this, he was just a adopted member of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect and Lan Wang Ji was a King. He didn’t need to hear Wei Wuxian’s opinion in order to make his decision, yet he chose to ask it anyways for some reason.

“I-I am not sure.” Wei Wuxian then said, stuttering slightly. His answer surprised Lan Wang Ji, making him look at him with a curious expression. Wei Wuxian sighed. “Of course I think they did many things wrong, killing the innocent and destroying beautiful things. They surely deserve to be punished, but I am not sure if Jiang Cheng’s idea is the greatest.” He confessed. “There are still many innocent people living in their Sect too, who haven’t taken any part in the attacks their Sect has made towards the rest of us.”

Lan Wang Ji nodded his head after a moment, looking down between them. “Yet unless we do something, they will only attack again and cause more destruction.” He said.

Lan Wang Ji was right. There was no right or wrong way, as both would end up in war somehow. They were all stuck, trying to make some kind of decision for their own good. Wei Wuxian realized his answer may have caused the other to have bad thoughts towards Jiang Cheng’s plan as he himself criticized it just now, attempting to take back his words.

“Hanguang-Jun, please don’t let what I said change your mind. I still wish you remembered what Jiang Cheng told you all before. He is right after all, in the sense that an attack needs to be made towards them before they can do it before us.” He explained.

“Do not worry, my mind hasn’t changed through your words.” Lan Wang Ji said, and Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure if it was a good or a bad thing.

Wei Wuxian attempted to say something, silencing himself as he saw a servant hurrying over to them, bowing deeply. He informed Lan Wang Ji of the meeting starting soon, everyone waiting for him to return. Lan Wang Ji nodded his head, thanking the servant who was quick on his feet. Wei Wuxian watched the other, blinking his eyes a few times as he realized he should probably go.

“Ah, I will take my leave then.” He said after clearing his throat. “I apologize for causing a scene before.” He added, carefully reminding the other about what happened with Lan Qiren- which may have been a bad thing as it almost seemed like Lan Wang Ji had forgotten it for the time being. But Wei Wuxian was sure he had remembered it, just not mentioning it for now as his mind was on the meeting. Wei Wuxian was sure he would receive his punishment as soon as the meeting was over.

Lan Wang Ji nodded his head, beginning to walk away to the opposite direction of Wei Wuxian.

The two parted and Lan Wang Ji entered the other hall where he would listen to the other Sect members opinions before making his last decision and telling it to them. Wei Wuxian was nervous to hear his decision, yet his mind was filled with other things. The ghostly touch of his fingers against his wrist and his scent which filled Wei Wuxian’s system so deliciously as they stood so close to each other. Wei Wuxian stood next to Jiang Cheng, the other looking at him like he was crazy when Wei Wuxian suddenly slapped himself across the face.

Curse you King Hanguang-Jun, for making his heart feel this way.

He, Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang sat around in the large meeting room for a while, their guards accompanying them as they stood behind them. Everyone was nervously waiting for the Gusu Lan Sect members to return with the news of the Kings decision. It took a while, perhaps a little too long for everyone's liking but a decision like this took a long time to make. It was about participating in a war after all.

Finally, the doors do the meeting room opened and the Gusu Lan Sect members entered once again, the atmosphere becoming serious and quiet once again.

All of the Sect elders spoke one by one, telling why they chose to vote against or for the war, each having good reasons behind their decisions. Lan Xichen stayed quiet, not saying anything. Then it was all left for Lan Wang Ji to reveal his decision. Everyone waited quietly, afraid to even cough or breathe too loud in case they missed the King's comment.

Clearing his throat, Lan Wang Ji got up from his seat and bowed towards Jiang Cheng. He rose back up, back straight as he stood still. “The Gusu Lan Sect elders and I, King Hanguang-Jun agree with your plan. We agree to help you defeat the cursed Sect.” He said.

Jiang Cheng couldn’t hide his excitement, getting up from his seat with a loud laugh and bowing down deeply. “My deepest thank’s King Hanguang-Jun! I will not let you down!”

There were cheers and smiles everywhere in the room, guards lifting up their weapons and chanting words of encouragement to the two Kings. Though they were all happy now and celebrating, tomorrow would be a whole new and different day. Filled with preparations and worries for the future. Starting from this very moment, they were getting ready for a battle. A battle that some of them will not survive through.

Chapter Text

The next few days were very eventful and action packed with different meetings and writing down important documents. The Qinghe Nie and Lanling Jin Sect were told about the meeting through letters, telling them about how the Gusu Lan Sect agreed to help them. It didn’t take many days before King Nie Mingjue also sent his answer, agreeing to participate and promising to join them soon before the Sunshot Campaign would begin. King Jin Guangshan was a little more hesitant, sending out his letter later. In the end he also agreed, perhaps because he saw that he had no other choice since all other Sects had also agreed. The lazy King would have probably preferred to stay inside his cozy castle, surrounded by many women and servants instead of participating in the war. They would have all preferred that, but here they were. Getting ready for a war, which would be written down into history books for the future generations to read and learn about the sacrifices they had to make.

Jiang Chen was merely and adult, yet at such a young age he had managed to get every other Sect on his side in the battle against the Wen’s. He had succeeded and Wei Wuxian couldn’t be more proud. He was sure that Jiang Fengmian was looking down at his son from somewhere, just as proud of him as his sister and mother that the other was able to succeed in such a hard task. The dream of living in a world where the Wen’s would no longer rule over them all, murder and destroy everything that came in their way was slowly becoming a reality.

The Cloud Recesses was crowded with people again for the first time in ages, all the important royals and elders from each Sect gathering to hold meetings in preparation for the Sunshot Campaign. Perhaps the last time the palace on top of the mountains had so many people in it was during the same time when Wei Wuxian’s mother Cangse Sanren was also there to study before traveling the world and meeting his father.

Instead of all white you could now see black, purple, green and orange everywhere you looked. This must have been what it was like all those years ago, Wei Wuxian thought to himself. Just like his own mother Wei Wuxian was also able to visit the famous Cloud Recesses and see it’s beauty which couldn’t be captured into words in any book or told precisely enough in stories. It was truly something you had to see for yourself to believe it. Having stayed at the Cloud Recesses for a few weeks already, Wei Wuxian had slowly gotten used to the many clouds surrounding the large mountains while flying high up in the air.

He flew upwards, the cold wind blowing against his grey scales and eyes watering. Only when he felt a little lightheaded, escaping the thick clouds and flying above them quietly was he able to feel the warmth of the sun against his rough skin. He had missed this, the sun. Due to the many clouds surrounding the Gusu Lan Sect at all times, it was quite cold and dark at times. Wei Wuxian missed the sunlight, missing the way it heated his skin and left him feeling warm. Lotus Pier was always sunny, beautiful and near warm water. Wei Wuxian would love to swim in the shores this time of the year.

His long frame swam over the fluffy white clouds, black nails dragging across them slightly as he let out a chuckle-like growl before diving back down. Perhaps the wish to be warm made him act such a way, opening his big mouth filled with sharp teeth and closing his eyes as flames erupted within him. He flew through the red ring of fire, an amused screech escaping his throat.

Wei Wuxian loved flying. It made him feel free, away from all earthly problems and responsibilities. When he was flying above the clouds he could forget about himself and focus only on the scenery and the way the wind held him in their arms. He wondered what life would be like, had their ancestors not given away their full dragons forms. What would their lives be like if they weren’t able to switch into their human forms at all? Wei Wuxian had heard about individuals who attempted to stay in their dragon forms for a long period of time, only able to stay without switching for a few days at a max. Using your dragon form took a lot of energy and using it for a long time left you tired and exhausted. Individuals who stayed in their dragon form for too long usually fainted and changed back into their human form by force as their bodies did it automatically when it could no longer stay in it’s dragon form. Wei Wuxian has also heard of a few cases, where a person has died when unable to change back into their human form. This could happen when you were too injured in your dragon form, your body knowing that changing forms would kill you. So instead they would slowly die in their dragon forms instead.

His dragon form was strong, lean and skilled in flight. Wei Wuxian had no special ability since he was born as a mongrel. Instead of training with his special skill, he trained his fire breathing and flying skills very often. Though the purebred Yunmeng Jiang Sect members had larger frames and wings than him, Wei Wuxian was still thought to be the best flyer in everyone's eyes. He hadn’t really showed a good example of himself to the Gusu Lan Sect members when he first arrived, as he injured himself during their first night staying there. He wanted to redeem himself, joining the Cloud Recesses training lessons whenever he was too bored to do anything else.

The lessons were for young teens just learning how to fly properly. The teachers were cranky elders, trying to teach the young men and women how to fly through forcing them to read books. Wei Wuxian knew that wouldn’t work out, knowing the only way you could learn how to fly was through actually doing it. The elders looked a little sour, watching the wide eyes and listening to the ooh’s and aah’s that the Sect juniors let out while watching the other high in the air.

Wei Wuxian decided to show off a little, twisting and turning in the air at such a fast pace that you’d think he’d turn into a knot any second. But he didn’t, only managing to wow the Sect juniors even more as he created a large ring of fire and flew through it without even closing his eyes. The teachers glared at the students, crossing their arms and making them look at the ground shamefully. Wei Wuxian flew back down, changing forms and walking down the patio with a huge grin on his face. “Bet they don’t teach you than in any books!” Wei Wuxian laughed, hands leaning against his thin waist as he stood straight.

The Sect juniors shook their heads, looking at each other with shy smiles. “Young master Wei is truly on a whole other level.” One of the juniors spoke, big and clear eyes looking at Wei Wuxian with admiration. It was quite cute, soon others complimenting him as well. Wei Wuxian shook his head, denying their words of encouragement but actually enjoying it quite a lot. He couldn’t help but think how these Sect juniors were kept inside study rooms and libraries all the time, only getting to come outside to see one of their boring elders flying around in a way too neat fashion. It must be boring as hell, and Wei Wuxian was glad he could bring a little happiness and excitement into their boring daily routines.

The teachers were murmuring something to each other, not paying attention to the way the juniors gathered around Wei Wuxian like a small swarm of chicks. Wei Wuxian usually found teenagers to be annoying, yet these youngsters were quite adorable in his eyes. The traditional forehead ribbons around their heads reminded him of the Twin Jade’s of Lan, yet these kids were nothing like them. Still innocent to the hardships of life and positive about everything. They were pure and Wei Wuxian loved that.

“Do you have any yearly flying competitions?” Wei Wuxian then asked, playing with the tassel on his sword. The Sect juniors looked at each other for a second before they all shook their heads, shocking Wei Wuxian. “No? That is absurd! In Lotus Pier, we have many types of competitions every year. One to find out who’s the fastest flyer and one to see who can create the biggest ring of fire. The competitions usually always happen during celebratory occasions, please tell me that you at least have something like that here too?”

Again, Wei Wuxian only saw the juniors shake their heads slowly. “Master Wei, The Gusu Lan Sect is very different from yours. Lotus Pier sounds so colorful and lively, something very different from Cloud Recesses.” A shy sounding junior spoke. others seemed to agree, nodding their heads. “The only annual commemoration day that we have is to mourn the burnings of Cloud Recesses all those years ago when we show our gratitude and appreciation towards our ancestors. And every full moon we celebrate our Goddess Lan.”

Wei Wuxian nodded his head slowly, finding what he had just heard to be a little… Depressing. It really seemed that the Gusu Lan Sect members had never gotten over the tragedy that happened all those years ago due to the Wen attacks. They had fallen into a period of grief and mourning, but never got up from it from the looks of it.

“There really needs to be some changes around here.” Wei Wuxian murmured, crossing his arms. “Otherwise you guys will grow up to be gloomy like the King.” The juniors looked at him with wide eyes, finding it unbelievable that the other was able to talk about the King in such a fashion. That was only because they weren’t aware of their relationship. Wei Wuxian liked to think of himself as the King’s first friend, but he wasn’t sure what the other truly thought of him.

“King Hanguang-Jun is only mourning the loss of his parents.” One of the juniors said, making Wei Wuxian feel bad for saying anything.

“Of course, I know that. It wasn’t what I meant.” He defended himself. “What I was trying to say, was that it would be good if you guys got to live a little more than he and i.” These juniors were the first generation to be born into this world from the ashes that Lan Wang Ji and Wei Wuxian’s generation had to rebuild. They had lived without war and battle all up into this point. Soon they would have to go into war, yet before that Wei Wuxian wished that these mere teenagers would get to live a little.

Smiling a little now, Wei Wuxian threw his hands up. “You should break the rules, do whatever you want!”

Instead of the excited response he would get from the juniors in Lotus Pier, the juniors standing in front of him looked unsure and a little uncomfortable. They stood in front of him awkwardly, looking at each other before one finally spoke out. “I don’t know, master Wei. The rules are there to protect us.”

Wei Wuxian let out a snort, unamused look on his face. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Every teenager he has ever met before would be ecstatic to hear anything revolving around rule breaking. Hell, he used to break every rule possible when he was a teenager living in Lotus Pier. Jiang Cheng would follow him as well, doing whatever he did together with him and they would get in trouble together. However that was all before he became the King. The Gusu Lan juniors must have been brainwashed really good since they showed no want to actually break the rules. Wei Wuxian almost found that hard to believe, still in the end deciding that it wasn’t his job to try and make them change their minds.

“Well.” He sighed, looking at the juniors apologetically. “If you ever decide to change your minds and want to cause some real trouble around here, you know who to find.” He said with a smirk, waving at the juniors as he began to walk away. Only to be stopped by the two teachers who now stood right in front of him, frowning and looking unamused.

“Suggesting to break the rules, trying to taint the pure minds of these Sect juniors is quite low even from someone like you, young master Wei.” The older teacher spoke, clearly upset at what he had heard Wei Wuxian tell the juniors standing next to them.

Wei Wuxian looked around himself, noticing how the juniors looked down at the ground as if they were also being punished. He smiled slightly. “Luckily you have taught them well, Sect elders. My foolish suggestions didn’t even cross their minds, they seem to know your rules well.” He spoke, voice annoyingly sweet and gentle as he was trying to butter them up in the hopes that they would drop this subject. However it didn’t seem to work, as the elders only looked more upset.

“There still was an attempt!” The other yelled, finger pointing at Wei Wuxian accusingly. “You must be punished for what you did. These juniors cannot be distracted by someone like you!” Someone like him, huh. That could mean a lot of things, yet Wei Wuxian knew the teacher was trying to pull the ‘mongrel card’ on him. Everyone in Cloud Recesses knew of his family background by now and that allowed them all to treat him differently. It didn’t matter that he was Jiang Cheng’s brother as they weren’t blood related. He couldn’t use his brother as an excuse to get away from punishments. Believe him, he had tried that before but Jiang Cheng slowly gave up on him and just let him receive his punishments in the hopes that he would learn from them. However he never did, always getting himself in more trouble.

Wei Wuxian sighed, crossing his arms. “Fine, I give up.” He murmured. The juniors around him looked up slowly like a litter of puppies with wide, sad eyes. Wei Wuxian was the only fun thing going on in their otherwise boring life and to hear that he may never be allowed back to see them made them feel sad. It looked like they almost wanted to stop their teachers from taking him, yet every single one of them was too scared to say anything or attempt to make the situation better. Wei Wuxian didn’t blame them, knowing they were just too afraid to get punished as well.

“I’ll receive my punishment.” Wei Wuxian said, lifting his hands up in a comical way as if he waited to be cuffed. But he didn’t think it would actually happen, as his eyes widened in shock when a glowing blue ribbon was quickly tied around his wrists. He gave the ribbon a testing tug, realizing he couldn’t get it off easily. The ribbon glowed with blueish green spiritual energy, probably dipped in some magical potion to make it hard to break. He swallowed once, letting out an awkward laugh.

“Isn’t this a bit too much?” He asked, being dragged away by one of the teachers. He walked behind him, glancing back at the juniors who looked back at him sadly. He decided to walk properly, afraid he’d trip over and cause more harm to the already somewhat serious situation. The teacher didn’t answer his question, only murmuring something underneath his breath as he kept pulling Wei Wuxian with him like a criminal.

They walked through the palace and Wei Wuxian began to wonder where he was being taken. It didn’t hit him until they stood right in front of the familiar looking door, Wei Wuxian’s eyes widening. The royal hall. Wasn’t this a little too much? He had only suggested breaking the rules as a joke to the juniors, now being dragged all the way to the royal hall to receive his punishment. They were in the middle of planning for a war, shouldn’t the royals have more important things to deal with than small incidents like with him for an example? To his horror, that was actually true. As when the doors opened Wei Wuxian did not see Lan Wang Ji or Lan Xichen, but instead the old man Lan Qiren who he had been avoiding for who knows how long since the last time they met.

The elder was sitting down behind the desk which Lan Wang Ji, the King usually sat behind. He wasn’t looking up at them, but Wei Wuxian was sure he had heard them arrive. The teacher dragging Wei Wuxian behind him cleared his throat, bowing down politely. He began to explain the situation, telling how Wei Wuxian had broken the rules and attempted to make the juniors join him. At this Lan Qiren lifted his eyes from the stack of papers in front of him, looking straight at Wei Wuxian.

He sighed once, carefully placing down his quill pen onto the white jade table. “Young master Wei, always getting yourself into trouble I see?” He spoke, voice echoing in the almost empty hall. “I am seeing this turning into a pattern.” He added.

Wei Wuxian managed to smile slightly, shrugging his shoulders. “What can I say, Sect elder Lan. I have always been a little bit of a troublemaker.” He joked in a friendly tone. Lan Qiren however was not amused even a little, glaring at him threateningly.

“I see.” He spoke, voice louder. “I do not know how they deal with troublemakers of your kind back in Lotus Pier, but here in the Cloud Recesses- you will receive your punishment.” His tone was much more serious than before, yet somewhat happy and giddy. Perhaps that was because he could finally get back at him, punish him however he wanted and do whatever with him. Wei Wuxian wouldn’t be surprised if he would get whipped, seeing how much Lan Qiren disliked him. Wei Wuxian bit the inside of his cheek hard, ignoring the urge to yell something at the others annoying face.

Lan Qiren got up from his seat, robes falling down gracefully as he walked down the few steps. “It is your lucky day, young master Wei. I am feeling quite kind on this fine day. Perhaps your punishment will be kind as well, a little more gentle than what I would usually order someone like you to receive.”

“How kind of you.” Wei Wuxian smiled fakely, seeing Lan Qiren’s eyebrow twitch once as he stared at him.

“What a shame that the King is not here today to cancel your punishment like before.” He then said, arms behind his back as he walked in front of Wei Wuxian and stood in front of him. Wei Wuxian’s amused expression shook a little, turning a little more confused as he heard Lan Qiren’s words regarding Lan Wang Ji. Now it was Lan Qiren’s turn to smirk. “Was young master Wei not aware of this?” He then asked.

Wei Wuxian said nothing, staring at the other quietly. He didn’t understand what he was trying to tell him, blabbering something about a previous punishment and Lan Wang Ji cancelling it. Was the white ribbon wrapped a little too tightly around his forehead?

“Allow me to refresh your memory then.” Lan Qiren said. “You were caught flying after curfew, breaking one of the most important rules ever made. You idiotically injured yourself and would have died underneath that mountain which you flew right into, hadn’t the King came and saved you. He personally brought you back to the infirmary. And for some odd reason, he decided not to punish you.”

Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure he had heard his words correctly, his brain stopped working after hearing the whole ‘the King saved you’ part. That couldn’t be right. He must have looked truly flabbergasted as Lan Qiren let out a small chuckle. “Why he decided to do such a thing, I couldn’t understand.” He said and Wei Wuxian had to agree with him.

Lan Wang Ji seemingly hated him. He didn’t greet him whenever Wei Wuxian walked past him. He avoided all eye contact with him whenever Wei Wuxian was in his presence. Sure, they bonded over talking about their parents and even visited their altar together, but Lan Wang Ji seemingly always wore that sour expression on his face whenever he was around him. And this incident happened on the first day since Wei Wuxian first arrived at Cloud Recesses, back then he and Lan Wang JI had only met once and the King hadn’t even acknowledged his presence in the first meeting which turned out to be a huge fail. Wei Wuxian couldn’t understand why the other would ever cancel his punishment, unless he had pitied him because of his injuries. That was the only option that made sense.

“Do not worry young master Wei. Since this is your first punishment, I will go easy on you. But I will assure you, if you ever break another rule again while staying in the Cloud Recesses, I am not afraid to raise the bar.” Lan Qiren sang, truly enjoying this moment when he could finally get back at Wei Wuxian without anyone disturbing him.

Wei Wuxian didn’t really pay much attention to what the other said after that, standing still quietly and waiting. Soon the magical ribbon was tugged and and he was pushed and pulled towards the doors. Wei Wuxian felt like a puppet, moving wherever the elders wanted him to go to. He found himself in the middle of the court yard, being pushed down onto his knees.

Wei Wuxian blinked his eyes a few times, staring at his surroundings. Lan Qiren walked up in front of him, holding a plank of fine wood in his arms. Wei Wuxian swallowed dryly once, realizing what was about to happen.

“Fifty floggings.” Lan Qiren ordered, the guards who had arrived from somewhere moving to hold Wei Wuxian down if he tried to move away. Lan Qiren handed the wooden paddle to one of the guards, taking his spot of standing right in front of Wei Wuxian while grinning down at him proudly of his own actions. Wei Wuxian felt an enormous amount of hate and disgust towards the man growing somewhere deep inside of him. He couldn’t believe this man once loved his mother.

The first hit came as a surprise, shaking Wei Wuxian’s frame and making him choke on a painful gasp. He then bit onto his tongue, fighting back the urge to try and escape or let out any sound of pain. He took the hits while trying to stay as still as possible, staring at Lan Qiren with his burning red eyes. His mind was filled with many things, hate and anger towards the man standing in front of him and the constant reminder of pain on his back as the wooden paddle kept hitting him harder each time. But there was one thing he couldn’t stop thinking about, Lan Qiren’s words regarding Lan Wang Ji.

*

Wei Wuxian was sore and bruised for days. His back ached every second, making sleeping very hard and excruciating to lay down for a long period of time. Lan Qiren really wanted him to feel this punishment for a while, reminding him not to break anymore rules or cause trouble. He tried his best not to as he didn’t want to upset the old man again, not wanting to see him anymore. Jiang Cheng had found out about his punishment, finding it absurd and wanting to speak to the Lan Sect elder. Wei Wuxian however stopped him, not wanting things to get any worse than they already were.

Jiang Cheng kept a close eye on him, wanting to protect his brother now that he found about the punishment he had received. Jiang Cheng thought that the punishment had been too harsh, wishing that he would have been there to defend his brother. However Wei Wuxian was pretty stubborn, not wanting his help even if he was there.

Luckily for him he didn’t break anymore rules or cause more trouble during the rest of their stay in the Cloud Recesses. King Nie Mingjue arrived soon, King Jin Guangshan following him a day later. The grand meeting was held between the Sect leaders, Wei Wuxian anxiously waiting in his room while minutes turned into hours. The meeting lasted the whole day, each Sect leader speaking their opinions on the plan Jiang Cheng had made. In the end there were only a few things changed about it, as everyone mostly agreed with him. They finally had a final plan, which they would follow and declare a war against the Qishan Wen Sect.

Today they would leave to join the army of men gathered in Lanling Jin Sect, Koi Tower. The Lanling Jin Sect was in the middle of the rest of the Sects, making it the perfect gathering point. From there they would travel across the Qiongqi way, a valley joining them with the Qishan Wen Sect and it’s capital Nightless City. The Qiongqi way was a very old route, used by merchants and travelers for decades. During war, it would usually belong to only one Sect. Right now the Wen’s were the ones owning the old valley, guarding it precisely.

Every King sent orders back to their Sect, ordering their armies to get ready and prepare for war. They would gather at Koi Tower and meet their Kings there once they return from Lotus Pier. Anxiety was in the air, everyone turning nervous and agitated. It was no wonder as they all knew things would be very different from now on.

*

Lan Xichen’s usual smile which could be seen on his gorgeous face hadn’t been there for a while, looking gloomy as he watched his brother clean his sword. His mouth felt dry, his hands clammy. He felt useless, watching everyone around him prepare for battle which he couldn’t be a part of no matter how hard he wished or tried.

“Wang Ji.” He sighed, sitting besides the other. Jin Guangyao stood at the side, staring at the floor silently as he waited for his master to return to him. He knew Lan Xichen was having a hard time seeing his little brother prepare for war. A war which he had to watch from the side, unable to participate due to his injuries. “You do not have to go. Even King Jin Guangshan refused to personally participate in the battle.” He spoke, feeling sorry for Jin Guangyao as he had to mention his father's name out loud in his presence.

The other had a very hard time when his father arrived at the Cloud Recesses. He only saw him twice, both times during meetings where he stood on the side with the rest of the servants. His half brother Jin Zixuan was also there, sitting besides his father with his head held high and looking proud. Jin Guangyao couldn’t help but feel sad and jealous, thinking what life would have been like if he was sat there next to them like the Prince he was supposed to be.

Lan Wang Ji placed down his sword gently, the engraved name Bichen glowing gently on the steel. He looked at his brother, seeing his worried eyes stare at him intensely. He knew what the other was thinking. They had already lost everyone to war and destruction. He didn’t want to lose Lan Wang Ji too. But Lan Wang Ji had to go. This was something he needed to participate in.

‘I cannot send my men out into war, only to stand back and watch them battle for our country while I sit back.” Lan Wang Ji explained simply. “King Jin Guangshan has his own reasons for refusing to join the battle. He may find those reasons acceptable, while I find them to be quite foolish.” He spoke, dissing the other King with a straight face.

Lan Xichen shook his head, taking a hold of Lan Wang Ji’s hand quickly. “No one expects you to fight in this battle. The Cloud Recesses needs their King.” He said, voice desperate. “Wang Ji, please stay with us. Cancel your participation.” He pleaded.

Lan Wang Ji looked into his brothers eyes and he saw many things. Desperation and sadness towards the situation. He saw a grown man who had gone through way too many hardships in his life and too much pain. He saw an innocent child, one who had been burned and hurt to the point which no healing could no longer change the damage done.

“Brother, I cannot.” Lan Wang Ji said, swallowing deeply. “How could i, once I sent out the order asking all households to bring forward their men and boys over teen age. Asking them all to wear their swords on their backs and say their goodbyes to their families, perhaps for the last time.” He whispered, voice heavy with regret and guilt. “How could I stay here, just waiting to hear the news of how many men I have lost in the war?” He asked Lan Xichen, never receiving an answer.

Lan Xichen shook his head sadly. “I know.” He said, sighing. “I know you cannot stay and just watch it all happen. If I had the chance to join you, I would.” He added, smiling sadly. It broke Lan Wang Ji’s heart, knowing how useless his brother felt.

“I wish things weren’t this way.” Lan Xichen continued. “I wish… None of this had never happened. I miss what we had before. Before we lost everything… Them.” He didn’t even need to say anything more, Lan Wang Ji realizing he was speaking about their parents. His heart ached, eyes stinging as he blinked away the tears attempting to gather in them, vision turning blurry for a moment.

Lan Wang Ji nodded his head once, removing his hand from underneath his brothers. “I will avenge them when we will bring down the evil King.” He then said.

“Wang Ji.” Lan Xichen gasped weakly, getting up from his seat. “Revenge is never the answer.” He managed to get out, his eyes filling with tears. Lan Wang Ji had to look away, not wanting to see his brother such a way. “What happened to mother and father cannot ever be revenged or made any better. They are gone and-”

Lan Wang Ji also removed himself from the table, getting up and turning his back against his brother. “If you do not have anything else to say than I wish you and servant Jin would exit. Now.” He said, eyes closing.

There was silence as Lan Xichen stared at his back, swallowing down a lump in his throat. He didn’t want things to end this way, the last time they’ll see each other before Lan Wang Ji joins the rest and leaves for battle. He didn’t want things to end on a bad note, leaving them both feeling sorry for each other.

Lan Xichen took a step back, giving an assuring smile to Jin Guangyao who had to witness their argument. He cleared his throat, nodding his head once. “I understand.” He said.

“Wang Ji. You will face many decisions during this war. You will have to save lives and in return take them. I hope that you will never forget what we were taught as young children, compassion and understanding. Remember Goddess Lan and what she taught our people.” He said before exiting the room, leaving Lan Wang Ji all alone.

His brothers words were there to help him make decisions, yet he felt more confused than ever, conflicted with his own thoughts and beliefs.

*

It must have been a scary and unbelievable sight to see, all those dragons flying high up in the air above all small towns and villages. Each leader from the four Sects were guarded by their soldiers, groups forming and flying in neat formations as they made their way from Gusu Lan to Lanling Jin. It took a full day before they were halfway there, everyone exhausted and tired due to flying so much and staying in their dragon forms for so long. They made a small stop during their trip, camping out in the middle of the woods to get some rest.

Nighttime was already falling over them by the time almost everyone had gotten down from the sky and landed on the forest ground. Wei Wuxian was busy helping the servants gather wood which they would use to light up campfires. Everyone was hungry and tired, the Sect leaders groaning and ordering their servants to built their tents faster. Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes, standing besides Wei Wuxian and helping him. He wasn’t like the other Kings. He realized that very soon after meeting with Nie Mingjue and Jin Guangshan. The two used their servants for everything, unable to do anything on their own. Perhaps they could do some things but just chose not to due to laziness or some other reason Jiang Cheng couldn’t understand. He had learnt from his father, Jiang Fengmian to always treat everyone equally. To him servants were simply coworkers, people he could turn to if he needed help. He didn’t like to treat them like slaves, unlike the two Kings who were busy ordering their servants around right now as well.

King Jin Guangshan was yelling at his male servants to work faster, building his tent quickly and hurriedly while he kept on yelling at them continuously. He was busy getting fed and pampered by his female servants. He was the only King on this earth to always bring a group of females with him. Using them however he wanted, even in a shameful matter. Jiang Cheng felt uncomfortable looking towards their direction, seeing that some of the servants were very young. Perhaps not even in their adult years. Jin Zixuan looked a little awkward as well, standing besides his father. Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but feel sorry for Madam Jin, seeing her husband act this way.

“Here.” Jiang Cheng spoke out, pointing at the ground as his guards returned to him with firewood. The men placed the wood down, stepping aside as Jiang Cheng made room to shift in his dragon form to lit the fire. He didn’t get to do so, only taking a step back before Wei Wuxian placed an arm on his shoulder.

“Look.” Wei Wuxian spoke, pointing at the sky. Jiang Cheng followed him, staring up at the dark sky filled with stars. He saw flashes of white, almost believing he saw shooting stars or meteors in the sky before realizing it was the Gusu Lan Sect. They had flown behind them as they were the last ones to leave Cloud Recesses so it was only natural that they arrived a little later than the rest. Jiang Cheng watched as the graceful white dragons landed on the ground, delicate and with great precision. They looked almost heavenly, their white scales nearly glowing in the dark due to the reflection of the moon. Their wings were truly enormous, Jiang Cheng thought to himself as he watched the Gusu Lan Sect members gathering to the ground. He almost missed the way Wei Wuxian ran off from his side quickly.

“You-!” He managed to yell, almost wanting to run off after him to stop him. He gave up, sighing and watching his brother get closer to the group of white dragons. He squinted his eyes, looking to see where he was headed. Then letting out a choked gasp as he saw the other standing in front of King Lan Wang Ji’s dragon form. The other really had no shame, walking up to a King and asking them to come and lit a fire for them. Sure, Wei Wuxian knew that everyone on that campsite was already quite tired to shift back into their dragon forms just to light a simple fire, so it made sense to ask one of the Gusu Lan Sect members who were still in their dragon forms. Yet Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but squeeze his hand around his sword tightly, watching his brother stand in front of the white dragon who towered over him.

Jiang Cheng jumped a little, cursing as he felt someone bump shoulders together with him. Nie Huaisang was just as surprised due to his reaction, fan falling onto the ground with a slight thump.

“I-I didn’t mean to scare you.” He stuttered, standing besides the other awkwardly. Jiang Cheng sighed, crouching and picking up the delicate wooden fan from the ground. He dusted the dirt off of it, handing it back to the dainty Prince. He didn’t miss the way the others cheeks blushed with a rosy color, hiding his face behind the fan quickly.

“Young master Wei…” He began. “Is he speaking with the Jade King again?”

Jiang Cheng nodded his head, arms crossing as he watched his brother. “I’m afraid so. He thinks he’s going to get some help with lighting up the fire. Idiot.” He said underneath his breath.

To both of their surprise they saw the biggest white dragon of them all begin to move after staring at his brother for a while, his blue eyes now looking at them instead. Both Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang moved back, the guards standing in the bushes as they watched the white dragon in awe. This was the first time they had ever seen someone from the Gusu Lan Sect in their dragon form, the white scales something straight out of a story book. The bowed their heads after getting over the shock, King Lan Wang Ji looking down at them all.

Lan Wang Ji spread his large white wings, a glow of red escaping his gaping mouth before flames of fire erupted from within him. The dry pieces of wood caught on fire quickly, burning gloriously. The guards were quick to use branches of the trees that they had cut down to light up the smaller campfires around them. A pair of hands clapped clumsily somewhere, Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang turning to see King Jin Guangshan applauding along with his female servants.

“Good! Very good, King Hanguang-Jun.” He said, voice slightly slurred. Perhaps the cause of his sudden excitement was the cups of wine held by his servants, helping him drink whatever sweet liquid was in them. He laughed loudly, pulling one of the youngest servants closed to himself by her waist, making her giggle out awkwardly. Jiang Cheng turned his eyes away.

Wei Wuxian walked to stand next to his brother, a wide smile on his face. He then bowed down in front of the white dragon politely, lifting his head and looking up at him. “Thank you, King Hanguang-Jun for your help.” He said. “Now please go and rest.”

The white dragon said nothing, blinking his eyes once as an answer before turning around and moving away, everyone making way for him. Only when he was back at his own campsite and surrounded by his men did he shift his form back into his human one. Lan Wang Ji did not look back, heading inside the tent that his servants had quickly built for him. Wei Wuxian however could not drag his eyes away from the other, staring at his direction with a smile on his lips. Only when Jiang Cheng elbowed him in the stomach did he look away, letting out a painful sound as he attempted to hit the other as well. Jiang Cheng however moved to the side, glaring at his brother.

“What was that for?” Wei Wuxian asked with a wheeze, coughing once.

Jiang Cheng placed his arms behind himself, looking like a proper King again. Nie Huaisang studied the two carefully. “Don’t spend anymore time with the King, unless you want to be punished by Lan Qiren again.” Jiang Cheng then warned the other.

Wei Wuxian chuckled, shaking his head. “Like asking for help would cause me to get punished again.”

“It may.” Jiang Cheng responded. “You could have asked one of his servants, why ask him personally instead? It’s like you want to get yourself into trouble.”

“But I don’t personally know any of his servants, but I knew him so I asked him. Was that wrong?” Wei Wuxian blinked his eyes once, looking at his brother seemingly innocently.

It wasn’t and at the same time it was. Wei Wuxian wasn’t a member of the royal family, he was just a member of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect but not by blood. He was traveling underneath Jiang Cheng’s wing at all times as he was the only person able to defend him and his position as others wouldn’t see him as anything else than a mongrel without his presence as a King. King Lan Wang Ji was a respected and adored leader of the Gusu Lan Sect. He was way above Wei Wuxian in rank. Jiang Cheng knew that Wei Wuxian understood this more than well, yet he still somehow had the courage to ask the King something so stupid as hep with lighting up firewood. But what was even more ridiculous was the fact that Lan Wang Ji actually agreed with him and did help when he could have just ordered one of his servants to do it for him.

Jiang Cheng sighed. “Just don’t bother him. I don’t want you to ruin anything.” He said, watching Wei Wuxian pout.

“Why can’t I brother a friend?” He asked. “It’s not like I asked something impossible or harmful. It was just about fire, and he agreed to help me so what’s the big deal.”

Jiang Cheng ignored everything else he said, memory clinging onto the word ‘friend’ as he listed to the other speak. “Do not be ridiculous.” He spat. “There is no way you could ever befriend the King.”

Wei Wuxian threw an arm over Nie Huaisang’s shoulder, smiling like an idiot. “Why not? You are friends with people too aren’t you? Prince Nie being only one of them. And you are also a King. Doesn’t mean you couldn’t have any friends.” He explained, Nie Huaisang agreeing with him and nodding his head slightly.

“He’s different.” Jiang Cheng spoke, looking over to the men in white robes working around the tent. Afraid they could hear them. “He doesn’t have any friends apart from his brother. Never has and i’m sure he isn’t keen on changing that just because you showed up.”

Wei Wuxian hummed, a smirk forming on his face. “That sounds like a challenge to me, Jiang Cheng.” He sang, Nie Huaisang giggling next to him.

Jiang Cheng however didn’t seem too amused, glaring at him angrily. “I am serious. Stay away from him for now, we don’t want to ruin the relationship between our Sects right before the war.” With that he began to walk away, heading towards the biggest tent his men had just built. He needed some rest, preparing to continue their travel to the Lanling Jin Sect.

Wei Wuxian pouted slightly, Jiang Cheng’s words echoing in his head. They were meant as a warning, but he couldn’t help but think otherwise. Lan Wang Ji was truly someone who seemed lonely and distant. Yet Wei Wuxian had already managed to break some of the walls surrounding him. He didn’t think the other was as cold and unapproachable as everyone thought. He saw him as someone who was a bit shy, perhaps a little anxious around people. Wei Wuxian wanted to know him better for some odd reason.

But Jiang Cheng was right. He shouldn’t. Yet he wanted to.

*

Wei Wuxian felt restless and unable to sleep that night, trashing and moving in his bed until he felt like going crazy. He got up and dressed himself a little lazily before leaving his small tent. He greeted the guards on their night shift, ordering them not to follow him or tell Jiang Cheng. He was only going out for a walk anyways, nothing more than that. He didn’t need anyone following him.

He walked through the small campsite, looking to see if anyone else apart from the guards was also awake but he didn’t seem to find anyone. He arrived at the furthest tents placed on the very edge of the woods, his eyebrows lifting as he looked at the now empty white tents. He looked around himself, seeing zero Gusu Lan Sect guards or members. He found this to be very odd, since he knew how seriously they took their curfews. Right now it was getting closer to midnight, the full moon shining down at them brightly. He walked back a little, tapping one of the Qinghe Nie Sect guards on his shoulder to catch his attention. The young male guard bowed down quickly, noticing him.

“Young master Wei, what brings you here at such an hour?” He asked with a whisper, afraid to wake anyone up.

“Where did the Gusu Lan Sect members go?” He then asked, still looking around himself. “All their tents are empty and the guards are gone.”

“The Sect members accompanied King Hanguang-Jun to the lake.” The guard then said. “The Gusu Lan Sect is celebrating the full moon tonight. They are performing a small celebration to the moon and their Goddess Lan by the water, to honor them before the war.” The young guard explained.

Wei Wuxian nodded his head slowly, looking towards the small opening in the woods around them which would surely lead to the lake. He thanked the guard quickly, beginning to run. Jiang Cheng’s words warning him were still fresh in his memory. He really shouldn’t try to get closer to the other like this. But Wei Wuxian felt like he had no other choice, as he had something he needed to discuss with Lan Wang Ji. Lan Qiren had told him something, something he could no longer ignore or try to forget.

If what he said was true, and Lan Wang Ji had really saved him and cancelled his first punishment, Wei Wuxian needed to know why.

He traveled through the dark woods, ignoring the shivers that went down his spine due to the cold and spooky surroundings. He hopped over fallen trees and dodged the branches that had fallen to hang over the tiny path leading somewhere. He was starting to believe that he had chosen the wrong path, going somewhere completely different than the lake that the guard had mentioned. Luckily his thoughts were proven wrong as he soon heard the sound of water and people.

Wei Wuxian stayed hidden, moving slower and staying very quiet as he inched forward to see something. He began to see hints of white from behind the trees, the pure robes glowing in the moonlight and reflecting against the water. He peeked carefully, cheek pressed against the tree he was leaning against and looked quietly.

He could see Lan Wang Ji kneeled in front of the lake, his guards standing behind him quietly. Wei Wuxian squinted his eyes, trying to see what was happening. He leaned a little more forward, seeing better. Now he could distinguish the beautiful jade bowl that Lan Wang Ji held in his arms, filling it with water and lifting it up towards the sky.

Wei Wuxian could see how the water in the bowl worked as a mirror, reflecting the shape of the full moon onto it in great detail. Wei Wuxian watched in awe as Lan Wang Ji brought a finger up to the surface of the water, gathering spiritual energy and turning the water into ice in seconds. As soon as the water turned into ice, it melted as flames erupted from Lan Wang Ji’s fingertips. This was the first time Wei Wuxian saw anyone create ice, let alone use their fire abilities in their human form. It was very rare, something that took years to learn and master. It was something Wei Wuxian had never even dreamt of doing.

The water inside the bowl simmered with small bubbles for a few seconds, cooling down quickly and turning lukewarm. Wei Wuxian could see Lan Wang Ji saying something, his voice too quiet to hear anything but he could see his lips moving. Lan Wang Ji spoke for a while, eyes closed and face turned up towards the sky. Wei Wuxian realized he must be praying. He swallowed deeply once, thinking that perhaps he shouldn’t have came here after all. He felt like he had seen something he shouldn’t have, something personal and important to the other. He pushed himself up from the ground, hands holding onto the tree he had been hugging for support.

He took a step back, his eyes still hadn’t left the scene of the ceremony, watching as Lan Wang Ji took a sip from the water inside the bowl. His back hit something solid, his mouth falling open with a silent gasp. He turned around slowly, eyes widening as he looked straight at a Gusu Lan Sect guard. Before he could even think of something to say as an excuse to try and save himself, his arm was grabbed and twisted painfully behind his back. The Guard pushed him forward, bringing him over to the lake’s shore.

“King Hanguang-Jun, I have found an intruder!” The guard yelled, surprising everyone as the quiet ceremony was interrupted by his yelling. Other guards rushed to their side, also taking a hold of Wei Wuxian. He grunted, feeling his arm being twisted in an uncomfortable way.

“This is not a way to treat the brother of King Sandu Shengshou.” Wei Wuxian murmured out in an attempt to get away from the sticky situation, choking on a cry as he was pushed down onto the ground.

“You are merely a respectable member of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect, let alone a royal.” The guard who first captured him spoke, spitting in his direction. Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes, the side of his face being pushed against the sand forcefully. He looked to his side, managing to turn his head just slightly.

Lan Wang Ji lowered the beautiful bowl on top of a cushion, resting it there carefully before getting up. He fixed his robes, eyes glued onto the full moon’s reflection shining in the lake. Wei Wuxian forgot how to breathe for a moment, looking at the others strong figure and gorgeous face. It baffled him how the King hadn’t married already. He could surely marry any woman he wanted, being so handsome and perfect. Perhaps he hadn’t just found any lady good enough for him already.

“Su She, let go.” Lan Wang Ji then spoke, ordering the guard who had captured Wei Wuxian.

“King Hanguang-Jun, this mongrel may be dangerous-” The guard- Su She, as Wei Wuxian had just learned- began to murmur, still holding Wei Wuxian down.

“Let go.” Lan Wang Ji repeated his order, voice low and unwavering.

“Y-Yes, King Hanguang-Jun.” Su She then said quickly, his hands pulling Wei Wuxian up and letting go of him completely.

Wei Wuxian stood still awkwardly, looking at the King in front of him. He opened his mouth, wanting to say something but the other was quicker, turning to his guards.

“Please, give young master Wei and I a moment alone.” He spoke to them, watching them bow down quickly before leaving. Lan Wang Ji watched his guards leave, only then turning to look at Wei Wuxian when he no longer saw them there.

“Are you hurt?” He then asked, surprising Wei Wuxian. He was sure that the other would complain about him interrupting the ceremony, not ask about his well being. Wei Wuxian let out an awkward laugh, shaking his head. He saw the other look at his arm which had been twisted. Suddenly Wei Wuxian could remember how it felt to have the other touch his skin like before, his cheeks blushing slightly.

“No I am fine, thank you for asking.” He said, clearing his throat. There was silence again, slightly awkward in his opinion. So he continued speaking, hoping he wouldn’t agitate the other by doing so. “A full moon celebration huh? Seems… Interesting.” He said.

Lan Wang Ji hummed, hands placed behind his back. “Us Gusu Lan Sect members always like to thank our Goddess Lan during the full moon.” He explained, making Wei Wuxian nod his head slowly. He wasn’t a huge believer in the five Goddesses, thinking some of the ancient stories must be accurate but perhaps not all. He had never prayed to any Goddess, not having one main one since he was a mongrel and not raised in one Sect for all his childhood. Jiang Cheng sometimes prayed to Goddess Jiang for help and protection, but Wei Wuxian had never done the same himself.

Wei Wuxian rubbed the back of his neck slowly, sighing. “I apologize for interrupting the ceremony.” He said. “I didn’t mean to, I only wanted to come and speak with you.”

Lan Wang Ji shifted a little, standing sideways while looking at the moon. Where Wei Wuxian was standing, you could see the outline of his face in front of the full moon, skin glowing and radiating beautifully. Wei Wuxian licked over his own dry lips, almost missing the way the other spoke.

“What did you need to discuss?” Lan Wang Ji asked, ignoring the way the other stared at him. How inappropriate of Wei Wuxian, to openly stare at a King such a shameless way. How could he not when the other was just so handsome?

Wei Wuxian blinked his eyes a few times, forcefully looking away from the other. He moved, walking and sitting on top of a big rock near the lake’s shore. He lifted his feet up, leaning lazily while Lan Wang Ji stood still.

“I have been meaning to ask you something for a while now, ever since Lan Qiren punished me.” He began to explain, taking a small rock in his hands and throwing it into the water behind him without much thought, just due to boredom. He picked another one before continuing his story, letting out a small yelp when the other grabbed his wrist.

“Uncle punished you?” Lan Wang Ji asked, suddenly standing very close to him, Wei Wuxian realized.

He snaked his hand away from him, an embarrassed laugh escaping his lips. “Why do you always find the need to grab my wrist, you could make any lady fall to their knees with such an act.” He murmured, ignoring the way Lan Wang Ji turned more serious, still taking a step back due to Wei Wuxian’s reaction. “Yes, elder Lan punished me because I attempted to get the Sect juniors to break some rules with me. Of course it was just a joke, but no one seemed to take it as one.” He said, pouting.

Lan Wang Ji seemed to have completely ignored the reason behind his punishment, only focusing on the actual punishment itself as he looked at him seemingly worriedly. Wei Wuxian however couldn’t understand why he’d feel such a way.

“What was your punishment?” He asked, staring at Wei Wuxian.

“Fifty floggings, but I feel like he wanted to give me more-”

“Fifty?” Lan Wang Ji asked, eyes widening as if couldn’t believe what he had heard. He looked a little taken back, almost offended in some way that Wei Wuxian couldn’t understand.

Wei Wuxian nodded his head, attempting to say something but only managing to yelp when his wrist was grabbed again. His eyes widened, feeling Lan Wang Ji’s other hand on top of the robes covering his back. “Seriously!” Wei Wuxian whined. “What is with you and the wrist grabbing?” He asked, realizing he spoke in quite a derogatory tone without any honorifics but the King didn’t seem to mind or notice.

Lan Wang Ji must have realized that what he was doing, attempting to get a look of his injuries made the other feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t quite King like of him to lay a hand on someone else like this, yet he had broken that rule when it came to Wei Wuxian quite a few times already. He pulled away slowly, looking at the others reaction.

“I apologize.” Lan Wang Ji then said, taking a step back.

Wei Wuxian was a little out of breath, cheeks still blushed with a pinkish shade as he shook his head. “No need, why would you feel the need to apologize to someone like me? Just merely a respectable member of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect, let alone a royal. Just a mongrel.” He spoke, making Lan Wang Ji frown slightly as he repeated his guards Su She’s words.

“Do not say such a thing.” Lan Wang Ji said with a sigh, feeling sorry that the other had to be treated such a way.

Wei Wuxian shrugged his shoulders. “It is only the truth after all. I am sure you also think the same way about me, finding my background unacceptable to receive respect.” Wei Wuxian murmured, voice slightly tinted with a sad tone.

“No such thoughts.” Lan Wang Ji suddenly said, defending himself.

Wei Wuxian blinked his eyes a few times, looking at him before swallowing once. “Then how come you completely ignored me during the first meeting. I thought you hated me like your Uncle.”

“Uncle is my mentor, my adviser in the royal hall.” Lan Wang Ji explained. “I am very much influenced by his words and thoughts, though I cannot use that as an excuse to defend my actions back then.”

Ah, his words sounded a little familiar, Wei Wuxian thought. Quickly realizing that Lan Xichen had told him the same exact thing before. Of course he knew his own twin brother the best, telling Wei Wuxian that Lan Wang Ji was most likely watched closely by their uncle. Now the change in Lan Wang Ji’s personality and character made more sense. He was a whole different person when he was alone with Wei Wuxian, versus when he was around his guards or his Sect elders. He had no other choice, forced to play the perfect King’s role at all times. Yet when he was with Wei Wuxian, he was able to be himself.

Wei Wuxian smiled slightly, nodding his head. “Your previous apology is now accepted, Lan Wang Ji.” He said, not missing the way Lan Wang JI’s serious expression softened a little at the mention of his courtesy name. The only one to ever speak of him with that name was his brother and uncle, his only family members left. If someone other like Wei Wuxian was to call him by his name he would surely be punished severely and perhaps even banished from their Sect. Yet Lan Wang Ji felt no anger towards the other for using his name out loud.

Lan Wang Ji nodded his head. He almost wanted to call the other by his name as well, deciding not to as he found himself unable to do so. He turned to look at the woods, tilting his head slightly. “It is already past midnight.” He spoke. “Young master Wei should also return to the campsite.”

Hopping down from the rock, Wei Wuxian smiled slyly. “Only if you accompany me during the walk back. Maybe grab by wrist again like before if I get too scared?” He joked, hoping to embarrass the other.

However Lan Wang Ji had slowly gotten used to the others flirtatious jokes, still finding them to be quite ridiculous and scandalous. others would think the same way, looking at Wei Wuxian like he had lost his mind if he were to ever flirt at the King in such a way in front of others. Lan Wang Ji couldn’t understand how the other managed to say such things with a straight face, then blush if someone showed some type of attention towards him. Wei Wuxian was truly a strange individual.

Walking back to the campsite in silence underneath the moonlight was peaceful and quiet.

Only after they parted each other without saying a word and were back in their tents, Wei Wuxian’s heart beating fast against his chest. He placed a hand down against his sleeping robes, attempting to force the muscle moving blood around his body to calm down even a little, failing. Wei Wuxian closed his eyes, yet he could still see. He saw Lan Wang Ji’s shape shining in front of the full moon, much like at the lake just moments ago. A ghostly touch lingered on his skin, his wrist feeling ticklish. Cursing underneath his breath, staring at the ceiling of the tent, he realized he forgot to ask the other a very important question. Which was slightly funny, as that was the reason why he went to him even in the first place.

Why did he cancel his first punishment?

The question was on his mind through the rest of the night, feeling sleepless and restless. Still, after some time passed he was able to fall asleep. Lan Wang Ji’s sandalwood scent lingering around him.

Chapter Text

The clear sky, high towers and many colors around him were new and odd, Lan Wang Ji pointed out as soon as he and his men arrived at Lanling Jin Sect with the other Sect members.

Koi Tower was in the middle of the Sect, a tall and large building which housed the royals of the Sect. King Jin Guangshan was proud to show his Sect and palace to the new visitors, his servants showing them all their rooms which they would be staying in for a few nights. Tomorrow they would hold a meeting. Tonight a celebration, before they needed prepare their army of men and get ready to depart. The Qishan Wen Sect was closer than ever and Lan Wang Ji couldn’t help but gaze into the distance from one of the nearby windows. Perhaps he expected to see walls and watchtowers in the distance, some smoke and something horrible waiting for them behind the border. But there was nothing, only forest and mountains in the far distance.

The enemy was closer than ever before and he felt many emotions rushing through him. A mix of want for revenge as well as fear for what would happen. The other Sect leaders seemed to have been very relaxed, even joyful when they gathered in the Cloud Recesses and held their first meeting together. They were excited and couldn’t wait to step into battle, swords ready to swing and fire bubbling inside of them. King Nie Mingjue was extremely ecstatic, stating his men were ready to take down whoever dared to step on their way.

Lan Wang Ji had never met the King before- as he hadn’t met any of them face to face before- but he had written a few letters to him over the years after becoming King. Lan Wang Ji’s first impression of him was based of only from his handwriting and that first impression was quite accurate. Nie Mingjue was a little hasty, opinionated and loud mouthed. He had a very muscular outer appearance, always carrying his saber Baxia with him. He was tall, actually the tallest man Lan Wang Ji had ever seen. He looked very different from his little brother Prince Nie Huaisang. They were completely opposites, Huaisang being way more quiet and shy while his older brother was loud and open.

Lan Wang Ji knew that the Red Blade master was worthy of his title, learning that Nie Mingjue was very talented with the use of his saber. Some would even say that the King was more skilled at battling with his saber than he was fighting in his dragon form. But the King was not to be looked down upon, as he showed great skill in his other form as well.

“King Chifeng-Jun.” Lan Wang Ji bowed as he spoke, standing in front of the other King. Nie Huaisang stood a little further away, hiding behind his fan and looking away.

“King Hanguang-Jun.” The other nodded his head, also bowing politely. Though he was a little loud and known to be rough, Nie Mingjue did not lack manners. “I must say, I was truly surprised when my brother told me the news of Gusu Lan Sect joining the war. I would have never thought that your people would participate.” He said, towering higher than any guard in the large room.

Lan Wang Ji lowered his gaze. “The Sect elders and I weighed the options. We saw that there was no other way.” He spoke, making the older man smile. It was the truth. Though his own beliefs were against that final decision, Lan Wang Ji knew what needed to be done in order to protect his people and stop the Wen’s from causing anymore damage. Yet the never ending mantra of rules kept on rolling in his head at all times, reminding him without ever pausing.

Take the straight path.

Harmony is the value.

Do not commit acts of promiscuity.

Do not kill.

“You made the right decision.” Nie Mingjue laughed, straightening his back as he turned to look at the others inside the now crowded hall. “I get to see your sword skills as well, perhaps while you decapitate a few of those Wen dogs.” He said, voice lowering at the mention of the cursed Sect. Lan Qiren’s words rang in his ears, making him want to remind the other not to say their name out loud. Yet he remembered, this was no Cloud Recesses. For the first time in his life he was away from home, all alone.

Lan Wang Ji swallowed once, staying mute and not answering his comment. It made a bad taste spread around his mouth, mind becoming heavy with thought once again. He followed the King dressed in green to join the rest who were already seated in the hall in their intended seats. King Jin Guangshan sat on his own throne, eyeing down at everyone.

“King Hanguang-Jun, would you like a cup of our finest liquor?” A servant dressed in yellow asked, smiling widely and bowing politely as soon as Lan Wang Ji arrived in his seat. Nie Mingjue was also offered a drink, agreeing and drinking from his cup as soon as the servant had poured it for him. He drank it all, frowning and grinding his teeth together at the bitter and strong taste. He laughed once, ordering the dainty servant to pour him more.

“Alcohol is forbidden.” Lan Wang Ji said simply, taking his seat and ignoring the flabbergasted servant who stood still for a moment before apologizing profusely and moving away.

King Jin Guangshan laughed loudly, stomping his foot down onto the table in front of him and making the plates and cups shake. He seemed to be in a lively mood, already downed his fair share of liquor.

“King Hanguang-Jun!” He laughed. “This is not the Cloud Recesses, drinking is allowed here.” He said, pulling a female servant by her robes, causing the Sect elders besides him to laugh out loud with him.

Lan Wang Ji stared in front of him, sitting properly and still. “No need.” He said, ignoring the way everyone went quiet except for the music being played behind them.

Jin Guangshan coughed once, clearing his throat. “No need to kill the energy.” He laughed. “King Hanguang-Jun, you are making me believe that you have never enjoyed a drop of alcohol before due to your Sect’s strict rules. Shouldn’t you be jumping up in joy, being allowed to taste my Sects delicious liquor?” He asked, people beginning to murmur in the room. The King was perhaps already a little tipsy from the alcohol, words slurred and voice slightly high pitched. If Lan Wang Ji bothered to look at him he could probably notice the faint pink blush on his cheeks.

“I am sure King Hanguang-Jun doesn’t mean to be disrespectful.” Jiang Cheng then spoke, sitting one seat away from the other. He sounded a little annoyed, perhaps wishing they could get over all these useless celebrations. What was the reason behind celebrating anything when they hadn’t even done anything yet? Also something that Lan Wang Ji couldn’t understand was, why were everyone keen on celebrating and drinking themselves to the point of passing out before an important meeting which would be held tomorrow.

Jin Guangshan lifted his finger and shook his head. “No no, King Sandu Shengshou. It is actually very disrespectful.” He said, stirring more murmuring in the hall. He got up from his seat, his servants helping him a little as he seemed to wobble. Perhaps he had indeed drank a little too much, seeing how he could barely stand up by himself. He walked down the few golden steps, strutting down the carpeted way until he was standing right in front of the other Kings.

Lan Wang Ji removed his eyes from the spot in the wall across the hall he had been staring for who knows how long, slowly looking up at the King dressed in yellow and gold. Jin Guangshan ordered a servant to fill the empty cup in front of Lan Wang Ji with the bitter liquor Nie Mingjue had just enjoyed. Was ‘enjoyed’ even the proper word used to describe it, seeing him frown such a way as he downed the clear liquid?

King Jin Guangshan held up the cup, smiling widely as he pointed it towards Lan Wang Ji. “Here, please taste the rich flavors you can only enjoy here in my Koi Tower.” He spoke, eyes staring at the other.

Lan Wang Ji did not move, nor did he make a noise as he looked away, still sitting properly. This seemed to annoy Jin Guangshan, as he saw no reaction from the other. He let out a puff of air, his leg tapping down against the marble floor in a childish way. He cleared his voice, repeating his words. “King Hanguang-Jun, if your cup does not become empty by the end of the night i’ll have no other choice but to take it as a personal insult against my Sect from you.” He warned.

Jiang Chen looked like he wanted to say something, finding the situation unfair and unnecessary as he watched from the side, biting down on his tongue in order to stay silent. Though he wanted to defend the other, he also didn’t want to become the center of attention and get looked down upon instead. He felt bad, but Lan Wang Ji needed to handle the situation on his own, without his Yunmeng Jiang Sect getting into any trouble. Or that was what he had hoped at least.

A hand grabbed the beautiful cup from King Jin Guangshan’s grip, lifting it and bringing it up to their lips to taste the bitter liquid. Everyone watched in awe and shock as Wei Wuxian downed the alcohol in seconds, leaving the cup empty and placing it back down onto the table. He smiled, nodding his head.

“King Jin Guangshan was truly right, you can taste the rich flavors.” He spoke, wiping the edge of his mouth onto his own sleeve in a scandalous fashion, making the elders shake their heads. Jin Guangshan looked truly shocked, staring at the Yunmeng Jiang Sect member in disbelief. Somewhere behind them, Jiang Cheng closed his eyes tiredly while he lost another brain cell thanks to his brother.

“You-!” The King yelled, pointing at the newly arrived Wei Wuxian. “Wei Wuxian how dare you!” He continued. The man dressed in black didn’t seem to be affected by the tone of his voice, clicking his tongue once before looking back at him.

“King Jin Guangshan. I do not understand the cause of your outraged reaction.” He murmured. “You demanded that this cup needed to become empty by the end of the night. You never stated that King Hanguang-Jun had to be the one to empty it.” He spoke, a smirk spreading to his lips. The other looked flabbergasted, choking on his own words and standing there uselessly. The finger he had been pointing at the other with lower, hand forming into a tight fist that shook with anger.

Wei Wuxian’s smirk never left his face, glancing towards Lan Wang Ji who had stayed quiet through this all. Wei Wuxian stared at him, Lan Wang Ji turning speechless as he saw the other wink towards him. This seemed to go unnoticed by everyone else, yet Lan Wang Ji couldn’t get it off of his mind. Wei Wuxian turned back to look at the King, then proceeding to bow down politely.

“I must apologize for being late. I was busy studying your beautiful Koi Tower as it has been way too long since my last visit. It seemed that you managed to fix the pig stables?” He asked innocently, causing the King to turn even more red in the face. “I apologize for that silly incident once again.” He said with a laugh.

Jin Guangshan swallowed down a lump in his throat, taking a deep breath in through his nose in order to calm himself down. He coughed once, turning and looking at Jiang Cheng. “King Sandu Shengshou. I order you to pay close attention to your brother during your stay. Anything broken or destroyed by him will no longer be paid by my Sect.”

Jiang Cheng sighed tiredly, nodding his head before bowing. “Of course, I will do exactly that.”

Lan Wang Ji watched as Wei Wuxian walked up to his own Sect, taking a seat behind his brother and sitting down on his own seat. Not before receiving a kick to his shin from underneath the table, seeing Jiang Cheng curse something underneath his breath. Wei Wuxian hopped slightly, sitting down on his seat and grinning towards him with a wide mouth. Lan Wang Ji turned away, staring at the now empty cup on top of his table.

His hand reached for it without much thought, hearing people begin to speak around himself again. Wei Wuxian’s voice could be heard, asking one of the servants for some more liquor. Jiang Cheng could be heard complaining to him about being late, threatening to snap his legs or something along the lines.

Lan Wang Ji couldn’t make out the rest of the conversation, sitting in his seat for the rest of the night through the celebration. He could hear the music, the laughter of the drunken men and see the dancing women if they came close enough to his field of vision. Yet the only thing he could focus on was the cup in his hands, the clear outline of lips visible to the eye against the edge of the cup.

*

The night seemed to last forever, men from each Sect ordering more drinks and hurrying the servants for their own amusement. Even the Sect elders had drank the bitter liquor, standing further away from the rest as they leaned against the walls lazily. Music was loud, being played nonstop for hours. The dancing ladies dressed in yellow never took a break, the smiles on their faces never fading in fear of upsetting the King dressed in golden robes. Wei Wuxian felt bad for them all, frowning slightly as he downed another cup of the so-called famous liquor. It had lost all taste by now, or perhaps Wei Wuxian had just gotten used to it. Whatever the reason was, he still thought that his own Sects liquor was better in every way. But neither could battle against the Emperors smile, a fine liquor which could be found only in the Gusu Lan Sect’s towns. Drinking it inside the Cloud Recesses walls was of course forbidden and Wei Wuxian had luckily guessed so and hidden the jars he had bought during their stay well before drinking them all one night. Had he been caught, he would have received another punishment.

Wei Wuxian had a bad habit of causing trouble wherever he went. During his previous stay in the Koi Tower, he had caused some trouble when he strolled around the pig stables. How was he supposed to know not to lean against one of the supporting pillars? No pigs were harmed, but their small stable was completely ruined and King Jin Guangshan had a small stroke when he saw the damage. Jiang Cheng had to take the blame for his brother once again, not forgetting to slap the other across the head as soon as they were alone from the rest.

Both Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng had spent a lot of time in the Qinghe Nie Sect growing up. They were very close with Nie Huaisang, causing trouble together with him when their parents were still alive and held meetings in each others Sects. They got to a lot of trouble, creating small tricks and traps for the Sect elders and especially Nie Mingjue, who was only a Prince at the time. When disaster struck and their Sects were attacked by the Wen’s, they no longer saw each other as they were too busy taking care of their broken empires.

Wei Wuxian sighed, making Jiang Cheng look at him. He saw the multiple empty jars on top of the others table, rolling his eyes. “Ran out of booze again?” Jiang Cheng asked jokingly, crossing his arms. His own cup had stayed empty for a while, only drinking one cup as he didn’t want to get the same kind of attention that Lan Wang Ji received from refusing to drink any.

“No, still got plenty.” Wei Wuxian murmured, leaning against his arm lazily. He stretched his legs underneath the low table, legs hitting Jiang Cheng’s behind. The other let out an annoyed sound, glaring at him. “Jiang Cheng. I am bored.” Wei Wuxian then said, ignoring the way the other cursed quietly.

“What am I supposed to do about it?” Jiang Cheng asked with a snort. “Get up and dance in front of you?” He suggested with a joking tone. Wei Wuxian then nodded his head, grinning like an idiot.

“Forget about it. Go bother someone else than me.” He ordered, turning around and avoiding him. Wei Wuxian leaned against the table, a deep frown setting over his face as he looked around himself. Lan Wang Ji seemed to be feeling a little tense, face looking expressionless as he stared somewhere. Wei Wuxian couldn’t understand how the other could just sit there without doing anything, he would be feeling bored to death if he sat still like him without participating in any drinking or conversations. He wondered if he was upset at him for coming in between him and Jin Guangshan like that before. Wei Wuxian hadn’t thought about it much, having just walked into the ceremony hall to see the red faced King yell at him while holding up the cup filled with alcohol. Well, he did break a few rules while doing so. He literally stole something out of a King’s hand and then proceeded to drink out of another King’s own personal cup. Sometimes Wei Wuxian wondered how he wasn’t locked up already, or worse.

The Nie brothers were busy speaking with the said red faced King, Jin Guangshan. Well, Nie Mingjue was the one doing all the talking, his little brother standing next to him awkwardly. Sometimes Wei Wuxian wondered how it was possible to have brothers who were so different from each other.

Sighing, he was starting to give up on finding someone to talk to, thinking he should just leave or fall asleep on top of the table for the rest of the celebration. Perhaps he should try and bribe one of the servants to give him more alcohol, though he was already told they had no more for the night. Luckily for him, a familiar man dressed in yellow strutted in front of him and stopped. Wei Wuxian looked up, Jiang Cheng doing the same.

“King Sandu Shengshou, what a pleasure to see you here.” Jin Zixuan spoke while bowing, smiling gently as he stood straight again. Wei Wuxian could see past that smile any day, a smirk spreading onto his own lips. Jin Zixuan now looked at him, the corners of his smiling lips twitching slightly.

“Young master Wei, I am happy to see you as well.” He said, hands placing behind his back. “You haven’t changed a bit.”

Wei Wuxian moved in his seat, smiling annoyingly fakely at the Prince. “Likewise, Prince Jin Zixuan.”

The air between the three of them was stuffy. The memories of the past still fresh in their minds as they looked at each other. The three of them were known to bicker a lot. Well, it was more than just bickering. Even as children they seemed to end up fighting no matter what. This lasted into their teen and adult years, hate towards each other never dying.

The cause of the hate that Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng felt towards the older Prince was due to years worth of fighting and arguing due to the relationship between him and their dear Shijie Jiang Yanli who was no longer here. Even as small children they were aware of the arranged marriage which was planned between their older sister and the peacock Prince due to their mothers close friendship. They were only kids then, just hating the thought of seeing their sister ever leave them. Jiang Yanli was a young teenager at the time of the Wen attacks. She would have married the other man in a few years, moving to the Koi Tower and spent the rest of her life there. Not once did any adult stop and ask what she thought of her own marriage, never knowing the fact that she was afraid and didn’t want to go through it. Only Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng knew of this, but they were only small children. Unable to help her in any way.

After her death, their thoughts on the Prince never changed for the better, always remembering him as the man who was almost forcefully married to their sister in order to look good in his mother and father's eyes. Never truly loving her.

That was the reason why Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng disliked the other, always finding themselves talking bad about him and fighting back the urge to punch his annoying looking face whenever he was around them. Wei Wuxian actually once did exactly that, hitting him right across the face during an argument that escalated very quickly at the mention of their sister. Wei Wuxian was yelled at by the Sect elders, King Jin Guangshan threatening to ban him from the Sect.

They continued to have a bad relationship up until today, using fake smiles and forced honorifics when speaking to each other. Jin Zixuan really had no other choice, being in front of his father and Sect elders. He couldn’t act carelessly in fear of being punished. The last thing they needed before the war was to battle each other and cause their alliances to fall.

Jin Zixuan looked around himself, then back at the two brothers. “It seems that you are not enjoying the celebration that my father has kindly set up for you, what a shame.” He spoke, head held up high. Wei Wuxian wanted to wipe that annoying grin off of his face.

“Actually Prince Jin Zixuan, we were. Before you showed up.” He smiled, succeeding in his mission as he watched the others grin fade and turn into shock.

Instead of attempting to calm himself down and ignore his words, it seemed that the other had also enjoyed a fair share of liquor as his cheeks turned red. He swallowed once, taking a deep breath in. “Wei Wuxian, I suggest you hold yourself back from saying such words. We wouldn’t want another fight to break out, correct?” He asked.

Wei Wuxian crossed his arms, humming quietly. “Of course. Though I must remind you that getting hit once and then running away crying to your father cannot be considered a proper fight.” Perhaps he was just poking a wasps nest now, clearly asking for trouble. But how could he not, as it was so amusing to watch Jin Zixuan’s face turn similar to the color of the vermilion mark dotted between his eyebrows. Even Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but let out a chuckle, attempting to hide the lower half of his face behind his sleeve.

“You-!” The Prince yelled, voice drowned out by the sound of music and the others laughing. But Wei Wuxian could still hear him loud and clear, well enough to notice the angry tone in his voice. “Wei Wuxian! I warn you not to anger me.” He threatened.

others must have heard his voice as well, two more people joining his side. Wei Wuxian could only recognize one of them, his smirk dying as he stared at the Prince’s cousin, Jin Zixun. He sure hated Jin Zixuan, but he somehow managed to hate his annoying cousin ever more if it was even possible. He never did anything to his sister or said anything bad to Jiang Cheng. Wei Wuxian had a personal feud with him, remembering their heated arguments as teens.

“They truly let anyone inside the Koi Tower these days.” Jin Zixun laughed, his frame shaking while looking at Wei Wuxian. “You would think they’d deny mongrels like you entrance by now.” He spat, clearly way past being tipsy. He was already drunk, slightly leaning against the other man dressed in yellow who laughed loudly. Wei Wuxian could only guess he was also somehow related to the two cousins in front of him. Learning about the King Jin Guangshan and his relationship with Jin Guangyao made Wei Wuxian believe that he could have many more illegitimate children. Perhaps the Jin’s would soon begin to marry each other, spreading their dirty genes to their children born from incest.

“Jin Zixun, I ask you to take back your words.” Jiang Cheng suddenly spoke, making the man dressed in yellow notice him for the first time. He seemed a little taken back, realizing he hadn’t respected the King and then proceeded to curse out his brother in his presence. Perhaps the effects of the alcohol made him feel powerful, standing a little more straight.

Before he could defend himself, Wei Wuxian got up from his seat, patting Jiang Cheng’s shoulder twice. “No need, let young master Jin speak. I’m very interested to hear what he thinks of me.” Wei Wuxian spoke, stepping down and standing in front of the three. He was shorter than the three Lanling Jin Sect members and much lower in rank, as a non purebred.

But Jin Zixun was one of the lowest ranking members in the Lanling Jin Sect, as a mere nephew of the King. Wei Wuxian was sure that he got looked down upon all the time and made fun of being so low in line to receive the title of King. Now that someone like Wei Wuxian stepped in front of him, he couldn’t help himself and wanted to curse him in order to look better.

“Young master Jin, you must hold some type of personal grudge against me in order to hate me so much.” Wei Wuxian spoke.

Jin Zixun laughed, his cousin still looking serious as he stared at Wei Wuxian with a glare. “Quite the opposite. I am simply just disgusted by your presence and wished you’d join the rest of the mongrels outside where you belong.” He then said, then spitting on the floor right besides his shoes. “I’m sure that crazy bastard Mo Xuanyu would love another cut sleeves company.”

Wei Wuxian’s expression didn’t change, humming quietly as he brought a hand to scratch his jaw. “I see. I would gladly join his company, if I wasn’t enjoying yours so much.” He said with a smile, enjoying the way the men’s expressions changed from amused to disgusted. Jin Zixun didn’t seem to know what to do with himself after Wei Wuxian said something so triggering, throwing his hand forward without much thought.

A frame slid between the two, Jiang Cheng grabbing the other man’s arm before it could touch Wei Wuxian. His eyes were wide with anger, glowing in a deep shade of purple. “Enough.” He growled, music stopping behind them. He snapped his arm downwards, pushing Jin Zixun down onto his knees as he couldn’t fix his balance as fast as he’d hoped. Jin Zixuan and the other man were quick to lift him up, struggling slightly due to his size and the fact that his body acted like a rag doll thanks to the liquor.

Jiang Cheng glared at the people around him, noticing that the Lanling Jin Sect elders or the King was nowhere to be seen, which was good for them. He cleared his throat and stared at the three men in front of him, stepping forward so Wei Wuxian was behind him. “You will go back to your own seats and mention this to no one, and I will not tell King Jin Guangshan how you disrespected me and my brother tonight.” He spoke through tightly gritted teeth, anger boiling inside of him. “And you.” He said, pointing at the Prince’s cousin. “If I ever see you near my brother ever again, you can kneel down in front of him on your own or after I force you to when I snap your legs.”

The men dressed in yellow turned pale, looking at each other before stepping back hurriedly. Their frames shook, nodding their heads messily before removing themselves from the scene. Jiang Cheng watched them stumble as they walked, drunk and disoriented. He let out a sigh he had been holding for a while, turning around slowly to look at Wei Wuxian.

“You-you holding up well?” He asked, seeing the others blank expression. Wei Wuxian nodded his head tiredly, yet when he opened his mouth the only word he was able to force out was ‘no’. Jiang Cheng smiled sadly, taking a hold of his arm before turning to his guards.

“We will excuse ourselves, tell King Jin Guangshan our apologies for being the first ones to leave.” The guards nodded their heads after hearing his order, leaving quickly as Jiang Cheng began to drag away Wei Wuxian.

“Jiang Cheng, i’m alright-”

“You are not.” The other said simply, making Wei Wuxian shut up as he walked behind him. Wei Wuxian swallowed dryly, nodding his head. Jiang Cheng was right. He wasn’t alright.

They walked through the large ceremony hall and only when they reached the door did Wei Wuxian realize he hadn’t seen any white robes. He even turned around, searching for someone who was not there. He began to wonder when Lan Wang Ji had left. He secretly hoped he had left ages ago, not seeing him being shamed in front of everyone. Wei Wuxian’s ego couldn’t handle such a blow, already feeling quite unwell. He followed Jiang Cheng, leaving behind everyone else.

Jiang Cheng had seen him in many situations. He had seen him angry. Angry to the point when he would be trashing things and not caring who or what he hit with his sword. He had seen him happy, so glad because of something where he would laugh for hours until he could barely breathe, his stomach aching. He’d seen him in great physical and emotional pain, two very different things.

And quite like tonight, he’d seen him cry before.

*

Nie Huaisang studied the people around him, standing in front of his guards. He was already quite familiar with the Yunmeng Jiang Sect members and their guards, only glancing towards them before staring at the men dressed in yellow instead. The large yard in front of the Koi Tower was filled with people from all four Sects. They were preparing for battle, practicing their sword skills and creating large oceans of fire in their dragon forms. Nie Huaisang jumped a little, hearing one dragon from his own Sect screaming before flying high up in the air.

The meeting held early in the morning was the cause of all this. Each Sect leader was busy training their men, preparing them for their first attack which would be attempted after a few days. Their target, the nearest Qishan Wen Sect town beyond the border. This would be no small fight however, as the Lanling Jin Sect members had been studying the town closely for a while now. They had found out that the evil King’s eldest son Prince Wen Xu made occurring visits there every few weeks and would return again soon for some reason no one knew. The town was poor, known to be the home to only a few families due to the poor living conditions. This was sadly something normal to see inside the Qishan Wen Sect, people living in poor and horrible conditions. Dying to starvation and traveling diseases.

Nie Huaisang swallowed dryly, seeing another group of black dragons arriving at the tower. The Lanling Jin Sect held the second largest army after the cursed Sect, the King very proud of that. The rest of the three Sects had around the same amount of people. When their four Sects were brought together they were almost the same size as the gigantic army of the Qishan Wen Sect. It seemed unfair, as their dragons were the largest as well as their army. Yet they still had hope they could turn things around for the better. Nie Huaisang however felt quite anxious.

“Bother.” Nie Huaisang whispered, standing besides his brother who towered over him, looking at his men who were busy practicing. He ignored his brothers mousy voice, unable to hear it properly due to the loud sounds around them as dragons flew in every direction and spewed fire and lightning. The Yunmeng Jiang Sect dragons lit up the sky with their purple Zidian lightning, making others look at them in awe. Nie Mingjue felt a hint of jealousy stir inside of him, however choosing to ignore it and turn to his brother as the other tugged on his sleeve carefully.

“What is so important that you must draw my attention away from the practice field?” Nie Mingjue asked, sighing loudly. His brother had a fine skill of being able to annoy him just with a few words. Sometimes Nie Huaisang’s soft personality bothered him. He sometimes wished his brother was a little more like him, stronger and tougher. Instead he was quiet and shy, always hiding behind that fan he had gifted him years ago. But Nie Mingjue only had himself to blame for the way his brother was. He had guarded the other too much while growing up, not letting him practice his sword skills or spend too much time in his dragon form in case he would hurt himself. Nie Mingjue protected him at all times, perhaps a little too religiously. But he felt as if he had no other choice, since his brother was the only thing left from his family. Their age difference made things complicated between them at times. When their parents died, Nie Huaisang had been so young that he has a hard time remembering them today. Nie Mingjue is more like a father figure to him, which was only natural since he has had him by his side longer than their actual father. But Nie Huaisang would never say it out loud, knowing it would break both of their hearts.

Nie Huaisang lowered the fan covering his face, lowering his face as well to stare at his feet shyly. “Brother, I was wondering… If it were alright for me to also practice and join you during the first attack.” He then asked, stuttering a little. His words surprised Nie Mingjue, who had never heard him express want towards participating in battle. Perhaps he had, but Nie Mingjue had just chosen not to listen.

“Do not be ridiculous.” Nie Mingjue said, staring at his brother in disbelief. He almost wanted to laugh out loud, seeing how ridiculous his suggestion sounded but he held himself back, not wanting to embarrass the other. He cleared his throat, turning more serious again. “You have zero skills when it comes to battle or being in your dragon form. Sending you into war would be like using you as a bait, they’d kill you in seconds.” He said, making Nie Huaisang nod his head slowly, looking depressed.

“I understand.” He confessed. “But I cannot help but feel… Useless. I do not want to be the only one staying behind, doing nothing whilst I watch you battle in this war for me.” He murmured.

This was the first time Nie Mingjue had heard his brother voice out such worries, surprising him completely. He had thought the other didn’t want or just didn’t care about what happened around him, too busy always hiding away from others eyes. He was known as the know-nothing Prince, useless and worth nothing when compared to his brother who stood taller than anyone.

Nie Mingjue swallowed down a lump in his throat, turning to look at his men practicing in the field once again. He sighed and Nie Huaisang was starting to get afraid he had annoyed him too much, taking a step away from him. Instead of yelling at him like usual, Nie Mingjue pulled out his own saber and handed it to the frail Prince.

“It is heavy, correct?” Nie Mingjue asked, staring at his brother who held his precious saber for the first time in ages. He could remember finding him with it when they were children, studying it and attempting to lift it up. Perhaps he was curious about the saber as he never got one for himself, his parents never having the chance and Nie Mingjue never wanted to, in order to protect him from entering the battlefield. Back then he was a child, unable to lift up the heavy metal using only his strength. The fan from his hands had already fallen down, holding the saber up with shaky hands. He nodded his head quickly, grunting a little as he took a better hold of the heavy saber. Nie Mingjue smiled ever so slightly, staring at his little brother.

“Once you are able to hold it up without dropping it or falling over with it, i’ll allow you to enter the practice field with a saber of your own.” Nie Mingjue then said, making the shorter man look up at him with big eyes. Nie Huaisang almost dropped the saber, smiling widely as he fought back the urge to hug his brother. It would be unacceptable to do so, in front of so many people. He nodded his head, thanking his brother out loud multiple times until Nie Mingjue got annoyed with it and ordered him to quiet down.

Nie Huaisang spent the rest of the day standing besides his brother, watching the skilled men battle with their swords and sabers while holding Baxia in his hands tightly, arms growing heavy and sore. But he didn’t lower the saber once, holding it up while whispering the roars and cries of the men battling in front of them as they practiced their steps while counting up.

Most times Nie Huaisang resembled the small child he was all those years ago. Someone Nie Mingjue had to protect by locking him up inside the place, thinking that was the only way to keep him from dying away like everyone else had in their lives. Everyone had left him, so Nie Mingjue knew no other way to protect the one he loves the most. But Nie Huaisang was no child anymore, but someone who needed to learn how to protect themselves.

Nie Mingjue stared at him fondly, seeing a fine young man.

*

Cloud Recesses had never been more quiet, Jin Guangyao pointed out as he walked along the palace hallways slowly. His robes dragged behind him, collecting any dust that was missed by the servants while cleaning. Not a sound was heard, everyone having retreated back into their rooms hours ago. Only the quiet footsteps of him as Jin Guangyao excited the side of the palace meant for servants and headed towards the secluded private area for the royals.

Guards bowed their heads, not needing to ask any questions as to why he was approaching the Prince’s room. Everyone knew him as the Sewu-Jun’s private servant, someone they could trust and let inside without thinking twice. Jin Guangyao thanked the guards quietly, knowing not to speak too loudly after it was getting closer to night.

He entered the room, lifting his head to see the bed empty. He frowned, removing his hands from his sleeves and hanging them down. He sighed, taking a step forward to study the room which almost seemed empty. Apart from the figure seen standing behind the curtains near the old zither, gazing into the distance quietly. Jin Guangyao smiled gently, walking towards the Prince.

Lan Xichen was deep in thought, hand holding onto the edge of the curtain. Thumb moving over the fabric in a nervous way. He hadn’t moved in a while, still dressed in his day robes. Jin Guangyao realized he must have stayed there for the whole day, looking as another army of white dragons left earlier today. Not turning to look away, in case he would see a familiar figure flying back to him.

Lan Xichen finally noticed the other man's presence, smiling as he looked back at him. “Meng Yao.” He called out with a whisper, voice tired and worn out. Jin Guangyao realized he had been crying, eyes still slightly red. He frowned, stepping closer. He too stood in front of the window now, gazing out of it for a moment before swallowing once.

“Lan Huan.” He sighed. “You promised me you’d rest for once.” He said.

Lan Xichen smiled, he always did. It didn’t trick Jin Guangyao anymore, knowing it hid something bigger underneath. Something that kept the young Prince awake through the nights and restless through the days. He reached out and took a hold of Jin Guangyao’s hand, squeezing it tightly in a way that made Jin Guangyao’s heart ache. It was a simple gesture of affection, yet his skin burned against his own in a painful way.

“I did promise you. I apologize, Meng Yao, I have seemed to let you down once again.” Lan Xichen spoke gently, blue eyes staring at Jin Guangyao’s own red ones. He blinked once, forcing himself to look anywhere else except his loved one.

The servant reached out, hand carefully touching the Prince’s face. An act scandalous enough to cause Jin Guangyao‘s banishment from the Sect if anyone else were to see them. But there were many things happening behind closed walls inside the palace, all worse than the other. No one else except for the two of them knew what happened between them. The touches, kisses and sleepless nights.

Lan Xichen pulled the short man closer to himself, acting without much thought. That was how Jin Guangyao preferred it, when Lan Xichen no longer though too much about his status and what others thought. Only when he was able to push all those things aside was he able to kiss the other like he wanted to, deep and with passion. Quite like right now.

His hands were hasty, moving across the servants chest with precision. He knew his way around and underneath his robes way too well by now, pulling them off quickly. Jin Guangyao could only gasp against his lips, bare skin hitting the cool air in the room. This routine was quite familiar to him by now, seeing the other like this.

The wetness that escaped the others eyes could be felt by Jin Guangyao by now, frowning against his soft lips. How could he not cry, after sending Lan Wang Ji away for war. After possibly seeing him for one last time. He was feeling alone, broken and unable to get up from this slump he was in. Only Jin Guangyao could reach down and pull him back up and into his senses, yet it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

Lan Xichen was a broken soul, an abused person held up on a pedestal for others to see him succeed and fail. Only Jin Guangyao knew what happened behind the scenes, what was behind that smile.

He was the only one able to see the Prince like this, unclothed and bare. The never ending scars covering his skin, the trauma that they had left behind just as hard to remove as the marks themselves. Burnt skin and memories of that dreaded night always somewhere in his mind. Only Jin Guangyao could stop the tears and end the pain.

Only when they were both feeling hot, skin sticking to each others due to the sweat, breaths heavy. Their eyelids weighing a ton and bodies feeling tingly thanks to their shared orgasm. Then, Lan Xichen would speak honestly.

“I am afraid of losing him.” He confessed, fingers moving in Jin Guangyao’s hair slowly, untangling the locks he had previously messed during their heated lovemaking. Their limbs moved underneath the covers slowly. “I am terrified.” Lan Xichen added, swallowing dryly. His cheeks were already wet with fresh tears, new ones falling down the side of his face and hitting the pillows.

Jin Guangyao hugged his side tightly, breathing in his natural scent. He hummed, not knowing anything else to say. He didn’t need to, as he knew nothing could make the other feel any better. Anything he said, hoped or wished couldn’t come true no matter how hard he wanted it to, not wanting to give false hope. They lived in a time where everything was unknown and unsure, their futures too. Everything could be destroyed in a moment, leaving behind nothing but ashes.

Jin Guangyao didn’t have much to lose. No family members who cared about him, no close friends. Lan Xichen was his only reason being alive. He was his master, his savior and lover. He gave him a new life, new purpose on this earth which he had stopped caring about a long time ago, after everyone he had loved and trusted before left him all alone to suffer.

His mother, his dear mother Meng Shi who loved him so, also left him. She passed away when Jin Guangyao was in his teens. She was a smart woman who knew how to read and use her money well. But no one cared about that, only remembering as a dirty whore who worked in a brothel as a prostitute. But she was much more than that to her son.

His father, King Jin Guangshan betrayed her and abandoned him as his son. After his mother passed and he was left alone, he foolishly searched for him and showed up at the highest step of Koi Tower on his own birthday after his village was burned down by the Wen’s. Only to be pushed down to the very last step, left bleeding and injured. The phrases ‘son of a prostitute’ and ‘no son of mine’ ringing in his ears very clearly. From that day forward, he no longer had a family. No mother, no father and no brother.

His heart had ached, throat closing when he stood through the meeting held in Cloud Recesses, watching his father and brother sit besides each other. They were royalty, praised and worshiped while he was right there, unable to reach out and ask for acceptance. It hurt in a way he couldn’t explain in words, tears escaping his own eyes.

It was the least he could do, also give in to the pain and cry next to Lan Xichen.

The two broken lovers held each other tightly through the night, hearts beating in rhythm. Deep scars covering their skin as well as their hearts.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian stared at the crowd of people below the golden steps of the Koi Tower with a frown. Never had he seen so many people in one place, of all Sects dressed in their own traditional robes and colors. People were speaking with each other, not minding if they weren’t from their own Sect. People were making friends, the youngest teenagers laughing with each other. Wei Wuxian struggled to look at them the most, knowing they were still so young and naive. Everyone above the age of fourteen were forced to join them, ripping them away from their families and their futures. Wei Wuxian looked away, not wanting to remember their faces in case he happened to see them in the ruins of the battlefield, dead.

He fixed the pouch wrapped around his middle, sword swinging back and forth as he walked down the steps slowly. There was mixed energies in the air, anxiety mixing with anticipation as the men in front of him waited for permission to leave and shift into their dragon forms. Wei Wuxian noticed a few mean looks that were thrown his way as he made his way to Jiang Cheng, most of them coming from the guards in Lanling Jin Sect.

They were the ones who disliked him the most, probably due to what happened the previous night at the celebration held by King Jin Guangshan. Even though the cousins who dared to try and attack him were warned not to tell anyone about what happened, rumors moved around quickly and people loved to gossip. However that wasn’t the only reason to hate him, as the Lanling Jin Sect members were known to hate mongrels.

Like all Sects, only purebred men could join the royal army. Purebred dragons had their special ability, while mongrels like Wei Wuxian had none. Other than that there really wasn’t any other reason not to allow mongrels into the battlefield, yet everyone still believed the old rules and didn’t bother to try and change them. Wei Wuxian was the only mongrel there, looking like a white sheep in a field full of grey. He ignored the mean stares, standing besides Jiang Cheng.

“Shall we leave, King Sandu Shengshou?” A guard asked as soon as Wei Wuxian arrived, turning to look at Jiang Cheng. The man dressed in purple nodded his head, giving his men the order to shift forms. Wei Wuxian stepped back a few steps, robes moving in the wind as the guards around them all sifted forms into large black dragons.

He blinked his eyes a few times, grabbing Jiang Cheng’s arm and stopping him from shifting. “Wait, aren’t the other Sects coming with us?” He asked, seeing the rest staying still.

Jiang Cheng let out a laugh, unamused. “The original plan was to have men from all Sects come to attack the town. King Jin Guangshan suddenly decided to change his mind and ordered us to go by ourselves.” He explained, sounding annoyed. “Everyone else will stay here, protecting the Koi Tower and come help us in case the Wen’s attack us after our first attempt.”

Jin Guangshan truly was a cowardly man, asking the Yunmeng Jiang Sect to go by themselves while others protected his fancy palace. Wei Wuxian couldn’t understand why Jiang Cheng decided to agree with him, but didn’t bother to ask. Time was precious, the black dragons waiting for them high up in the air, circling around like hungry raptors waiting for their meal. In the end he just nodded his head, letting go and watching as Jiang Cheng also shifted forms.

He took a deep breath, glancing over to the direction of the Qishan Wen Sect. After they cross over that border and attack the nearest town, the enemy will know their intentions and declare war. After that, everything will change. No more peaceful days and nights as it will be all replaced with anxious hours, everyone waiting to be attacked and killed. Wei Wuxian’s mind and heart was heavy with worry, yet he still somehow managed to push those thoughts away, shifting into his dragon form.

The wind hitting his face felt colder on this particular morning, the clouds around them darker. It was as if they were being warned, told to turn around and stop what they were doing. Perhaps mother nature herself was trying to make them change their minds, knowing what would follow if they cross that cursed border between the two Sects. Yet they chose not to listen to her hints, flying straight towards it.

The distance to the border from the tower wasn’t too long, as they reached it surprisingly quickly. Wei Wuxian hadn’t realized how close they were to the enemy, feeling slightly foolish for thinking they had spent a safe stay in Koi Tower. Now King Jin Guangshan’s previous hesitations to join their side made a lot more sense. Their capital was quite close to the evil Sect, yet they hadn’t gotten attacked in many years. Perhaps they had settled on neutral ground, agreeing not to attack each other for the time being. While leaving the Lanling Jin Sect alone, the Qishan Wen Sect focused on tearing down the other three Sects as well as the small, almost nonexistent Sects. According to Jiang Cheng, they had just recently attacked and completely destroyed a smaller Sect called Meishan Yu after many years of trying. It was the former home of Jiang Cheng’s mother, Yu Ziyuan. The Wen’s seemed to focus on bringing down the smaller Sects for now, as their King was so ill. They couldn’t risk attempting to attack the bigger Sects now as they needed to protect their castle and the sick King at all times. It was the perfect time to attack and try to bring them down.

The black dragons of Yunmeng Jiang flew with grace and precision, forming together and moving in silence. A grey dragon flew in front of them, a little lower than the rest. Wei Wuxian’s smaller frame was easier to miss by any guards staying near the border, making him the best at checking the surroundings.

His red eyes glowed as he stared down at the ground. Soon he could see the high mountain tops separating the two Sects, flying right above them and diving down near the high trees. Wei Wuxian let out a low growl, noticing the old stone border from miles away. Jiang Cheng heard him, ordering his men to lower down with him. It was better to fly near the trees from now on, if they didn’t want to be seen by watchtowers who always paid attention to the clear skies.

Like black smoke, they flew over the stone border without any sound. Wei Wuxian couldn’t see any dragons or guards in their human forms, believing this particular part of the border was lazily guarded. It was idiotic from the enemy but perfect for them as they managed to fly in without getting noticed, for now. Wei Wuxian had expected to see destruction and chaos, something disturbing about his surroundings as soon as he and the rest flew over the border, but there was nothing. Everything seemed normal, like they were in Lanling Jin or Yunmeng Jiang Sect. But looks could be deceiving, especially on the first glance. They wasted no time and continued their way deeper into the Qishan Wen Sect.

*

“King Hanguang-Jun seems to be quite the fan of books and literature.” A Lanling Jin servant spoke as she helped Lan Wang Ji find the small library inside the Koi Tower. She smiled widely, her hands tucked away in her long sleeves. But Lan Wang Ji could tell she was nervous in his presence, speaking even when she didn’t need to. He didn’t mind too much, nodding his head at the small talk.

“Thank you for showing me the way, young lady.” He spoke, a kind way of asking her to now leave him alone. She took the hint, nodding her head before bowing one last time and exiting the small library. Lan Wang Ji stood still for a moment, studying the puny library he was in. It was nothing compared to the huge library in Cloud Recesses but it was at least something. Lan Wang Ji could not see a single librarian there, noticing how messily the books were set down on the high shelves. Every book was covered in dust, misplaced and just looked like they hadn’t been taken care of well. The covers and pages had changed colours, from white to brown. This definitely wasn’t the Cloud Recesses.

He ignored the mess, not wanting to spend his time in the library only to clean and tidy the place, no matter how much he wanted to. He was taught that books should be treated well and looked after. Cleaned often and made sure that dust wouldn’t gather on them. It seemed that the Lanling Jin Sect members didn’t care for books in the same way as everyone else did back at Gusu Lan. Lan Wang Ji had to remind himself once again that he was indeed far away from home.

Everything was different now. For the first time in his life he wasn’t in the comfort of Cloud Recesses, didn’t have his brother by his side or the Sect elders. He wasn’t treated the same as before and people had a hard time understanding him due to his somewhat cold appearance. People had called him the Jade Prince before he became King, always naming him after something hard-looking while comparing it to him and his personality. He found himself in situations he felt uncomfortable in, the celebration last night being just one example. He began to realize he was very different from the rest. He didn’t mind the fact that other thought he was odd or boring. He actually wished people kept a gap between him and them, staying back so he didn’t need to interact with them. That was how he had lived his whole life after all, but now there were people who kept coming close to him. People being one fearless man from Yunmeng Jiang, Wei Wuxian.

As his name hit his memory once again, Lan Wang Ji was reminded of the scene he had caused last night once again. Lan Wang Ji remembers not being able to draw his eyes away from the other as he downed the hard liquor from his own cup, adam's apple bobbing as he drank it empty. That he could understand, but the wink he had sent him before leaving had left Lan Wang Ji feeling more speechless than ever before.

Lan Wang Ji had a hard time understanding him. He didn’t understand why he did the things that he did. Why was he nice to him? Why did he want to be his friend? Lan Wang Ji always had a little trouble reading people, finding them complicated. If people were complicated, then Wei Wuxian was impossible to understand in his mind.

Lan Wang Ji couldn’t understand how anyone was so fearless and shameless as he was. He had thoughtlessly flirted with him, a King. Lan Wang Ji could have bursted out screaming, ordering his guards to take him away from him and punish him the hardest way for playing with him such a way. Yet he didn’t, and Lan Wang Ji was attempting to learn why.

Perhaps the other was just crazy like some said. Maybe Wei Wuxian had no feel of danger left anymore, doing anything he wanted and wished without thinking too much about the consequences. He wanted to tease Lan Wang Ji, make him feel embarrassed and shamed with his actions. There was no other explanation.

Lan Wang Ji didn’t know why he was spending so much time thinking about this. He could just forget about it, ignore the man like he ignored everyone else who weren’t important to him. Yet he felt like the other was of some importance. Perhaps he just felt sorry. Sorry for the other because he had learned about his troubled and traumatic past. Or maybe because he saw and felt his old injuries, seeing the scars which covered his whole other arm. Maybe he felt a little apologetic, knowing his uncle had punished him in such a harsh way.

He was confused when he thought about the other, hearing what others said about him as well. The most popular words used to describe him were mongrel and cut sleeve. Lan Wang Ji had never heard the other term being used before inside the Gusu Lan Sect borders, his cheeks turning red when he heard the guards behind him talking about it. It surely was… Scandalous, to say the least. Yet Lan Wang Ji didn’t experience any strong emotions towards the term even after he learned it and knew it was used to describe Wei Wuxian. It almost felt as if anything about him didn’t surprise him anymore. Wei Wuxian seemed to be full of surprises and secrets. Perhaps Lan Wang Ji would never fully learn to know him.

Why would he even want to know more about the other? He didn’t need to know anything, let alone want to know anything more than he already did. In fact he didn’t even need to see him or hear from him anymore. He needed to fully focus on the coming war, forget about all distractions. It annoyed him that he could even categorize the other as a distraction. He was just a man. Someone he had met and gotten to know a little. It didn’t matter that Wei Wuxian wanted to be his friend- joking or not, because Lan Wang Ji didn’t need any friends. He was the King. He needed to only focus on his people, nothing or no one else. So why did Wei Wuxian think he was something so important to make Lan Wang Ji think and wonder about him?

And why was he succeeding?

He shook his head, completely unable to focus on the book he had picked up which told about the Lanling Jin Sects long history. All he could think about was the fact that the other had currently just left together with the rest of Yunmeng Jiang Sect, flying towards the Qishan Wen Sect town. Why did he worry about him?

*

They finally dared to stop after flying deeper into the Qishan Wen Sect, finding a somewhat safe spot deep in the forest. Some guards stayed in their dragon forms, hanging up above the trees while keeping an eye out for any movement. The rest shifted, guarding Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian who were busy studying the maps that they had taken with them for this journey.

“Looks old.” Wei Wuxian said, voice slightly unclear as he attempted to catch his breath. He was feeling the effects of flying for so long, body feeling tired and exhausted. They still had a way to go until they reached the town. They still needed to have energy to attack the said town, capture the Sect members.

Jiang Cheng nodded his head, finger gliding against the old paper as he studied it closely. He found where they were thanks to his compass and the mountains around them which could be also noticed on the map. The map was old, given to him by King Jin Guangshan. He said that the map was stolen from prisoners they had captured from Qishan Wen Sect, but that was years ago. He warned that some places in the map could have changed by now due to its age, but the most important places were still accurate. Jiang Cheng had no other choice but to believe his words, trusting their fate on the piece of paper.

“Here. It’s this way.” Jiang Cheng spoke, lining his compass against the quickly made table and the map. A little more to the west then north and they would arrive at the old town. He rolled the map up neatly again, the mental image of it still fresh in his mind. “The town is not very far away from us anymore. We need to remember not to cause too much of a ruckus. Just get the hostages and leave without leaving anything or anyone behind.” He spoke, turning to the guards to also remind them. Though he looked at Wei Wuxian as he mentioned the word ‘ruckus’.

“What about Wen Xu?” Wei Wuxian asked, surprising a few guards by asking such a important question. They hadn’t gotten used to seeing young master Wei so serious about something before. This was no place to be kidding around, even he realized that.

“The Prince is said to make occuring visits to the town for some unknown reason.” Jiang Cheng explained. “If we get lucky, we won’t run into him. If we do, we will take him down.” He said, swallowing deeply. Perhaps it just hit him what they were getting themselves into, something dangerous and serious. If they were to truly meet ways with one of the crown Prince’s- they had no other choice but to fight him to death. If even one guards manages to escape them and alert more backup, they will be shoulder deep in serious trouble.

“King Sandu Shengshou, what if we are unable to capture the hostages?” A young guard asked, probably in his late teens. Jiang Cheng fought back the urge to snap back at him, telling him to do whatever it takes to follow his orders. His question was indeed a good one, something others must have been thinking as well. They didn’t know what the people living in this town were like. All they knew about them were that they were poor and ill, making some believe they would be easy to take down without a big fight. Jiang Cheng knew better than to believe so, knowing that sometimes the ones with almost nothing left will fight back the hardest.

“Then kill them.” Jiang Cheng ordered, looking down at his sword. “Leave none behind.” The guards behind him nodded their heads, voicing out that they received his order and would follow it. He felt a nervous feeling settling inside his stomach, stirring the contents in a nauseating way. He had just given permission to his men to kill whoever they couldn’t capture. It was fine, he attempted the remind himself. The were only Wen dogs, worth nothing of importance. Jiang Cheng had wanted to kill them ever since what they did to his family, and he soon got to if he so wished. So why was his hand shaking as he held onto his sword?

“Prepare to leave.” He said, looking away from everyone. Many voices spoke around him, agreeing and packing up their things again. Jiang Cheng walked away from them, afraid to see them look back at him for something. More questions, perhaps. Wei Wuxian frowned, his shoulders feeling heavy as he watched the other walk away. There were dark clouds above their heads, rain daring to fall down any minute now. Jiang Cheng’s words rang in his head from earlier, reminding Wei Wuxian how he had just said that the rain would help them. It will wash away the blood and stop the flames for them, he said.

Wei Wuxian shifted forms, the grey dragon flying high up into the air. He glanced towards the direction of where they were supposed to go, towards the town. He couldn’t help but think how odd this all felt. The town should be small, filled with retired and poor cultivators. Elders and the sick ones being the main population. That reminded him an awful lot of something, shaking his head in the air as a gust of wind pushed against him.

Soon others joined him, following tightly behind him. The grey dragon was harder to see in the horizon, yet Jiang Cheng had no problem following his brother. Towards the direction which his compass previously pointed at. Towards an inevitable bloodbath.

*

Lan Wang Ji lifted his eyes from the book, noticing someone entering the library quietly. He first noticed their backside, front turned away from him as if they were searching for someone from the other direction. They were from the Lanling Jin Sect, seeing the yellow robes that they wore proudly. Lan Wang Ji watched as they strutted around for a while, turning around slowly and noticing his presence. Lan Wang Ji closed the book slowly, hearing their footsteps getting closer to him.

Prince Jin Zixuan smiled gently at him, bowing down as soon as he got close to him. He lifted his head up slowly, perhaps a little hesitant. “King Hanguang-Jun.” He began, voice somewhat nervous sounding. Lan Wang Ji found this amusing, expression still never changing on his face. “I am here to apologize in front of you in behalf of myself and my father.” He spoke.

Lan Wang Ji studied him for a second, then removing himself from the table. “No need.” He said underneath his breath, attempting to walk away. Things of course didn’t go as he’d like them to, as the stubborn Prince soon stood in front of him again, bowing down deeply.

“My apologies for disturbing you, King Hanguang-Jun!” He said, sounding quite desperate. “I truly must properly apologize to you in behalf of what happened the previous night.” He said, not lifting his head this time.

Lan Wang Ji could only guess that his father, King Jin Guangshan, felt slightly bad for trying to force him into drinking during the celebration and now forced his son to apologize for him so he didn’t need to do so himself. But Lan Wang Ji didn’t need to hear the other apologizing in his behalf, finding it unnecessary and childish. If the King wished to be forgiven, he’d at least apologize by himself. But Lan Wang Ji had already gotten quite the bad impression from the older King, not finding this type of behavior surprising at all.

It seemed that Jin Guangshan liked to do many things and then leave them be, not take any responsibility for them anymore once he has had his fun with them. Quite like his illegitimate children. Yes, children instead of one child. Plural. Lan Wang Ji knew many things, including Jin Guangyao’s family relations. Yet that wasn’t the only thing the King dressed in gold tried to hide from his Sect, Queen and legitimate son. Rumors would always run from person to person, even ending up in Lan Wang Ji’s meetings. He knew much more than the Prince standing in front of him. He was only one of many who shared the same blood as the King of Lanling Jin Sect did. Unaware of this fact himself.

“Father feels regretful for trying to pressure you into something that is against your Sects rules and ways, driving you to leave the celebration early.” Jin Zixuan spoke, catching Lan Wang Ji’s attention again. “He wishes that you will accept his apology and put this all behind us.”

Lan Wang Ji could have shaken his head, acting as he wanted and told the other that no, he didn’t accept his apology in behalf of the other. That was what he would have loved to do, enjoy the flabbergasted look on the others face as he attempted to come up with something to say that would make him change his mind. That would have been truly amusing to watch, yet Lan Wang Ji knew that wasn’t the right thing to do. He didn’t want to spend anymore time conversing with him about this topic anymore, wanting to forget about last night's events all together. Also it would be very not-King-like of him, attempting to make the relationship between their two Sects worse by drawing this bickery for any longer than it has already lasted, which was too long already.

He finally nodded his head, seeing the others expression relax a little. “Let us put it behind us.” He repeated the others words. Jin Zixuan thanked him multiple times, almost reaching out and holding his arms, which was normal for others but Lan Wang Ji preferred not to touch others if not necessary.

“You are truly too kind, King Hanguang-Jun.” Jin Zixuan complimented, not something that came from the heart but something he had learned to say in order to sound sincere. It didn’t exactly manage to fool Lan Wang Ji, noticing his fake tone and forced smile. Still, he nodded his head and took the compliment.

“Luckily Hanguang-Jun didn’t miss much when leaving the celebration early.” Jin Zixuan then said, making Lan Wang Ji wish he had just left without trying to keep up the conversation. He also didn’t have the heart to interrupt him, that also being against rules.

“Is that so.” He commented, hoping to get done with him as soon as possible.

“It is true.” Jin Zixuan spoke, speaking a little more confidently now that he no longer had to act apologetic. “Everyone drank through the night, enjoying the music and absolutely beautiful dance performances by the Koi Tower’s ladies. Food was served at all times, and I am sure Hanguang-Jun would have enjoyed the vegetarian options as well.” He spoke, pretty much just rambling at this point.

Lan Wang Ji was just about to excuse himself, finding that what he said was nothing worth his interest anymore. But the other was keen on telling what had happened in the celebration hall after he left.

“I am sure Hanguang-Jun finds this amusing, as I learned that mongrel Wei Wuxian received quite the punishment in Cloud Recesses during his stay. He was close to receiving another one last night as well, almost getting into quite the fight with my cousin.” He explained, hoping his juicy rumors would make the other interested. Yet Lan Wang Ji seemed less interested the more he spoke, perhaps a little agitated.

“He doesn’t seem to have any sense left in him, foolish enough to fight the ones ranking higher than him. I wonder if all mongrels are as idiotic as him.” Jin Zixuan said with a laugh.

“Speaking ill of others is forbidden.” Lan Wang Ji then said suddenly, making the other frown.

“Ah, yes.” He cleared his throat. “Hanguang-Jun follows the Gusu Lan Sect rules religiously, which I forgot about momentarily. But am I wrong to believe that your kind also dislikes mongrels with a heavy heart? Wei Wuxian and others like him do not get any respect around these parts, and for a good reason.” He explained.

Instead they got treated like trash- scum- only because they were born to parents who were from different Sects or mongrels themselves. Lan Wang Ji had also been affected by this hate, seeing it all around him when growing up next to his uncle and other Sect elders. He too believed in such hateful thoughts before, as he knew nothing better. But he changed as he educated himself, reading many books and visiting the non purebred members of his Sect living outside the Cloud Recesses borders. He learned that they were just like him, regular people with wishes and dreams.

“Not a good reason.” Lan Wang Ji managed to get out of himself, quickly bowing his head and exiting the library, fast on his feet. There was a bad taste in his mouth, chest feeling heavier with each breath as he thought about what the Prince had said and told him. Had he not left and stayed a little later during last night's celebration, he would have witnessed whatever fight was about to break between the two men. Perhaps he could have done something, not really knowing what that something was. He couldn’t put himself back in the past and in that scenario, but he is sure of himself that he wouldn’t have been able to just stay still. Not if he heard the others attack Wei Wuxian, trying to bring him down just because of his status. Lan Wang Ji hated the thought of being there and seeing it all happen, yet he felt regretful for not being there either. Unsure why, as it wasn’t this business to deal with. Again he was left unsure of his emotions and feelings towards the other, making him feel angry with himself.

*

It was getting dark by now, the sun setting down behind them slowly as he disappeared behind the mountains and trees. The army full of black dragons moved through the sky, looking like a swarm of bats from afar. Bringing something mysterious and deadly with them, chests radiating warmth, fire and lightning ready to be used whenever they wished. The town was close enough to be able to see it now, many pairs of purple eyes staring down at it. Jiang Cheng squinted his eyes, ignoring the way the cold wind blew against his face. He noticed a few houses which looked old and rough. He saw people, only a few.

He let out a screech, loud enough to be heard by everyone around him, the sound ringing in their ears as they followed their leaders order and dove down. Wei Wuxian circled the area higher above, watching as red fire began to mix with purple lightning. The sound of dragons screeching mixed with the humans who yelled for their dear life, attempting to shift in order to protect themselves. Wei Wuxian watched as a red dragon emerged from the chaos, attempting to fly away from the black dragons attacking it mercilessly.

Wei Wuxian darted after it, flying faster than anyone else. He caught up with the dragon, a wave of fire escaping his mouth as he attempted to stop them from fleeing to alert any of the watchtowers. The red dragon seemed to be quite skilled with flight as well, dodging his fire and flying downwards. Wei Wuxian didn’t hesitate even for a second, flying right after them. His red eyes widened, seeing the dragon he was chasing turn their head around quickly. A rumbling noise was heard seconds before the red dragon coughed up a flaming ball of lava towards his way. Wei Wuxian only barely managed to dodge the sudden attack, tucking in his wings and darting downwards in order to get not get. He spun around in the air a few times, wings opening and flying back up.

Wei Wuxian let a low growl escape his throat, tasting ash and smoke as he picked up speed. The red dragon kept going down, towards the trees. This was actually to Wei Wuxian’s advantage as he was clearly smaller than the other, moving better in tight spaces. He followed the red dragon into the woods, dodging trees and bushes as their nails almost dragged along the ground.

Wei Wuxian’s lean form performed well, scales barely touching the trees as he slithered past them like a snake, the space between the two becoming smaller. He could see the red dragon becoming restless, looking behind themselves to see if they were still far away from Wei Wuxian. He could almost see the horror written all over their face when they realized Wei Wuxian was gaining up on them. In panic, it released a cloud of fire in front of it, diving through it. Wei Wuxian closed his eyes, not turning back but continuing straight after them. The fire burnt him all over, tingling against his scales but he ignored the slightly uncomfortable feeling. Not turning around. He couldn’t, as he knew that if he would- this person would fly all the way to the nearest watch tower and alert more backup. Then it would be done for them.

Wei Wuxian ignored the fact that he felt like he was dying, chest heaving with each breath as he flapped his wings fast, heart beating so fast like it was trying to burst through his chest. He slithered forward, arm and long nails reaching to take a hold of the red dragon's tail. It let out a scared screech, balance broken and left messy. It didn’t take long before the dragon hit a tree, shoulder bumping against it and sending it flying straight into the ground. Wei Wuxian followed, watching as the dragon broke down bushes and flew through one tree which fell down behind them. The red dragon dragged along the ground in fast speed before finally hitting a tree strong enough to stop them. It let out a painful sound, back hitting the tree. The impact must have been truly great, forcing the dragon to shift forms.

Wei Wuxian flew behind him, arm gripping the humans torso and holding him still. He growled at the human, red glowing behind his sharp teeth.

“I-I s-surrender! Please d-do not hurt me” The Qishan Wen Sect member spoke, attempting to cover his face somehow. Wei Wuxian blinked his eyes, noticing that this man was merely an adult, perhaps still in his teens. His red eyes stared at his black ones, warning him silently not to do anything. His chest was rising and lowering with quick speed, attempting to catch his breath desperately. The man underneath him seemed to only now realize who, or what he was. Staring at the grey dragon in confusion.

Wei Wuxian let go, growling once more as an order to stay still as he stepped back to shift forms. He quickly turned, returning to his hostage. He smirked, somewhat happy with the fact that he was able to capture the other after such an adrenaline filled hunt. He took strong ropes from his pouch, tying the others hands and legs together. He didn’t seem to try and put up a fight anymore, perhaps too tired from his getaway attempt.

“Surprised to see a mongrel like me capturing you?” Wei Wuxian asked, remembering how the other had stared at his dragon form in confusion. He didn’t receive an answer, only seeing the other stare at him quietly. Wei Wuxian got up, but only momentarily. He stared at the other for a moment, whispering a short apology underneath his breath before three fingers punched the center of the man’s chest.

The Qishan Wen Sect member let out a choked sound, coughing once dryly as he felt his golden core being affected by the other. He should have known it was coming, as there was no way his capturer wouldn’t make sure he couldn’t use his dragon form for a while. And Wei Wuxian was a master at toying with golden cores, perhaps because he got so much practice thanks to Jiang Cheng. Ever since learning you could turn off shifting with a precise hit to the golden core located in the middle of the torso, they always bullied each other by attempting it. All that practice was worth it, both able to turn of shifting with one hit. It was only temporary, powers returning to the victim in a few hours. But it was effective, making the man underneath Wei Wuxian into a mere human for the time being.

Wei Wuxian sighed deeply, sweat dripping down his forehead. He heard the distant cries and screeches of his Sect’s dragons capturing the others living in the town. He looked up to the sky, seeing nothing but trees. He couldn’t let others how about his location any way, too far away from them. He would have to take the man back by his own. He hated carrying others.

“Your name?” Wei Wuxian asked, sounding more like an order.

The man dressed in red shifted his laying spot, swallowing deeply once. He looked as if he didn’t want to tell his name- which was understandable. But he kept staring at Wei Wuxian’s sword, perhaps realizing it was for the best to follow all orders he was given if he wished the stay alive. And this particular man seemed like quite the coward, whole frame shaking in fear. “W-Wen Qionglin.” He finally said, words just as shaky as his frame was.

Wei Wuxian nodded his head, hands resting against his hips as he gained some strength back before flying back to the others with the man- Wen Qionglin, as he had just learned. Then repeated the name in his head a few times, trying to make himself remember it.

He didn’t dare to try and ask anything else, forcing himself not to as it would be inappropriate. Or at least he thought so, thinking it may be a bad idea to speak with the enemy anymore. He should leave that to Jiang Cheng, knowing he wanted to interrogate them all anyways even if it took hours and days.

Wei Wuxian soon shifted back into his dragon form, scaring the other a little. He ignored his scared reaction, scaly hand reaching and grabbing the ropes he had tied before. He took off flying, the other hanging underneath him. If he was scared and screamed, the sounds didn’t reach Wei Wuxian’s ears due to the sound of the wind.

His red eyes scanned his surroundings, seeing smoke rising from the distance. That must be the location of the town, which would have been hard to find without the rising smoke, he realized. He had chased after the other for a very long distance, noticing that the other had managed to get quite far away from the town. Impressive.

He and his hostage reached the town soon, lowering down until he was able to drop down the man he had been carrying. Wen Qionglin dropped down onto the ground with a thud, letting out a small sound. Soon guards in their human form were all over him, pulling him up and forcing him to stand. Wei Wuxian hit the ground, shifting and turning around once as the smoke around him disappeared. Jiang Cheng was soon by his side, a hand placed on his shoulder.

Jiang Cheng smiled widely, squeezing him. “Great job, I knew you’d get him.” He said, complimenting him. Wei Wuxian nodded his head tiredly, finally rising his gaze to look around himself.

“Is this all of them?” Wei Wuxian asked, unable to believe all of the people living in the town were in front of him. He squinted his eyes, counting a few elderly people, young ladies and children. But there weren’t more than thirty people there, looking miserable and defeated as they all sat on the ground tied down. Luckily there didn’t seem to be any bodies, meaning none was killed.

“Not quite.” Jiang Cheng spoke, pointing towards the forest on their left. Wen Qionglin also lifted his gaze from the ground, panic flashing through his eyes as he stared at the same direction. He let out a heart wrenching cry as he saw a pair of black dragons flying over, carrying someone with them.

“Sister!” Wen Qionglin yelled, falling to the ground as the ropes made it impossible to move. Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes, finding his cries annoying. He poked Wei Wuxian’s side, catching his attention.

“As soon as you flew after that one, another dragon darted from the town and flew into another direction. Luckily my men were able to catch them as I was too busy. I only had little faith in them catching that Wen dog, seeing they were so fast. But I knew you’d be able to catch yours.” Jiang Cheng explained. Wei Wuxian nodded his head, wiping sweat off of his forehead.

The dragons came down, lowering the last person onto the ground. Wei Wuxian squinted his eyes, realizing he was looking at a woman instead of a man. He let out a puff of air, arms crossing. Impressive, he thought to himself. It wasn’t usual to see women use their dragon forms as they weren’t usually taught to fly or use their fire skills, specially in such a harsh Sect as the Qishan Wen. They had a long history of treating their women badly. The woman attempted to remove her hands from the ropes, struggling much. She paused, hearing the voice of Wen Qionglin screaming for her again.

“Ah-Ning!” She yelled, a mix of emotions showing on her face. She was both happy and sad to see him. Happy to see him because she knew he was alright, but sad because he wasn’t able to get help either. She had also failed, frowning as the guards lifted her from the ground and stood her up. She glared at every guard, black eyes squinting as she held her head high. Her eyes met with Jiang Cheng’s, face turning sour.

“What are you doing here? Whose orders are you following to allow you to attack our town?” She asked, staring straight at him. She was a daring woman, raising her voice in front of the King in such a way. Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but smirk, watching as Jiang Cheng’s eyebrow twitched.

“Prince Wen Xu will be arriving in a few days, once he sees the chaos you have created, he will not hesitate to bring down your secret mongrel association along with the King.” She spoke, attempting to sound intimidating while being tied down. It didn’t really work, making Jiang Cheng shake his head.

“No secret associations here. And only one mongrel.” He laughed. “We are simply the remaining members of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect. Sound any familiar?” He asked, taking a step closer to the woman. The woman blinked her eyes a few times, expression softening. Only to turn back serious in a second. She glared at him again.

“Lies. The great King has defeated the four other Sect many years ago. There are only us left.” She said, making Jiang Cheng burst out laughing.

“I am sure that is what the King wishes to be true, but sadly for him it isn’t.” Jiang Cheng explained, all eyes of the people on him. “You seem to be unaware of the situation behind the border, not aware of the fact that all four main Sects are still standing strong.” He added, again confusing the woman. He rolled his eyes, turning his back on her. “I would like to discuss this topic with the town leader, someone more intelligent and aware of current situations.” He said, turning to stare at the few old men in the group. They all shook their heads or looked away, afraid.

“That would be me.” The woman spoke again, smirking now. “You may call me Town leader, Doctor Wen, Wen Qing.” She said.

“A doctor.” Jiang Cheng nodded his head, finding the situation quite amusing. The leader of the sick and poor just so happened to be a young lady, perhaps a little older than he himself. He had nothing against leaders who were women, but what he found amusing was the fact that they all seemed to be unaware of him and who they were.

“Town leader Wen, you may call me Sandu Shengshou, King of Yunmeng Jiang.” He said, ignoring the way the man- Wen Qionglin, gasped in the back. His sister, Wen Qing looked just as shocked, expression softening for a moment. Yet she was still keen on finding out what was going on.

“Why did you arrive here? What is your purpose?” She asked, waiting for an answer from Jiang Cheng only to hear an old man screaming from the crowd.

“The child!” He yelled, voice raw and rough. “They have come for the child! To take him back as their own!” People around him were trying to hush him, looking terrified and scared as everyone now looked at them. The man didn’t care, thinking whatever he was saying would help their situation. “That cursed child has brought us nothing but trouble from the start! Even Prince Wen Xu began to blackmail us for having him, daring to kill him if we didn’t give him everything we had.” He murmured, frail body shaking violently as he spoke. Perhaps due to old age or sickness.

Though miss Wen looked upset and angry at him for speaking out against her orders, Jiang Cheng nodded his head and ordered the man to continue speaking. “What is about this child that makes him so special?” He asked, standing in front of the man.

The man smiled, rotten teeth showing. “King, he is one of you!” He said. “A mongrel just like the rest of you, scales black and dark instead of bright red like ours.”

Wei Wuxian also stepped forward, interested to hear more. “He’s a mongrel?” He asked. The old man nodded his head quickly.

“Yes, yes Young master! Just like you. If you came for him, please take him and leave us be.” He said, voice sounding desperate. others began to agree with him, nodding their heads and wording their agreement. Jiang Cheng’s sword hit the ground with a loud sound, silencing everyone.

“We are not here for one child, but you all. We will be taking you all and bring you back to Lanling Jin Sect, Koi Tower. There you will help us learn more about the royals and the palace. If you wish to stay silent, you may forever as you will be executed.” He spoke, watching the crowd of people look at him with fear in their eyes.

Wei Wuxian looked around himself, seeing only a few babies and then teenagers. There was no one who could fit the role of a small child, making him tilt his head. “The child?” He asked, turning to the town leader, Doctor Wen.

She said nothing staring at him for a moment. Wei Wuxian understood that she was scared of telling him the location of the protected child, unsure eyes looking straight at him. Before he could try and make her believe him, a voice spoke out behind him.

“Sister, it is alright.” He murmured. “Young master is also a mongrel, he will not hurt Ah-Yuan because of his status.” He said, assuring her. Wei Wuxian nodded his head, looking at her again.

“Town leader Wen, I can assure you that as a fellow mongrel, I will not hurt this child you are protecting.” He spoke, voice gentle and soothing. He didn’t want to sound attacking or dangerous in any way. And perhaps he seemed kind enough to be trusted, as Wen Qing nodded her head tiredly.

“He is our cousin.” She began to explain. “Born to a mother of the Qishan Wen Sect and an unknown mongrel father. He was born here, his background kept a secret until he turned four and could no longer hide his dragon from everyone. Young master…-” She paused, staring at him before Wei Wuxian understood what she was waiting for.

“Ah, Wei. Wei Wuxian.” He said with a smile, ignoring the way Jiang Cheng frowned next to him due to speaking for so long with them.

Wen Qing nodded her head. “Young master Wei, I do not know how things are for you as a mongrel outside the Qishan Wen Sect borders. But here, all mongrels are killed in order to keep the bloodline pure.” She explained, Wei Wuxian’s smile turning into a frown. “I couldn’t allow that to happen, after his mother passed and left him with us. I needed to protect Wen Yuan no matter what. Guards came to collect taxes, and noticed Ah-Yuan’s dragon form. They threatened to kill him immediately. But I begged them not to, offering all we had. That is why Prince Wen Xu visits us so often, to come and collect me to bring me to the King to heal him. If I refuse, they will kill him.”

Wei Wuxian nodded his head, understanding the situation better now. Jiang Cheng seemed more bright again, excited to hear that the people they captured had straight connections to the royals and even the King himself. They couldn’t get more lucky. Now they just needed to leave without getting seen.

“Get the child if you want to, we will leave now.” Jiang Cheng said to Wei Wuxian, ordering his men to shift forms. They had already spent way too much time here, in danger in case someone noticed the smoke and fire before they were able to put them out. If there were others coming to attack them, they needed move quick and get out as fast as possible. Wei Wuxian nodded his head, looking towards Wen Qing who hesitantly pointed towards one of the small houses. Wei Wuxian began to walk towards it, opening the door slowly.

The living conditions were truly poorly, everything looking old and nasty. Wei Wuxian covered the lower half of his face with his sleeve in order to not breathe in the dust flying around everywhere. He coughed once, eyes stinging. The sound of his cough caused something to move underneath the bed covers, someone hiding there quietly.

Wei Wuxian smiled, clearing his throat once. “Hey, you must be Ah-Yuan.” He said, voice only a whisper. He didn’t want to scare the child, imagining he must be quite terrified of him right now since he had been put away here all alone while a battle broke out right behind the thin walls. He saw the blankets shift again, still not removing them completely. Wei Wuxian hummed gently.

“I am Wei Wuxian, Wei Ying. I am a friend of your cousins Wen Qing and Wen Ning.” He spoke, using the two Qishan Wen Sect members birth names instead of courtesy ones, sounding more close to them than he really was. “And i’m also a mongrel like you.” He added, and jumped back slightly as the covers came flying off.

Wei Wuxian blinked his eyes once, staring at the toddler sitting on top of the bed.

“You are?” He asked, big eyes staring at him like a puppy. Wei Wuxian fought back the urge to reach and squeeze his chubby cheeks, as that would probably be quite inappropriate since this child was also counted as an enemy.

“Hmh.” Wei Wuxian hummed, nodding his head. “I heard your uncle say that you have darker scales than your cousins. I happen to also have dark scales.” Wei Wuxian said, the tone of his voice more high pitched than usually. He enjoyed talking to children, finding them amusing and pure with their thoughts and unfiltered words.

There was a hint of a smile on the child's face before he frowned. “I am not allowed to show my scales to anyone, in case they get mad and then take me away.” He spoke, stubby fingers playing with the hem of his shirt which looked to be made of a potato sack. His face and hair was also covered in dirt. Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but feel like instead of kidnapping and capturing these people they were instead saving them from poor living conditions.

“I won’t!” Wei Wuxian said, taking a step forward and sitting next to the child on the bed. He could hear Jiang Cheng screaming outside, ordering him to hurry up. “Hey, how about we go join your family outside and leave for a little trip, then when we get to our destination I could first show you my dragon form?” He asked, seeing Wen Yuan smile widely.

“Yeah!” He smiled, taking a hold of Wei Wuxian’s hand which he had place down onto the bed.

“It’s a deal.” Wei Wuxian said, walking Wen Yuan outside to the others.

Wen Qing let out a relieved sigh, smiling as she saw the child. Wen Yuan immediately ran to her, hugging her awkwardly as she couldn’t help him back due to the ropes. Wei Wuxian frowned, wondering if Jiang Cheng was going to order someone to put ropes around Wen Yuan as well. Luckily he didn’t. Wen Qing ordered him to go to his grandmother’s, who was allowed to hold onto him as she was so old and had her golden core stopped momentarily, so she seemed the less dangerous to be allowed to have use of her arms.

Jiang Cheng and the rest shifted forms, carrying the hostages as they left the old, now ruined town. Wei Wuxian followed soon after, glancing behind them quite often. He was sure he would see something behind them, perhaps a swarm of red dragons coming after them. But there was nothing and no one. Perhaps they were safe, for now.

Chapter Text

The Wen’s were brought back to Koi Tower, where they were checked and treated for their injuries. Most of them were very scared as they arrived, in awe and unable to believe the Lanling Jin Sect was truly still standing. The elders couldn’t believe their eyes, looking around themselves as if in a continuous day dream. They were prisoners, yet they were getting fed and given better care than in their own Sect run by a King they had idolized and worshiped. Only for him to tax everything away from them, threaten to kill their youngest and lie to them.

Wei Wuxian and everyone else soon learned about the Wen’s more, learned about the fact that every single one of them had grown up thinking that the Qishan Wen Sect was the last remaining Sect on earth. That they were the only purebred ones, fighting against the mongrels who were tainting their otherwise perfect bloodlines. When in reality their King had spent years and years killing of the remaining smaller Sects, almost destroying the bigger ones as well. But he had failed and fallen too ill. This all seemed to come as a shock to the Wen’s, leaving them unable to say anything even when they were being interrogated. Everything they thought they had known about life beyond the border was a lie, all a painted picture of propaganda in order to make their King seem more respectable than he actually was. Some wouldn’t believe their words, especially the Sect elders. Yet some began to believe their words, seeing that they were in Lanling Jin’s Koi Tower after all, a beautiful palace straight out of a story book.

Wen Qing looked around herself, big eyes studying the yellow and golden decorations in front of her inside the meeting room. The heavy chains around her ankles and arms weighed down on her skinny and weak looking frame, yet they didn’t distract her from taking a delicate sip from the cup placed in front of her. The many pairs of eyes studied her, guards standing closely in case they needed to bring her down if she decided to fight in some way. Yet the young miss seemed relaxed and calm, back always straight and posture perfect. She brought the small tea cup back down onto the table, looking up at me men sitting further away from her with fluttering eyelashes.

“I assume you want information about the King and his whereabouts.” She then said, clearing her throat. She seemed slightly shaken, perhaps a little tired. Wei Wuxian safely assumed that the young miss hadn’t slept well after arriving in Lanling Jin yesterday, worrying about her people. Though young and frail looking, Wei Wuxian could clearly see that the miss sitting in front of him was a strong and trusted leader. Her age and gender didn’t change anything, only making her seem more of a fighter as she had to make everyone trust her abilities as a doctor and a town’s leader.

Even Jiang Cheng who seemingly didn’t respect her in the beginning found Wen Qing to be a good leader, seeing himself in her. She was no royalty, no army leader. But she cared about her people, caring for the sick and poor with her whole being. She showed great leadership and skill. She shouldn’t be looked down upon, but kept a close eye on in case she ever decides to try and take them down. Because like the rest, Wen Qing was also still a believer of their “great King”, thinking of him as a God.

Wen Qing smiled, corners of her lips turning slightly as her nails dragged along the tea cup slowly before letting go. “I am afraid I am unable to tell you anything.” She then said.

Jiang Cheng’s eyes narrowed, staring at the young miss intensely. “Town leader Wen, I am afraid you have no other choice.” He then said, quoting her words. King Nie Mingjue chuckled next to him, then turning more serious.

“Miss Wen. We have been very kind with you and your people.” He spoke, playing with the blade of his saber. “Too nice in fact, seeing that you are our prisoners. Our patience is running low, and I am afraid that if you are unable to provide us with the information that we need, we have no other choice but to take action.” He spoke, threatening her.

His threats however didn’t seem to shake Wen Qing’s calm expression, her face remaining the same as she stared at the King who spoke to her. She nodded her head slowly, eyes dragging lower to stare at the cup in front of her instead. She seemed to be deep in thought, weighing her options as the royals of each Sect stared at her and waited.

King Jin Guangshan cleared his throat, sleeves swaying in the air as he re positioned his arms. “We have interrogated every single member of your town and they all have said the same thing.” He spoke. “That you, Miss Wen, are the only person who knows about the King. That you have purposely not told the rest about your trips to visit him. Perhaps in order to protect them, but you have to understand that by not telling us you are in fact putting them in danger.”

The other Sect leaders began to murmur with each other, nodding their heads and agreeing. The second row behind the Kings silently agreed, Princes looking at each other and agreeing with their father's words. Wei Wuxian sighed once, sitting behind Jiang Cheng quietly. He kept a close attention to everyone, noticing every smile and grin on their faces as they attempted to bully Wen Qing into telling her secrets. However it didn’t seem to be working, the young miss staying quiet.

King Jin Guangshan’s amused expression died slowly, now glaring at the other intensely as there was no response of any kind. “I am afraid that you will leave us no other option but to force you into telling us if you continue acting stubborn like this, Miss Wen.” He threatened, voice heavy with a serious tone. “Shall we bring in one of the other prisoners? Perhaps your own brother or the mongrel child you are protecting?” He asked, attempting to get some kind of reaction out of the other. And it seemed to work, making Wen Qing look up at him with worry in her eyes.

“Ah-Ning and Ah-Yuan know nothing about this matter.” She spoke hurriedly. “I have never told them or anyone else of the details regarding the King, only I know and can tell them.” She explained, hoping to change the King’s mind. Her words however only made Jin Guangshan more assured that his plan to make her speak was working.

“So what you are telling us is that they are useless. We may as well get rid of them, punish them for being born as Wen dogs.” He spoke, making Lan Wang Ji look down at the floor at the mention of punishment. Wei Wuxian turned to look at him, studying his face. The other had avoided all eye contact with him today as soon as they entered the meeting room. Wei Wuxian didn’t know why, but such cold treatment left him with a sour taste in his mouth. Especially as he greeted him with such excitement, having not seen him in a while due to their trip beyond the border. But the other didn’t even look at him, didn’t even bother to nod his head at his direction. Wei Wuxian had been frowning ever since throughout the meeting. He couldn’t understand why the other was all of a sudden acting such a way towards him and he wondered what had caused such a change. Perhaps it was the fact that the members of the Qishan Wen Sect were here now, underneath the same roof as him. Lan Wang Ji seemed to be uncomfortable, having to share the same space with the woman dressed in white and red. He didn’t even look towards her direction once, avoiding looking or speaking to her at all times. Wei Wuxian wondered how it was possible to have such a reaction to one person’s presence.

Nie Mingjue laughed, his fist hitting the table with a loud bang, tea cups jumping and shifting slightly. “Why not torture the things, in order to get the answers we need out of you!” He suggested sadistically, causing his Sect mates to laugh and agree with him. Nie Huaisang however looked a little pale, swallowing deeply.

Wen Qing shook her head desperately, seeing guards begin to move towards the doors due to Jin Guangshan’s orders. They were going to collect one of her townspeople, bring them over and torture them in front of her in order to make her break and speak. She wouldn’t allow that to happen- couldn’t. The thought of seeing her little brother Wen Ning crying and squirming in pain in front of her was something she never wanted to think about or imagine becoming a reality.

“Wait.” She spoke, chest rising with deep breaths. “Wait, please.” She sighed. Her voice sounded broken, tired and worn out. She looked weaker than ever as she slowly let her walls come down, showing her true self. Her golden core had been turned off multiple times during the last day, making her unable to shift or use most of her strength. She no longer looked like the unbreakable town leader that she so desperately portrayed to be seen as, but a broken and tired soul. Quite like them all, she had been through a lot.

Her black eyes stared up at the Kings, studying them all one by one. Her fingernails dragged against the cold metal hanging from her wrists. “If I tell you, everything that I know. What will happen to them?” She asked carefully.

Jiang Cheng looked at the others, seeing that no one was going to speak he lifted his hand and caught everyone's attention. “If town leader Wen truly shares us all information that she holds about the Qishan Wen Sect and helps us defeat the King with that said information, then she and the rest of her people will be seen as fellow associates who will not be punished by the Yunmeng Jiang Sect.” He explained.

Other Kings looked at each other before slowly nodding their heads as well, Lan Wang Ji however never moved or said a thing. Wen Qing didn’t seem to notice, only repeating Jiang Cheng’s words in her head and holding onto them as she took a deep, shaky breath in.

“I will tell you everything.” She promised, voice gaining strength again.

And she did exactly that. Wen Qing told how she first became a trusted member of the royal infirmary, helping to heal the ill King Wen Ruohan. Everyone in the meeting room soon learned the Kings mystery condition, Wen Qing explaining that the King was suffering from very many medical conditions which could no longer be treated by simple medicine. His condition had been getting worse during these times, Wen Qing staying inside the castle and healing him up to multiple hours during each day without being able to return back home. She got to return back to her people only a few times a month before one of the Kings sons would come and collect her back. This cycle had been repeating for multiple years already. Whenever the King’s condition grew worse, she wasn’t allowed to go back home. She stayed inside the castle for multiple months even, if the King needed constant healing. She knew the castle very well, and the King.

Jiang Cheng could barely hold his excitement as he listened to her speak, writing down things and asking her to repeat herself at times. He was trying to remember everything, yet everything that Wen Qing told him seemed to form into one huge mess inside his head. He needed to interrogate her multiple times in order to remember everything correctly. He wished that the other would act this co operative even in the future, as he needed her help. He was already creating maps of the palace inside his head, trying to come up with a plan on how to attack the it and bring down the King. Jiang Cheng would need Wen Qing’s help tying things down, and he was already ready to sit down with her and begin planning.

Wen Qing told about the two Prince’s, Wen Xu and Wen Chao. They were currently in charge of the Qishan Wen Sect army, creating chaos everywhere they went. The two brothers were evil to the core, just like their father. They didn’t care who or what they had to destroy and kill in order to gain more power and praise from their father. They were sadistic, in favor of torture and psychopathic. Even Wen Qing who rarely showed emotions on her face was frowning as she spoke of them. She told about how they had been blackmailed by them, threatened to be killed unless they cooperate with them. Now that he thought about it, Wei Wuxian hadn’t heard a single good thing being said about the King or his sons. He couldn’t understand how anyone could worship or think nicely of them, yet most did. Perhaps they were forced to, afraid of getting punished or killed if they spoke ill of the King. There seemed to be heavy censoring and propaganda inside the Qishan Wen borders, as everyone had to always speak and write nicely about the King. Everyone thought that their King had been successful in taking down every other Sects, so perhaps their views of the earth was very different and wrong due to such strict propaganda.

Wen Qing spoke until her voice became raw, throat aching due to speaking for so long. She answered every question and cooperated well, perhaps due to the fear that if she didn’t- others would suffer because of her stubbornness. She feared for her brother and Wen Yuan. She couldn’t let anything bad happen to them. Such a way of thinking made Wei Wuxian realize, that perhaps the Wen’s weren’t so different from them after all like he had first thought.

The meeting lasted for hours, everyone staying quiet as they listened to Wen Qing speak. Wei Wuxian felt himself beginning to drift off into slumber whenever the topic changed into something less interesting or whenever she had to repeat her words. He was forcefully brought back to the living when he heard Jiang Cheng getting up in front of him. He wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth and hurriedly got up as well, swaying a little. Not being able to sleep well the previous night due to having just arrived back in Lanling Jin from their trip had left him tired. His behind ached because of sitting down for so long, yet he controlled his expressions and smiled gently as he followed Jiang Cheng and showed his respects to the other Kings. To his disappointment, the Lan’s had been the first ones to get up and prepare to leave. Wei Wuxian frowned as he watched the last white robes worn by the guards disappear behind the open door as they followed their King.

He could have let it go, ignore the odd feeling inside of him as he continued to stare at the door. Yet he couldn’t help himself. He quickly patted Jiang Cheng on the shoulder and left his side, ignoring how the other called out for him. Jiang Cheng looked as his brother excited the hall, following the Lan’s.

*

Wei Wuxian sighed, looking around himself as soon as he got out of the crowded meeting room. He could see Wen Qing being taken back by guards, nodding his head towards her quickly. She didn’t seem to notice, or perhaps she just chose to ignore him. Why were everyone ignoring him today? Wei Wuxian crossed his arms, head tilting as he looked to both directions in the hopes of seeing even a glimpse of the Lan guards. Sadly he wasn’t able to see anyone.

He was beginning to think that he should return back inside and give up speaking to the other. But he really wanted to. He felt like something was bothering Lan Wang Ji, making him avoid him in such a way. He couldn’t figure out what it was on his own, seeing that the last time they properly spoke to each other was during the full moon celebration, and if he remembered correctly- things ended well between them. Sure, he had shamelessly flirted with the other jokingly. Perhaps that had left a bad taste in the others mouth, finding Wei Wuxian to be bad company after thinking about the incident after some time. Also, he did drink out of his cup and wink towards him during the celebration.

Wei Wuxian pouted, his arms crossing as he began to walk forward. He didn’t really know where he was going, walking straight along the hallway mindlessly. Servants were walking left and right, bowing their heads slightly- or some just didn’t as they recognized him. It seemed that everyone from the Lanling Jin Sect hated mongrels deeply. Wei Wuxian cursed underneath his breath as he was once again reminded of the scene caused during the celebration between him and the Jin royals. Before he knew it, he had arrived at some remote hallway while walking around mindlessly. Speaking of the devil, he paused completely as his blank eyes met with the red ones in front of him.

“Wei Wuxian, you sure have a lot of guts to wander around my uncle's palace like this without your brother.” Jin Zixun laughed, the guards behind him avoiding looking at him, as if they would catch some disease from him, because he was a mongrel.

Wei Wuxian laughed breathlessly, unamused. “I was not aware of the fact that I couldn’t move by myself. Unlike you, I do not need the company of a guard at all times. Because I can actually protect and take care of myself.” He said, making the others smile disappear slowly. Wei Wuxian was beginning to annoy him once again, yet he couldn't stop himself. He wanted to drag him across the mud- make fun of him in every way possible for mistreating him in such a way during the previous celebration. Wei Wuxian would have loved to step over him, squish him underneath his shoe like the useless slug he was.

His words irked Jin Zixun, making him squeeze his hands together into fists. He let out a breath, annoyance overflowing from his actions. “You think I cannot protect myself? That I cannot fight for myself? That I am not strong enough to take what I want? How amusing, mongrel.” He spat. “You have no idea how idiotic you are sounding right now, Wei Wuxian.”

“Are you suggesting that I am lying?” Wei Wuxian asked, a playful expression on his face. “Then, Young master Jin, i’d love to see you proving me wrong.” He added, toying with the others emotions. Wei Wuxian expected him to explode, yell in his ear and order his guards to take him away. Perhaps beat him up real good before locking him up somewhere. When others- Jiang Cheng- would start asking questions he’d just say that Wei Wuxian had broken the palace rules by disrespecting him, assuring his actions. But he didn’t do that.

Instead, Jin Zixun slowly lifted his hand up, ordering his guards to leave his side. Wei Wuxian studied him closely, moving over to the side a little as the guards decked with weapons exited and left them alone in the remote hallway. Wei Wuxian smiled, shaking his head a little.

“Now young master Jin, I am not sure that this will proof anything.” Wei Wuxian then said, head tilting slightly as he studied the other. He was still clearly agitated, face red and jaw tight as he grinded his teeth together angrily. The more Wei Wuxian stared at him, the more he thought that he looked very unattractive. The ladies inside the Lanling Jin Sect may think otherwise, but Wei Wuxian found him quite ugly. Not only due to his outwards appearance, but his personality as well. It was rotten to the core.

“It doesn’t.” Jin Zixun spoke, eyes scanning Wei Wuxian closely. It was almost creepy in a way, and Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but reach for his sword slowly. But not to take a hold of it, as he didn’t want to be the one starting anything. If he were to pull the sword on the other royal, he would be put in front of the law quicker than he could imagine. And even Jiang Cheng couldn’t help defend him in any way.

He was right about his uneasy feelings after all, because as soon as his attention drew away from the other standing in front of him for a moment too long, he felt a sharp pain in the middle of his chest. Wei Wuxian’s balance shook slightly, struggling to stay up on his feet as he stared at the ground with wide eyes. Did… Did Jin Zixun just really-

His golden core, turned off. Wei Wuxian coughed, feeling immediately weaker than before. Also cold, now that the burning fire inside of him had been killed. Suffocated along with the powers of his golden core.

“Jin Zixun, you dirty bastard!” Wei Wuxian murmured out, growling as he took a hold of his sword in order to defend himself. Yet his fingers didn’t feel like his own, wrapping around the sword clumsily and ultimately failing and letting go of the metal. His sword fell onto the marble floor with an ear hurting sound. He felt out of breath, head falling down as the echo of laughter rang in his ears.

He never thought the other would do such a low thing as turn off his golden core, still finding it unbelievable. Yet it was true, the other finding his actions quite fine as he laughed at him. Wei Wuxian used all of his strength to stand up without falling over, his legs shaking slightly. His red eyes stared at the other, and if a look could kill- his eyes would be burning holes into the others skin by now.

Jin Zixun didn’t seem to care too much, too proud of himself and what he had done. “Now, now. Wei Wuxian, no need to look at me that way.” He sang, taking a step closer. Wei Wuxian moved further away, almost falling back and taking support from the wall in order not to crash down. That was the last thing he wanted, going even lower than right now.

Jin Zixun was right in front of him, close enough for Wei Wuxian to smell the disgustingly sweet perfume off of him. It made his head spin, along with the weakness of being without his golden core’s powers. He wanted nothing more than to reach forward, punch him in the stomach or kick him in the groin. Yet he couldn’t move a muscle, too afraid of crashing down onto the floor if he attempted such a thing.

“Let this be a lesson.” Jin Zixun spoke, voice merely a whisper as he spoke against Wei Wuxian’s ear. Wei Wuxian wanted to puke, his skin crawling. “A lesson for you to always remember not to disrespect me ever again. Because the next time you make that mistake, I will not be afraid to make you regret it for the rest of your life.” He said, a hand snaking down to press against Wei Wuxian’s lower stomach before moving downwards.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened, pushing the other away from his weakly. He used all his strength, yet it was nowhere close enough to be able to actually push him away, yet Jin Zixun moved for some reason. While Wei Wuxian’s insides turned, feeling nauseous and tasting bile on his tongue, Jin Zixun smiled like a mad man, satisfied with the reaction he got out of the other.

“Interesting, I thought a disgusting cut sleeve like you would have liked that, being touched such a way.” Jin Zixun spoke, arms crossing behind him. He let out another laugh, making Wei Wuxian look up at him. “That mongrel Mo Xuanyu sure enjoyed it.” He added, causing Wei Wuxian to swallow deeply. This was the second time he heard that name being mentioned, him being compared to the other man he wasn’t familiar with. Wei Wuxian knew nothing else of him other than the fact that he was a mongrel and a rumored cut sleeve like him.

“You’re fucking crazy.” Wei Wuxian whispered, his voice tricking him by breaking slightly by the end of the sentence. This seemed to amuse Jin Zixun even more.

“Perhaps I am. But at the end of the day, I am still better than you, Wei Wuxian. And don’t you ever forget that.” He spoke, stepping around him slowly. Wei Wuxian’s tired eyes followed him closely, waiting for him to attack him again. His whole body was shivering, out of fear- but he didn’t want the other to notice that in case it made him feel even more powerful and satisfied.

He let out a gasp, falling onto the ground like a lifeless corpse when he felt his legs give up underneath him. His shin aching where Jin Zixun had just kicked him. He couldn’t even lift up his face from the floor, still able to hear the others words through the ringing. He felt pressure being placed on top of his head, realizing the other was stepping on top of him. How ironic, he thought to himself. Wasn’t this what he had wished to do to the other moments before? Perhaps this was all just karma, playing a sick trick on him.

The pressure grew, yet when Wei Wuxian thought his head would simply just explode and he’d die right then and there, it was gone. He took a deep breath in, only now realizing he wasn’t able to breathe before. He was left gasping for air on the floor, lying weakly as Jin Zixun studied him for a moment before simply leaving the scene he had created.

Wei Wuxian let out a swarm of cursed, yelling through tightly gritted teeth as he stared at the ceiling above him. Tears were making his vision blurry, yet he ignoring this by blinking them away. His own tears felt burning against his skin, falling down the sides of his face before falling into the mess that was his hair laying against the marble floor.

His ears caught the sudden sound of broken gasps, not realizing the sounds came out of his own mouth for a second. His voice was broken, tired as he cried. He wasn’t aware of the fact, but he stayed there and cried for some time. No one heard him, or if they did they didn’t care. Who knew, perhaps Jin Zixun’s guards were guarding this side of the palace and wouldn’t let anyone come close to the hallway he was currently lying lifelessly on. He was fine with that, for now. As he didn’t want anyone to come and see him like this. See how he cried, because of how weak and worthless he felt. He felt like trash, disgusting and useless. Jin Zixun’s- that dirty fuckers- touch still lingered on his skin too. It made him want to burn the robes he was wearing, not ever put them on himself ever again so he wouldn’t be reminded of what happened.

But he couldn’t remove the thoughts that Jin Zixun had planted inside of his head by burning them too. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to get rid of them, finding that hard to cope with. But he couldn’t just lay here and wait for his golden core to return to him. He couldn’t wait for someone to discover him and ask what happened, as he didn’t want to tell. He didn’t want to speak of this incident to anyone, just forget about it and push it away for good.

He forced himself to get up, first kneeling pitifully on the floor before pushing himself up. He picked up his fallen sword along the way, leaning against the wall tiredly as he looked forward. His hands held onto the sword tightly, shaking slightly. His hands stung, and he realized he had been holding onto the sword by it’s blade, cutting his skin open and bleeding heavily. He dropped it, eyes closing as he heard a voice, someone calling out to him.

What-? What did he just hear?

Wei Wuxian stared at the figure approaching him in awe, his blurry eyes having a hard time focusing on him. But Wei Wuxian knew this someone wasn’t a threat, but someone he could trust. He let out a weak sigh, letting his body go limp- sliding back down onto the floor. There was that sound again, a worried voice yelling for him.

Their words echoed in his ears even as he entered a unconscious state, Lan Wang Ji’s desperate voice calling out to him through the living over and over again.

“Wei Ying!”

*

Lan Wang Ji’s expression was set in a deep frown, unable to change as he looked at the weak man laying in the bed, not moving an inch as Jiang Cheng walked back and forth inside the infirmary, worried.

His feet made a set rhythm as he walked back and worth, pacing nervously while biting the nail on his thumb. Lan Wang Ji guessed it was a nervous habit, ignoring the want to ask him to calm down. He wasn’t feeling any less comfortable, just as worried as he studied the seemingly lifeless body of Wei Wuxian lying on the bed.

“I’m gonna kill him, i’ll kill that fucker.” Jiang Cheng murmured underneath his breath and Lan Wang Ji swallowed deeply at his words, unable to say anything of value. He studied the man dressed in purple. King Sandu Shengshou was a seemingly strong and emotionless person, someone who always seemed angry and upset at everything and everyone. Yet Lan Wang Ji was seeing a whole new side to him. Him worrying over his beloved brother dearly.

Lan Wang Ji’s mouth felt dry, his eyes scanning his white robes that fell over his knees as he sat down on the side. Wei Wuxian’s bright blood had stained them red, ruining them for now. Yet he couldn’t feel any hint of anger, only pity and sadness.

“How can you be sure, young master Jin was behind this all?” Lan Wang Ji found himself asking, honestly curious to find out why Jiang Cheng was so sure of who did this to the other.

“It’s obvious.” Jiang Cheng said, stopping his pacing. “That idiot- he had the nerve to try and attack him before during the celebration as well. I can’t see why anyone else would have done something like this.” He explained.

Lan Wang Ji remained quiet, nodding his head once. It did make sense, as he also had heard about the fight that had almost broken out between the two inside the hall during the celebration. He had heard about what happened from Jin Zixuan, him explaining how his cousin had almost physically fought Wei Wuxian due to being annoyed by him. His hands formed into fists, grabbing the blood stained robes covering his thighs.

“King Hanguang-Jun.” Jiang Cheng then spoke out, looking at him before sighing. “You do not need to stay and wait for him to awaken. I will personally tell him that you were the one who found him. You look quite tired. Again, I must thank you for finding him and letting me know.”

Lan Wang Ji blinked once, eyes turning to look at the others still frame lying on top of the bed.

“No need.” He said. “I wish to stay.”

Jiang Cheng didn’t know, didn’t understand why, but he found himself agreeing with the other. Allowing him to stay, though he found it a little odd as the other wasn’t obligated to stay in any way even though he had been the one to discover his brother. He was truly grateful, as he hadn’t been able to find him by himself after searching for some hours after he left the meeting. He knew that Wei Wuxian was searching for Lan Wang Ji- for some reason Jiang Cheng didn’t understand. He met with the King dressed in white and had expected to find his brother by his side as well, but when he saw him alone- panic began to stir inside his stomach.

Lan Wang Ji was also worried after he heard about the other, deciding to also search for him with the help of his men. He didn’t need to- he wasn’t forced to use his precious time doing such a thing, yet he wanted to. He wished that the other was well and uninjured, yet his wishes came crashing down when he discovered him inside that remote hallway, bleeding and weak.

His own heart had felt like it stopped completely when he saw the other, calling for his name as he caught him seconds before his head had came crashing against the hard marble floor. His body felt weak, his eyes closing slowly. Lan Wang Ji noticed his bleeding hands at first, worry rising. Yet when he lifted him up from the floor, carrying him back in his arms- he couldn’t help but notice how cold he felt. Like, the fire inside of him had been suffocated. As if his-

“His golden core.” Jiang Cheng spoke out suddenly, hands holding onto his sword tightly. “That monster had the audacity to turn off his golden core.” He looked angry, furious after learning this fact. Lan Wang Ji had been quite sure of his thoughts, knowing that Wei Wuxian’s golden core had been indeed turned off. But his believes were proven right as soon as a nurse had the chance to check him.

“As soon as my men find him, i’m going to- i’m going to..!” Jiang Cheng murmured underneath his breath, thinking about ways to punish the other in a way that he deserved. He deserved the worst yet he couldn’t just simply torture him, kill him with his own sword like he truly wanted. The last thing they needed now was that the King of Lanling Jin turned against them because Jiang Cheng killed his nephew, even if he deserved death.

Yet he couldn’t let things just slide, letting the other go after what he did. But Jiang Cheng couldn’t rush into action, when he didn’t know all of the details yet. If he were to march into his room, blame him for the crimes he thought he did- only to be called an idiot and over thinker, he would have made a fool out of himself in front of the other royals. He shouldn’t be so quick with his decisions, unless he wanted to face the consequences. But it was hard to try and stay calm, as his brother laid there in front of him in such a state.

“This is the last time I let him out of my eyes.” Jiang Cheng whispered, letting out a small laugh. “I should have known he’d get himself into more trouble. I shouldn’t have let him go alone.”

Lan Wang Ji’s expression darkened more, if that was even possible. He felt many emotions. Confusion, regret and guilt. Because if what Jiang Cheng told him before was true and Wei Wuxian had truly left alone to come and find him, he felt responsible for what had happened to him in some way. He wished this hadn’t happened, he wished that Wei Wuxian hadn’t tried to find him. He was used to people avoiding him, leaving him alone. Yet Wei Wuxian was different from the rest, saying he was his friend.

Lan Wang Ji did not know what to feel about him, not having someone like him in his life ever before. He wished that the other would give up on befriending him, as he didn’t need him by his side. He had lived his whole life like this, he didn’t feel the need to change it just because of one persistent person. His whole life was made out of different routines, which were all very familiar to him that he had gotten used to. He wasn’t a huge fan of change, and preferred that things stayed the same. Some called his life boring, and perhaps that was true in some way. But he had found safety from those boring routines. Change was new, unknown and different. So was Wei Wuxian. He was different from the rest, perhaps a little special in some way. Lan Wang Ji felt very confused when he thought about him.

He was brought back from his deep thoughts as Jiang Cheng rushed to the bed, looking over and seeing some movement. Lan Wang Ji got up from his seat, standing up and studying the other from afar.

“Wei Wuxian. Hey.” Jiang Cheng spoke, gently shaking the others shoulders in order to wake him better. Wei Wuxian’s eyes were shut tightly, a tired sound escaping his lips as he opened his mouth. His hand came up weakly, pushing away Jiang Cheng’s arms with very little strength.

“Go away.” The other murmured out, voice raspy and low due to being asleep for so long. He was unaware of the situation himself, but Wei Wuxian had actually been asleep for quite some time by now. Accompanied by the two Kings inside the infirmary space for all that time.

Instead of barking back at Wei Wuxian’s pitiful order, Jiang Cheng let out a relieved laugh instead. “Good, you’re still yourself.” He said, making the other open his eyes slowly.

“Jiang Cheng, what- what happened?” Wei Wuxian asked, attempting to push himself up to a sitting position. He let out a hiss, his hands hurting as they brushed against the bed sheets. Jiang Cheng frowned, studying the other as he stared at his own bandaged hands.

“Oh.” Wei Wuxian let out with a sigh, staring at his hands closely. The memories of what had happened to him rushed back into his mind, reminding himself that it hadn’t been a dream after all. His pale face got some color again, blushing vigorously as he felt embarrassed. Embarrassed because of what had happened to him and for making Jiang Cheng worry about him. His hands stung, but it was nothing compared to the dull pain inside his chest. The coldness spreading slowly.

He swallowed once deeply, laying back down. Jiang Cheng frowned, seeing his blank expression.

“It was him wasn’t it?” Jiang Cheng asked, staring at him closely. “Jin Zixun did this to you.” He added, not missing the way Wei Wuxian’s frame seemed to freeze at the mention of the others name.

He didn’t say anything, didn’t agree with him nor disagree. He stayed quiet, staring at the ceiling.

Jiang Cheng nodded his head, finding his reaction to be good enough evidence to support his beliefs. He now had enough information to find the other and blame him for what happened to his brother. Anger boiled inside of him, his hands forming into fists.

He turned to Lan Wang Ji, who had stayed where he stood before, not moving an inch as he studied the situation. He bowed down quickly, nodding his head towards him. “Hanguang-Jun, I must once again thank you for the trouble you went through while saving my brother. I wish you’d rest now.” He spoke to the other, ignoring the way Wei Wuxian moved on the bed in shock as he just now realized the other was in the same room as him.

Lan Wang Ji nodded his head slowly, bowing down as well. “No need to thank me, King Sandu Shengshou. Please, go safely.” He spoke, watching as the other left. He found himself staring at the door for a moment more, even after it closed behind the other. He finally managed to turn, slowly looking at the other.

Wei Wuxian was looking at him, eyes filled with some unknown emotion as he studied him. “Lan Zhan, i- I guess I should thank you.” He managed to get out, bandaged hand coming to rest on top of his own heart. Lan Wang Ji knew what he was doing, feeling the coldness that was radiating from his chest. The way he said his birth name out loud rang in his ears, only now realizing how much he had missed hearing it.

“No need.” Lan Wang Ji said simply, looking away from the other. There was unknown tension between the two of them, making the air inside the room heavy and stuffy. The quietness that fell after his words was uncomfortable and odd, something Lan Wang Ji hated and wished wasn’t there. Usually Wei Wuxian was a chatterbox, talking and mumbling nonstop when he was in his company. Yet now he was dead quiet, a sad expression set onto his face as he looked at him.

Wei Wuxian nodded his head slowly, fingers tightening around the fabric hanging on top of his torso. “Then… I must apologize instead.” He said, surprising Lan Wang Ji. He moved from the bed, attempting to get up in order to bow down properly. His frame swayed back and forth, barely holding up as he brought his hands up to show his respects. He felt a pair of hands suddenly holding onto him, stopping him from bowing down.

“Do not.” Lan Wang Ji said, holding onto his arms tightly. Wei Wuxian sat back down onto the bed, looking up at the other with wide eyes. Lan Wang Ji’s hold left him quickly, as if touching him had been a struggle. His fingers had pressed into his skin, leaving a ghostly touch there even after his hands left him. Wei Wuxian found his reaction to touching him familiar, something he had experienced before many times.

He let out a tired laugh, frame shaking slightly as he sat on the edge of the bed. Lan Wang Ji stared at him closely, frowning due to his odd reaction. This situation was nothing close to amusing, yet the other found the energy to laugh for some reason.

“I should have known.” Wei Wuxian spoke, staring at the floor. “Should have known that you too, King Hanguang-Jun found me to be just as disgusting like the rest.” His voice was low, words spilling out of his mouth as if he didn’t have any control over them anymore.

“I do not-” Lan Wang Ji managed to get out after a long pause, breaking the quietness in the room that had fallen between them once again, only for Wei Wuxian to interrupt him.

“How did you find out? Did someone tell you, or did the rumors just make their way to you eventually, like they do to everyone?” He asked, looking at him again. Lan Wang Ji said nothing, standing there quietly. Wei Wuxian swallowed once, looking at him and seeing the blood that covered his beautiful and pristine white robes. His own blood.

“You must feel disgusted, having touched a dirty cut sleeve like me. I apologize for having to put you through such hardship.” Wei Wuxian spoke, voice set in quiet monotone.

His words shocked Lan Wang Ji, his expression turning into a deep frown and he looked at the other. He wanted to say something- anything- yet he felt himself unable to even open his mouth as he continued to listen to the other speak ill of himself.

“I do not blame you for not wanting to be my friend Lan Zhan, no one does.” He whispered. “Everyone will leave my side eventually. My birth parents, the ones who adopted me. Even my dear sister.” He said with a sad laugh, sounding more like a cry. He was babbling nonsense, feeling weak and vulnerable at the moment. Yet Lan Wang Ji didn’t have the heart to stop him, wanting to hear what was on his heart.

Wei Wuxian sniffled once, eyes beginning to water just slightly. Lan Wang Ji realized the other was on the verge of crying, freezing still as he watched him.

“I wish I wasn’t like this. That I was someone like you instead, someone who liked women and would marry one in the future.” He spoke, sadness tainting each word. “But I could never do such a thing, because I know I could never make any woman happy by being married to me. Sad, isn’t it?” He asked, never receiving an answer. That didn’t stop him from nodding his head, believing Lan Wang Ji agreed with him.

“It’s not that bad.” He continued, murmuring. “I still get to be by Jiang Cheng’s side, help him rule over Yunmeng Jiang and Lotus Pier. Watch him grow old, marry and have children of his own. While never getting those things myself.”

Lan Wang Ji said nothing, not wanting to interrupt in any way. He could sense that Wei Wuxian was not in his right mind at the moment, a little bit delusional and in a daze. Perhaps he wouldn’t remember much from this after he gains his golden core later, forgetting about the depressing things he had just said. Lan Wang Ji wished he wouldn’t remember them, so that he wouldn’t feel embarrassed.

“Enough about me.” Wei Wuxian laughed tiredly, wiping the end of his runny nose against his bloodied sleeve. “Tell me Lan Zhan, have you already found a lovely lady back in Cloud Recesses who you will marry one day?” He asked. Though he was smiling now, there was that hint of sadness still inside his eyes.

He didn’t think that the other would answer his nonsense question at all, thinking he’d just ignore it completely. Instead Lan Wang Ji shook his head suddenly.

“No such thing.” He spoke. “Gusu Lan needs me.” He added.

Wei Wuxian stared at him for a moment, quiet before breaking into loud laughter. Lan Wang Ji stared at him, curious to learn the reason behind his sudden fit of laughter. He couldn’t help but feel the ends of his ears turning hot, cheeks blushing as he felt embarrassed suddenly due to the others reaction. Did he sound too much like a fuddy duddy, like his brother loved to call him.

Wei Wuxian held onto his stomach, coughing once as he choked on his own laughter. “Oh Lan Zhan, you are exactly like Jiang Cheng. Unbelievable.” He finally said, making Lan Wang Ji relax.

“How do the most handsome men always decide to stay single? What a waste of good looks.” Wei Wuxian murmured, asking himself. Yet Lan Wang Ji heard him too, loud and clear. His ears were redder than ever.

“Oh right, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian then said, seeming a lot more energetic and more like himself now that he got a good laugh. Lan Wang Ji’s ego was deflated, but he guessed it was worth it if the other was feeling better than before.

“I had been wanting to ask you something for quite some time already.” He spoke. “But every time I have attempted to, something always comes up and prevents me from asking it.” The way he was wording this all was making Lan Wang Ji a little restless, moving slightly due to the nervous feeling inside his stomach. Wei Wuxian however looked quite relaxed, sitting still while his fingers played with the bandages wrapped around his hands.

Lan Wang Ji was so focused on watching the way his long fingers dipped underneath the bloodied bandages, playing with them childishly, that he almost missed the way he spoke again.

“I heard that you cancelled my first punishment in Cloud Recesses.” He finally said, surprising Lan Wang Ji.

He had precisely told everyone not to speak of that incident anymore, ordering everyone involved to silence themselves in case they wished the speak of it. It seemed that someone had broken his orders, and went against his wishes. Lan Wang Ji sighed once, nodding his head.

Wei Wuxian watched him, licking over his dry lips once. “Why would you do that? Senior Lan told me that you had cancelled my punishment for breaking the curfew. He couldn’t understand why, and I couldn’t either.”

It was true that Lan Wang Ji had cancelled his punishment after he had found him injured and brought him back inside the infirmary to have him treated for his injuries. After that, everyone knew about what had happened as rumors spread around quickly. Even in a palace where it was against the rules to spread them. Lan Wang Ji knew he needed to discuss the case with his Sect elders, deciding to go against all of their beliefs by ordering Wei Wuxian’s punishment to be cancelled, making it the first time he ever went against his uncles wishes.

“I do not know.” He finally managed to get out, surprising the other with his words.

“You don’t know?” Wei Wuxian asked, slightly confused. “Are you sure that you aren’t just lying to me?”

“Lying is prohibited.” Lan Wang Ji answers quickly, making Wei Wuxian frown.

“Then if you do not know… I am even more confused than before.” He murmured, coughing once. He was still feeling weak, head spinning every time he moved a little too fast.

Lan Wang Ji had to agree with him. He too felt even more confused than before after having this talk with him today.

He almost felt like saying something, but he didn't know what. And whatever he would have wanted to say wouldn’t have made much sense, so he was in a way grateful that there was suddenly a knock on the door. Both of them turned to look at it at the same time, Wei Wuxian being the first one to speak out as he ordered them to enter. A guard from the Yunmeng Jiang Sect opened the door, entering while bowing their head politely. Yet they seemed to be in a hurry, out of breath as if they had just ran inside to warn them about something. And that guess didn’t end up being too far from the truth, as the guard soon opened his mouth.

“There has been a sudden change of plans, according to King Sandu Shengshou.” The young guard spoke, eyes staring at the floor while his frame was frozen in the continuous bow.

“What?” Wei Wuxian asked, staring at Lan Wang Ji. “Why? What happened?” He urged the guard to continue, attempting to get up from the bed. His eyes widened, looking as Lan Wang Ji’s hand took a hold of his arm, pulling him up and holding him from falling over.

“The King of Lanling Jin had received an urgent letter, from the Prince of Qishan Wen. The things inside the letter are unknown to the rest of us and the King wishes that all royals and their advisers can meet together in order to discuss the situation.” The guard spoke, making the two look at him again.

“Wen Chao…” Wei Wuxian whispered underneath his breath. Lan Wang Ji turned to look at him, eyes darkening at the mention of the cursed Prince. Wei Wuxian looked at him, nodding his head once. “Hanguang-Jun, we must go.”

Lan Wang Ji agreed with him silently, holding onto the weak man tighter as he helped him walk, the guard following behind them quickly. Perhaps a little shocked, to see the King of Gusu Lan holding onto the other man in such a way, as he was known to stay away from other humans and refrain from touching them. Lan Wang Ji soon realized, that Wei Wuxian was making him change many old things about himself.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng’s fist landed against the table, cups jumping and shaking due to the sudden force. The guards standing behind him looked at each other quietly, hanging their heads low while avoiding his purple eyes. Jiang Cheng’s chest was rising with deep breaths, attempting to calm himself down. But it was a struggle, due to the anger he was feeling inside of him. It had just multiplied. No longer was he only angry because of the Jin’s and what they had done to his brother, but now there was this.

“King Sandu Shengshou.” Prince Nie Huaisang whispered, sitting besides the other. “Perhaps having some calming tea might help you relax before the emergency meeting begins.” He suggested shyly, a delicately hand painted fan covering his face. He lowered it slowly, studying the other man more closely.

Jiang Cheng was truly upset. He was red on the face with anger, hands shaking and veins showing. He probably wished to hit something, perhaps someone whoever made him so upset, Nie Huaisang thought. He didn’t want to be the one making him more annoyed, so he decided to stay quiet. He knew the other well, knew that when he was as upset as he was right now- there was nothing he could do to make him feel any better. He was actually quite similar to his brother, he thought. Both were grudge holders, people who liked to use physical force instead of verbal. Speaking was a waste of time, according to them.

Nie Huaisang brought his own tea cup up to his rosy lips, taking a small sip and swallowing the sweet tea. He too needed something to calm himself down, as he had been feeling extremely anxious ever since hearing about the letter. This was a big deal, something none of them had expected to happen. This was the first time the enemy had reached out to any of the big four Sects, communicating with them in some other way than just by simply attacking them. It was of course a good thing, but everyone felt anxious due to the change. They would get to know the contents of that letter that King Jin Guangshan had received in a matter of minutes now.

Nie Huaisang was nervously looking for his older brother, King Nie Mingjue. He had last seen the other practicing with his men on the battlefield earlier today, looking through the guards flying formations. He wished that he would arrive soon and wouldn’t miss anything from the meeting, as Nie Huaisang didn’t feel too confident in representing his Sect all by himself. He glanced over to the other King sitting next to him, finding it unbelievable that Jiang Cheng was able to handle taking care of his own Sect as well as starting the process of this war. They were around the same age, yet Nie Huaisang felt like he was nothing compared to the other.

He waved his fan in front of his face, eyes looking at each direction quickly as he wished he would see his brother entering any second now. He didn’t see any green robes entering the room, but when he noticed a familiar figure enter, along with someone he wasn’t as familiar with- both he and Jiang Cheng got up quickly.

“Brother Wei, are you alright?” Nie Huaisang asked, staring at the other with worry written all over his face. He stuttered slightly, then bowing quickly as he realized he had ignored the other man's presence entirely.

King Lan Wang Ji nodded his head, unable to bow as he was holding onto the other man tightly. Nie Huaisang only now realized this, as well as the blood covering the others usually clean and pristine white robes. His eyes went wide, noticing the bandages on Wei Wuxian’s hands.

“Brother Wei, what happened to you? How did this happen?” He asked, closing his fan and placing it inside his robes. Wei Wuxian looked extremely weak, as if he could fall over at any minute, so he felt like he should have his hands free in case the other came crashing down onto the floor beneath them. Yet the hands holding him up weren’t going to let go any time soon by the looks of it, as Lan Wang Ji stood by his side like a strong pillar. Nie Huaisang wondered what had happened between the two, in order for them to get so close with each other.

Though he looked ill and weak, Wei Wuxian still managed to laugh like his usually cheery self. Waving his hand up in the air while shaking his head. “Everything is alright, Prince Nie Huaisang. Thank you for worrying over someone like me.” He spoke, sounding overly proper and formal. He had no other choice, seeing that they were in a meeting room filled with other royals, Sect elders and guards. He would seem rude and disrespectful if he were to act around him like he usually would, as close friends.

Jiang Cheng moved to his brother side, snaking an arm around his middle. Lan Wang Ji slowly let go, eyes never leaving the injured man.

“Thank you, again, King Hanguang-Jun.” Jiang Cheng spoke, bowing his head quickly. The King dressed in white did the same, stepping aside and placing his hands behind his back. Nie Huaisang didn’t miss the way he kept staring, looking after the injured man even when he was no longer responsible for keeping him up from falling.

Wei Wuxian flashed a small smile towards his direction, then turning to his brother. Even with all the chattering Sect elders and guards inside the hall, Nie Huaisang was able to hear the two whispering.

“Did you speak with him?” Wei Wuxian asked, looking worried. The other shook his head after a long pause, making Wei Wuxian let out a sigh of relief.

“But I am going to.” Jiang Cheng then said. “I will not allow him to walk around freely without being accused for his actions.”

Wei Wuxian shook his head, leaning against the other weakly. “I don’t want to cause a scene. Jiang Cheng, this might become a huge argument and we do not need to deal with such things in the middle of a war. We need King Jin Guangshan to stay on our side. Let it go.” He pleaded from the other.

Jiang Cheng stayed quiet, looking at the other with a frown. Perhaps he too understood where he was coming from, and knew that it would be for the best if they let the thing slide for now. But it felt wrong, because he wanted to protect his brother in every possible way. He felt like he had let him down, caused him to go through such hardship because he wasn’t there to look after him. But Wei Wuxian never wanted him to be there to babysit him. Though a mongrel, he didn’t want to be over protected and Jiang Cheng understood that. Yet when things like this happened, he wanted to be there for the other.

He decided to stay quiet about this topic, yet others hadn’t done the same yet.

“If what you tell is true, and young master Jin Zixun truly turned off young master Wei’s golden core.” Lan Wang Ji suddenly spoke, calm and collective. “Then it is only natural that he receives a fitting punishment.”

The three stared at him, quiet and deep in thought. Wei Wuxian attempted to say something, the words caught in his throat. Jiang Cheng spoke instead of him, nodding his head.

“Right, Hanguang-Jun. We are in the middle of starting a war of a century. Taking away a man’s golden core when we could be attacked during any given minute is cruel., making him unable to protect himself or fight.” He said, agreeing with the other.

Wei Wuxian sighed deeply, shaking his head. “You two are overreacting. The situation isn’t as bad as it seems to you.” He spoke, belittling the situation. Of course he too thought the same way and wanted to agree with them, but he just wanted to forget that this all ever happened. He didn’t want to face that slimy Jin royal ever again or speak with him. The perfect scenario would be if he never had see or hear from him ever again.

Nie Huaisang frowned, leaning forward in order to whisper. “Brother Wei, your golden core was turned off?” He asked, worried and in awe. He couldn’t believe someone had done such a thing to the other, his close friend. Now he understood why Jiang Cheng had been so upset and angry before. It all made sense now.

Wei Wuxian looked like he wanted to joke again, laugh it off like usually. Yet he didn’t, instead he slowly nodded his head, making Nie Huaisang gasp.

“It’s true, but would you please let it go for now?” He said, turning to look at all of them one by one. “This is not the right time to begin discussing it. I don’t want to waste time during such an important meeting to speak about what he did-” Wei Wuxian spoke, pausing as the words seemed to get stuck in his throat. He shook his head again, swallowing dryly.

“Just, please- let me handle it on my own if I ever wish to.” He finally said, pushing Jiang Cheng slightly to make him let go of him. Jiang Cheng was a little hesitant, still letting go of Wei Wuxian when he pushed him hard enough to make him believe he had enough strength left in him to stand up on his own. He bowed down quickly, towards Nie Huaisang and Lan Wang Ji before walking over to his assigned seat. The three continued to stare, all worried and unsure.

Yet they decided to let it go, for now. As it was Wei Wuxian’s own wish. Though Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but feel sour and angry, he knew he had to respect his brothers wishes and ignore the issue for now. In the end Wei Wuxian was right, this meeting was not there for them to start a fight towards the Jin’s who had been continuously disrespecting his brother. The meeting was there so that they could discuss the contents of the letter that had arrived from the Qishan Wen Sect. Jiang Cheng’s own imagination was running wild. This letter could be about anything and from anyone.

A proper declaration of war against them all from the King, Wen Ruohan himself, promising to burn down all of the remaining Sects in a cruel fashion. Or perhaps a warning from one of the Prince’s? Who knew. Only King Guangshan was aware of the contents inside the letter, as he was the one who received it. Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but feel suspicious in some way against the other, now that he had learned more about him. Jiang Cheng wasn’t too sure if he could trust the King dressed in gold as much as he wished. But did he really have any other choice? Whatever was written in that letter, Jiang Cheng had to believe it was actually from the enemy Sect, and not something that had been falsely concocted.

He sighed, walking back to his own seat. Prince Nie Huaisang and King Lan Wang Ji did the same. He couldn’t help but stare, the red blood stains of his own brother showing up too well against the pure white robes worn by the King himself. He swallowed dryly, looking up towards the golden throne placed on top of a platform in the meeting room. How narcissistic, he thought.

In Lotus Pier, Yunmeng Jiang, you would never see his throne placed higher from anyone else's. It seemed that the people of Lanling Jin thought differently from the rest of them. The King was at least a good example of that.

Speaking of the King, all gossiping and chattering inside the meeting room died down as they heard a group of men walk closer to the room from the hallway. Like they had all suspected, the King soon entered along with his Sect elders. Instead of looking cocky and proud of himself like usual, the King now looked slightly worried and nervous. Everyone noticed this as they bowed down to him, showing their respects as the King made his way to his throne.

He sat down, and everyone else did the same. He arranged the nicely placed papers on top of his table, glancing over to one of his servants who came closer even without being ordered. He then pulled out a small red letter from his robes, handing it over to the King gently. Jin Guangshan cleared his throat, looking at the men inside the meeting room. Jiang Cheng believed that the meeting was about to begin, thanking ever Goddess in his mind as he realized the King’s son and nephew were nowhere to be seen. He didn’t know what he would have done if he saw them, or what Wei Wuxian would have felt. But he did wonder why they were absent. Did Jin Zixun perhaps confess his crimes to his uncle? And if he did, what was his punishment? Whatever happened, Jiang Cheng was just glad he didn’t need to look at his slimy face during the meeting. Now he could focus on the letter.

“I will begin by thanking everyone who could make it to the meeting, at such a sudden notice.” Jin Guangshan spoke, scanning the room. There were some people missing. Nie Huaisang sat alone without his brother or Sect elders, looking more nervous than ever. Lan Wang Ji was also alone, accompanied only by a few guards. King Jin Guangshan didn’t worry about him, as he knew the King dressed in white could easily make a decision on his own, but Nie Huaisang however was someone he secretly worried about. But he didn’t let it show, opening the letter in his hands carefully.

“I must reveal the contents of this letter to you all, by reading it out loud.” He said, receiving some chattering in return. Though he was sitting afar, everyone could see the letter and what it looked like. The cursed symbol of the Wen’s was stamped right in the middle of it, pitch black on top of bright red. Wei Wuxian squinted his eyes as he stared at the piece of paper, studying it. Almost everyone else did the same, except for Lan Wang Ji who looked away as soon as the letter was pulled out into the open. It must have been hard for him to see it, Jiang Cheng thought. But such hard feelings still didn’t stop the King from attending and listening to the contents of the letter.

Everyone listened carefully, staying quiet as the King reopened the letter and began reading it. The contents of the letter were simple, a firm request for them to release the well known doctor who was taking care of the King, Wen Qing.

“You must release Miss Wen back to her Sect and overlord by the end of the current lunar cycle. If you fail to do so, the Qishan Wen Sect will not hesitate to collect her on our own using all necessary power.” Jin Guangshan explained, reading from the letter. His hands shook while holding onto the paper, the words were not easy for him to say out loud by the looks of it.

Jiang Cheng grinded his teeth together, deep in thought and anxious. This wasn’t good. Prince Wen Chao had came back to the town and noticed all the residents missing. It was quite obvious just from the letter, that they didn’t care for the rest of the hostages. They could care less what happened to them, as they only cared for Miss Wen due to the fact that she could heal the King. And it seemed that she was truly important, as the Prince needed her back so badly. Badly enough that he’d be willing to attack in order to collect her back. This was important information, as Jiang Cheng was now even more sure that Wen Qing knew more than what she told. She was the key that they needed in order to destroy the King.

“If Miss Wen is not handed over to me personally at the scene of the crime, Lanling Jin shall become an official enemy of the Qishan Wen Sect. And shall receive a punishment which they have never experienced before. Signed Prince Wen Chao.” Jin Guangshan ended reading the letter, placing it back down onto the table carefully. He looked pale, perhaps a little shaken. He hadn’t expected to become the main target of the enemy and Jiang Cheng felt slightly guilty because of that, as it was his idea that they crossed the border. He was the one who collected Miss Wen and the rest of the hostages, so he felt responsible.

Jin Guangshan sighed, looking over at all of them. “I must say, I had not expected to receive such a letter from the enemy itself.” He was correct on that part, as none of them had expected such a thing. “We must come up with a plan on how to return Doctor Wen.” He then added. And that was one thing he was wrong about.

Jiang Cheng got up from his seat, gaining attention as he bowed down quickly. “We cannot do such a thing, not now that he know how important she is to the royals.” He explained, causing people to whisper. “Miss Wen knows the palace and the Wen royals more than anyone else, she is irreplaceable to us during such a tough time.” He added.

Jin Guangshan looked a little agitated, looking away from him while murmuring something underneath his breath. “King Sandu Shengshou, I am afraid you do not understand the situation from my point of view, as your own Sect hasn’t just received a threat.” He said, the elders of his Sect nodding their heads while agreeing.

Jiang Cheng wasn’t affected by the comment and the looks others sent his way. He nodded his head once, never looking away from the King. “It seems that the one not understanding the situation is actually you, King.” He said, causing people to whisper and gossip among themselves as they found his comment to be quite daring. It was, quite rude actually. Yet Jiang Cheng didn’t care, as Jin Guangshan needed to understand him and somehow knock some sense into his thick skull.

“This threat is not only against the Lanling Jin Sect, but towards us all. We are all against the enemy together, and each and every one of us takes this threat personally.” He explained. “Of course, it is only natural that you feel that the situation is unfair as we are in your Sect and the letter came to you only. But this affects all of us equally.”

Jiang Cheng wished that King Nie Mingjue was there next to him, as the other would usually agree with him out loud in such situations. Yet he was nowhere to be seen, perhaps far away training his troops. Nie Huaisang wasn’t helping him either, sitting still while hiding behind his fan cowardly. Lan Wang Ji was deep in thought, listening and watching the situation. Jiang Cheng wasn’t expecting him to interrupt anything, not speaking until spoken to. It seemed that he needed to be the one solving this situation.

“I shall come up with a plan, that allows us to keep Miss Wen and also fool the enemy. Perhaps a raid of some sort, that could take down the Prince.” He suggested, hoping it would make the King dressed in gold a little less agitated. It however didn’t seem to work, as the King let out a loud laugh.

“You have big dreams, King Sandu Shengshou. Perhaps too big for your own good.” Jin Guangshan laughed, pointing his finger towards him in a disrespectful manner. Jiang Cheng didn’t take it to heart, understanding that the other was not in his right mind at the moment. He was under a lot of pressure and stress, trying to think of ways to get out of such a sticky situation while keeping the crown on top of his head. Jiang Cheng didn’t know how, but he would make sure that happened. But it would be impossible to do alone.

“Attempt the impossible.” Someone suddenly said, making Jiang Cheng turn back.

King Lan Wang Ji stood up from his seat, glancing over to the other dressed in purple. There was a hint of a smile on his lips, something Jiang Cheng had never seen before. Hearing the other mention the motto of his own Sect hit something, waking up the fire and passion inside of him.

“The Gusu Lan Sect elders and I shall help King Sandu Shengshou come up with said plan in time. Do not fear, King Jin Guangshan.” Lan Wang Ji spoke, surprising most of the people inside the hall with such long words. Female maids and servants giggled and smiled to themselves, drooling over his handsome voice which they hadn’t heard before. Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes, getting up from his seat to stand up besides Jiang Cheng.

Jin Guangshan looked a little unbelieving, still unsure that the young Kings could truly succeed in such a plan. But he had no other choice but to trust them, as he was too much of a coward to deal with the situation himself. He was truly a coward, afraid of getting into trouble. He didn’t even think about his Sect’s safety- only his own. He was afraid of getting murdered, killed in a cruel and painful way so he stayed away from all battles and fighting. His son wasn’t anything better, too spoiled and raised with a golden spoon in his mouth. Neither of them were interested in actually putting any work and effort towards winning this war, only wanting to take the glory and compliments after the work was all done for them. Jiang Cheng hated such people with his whole heart.

This war was everything to him, something he had worked for and towards his whole life. This was his life’s meaning, going into battle and winning it. Nothing else mattered. If he could not win this battle and avenge his parents, his life would have been meaningless. He would not fail- he wouldn’t allow himself to do such a thing. Not when the stakes were this high.

“The Qinghe Nie Sect will also help in every way possible.” Nie Huaisang then suddenly said, stuttering slightly. But he seemed a little confident, almost proud of himself as he spoke. Perhaps the shy Prince had truly had a change of heart, as Jiang Cheng had even heard he’d been taking sword fighting lessons recently. Perhaps he too had realized that he needed to carry his own part in this battle, do something of worth. Painting fans was his passion, something that made him happy and content with life but it wasn’t going to save him and his Sect from the enemy. The enemy which was only getting closer. If Nie Huaisang was able to understand that, then Jiang Cheng wondered how long it would take before the Jin royals also realized it was time to wake up. It was no longer time for celebrations and fancy dinners. Like the rest of them, Jin Guangshan needed to begin preparing his men for a battle of a lifetime. If he didn’t, his men would walk and fly into battle only to serve as meat shields for the rest of them.

Jiang Cheng wasn’t going to let that happen to his own men, and neither would the other remaining Kings. And he surely wouldn’t allow the Wen Prince to attack the Koi Tower. They needed to be one step ahead of them at all times, always prepared to take them down even before they had the chance to think about attacking them first. Jiang Cheng had a plan. A plan that would allow them to keep Miss Wen and the rest of the hostages, and also attack the enemy from the inside. It was a crazy plan, but Jiang Cheng believed it might just work. And with the help of the other Kings, he was sure of his success.

*

“Y-Young master Wei? Why have you come here?” Wen Ning asked, seeing the man dressed in black walking up to his cell door.

Wei Wuxian smiled, nodding his head towards the other man politely. He ignored the mean look he received from the guards watching over the two of them, looking away from them completely. He watched as Wen Ning got up from the ground, stumbling slightly as the chains around his ankles and wrists were holding him down. He looked pitiful, weak due to the fact that his golden core was turned off. Probably for the tenth time ever since arriving here. Wei Wuxian now understood how he must be feeling better after his own core was also turned off. His strength was slowly coming back to him, but he wasn’t fully recovered yet. He still felt too weak to attempt changing forms. He was sure he wouldn’t be able to create any fire either, as his chest still felt hollow with coldness.

“Is it about my sister?” Wen Ning asked, leaning against the metal bars of his cell as he stared at the other with wide eyes. Wei Wuxian shook is head and the other seemed to relax immediately, worry and anxiety lifting off of his shoulders. He must have been worried, as he hadn’t been able to see his sister in quite some time now. Since Wen Qing had been in questioning for many days now ever since first arriving. Wei Wuxian realized only a few hours ago, that he should perhaps pay a small visit to the other hostages in case they were wondering where their leader had gone. He was worrying over them, but Jiang Cheng had also ordered him to come and interrogate them some more. Which he found to be quite useless, as everyone had already spoken with guards and Jiang Cheng multiple times. Enough to grow tired and exhausted as they couldn’t sleep or rest while being questioned over and over again. Even poor little Ah-Yuan was interrogated, and if Wei Wuxian had heard the rumors correctly- the poor child cried as soon as he saw Jiang Cheng. Who wouldn’t, after seeing his sour face.

“Miss Wen is fine, do not worry.” Wei Wuxian spoke, waving his hand up in the air in order for one of the guards to notice him. “Please open the cell doors for me.” He asked as one walked up to him.

He received a mean look from the older guard as he eyed him up and down. “Due to King’s orders we are not allowed to let free any of the hostages. They are dangerous and cannot be trusted as they are members of the Qishan Wen Sect.” He spoke, like straight out of some rule book. This Lanling Jin Sect member would fit in perfectly with the Gusu Lan Sect members, Wei Wuxian thought with a grin.

“Then lock me up with him.” He then said, surprising them all. “I don’t want to chat with him with steel bars between us, so just let me in with him instead.”

The guards as well as Wen Ning all looked unsure, confused due to such a request. But such odd orders could only come from someone like Wei Wuxian, the crazy mongrel who every hated. And it seemed that the guards had no problem allowing his wish to happen. The other guard opened the door, first unlocking five different locks. The older guard who continued to look down at him proceeded to pat him down in case he wore some dangerous weapons that Wen Ning could steal off of him. Wei Wuxian thought that was highly impossible, seeing Wen Ning as someone who couldn’t hurt a fly. He could tell he was a shy and gentle person even when he was chasing after him in the Qishan Wen forest. Though he was fast and able to shoot fire and lava towards him, he did it very hurriedly and out of fear. He didn’t actually wish to hurt anyone, and Wei Wuxian could see that. Perhaps that was the reason why he was so keen on the young man, as he found him to be very gentle and kind. It didn’t matter to him that he was from the enemy Sect, as he was even so respectful towards him.

“How do you remember my name?” Wei Wuxian asked, ignoring the shocked look on Wen Ning’s face as he stepped inside his cell and sat down onto the dirty floor. The poor boy looked like he wanted to give away his robes for him to sit on instead of dirtying his own. He let out a sigh, sitting down a little further away from him.

“Of course I remember young misters name. How could I forget, after you treated little Ah-Yuan with such kindness.” He spoke, his dirty hands fiddling with the chains around his wrists. He stared at Wei Wuxian carefully, as if studying his face. “Is young master Wei, truly a mongrel like him?” He finally asked.

Wei Wuxian let out a loud laugh, enough to make the statue-like guards turn around and look at him like he was a crazy person.

“Of course I am!” He laughed, leaning against his propped up knee. “Why, did I look like a purebred dragon in my form?” He asked, receiving an odd look from the other.

“No, you didn’t.” Wen Ning confessed. He must have felt sorry for what he said, afraid he had just offended Wei Wuxian, as he began to stutter and apologize over and over again. “My apologies! It is just that- that young master didn’t have red scales like the rest of us, so I just assumed…”

“No need to apologize, you were right after all.” Wei Wuxian laughed, hoping to cheer the other up. He didn’t like seeing people sad or worried, he preferred to spend time with cheery people in a fun atmosphere. It was hard to imagine such a scenario inside such a depressing cell, but he believed anything was possible.

“Did you really think that Jiang Cheng was a mongrel as well?” Wei Wuxian asked, in a joking matter. Wen Ning however still seemed serious, a bit wary to answer him as he asked such a question about the King. The King who had also visited him and interrogated him very seriously. Wen Ning must have felt pressured to answer him honestly, all jokes pushed aside.

“I did, but young master Wei you must understand that my people and I were taught that we were the only purebred dragons left on earth.” He explained. “The King taught us all that he had defeated every other Sect left and made us the only one standing. Every other dragon apart from the ones with red scales were thought to be mongrels, someone who needed to be terminated in order to hold the pure bloodlines.”

Wei Wuxian could only imagine how others reacted to Ah-Yuan when he was born and first shifted forms. He wouldn’t be surprised if the town elders voted to have him given away or worse, just due to the fact that he was born a mongrel. It took a lot from Wen Qing to keep him alive for so long. A lot of sacrifices.

Wei Wuxian frowned. “Your King doesn’t sound too kind and caring towards his people, huh?” He asked, half curious and half joking.

Wen Ning bit onto his bottom lip, looking around himself almost nervously. Wei Wuxian realized he must be afraid of sharing his honest opinion on this topic, scared that he might be punished for speaking negatively on the King. He must truly be a horrible King, a horrible ruler who punishes his people if they didn’t agree with him or follow his orders.

“You are safe here.” Wei Wuxian said, reaching out and holding onto his cold hand. The sudden skinship made the other jump a little, but he didn’t pull away. Instead he let Wei Wuxian hold his hand tightly, staring at it with black eyes. There was a change in him due to the sudden show of affection. Wei Wuxian saw a hint of sadness inside of him, something that made his heart ache. He too knows what it is like to miss a sister.

“The King and his men cannot hurt you here.” He said, assuring the other. “Jiang Cheng and i’ll keep you safe from them. Though he seems evil and sour, Jiang Cheng is actually a caring person. He will protect the ones he cares for with everything he has left in him.”

Though still feeling slightly unsure, Wen Ning managed to nod his head slowly. He swallowed dryly. “The King taxes everyone, almost out off all of their money.” He began explaining. “Only the ones living near well-off cities can go to school and get educated. And everything they taught inside those schools are usually false or very incorrect. The whole Qishan Wen Sect is under heavy propaganda, which keeps its members believing that it is the only and greatest Sect to be born into.”

“Do you believe that, ever since arriving here?” Wei Wuxian asked, curious to hear his answer.

“Young master Wei, I must say that I am still unsure.” He said, voice merely a whisper. “I have only seen the outside of the Koi Tower palace and the inside of my own cell, yet I have been treated well and with huge amounts of respect I didn’t expect to receive as the enemy.” He confessed.

“You are not the enemy, the King is.” Wei Wuxian reminded him. “You are merely a innocent civilian, someone who can help us defeat the man you were forced to believe was a honorable King.”

“I have already told your King everything I know.” Wen Ning murmured, tired. “I do not know much, since my sister always kept me away from most of her chores revolving around the King, in order to keep me safe. She never told me where she went, who she saw or what she did. But we all knew she was working for the King in some way, since Prince Wen Chao was the one who always care for her. I don’t know anything else, I apologize.”

“No need, I believe you.” Wei Wuxian smiled. He could see that the other was a honest person, someone who didn’t enjoy lying. Wei Wuxian felt like he could trust him, though he barely knew him.

Wen Ning managed to smile a little, nodding his head in relief. Wei Wuxian studied his face and frame. He must be a little younger than himself, he thought. Or perhaps he just had such a innocent and pure look to him that it made him seem younger, more youthful. But Wei Wuxian could see through that outer appearance, see deeper inside of him. Wen Ning too had gone through many hardships and struggles. Wei Wuxian had already heard what happened to Ah-Yuan’s mother, and he could only imagine that they had lost even more family members due to sickness and war. They weren’t so different- the two of them.

“Is Ah-Yuan with your grandmother?” Wei Wuxian asked, hoping that the other would cheer up at the mention of his cousin.

“I believe so, at least I heard a guard say so a day ago. I haven’t heard anything from the rest though…” He sighed.

Wei Wuxian nodded his head, biting onto his bottom lip while deep in thought. “You know, I am the brother of the King of Yunmeng Jiang after all. I may have the power to arrange you two to meet each other, perhaps with your sister as well.” He said.

His words made Wen Ning’s eyes widen, a smile spreading onto his face. “Young master Wei! Could you truly do that?” He asked, slightly unbelieving.

“Of course, I am Wei Wuxian for Goddesses sake!” He laughed, crossing his arms.

“Now what Goddess have you began believing in?” A voice asked, making both Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning turn around and look towards the cell door. Both of them saw Jiang Cheng standing there, unamused as he watched there scene in front of him. His brother sitting inside the cell next to a hostage who was seen as a war criminal.

Wei Wuxian cleared his throat, getting up while wiping away the dust from his robes. Jiang Cheng couldn’t see the smirk he wore on his face, too focused on keeping an eye out on Wen Ning who was next to him.

“Jiang Cheng, don’t look so sour.” Wei Wuxian coughed, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly. “I was only interrogating our dear friend Wen Ning here.” Jiang Cheng’s eyes turned a shade darker at the mention of the word ‘friend’, yet Wei Wuxian chose to ignore it and laugh quietly in order to lighten the mood that had suddenly dropped. It didn’t help.

“What on earth are you doing inside his cell!?” He asked, voice echoing inside the basement. If it were possible, he would be shooting rays of Zidian out of his fingertips by now due to the amount of anger he was feeling. Wei Wuxian realized this wasn’t the time to be joking around, walking up to him quietly. He stared at the other carefully, moving aside as Jiang Cheng ordered the guards to open the cell door. Wei Wuxian stepped outside, sending an apologetic look towards Wen Ning who was left all alone again. But Wei Wuxian wouldn’t forget the promise that he had made to him. He would remember it and succeed in making it true.

But for now he was unable to do anything, walking behind Jiang Cheng like a dog with its tail between his legs and head hanging low.

*

“A secret attack?” Wei Wuxian asked, making sure he had heard correctly. Jiang Cheng nodded his head, staring at the other. He seemingly forgot about what happened before, only focusing on telling his plan to them all. King Nie Mingjue hummed, deep in thought as he followed the others plan closely. Nie Huaisang was writing down notes next to him, making sure he got everything down so his brother could study them over again later. Lan Wang Ji sat quietly, new robes decorating his frame. Wei Wuxian made a note in his mind, to remind himself to apologize towards the other once again for what happened.

It had been a long day, an excruciating one. Wei Wuxian felt exhausted, tired and agitated all at once, as well as weak due to the lack of a golden core. Perhaps that was the reason behind his harsh words, as he shook his head with a laugh.

“I’m sorry, but do you really think that the Prince invited us over for a cup of tea?” He asked, in a slightly degrading tone. This wasn’t a big meeting, only held between the five of them. Even King Nie Mingjue knew that he and Jiang Cheng were close brothers so there was no need to try and pretend to sound too formal while speaking to each other. “You make this plan seem as if we are the only ones with guards on our side.”

Jiang Cheng’s idea was this; show up at the abandoned town with Wen Qing. He would stand alone or just with a few men standing by his side. Once the Prince shows up, he would be ambushed by dragons of all four Sects who had been hiding nearby. It was a simple plan, but even the ever-so-clever Jiang Cheng had seemingly ignored something. The fact that his plan was absolutely ridiculous.

“What makes you believe that the Prince will not show up with hundreds of men guarding him, ready to blast you with fire and lava the second they see you. They aren’t there to have a chat. They want us all dead.” Wei Wuxian spoke, hoping to knock some sense into his brother.

King Nie Mingjue nodded his head, agreeing with Wei Wuxian. “Young master Wei shares a good point.” He growled. “How can we be sure that we aren’t being tricked into showing up, only to be taken down in a humiliating fashion?”

“They cannot attack us.” Jiang Cheng then said, confusing everyone. He smirked, hands behind his back. “It is actually quite simple. The Prince and his men cannot attack me, as I have something very precious to him. Miss Wen.”

Wei Wuxian squinted his eyes, a bad feeling spreading around inside of him as he realized what Jiang Cheng meant. “You are going to use her as a shield, protecting yourself?” He asked.

“You could say so.” He said, shrugging his shoulders. His answer was simple, yet it told more than you’d expect. Wei Wuxian now truly realized how badly Jiang Cheng hated the Wen’s. Enough to use them as meat-shields and bait.

He was personally against such a plan, finding it idiotic and too quickly thought out. Besides, using Wen Qing as a living bait to get the Prince to not attack them was clever, but very cruel and inhuman. Wei Wuxian already felt that he has gained Wen Ning’s and his sisters trust, as he was able to show his caring personality while speaking with Ah-Yuan. He truly wanted no harm to any of them, and the thought of putting them in danger didn’t settle well with him.

“We have time until the end of the current lunar cycle, correct?” Wei Wuxian asked. “That gives us, what, like a few more days to think about this. Let’s not make quick decisions.” He suggested, truly wanting to change their minds on this whole plan.

“King Sandu Shengshou is right.” Nie Mingjue spoke. “His plan may be missing some points, but it is a great plan to begin working on. We do not have much time, and we could use the remaining days making sure that this plan will not fail. Using Miss Wen in it as well is a great addition, something that will give us the high ground and a great advantage. They cannot kill her, unless they want to heal the King.”

Wei Wuxian nodded his head, growing tired of no one listening to him. “I see.” He said, clearing his throat. He was feeling quite annoyed, feeling as if no one was listening to him or any of his advice. He too wanted to come up with a plan, something that would be more safe and most likely successful. But time was truly running out, and right now it seemed as if everyone was against him. Wei Wuxian crossed his arms, unable to focus on the rest of the meeting. Each and every one of the meetings held during the last few days had all formed into one, a great mess inside his head. He was once again reminded of the fact that he hadn’t slept in who knows how long. He hadn’t really been able to sleep well ever since leaving Lotus Pier, and that was well over a month ago now. No wonder he was feeling agitated.

Jiang Cheng continued to speak, and Wei Wuxian turned to first look at Prince Nie Huaisang and then King Lan Wang Ji. The Prince dressed in green looked just as tired as he was, dark circles underneath his eyes and hand shaky due to exhaustion as he wrote. Lan Wang Ji wasn’t looking as well as he could either. Wei Wuxian guessed it was because he hadn’t been able to go to bed at nine o’clock each night like he used to do back in Cloud Recesses. Wei Wuxian leaned back against his hands, feeling them slowly turning numb as the circulation of blood supply was blocked. The rest of the meeting didn’t mean much to him, as his opinions and wishes weren’t taken into consideration at all. He spent the rest of the meeting daydreaming, perhaps preparing himself for the mess that would happen tomorrow once their tired bodies and minds hit the practicing field. He had no other choice but to practice, as his golden core had been turned off. He needed to make sure he could shift and use his skills as well enough as before. There was that cursed Jin Zixun again, entering his mind.

As soon as the meeting was declared over, Wei Wuxian jumped up from his seat and excited the hall, not even caring to bow down to the others. He knew it was rude, incredibly so, but he didn’t care. He knew that Jiang Cheng knew him well enough to leave him alone when he was feeling such a way. Unless he wanted to receive a fist to the face. He wished that the others too understood why he left in such a fashion. It seemed that no, not everyone understood, as Wei Wuxian noticed footsteps following him.

“Jiang Cheng i’ll see you tomorrow. I don’t want to hear the plan over again, talk it over with King Nie again if you absolutely need to-”

“Wei Ying.”

He paused, coming to a complete stop- causing him to almost fall over as his legs just stopped working. This was the second time he had heard the other call him that, by his birth name. The first time happened when he was just about to faint, his voice sounding like something out of a dream. Wei Wuxian had though it had been a part of some odd dream, not believing it was real. His mind must have just played a trick on him, fooling him. But there it was again, the sound of Lan Wang Ji calling his name with such care.

He hadn’t even realized it but he had called out the others name as well, in a state of awe. “Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wang Ji walked up to him, always with such grace that often left Wei Wuxian and others speechless. How could a man look such a way? So pristine, beautiful and well put together. He was almost always looking at the other with his mouth wide open, blown away by his looks alone. How silly of him. But how could he not react such a way, as the other stood so close to him and had even done such things as hold onto his hand and take care of him. Everyone else always said that the two Jade's of Lan avoided skinship at all costs, yet Wei Wuxian could remember many occasions when the King would lay a hand on him. If anyone was asking him, it seemed that he wasn’t the cut sleeve here. He made a mental note to slap himself across the face for thinking of such a thing once he is alone in his room.

“You seem to be upset.” Lan Wang Ji then said, waking him up from his thoughts. Wei Wuxian thought about what to say. Should he brush it off and lie, say he was fine? Or should he be honest and complain to him about the situation? He just felt caught in the middle, in an unfair situation.

“Lan Zhan, what do you think of Jiang Cheng’s idea?” He then finally asked, deciding it would be for the best if he first found out what the other thought about the plan before just simply complaining about it.

Lan Wang Ji seemed to be deep in thought for a moment, staying silent. “I believe that with a few changes King Sandu Shengshou’s plan could be very successful.” He finally said, making Wei Wuxian even more confused with his thoughts.

“Like, what changes?” He asked.

“Most likely more attention towards details.” Lan Wang Ji said, causing Wei Wuxian to let out a low groan.

“That’s not what I meant, and I think you know it.” He said, looking at the other. Lan Wang Ji had a hard to read expression on his face, looking slightly confused. Wei Wuxian sighed, hands leaning against his hips. “What do you think about Miss Wen?” He then asked.

This simple question alone was enough to drive a distraught look out of Lan Wang Ji. He seemed to feel uncomfortable, perhaps even nauseous in a way due to the mention of the others name. Her last name, to be more exact. Wei Wuxian had also been hurt by the Qishan Wen Sect and he knew about Lan Wang Ji’s past and his emotions towards the enemy. Yet he couldn’t understand how someone was able to hate someone just according to where they came from, not knowing them personally.

Lan Wang Ji shook his head once. “I would prefer not to-”

“Not to think about her fate?” Wei Wuxian asked, interrupting the other. “Would it just be easier, watching her face death thanks to Jiang Cheng’s idiotic plan without having to think about it too much?”

“Wei Ying!” Lan Wang Ji said, slightly shocked and taken back at his sudden attack towards him. “That is not what I said.” He said, attempting to redeem himself.

“Then tell me what you feel towards her- and the rest of the Wen’s. So I don’t have to think what I do right now. Tell me you don’t want her dead.” Wei Wuxian pleaded. He wished that Lan Wang Ji said something along the lines of; I don’t want them to suffer, not if they are innocent. Something majestic and wise he’d only hear from the other. A glimmer of hope in the midst of all the chaos going on around them. Wei Wuxian wanted him to think the same way about them as he did. Yet he didn’t hear anything along those lines, in fact- he heard nothing at all.

Sometimes silence spoke more than words.

“I see.” Wei Wuxian laughed. It was a bitter laugh, causing his chest to burn in a way his golden core never could. “I see, that you aren’t any different from Jiang Cheng and the rest after all.” He added, swallowing down the bitterness that tried to escape his mouth. The two stood underneath the waning crescent moon, looking at each other while also somehow avoiding each other.

Wei Wuxian fought back the anger he was feeling inside of him, hands forming into fists. He didn’t want to make the situation any more complicated than it already was. Lan Wang Ji was a King, someone he needed to respect and speak well of. But he was also a person who he had grown close enough to call by his birth name. Someone who's deceased parents he had prayed to by their royal altar. Someone who took care of his injuries. None of that seemed to matter now.

Wei Wuxian smiled bitterly, bowing down in front of Lan Wang Ji.

“I wish you a good night, King Hanguang-Jun.” He said, causing the other to frown.

He walked away feeling both satisfied and sad with how he had ended things. It was a neat way to simply just leave. Yet he wanted to stay, he really did. But he couldn’t. Not when there were so many messy thoughts inside his head and confusing feelings in his heart. He wasn’t sure how he was able to clear such thoughts and feelings, but he knew he wouldn’t get any help from the other. Staying by Lan Wang Ji’s side only made him more confused.

If risking one persons life could save thousands- millions, would you risk them? Even when you knew they could lose their own life for nothing, due to your decision.

The answer was clear as day to some, apparently to Lan Wang Ji too. But Wei Wuxian couldn’t say the same. Nothing seemed to make any sense anymore. But he had to make up his mind at some point, before it is too late. The current lunar cycle was soon coming to an end, and they would travel back to Qishan Wen Sect. Wei Wuxian needed to make up his mind soon, or else it would be too late.

Chapter Text

~

Lan Wang Ji looks up towards the cloudy sky, arm raising up to partially cover his eyes with his long decorative sleeve to avoid the sun. He still peeks from behind it, mouth falling open in awe as he stares at the small white dragon flying high up in the sky. His brother, the future King of Gusu Lan, Lan Xichen is a master at flight even at such a young age. He only gained his powers a few days ago, already beginning to master the art of flying and creating fire. He was still a beginner, but their Sect elders were all seeing great potential in him.

Lan Wang Ji pouted, holding onto the edge of his mothers robes tighter as he hid away from the eyes of the Sect elders, who all continued to chatter and gossip about the Jade twins. He had been there when his brother first gained the ability to shift forms, surprising everyone. Both of them were still very young and people hadn’t expected neither of them to gain their abilities so soon, but Lan Xichen was always a little different from the rest.

“Truly amazing, his posture is absolutely fantastic!” The Sect elders cooed, nodding their heads as they watched the young Prince high up in the air. Guards were accompanying him, teaching him how to fly against strong winds. His frame looked so much smaller compared to them, looking like a small child that had been thrown up into the air in its dragon form for the first time. Lan Wang Ji’s hands held onto the white fabric tightly, scared he’d witness his brother fall down from the sky at any second now.

“There there.” The comforting sound of his mother entered his ears, making him look up at her with big eyes. “Little Ah-Huan is alright, do not worry my dear.” She comforted him. Her kind eyes stared back at him, smiling gently. Lan Wang Ji moved closer to her, hiding his face in her robes. She smelled like home.

“I don’t want to ever shift forms.” Lan Wang Ji confessed, his already quiet voice muffled by the robes. He felt his mother chuckle, shaking slightly against him. Her fingers ran through his hair, smoothing and detangling the black strands of hair not held up by the pin. “I’m scared, mother.” He added, daring to look up at the sky again. His brother looked so strong while in the sky, like the leader he was born to become.

His mother said nothing, only holding him a little tighter. Lan Wang Ji knew what was going on inside of her head, what she was thinking about. It is alright, then stay. Stay and never fly away from me, like everyone else did. Lan Wang Ji swallowed once, small fingers letting go off her robes as he heard a familiar voice approaching them. His mother pushed him slightly, in order to make him bow down respectively. He did exactly so, bowing down perfectly while avoiding eye contact with the people approaching.

“Good.” Lan Qiren spoke, greeting his mother alongside the guards who followed him. “Prince Lan Wang Ji has seemingly learned how to formally greet his elders by now.” He spoke, making Madam Lan laugh nervously before greeting the man dressed in white. She was always like this in the company of the other, uncomfortable and nervous. She didn’t like the way the Sect elders and her husbands brother kept constantly watching over her sons, teaching them and punishing them for the things that they did wrong.

“Prince Lan Wang Ji.” Lan Qiren called out, making him look up at him slowly. His uncle looked at him with a strict look, clearing his throat once. “Having seen your brother, Prince Lan Xichen being able to shift forms, don’t you also wish to do the same?” He asked, making the mother of the twins frown. Of course it only made sense that they thought that Lan Wang Ji too needed to soon learn how to shift forms and use his skills, so he wouldn’t stay too much behind his brother. But Madam Lan didn’t appreciate the fact that her second son was no longer allowed to learn those skills by himself like everyone else, now that he was being compared to his brother who was more skilled.

Lan Wang Ji shook his head quickly, fighting back the urge to hide next to his mother again. Madam Lan sighed, taking a step forward. “Brother-in law, I believe it might be for the best if Prince Lan Wang Ji learns to shift forms by himself, like his brother Prince Lan Xichen was able to do.” She suggested, receiving weird looks from the Sect elders. Though she was a respected member of the Gusu Lan Sect and one of the Cloud Recesses royals, she was still only a part of the royal family through marriage.

Lan Qiren let out an odd laugh, shaking his head. “If we do not help him discover his own skills, especially now that he says he wishes not to be able to shift forms, he may never learn. He has always been behind his brother, and it is only a matter of time before people living in Gusu Lan hear about him and begin treating him like the inferior brother.”

Like you are already treating him? Madam Lan felt as if the situation was unfair, not being able to say anything that would make the Sect elders believe her and listen to her suggestions. She was the mother of the crown Princes, someone who knew the two better than anyone else, yet at times she was treated just as a maid. Her husband was never there to look out for her either, too busy taking care of the Sect. Lan Wang Ji was once again reminded of his father, who he missed dearly.

As if hearing his thoughts, one of the Sect elders turned to look at him as he spoke. “King Qingheng-Jun has been informed about the first Prince.” He said. “He has yet to send a letter back, but I am sure the King is proud of his son being able to shift forms at such a young age. Don’t you wish to make your father proud also, Prince Lan Wang Ji?” He asked, smiling down at him.

Lan Wang Ji hesitated for a moment, then slowly nodding his head. His mother frowned, not enjoying the way the elders sabotaged his mind by bringing up his father. Madam Lan knew how much both of her sons missed their father and found it unfair that he was brought up again. She sighed, looking up at Lan Xichen who was still flying alongside some guards. She took a hold of Lan Wang Ji’s small hand, holding it tightly.

“I believe it is time for both Prince’s to follow me and rest inside the palace.” She said. The Sect elders looked a little sour, Lan Qiren glaring at her, but they said nothing. Instead everyone bowed their heads and watched as she left alongside young Prince Lan Wang Ji. She ordered the guards to help Lan Xichen back onto the ground, watching him change back forms with a gentle smile. She took a hold of his hand as well, walking alongside the two Princes.

Lan Wang Ji holds onto her hand tightly, afraid to let go. He looks up at her face, studying her expressions closely. She smiles, yet there is something sad behind her eyes, something she hides and covers away from the rest of the world. She is beautiful, Lan Wang Ji points out. She has always been. Her words from months ago echo in his ears as he follows her, listening to Lan Xichen chatter about the practice excitedly.

“If I could, I’d take you two away from here. Far, far away. Somewhere where you could live comfortably, without the peering eyes of the Sect elders and your father. Where you could live a normal life, away from danger.”

Her words didn’t make much sense to him back then, unable to understand what she meant. However, her words slowly began to make much more sense. Especially now that he was older.

~

As Lan Wang Ji wakes up during the night, images of the burning fire entering his mind once again while he holds onto Bichen tightly, he wishes he would have understood her when he still had her. Beads of sweat fall down his forehead, eyes closing as he wishes to see her again. Yet there are no reappearing images, no voices- nothing but silence. Lan Wang Ji wishes he could see her again, remember her even when he wasn’t dreaming. As if you could even call the things that he sees during his slumber a dream. They all ended with death, everything he loved burning around himself. They were all never ending nightmares. Something he couldn’t escape from even when he is awake.

Lan Wang Ji remembers the red dragons from his childhood, the Qishan Wen Sect members who came and took everything away from him. His heart begins to beat faster as he once again realizes he is sharing the same palace with those said Wen Sect members. He cannot help but feel a strong feeling of disgust towards them, hate that runs deeper than his own blood.

Yet he cannot ignore the words spoken to him merely hours ago.

“Tell me you don’t want her dead.”

Lan Wang Ji wasn’t able to answer Wei Wuxian’s plead then, unable to disagree or agree with him. Not because he was unable to say the words out loud, but because there were no words for him to say. He didn’t know what to believe, his own personal grudges or the things that were taught to him. The rules of his own Sect were always repeating somewhere deep inside his mind, due to having written them down so many times as a child and a teenager. The rules which were thought to be written down by Goddess Lan herself, someone who Lan Wang Ji prayed to and looked for guidance during tough times.

Be respectful and humble. Do not hold grudges. Love all beings. Embrace the entirety of the world. These were only a few of the things he was taught to believe, yet no one around him seemed to follow the rules when it came to the Wens. He didn’t think he’d be able to follow those rules either, as he felt such deep hatred towards the evil Sect. Yet he feels guilty for feeling such a way, feeling as if he is letting down his ancestors and the great Goddess Lan.

He sighs, glancing over to the partially open window across his bed. The moon is still up, sunlight nowhere to be seen. Another sleepless night for him. Lan Wang Ji slowly moves off of the bed, gracefully and delicately moving his sleeping robes out of his way. Lan Wang Ji moves across the room slowly, bare feet hitting the floor with soft taps. He sits on the floor, moving forward slightly to rest his wrists on top of the familiar instrument. His delicate yet strong fingers move across the carefully carved wood, feeling each decorative sculpture made into it. His eyes closes as he touches the strings of the zither. He begins to play.

It is an old piece, something he has gotten familiar over the years with and can play even with his eyes closed tightly. He barely ever plays it these days, unable to find the time or the inspiration. However tonight he felt a strong pull towards his precious zither, as if it was calling for him. Trying to calm him down from the nightmare he had just experienced. It did help him, making him relax and clear his mind as he played throughout the night. If he focuses hard enough he can almost hear his brother, Lan Xichen playing his own zither next to him, helping him create a beautiful song. He can almost feel the wind and waves of sound that would be created from his notes, running through him gently. Perhaps his brother is truly out there somewhere, playing his own zither along with his. The two had a strong bond as brothers and twins. They often felt each others stress and sadness when growing up. Lan Wang Ji pouts, feeling a sudden longing for the other.

Lan Wang Ji misses many things. His father that was barely never there when growing up, his mother who was mistreated and lonely. His own brother who cares for him dearly. He feels as if he lost them all many years ago, when disaster striked and he was forced to leave behind his childhood and begin practicing in order to become a good King for his people. Lan Wang Ji had always been everyone's second pic, no one’s favorite. When his brother was injured beyond healing and could not become the King, the elders worried if he could take his spot. And he worried as well, if he remembers correctly.

His past is all just a huge mess, endless hours spent in the Cloud Recesses library. A childhood wasted away, working towards an unknown future. Lan Wang Ji never received a normal life like most, yet he was take care of and given a good education. He could not complain and he never would. Lan Wang Ji chose to stay silent most of the time, never speaking of himself to others asides from his own brother. Don’t speak unless spoken to, his uncle always reminded him. Yet he had noticed himself breaking that personal rule multiple times already. Once again he was thinking about a particular person, who just so happened to pop into his head.

His playing comes to a quick stop, eyes opening as the last sound of the string echoes in the room. It was an odd tone, out of tune and ugly. It didn’t sound right, it was a mistake. One he had never made before. His mind had been too busy thinking, unable to fully focus on the strings of his zither while playing. He sat in front of the instrument quietly, staring at it in the darkness almost apologetically due to his mistake.

This reminds him of a time long ago, when he was just a child and began to play the sacred instrument for the first time. He would make many mistakes, too many for his own liking. If a Sect elder wasn’t there to punish him for his mistakes, he would do it himself. Perhaps seeing a young child hitting themselves across the fingers with a wooden stick would surprise anyone, but his mother was scared breathless when she witnessed it.

Lan Wang Ji closes his eyes, and thinks of her once again.

~

She held onto his small hands tightly, tears falling down onto his robes as she tied a bandage around each of his fingers, all which looked red and bruised. Lan Wang Ji said nothing, too afraid of upsetting her even more. He thought it was his fault for making her cry, yet she didn’t blame him or complain about what he had done. He thought that she was upset at him. What Lan Wang Ji did not understand then, all those years ago- was that she was never upset at him, but instead the Sect elders who taught him to do such a thing.

After finishing wrapping up his bandages, she didn’t let go. Instead she held onto his tiny hands tightly, looking at him with tears in her eyes. She said nothing, sniffling quietly in order to calm herself down. She didn’t want to cry in front of him anymore, thinking her sons had seen her such a way too many times. Lan Wang Ji was so young, yet he was so much more stronger than her, which was unnatural.

Staring at her mothers eyes, which were red and filled with tears, Lan Wang Ji couldn’t help but think about many things. One of those things being how he hated himself for making his own mother feel such a way and cry in front of him. The other thought was hatred towards his father, for not being there to make her happy again. Though he was young, he too had read a few love stories and heard the maids speak of their loved ones. When the ladies working in the palace spoke of their spouses, they wore huge smiles on their faces. They seemed to be happy, ecstatic to have someone so perfect and amazing in their life. He couldn’t help but compare them to his own parents, the King and Queen. Who seemed so unhappy with each other.

Lan Wang Ji swallows once, innocent eyes looking at his mother with curiosity. His fingers hurt in a weird way, as if they were burning underneath the bandages. He ignores this feeling and gives his mothers hand a weak squeeze.

“Mother.” He whispers. “Do you love father?” He asks, causing his mother to look back at him with wide eyes. Her reaction was natural, as mind you- this question was coming out of a small child's mouth. Yet the power that simple question held behind it scared her. She was quiet for quite some time and if she wasn’t his mother, Lan Wang Ji would have began to feel nervous due to the lack of an answer. But he knew her well enough to know that she was very careful with her words.

She looked at him, finally smiling slightly. “My dear.” She laughed halfheartedly before turning more serious. Her answer should have been along the lines of, of course I love him. That was the answer that everyone expected her to say out loud, present herself as the loving wife and Queen of the Sect. She needed to do as told, stand besides Lan Wang Ji’s father and stay as the perfect mother figure. Pretend to be a happy family. Everyone else seemed to be fooled by her acting skills, even their father. But Lan Wang Ji knew better.

She smiled, looking at him with swollen eyes. “Little Lan Zhan, what do you think love is?” She then asks, perhaps curious to find out how a child would explain such a complex thing even some adults struggled with. She didn’t think he’d be able to explain it at all, and she was correct. Lan Wang Ji shook his head slowly, head hanging low while he pouted.

“I don’t know.” He confessed.

He had an idea of what love was, as he felt it towards many people in his life. He loved his mother, brother, father and even his uncle. They were everything to him, his family members- made from the same blood and flesh. Yet he had slowly started to realize that being apart of the same family didn’t always mean that you cared about each other, or loved one another. He could notice his mothers eyes when she looked at his father. There was no love there.

“You will someday.” She then said, thumb moving over the bandages slowly. Her words were stuck in his mind for days, moths and years to come. It left him believing that there was love out there that he could feel which was even more powerful than the one he felt towards his precious family members. Yet he felt sad due to this fact, as he realized his mother never felt such way towards his father. And never got the opportunity to feel such a way towards anyone else, due to her tragic end.

~

Lan Wang Ji opens his eyes and stares at the zither in front of him. He had been playing it for quite some time, and his fingertips burn just like during that day. Yet there is no one holding onto his hands, no one to tell him it is alright to make mistakes and to learn from them. No one there to love him.

*

“Y-young master Wei, are you truly sure this is allowed?” Wen Ning asks as he walks behind the other slowly, chains dragging along the ground loudly. Wei Wuxian had been tempted to release him from those annoying and heavy looking chains, but he was sure that would be too much and would surely get him into trouble. He was already breaking too many rules for his own good, dragging a stolen prisoner behind him through the underground cell. If Jiang Cheng were to come and see him now, he’d break his neck.

“Of course!” Wei Wuxian says with a laugh, lying innocently. “After all, I received permission from the King himself.” He says, hoping he could make the other feel less tense. It seemed to work, even though Wei Wuxian never said which King. He wishes he hadn’t just somehow gotten them in more trouble by saying such a thing.

Wei Wuxian holds onto the chains hanging from Wen Ning tightly, buffing up his chest as they come closer to another group of guards. He clears his throat, catching their attention. They all seemed to be confused, looking at the two of them standing there for a second. It was an odd sight, seeing a member of the royal Yunmeng Jiang Sect holding onto a prisoner from the Qishan Wen Sect.

Before any of them could ask why he was there and why he was given permission to move the prisoner without a guard by his side, Wei Wuxian lifted up his arm quickly.

“Open the door please, I do not wish to spend anymore time with this dirty Wen dog.” He swore, making a disgusted face as he looked back at poor Wen Ning. He lower his head, looking down at the ground. Wei Wuxian wasn’t able to tell if he was truly offended or if he was also acting, whatever it was- it was working. The guards looked at each other, one moving to take out a key. Wei Wuxian almost smiled, feeling accomplished with what he had done, but it would have been too soon.

“Wait.” One of the guards spoke out, stepping in front of the others. “Who has given you the permission to move the prisoners, and more importantly- who gave you the permission to move him in with the others?” He asked, standing with in front of Wei Wuxian while looking down at him with a stern look. Wei Wuxian didn’t dare to breathe in through his nose, predicting that the man's breath would smell awful due to the fact that his teeth were almost black.

He coughed once, stepping back a little- pushing Wen Ning as well. He let out an awkward laugh, looking at all the guards one by one. “Well, that would be- of course I was ordered by King… By King Hanguang-Jun!” He finally said, surprising everyone in the hallway- including himself.

“King Hanguang-Jun?” The guards all asked, murmuring and looking at each other. “Why would he order you out of all people to do such a thing? And why?” One of them asked, making Wei Wuxian curse inside his mind. He should have known this wouldn’t be as easy as he first thought. The guards standing behind Wen Ning’s door had been way too young and inexperienced to ask any questions like these men did. Wen Ning was also nervous, chains chattering behind him quietly as the other felt so scared and nervous to the point of shaking.

Wei Wuxian crossed his arms, tapping his foot against the dirty floor. “Isn’t it obvious?” He asked, hoping he’d be able to come up with a good answer if he first blabbered nonsense. It seemed to work, as he made the men think by themselves and also came up with an answer that made some sense, at least to him.

“King Hanguang-Jun does not want to step foot into these dirty cells or have one of his men do it for him, as they all despise the Wen dogs with a heavy heart, so he ordered me to do all the interrogating for his Sect instead.” Wei Wuxian explained, believing he had just came up with quite a clever explanation. The guards stayed quiet, looking at the oldest one among them for a reply.

“That still does not explain why you must move the prisoners together.” He then said, looking at Wen Ning with a strict look. “You could potentially help them plan something together, like an escape or a riot.” He pointed out, making the younger guards nod their heads in unison. Wei Wuxian swallowed once, then deciding to really fall into his character.

“Look, you have already wasted enough of my precious time and energy here.” He complained, hoping the guards would believe his words and remember his ranking, also by ignoring the fact that he was a mongrel. “I have been given an important task by King Hanguang-Jun himself, and in order to interrogate as many Wen dogs as I can which such little time, I decided to have them stay together for the time being. If you have something against that, go ask the King for his understanding before trying to stop me.” Wei Wuxian said, mustering up the courage to look down at the guards. He couldn’t lie, he felt a little powerful when acting like this.

The guards seemed to be at a loss, unable to leave in order to ask Lan Wang Ji and also fearing him. The younger guards said nothing, standing behind the oldest one like small children. Finally the older one in charge let out a deep sigh, stepping forward with a key. Both Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning watched as he finally opened the three locks keeping the cell door closed. Before opening it, he turned to Wei Wuxian with a strict look.

“I have my eye on you, mongrel.” He murmured, moving back while opening the heavy door. Wei Wuxian nodded his head once, smiling politely as he stepped inside the cell with Wen Ning behind him. In order to look a little more believable, he pulled on his chains roughly in order to make him follow him, almost falling over due to the chains around his ankles.

Wei Wuxian studied the dark room, pushing Wen Ning against a wall while the door was still closing. “Sit down, you useless piece of trash.” He said heartlessly, only letting out a sigh of relief once the heavy door was closed behind them once again. He could finally drop the act, hurrying as he began to help Wen Ning back up.

“Young master Wei is truly a master of acting.” Wen Ning said, seemingly fine ever after getting treated such a way. Wei Wuxian smiled, brushing off the pieces of dust decorating him.

“I apologize for having to treat you such a way.” Wei Wuxian murmured, studying the others face. Wen Ning smiled gently, not affected by his mean words or actions that he was forced to do while being watched by the guards. Both of them looked away from each other, squinting as they looked inside the dark cell.

Wen Ning’s eyes widened as he seemingly saw something, awkwardly moving closer to a dark corner of the room. He let out a gasp, crouching down. “Grandmother!” He said, voice breaking slightly. Wei Wuxian followed him quickly, coming to find Wen Ning’s grandmother lying on the ground weakly. Wen Ning took a hold of her hands, giving them a slight squeeze. She seemed weak, unable to move or speak much. She turned his head, lips quivering as she attempted to say something. Wen Ning looked over slightly, moving her long robes. Next to her, he found another small bundle of clothes on the dirty floor. Underneath those ragged clothes was a little frame of someone, of Ah-Yuan who was laying down. Not moving.

“I-Is he..?” Wen Ning asked desperately, hands shaking as he took the boy into his arms. Horror flashed across his face, eyes wide as he looked at the small child. The chains around his wrists made holding onto the child a little difficult, yet he ignored the pain of the metal pushing into this skin as he held the other carefully.

“No, he isn’t dead.” Wei Wuxian spoke, standing behind the other with a deep frown on his face. He hadn’t even touched the child or seen him from up close, but he knew he wasn’t dead. He was still alive and breathing. Just weak. “His golden core has been turned off recently.” Wei Wuxian said, also crouching down next to Wen Ning. He carefully moved to place his fingers against the others wrist, feeling his pulse. It wasn’t nearly as weak as he would have thought. This child was more powerful that many thought.

“How is he?” Wen Ning asked, trying to read his expressions. He was still very shaken due to finding the two of them like this. His grandmother was not shaken by Wei Wuxian’s presence, perhaps she too remembered him and what he was like compared to others. He still had compassion towards them, even when they were from the enemy Sect.

Wei Wuxian’s fingers pressed into Ah-Yuan’s wrist with a little more power, trying to find any clue of his golden core’s powers running through him. He wasn’t able to feel any, but still feeling it’s faint presence. So his golden core wasn’t fully removed, at least. But the act of taking away a child's powers was still very cruel and inhuman in his mind.

“He will recover, until they numb his core again.” He said, sad eyes studying the small child lying in Wen Ning’s arms. This was exactly what he didn’t want to see, innocent people suffering from the upcoming war. He felt sorry for all of these people, wishing he could do something to make it better. But he couldn’t, not when Jiang Cheng and the rest were all against his own beliefs. He needed to knock some sense into his brothers head, make him realize that this is not the correct way to handle things and that there is a better way.

Wen Ning’s delicate fingers moved across little Ah-Yuan’s cheek, wiping away dirt and dried blood. Wei Wuxian only now realized that the young man next to him was crying. He looked at the small child with such care and love it made Wei Wuxian feel emotional as well. Wen Ning whispered something Wei Wuxian wasn’t able to hear, meant towards Ah-Yuan. Perhaps Wei Wuxian didn’t want to know what he said.

“There was a letter.” Wen Ning suddenly said, voice only a whisper. Wei Wuxian didn’t know what he meant at first, almost asking him before the other could continue. “I heard the guards speak of it. They said it was from Prince Wen Chao.” He said, reaching to wipe away his own tears before pulling Ah-Yuan closer to himself. He hugged him tightly, afraid to let go.

Wei Wuxian was unable to say anything, slowly nodding his head.

“Will you…” Wen Ning began, looking up at him slowly. “Will you take my sister away from me?” He then asked. Though his voice was quiet, it echoed inside the almost empty cell in a somewhat scary way.

Outside, Wei Wuxian looked expressionless, not saying a thing nor moving. Yet on the inside, his heart was breaking into a million pieces. His hands formed into fists, eyes closed. He forced himself to nod his head.

Wen Ning looked at him for a moment, slowly turning to look at Ah-Yuan again. His fingers ran through his hair slowly, hand shaking slightly. “I understand.” He finally said, swallowing down a cry that was about to leave his throat. He was fully crying now, tears staining his face and running down his cheeks.

“No you don’t.” Wei Wuxian said, teeth gritted together.

Wen Ning shook his head, covering Ah-Yuan’s tiny hands with his own. “It is not Master Wei’s fault.” He said, only making Wei Wuxian feel even worse.

This was all so unfair, so wrong and horrible. This shouldn’t be happening at all. Ah-Yuan shouldn’t be like this, unable to move or speak because his golden core was turned off. Wen Ning shouldn’t be worrying about the fate of his sister and Wen Qing shouldn’t be taken back to Qishan Wen because of the plan the King’s agreed with.

Wei Wuxian felt a strong need to do something, anything. He wanted to help these people, make a difference. He wanted to help them in any way possible. If he could, he’d take them away from here. Far, far away. Somewhere where they could all live comfortably, without the peering eyes of the ones who want them dead. Where they could live a normal life, away from danger. But he couldn’t and that was what hurt him the most, the fact that he was useless.

“But it is my fault.” Wei Wuxian whispered underneath his breath, taking a step back before walking up to the cell door. He knocked on it a few times, hearing how the guards began to unlock it. He heard Wen Ning move, perhaps attempt to come with him. But Wei Wuxian wasn’t going to allow him to follow him. He stepped outside as soon as the door was opened, moving past the guards.

“Allow him to stay for a few more hours.” Wei Wuxian then said to one of the guards. ”None of them are able to plan an escape or do something to each other as they are all so weak.” He explained, placing his hands behind his back. He didn’t stay long enough to hear their answer or if they would actually do as he said. He heard Wen Ning call out for his name one last time before the cell door closed once again, his voice echoing inside the prison hallway and inside his own head.

He felt like suffocating, he needed to get out of here.

*

Nie Huaisang had never seen so many people before. He stood on top of the high golden stairs, looking down at the massive crowd below them all. Every last man able to participate in the war had finally arrived from every remaining Sect, all arriving in Lanling Jin and it’s beautiful Koi Tower. Everywhere he looked, there were neat groups of army men standing while waiting for an order to do something. Nie Huaisang swallowed once, daring to step down.

He walked down those golden stairs, studying the crowd carefully. He didn’t know what intimidated him more, the fact that there were so many people there or the fact that this wasn’t even everyone currently present at Lanling Jin. Groups from each Sect were placed all around Koi Tower and the cities that surrounded it, used as protection from possible attacks.

Of course the other three Sects couldn’t just leave their women, children and injured behind without any protection. Some men stayed behind to make sure that their own Sect and it’s palace was still well protected in case the Wen’s somehow decided to attack them instead of the threatening Lanling Jin. King Jin Guangshan was truly anxious, afraid of what might happen to him and his people. He mostly worried about himself, as he couldn’t help his selfish personality. He of course presented himself as someone who also cared for others, especially in front of the other Kings but everyone knew his intentions. Even the plan that would be executed today was all done in order to keep him safe from danger.

Nie Huaisang walked down the last few steps, jumping a little out of shock as a group of men suddenly shifted their forms and flew up to the sky with a cloud of dust following them. Nie Huaisang studied as the dragons of his own Sect flew above him, circling around like vultures. Their green scales shined brightly in the sunlight, creating a beautiful yet terrifying scene. Nie Huaisang kept walking forward, nodding his head as others bowed down to him as he walked past them. You’d think that seeing hundreds of people bow down to you as you walk past them would make you feel powerful and confident, yet Nie Huaisang felt the very opposite every time he had to be around other people aside from his close friends and family. His brother understood that he didn’t enjoy attention and knew how bad he was at talking to people, especially new ones. But he always tried to make him more confident in himself and pushed him forward into doing new things, as long as those things were nothing dangerous.

Nie Huaisang stopped before walking up to his brother, staring at his backside with a frown. Things looked fine a few days ago, when he was still practicing how to use a saber and his abilities. Yet when the letter arrived and things took a more serious turn very quickly, his brother soon changed his mind and began treating him the same as before. Perhaps he just got scared, or maybe he realized how truly useless his little brother was. Nie Huaisang hadn’t made much progress anyways, unable to learn anything useful that could be used in battle. Though he still wanted to be of some help, Nie Huaisang too knew he was still a lost cause, someone who would simply just die if he would enter the battlefield. This didn’t make him feel any less nervous, in fact he felt more nervous now that it was truly decided that he wouldn’t be let join the others. He would be left here in Koi Tower, with the Jin royals who wanted to be protected. Nie Huaisang felt like a useless coward, a shameful member of the Nie family. His brother didn’t show it, as he was mostly glad his little brother would be spared from the war. But he was also somewhat disappointed in a way, as he had fully believed in him before. Believed that he could train and become stronger, someone more like their father and him. But Nie Huaisang had left him and everyone down.

“King Chifeng-Jun, Prince Nie has arrived.” A guard spoke, perhaps because Nie Huaisang had mindlessly stopped and hadn’t said anything to his brother who still hadn’t noticed his presence. Nie Mingjue turned around, glancing towards his direction once before turning back around to order his men to follow the others already in the air. He didn’t even flinch as the huge crowd of people shifted, dust flying everywhere as the strong winds blew around them.

Nie Huaisang stood around awkwardly for a second, hands holding onto his fan tightly. He wanted to say so many things, do something. But his legs wouldn’t move nor did his lips. He felt so, so useless. His brother understood, a slight smile developing onto his lips as he watched the other. He too wanted to say many things. Things that had been on his mind for quite some times, but he didn’t have the strength to say any of them. The two of them knew each other well enough to understand what each of them were going through right now. Nie Huaisang looked at his older brother with deep worry in his eyes.

You have to come back, his eyes and mind was screaming.

Nie Mingjue understood, stepping forward and pulling the other into a quick hug. He squeezed the others smaller frame perhaps a little too tightly, but Nie Huaisang didn’t mind. He didn’t even let out a sound as he let his older brother hug him tightly. And what seemed like a few minutes were actually just a few seconds to the rest as they watched the two royals pull away from each other. Nie Mingjue patted the others shoulder a few times, hand lingering there for a moment more. It was never easy to depart from your loved ones and it never got any easier. Nie Huaisang and his brother had lost too many people, way too many loved ones during their young lives. But no matter what happened, they also couldn’t lose each other.

Nie Huaisang nodded his head once. He felt like crying or breaking down completely, but he fought back such feelings. He didn’t want to show such a weak side of him in front of so many people, or embarrass his brother who thought highly of his own reputation as a tough and strong man. He is exactly like his father.

“Return safely brother.” Nie Huaisang spoke, bowing down properly. “May Goddess Nie look out for you and our troops.” He prayed. His brother nodded his head, returning to his more serious self as he cleared his throat.

“I shall do exactly that.” He assured his brother confidently. “And when I do, with that Wen Prince's head pierced through my saber, we shall throw a celebration that the Koi Tower has never seen before.” He spoke, raising his voice so that others could also hear him speak. The guards and army men around him began to cheer his name, swords pointed up into the sky with each yell.

Nie Huaisang ignored the disgusting mental image that he was given and nodded his head. As long as he’d come back safe and alive, then nothing else mattered. He kept telling that to himself over and over again, because by doing do he’d start believing it at some point, right?

His brother soon excused himself, returning to his men up in the sky. others and Nie Huaisang included watched in awe as the King shifted his forms and flew up into the sky. Nie Huaisang looked after his brother for quite some time, unable to take his eyes away from him in the fears of seeing him disappear already. He was able to eventually look away, assuring himself the other wouldn’t leave without the others. He turned to look around himself, heading towards the large crowd of men wearing white.

The Gusu Lan Sect members looked proper as ever, standing in neat rows in front of their King. Lan Wang Ji noticed him arriving, bowing down politely as Nie Huaisang walked up to him.

“King Hanguang-Jun, I wish you good luck during your departure.” Nie Huaisang spoke, lifting his head to gently smile towards him. Nie Huaisang had always thought that the young King was very emotionless and cold, but he had heard enough rumors and seen how he acted around some people. He had gotten the impression that he was actually quite caring, thought quiet. He no longer found the other scary, mustering up the courage to come talk to him easily.

Lan Wang Ji nodded his head after bowing down, kindly receiving Nie Huaisang’s well wishes. Quiet fell between them after that, but it wasn’t awkward. Nie Huaisang understood that the other man wasn’t much of a talker, unlike him. Nie Huaisang could be quiet as well, especially if he was surrounded by strangers or his Sect elders, but he was quite the talker when he was around his friends and family. Nie Huaisang may have made a kind comment towards Lan Wang Ji’s army men, but he couldn’t remember if he did so because the two of them soon got company.

“King Sandu Shengshou.” Lan Wang Ji greeted the man dressed in purple as soon as he noticed his presence.

Nie Huaisang smiled, lips wide as he too noticed the other. “Jiang Wanyin!” He greeted the other excitedly, using his courtesy name instead of his title because of their close relationship. Lan Wang Ji didn’t seem to notice his slip-up during his presence, or perhaps he did but chose not to mention it. Jiang Cheng didn’t react to him any different either, managing to smile a little even though looking quite tense.

“King Hanguang-Jun, Prince Nie.” Jiang Cheng also greeted them, bowing down with perfect posture. Perhaps Lan Wang Ji was able to notice how tense and nervous he was as he stared at him for a moment before finally asking what was on his mind. Perhaps Lan Wang Ji thought that there had been bad news revolving around their current plan or something else that could stop them from proceeding.

Jiang Cheng sighed, shaking his head. “It is nothing serious. Quite the opposite.” He murmured, his tone of voice being quite annoyed at something. “I feel quite ashamed for having to even ask such a thing, but have neither of you witnessed my brother, Wei Wuxian?” He then asked, confusing the two man standing in front of him.

Nie Huaisang moved the fan in front of his face slowly, trying to think when was the last time he had seen his old friend. He couldn’t remember, but it couldn’t have been after the meeting about the letter since he had been so busy figuring things out with his brother. He shook his head, pouting. “I’m sorry, I haven’t seen brother Wei in quite some time. But he couldn’t have gone anywhere? He knows that you are supposed to leave today because of the Wen Prince, right?” He asked, not seeing the way Lan Wang Ji shifted his posture due to his words.

“After the meeting.” Lan Wang Ji said, arms placed behind his back.

Jiang Cheng nodded his head, breathing out through his nose. If he had the power, smoke would surely come out due to the anger boiling inside of him. He couldn’t wait to smack the other against the head as soon as he saw him again. How dares he just disappear hours before they were all supposed to leave back to Qishan Wen. Jiang Cheng didn’t dare to hold the rest back because of his own Sect. He’d rather just leave the other behind if he didn’t show up on time, as it wasn’t unlikely for him to be late to everything. Jiang Cheng just felt angry towards him, because he trusted that the other would be there to support him as a brother.

Jiang Cheng bowed down quickly, keeping his head down. “I must apologize on his behalf, for keeping us from leaving. I can assure you, King Hanguang-Jun, that we will get to leave on time. Even if he does not arrive.” Jiang Cheng spoke, cheeks a little red as he dared to lift his head up again. Nie Huaisang looked at him apologetically, placing a hand on top of his shoulder.

“Please do not beat yourself up because of brother Wei. I am sure he will come running down those steps any moment now.” He assured the other. Jiang Cheng slowly nodded his head, glancing towards the golden steps he too had walked down before today.

Jiang Cheng sighed. “That idiot has been getting himself into some trouble again lately.” He murmured, catching Nie Huaisang’s and Lan Wang Ji’s attention. He stepped forward, closer to the two so that not everyone around them would hear what he had to say. The last thing he wanted was that people found out what Wei Wuxian had been doing and spread rumors about him, also using his status against him.

Jiang Cheng’s hands formed into fists, getting angry just at the thought of what had happened. “I found him underneath the palace, inside the prison ward speaking with the Wen dogs.” He said, feeling himself getting more angry. “And a few days ago, I received information from the prison guards that he had been there again, bringing the prisoners together.” At this, Nie Huaisang gasped.

“Why would brother Wei do such a thing?” He asked, hiding behind his fan. People said living inside a palace was boring because you couldn’t gossip around the towns people, but this was probably the juiciest rumor Nie Huaisang had heard in a long while!

Jiang Cheng shook his head, sighing. “I do not know. We had quite the fight after that incident, and I forbid him from entering the prison ward ever again. He never gave me a good explanation as to why he did such a thing.”

Nie Huaisang nodded his head slowly, turning to look at the same direction which Lan Wang Ji was looking towards. In the middle of the Yunmeng Jiang soldiers, there was a wide metal cage. Inside that said cage, was Miss Wen. Sitting in the middle of it, hands holding onto the metal bars tightly. Though she was far from them, both Nie Huaisang and Lan Wang Ji could see the panic and despair in her black eyes. Lan Wang Ji forced himself to look away, turning himself around. Nie Huaisang continued to look at her, frowning as he did so.

“Perhaps brother Wei just felt sorry for them.” He finally said, murmuring underneath his breath.

He heard the other let out a loud chuckle. “Sorry for them?” Jiang Cheng asked, unamused. “Why would anyone feel sorry towards the Wen’s in any way? Disgusting.” He spat out, making Nie Huaisang flinch. Jiang Cheng glanced towards the metal cage, staring at Wen Qing for a moment like the others had done. He let out a odd sound, turning his attention back towards Nie Huaisang.

“The Wen’s deserve everything that is going to happen to them. These prisoners can either help us or be against us. That decides their fate, in my eyes. Wei Wuxian doesn’t seem to understand who he is talking to and dealing with. He needs to understand what they had done to us. To our families and homes. The Wen’s are nothing but evil.” He said, chest heaving with heavy breaths.

Nie Huaisang didn’t dare to say anything else, deciding it would be for the best to stay silent while the other was preaching. Jiang Cheng often went on long rants about this topic, about his hate towards the other Sect and its members. Nie Huaisang didn’t enjoy seeing this side of him, he thought it didn’t fit him. When Jiang Cheng was angry and upset, nothing was holding him back from vocalizing his anger. Nie Huaisang knew what helped, but couldn’t do such a thing in front of so many people. But he wished he could, just reach out and hold him for a moment. Hug him tightly and tell him it’s alright. And Jiang Cheng would allow him to hold him, not saying anything.

His mind was always filled with so many negative thoughts, the ghosts of his past daring to ruin his sweet and gentle soul. He couldn’t focus on anything else but the thought of revenge and justice. He wanted to bring justice to his father, mother and sister- everyone who lost their lives due to the Wen attacks. But having lived such a life for so long has left him feeling empty, unable to realize what he already has around himself. Loving friends and a brother.

Nie Huaisang sighed, nodding his head. “I know.” He finally said, silencing Jiang Cheng. He must have realized he went on a rant, feeling shameful for doing so. Especially because Lan Wang Ji was in his presence. They could both tell that the King dressed in white was tense and uncomfortable, because of the whole situation. It wasn’t just because of what Jiang Cheng, but it was a part of it. Seeing Wen Qing was also not the main reason, but again- a part of it. Everything was building up and making things worse.

Jiang Cheng had been surprised when he first heard the other say he wanted to join the trip to Qishan Wen with them. Jiang Cheng had always believed and thought that the Gusu Lan people would have wanted to avoid going into the enemy territory for as long as possible, due to their strong beliefs and ways. Yet Lan Wang Ji had made it very clear that he and his men would follow Jiang Cheng right to the enemy. He found this very surprising, yet very strong of them.

Today would be a historical day. If everything went according to plan, they would declare an official war against the enemy Sect and kill the King’s son, Prince Wen Chao during their first attack. Wen Qing would work as their bait, allowing them to get closer to the Prince and his soldiers. They had men from all four Sects supporting them, so even if the Prince brought many soldiers with him- there was no way he could have expected so many of them to arrive. Jiang Cheng was sure of their victory, already imagining what it would be like to finally bring some of the enemy men down with his sword and zidian.

He was about to say something, show his respects to the two royals in his presence but something else caught his attention. Jiang Cheng blinked his eyes once, face setting into a deep frown once his eyes proved him right.

“Wei Wuxian!” He yelled, walking towards the figure dressed in black who only now decided to show up on the battlefield. The other pretended not to hear him, or actually didn’t. Whatever the reason was, Jiang Cheng was even more agitated by the time he got to him. He took a hold of his arm, stopping him from going anywhere.

“Where on earth have you been?” He asked, fuming with anger.

Wei Wuxian didn’t seem too worried by his behavior, shrugging his shoulders lazily. This annoyed Jiang Cheng even more and he squeezed his arm, only when the other let out a hiss and pulled on his arm- Jiang Cheng let to immediately. He only now realized where he had grabbed onto, holding tightly onto Wei Wuxian’s injured left arm. The other looked away from him, right hand coming to smooth down the area which had been hurt. Jiang Cheng felt slightly bad, still not forgetting to stay serious.

“I was asleep.” Wei Wuxian then said. “I don’t understand why you are so angry with me. I was informed that I needed to be here by midday, and I don’t believe I am too late. Correct?” He asked, managing to annoy his brother some more.

“You are my brother, I would have expected you to arrive early like I did.” Jiang Cheng barked. “Everyone has been waiting for you, I expect you to apologize to all of the royals and army leaders who you made wait.” He said. Wei Wuxian seemed to frown, rolling his eyes due to Jiang Cheng’s words. He couldn’t understand what the big deal was. He did arrive in time eventually and wasn’t late. They needed to wait for King Jin Guangshan’s orders for his own men anyways, so he wasn’t the last important person there anyways. But he knew how Jiang Cheng could act when agitated. Wei Wuxian could have arrived in time and he would still be angry at him because of some reason.

“I am here now.” He said, assuring the other. “I wouldn’t let you go alone, you are my brother after all.” Wei Wuxian said. For acting such a troublemaker most of the time, Wei Wuxian sure knew his way with words and how to make Jiang Cheng less angry.

“But that doesn’t mean that I agree with what you are about to do,” Wei Wuxian then added, looking towards Wen Qing with a worried expression. He sighed, turning to Jiang Cheng again. “There is nothing I can do to make you change your mind about her role in this plan?” He asked, receiving an odd look from the other. Jiang Cheng eventually shook his head.

Wei Wuxian was quiet for a moment, staring at his brother with a calm expression. “Jiang Cheng.” He sighed. “You must promise me one thing, nothing else.” He paused for a moment, thinking his words over again.

“Promise me that she comes back alive.” He finally said.

Jiang Cheng stayed quiet, looking stern and serious as he too looked towards the young miss inside the cage. Wei Wuxian didn’t think it would be possible but he saw something surprising in his eyes, just for a few seconds. Empathy and care towards the other. In a matter of hours, perhaps less than that- they would departure and leave towards the enemy Sect. There they would use Wen Qing as a bait and lure the Prince into their trap, finally executing him. That is if everything went according to plan- Jiang Cheng’s plan. Her fate lies in his hands from now on and he is responsible for whatever happens to her. He is responsible for many lives as a Sect leader. Everyone was counting on him and he couldn’t promise them they would all return alive, he couldn’t do the same to Wen Qing. Yet he still somehow managed to look at the other.

Jiang Cheng nodded his head.

That was all Wei Wuxian needed to know.

Chapter Text

The people living in the smallest towns in Lanling Jin watched in awe and terror as thousands of dragons flew over their heads and homes. Children pointed up to the sky, studying the different looking dragons they had only been able to see in books but never with their own eyes. Their mothers held onto them tightly, standing by their grandparents side while slowly moving back inside the shelter of their home. To their children, this was an amazing sight to see. For them it was the first hint of something big happening, the war that would soon break loose as soon as those dragons reached the enemy.

The sky was filled with black, brown, orange and white. The dragons flying high up in the sky casted shadows down onto the earth below, hiding the blinding sun behind them. Lanling Jin was covered in their shadows, the whole kingdom turning black. The dragons moved without making a noise, aware of the journey they would be taking and the meaning it held behind. Some of them would not be coming back tonight, some would be left in Qishan Wen as their dead bodies would begin to rot and decay.

A dragon which looked different from the rest moved behind everyone else, flying in a fashion that would surely upset the King of Yunmeng Jiang if he were to see him. The dark grey dragon slithered in the air quietly, slower at times before moving quickly. He acted as if he was deep in thought which ended up being the truth. Wei Wuxian’s glowing red eyes studied the metal cage which was hanging in the air, carried by the men his brother ordered. Wei Wuxian wasn’t able to see her, but he knew that Wen Qing was scared and terrified for her life.

He hadn’t been able to speak with her before all this happened, unable to tell her what would happen once she was placed- more like forced- inside the cage. Wei Wuxian hoped that someone had at least told her what would happen. He wished that he could trust Jiang Cheng’s words, the promise that he had made to him. Wen Qing needed to come back alive. She just had to.

Wei Wuxian felt a mix of hot fire and bile gather up inside his throat. How could he return back to Lanling Jin without Wen Qing? How could he ever see Wen Ning and the rest of the Qishan Wen Sect members after losing their leader. How could he ever see little Ah-Yuan? Wei Wuxian didn’t think he’d be able to face them if things ended badly. He’d rather also die than go back without her, feeling he’d be letting down everyone if he didn’t manage to save her. He just needed to believe in Jiang Cheng’s words.

The Prince needs her alive, he cannot kill her if he wants his father to stay alive.

Jiang Cheng’s words kept repeating inside his head, turning into the only thing he could rely on at the moment. His red eyes shifted from the metal cage and studied the horizon instead. They were getting closer. Wei Wuxian followed as everyone began to fly downwards, getting closer to the trees in order to get some coverage. Soon he could see the high mountains separating Lanling Jin from the enemy Sect, the familiar border which he and Jiang Cheng had already seen before came into his vision soon after that. Wei Wuxian squinted his eyes, studying the high border made of stone. He couldn’t see it but he knew there were many guards there this time. There was no way that the Prince hadn’t taken any extra repercussions in order to protect themselves. Luckily Jiang Cheng had also thought of this and made sure he had a plan.

They couldn’t all fly into the enemy area as that would ruin their whole plan of surprising the enemy. They needed to use Wen Qing as a bait and make the Prince trust them. They needed to make sure he let’s down his guard, making him as vulnerable as possible before sending in more back up. They would not leave that hellish place before the Prince and his men were dead, Jiang Cheng would make sure of it.

Wei Wuxian watched as he lead the army of black dragons. Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but notice how much his little brother had grown. He was no longer the innocent child who was loved and pampered by his parents and sister. He no longer played with puppies and his toys. Those things had all burned and died years ago, his childhood along with them. A sound, almost sad in it’s tone, escaped Wei Wuxian’s throat as he answered the call the King of Qinghe Nie Sect Nie Mingjue let out. He lead his own men downwards into the woods, everyone following after them.

Though large in size and not very delicate with their movements, the dragons managed to reach ground without making too much of a fuss. A large flock of birds escaped the trees around them, squawking and screaming as they flew to safety away from them. If they were smart enough they would fly far away, away from the fires that would erupt due to the fight about to happen. Wei Wuxian looked up towards the top of the trees, seeing the sun set behind them. It had truly taken the whole day to get there, yet they had arrived in time. The moon was nowhere to be seen yet. But when it would rise from the other direction, glowing beautifully above them all- they knew it was time. The moon would turn red due to the river of blood which would be flowing down on top of the earth.

King Nie Mingjue slithered forward, growing with a low voice as he stared at Jiang Cheng. The huge brown dragon hissed, communicating only with a few simple words everyone could somewhat understand even though the Nie’s spoke in a different dialect than the rest when in their dragon form.

Go. You only have a little time left. Once you send out the signal, we shall come.

Jiang Cheng growled, turning his head towards his men. Wei Wuxian continued to stare at the brown dragon, hearing how Jiang Cheng growled and hissed as his own army of black dragons. The sound of static escaped his mouth, the purple lightning of his zidian attempting to escape his mouth due to the amount of adrenaline and anger that was boiling up inside of him. The hundreds of black dragons hissed in response, holding their heads down.

Wei Wuxian stayed still, his dark scales shining in the light of the setting sun. His red eyes met the blue ones of King Hanguang-Jun. He and his men had stayed quiet through this all, standing in neat rows while waiting for orders. Wei Wuxian’s long nails dug into the dirt underneath his feet. There were so many things he wanted to say to the other, yet he could say nothing. The white dragon stood tall, back straight and long tail curled around his frame neatly. Instead of looking away his blue eyes ever left the other’s red ones. Wei Wuxian was the first to look away, letting out a small hiss through his sharp teeth. This wasn’t how everything should end, he thought. If they were truly declaring a war today, which would change the world they live in forever- things shouldn’t be left like this between them. Wei Wuxian hated arguments and fighting with other's yet he had been the one who left things like this. He had been mad, truly furious due to the other before. Wei Wuxian felt mad still even now, especially when he made the mistake of looking towards Wen Qing’s direction.

He could understand why Lan Wang Ji hated the Wen’s and everything they had done, but he was too much like Jiang Cheng. Too keen on thinking that they were all bad and responsible for the destruction that happened to their Sects and families. Wei Wuxian cannot lie, he too once thought that way for many years. His birth parents were killed by the Wen’s too, making him an orphan and homeless for way too long. When he was taken into a loving family again, that too was taken away from him. Jiang Cheng is all he has left, his only family member. Wei Wuxian has never forgiven the people who brought such destruction and sadness to him, but he does not blame the innocent for something they had nothing to do with. Wei Wuxian believes that the people living in the small, poor town where Wen Qing and her brother came from are innocent. So are many of the people living inside the enemy borders. The ones who have been declared ill and weak, not good enough to be used by the King. Those are the types of people who need their help, yet no one else seems to agree with Wei Wuxian.

So no, he does not blame Jiang Cheng and Lan Wang Ji for what they believe in, after all they both have met so much destruction and death thanks to the enemy. He just wishes that somewhere deep inside of them, they both and the other Sect leaders could understand him and why he believes such a way. They don’t need to agree with him or do as he wishes, he just hopes they will someday understand him and the abandoned Wen’s a little more.

Lan Wang Ji stares at him, blue eyes shining brightly. Wei Wuxian almost misses the way Jiang Cheng's growls, ordering his men to move. The sound of the metal cage being lifted off of the ground wakes Wei Wuxian from his thoughts, dragging his eyes away from the other. He doesn’t miss the way the other slowly blinked his eyes before also looking away. This was no apology, no agreement that the two came to. It was a quick way of saying;

Come back safe.

Wei Wuxian didn’t have the heart to promise anything, too afraid that he wouldn’t be able to keep his promise. He had never been afraid of death, it was something he found natural and even beautiful in a way. He however was afraid of leaving behind something that he’d miss while being dead. Perhaps he wouldn’t feel any type of regret when dead, but he’d feel that while dying. Death was a mysterious thing, something no one truly knew. Maybe he’d see his parents again some day, all four of them. Wei Wuxian missed them truly, yet he didn’t have the heart to meet them so soon. He could not leave Jiang Cheng alone, he wouldn’t forgive himself for doing such a thing.

Wei Wuxian swallowed down a lump in his throat, the scales moving against the tight muscles. The situation that he was in should be scary and terrifying. He was going into war after all, against an enemy which was known for destroying and killing it’s enemies easily. Yet he didn’t feel scared, not even a little. He wished that this all would be over. If that meant that he needed to witness the death of the enemy Prince, then so be it. He’d be willing to do the final blow, killing him off if it meant there would be a moment of peace and quiet. His body and mind was tired, having not been able to sleep well or eat enough for way too long. If today's battle wouldn’t end him, then his own skinny body would.

His mind was a mess, even when he took off flying behind the men his brother was leading. The black and golden dragons took off flying back into the sky, leaving behind the Lan’s and Nie’s. This was also a part of Jiang Cheng’s master plan. The Prince knew that the King of Lanling Jin was behind the incident where Wen Qing went missing as he sent him the letter and the ones who stole her had been the black dragons from Yunmeng Jiang. Perhaps some guards had indeed seen them enter and leave with the hostages that night. So it was assumed that the enemy already knew that the Jiang’s and Jin’s had made some type of agreement between the two Sects. But what the enemy did not know, was the fact that the Lan’s and Nie’s were also in on the plan and ready to ambush the Prince and his army as soon as the signal was sent.

Wei Wuxian trusted his brother more than anyone else, yet he couldn’t help but feel anxious. Would things truly work out the way he hoped? Would they get so lucky and make it out as simple as that? He couldn’t be sure, but he didn’t have the guts to question his plan anymore during such a time when they were literally already heading towards the enemy. He needed to trust the other, trust that everything would work out.

*

“Prince Sewu-Jun, I have received an urgent letter sent to your Highness.”

Lan Xichen opened the door, a smile on his lips as he greeted the young guard who bowed down in front of him respectively. Lan Xichen reached out, taking the neat letter which was handed to him quickly. He nodded his head once, thanking the guard before he took his leave. Lan Xichen stared as the guard walked out, sighing as his smile disappeared. The stepped back inside his study, closing the door behind him. The sleeping robes which he was still wearing moved due to the created gentle drift, flowing around him for a moment.

His blue eyes stared at the white letter in his hands, studying the familiar wax that had been stamped on carefully. There was no other person who could have sent it, seeing the wax was stamped on using a particular stamper. One which he could recognize easily, as there was only one of them in the world. It was from his brother, King Lan Wang Ji. There was no doubt about it. Lan Xichen placed his hand on top of the wax seal, feeling the amazingly carved image that the stamper had left on. The old stamper, which Lan Xichen could still remember- was a present from their father which was received by Lan Wang Ji.

Lan Xichen walked while holding onto the letter, his feet creating a gentle sound against the wooden floor. He stared at a small candle on top of his table, picking up a match and quickly lighting it. He came to a pause, picking up a small knife on top of his table near the match box which was meant for opening letters only due to its delicate blade. He took it in his hands and carefully moved the blade against the neatly folded paper, making sure not to tear it. Knowing that Lan Wang Ji had sent him a letter while dealing with such important things as war meant that the contents inside of it had to be very important. He opened it finally, staring at the neatly drawn characters for a moment before actually reading them. He sat on the edge of the bed carefully.

There was a sigh, then some movement. Lan Xichen drew his eyes away from the letter, smiling as he placed a hand on top of the covers. Jin Guangyao stirred in his sleep, waking up slowly. His legs stretched underneath the covers, letting out a low groan while he did so. His leg hit Lan Xichen’s side, pausing his movements for a moment after coming into contact with the other.

“Lan Huan.” Jin Guangyao murmured out, blinking his eyes tiredly. It was nowhere near morning, yet the other was already awake and up. His eyes squinted as he looked at the lit candle, attempting to ask the other why he had lit it during such an hour. He then noticed the letter which the other was holding in his hands.

Jin Guangyao moved in the bed, the white undergarments which they had been unable to remove from his frame during the previous night were still on him, revealing his shoulder as he moved to sit by the other's side. He blushed into a deep shade of red when he noticed the other staring, covering his bare skin. Lan Xichen smiled to himself finding it amusing that even after all they have been through together, all that time they have spent together, the other could still blush at situations like these.

“Is it from King Hanguang-Jun?” He then asked, seeing the familiar wax stamp. “Is everything alright?” He asked again, now much more gently. He studied Lan Xichen’s face carefully, almost expecting to see tears covering his beautiful face or a deep frown. But there was nothing like that there, instead he was smiling.

“Yes, it is.” Lan Xichen said, answering his first question. He paused for a moment, unable to answer the second question the other had asked for some time. “Wang Ji has informed me that they will be departing the Koi Tower of Lanling Jin and entering the enemy Sect. The war shall be declared soon. I have been praying, to Goddess Lan that she would understand his decision and why he decided to take a part in this war.” He then said. “I truly hope that she can understand why one of her children is forbidding her rules in such a way.”

Jin Guangyao stayed quiet for a moment, staring at the other quietly. “Breaking the rule of… What? Killing the enemy?” He asked. Jin Guangyao had been living inside the Cloud Recesses for quite some time already, ever since Lan Xichen took him under his wing and began protecting him. Their love for each other soon blossomed as well, trusting each other more than anyone else. Jin Guangyao knew how important religion was to Lan Xichen, as it was something that brought happiness and fulfillment to his life. He often looked at Goddess Lan for help and guidance during tough times, praying very often. Jin Guangyao didn’t know if he was a huge believer of the Goddesses himself, finding some parts a little hard to believe. That didn’t mean he didn’t respect the other and his beliefs, in fact he thought that their differences made them even more perfect for each other.

Lan Xichen slowly shook his head. “No. That is a rule which should also never be broken, but tough times need tough solutions.” He said, folding the letter closed. “Wang Ji has always been… On the wrong path, unable to get himself out.” Lan Xichen explained, making Jin Guangyao even more confused than before.

“I don’t quite understand.” He whispered. “King Hanguang-Jun is a great King, someone who cares for his people.” He said, seeing Lan Xichen agreeing with him as he nodded his head.

“Correct, Wang Ji is truly the only person who could have taken our father's place on the throne. He is doing an excellent job.” Lan Xichen said, agreeing with Jin Guangyao fully and only complementing his brother more. Yet there was something bothering him, something that even Jin Guangyao was able to notice. “His mind is full of worry, dark things.” He sighed. “He wishes for revenge, hoping it will bring him some peace and quiet.”

Jin Guangyao nodded his head slowly, staring at the floor. They all were scarred and broken due to the Wen’s. His mother was killed and his precious small village burnt. He had nowhere to go, and even his own father didn’t take him in. Even in the middle of all that darkness, there was a light. That light was Lan Xichen. The other taught him how to forgive and let go, live his life without carrying a huge grudge on top of his shoulders at all times. He didn’t think about revenge anymore, only when he was reminded of his awful father and the family which didn’t accept him. Lan Wang Ji however, hadn’t seen that light yet.

There was darkness inside his mind, terrorizing and messing with him. He wasn’t able to sleep, eat or breathe without thinking about what had happened. He felt responsible in some way, needing to make a change for them all in order to move on. He didn’t know any other way that revenging, too much in pain and agony to think of any other way. The younger one of the Jade twins of Lan was seemingly emotionless, yet there was a storm inside his mind. Sadness, pain and terror all spinning inside like a tornado. Yet inside there somewhere was happiness, excitement and joy. All hidden away and pushed away. Lan Xichen didn’t think that he’d be able to ever see his cheery and happy brother from their childhood ever again, thinking the other had lost himself for good. But there was hope.

“Wang Ji will realize that taking revenge is not the correct answer to bringing down his demons one day, I am sure of it.” Lan Xichen then said, sounding a little more hopeful. “He may need some help along the way, but I have learned that I am not the correct person to help him. Other's will do that for me instead, people who Wang Ji will not be able to trust at first. But with enough time, things shall change for the better.”

“I think I understand now.” He said. Jin Guangyao stared at his lover with care in his eyes, placing a hand on top of his shoulder. He gave it a gentle squeeze, nodding his head. Quite like how Lan Xichen had helped him move on from his own past and the demons that haunted him, he had done the same for Lan Xichen. He hadn’t always thought like this, also unable to move on from his painful past. The scars that cover most of his body served as a reminded, never leaving his side. But as Jin Guangyao touched and kissed every single one of those scars, they no longer had such a painful affect on him anymore. They were a reminder to him that he had survived, something to be proud of. Lan Wang Ji needed to also find someone like that in his life, someone who understands him better than anyone else and someone who will stick by his side through everything. It will be difficult, but both Lan Xichen and Jin Guangyao believe he can do it. He can change for the better, before it is too late.

“Do not worry my love.” Jin Guangyao then said, turning the others face to look at him. Lan Xichen did indeed have beautiful eyes, he thought while staring at the other from so close. No matter how many times he had looked deeply into them, he cannot help but feel as if he is falling in love with the other man all over again.

Lan Xichen was a loving man, someone who cared dearly for other's. He wasn’t selfish or evil in any way. He had a kind and pure personality, which he let show to others. Jin Guangyao respected him as his leader as a Prince and as his companion in life as his lover. Though their relationship was hidden, others seeing him as a mere servant, the two of them knew the truth and what happened behind closed doors. Sometimes Jin Guangyao wished that things could be much more simple between them. That they could showcase their love out in the open without needing to hide away from other's eyes. But things were complicated, they were both respected members of the royal palace. And Lan Xichen was the crown Prince.

If rumors of them both being cut sleeves and in a relationship with each other ever got out, many things could happen. Their reputations and life’s could be danger. They lived in troubled times, in the middle of wars- one which was just about to begin. There was sometimes no time to think about each other and the future that they hoped to spend together. Every moment was precious, something neither of them took for granted. So, even when they couldn’t showcase their love freely, nor could they live without the fear of being possibly separated from each other due to the current things happening around them- every moment was precious and worth living through together.

Every touch, even if they were small, counted. Every word spoken to each other, was noted and not forgotten. The fear of never hearing each other's voices ever again or not being able to touch each other was large, but they couldn’t stop to think about that. Instead they needed to keep on living fully, because if they didn’t- they would regret it more than anything.

Though his mind was messy with worry, Lan Xichen found comfort in the gentle hands of his lover, managing to fall back into the bed with him. Tomorrow would be better, different from today- he told himself. He wished and prayed that Lan Wang Ji would make it through the hardships he was about to face. He needed to see him again, hold his brother once more in his arms. That thought alone was able to make him calm down, repeating the same thing in his mind as the fire in the candle which he had lit began to die slowly.

Lan Wang Ji will find peace. And he will return.

Lan Xichen wished he wasn’t giving himself false hope.

*

There were no birds chirping, no wind blowing past them. It was a calm evening, a quiet one. It was too quiet in fact. It made everyone anxious and nervous, afraid to make a sound as they stood on the empty courtyard of the now abandoned town. Wei Wuxian studied his surroundings, finding the situation ridiculous. This was surely idiotic and suicidal, he thought to himself as his hands grabbed tighter onto the sword placed on his hip. There was no one else there, apart from him, Jiang Cheng and Wen Qing who was still placed inside the cage.

The soldiers of Yunmeng Jiang were not too far away, hiding behind the nearby mountains- ready to come to their side at any time. The remaining three Sects were not too far away either, prepared to come to their side as soon as a sign was given to them. All Wei Wuxian needed was to fire the flare which he was carrying inside his pocket up towards the sky, sending the sign to the others. But could he do it in time? Wei Wuxian was still sure that he’d see an army of red dragons flying above their heads any moment now, leaving only seconds before he would die and this would all be over. Yet JIang Cheng had assured him many times already, that it would not happen. Why, you may ask? Because they had Wen Qing.

~

“She is the key, the only thing keeping the enemy from attacking us.” Jiang Cheng whispered to him before they entered the town, shoulder bumping against Wei Wuxian’s. Wei Wuxian said nothing, feeling sorry for the other who was still stuck inside the cage. Wei Wuxian had waited for Jiang Cheng to step aside, to speak with King Nie Mingjue. Meanwhile he crouched down, peeking inside the cage through the metal bars.

“Miss Wen.” Wei Wuxian spoke after staying quiet for a moment, unable to find the right words to speak out loud. He still felt incredibly sorry for the other, sorry that she had to be in such a situation. He felt responsible because he had been there to help Jiang Cheng’s men capture them and bring them back to Lanling Jin. There they got treated as prisoners and enemies. And thought Wen Ning told him that they were treated better than when they were in their home Sect, Wei Wuxian believed this was crossing over the line. They were toying with her life, using her as a living bait. She could die, and Wei Wuxian felt as if he was the only one who cared.

“Everything will be alright, I will not allow anything bad to happen.” He then said, hoping he hadn’t just made a false promise to the other. He believed in his own words, but could he stand behind them fully? Nothing was sure at this point, everything they knew and loved could be changed and destroyed at any given moment. Wen Qing knew was as well, unable to fully trust the other.

“Young master Wei, can you truly promise such a thing?” She asked, a sad smile on her lips. She was tired, worn out due to losing her golden core over and over again. She looked and acted as if she had lost all hope, and perhaps that was true. “Wen Ning told me, that you promised to keep us safe and together. But I cannot just understand why. Why you would do such a thing to the enemy.”

She coughed, frowning. “Everyone else treats and thinks of us as a part of the enemy, yet you don’t. I can’t seem to understand why.” She said, repeating herself. It was indeed odd, to meet someone like Wei Wuxian who treated them so differently from the rest. When you compared him to people like Jiang Cheng and Jin Guangshan, Wei Wuxian looked like a saint.

Wei Wuxian swallowed. “You are not responsible for the death of my family, therefore I do not hold a grudge against you.” He then said, looking around himself to see if anyone was listening. It seemed as if everyone was too busy preparing to enter the enemy Sect- something he should be doing as well. He however found this a little more important. The thought of going out there without speaking with the other before didn’t sit well with him.

“That I can understand, but what I cannot understand is why you are doing all… this for us? You helped reunite Ah-Ning and Ah-Yuan with grandmother. You don’t owe us anything, we don’t owe anything to you.” She spoke, sounding more serious now. Wen Qing did always seem a little cold, perhaps because of the things she went through. She was a young miss, yet she was the town leader and a great doctor known by all in her Sect. She was respected and looked up to, enough to take care of the King himself. Yet here she was, stuffed inside a small cage and removed from her powers by turning off her golden core.

“You don’t owe me anything, correct.” Wei Wuxian laughed. “And I don’t owe you anything either, but I still want to do all these things because I feel it is right.” He then said, making Wen Qing quiet as she thought about what he had just said.

“Look, Miss Wen.” Wei Wuxian sighed, surprising the other by sitting down on the filthy ground. Wei Wuxian was truly no ordinary man from a royal family, she thought. “I don’t think anyone else on this earth knows the feeling of being pushed down, bullied and discriminated against better than me.” He said.

“Are you speaking of your bloodline?” Wen Qing asked, crossing her arms awkwardly as the chains blocked her from moving too much. “I do not care that you are a mongrel, it does not make a difference to the situation.” She added, making Wei Wuxian smile.

“Exactly! So I do not care that you are a Wen.” He said, leaning back against his hands. The dirt and fallen needles from the pine trees around them dug into his flesh but he ignored the nasty feeling. “In a way, I almost feel as if you and your people are the first ones to look at me and not think differently of me. Even though you lived in a Sect where all mongrels were killed just for being born.”

Wen Qing looked at him for a moment, then shaking her head slowly. “Young master Wei, truly has lost his mind after all.” She murmured underneath her breath. “Look, of course we think this way because of little Ah-Yuan. He is everything to my brother and I. He was born a mongrel like you, but that doesn’t change him in any way.”

Wei Wuxian seemingly ignored the fact that Wen Qing made fun of him, smiling like an idiot as he listened to the other speak. “You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear that.” He confessed. “Ah-Yuan is very lucky to have a family with people like you and your brother in it. I don’t think he understands yet how rare that is, in his situation. “

Wen Qing became quiet, looking down at her hands. Many things were going through her mind. She couldn’t help but realize how sad the story of the man in front of her was. Wei Wuxian was seemingly smiling, showing a happy side of himself when in front of other's- even in front of her. He was smiling right now in fact, while speaking about such a tough subject. It must be a safety mechanism, she realized. A wall of some sort that the man puts up in order to seem more stronger and not hurt by other's words. When in fact he was in a lot of pain because of other's and what they said with their rotten mouths. To hear that he felt more comfortable around her and her family members than anyone else was incredibly sad, and she didn’t think that Wei Wuxian realized this at all.

“What do you plan on doing after this is all over?” Wen Qing asked, then letting out a sad laugh. “Assuming we are still all alive.” She didn’t know why she asked it, perhaps just out of curiosity. There could have been many answers to her simple question. Most young men of his age would answer by saying; I’ll settle down, start a family of my own and leave the sword covered in blood that I am carrying behind me. Wei Wuxian however didn’t seem like most young men Wen Qing had met. She couldn’t explain it, but there was something different to him.

“I am not sure.” Wei Wuxian then said. “Perhaps I won’t know that for a while. I don’t know if you are able to see it, but I am somewhat lazy when it comes to most things.” He joked naturally, making the other roll her eyes. “I will decide on that some day, if I make it out alive.” After saying that he turned more serious again, staring at the other.

“But one thing is for sure, I will make sure i’ll complete my promise to your brother. I will get you out of here alive and bring you back to your family.”

~

There was tension in the air. Wei Wuxian was sure that Jiang Cheng could feel it as well- in fact there was no way anyone was able to ignore the unsettling feeling. Wei Wuxian’s mouth was dry, attempting to swallow down the lump which was caught inside his throat without success. His hands felt clammy as he held onto his sword, afraid it would slip right out of his grip if he were to pull it out to fight. But if everything went according to Jiang Cheng, they only weapon they needed for now was their mouths.

Jiang Cheng stood straight, back in perfect posture and hands placed behind his back. Outside it looked as if there wasn’t a worry in his mind, like he was calm and collected. That was far from the truth. How could anyone not be afraid in such a situation? Jiang Cheng was sometimes crazy, but not crazy enough to be able to block out all his emotions. He felt just as nervous as his brother who stood next to him. Wei Wuxian wanted to speak with him, tell him anything that popped into his mind. But he simply just couldn’t, knowing this was not the right time. He couldn’t confuse the other in such a situation. Jiang Cheng needed to stay calm, prepared to face anything. So Wei Wuxian stayed quiet as well, hoping dearly that Jiang Cheng could understand his deepest feelings.

Minutes turned into a quarter of an hour and the two of them grew even more restless. This couldn’t have been a trap? No, Jiang Cheng was so sure of his plan that it didn’t make sense to him. The enemy could not attack them when Wen Qing was still in their possession, because if they did then their King would die without her help. They desperately needed her and couldn’t afford to lose her. But even Jiang Cheng was beginning to think otherwise as time flew past them slowly. Soon the waning crescent moon would rise and the time limit which they were given would come to an end, and no one knew what would happen then. Yet they had no other option but to stick around and wait.

They decided it was most likely for the best to remove Wen Qing from her cage, as the enemy couldn’t see her otherwise. They truly needed to use her as a bait, in case the enemy decides to just blindly aim their fire towards them as soon as they see them. Wen Qing was free from her cage at last, but she felt even more unsafe now that the cage wasn’t protecting her anymore. And as she still didn’t have her powers, she had no other choice but to trust her life in the hands of Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng.

When the sky began to turn dark, the sun disappearing behind the tall mountains they had flown over- their minds grew heavy with worry. Every second that passed made them more nervous and anxious. Even old grown men would be worried sick, tempted to leave the scene in the hopes of surviving alive. Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian had just passed their teenager years mind you, yet they stayed still without moving or running away. The two young men who should be still be growing with their parents by their sides were robbed from that privilege. Now they chose to fight for a better future where others didn’t need to go through the same hardships as them.

Just when the three of them had begun to relax, begun to think that perhaps they could just return back to Lanling Jin without any casualties, there was a noise in the middle of the silence.

The sound of wings flapping in the wind, dragons approaching them. By the sound of it, there were many there. Wei Wuxian’s hands shook as he let go of his sword in preparation to shift forms. Jiang Cheng quickly placed a hand on his shoulder, stopping him. Wei Wuxian stared at him with wide eyes, unbelieving that the other would suggest that they didn’t change forms. But that was exactly what Jiang Cheng asked of him, to stay put and stay in his human form. Which seemed crazier as the army of red dragons approached them quickly. Wei Wuxian mentally prepared himself to be hit with an ocean of lava and fire at any moment, but it never came.

The two watched in both awe and terror as the familiar looking red dragons from their early memories and nightmares flew down onto the ground in front of them. It felt like a dream- a true nightmare to stand there and watch them. The red scales of the large dragons glimmered in the moonlight, their pitch black eyes studying the three strangers in front of them.

Jiang Cheng didn’t know how long he had been holding in his breath, sighing when one of the dragons finally shifted forms. He had expected to see the leader of the army, perhaps Prince Wen Chao himself. Yet he was surprised to see a young woman standing in front of them when the cloud of smoke settled down.

The young woman smiled, the red color painted around her lips making her seem much more older than she actually was. Jiang Cheng stared at her for a moment, watching her come closer. She didn’t seem too threatening, seeing that she held no sword around her waist or any other visible weapons. But Jiang Cheng knew he couldn’t blindly trust her because of that, as he had learned over the years that women especially were clever in hiding weapons in unthinkable places. Also the fact that Prince Wen Chao himself wrote the letter, ordering them to deliver Miss Wen to him personally- only for a woman to show up in front of them instead made no sense unless she was very close to the royal family, perhaps a part of it in some way. So she was just as evil as the Wen royals, someone who he knew he couldn’t trust easily.

Jiang Cheng squinted his eyes, watching as she walked closer. Behind her, the small army of red dragons began to shift forms one by one. Until they were all humans, staring back at them with their swords ready to be pulled out in case they tried to do anything threatening towards the woman standing in front of them, whose identity was still a mystery to them. Apart from Wen Qing who seemed to know her somehow, as the two changed looks quickly. This made Jiang Cheng worried, afraid that the two had some type of scheme against them. But it seemed that even Wen Qing was afraid of the woman, looking away quickly.

“I must say, I am glad to see you without any injury, Doctor Wen.” The woman spoke, revealing a very high pitched- almost annoying in tone which she spoke with. “Though I find you to be very idiotic for getting captured in such a humiliating way.” She said, laughing while crossing her arms. The way her arms pushed against her chest made her reveal perhaps a little too much skin, due to the lazily tied robes around her frame. She didn’t seem ashamed, perhaps a little proud due to the odd looks she received from the two young men in front of her.

“King Sandu Shengshou, I assume.” She then spoke, surprising Jiang Cheng as she guessed his identity correctly, or perhaps she knew it all along. Though the Wen’s had separated themselves from the rest of the world, building a massive border around their always growing empire while telling lies to their people. While the people living in Qishan Wen thought that they were the only living Sect out here in earth, the royals must know the truth. The truth being the fact that the remaining big Sects were still around and strong, something the King wanted to change and destroy.

Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything, staring at the woman with a neutral expression. She laughed again, nodding her head once. “How rude of me, to not introduce myself to a King. My apologies.” She sang, bowing down pathetically without showing correct respect towards Jiang Cheng. “I am Wang Lingjiao, a mere kind servant to the overlord and the Prince, Wen Chao.”

Wen Qing seemed to frown at the mention of the word servant, hinting Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian that wasn’t the whole truth. This woman- Wang Lingjiao, was more than just a mere servant. Judging by her looks, she was someone who paid much attention to the way that she dressed and presented herself. Perhaps it was mean to think so, but she could pass as one of the girls wandering around the busy streets near a brothel.

After introducing herself, she turned to Wei Wuxian. “Young master Wei, I assume?” She asked. “I have heard much about you, being the only mongrel in a royal family. Former King Jiang Fengmian sure had a kind heart for taking in a member with a dirty bloodline and adding it to his own family. How kind of him.” She spoke, a smile on her lips as she noticed the sour looks she was receiving.

At the mention of his late father, who the Wen’s had killed, didn’t sit well with Jiang Cheng. “Where is Prince Wen Chao?” He then asked. The whole reason why they came up with this plan was for the Prince to show up, so they could eventually ambush and take him down. Murdering him would be the start of the war, something they needed to do in order to give them the advantage. Now the Lan, Nie and Jin Sect’s hiding and waiting for them had no one else to ambush other than a pathetically small army and a whore who was leading them. Jiang Cheng could feel frustration starting to build up inside of him due to the situation. He didn’t want to believe that his precious plan was beginning to fall to pieces but that was sadly exactly what was happening.

Wang Lingjiao laughed, tilting her head to the side, her long hair falling down her shoulder and past her hip. “Did you actually believe that the Prince himself would show up to meet you face to face?” She then asked, amused by the situation. “How ridiculous, even from someone of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect. I am sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no Prince here today for you to see. Guess you just have to enjoy my company.” Wang Lingjiao spoke, in an annoying and whiny tone.

Wei Wuxian had enough of her. “Cut the crap, we all know why you are here, to take Miss Wen back.” He spoke. They didn’t need to waste anymore time, they needed to get things moving forward. He was so tempted to just pull out the flare from his pocket and fire it towards the sky. But they still needed to know where the Prince was, in case they could still kill him somehow. Wang Lingjiao seemed to be very close to him, knowing him well. If they managed to capture her and milk her for information, then perhaps they would get to know the Prince’s and perhaps even the King’s location.

“Such vulgar language.” Wang Lingjiao gasped. “Guess I couldn’t expect anything more from a mongrel. I see that you are out here on a mission. Your time is just as precious as mine and I must say, that little plan you had put up in order to kill the Prince sure was admirable.” She then said, confusing both Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian. Surely, she was just messing with their heads, trying to make them say the plan out loud. She was just playing around.

Wang Lingjiao grinned, an evil look spreading onto her face. “It was truly amusing, watching many men from all four Sects die and burn down in front of me. I assume that it was a part of your plan, to have them come to your rescue in case we decide to attack you and Doctor Wen. Sadly that plan has turned out to be no good.”

All color had left Jiang Cheng’s face, turning pale as he stared at Wang Lingjiao who stood in front of him, who seemed relaxed and calm. She lifted his chin, looking at Wei Wuxian once again. “The flare- go ahead and fire it. No one will show up anyways.” Wei Wuxian ignored the fact that she knew he had the flare- clearly meaning that she had heard it from someone working on their side. If everything she had just said was true, then Wang Lingjiao and her army of men had truly found the army of men from all four Sects waiting behind the mountains and interrogated them in order to find out about their plan. Whoever that person was- who told the plan- would get to taste Jiang Cheng’s zidian as soon as he gets out of here.

Wei Wuxian glanced over to Jiang Cheng for a second, not hearing the other say anything. He still decided to reach into his pocket, taking out the flare before targeting it towards the sky. A rocket shot up high into the sky, exploding with bright purple color before fading away softly in the wind. There was nothing, not even after seconds of waiting. No horns that were blown to let them know help was coming, no hope of them being saved.

Wei Wuxian dropped the now dead and empty flare onto the dusty ground.

“Hand over Doctor Wen and I shall let you two go.” Wang Lingjiao spoke, looking at her long and painted fingernails. It seemed that she too was running out of patience, wishing this was all done and dealt with. Jiang Cheng was so tempted and so close to just shifting forms and destroying her with fire, not caring that the men behind her would do the same to him. If he wasn’t going to make it out alive through this then he wanted to make sure she wouldn’t either.

Wang Lingjiao could sense that the two of them were not interested in negotiating with her, both staying quiet and looking at her with mean eyes. She sighed, waving her hand up in the air. “As you wish, but perhaps seeing a few of the prisoners that we have chosen will make you change your mind.” Both Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng watched as the guards behind Wang Lingjiao began to move, creating an empty space between them. Jiang Cheng opened his mouth with a silent gasp as he saw men from all Sects, tied down and bloodied.

Wei Wuxian stared at the men, unbelieving that what he was seeing was real. This couldn’t be happening.

“How was this all possible, you may ask.” Wang Lingjiao said, walking up to the prisoners which they had collected. The men there wasn’t even a tenth of the army they had arrived with, but what shocked both him and Jiang Cheng the most was the fact that one of the prisoners seemed to be unharmed. Wei Wuxian squinted his eyes as he watched Wang Lingjiao get closer to the man dressed in white Gusu Lan robes.

Wei Wuxian felt bile rising in his throat, feeling light headed as he recognized the man.

“Su She.” Wei Wuxian whispered underneath his breath, making both Jiang Cheng and Wen Qing look at him. Jiang Cheng’s hands formed into fists, realizing the one to release the secret information about their plan was someone from the Lan Sect. He couldn’t believe it, yet the guilty man was standing right there in front of them.

Su She was bloodied as well, but not nearly as bad as the rest. It was clear that he had snitched in order to stay alive. His head hang low, as if he was ashamed for what he did. Wei Wuxian however had a feeling that it was all just an act, something to make him look innocent. He couldn’t understand why he would act such a way in front of them, as he and Jiang Cheng were not important people to him. But it all made sense very soon, as Wang Lingjiao ordered her men to move the prisoners.

There, covered in blood and deep cuts- sat Lan Wang Ji.

“You!” Jiang Cheng roared, making the guards lift up their swords in case he tried to do anything funny. Though shaking with rage, Jiang Cheng couldn’t act foolishly due to his emotions. Wen Qing stood behind him, hiding away from the eyes that stared at her direction. She was obviously scared, afraid that she wouldn’t make it out alive through such a situation.

“Yes, me? What?” Wang Lingjiao laughed, sounding absolutely crazy. She clapped her hands excitedly, enjoying the situation she had created. “Oh how interesting. A King must decide whether he should save the life of another royal or keep the Doctor who is oh so important to the enemy. What shall he do?” She asked, walking around with small hops. She was truly enjoying this situation too much, thinking of it as a game.

“Well, King Sandu Shengshou, what is your decision?” Wang Lingjiao asked, pulling a fine blade from her long sleeve and playing around with it. Her nails scraped against the sharp metal, her smiling image reflecting off of it. With one smooth movement she lowered down and pointed the blade against Lan Wang Ji’s throat. Both Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian took a step forward, not thinking clearly.

She laughed, the blade shaking against the delicate and pale skin. “Is it his life over the freedom of hers?” She asked, raising her voice. Her eyes were wide, crazy looking as she turned her head to stare at the two. She was truly insane and Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but imagine how bad the Prince and King must be if their servant was as crazy as this.

Wei Wuxian’s heart felt like it was about to escape his chest, break through his bones and flesh. His hands shook, wondering if he should pull out his sword. But what good would that do? It would only encourage Wang Lingjiao to slide her blade across the other's neck, killing him while unconscious. The thought of seeing crimson red blood flowing down the other's open neck, down to his pristine white robes made Wei Wuxian’s head and stomach spin with nausea.

While staring at the other's still frame, Wei Wuxian blinked his eyes multiple times as he thought he had imagined something. No, his eyelids didn’t just twitch. It was just his imagination, surely. But- it happened again!

Wei Wuxian’s mouth fell open as he studied the other from afar, seeing his eyes open slowly. Wei Wuxian’s red eyes met his blue ones. He felt relief and horror rush through his mind. He was relieved that the other was alive and breathing, now awake from his previous unconscious state. But also horrified as he feared the other didn’t know where he was, tempted to attack the ones holding him down. However Lan Wang Ji didn’t seem to do anything, but Wei Wuxian knew he was aware of his surroundings and the situation he was in. Now he just needed to do something.

Releasing Wen Qing back to the Wen’s was not an option. If they did so, she would be forced to heal the King and make him more powerful. Which meant that the Wen’s would come attacking them very soon. They needed to hold onto her, as she was so important. But they couldn’t just let Wang Lingjiao kill Lan Wang Ji either. Wei Wuxian bit into the inside of his cheek. This wasn’t good- there were way too many of them there. Attempting to fight against them would be absolutely foolish, but did they have any other choice? Wei Wuxian was proud of his skills in his dragon form, but managing to fight off all of these enemies only with Jiang Cheng’s help seemed a little too impossible.

As Wang Lingjiao continued to speak, taunting Jiang Cheng- Lan Wang Ji swallowed slowly, the blade digging into his skin. It pierced the skin, tiny drops of blood falling down the side of his exposed neck. Wei Wuxian held his breath, staring at the other. A hint of blue light surfaced from Lan Wang Ji’s fingertips, creating ice. Wei Wuxian couldn’t believe his eyes- they didn’t turn off his golden core! Lan Wang Ji lifted his gaze after studying his surroundings slowly. The two blue orbs stared back at him, his lips moving without making any noise. Though far away from him, Wei Wuxian was able to make out what he was saying, his eyes widening as the other repeated this action.

Shift. Now.

Wei Wuxian wasted no time. He pulled out his sword, gliding it against the ground- creating a huge cloud of dirt and smoke around them. The guards began to yell, a flash of blue and red exploding beyond the smoke cloud as the men shifted their forms. Jiang Cheng took a step forward, attempting to join the battle. But Wei Wuxian stopped him quickly, yelling in his ear.

“Take her away from here, back to Lanling Jin!” He screamed, dodging the fire that came flying towards their direction. He pushed Jiang Cheng back, ignoring the way he stared back at him- unbelieving. “Go!” Wei Wuxian ordered, pushing him once more towards Wen Qing. Though shocked and shaken, Jiang Cheng collected himself and quickly shifted forms at the same time as Wei Wuxian. The black and grey dragons both attacked the chaos in front of them together once before Jiang Cheng removed himself from the situation, lifting Wen Qing with him.

Wei Wuxian flew up into the air, hoping and praying that Lan Wang Ji could hold the other red dragons back on his own for a while, as he needed to make sure Jiang Cheng and Wen Qing would make it out without being followed. The sound of a horn being blown was quickly heard, before multiple red flares were shot into the sky. Wei Wuxian let out a screech as he shot down two dragons who attempted to fly after Jiang Cheng with fire.

The grey dragon, though smaller than the rest, was skillful at flying. He dove back down, towards the cloud of smoke where he could see the blue energy glowing from. Ice mixing with fire, Lan Wang Ji did his best to fight against the red dragons which coughed chunks of lava towards him at every given second. He had no other option but to protect himself with walls of ice, growling as the lava burnt through it- turning into hard obsidian when cooled down.

His beautiful white scales were tainted with red, blood seeping through and creating a puddle underneath him. The great white dragon hissed, blue eyes hunting the enemy though his energy was running low. Wei Wuxian knew that their time was limited. Any moment now, Lan Wang Ji’s injured body would automatically try to protect itself by shifting forms back into human. He was already badly injured, unable to do much so his body couldn’t last for too long by the looks of it.

Wei Wuxian circled around the area desperately, fighting off the multiple dragons targeting the melting ice castle. The wind and flying dirt got into his eyes, yet he ignored it. Firing towards the enemy until his throat burned and felt raw. It was no use, he couldn’t fight them away like this. It was an unfair fight anyways, as there were only two of them and there were multiple of them. It seemed that a few had left to escort Wang Lingjiao away from the danger, but they would return soon and so would the other’s who had seen the flares or heard the horn. Wei Wuxian could slowly feel himself grow tired, unable to fight against the enemy for much longer.

He let out a hurried growl, seeing a flash of blue inside the icy castle. He dove in quickly, ignoring the burning fire which surrounded him. Quickly, Wei Wuxian’s nails got a hold of Lan Wang Ji unconscious human form and pulled him out. In seconds he was flying away from the scene, fire and lava coming after him.

Wei Wuxian flew faster than he’s ever flown before, but he didn’t know where he was going. They couldn’t make it back to Lanling Jin- not when his own golden core was aching and nearing its end in current power. They both needed to rest in order to make it over the border. But where could they rest and stay while inside the enemy border? There was no safe place, nowhere where they could stop and rest until their powers were fully back and their injuries treated.

Wei Wuxian couldn’t just stop and look around either, as the enemy was right behind him. In an act of desperation and panic, he headed towards the only available shelter that he thought could work. But he needed to get rid of the enemy first. A soft purr escaped Wei Wuxian’s mouth as he hugged Lan Wang Ji’s small frame against his chest tightly, arms wrapping around him as he dove down into the woods.

He needed to get rid of these goddamn Wen’s! And the best way to do that was to fly into the trees. This was the only time Wei Wuxian was grateful for his smaller size, as he flew through the woods gracefully while dodging them all skillfully. He could still hear and feel the enemy behind him, struggling a little as they attempted to catch up to him.

Wei Wuxian moved swiftly and quickly. He could no longer hear the enemy after flying for some time, thinking he had managed to lose them in the woods. That was false, and the grey dragon let out a screech in agony as a ball of lava managed to hit him. Wei Wuxian failed to dodge a tree while in pain, flying straight against it. The collision sent him crashing down onto the ground, knocking over small trees and bushes. While gliding down against the ground, he held onto Lan Wang Ji tightly in order to protect him. He finally came to a stop as a rock hit his back, sending him screaming in pain.

Wei Wuxian feels himself lose his powers, shifting into his human form while still holding onto the other tightly. Red approaches, burning their surroundings slowly but surely. He blinks his eyes once, and thinks to himself; How nice would it be to just fall asleep right now. Lan Wang Ji lays so peacefully in his arms, as if he was sleeping calmly. His fingers run through the other hairs without much thought. But what Wei Wuxian does think is how could someone be so beautiful as the other. Wei Wuxian smells burning, hears the screams of the red dragons flying above them.

So this was it, he thought to himself.

Soon everything begins to turn mute, no more screaming or the crackling of the flames around them. It was peacefully quiet and calm. Wei Wuxian’s eyelids feel heavy and the heat of the fire is stinging. He fights back the feeling for quite some time, but eventually lets his eyes close. Before doing so, he sees a bright flash of blue and white. His hands hold onto Lan Wang Ji’s robes tighter.

There was nothing.

No sound, no feeling- no pain.

He lets himself drift away into the nothingness.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng could not believe his eyes, staring down at the terrain underneath them as he flew across the sky. Behind that familiar mountain where his men were supposed to be waiting for their signal, there was nothing but smoke. Jiang Cheng’s purple eyes scanned the ground, seeing only rubble and the mess that stayed behind. No, it couldn’t be.

There was no way that the small army of Wen’s that came along with Wang Lingjiao were able to deal such damage and cause such devastation to the Yunmeng Jiang army that followed him. He couldn’t believe such a thing, hoping and praying that the situation wasn’t as bad as it seemed. But where could they be then? Jiang Cheng had no time to fly down and check for burning corpses, as he and Wen Qing were still being followed. He could not take such a risk, not when he needed to get the other to safety and ask for more backup. Wei Wuxian- his own brother- was still inside the enemy border, being haunted and attacked by the enemy. With him was King Lan Wang Ji, who was badly injured. Jiang Cheng’s heart was beating as if it tried to break through his flesh. This all felt like a nightmare.

He shook his head, a screech escaping his mouth. A bright light of purple flashed before his eyes, not even realizing he had used his zidian. He was indeed that angry and upset. He couldn’t help but think this was all his fault. He had been a fool!

Jiang Cheng didn’t know what to do now, feeling hopeless and useless. He still couldn’t stop to drown in self pity and sorrow. The battle wasn’t over yet. Jiang Cheng would not stop until Wei Wuxian and Lan Wang Ji were safely back in Lanling Jin and that cursed bitch Wang Lingjiao dead underneath his boot. Though feeling hopeless, Jiang Cheng knew there was something that could be done.

Though Wang Lingjiao had brought out a large amount of prisoners from all four Sects, including Lan Wang Ji. It was difficult seeing them all tied down like that, unconscious and now most likely dead due to the battle that broke free as they escaped. Jiang Cheng still remembers seeing Su She cowardly throwing himself onto the ground. If he were to ever see the man again, he’d unleash a million waves of zidian right towards his heart. The reason why his plan failed wasn’t completely the other's fault, yet he was very much in responsible for what happened. Many people lost their lives, only because he was cowardly and wanted to selfishly survive.

Jiang Cheng had a small amount of hope left, knowing that King Nie Mingjue and a large portion of their armies were still out there somewhere, perhaps also heading towards Lanling Jin to alert more help. Unless what Wang Lingjiao had told before was true, that they had killed them all. Jiang Cheng’s stubborn mind wouldn’t allow himself to believe that, assuring himself that the strong King Chifeng-Jun was still alive and ready to fight.

Jiang Cheng flew fast, looking behind him every now and then to make sure that no one was following them. He also paid attention to Wen Qing, who was holding onto his leg for dear life as they flew high above the ground. She would lift up her hand, pointing towards where they needed to go as Jiang Cheng lost his way often as his mind was so full of things.

Was Wei Wuxian already dead?

Could they ever find him if he were still alive?

What about Lan Wang Ji?

Jiang Cheng couldn’t focus, mind running non stop and making him crazy. He needed to focus on one thing for now, getting out of here. The faster he could get back to Lanling Jin and demand for backup, the quicker they could go rescue Wei Wuxian and Lan Wang Ji. His eyes widened as he noticed the border made of stone far away, darting towards it with his wings wide open.

The wind was blowing in his ears, making it hard to hear anything. Yet he was able to hear as Wen Qing screamed loudly, her nails digging into the tough flesh of Jiang Cheng’s leg. Jiang Cheng’s eyes widened as a large ball of lava was shot towards him, Wen Qing’s words ringing in his ears simultaneously.

“Watch out!” Jiang Cheng dodged right in time, sparks of the flaming lava still hitting his skin and burning him. He screeched, looking down at Wen Qing who hid behind her own arms. She seemed to have also been affected by the fire, injured in some way. Jiang Cheng had no time to check her injuries, another lava ball soon heading towards them again from the direction of one of the watchtowers. Jiang Cheng saw no dragons in the air, assuming that the guards inside the watch tower couldn’t leave their spots in case there was an invasion. But that didn’t stop them from firing towards him, multiple times and from all directions.

The black dragon spun in the air, flew up and down as it dodged the fire and lava being targeted towards it. The otherwise dark sky was glowing with red, smoke rising from the ground. Jiang Cheng somehow managed to pass the border, his wings slowly losing strength and growing tired. He growled, keeping his eyes forward as they began to get closer towards Lanling Jin. He couldn’t give up, not now when they managed to make it so far. The thought of saving his brother was the only thing keeping him from closing his eyes and collapsing down into the ground with a nosedive. But that would mean the end for him, Wen Qing, Wei Wuxian and Lan Wang Ji. Their lives were in his hands! He couldn’t simply just give up, no matter how hard everything seemed to be.

Seeing the high, golden towers rising in the distance felt like a dream and for a moment he thought that his mind was indeed playing tricks on him, but no! Even Wen Qing screamed in joy, tears running down her face as she saw the familiar looking towers in front of them. Jiang Cheng used the last of his strength to fly them there, collapsing right besides the nearest watch tower.

He fell onto the ground with very little grace and strength. Yet he was able to make sure that Wen Qing wasn’t injured anymore than she already was. He took a deep breath, hearing the sound of guards yelling and running towards them as he shifted forms. With a flash of purple, he was back in his human form.

The Koi Tower guards swarmed around him, asking many questions and grabbing a hold of Wen Qing. Jiang Cheng’s head was spinning, his vision blocked with black and white dots. He was pulled up from the ground, held up by a few pairs of arms. He growled, pushing them away from him.

“K-King Nie Mingjue he- I must speak with King Guangshan!” He roared, words slurred and messy. The guards looked at him as if he had lost his mind, looking quite scared. Jiang Cheng raised his voice, annoyed that the young and inexperienced guards were not doing anything already. “The plan was tainted! Wei Wuxian and King Hanguang-Jun have been taken captive!” He then said, finally making the guards realize how serious the situation was.

Some of them began to move, perhaps to alert their King. Jiang Cheng had so many things he needed to do, yet no time at all. He pushed the remaining guard who had been holding him up, walking a few shaky steps by himself. He was out of breath, leaning against the wall of the watchtower. His legs shook violently. He couldn’t stop to recover, he wouldn’t allow himself.

His fist came in contact with the hard rock, Wen Qing gasping behind him. Knuckles bleeding, cuts filled with broken chunks of rock and rubble, he began to walk away.

He needed to gather the remaining men, bring them with him back to Qishan. They would find Wei Wuxian and Lan Wang Ji, bring them back. They would find Nie Mingjue and the remaining men missing. They would put an end to this.

*

There was an aching pain all around him. Wei Wuxian felt betrayed, having believed that death and the afterlife would be pain free. He didn’t know how long he had stayed there like that, in darkness and still. Wei Wuxian didn’t even know where he was- in the heavens or underneath the ground? Time passed and as breathing in and out became a little less painful and easy, his eyelashes fluttered.

He could open his eyes? After realizing this, he was slightly afraid. Scared that he may see something he does not want to see. But he was curious- he had always been. His eyes opened slowly, mouth frowning as he didn’t see anything for some time. Was he dead after all? Lying in pain inside never ending darkness for the rest of eternity. No, he thought. He was too keen on living to be declared dead, at least for now.

A groan escaped his lips as his hands forced him to push himself up from the cold and wet ground. His eyes began to slowly get used to the darkness around him, still not seeing much. Not anything too important at least, only dark walls and wet puddles on the ground. What was this place? How did he even get inside this cave?

The last thing he remembers before being taken by the darkness was that he was chased by the Wen guards, their lava and fire burning him and surrounding him inside the flames. He had nowhere to go, no energy left to escape. He had thought that he had truly met his end, being killed brutally. But here he was, still alive and breathing. His arm came to touch his chest, feeling the aching skin. His back had it even worse, being hit against that rock. He began to remember the events leading up to him passing out better now, gasping as he began to look around himself, panic running through his mind.

“Lan Zhan!”

Wei Wuxian began to look around himself in a hurry, eyes scanning the ground. Where was he?! He was sure that he had been with Lan Wang Ji moments before passing out, still holding onto his weak and unconscious body. He remembers holding the other tightly against his own chest, trying to protect him from the flames which were slowly getting closer and closer. Wei Wuxian really thought that the two of them had met their end, dying in each other's arms. That would be quite poetic and beautiful for him, but a fine King like Hanguang-Jun couldn’t meet such a miserable end with someone like him. Besides, Wei Wuxian was still sure that the other was alive, as he clearly remembers seeing a bright flash of blue and white before everything went dark. Did Lan Wang Ji save them both somehow, bringing them down into this cave?

Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure, only looking for the other. Every inch of his body ached, screamed for him to lay back down and heal. But he had no time for such things, clumsily getting up and leaning against the cave walls. He hadn’t even gone far, yet he was out of breath and exhausted. His other hand supported him while walking near the wall in the darkness while the other held onto his sword tightly. He didn’t know what this place was, nor what could be inside the dark cave. He needed to be careful if he didn’t want to get attacked and if he wanted to find Lan Wang Ji.

He did not know where he was heading, only going forward without a clear plan. He still could not see much as it was just so dark all around him, but that didn’t stop him from moving forward. Perhaps he was a little too courageous, moving in the darkness by taking large steps. It was only a matter of time before he stepped on a rock, sending him falling back down onto the ground. He fell pretty hard, hitting his hands and knees against the hard ground. He let out a choked sound, sighing as he could feel warmth beginning to spread into his palms. Blood was seeping through the now broken skin, he could feel it but not see it.

He cursed, biting onto his own bottom lip as he forced himself to move forward, not giving up yet. He was crawling on the ground, like a poor peasant. It was truly a sad sight to see, yet he didn’t care and kept on moving. His eyes widened in the darkness, fingertips touching something else than the hard ground. His hands shook slightly, touching the odd material in his almost numb hands. This- this was a piece of fabric.

Wei Wuxian could not see what he was holding onto, but it felt a lot like a thin strand of fabric. It was wet and presumably very dirty- well at least after he touched it with his bloody hands. As he couldn’t see what it was, he ran his fingers through the back and front of the fabric, attempting to identify what it was. Perhaps a simple ribbon from someone of the Qishan Wen Sect who ventured inside the cave many years ago? He couldn’t tell, as there were no raised details on the ribbon. He placed it inside his robes, thinking it may come in handy later.

Right when he was about to continue moving forward, he stopped completely, the hairs on the back of his neck rising as he heard something. Heavy breathing, somewhere inside the same cave as him. This wasn’t coming from a human- he could recognize that much. Wei Wuxian took in a deep breath, attempting to shift forms in case he was about to meet another dragon. Did the Wen guards also find the cave? Did they follow them down here in order to capture or kill them? Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure what the truth was but his mind was running miles by now, thinking about every possible bad thing that could happen. And to make things even worse, he could not shift forms yet. When he closed his eyes and attempted to use his golden core, he could only feel very little energy there. He was still very injured and weak, so his body wouldn’t allow him to shift forms as it would use so much energy. He cursed underneath his breath, hands holding onto his sword tightly.

He didn’t know why but he was heading right towards the sound of what he believed to be a dragon. Perhaps because he had nowhere else to go, and somewhere in the back of his mind he still believed he could take down those cursed guards. But then again, his mind kept playing tricks on him. Was it a dragon, or a mythical creature who lives inside this very cave, ready to devour him? Wei Wuxian couldn’t be sure, but something told him to continue moving forward.

He peeked from around the corner, his eyes squinting as he tried to see where the sound was coming from. He almost dropped his sword, recognizing something amidst the darkness. A frame glowing white, very faintly. Wei Wuxian’s sword almost hit the ground, barely getting a hold of it before he was running towards the white dragon with clumsy steps.

It was Lan Wang Ji! Wei Wuxian could recognize the others large dragon form anywhere, even when the other was surrounded by his guards. Wei Wuxian called the other's name, crawling closer to him. He was indeed still breathing and alive, but he seemed to be in very bad shape. Wei Wuxian remembers him being in his human form right before things went dark, so the other must have used the last of his powers to shift forms in order to protect himself. But that was very dangerous of him, shifting back and forth between his two different forms while being injured. It brought great pain and possible damage to the body to shift while injured, causing flesh and bone to change places so drastically.

“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian called out softly, his shaky hands petting the other's beautiful scales which were now dirtied by blood. The dragon hummed tiredly, eyes still not opening. Wei Wuxian chuckled, his throat aching. “It’s me, Wei Ying.” He spoke, struggling slightly but still managing to move the heavy head of the other to lay on his lap. Lan Wang Ji’s dragon form was truly large, almost twice the size of his own grey one. His head was heavy and almost crushing his legs- yet Wei Wuxian did not care. His fingers glided along the white smooth scales, swallowing deeply as the other slowly opened his eyes. Those bright blue eyes of his stared at him carefully.

“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian swallowed, removing his eyes from the other. The way Lan Wang Ji had been looking at him made him feel, perhaps a little shaken. There was something in his eyes, a type of admiration and care that he wasn’t used to. It made Wei Wuxian feel weird inside, his mind messing with him. As he looked away, he noticed the way the other was covered in blood. Wei Wuxian’s mouth opened with a silent gasp, staring at the other's clearly injured leg.

“Your leg.” Wei Wuxian sighed, his mouth feeling dryer than ever. “It is very badly injured.” He stated, receiving a low hum from the other. Wei Wuxian could feel how the underside of Lan Wang Ji’s chin got warmer, fire heating up inside of him. Of course, though very badly injured the other still had the energy left to even create fire and be in his dragon form. Lan Wang Ji was indeed very strong and determined. But Wei Wuxian was sure that the other was not immune to pain and suffering, only pretending to be alright.

Wei Wuxian pouted, looking at the other leg, seeing how badly injured it was. Wei Wuxian remembers seeing the other on the ground, the sharp blade of Wang Lingjiao’s knife pressed against his neck and drawing blood. He remembers what he felt at that very moment, a horrible mixture of fear and anxiety brewing inside of him as he tried to figure out what to do. Wei Wuxian truly thought that he would witness the other's death right before his own eyes. They had managed to survive through that all, even against all those Wen guards and their flames. But not without injury.

Lan Wang Ji’s eyes widened, seeing Wei Wuxian reach for his leg. He let out a low growl, startling the other. Wei Wuxian’s hand immediately pulled back again, smoothing down against the other's scales in a calming fashion. He did this due to feeling sorry, and hoping it would calm the other down while distracting him from the pain. His hands then came to a stop, hovering over the cold scales motionlessly. What was he doing? Petting a royal dragon like a cat, acting as if he had the right to do so. Sure, the other hadn’t protested against his actions, leaning against his calming touch slightly. But Wei Wuxian suddenly couldn’t help but feel as if he had done an unthinkable crime. If there was someone else inside this cave, seeing what he had done to their precious King- he would be brought in front of the law and punished for touching him in such a way.

Wei Wuxian swallowed once, nodding his head. “It hurts, I know.” He whispered, the air coming out in small puffs of steam. Was it always this cold inside the cave? He felt close to freezing now, looking around himself and noticing the frost on the ground and walls of the cave. He let out a small gasp, realizing Lan Wang Ji had closed his eyes and his scales felt colder than ever. He was going into torpor!

Lan Wang Ji was purposefully lowering his own temperature in order to save his energy, his blood supply freezing slowly until his heart was only beating a few times in an hour. This was only something the dragons from Gusu Lan could do and only in a state where they felt very much in danger and close to death. Lan Wang Ji must have not even realized what his own body was doing, opening his eyes slowly when Wei Wuxian shook his heavy head in panic.

“Lan Zhan! Do not fall asleep!” He spoke, groaning as he got up, his body aching. “You need to shift forms right now, before your dragon form decides to put you in torpor.” He explained to the other, staring at his eyes intensely. The two blue glowing orbs stared back at him lazily, taking a little longer than usual to blink before humming. The other had already been close to falling into torpor, freezing his body and the area around it. Wei Wuxian would have probably been frozen as well, dying slowly to the cold as he wasn’t able to fall into a deep sleep of torpor like the other. Lan Wang Ji moved his head, pressing against Wei Wuxian’s chest. The other let out a relieved sigh, feeling the other's neck radiating with warmth again as the fire inside of him began to live again.

“Wait.” Wei Wuxian ordered, moving underneath the other carefully. He looked around himself, eyes squinting at the darkness. There should be something near them that could be lit up and used in fire, as he had even found that piece of fabric. Perhaps people from the Qishan Wen Sect truly had came down here before, bringing supplies with them. Sure enough as Wei Wuxian ventured forward inside the long cave, downwards a narrow path- he soon came across some broken planks and even an old stool. It was truly old, almost rotting away by now but it could still be used as firewood.

Wei Wuxian clumsily carried the wood with him and back to Lan Wang Ji, swearing as he dropped some along the way. He picked it up again, stacking the wood neatly in a pile after breaking the stool by stepping on it. As he lifted his foot, he realized the stool had some decorative carvings n it. Though now broken into pieces, if he were to place the pieces back together and look at them in some good lighting- he could perhaps see something. But there was no time for such archaeological discoveries. He didn’t need to even ask for the other's help, seeing Lan Wang Ji lifted his head from the ground and opened his mouth slowly. Wei Wuxian stepped aside, covering his eyes due to the sudden brightness that came from the other's gaping mouth as fire lit inside of him. There was a wave of warmth and a blast of wind that Wei Wuxian could feel, slowly moving his hands away and looking around himself again. Now there was no longer darkness, but a small campfire which provided them with some light and warmth. Wei Wuxian stared at the fire, almost mesmerized in some way. He didn’t even immediately notice the gust of wind that hit him and the blue light that flashed next to him.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian yelled, crouching as he went to the other's side. Now that he was in his human form, Wei Wuxian could truly see the damage that had been done to the other. Lan Wang Ji’s leg had been broken, bone showing and twisting in an uncomfortable way. His neck was red, blood dried by now after Wang Lingjiao dared to slit his throat open. The image of that actually happening still hadn’t left Wei Wuxian’s mind and his mouth went dry as he stared at the other.

Lan Wang Ji slumped against the wall of the cave, exhausted and tired beyond anyone's imagination. His face twisted in a painful expression, moving his injured leg slowly. It looked really bad- it was really bad. He could be disabled by this injury if he didn’t get properly treated soon. Wei Wuxian looked pale, nodding his head slowly as he reached towards the other with shaky hands.

“I must apologize for what I am about to do.” Wei Wuxian muttered underneath his breath, making the other look at him with wide eyes.

“You-” Lan Wang Ji began speaking, but found himself unable to continue as Wei Wuxian’s long fingers curled around the hem of his robes, moving and lifting them to reveal more of his leg. It was truly disgraceful of him to do such a thing, remove the clothing off of a King. Surely he could get punished for doing such a thing- even killed, as it was so dishonoring and shameful. He almost expected the other to slap his hand away while looking at him with wide eyes, but Lan Wang Ji did not do such a thing. Instead, he sat still- holding his breath and biting his lip tightly.

Wei Wuxian’s breath got stuck in the back of his throat, seeing the full damage done. The other’s leg was only barely holding onto the rest of his body anymore, only by the fatty tissue and ligaments. The bone had been snapped in half, leaving behind small splinters and chunks of bone from the break and trauma that had happened. Wei Wuxian felt anger and sadness building up inside of him, as he could not imagine the amount of pain the other was in.

His fingers pushed the robes higher, revealing more of bare skin. His thigh was unharmed, but covered in blood. He couldn’t help but move his fingers more carefully, scared that he’d hurt the other even more. Wei Wuxian dared to glance towards the other quickly, noticing how his ears blushed with red and how he continuously stared back at him, perhaps because he wanted to make sure he wouldn’t try to do anything painful to him. Or perhaps because of another reason. This thought made Wei Wuxian blush as well, clear his throat as he removed his hands from the other.

“This must make you feel uncomfortable.” Wei Wuxian spoke, leaning back to pick up a few pieces of wood. He moved them in his hands, studying them to make sure they were sturdy enough to be made into a cast. He placed the wood in his lap, bringing his hand and his sleeve up to his lips before ripping the fabric.

Lan Wang Ji swallowed dryly, staring at the other. “What do you mean?” He then asked, looking as Wei Wuxian ripped his own robes slowly. Wei Wuxian didn’t say anything for a while, concentrating on making sure he got neat strands of fabric from his robes. His sleeve was gone by now, revealing old scarred skin. He ignored the way Lan Wang Ji stared at it, both remembering the night the other first saw him like this. Wei Wuxian had felt ashamed and scared then to show his true self to the other, but now he could care less. After completely removing his sleeve and ripping it into small pieces, he let out a sigh.

“Being with a cut sleeve like me.” Wei Wuxian finally breathed out. He didn’t know what went through the other's head, but he remembered the first time he called himself by that term in the other's company, after he had been attacked by Jin Zixun. He had never received a good answer from the other then- never finding out if Lan Wang Ji was disgusted by him because of what he was.

Lan Wang Ji said nothing, only staring at him quietly. Wei Wuxian took this as a sign to continue, not saying anything more either. But his mind kept running as he moved closer to the other again to treat his injuries. Lan Wang Ji may have not said or shown his disgust towards him, but Wei Wuxian was sure he must have felt some type of way towards him after hearing him say that word out loud again. Perhaps he was fighting back the urge to attack him, push him away from himself. But that never happened. Lan Wang Ji stayed still, watching as Wei Wuxian began to carefully place the pieces of wood against his leg and wrap the pieces of fabric around them in order to support them.

He never let out a sound of discomfort, yet Wei Wuxian could feel how his frame shook every now and then and how beads of sweat began to form on his skin. He was truly self-willed, so much to the point where he wouldn’t allow himself to show any kind of weakness. Wei Wuxian carefully turned and moved the leg whenever he needed to, tying knots and bows onto the fabric in order to hold it in place. His mouth felt dry, yet he managed to mutter out a question.

“Did- did Wang Lingjiao do this?” He asked, while the fire behind them continued to burn brightly. His fingers paused, realizing he hadn’t ripped enough fabric in order to secure the planks tightly enough.

Lan Wang Ji hummed, nodding his head once. “She and her men ambushed us, completely taking us by surprise.” He explained. “We attempted to fight back, but many of the Wen guards were trained in knowledge on golden cores and were quick to turn them off. They mistakenly never touched mine, but I pretend to not have one as they took us hostage.” He explained.

Wei Wuxian nodded his head, leaning back slightly and sitting down in front of the other. “Not many of you were taken as hostages. What happened to the rest?” He asked, remembering how many members of the Gusu Lan army had been there, waiting for their signal behind the mountain. There was no way that the small army lead by Wang Lingjiao could have taken them all down.

Lan Wang Ji swallowed once, his face lit by the fire of the campfire. “She was not the only royal there.” He then said, completely surprising Wei Wuxian. “Her group was the first one to attack us, but with her came Prince Wen Xu and his men. While my men and I stayed, King Chifeng-Jun and his men as well as the remaining men from the Lanling Jin Sect attempted to flee.”

So King Nie Mingjue could still be alive, Wei Wuxian realized. What Lan Wang Ji had just told him cleared up many things, but it also made many things even more complicated. Why was the eldest Prince Wen Xu there, and not his little brother Prince Wen Chao- who they thought they would be meeting? Also, where were the remaining men who managed to escape the scene then? Also something that Lan Wang Ji wasn’t able to mention at all were the men from Yunmeng Jiang. Wei Wuxian wondered what happened to them, and if his brother Jiang Cheng would be able to handle hearing their eventual fate, whatever that might have been.

Wei Wuxian swallowed once, suddenly reminded of something that had happened as Wang Lingjiao brought in Lan Wang Ji and the other hostages. The image of Su She shamefully lowering his head while standing next to that cursed woman couldn’t leave Wei Wuxian’s mind. He sighed.

“Su She was the one to tell her the whole plan, correct?” He asked, receiving a slow nod from the other. Wei Wuxian let out a chuckle, shaking his head. If Wang Lingjiao took him in, it was safe to assume that Su She would tell her everything. Every plan that the former Gusu Lan Sect member had heard in meetings while accompanying his King. If Wei Wuxian was put in such a situation- he would stay quiet through all forms of torture in order to stay worshipful to his own Sect. “That coward, saving his own life but ruining others.” He cursed underneath his breath. While Lan Wang Ji seemed to be a person who didn’t enjoy it when people spoke ill of other's, he didn’t seem to mind it when Wei Wuxian spoke of Su She. And it was no wonder, seeing what he had done.

Wei Wuxian could see the sour look on the other's face, realizing speaking of the other made him very upset. He decided to change subject quickly. “Jiang Cheng took Miss Wen back to Lanling Jin, and if he managed to make it back there- he is recruiting new men to follow him back here. They will come look for us.” Wei Wuxian said, hoping that those words would bring some type of hope to the other. But how long would that take? Perhaps days. They would have to spend days inside this unknown cave, without any food or proper living spaces. And perhaps, Jiang Cheng was never arriving after all- leaving them to die slowly.

Lan Wang Ji nodded his head slowly. “If King Sandu Shengshou truly made it back, his number one concern should be taking down the army of Qishan Wen men. We have to wait until then, survive.” It was easier said then done. Jiang Cheng could search for them, but could he ever find them inside this cave? Wei Wuxian didn’t even know where this place was.

“Right, Lan Zhan.” He then sighed. “Where even are we? How did you find this place even in the first place?” He asked, looking around himself again. The flames from the campfire gave them some light, seeing further than before. The cave walls were dripping with droplets of water, shining slightly. The ground was mostly smooth but filled with a few puddles that the falling water slowly filled. There didn’t seem to be a current of wind anywhere around them, hinting that they were quite deep underneath the ground and far away from the opening.

Lan Wang Ji blinked his eyes a few times, expression not changing much. “I did not bring us here.” He finally said. Now this truly flabbergasted Wei Wuxian. What did he mean he didn’t bring them here? It wasn’t him either- as he would have remembered that for sure. But Lan Wang Ji was not a person who lied, and by the looks of his face- he was truly unaware of how the two of them got here. This left Wei Wuxian confused, as he was sure of the fact that he had witnessed a flash of blue and white before passing out. He had thought that flash of light had came from Lan Wang Ji who had changed forms, flying them to safety and inside this cave. But now that it wasn’t what had happened, Wei Wuxian didn’t know what to think.

Wei Wuxian “huh”-ed and continued to stare at the other, contemplating if it was possible that he had just imagined it all. The flash of white and blue which he had seen may have not been real, but what did that mean then? He saved them and brought them to this cave? Wei Wuxian did not have any recollection of that happening and honestly could not believe in it as he was in such a weak shape at the moment. He had been prepared to die in the other's arms, having no energy left to do anything in order to save the two them. So if Lan Wang Ji didn’t save them, and it wasn’t him either- then who was it?

While deep in thought, Wei Wuxian’s previously paused hands began to move again and remember what he was supposed to be doing before they began conversing. He contemplated ripping his other sleeve in order to tie the last wooden plank against Lan Wang Ji’s broken leg for support, but he decided not to as he realized how little warmth the small bonfire gave them. He didn’t want to be freezing and he could still probably use something else. Right when he thought of that possibility, his hand reached inside his robes automatically, remembering the piece of cloth he had picked up earlier. His fingers took a hold of it, pulling it out and studying it in the light of the fire.

Both his and Lan Wang Ji’s eyes widened as they looked at the piece of fabric, Wei Wuxian’s thumb moving across the dirty fabric carefully, pushing off dirt and ash. There was no hiding it, though it was hard to notice at first due to the thick crust of filth on it- but once removed, it was easy to see. See that this piece of fabric was actually a sacred forehead ribbon of the Gusu Lan people.

Wei Wuxian looked up, staring at the other. Lan Wang Ji was staring at the ribbon, not able to take his eyes away from it. Wei Wuxian swallowed once, his eyes traveling upwards from the other's blue eyes and towards his own ribbon still tied carefully around his forehead. The light ribbon suddenly felt heavy in his hands, like something important and something someone like him shouldn’t be holding onto. Though he did not know the exact meaning behind the ribbon and why the people of Gusu wore it, he had heard from Jiang Cheng that it symbolized many important things as he studied in the Cloud Recesses after the first failed meeting.

“Here.” Wei Wuxian whispered, handing the ribbon over carefully. Lan Wang Ji seemed to hesitate for a second, and Wei Wuxian began to wonder if he was able to take it at all. Eventually Lan Wang Ji reached over and took a hold of the ribbon, holding it flat over the palms of his hands. Wei Wuxian stared quietly as the other studied the ribbon, a deep frown setting onto his face.

“How did it get here?” Wei Wuxian asked, wondering what was going on through the other's head. Wei Wuxian shifted on the ground, sitting down more comfortably.

Lan Wang Ji stayed quiet for a while and Wei Wuxian thought he hadn’t heard him, but that was impossible as it would be rude of him not to hear someone speak to him. Lan Wang Ji did hear him- he just didn’t know what to say or where to begin. Honestly, he did not have an answer to Wei Wuxian’s question. At least not one he could be one hundred percent sure of, as finding another Gusu Lan Sect members sacred ribbon inside a mysterious cave in Qishan was something he didn’t think was possible.

Wei Wuxian watched in admiration as Lan Wang Ji’s fingertips suddenly began to glow with blue, ice forming around the ribbon. His eyes closed, as if he was listening for something Wei Wuxian was not able to hear. This was the second time he had witnessed the other's incredible powers of being able to use ice in his human form. This was something that only a few members of the Gusu Lan Sect were able to do. No other species of dragon was able to use their powers in their human form. This was supposedly a gift to the most dedicated Lan disciplines who spent most of their life praying to Goddess Lan. According to legend and their history, before the tyranny of the Qishan Wen Sect, Gusu Lan was the most powerful and great when it came to their powers. Yet, no amount of ice could withstand the burning hot lava of the enemy.

“I do not know.” He finally said, opening his eyes and looking down at the melting ice. “My people have not entered the enemy Sect in centuries after Gusu Lan became secluded from the other Sects in the mountains.” He explained. Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but lean against his arms, the fire behind him warming his back as he watched the other speak. This reminded him of the times he and Jiang Cheng would camp out with the Sect army leaders during training, sharing interesting stories while nibbling on whatever they caught and heated on the fire. Of course, this was very different from that. As they were stuck inside an unknown cave and badly injured, not knowing if they’d survive.

“Could the enemy have taken this from someone and brought it along with them back to Qishan?” Wei Wuxian suggested, it being the other option that came to his mind.

Lan Wang Ji nodded his head, though a bit sad. “It is possible.” He said. “The enemy have continuously attacked us throughout the centuries, killing many. It would not come to me as a shock if they had also done something as cruel as removing a corpses sacred ribbon.” That did indeed sound horrible, Wei Wuxian had to admit. Someone had to be quite the low-life if they decided to do such a thing to the dead, shaming them once more after killing them.

Wei Wuxian hummed, then pausing for a moment. “I know I am not allowed to learn from you as I am a mongrel, but I believe this is an important piece of evidence and I hate to be unaware of its meaning.” Wei Wuxian murmured. “Lan Zhan, can you tell me the meaning behind this ribbon?” He then asked.

Lan Wang Ji was quiet for a moment and Wei Wuxian began to slowly regret his words, afraid he had upset the other by asking such a thing. Wei Wuxian sometimes forgot the actual relationship between them. Yes, he thought of the other as a friend and a close acquaintance- but Lan Wang Ji was still a King and he was nothing compared to him in rank. Wei Wuxian should have never even dared to ask him for anything, let alone a favor like the one he let out of his mouth right now. He knew well enough that it was against the rules for the other to tell him anything- educate him in any way. Because at the end of the day, Wei Wuxian was still just a useless mongrel.

But what came out of Lan Wang Ji’s mouth, surprised him even more than it would have if he told him no. “I shall.” He said after a pause. Lan Wang Ji began explaining what the ribbon represented and its meaning to the members of the direct Lan Sect. The forehead ribbon means to regulate oneself. It held a deep meaning in it, though looking like a mere piece of fabric. Lan Wang Jo told him of the Gusu Lan Sect founder, Lan An. Lan An had said that one can only let go of all regulations when they are with the one they love and cherish. So, the message that has been passed down the generations is that the forehead ribbon is a special object that is very, very personal and sensitive. One cannot easily give another permission to touch it, one cannot take it off as they please, and one absolutely cannot tie it on someone else – unless that person is their fated one.

Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but smile as the words, fated one, left Lan Wang Ji’s lips. The other noticed this, lifting an eyebrow. The situation was amusing, though the both of them were in such pain and in a tough situation, they still found the energy to fool around like this. Wei Wuxian shook his head.

“It’s nothing.” He laughed. “I just had the thought of King Hanguang-Jun finding his precious fated one planted into my mind and I am not sure how to feel.” He murmured, causing the other to blush violently. Wei Wuxian grinned, enjoying the reaction he got from the other.

“No need to feel shy! I am sure Lan Zhan has thought about marriage before.” He said in a joking tone, hoping to bring some type of amusement into the situation. When you are stuck inside a strange cave, unsure if you’re going to survive out of it and what to do- what would you do? A little light banter never hurt anyone, Wei Wuxian thought. He remembers the last time the two of them spoke on this topic, him asking if the other already found some lady back in the Cloud Recesses he’d be excited to marry. Lan Wang Ji’s answer had been very dry then, stating Gusu Lan Sect needed him more as their King, meaning it would be too selfish of him to start a family at such a time. Which made sense, as his own brother Jiang Cheng thought the same way too. Wei Wuxian however thought a little differently, wishing he was like the two so he could also live a normal life. Marry a beautiful girl, start a family with her and live happily ever after- the dream life. His life was far away from a dream, however. It reminded him more of a nightmare.

“...Ridiculous.” Lan Wang Ji breathed out, hands carefully lowering the recently discovered ribbon onto the ground. He smoothed away small rocks and dust before placing the dirty ribbon on top of a rock. Perhaps it would be offensive to bury it, Wei Wuxian thought. While staring at the ribbon, he almost missed the way Lan Wang Ji suddenly spoke out again.

“What about you?”

Wei Wuxian let out a small “huh”, blinking his eyes. Was the other actually asking him if he was willing to settle down someday with someone, tie their relationship with marriage? This was a normal question to ask someone, but not someone like Wei Wuxian when Lan Wang Ji clearly knew what he was. A cut sleeve. His cheeks felt hot and head dizzy, not due to embarrassment though.

Wei Wuxian shook his head with a laugh, leaning back. “Marriage, huh?” He asked, receiving a slow nod from the other. He turned quiet for a moment, deep in thought. Sure, he had thought about it. Multiple times actually. Marriage was something natural that usually came in front of everyone at some point in their life, especially if they were a part of a fine and well known family. Wei Wuxian thought it was both a blessing and a curse that he was taken into the royal family at such a young age. He was presented with the option of arranged marriage at a very young age, which he obviously declined and ran away from. But then again he had also thought of it in a sense of; wouldn’t it be nice to find a nice gentleman, someone who he actually liked and enjoyed the company of and marry them, becoming cultivation partners for life. Sadly for him, that was just impossible.

Wei Wuxian sighed, shaking his head. “No, I believe marriage is not meant for someone like me.” He then finally said. “I shall devote my life to my Sect, following behind Jiang Cheng. Quite heroic of me huh?” He said, ending the seemingly depressing line with a joke. Lan Wang Ji wasn’t laughing.

He seemed to be more serious than ever, perhaps due to his pain lever rising? That was the only thing Wei Wuxian could come up with, because why else would the other seem sad because of his answer? He moved closer to him, sitting next to him. The fire burned brightly in front of them. Shoulders touching, Wei Wuxian pouted as their current situation began to hit him again. They could just possibly die here.

They could not leave, not when the entire Qishan Wen Sect was searching for them. Leaving that cave meant death, yet if they stayed- they would face the same end. There seemed to be no escape, no way to make it out alive. The situation truly seemed dark and hopeless, yet Wei Wuxian wasn’t crying or falling into a deep pit of sadness. His moved his arm, bumping against the other gently.

“How graceful of me, to die next to a King.” He murmured, his black hair getting stuck on the back of his neck, skin feeling hot and clammy. Wasn’t it just freezing cold inside the cave? Surely the small fire couldn’t warm him up to this point. “My parents shall be proud of me, seeing that I accompany a great King into the afterlife all by myself.” He said, tongue rolling inside his mouth lazily as his lips formed each word. Since when was speaking such a difficult task.

Lan Wang Ji pouted, hand lifting up slowly after hesitating for a moment. Wei Wuxian’s frame jerked once, surprised by the sudden cold touch to his forehead. He almost thought that the other had used his powers and placed an icy hand against his heating skin, but he was just feeling so hot even his normal hand felt extremely cold. Did he-

“Wei Ying, you have a fever.”

Yes, exactly that.

Wei Wuxian laughed, shoulders shaking awkwardly. “Ah, how silly of me to fall ill.” He whispered. “Especially during such an important time. I apologize, Lan Zhan.” He murmured, eyes closing slowly. He must have felt bad for falling ill, when Lan Wang Ji was also in such a bad condition. But it was expected after everything he went through. It was honestly quite the miracle that the two of them were both even alive right now after everything.

Wei Wuxian seemingly drifted of to sleep, only to wake up seconds later to stare at the man next to him with tired eyes. “Lan Wang Ji-ah Lan Wang Ji…” He sang, making the other stare at him. Wei Wuxian snuggled closer to him, making Lan Wang Ji freeze completely. Wei Wuxian was basically hugging him, like a child hanging onto a large toy tightly, unwilling to let go.

“Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you truly are?” Wei Wuxian blurted out suddenly. Now, Lan Wang Ji knew that this was just the fever speaking, making Wei Wuxian blurt out things that he would definitely regret later if he were to ever remember this moment again in the future. He would be very embarrassed, but unable to feel such an emotion right now, words coming out of his mouth without filter.

“It should be illegal, to look this type of way- you know?” He laughed, hand pressing up against Lan Wang Ji’s shoulder. The King stayed still, back pressed up against the rock wall behind him. “King Hanguang-Jun truly is gorgeous, enough to make any woman and a man like me lose interest in anyone else on this cruel earth.”

Though compliments were always nice to hear, Lan Wang Ji felt as if he shouldn’t be hearing these words right now, as Wei Wuxian’s condition and current mindset was arguably messed up.

“Wei Ying, sleep.” He then ordered, hoping the other would rest and clear his head. Wei Wuxian however let out a childish whine, surprising Lan Wang Ji completely due to the high tone of it. He stared at the other, the corner of his lips twitched once when he saw that the other was pouting.

“How do you expect me to fall asleep, without a good nights kiss?” Wei Wuxian then asked, almost knocking out the air inside Lan Wang Ji’s lungs by surprise. If the other had been eating, he would have spat out his food or simply just choked on it. Other than that first reaction of shock, Lan Wang Ji didn’t seem too affected by Wei Wuxian’s ridiculous request. Mind you, he was still a King after all. Wei Wuxian seemingly forgot that, and most things when dealing with a sudden high fever.

Lan Wang Ji breathed in slowly. “Sleep.”

Wei Wuxian said nothing, moving against him once before slumping down. He let out a sigh, closing his eyes. He was indeed acting childishly, like a young boy who wished some empathy and babying from their mother. Pleading for hugs and kisses was indeed adorable, but perhaps a little inappropriate when it was between two grown up men. Wei Wuxian also knew this somewhere deep inside his mind, but was too controlled by the fever and said whatever he secretly wished.

Wei Wuxian kept his eyes closed, no matter how tempted he was to continue interrogating the other and annoy him, his exhausted mind got the best of him sooner or later. He let his body turn into formless mush against the other, sliding down until he was laying down flat. Sleeping in such a harsh environment should be hard, but not impossible. Especially when you were so exhausted as him.

Wei Wuxian began to slowly drift of into slumber, his head spinning around and around as the fever grew worse. He felt hot all around, clammy and uncomfortable. And for a while it seemed impossible to relax.

However when Wei Wuxian felt a cool, feather-like touch against his hot forehead, he began to calm down as if magic had been used on him.

*

By the time Jiang Cheng had burst into King Jin Guangshan’s private stay and pushed back the guards trying to stop him, the King’s son Jin Zixuan was soon by his side.

“King Sandu Shengshou!” He yelled, threatened by the other's appearance. Jiang Cheng truly looked mad, looking angrier and more upset than ever. He was covered in blood and dirt, swaying back and forth slowly while attempting to stay still. It didn’t work, and he had to pull out his sword- stabbing it into the marble floor and leaning against it for support.

“I need more- more guards!” Jiang Cheng roared, wide eyes looking up at the throne. There sat King Jin Guangshan, being fed by his many servants while smiling down at Jiang Cheng. He cleared his throat, moving a hand up and ordering his maids to leave his side. He placed down his napkin after wiping his mouth, getting up from the golden throne.

“King Sandu Shengshou.” He spoke. “I was just informed by my Sect elders of the situation that happened across the border. I understand that you are eager to continue the battle, but I can assure you that my men are capable of handling the situation from now on. They have already departed and are prepared to take down Prince Wen Xu and his army as well as the… Lady, that took your men down.” He spoke, making Jiang Cheng’s blood boil. Not only did he assume that Wang Lingjiao was just a harmless individual with a small army- he assumed that his men from Yunmeng died without trying to fight back at all.

Jiang Cheng spat onto the floor, blood splattering over the white marble. “You have done nothing but sit on your throne, too afraid to die a coward.” He whispered underneath his breath, voice not loud enough to reach the King’s ears. Jin Zixuan however squinted his eyes, hearing the other speak evil of his father. For some reason however, he decided to stay quiet.

“King Hanguang-Jun has been taken captive, as well as Wei Wuxian and other hostages. King Chifeng-Jun and his army of men managed to escape but are in danger.” Jiang Cheng spoke, straightening his back with some trouble. “They need to be found.” He stated, receiving a smile from the King dressed in golden robes.

“Indeed, the Kings of a fellow Sect have gone missing and that cannot be forgotten. I shall order my men to begin searching for them immediately.” He said, hand coming up to touch his own chin. He was seemingly deep in thought, stepping down the few stairs leading down to Jiang Cheng. He wanted to say something, clearly. But was unable to do so as a chaos of noise erupted from behind them all, from the hallway leading up to the King’s private stay.

Everyone watched as the doors leading into the hall opened with a bang, guards and men walking in without a care of who they were interrupting. Everyone, Including Jiang Cheng watched in awe as King Nie Mingjue walked inside the hall and threw down something onto the floor. His chest was heaving with heavy breaths, his whole person covered in blood and very clearly injured. Jiang Cheng drew his eyes away from his slowly, ears ringing due to the screams and yells of the guards around them.

The object thrown onto the ground rolled around slowly, coming to an end as it hit his foot. Jiang Cheng looked at it, his mouth going dry as he couldn’t draw his eyes away. Nie Mingjue roared behind him, sword thrown into the air along with the guards who cheered his name over and over again.

A human head rested in front of his feet, one which was chopped clean off of its body. Jiang Cheng gave it a small kick, realizing whose head it was. The roars of the guards around him buried inside his ears, their chants of ; the evil Prince has been defeated!, becoming something he wouldn’t be able to forget for a long time.

Prince Wen Xu was slain and dead, his head chopped off and pierced by Nie Mingjue’s saber Baxia. The war had truly began, made clear by them as one of the evil King Wen Ruohan’s sons were killed.

There was no turning back now. The only thing they could do was fight. Fight in order to change their fates and change the rout of history.