Chapter 1: Xiān hè
Both gazes captivated by their winged visitor, observing how the bird pauses with a cock of its head before cawing forlornly with another furtive stretch of splayed wings, large body tucking into rest as it continues to cry into the skies.
"A sorrowful call," his elder brother muses, "how sad a sound, for such a beautiful animal."
"Ah, a crane?"
Gliding silently through the clouds, said bird comes to land gracefully on a nearby cliff, large wings tipped black and scarlet crown evident through the mist surrounding it. Preening distractedly, its feathers fluff agitatedly - as if shaking off fatigue - before tilting back a long, elegant neck to release a fluting call; echoing into the endless clouds.
"I wonder if it might be alone."
The Lord of Light watches, pausing in his writing and reticent as he sits next to his brother in their pavilion deep in the clouds. Both gazes captivated by their winged visitor, observing how the bird pauses with a cock of its head before cawing forlornly with another furtive stretch of splayed wings, large body tucking into rest as it continues to cry into the skies.
"A sorrowful call," his elder brother muses, "how sad a sound, for such a beautiful animal."
The Lord of Night's words turn to a slight laugh of surprise as another crane soon appears from the midst of swirling mist just behind the same cliff; answering call loud as it immediately begins to circle low, rejoining its partner, feathers flared in excitement. Reunited, the two birds trill joyfully in a chorus of song, beaks pointed to the skies in dance with ivory-white feathers trembling as they sway around each other in perfectly symmetrical movements.
"How magnificent." Zewu Jun praises in delight.
Nodding, Hanguang Jun notes how the beautiful plumage seems to shimmer in soft sunlight; itching to paint their likeness onto paper.
Simply returning to the calligraphy at hand, he wonders aloud, "one wonders if they travelled alone - it is said that cranes carry immortals, just like us."
"A joy, should they bring some new visitors for us," Zewu Jun agrees with another bright smile, paperwork all but forgotten as he chuckles at the exuberant behaviour of the reunited pair, "fairy cranes are a sign of good luck, and it has been many seasons since any have visited our gardens."
His younger brother hums distractedly, writing still. For a moment, all that settles between the two is the tinkling of a brush against an ink pot, parchment papers rustling with the gentle breeze moving through their pavilion, coupled with a waft of tea, scenting warmly through cold, misty air with red dates and chrysanthemum.
"Normal beasts would have found it an impossible task, to take flight all this way into our sky palace." Hanguang Jun's whisper of a voice lilts as he finally sets down his brush.
"Perhaps they might find the Cloud Recesses to their liking - brood here and bless our gardens with more of their resplendence."
Both deities watch as said cranes tuck around each other in rest upon their perch, and Zewu Jun nods.
"Cranes," his elder brother muses, "they mate for life, do they not?"
Testing the waters of MDZS readers with something new whilst staying true to my two OTPs of the fandom, expect bad references to Chinese legends of deities and mythology.
Chapter 2: Tanchōzuru
Moving past the same cypress tree again, whose leaves caress at his shoulders almost protectively as he touches the bark again in passing, before melting into the shadows of taller trees and thicker hedges of gnarled branches.
The Lord of Light only pauses when he sees a speckle of blood upon a low branch, dripping off dewy leaves.
The Lord of Light had many duties.
Waking the world every day, inching sunlight across the sky and creeping warmth in the coldest winters. Cruelty and benevolence was held perfectly balanced in the deity's hands, whose golden eyes watched over anything the golden light touched - receiving prayers for fair weather from the whispers of mothers whose sons toiled in family fields and equally punishing to those of greed, stripping their lands of any life. Where the deity was capable of blessing many with abundance, he could also reward with dry earth devoid of sunlight, or rain.
Where Hanguang Jun was, Zewu Jun would follow.
The Lord of Night cleansed the world under darkness, plunging the sun to sleep and bringing out the moon in her celestial dress of stars. Where the sun's rays warmed, the moon's glow would cool, allowing sweat to dry and silence to settle over the world for day dwellers to rest, allowing a different type of life to come forward in the shroud of darkness. The wicked feared Zewu Jun's arrival - for where his brother could not reach, the deity of evening light and nightfall would seek out, whilst the good rested easy under his blanket of evening starlight.
"There you go."
Hanguang Jun's fingers withdraw as he watches the tree mend, gnarled bark knitting together in a line of glimmering gold, threading where chipped wood was once gouged.
"Much better," he murmurs, patting the old cypress tree whose branches have seen millenniums, "just a scrape, nothing to woe over."
The curtain of leaves rustle mildly, as if in response to the kindness of the deity.
Tucking his arms back into his wide sleeves, Hanguang Jun turns to continue strolling through the forest of Gusu Lan. The soft grass under his shoes part for his steps, wild flowers swaying towards the silk of his long robes, which seem to glow like the very sunshine he brought to them day after day.
The air shifts, as the bearer of light pauses for a doe dashing past him in alarm.
Mildly, he watches the deer disappear into a thick shroud of woodland, bleats of surprise fading. An amber gaze tilts, before Hanguang Jun turns again to slowly move in the direction he came, strolling back down the line of disturbed grass, following the tracks of the disturbed animal who passed him. Moving past the same cypress tree again - whose leaves caress at his shoulders almost protectively - before melting into the shadows of taller trees and thicker hedges of gnarled branches.
The Lord of Light only pauses when he sees a speckle of blood upon a low branch, dripping off dewy leaves.
"A visitor," resonating gently to himself, he steps forward, "or an invader?"
Pushing past the bloodied branch, he circles past the tree in silence - soothing it before he stops, blinking in surprise.
In a clearing of grass, someone lays tired and curled.
Pallid skin, creased brows with hair matted with sweat and blood, undoubtedly injured or ill.
"What might you be?" Hanguang Jun murmurs, gliding closer to ascertain the unconscious state of his unannounced visitor.
The man's breathing seems to rattle in each inhale, mauve robes ripped at the hem with threads of silver lotus flowers frayed as his body trembles in pain, but otherwise does not stir at the deity's nearing presence. In his curled hands, Hanguang Jun spots a chime, stained with more spots of drying copper-red; clutched tight despite it all. There is a long violet ribbon tangled under his chin, loose and useless now in shreds, damage already bestowed with a dark bruise banded around his neck.
Sighing, the Lord of Light looks up with golden eyes glinting for a moment as he softly calls, "Brother."
The wind lifts in a sharp turn of direction and he turns to see the Lord of Night behind him; pale robes settling perfectly as he lands upon the same clearing.
"Heavens be," Zewu Jun remarks, "an unexpected visitor in our forest?"
As the pair of brothers stand next to each other, the elder bends low to cock his head in curiosity at the unconscious individual, broken body curled against pain.
"How distressing," he murmurs, amber eyes observing and cataloguing, "one might presume our visitor is in need of some assistance, brother."
"Perhaps." The younger of the two simply responds, but does not move, still carefully observing.
Sighing, Zewu Jun smiles woefully before delicately placing his hands to press upon the shoulders of their unconscious visitor - waiting for any signs of alarm or awakening.
When there is none, the Lord of Night slides an arm under shoulders and tucks another under folded knees, shifting the small body into his chest and lifting it easily. Zewu Jun pauses, when the unconscious man whimpers in pain at the sudden movements, and hums thoughtfully as he manages to scent fear underlying a soft redolence of flowers as the injured body tucks close to his warmth, seeking safety out of instinct with another broken, tiny cry.
"Time is of the essence, brother," he muses as more blood trickles down his arm, "our unforeseen guest seems to be under a significant amount of misery."
Nodding, Hanguang Jun looks up again.
The skies part, and sunlight streams down.
Chapter 3: Durumi
As deities, Zewu Jun and his brother found little that surprised them.
Immortality allowed the brothers to spend eons witnessing the extremities of humanity, peering from their palace in the clouds with heavenly eyes - witnessing all manner of behaviour from the realm below. Striking down lands in punishment and watching the death of stars hailing brimstone; bestowing gifts of new life from ashes of charred kingdoms.
Nothing was unexpected to the pair of deities, after the endless cycles of life and death.
As deities, Zewu Jun and his brother found little that could surprise them.
Immortality allowed the brothers to spend eons witnessing the extremities of humanity, peering from their palace in the clouds with heavenly eyes - witnessing all manner of behaviour from the realm below. From war to famine, to the rise and fall of empires. Striking down lands in punishment and watching the death of stars hailing brimstone; bestowing gifts of new life from ashes of charred kingdoms.
Nothing was unexpected to the pair of deities, after the endless cycles of life and death.
Having their day interrupted by a mighty force reverberating against the gates of Gusu Lan - that, neither of them expected.
Zewu Jun and Hanguang Jun could say with no uncertainty, that they did not expect to lay eyes upon a heavenly beast clawing desperately at said entrance, screaming into the skies throughout its attempts. A mighty boom of impact, heard and felt every time it hurled itself bloody in a futile fight against their invisible walls that kept vengeful energy out, ensuring safety within the brothers' abode.
Gazing from the top of the endless stairway, Zewu Jun winces at another blow against their protective field - the winged creature staggering back in pain, before rearing up its dragon head to howl pitifully.
His younger brother states flatly, head tilted at the rare creature.
"Rare indeed," answers an agreeing Zewu Jun, who begins to take slow steps down the flight of stairs with his sibling, "one has not been seen by us in quite some time."
The beast notices their approach, lowering itself onto tensed haunches with teeth bared in a fearsome display. Tufted ears flattened tight against its skull and twin tails swirling in agitation as in a tentative step back, faced with the unwavering expressions of the revered lords of day and night. Pupils dilated in fear as it crouches low with wings tucked against the strong lines of a muscular flank, unwilling to back away yet posturing itself in instinctual submission.
"A stray Pixiu with no master, howling so mournfully at our doorsteps," amber eyes watch as fangs gleam ivory-white in the sunlight at Zewu Jun's voice, "a stranger occurrence has yet been witnessed."
Standing before the beast, Zewu Jun asks solemnly.
"Why have you appeared before us today," he queries, "in such a disruptive manner, Pixiu?"
There is only an answering snarl, as gigantic paws flex mildly to sheath dangerous claws, hidden under mottled fur. Hanguang Jun steps closer still, and the creature growls anew with tails swinging to tuck under its body in heightened tension at the Lord of Light's steps into the creature's space. Regarding it coolly, Hanguang Jun spots a red ribbon tied around its neck, obscured mildly by thick fur - scarlet ends tattered and fastened with a familiar silver bell.
"You seek a companion -", ears prick immediately at Hanguang Jun's statement, "- another left behind in the Cloud Recesses woodlands, perhaps. With a violet collar and silver chime as you."
Please, my lords.
Both brothers listen, interest peaking as the celestial beast flattens itself to the ground, voice a twinkle of hurt.
Please, I seek your forgiveness.
A plaintive whimper rings out with the words, and both deities pause as the Pixiu at their feet continues to beg.
My brother, I beg you.
There is only a long pause of silence between the trio, as twin pairs of observant, golden gazes read the surrendering, curled form of a powerful creature. The beast risks a furtive glance up, silver pupils wide and appeasing.
Zewu Jun finally speaks, nodding to his younger sibling, who simply turns to make his way up the stairs once more.
"Come - we grant you entry, Pixiu."
Stepping into the threshold of Gusu Lan, they are met with another scene of chaos.
Zewu Jun only sighs at the commotion that greets him for the second time, as he watches unimpressed at the cohort of attendants scrambling after their injured visitor picked up from a day ago.
Dressed only in a sleeping robe, bandages already coming loose to curl around bare feet, and dark hair falling long as the fluttering purple ribbon around his neck as he determinedly pushes past protesting servants. Now undoubtedly awake, yet still clutching onto a tinkling chime, despite the pain of hurried movements towards the same entrance, and heading right for the Pixiu.
"Sir, we beg you," his servants whisper, "your wounds will open!"
Ignoring their pleas, their visitor only continues to stagger forward until he is met with the rumbling body of a hurrying Pixiu, who whines and huffs as it supports the other's weight, who immediately tucks his face into the soft fur. The creature responds with a gentle nudge of its antlers, whimpers as it presses against the other affectionately, long body curling protectively around its companion as they both crumple to the floor.
"I'm sorry," a whisper desperate against tawny-soft fur, "I'm sorry, I did not mean to leave you."
Their injured visitor turns apologetic eyes, gaze locking upon Zewu Jun and Hanguang Jun's stares.
"He was only trying to protect me - he meant no offense."
In the silence of the appraising brothers, he swallows a nervous breath, and shakily turns back to a whimpering Pixiu.
Nodding, he cups his hands secretively against a flicked ear and whispers intelligibly to the creature.
In a sudden, blinding glow, the Pixiu disappears - leaving behind only another broken man on the grounds of Gusu Lan.
Another injured stranger, with silver-grey eyes wide in pain and a scarlet ribbon tied around his neck.
In spite of the hurt, the other still desperately clamours to cling long limbs around the smaller figure. His black robes are torn - no less injured than the state of the other with badly torn hands, bare feet covered in cuts, bloodied cheeks - yet despite the many bruises seen on exposed slivers of pale skin, he tries still to protect the other, growling unhappily.
The smaller figure turns again, to face both deities of day and night.
"My name is Jiang Wanyin."
His mauve eyes gleam afraid even as he holds tightly onto the other, who clutches scraped hands fearfully into his rumpled, borrowed clothes already staining with more blood.
"This is my brother, Wei Wuxian."
Said sibling looks up, flickering eyes between the lordly brothers before them, trembling and silent still as he quickly hides back into the crevice of the other's embrace.
"He did not mean to intrude or cause a fuss," Jiang Wanyin explains, "we were together when we fell into the forest, and he thought me gone in my rescue by you."
Protectively, he pulls his brother close, trying to sooth Wei Wuxian's pain with a soft voice and gentle touch. Grey eyes appear again to flicker from space to person in unbridled fear, trying to tuck himself ever closer into the safety of his brother's hold, whimpering for security and assurance in a foreign place, surrounded by curious eyes and strange gazes.
Hanguang Jun cants his head slightly, wordlessly dismissing the uncertain attendants scattered around them.
As the crowd disperses, both deities come closer, listening to Jiang Wanyin's hushed words in explanation.
"We were too weak to realise where we were - I beg your forgiveness."
Jiang Wanyin's breath is a mere shudder.
"Please, we beg your assistance, my lords."
"Please, please hide us away."
A Chinese mythical hybrid creature, commonly (but incorrectly) referred to in the West by the Greek word "chimera". Considered a powerful protector, an auspicious creature that possessed mystical powers. Pixiu have wings, sharp teeth, as well as a strong body, paws and claws resembling a Chinese lion, with a bifurcated (split) tail.
Pixiu are reputed as fierce, devoted creatures, often ascending their own Masters to Heaven since they had wings capable of flying between the realms. The large fangs, visible in the creatures' snarling mouths, are used to attack demons and evil spirits, draining their essence and converting it to wealth.
Chapter 4: Bìxié
The other suddenly disappears from sight, sinking completely into the water with a quick slosh. In the following silence, Hanguang Jun wonders if he'd caused offense somehow, folding the long sleeves of his robes properly over his knees with a sigh, waiting for any sign of the other reappearing. He is met with only more rippling, disturbing the water lilies' stems.
There is an abrupt glow from under the water's surface, and Hanguang Jun blinks as he sees the same grey eyes appear again, much closer this time.
A very naked, mortal form of Wei Wuxian slowly pulls himself up from the water to the same edge of the rock.
In the following days, the pair of Pixiu recuperated in the shadows of their guest room.
Licking at their wounds, constantly flickering between forms of man and beast in their weakened states - the attendants surprised and careful should they stumble upon a pair of Pixiu piled around each other - watching every visitor who came through the doors with wariness. Their instinctual distrust saw any attempt of strangers reaching for them met with low snarls and warning flashes of sharp teeth before scrambling behind furniture or under bedding.
Even when Hanguang Jun or Zewu Jun visited, it took considerably amounts of gentle words and patience to lure either one out from hiding.
While both often responded to all the attention with trepidation, the two Pixiu differed in their reactions to the help.
With no options, sedation through their food was a temporary measure only for the first few days, where their injuries were the most grievous and open to infection. After, when both Pixiu could no longer be kept drowsy, was when their differences began to become evident.
Whilst Wei Wuxian's instinct kept him cowering for long enough so his carers would take the opportunity to ensure his wounds stayed clean in his frozen state, Jiang Wanyin, however, was much less cooperative, with a particularly vicious distaste for medication - hissing or snapping at soothing hands and squirming to undo the wrappings on his limbs. In an attempt to settle him, his nurses often placed him near his brother, working fast whilst Jiang Wanyin focused on purring to a whimpering brother.
That particular method only worked for two days, before Zewu Jun saw the need to step in.
Whilst still unwilling, Jiang Wanyin was more receptive to the kindness of the Lord of Night, out of the gratitude for the deities' help. On the contrary, his brother refused to remain in the presence of either deity, always hissing as he backed away in fear, perceiving both to be very threatening, divine figures.
The Lord of Night, after some attempts, amusedly noted that a handful of sweets worked best with at least one Pixiu.
In the time Zewu Jun spent watching the other peel waxy paper from sweet tarts or to nibble away at soft sweets, he had found Jiang Wanyin to be surprisingly easy to distract with all manner of food, particularly in the form of sweet cakes. As his attention was diverted upon the offered treats, the deity of night would gently see to purpling bruises with fleeting dabs of medication, and undo loose bandages, using fresh, clean cloths on knitting skin and healing scrapes.
On one occasion, in his hurry to stop the Pixiu from struggling further whilst he attempted to change a particular dressing on his neck, Zewu Jun had accidentally pressed too forcefully against raw, hurting skin, and made the other smart in surprise. The Lord of Night held no doubt that had he not been fast enough, Jiang Wanyin would have efficiently snapped off all four of his fingers, even with his less threatening teeth.
Following that particular incident, the deity was always careful to pause and let the other squirm if he needed to. Patiently waiting, watching for any sign of distress and only continuing when the other found another wrapped confectionery to investigate.
On one quiet evening, as he checked over scabbing cuts on the other's legs, Zewu Jun dared to ask, about how exactly their Pixiu guests came to be in this plight.
Jiang Wanyin had reacted to his soft query with a tensed line running down the frame of his shoulders and back, posture tightening. Almost immediately, the Lord of Night found himself regretting his words - as he considered retracting it to apologise for being intrusive, Jiang Wanyin had sighed, before shifting himself.
His bare feet were slowly pulled inwards to tuck under his thighs, his bundle of snacks dislodged from his lap as he folded his legs in defensively. Even when there was no indication of viciousness from the deity next to him, the Pixiu continued to curl into himself, as if somehow attempting to look smaller than he already was.
He begun to whisper, to a reticent Zewu Jun.
Telling him, of how two young wildlings, who roamed between the realms, were hunted down and ensnared by spiritual poachers.
Sold to a clan of vicious mountain spirits, who worshipped the sun and wished to use the legendary prowess of said Pixiu to their advantage, going as far as attempting the use of dark magic to forcibly bind both rare beasts to their new masters. When the wicked act did not succeed, it was viewed as an act of disobedience, and the brothers were punished by trapping them in their celestial forms for years, to be easily collared - beaten into submission, treated with unkindness, starved to break their spirits.
Unable to fight back, with their divine energy drained to the brink of death, the pair had made a last, desperate attempt of escape. Forcefully ripping themselves from painfully binding collars, clawing chunks of fur off in a bid to remove searing burn of nets flung on their bodies, taking flight even when their wings had been torn by violent blows.
Their weakened, damaged bodies falling from the skies, to land into deep forests within the Cloud Recesses.
As Jiang Wanyin spoke, not once did he lift his eyes.
The littler figure had even stopped eating, fingers simply twitching over crumpled wrapping and looking impossibly young, with crumbs still on his sleeping robes and voice subdued.
Zewu Jun felt heartache at the posturing, and could do little else to comfort the other's painful recollection except to offer another handful of sweets from inside his robe sleeves - soft toffee, as sweet as the delicate creature who opened up to his saviour so hesitantly, despite all that happened to him and his sibling. The Pixiu had met his gaze then, violet eyes wide and cheeks flushed with wonderment before he curled fingers around the colourful foils of wrapped confectionery.
When they were interrupted by a soft cry of Wei Wuxian - who seemed to despise waking up alone - Zewu Jun smiled, and left the pair of Pixiu to their rest.
As he walked away from the guest room, Zewu Jun did not look back.
Yet somehow, the deity finds himself wishing he did.
Hanguang Jun mumbles, unsure of what else to say when one finds a Pixiu swimming through a sacred pond of his garden, shimmering water blessed with ample sunlight and dotted with thick, swaying lines of blossoming water lilies. Recognising the grey eyes, he immediately takes a step back to mollify - reading the fear of a cornered animal all too well. He can already see its hackles rising, wet fur along back and shoulders beginning to prickle in defense.
"Easy - you are quite alright in there."
In response, the beast's serpentine gaze resolutely trains on the deity as it slowly sinks back further into the cover of water, until only its majestic dragon head can be seen. Cold rivulets drip from gleaming antlers, water droplets making the dangerous muzzle of iridescent scales glint, with its triangular ears perpetually folded back flat and two mildly agitated tails sloshing at the water in warning.
Considering his next step, Hanguang Jun purposefully keeps his hands splayed and in sight, as he carefully takes a seat upon the ledge of a rock on the water's edge.
"I have something," a growl pausing midway, as he pulls a small bag from his belt, "some sweets. It has been made known to me, that you and your brother quite enjoy snacks."
Hanguang Jun resists the urge to sigh in relief, when his words elicit an interested prick from the same ears. The Pixiu in his pond tilts its head curiously at a slight rustling, teeth baring very slightly at the sight of an outstretched palm offering a mound of wrapped confectionery. Making no movement, the two continue to stare at each other, waiting and watching in an awkward tension as the deity retracts his hand, considering expression upon his face.
Saying nothing, Hanguang Jun carefully places the sweet only a small distance away from himself onto the same rock, and watches a wary gaze follow his fingers.
As the Pixiu cautiously continues to snake around the pond, he observes the lithe body paddle smoothly underwater - even with its varying injuries, the large, feline-like body did not seem to struggle in a languid swim, cutting a smooth line through the quiet pond.
"We have yet to apologise to you," a ripple of pause as he murmurs, "for bringing your brother back with us to Gusu Lan without notice. It caused you much distress."
The other pauses at this, gleaming eyes watching the other for a moment before it suddenly huffs and in a fluid sink, disappears into the depths of the pond. In the following silence, Hanguang Jun wonders if he'd caused offense to the celestial beast somehow, sighing as he folds the long sleeves of his robes properly over his knees to quietly wait for any sign of the other reappearing. He is met with only more rippling, and another line of bubbles in the pond disturbing the water lilies' stems.
There is an abrupt glow from under the water's surface, and Hanguang Jun hears a small slosh of water, blinking as grey eyes appear again, much closer this time, and much less serpentine.
A very naked, very mortal form of Wei Wuxian paddling near his feet slowly hoists himself up from the water, upon the same rock. Hanguang Jun averts his eyes hurriedly, after catching a glimpse of rolling shoulders, a narrow waist of pale skin under tendrils of wet, dark hair.
He catches a crinkle of paper, and knows his offered sweet has been accepted. Another splash, before he returns his amber gaze to the other - submerged back into the depths of the pond, long hair an inky mess as it clings wetly to the lines of his bobbing arms and sharp face. His mortal eyes are charmingly doe-like, pale and grey on an impeccably comely face, with the exception of a fading bruise marring a sharp jaw as he tilts his head at the candy, licking it with a curious trill when he finds no give in the sugary casing.
"Bite," explaining softly, Hanguang Jun repeats, "you need to bite. It is not a soft sweet, one needs to chew at it."
A crackle sounds out as the other complies, easily biting through the hard casing of candied hawthorn with sharp incisors. His eyes blink wide as he chews; holding the candy closer to sniff at the red fruit now seen inside.
If the Pixiu enjoys it, the only indication is a small chirp, before he veraciously takes another bite from the candied fruit.
His silent companion watches, as Wei Wuxian continues to nibble through the sticky treat, noting the raised skin of scars splashed across frail shoulders, wrists bony and cheekbones much too sharp to be considered healthy, or well-fed in a long time. He recalls the conversation with his elder brother a few days ago, where the other had relayed to him on how the two Pixiu had been mistreated so grievously, and Hanguang Jun finds no joy at finding evidence of that now.
Momentarily distracted, he does not notice the other swimming close again, head cocked at the Lord of Light's faraway eyes.
A slight slosh of water against the hem of his robes brings Hanguang Jun back to attention, looking down at the submerged male. Even at the much-nearer distance, he can see how tensed the Pixiu holds himself - brooking no argument as to how fast he could vanish at any inkling of threat.
"What is it?" Hanguang Jun asks, uncertain at the silent stare, "do you hurt?"
A huff, before the wrapping is presented by the other's hand - emptied of its treat.
"I see," Hanguang Jun murmurs, "would one like more sweets, perhaps?"
At the earnest nod, the deity holds out a small bag just out of reach.
"One should ask, do you agree?"
Petulantly, Wei Wuxian sinks fractionally into the water with a slight huff, frowning at the request. Narrowed eyes flicker between colours in his agitation, warily watching the other in consideration. Licking his lips, he pauses for a moment more, managing to emit only a small squeak, growling low as if in frustration.
Lowering the bag upon his lap, Hanguang Jun persuades softly, "practice is essential, after being trapped in your other form for too long a time. You have the words, do you not? They are simply locked away, in your mind."
Wei Wuxian simply scrunches his face, lips falling open as he tries again, scowling in his concentration. He licks at his lips again, pausing before another attempt.
A familiar voice rings out softly, and for the first time, Hanguang Jun hears the Pixiu speaks outside of his beastly form. Wei Wuxian seems surprised at his own voice, coughing mildly before turning to stare at the other once more, anxious and frowning as he tries harder still.
"Ssweet -", wrangling the words from inside his mind in a rasp, "- would like sweets, more."
Wei Wuxian swallows, still looking nervous and unsure as he ducks further into the water again. His nose wrinkles with another soft growl, in a resolutely childish objection to speaking any further.
In response, Hanguang Jun's gilded eyes soften incrementally at the sulk he can see forming on a delicate face. Acknowledging the effort it took for the other to finally vocalise in this form - the deity acquiesces, holding out the bag filled with more candied hawthorn.
"You did beautifully."
The man in the water moves back fractionally, making no move to take the velvet bag from Hanguang Jun's outstretched hand. Another atmosphere of silence stretches between them both, equally unmoving and uncertain once more, grey eyes once again shifting between the deity of light and the soft bag of treats held out to him.
Remembering, the deity nods before gingerly placing the bag on the ledge of the rock again.
Wei Wuxian follows this movement as well, uncertainly hovering between an encouraging nod and the tempting bag of treats in another slight ripple of water. "Go on," the deity mumbles, pouring as much sincerity into his voice as possible to encourage the Pixiu visiting his pond, "have your fill."
Swimming near once more, the other reaches out to carefully inch the bag nearer to his own hand. Grey eyes narrowing again in focus until the bag falls into his own hands, before pushing away from the edge of the pond with a smooth motion, clutching the bag carefully from the responding splash around his body.
As he holds the bag preciously, Wei Wuxian glances at the observant, amber gaze.
"Thank, thank you - sweets," he mumbles brokenly, "taste."
Canting his head politely in response, Hanguang Jun moves back to stand, intending to leave the creature in peace to enjoy his treats.
"In your own time, little one."
The other responds with only a confused trill at the endearment, and continues to watch as the deity leaves slowly, disappearing into the shadows of tall willow trees.
As he walks away from the bank of the pond, Hanguang Jun does not look back.
Yet somehow, the deity finds himself wishing he did.
Candied hawthorn (táng hú lu):
A traditional Chinese snack of candied shan-zha, or Chinese Hawthorn. The fruit is usually covered in hard candy and commonly sold on bamboo skewers. Differing from regular candied fruits, they are coated in a hardened sugar syrup and still eaten by many now.
I hope this all makes sense so far!
In terms of handling their two new guests, I would say the two Gusu Lan brothers are trying their best. I have written both Pixiu to be a little skittish like angsty cats, and we all know how finnicky cats can be when it comes to medicine and handling. Except these are not little cats - more like big fucking lions with dragon heads and sharp teeth.
Alas, our Gusu Lan brothers have their work cut out for them!
Chapter 5: Tiān lù
Zewu Jun and Hanguang Jun, as worldly as they were, found themselves wholly unprepared for how little they knew of their guests.
Woefully little information was available, with the species' rarity and elusive nature. In or out of their quadruped forms, Wei Wuxian and Jiang Wanyin often hid their traits behind wary eyes and guarded, curled bodies.
Having not one, but two in Gusu Lan meant that the deities had to learn fast if they were to ensure the two celestial creatures were comfortable as well as protected.
The silver lining on this confusing cloud, was one Jiang Wanyin.
Zewu Jun and Hanguang Jun, as worldly as they were, found themselves wholly unprepared for how little they knew of Pixiu.
Woefully vague information was available, with the species' rarity and elusive nature. While docile enough for their nurses, it took little for anyone to decipher when anything displeased the brothers, with corded muscles tightening into tension or low, rolling gnarls revealing fatally sharp teeth - yet their other traits were hidden away behind prudently vigilant eyes and quietly guarded, curled bodies.
Having not one, but two in Gusu Lan meant that the deities had to learn, and learn fast if they were to ensure the two celestial creatures were comfortable as well as protected guests.
The silver lining on this confusing cloud, was one Jiang Wanyin.
In or out of his quadruped form, it was easy to be privy to his ferociously abrupt temper. Quick to react and smaller than his brother in size, he was not only faster on his feet, but also had a prideful, unrelenting nature which made the powerfully compact figure stand his ground to fight head on, rather than run from conflict. Brash and impulsive, Jiang Wanyin's explosive temperament shadowed his sensitive nature, a direct contradiction of calmness often seen purring in naps next to his brother in spots of sunlight when not primed to defend himself or a terrified sibling.
Zewu Jun found that the other did not often switch into his winged body, and if he did, it was either to comfort his sibling or more often in rest, utilising the heightened capabilities of recovery specific to his constitution in celestial form, using their erratic periods of slumber to heal. Always alert, Jiang Wanyin's eyes tended to flicker between a mortal's rounded pupils and glinting serpentine slits, always tracking any movements in his periphery along with twitching fingers of nails chewed down to the quick, attention darting from scurrying footsteps to every shift of curtains in the wind.
While he did not suffer from the same affliction of speech as his brother, Jiang Wanyin was usually silent, choosing to speak only when spoken to - with forward words either drawled sleepily or in a polite lilt. In spite of this, he still expressed more compared to his jittery sibling; in particular to the keen eye of an observant Lord of Night, who always had a generous amount of tender smiles and gentle words in a soothing, dulcet voice for the Pixiu.
His sole trigger, was always his sibling, and vice versa.
Aggressively protective of each other, it only took the faintest whine of distress for either one to appear.
During meals, the pair would sit near each other, eating only one at a time so the other could keep watch, uneasy and alert at any slight vulnerability. Unwilling to be separated for long periods of time, the deities often overheard their guests' caretakers, on more than one occasion, cooing over finding the two curled tight around each other on cold mornings, a sight of sweetness compared to their usually tensed stares.
Hanguang Jun had also stumbled upon the two Pixiu hunting at one point, to his chagrin. Twitching their crumpled wings as the pair crouched low, slinking through the long grass of Gusu Lan's meadows with pupils blown wide as they prowled on silent paws, watching grazing rabbits and deer. At the deity's behest, Jiang Wanyin had balefully agreed to not hurt any living creature who resided in their forest, promising to only going as far as to chase after the occasional stray bird, as Wei Wuxian huffed, curling tighter behind his brother with a fretful, guilty expression.
On quiet afternoons, the servants would delightedly report seeing two Pixiu stumbling around the same meadow in play - watching secretively as the celestial beasts stalked each other and roughhoused through soft grass, testing out healing wounds and recovering bodies.
Seemingly having taken the brunt of their trauma, Wei Wuxian startled easier than his brother despite being larger and older of the two. He often postured himself smaller, as if afraid to take up space or be seen by anyone other than his sibling, who was evidently the more dominant of the pair - choosing to run instead of fight, freezing in fear or sinking low to the ground with bared teeth, hissing and whimpering until the other arrived.
When left alone, he would choose to lay in pools of water or deep grass so any approaching sounds could be picked up, and despite being freed of a binding collar, still seemed to resist leaving his form as a winged creature. In his brother's company, he would shift simply to please the other, stretching long limbs and scarred skin - attendants quickly averting their gazes as Jiang Wanyin hastily slid dark robes over his squirming body, red sash tied around his tapered waist and the other's long hair gathered into a tattered scarlet ribbon, earning a pleased chirrup from the other.
Even with his frightfulness, Wei Wuxian was cautiously intrigued by all manner of things and people in the Cloud Recesses, particularly at the presence of Hanguang Jun. Encouragingly, Jiang Wanyin would gently nudge the other out from behind him to greet the Lord of Light in clipped words, purring soothingly as he guided his sibling close to handfuls of candied hawthorn positioned nearby.
His brother would then carefully step back to appraise their interactions - observing Hanguang Jun's stoic features softening as he patiently enunciated words, nodding to Wei Wuxian's blurted, fragmented phrases.
If Jiang Wanyin finds his brother spending the early hours of dawn hunched over books somehow left at their door step, he says nothing and simply tucks closer to his sibling to drift back into sleep.
Today, as light turns to dark and nightfall falls across a dimming horizon of the Cloud Recesses, Hanguang Jun sits in his pavilion, watching as always.
Relishing the hush that falls over the world under their palace in the heavens, the Bearer of Light silently gazes out at Zewu Jun's work, easing sleep and peace into the inhabitants of day light. The stars twinkle meaningfully, providing direction and compass to night beings now flitting through the darkness, whispering dreams locked away in the two deities' minds day after day. A serene figure against the twilight sky, he leans back into his seat, shutting his eyes for a moment to allow his senses some respite, lulling into relaxation at the end of his duties.
If he detects a slight shift from the whispering willow trees surrounding his pavilion, he says nothing and simply slides open a wooden drawer next to him - pulling out a wrapped treat and lightly placing it upon the table.
A familiar treat, met with an equally familiar, interested chirp.
"I wonder if you simply enjoy hiding in trees as a default," the deity finally says, breaking the silence of the night air as he shifts to tuck his arms into the long, white sleeves of his pale robes - the movement making embroidered blue clouds shimmer like starlight, voice teasing, "or it is the residual nature of a Pixiu to find tall ground."
In response, Wei Wuxian settles across him, pressing back into the chair across the table from Hanguang Jun, looking comical with crumpled clothes and small leaves falling from his untied hair. The Pixiu does not answer for a moment, fidgeting with the candied hawthorn's crinkled wrapping before he takes a small nibble, chewing quietly as his legs draw up to curl into his chest - dark clothes draping around bare feet as he fits perfectly into the enclave of the seat.
His words are mumbled around small nibbles, "tall tree. Look... see," the Pixiu mumbles, "see more. Safe."
Nodding in understanding, the Bearer of Light simply admonishes with no heat behind his voice, "one does not speak when eating, little one. Finish eating first."
Squeaking in response, the Pixiu obligingly returns to his treat, chewing faster as he swallows properly this time. Amber eyes observe silently, as the man licks at fingers contentedly, pausing at his empty hands before looking up at Hanguang Jun expectantly.
"Sweet more!" He abruptly demands a little too loudly, making Hanguang Jun blink in surprise before he whimpers to hunch in guiltily, continuing in a softer voice, "more please?"
The deity accepts the unspoken apology with a nod, before reaching out to open the same drawer, sighing at the happy trill resounding from the other.
As he holds out another offering, Hanguang Jun pauses just before he places it on the table between them - earning a confused noise from the doe eyed male observing his actions.
The grey eyes blink owlishly, flickering between the held sweet and the words spoken.
"Try, little one."
Wei Wuxian tilts his head at the request, unsure and tensed.
The Bearer of Light keeps their eyes locked, as he repeats slowly, "Hanguang Jun."
The Pixiu tries, voice small as he rolls the words slowly, "Gu... uang?"
Nodding, the deity repeats encouragingly, "Very good. Hanguang Jun."
"Not Joon," the deity murmurs, enunciating crisply and slowly as the Pixiu watches the way his lips move, listening intensely, "Jun. Hanguang Jun."
"Joon! Jun -", Wei Wuxian declares solemnly, "- Han... guang, Jun!"
Nodding, he relinquishes the sweet upon the desk and patiently allows the Pixiu to continue rambling his title out loud repetitively. Nodding obligingly, as the other continues familiarising himself with the lexicon in practise between bites through another serving of candied fruit.
"Hanguang Jun," he pauses, frowning in focus, "Hanguang Jun!"
"Very well done, little one."
The Pixiu suddenly shifts near, leaning across the table between them with a slight frown on dark brows. In the moonlight, his delicate features are sharpened with dim shadows, skin awash in an ethereal glow as his impossibly long, dark hair slides forward to curl upon the oak of the deity's desk.
"Not little," Wei Wuxian declares, pointing at himself haughtily with a sticky finger, "Wei Ying!"
Uncertainly, Hanguang Jun answers calmly, "Wei Ying? Is that your birth name?"
"Yes name! Wei Ying!" Excitedly, the Pixiu emphasises between eager nods.
"What a splendid name, Wei Ying. Very pretty indeed." Hanguang Jun states lightly, observing as pale cheeks flush at the compliment, the other quickly clamouring back into his seat in a fluster, choosing to stare down at the half-eaten sweet in his hands, unsure. "Would you prefer I addressed you as such?"
"Yes Hanguang Jun," looking up again, the Pixiu declares simply, "name Wei Ying please!"
Nodding, Hanguang Jun repeats the provided name, pride blooming warm in his chest at the trust bestowed to him from the Pixiu, "Wei Ying. A wonderful birth name, thank you for allowing me to use it."
The other does not smile, or make any measure of curious sounds - blushing further as he continues nibbling at the candied fruit in his hands - mumbling to himself in an attempt to ingrain the words into his lexicon. In the silence that follows, Hanguang Jun wonders if he might consider this a step forward with his guest, considering the Pixiu has not hissed or run away since sitting down.
"Would Wei Ying like to know my birth name?"
A slight sulk follows his question, and Hanguang Jun quickly soothes with slight mirth, "it is much easier to say than my title, Wei Ying."
As his golden eyes catch in the moonlight, the resplendent deity watches the other for any sign of apprehension - satisfied to find none in the careful, taupe gaze meeting his steady, open gaze.
Considering for a moment as he chews, the Pixiu finally acquiesces, finishing the treat as he waits, head cocked inquisitively.
"Lan Zhan," the deity states simply, watching as grey eyes narrow again into attention, "you may call me Lan Zhan."
Straightening his back, Wei Ying waits as Hanguang Jun repeats once more, soft and patient as ever, "Lan Zhan."
Determinedly, with a nose wrinkled in focus, the Pixiu finally murmurs, "Lan... Chan," shaking his head, he corrects almost immediately, "Zhan."
"Excellent. Wei Ying is doing very well, and learning so fast."
Preening at the praise, Wei Ying tries again, "Lan Zhan! Hanguang Jun! Lan Zhan - Lan Zhan Hanguang Jun! Light hold!"
"Light Bearer." Pale eyes softening in correction, Hanguang Jun simply leans back to listen as the other nods, continuing in his ramble of names and titles. His voice is pitched high in excitement, loud as he commits the words to spoken vernacular and wide eyes flickering between silver and grey in flashes.
"One does not raise their voice in the Cloud Recesses, little one."
Whining, the Pixiu chooses to crane forward in piqued interest, watching the deity's brush as he begins to write.
It is not lost on Hanguang Jun, that Wei Ying did not protest to the endearment.
This is detail heavy, ya'll. An absolute feat to complete since I cannot control myself when it comes to unravelling the habits of the Yunmeng Jiang brothers. I suppose this chapter could be considered a filler to familiarise ourselves with the two precious babies. I hope you didn't get bored reading through all that text.
If it's not obvious, WWX has a speech impediment because of trauma and being trapped in his animal form for too long. He has the words, but learning new words or vocalising them is still a little strange and he tends to mix up the order of words when speaking out loud. This is not a permanent thing, and he can speak fluently as a Pixiu (their voice in that form is not something they need to actively vocalise - it's like mind speak).
I hope everyone is still loving all of this! I have more updates a-coming.
Chapter 6: Tóngshī
Jiang Cheng's sapphire eyes suddenly snap open, as tufted ears prick up and the Pixiu rolls back to his paws, abruptly standing to attention with the ends of his tails twitching in interest.
His voice lilts like the breeze between them, irises gleaming with intention and ears swivelling forward with an ophidian muzzle tilted to the air. Sidling up next to the deity, the beast releases a soft, uncertain growl - alert and blinking as he sniffs.
I smell fire, Zewu Jun.
Said Pixiu freezes at hearing his birth name, before turning his gaze ever so slowly, twin tails curling to tuck loosely around crouched hindquarters as the squawking chicken in his maws is released - fluttering away in a frenzied panic with no harm and a few less feathers.
As the frightened fowl disappears into the thick meadow, the winged creature is left to blink violet eyes up at a staring Zewu Jun.
Stepping forward, the Lord of Night wears a serene smile on his face, eyes crinkled in false joviality.
"I am sure," the Lord of Night intones lightly, "that my eyes deceive me, for I must have mistakenly seen you attempt to swallow a chicken."
Chagrined, the dragon eyes staring at the Lord of Night blinks slowly, before the creature releases a loud, affronted huff to lay down against the grass, scales rippling in agitation as he licks at flexed paws distractedly. The deity chuckles at the sight of Jiang Wanyin's efforts to play off his guilt at being caught red-handed, shaking his head and chiding.
Heavy paws of tawny fur stretch out in a mocking display of relaxation, and the creature rumbles, flopping to its side to yawn disinterestedly.
"Sulking is unlike you, Jiang Cheng." Zewu Jun states humorously, and the creature simply huffs again, the feathers of his wings splaying awkwardly before tucking against a rolling flank. The scaled head rubs along the soft ground innocently, the Pixiu is an image of relaxation - antlers scuffing at the soft earth with paws flexing and tails languidly swishing through the grass under him, eyes lazily drooped and sleepy.
Jiang Cheng's sapphire eyes suddenly snap open, as tufted ears prick up - the Pixiu rolls back up to his paws, abruptly standing to attention with the ends of his tails twitching in interest. Turning, Zewu Jun detects the same change in the air, noting a rise in temperature.
Visitors, Zewu Jun. They approach fast, as well.
His voice lilts like the breeze between them, irises gleaming with intention and ears swivelling forward with an ophidian muzzle tilted to the air. Sidling up next to the deity, the beast releases a soft, uncertain growl, alert and blinking as he sniffs heavily.
I smell smoke, and fire.
With a nod, Zewu Jun instructs quietly.
"Go to your brother, Jiang Cheng."
The pair disappears, with not another word.
Wen Ruohan was an honourable man, but not a patient one.
As the longstanding patron saint of fire and calamity, his temper was renowned for being as destructive as his power, and being made to wait in the Gusu Lan's great hall - with tinkling wind chimes and walls so colourless it numbs his mind - only exacerbated the constantly simmering anger in his soul.
Belatedly, he wonders if Zewu Jun or Hanguang Jun would be offended, or even notice if one of their ten paintings of the same mountain went missing, as sparks fizz at his fingers distractedly. Sighing, he elects to simply thump a heavily embellished hand upon the chair; startling the attendants standing nearby.
Just as he is about to lose his temper, a voice rings out.
Thoughts interrupted, the deity turns to see Zewu Jun stepping through the threshold of their great hall with not a hair out of place, and growls in unhappiness. His brother walks instep with him, and they exchange greetings of respectful bows, but Wen Ruohan reads both pairs of amber eyes all too well - detached and appraising at the unexpected, unannounced visit from the great lord of fire.
He almost scoffs at their prim and proper manners, but manages to swallow the urge.
"Do accept our apologies for the wait," Zewu Jun forewords, clever eyes already noting the ever-present frown deepening on their guest's brows, "we were not expecting you to visit."
Wen Ruohan scowls mildly as he answers, "apology accepted, Zewu Jun. It is unfortunate, that this meeting had to be called so urgently."
Diplomatic even when brash, the hulking deity watches with careful, oxblood eyes, as the brothers of day and night gracefully take their seats. Dignified strength in every pore, impeccably neat, pale robes like the very walls that surround them, and unaffected expressions were a trademark of the two. Everyone in the realm knew of the two brothers and Wen Ruohan - even with his temper and arrogance - knew the Gusu Lan brothers were not to be trifled with, especially if he had no quarrel with them.
He decides to cut to the chase.
"I am here today to recollect some things."
Two blank stares, and Wen Ruohan groans impatiently.
"My sons have informed me," he gesticulates dismissively, "that their two pets have run away. Despite their efforts, our trackers have reported that their last known location was somewhere in the woodlands of the Cloud Recesses."
Hanguang Jun's expression shifts fractionally, but it may just be the light, as he leans forward to speak, "interesting. Your sons, you say, Lord Wen?"
"Useless sons of mine," the other corrects, "they purchased the wildlings off some poachers years ago, and have been setting them on anyone they please. I pay little heed to what my children do while I am busy running my empire, as the two esteemed lords of Gusu Lan are well-aware." He mimics the other deity, sitting forward, palms upon his knees and voice lowering an octave, "so if you have them, I would appreciate the return of our property, to my sons."
In direct contrast, Zewu Jun leans back on his seat with a sigh.
"Lord Wen, we do have the two Pixiu you speak of." The Lord of Night responds in a tight voice, but Wen Ruohan knows there is more behind the frank words, "however, the state we found the pair of celestial beasts in, will prove to be extremely unfavourable to your image, I am afraid."
Eyes gleaming scarlet, the fiery-tempered lord asks, "is that so? Do tell, Zewu Jun."
"The creatures were abused." He slides his intense gaze to Hanguang Jun's straightforward reply, silent as the other continues to explain, "your sons, Lord Wen, have been most unkind to the Pixiu. I would not dare to question your knowledge on how the Pixiu are cherished, honoured celestial beasts by all in our realm, and not made to be starved, punished with or used for violence."
"Discipline is a part of our ways, " the Lord of Fire glowers, "Pixiu are meant to serve, Hanguang Jun."
Nodding, the other agrees with a curt nod, but not backing down from the fierce stare locked upon his own eyes - still a picture of calm collectedness. "Yes they are. To masters they choose, Lord Wen. Not ensnared in traps to be forcibly bound to cruelty, nor collared to keep them from switching between mortal and beast so they can easily caged or leashed, beaten and starved."
As silence falls through the tensed hall, Wen Ruohan evidently tries to control his breathing.
"Your accusations of my sons are severe."
"My accusations of your sons are truth."
A terrible resentment curls deep in his gut at the quiet retort from the Bearer of Light, just like a growing, uncomfortable knowledge that his two foolish children are capable of making such a heinous and dishonourable mistake at their father's expense.
"I shall require evidence of this, Hanguang Jun, Zewu Jun," he finally declares in a low growl, "if there is truth to your words, my sons will be punished most severely by my own hand."
Pausing slightly, the two exchange meaningful looks before the elder of the pair speaks, careful and slow.
"If you mean to meet the two Pixiu, I have to inform you that the creatures do not take kindly to strangers from their trauma, Lord Wen." Zewu Jun warns, "Your presence has already been detected by the pair upon arrival at our gates, and it would breach the fragile trust we have -"
Wen Ruohan interrupts with a lifted hand, eyes blazing in rage.
"Show me the Pixiu, or I shall take them with me today."
Fire and brimstone, he is here brother I can smell them - he is here he is here, I can smell them it hurts -
His jaws locking loose over his brother's scruff, Wei Ying pulls desperately as he scrabbles back against the wall, whimpering at a phantom burn crawling up his nose as the Pixiu tries to hide them both. In his panic, his sibling manages to pull free, nudging the other to tuck his snout under his own flank, where the fur is soft and warm, hoping the familiar scent of lotus flowers can calm a panicking Wei Ying - he is here, brother, we have been sold again, they are giving us back!
They would not, Wei Ying, not them.
Jiang Cheng tries to soothe against pitched whines, high and desperate. His sibling stretches useless wings to hover over them both, trying to hide themselves from sight.
The endearment slices like a cool gust of wind, and yet it makes both Pixiu hiss defensively, bodies bristling in a mess of anger and fur as two deities appear at the door of their bedroom.
"Hush now," the soothing words make Wei Ying's ears flatten completely against the scales of his skull, "no one is going to hurt you, little one, hush."
Lies, all lies - you bring him to us, you sold us back, Wei Ying's voice screeches, you are lying to us! Same, all of you are the same!
Hurt uncurls in Zewu Jun and Hanguang Jun's expressions at the shrieked words, and they haplessly watch as the two Pixiu snarl ever louder, muzzles curling back in an ugly display of sharp teeth and irises flashing as the doors are flung wide open - Wen Ruohan stepping in with a huff of impatience.
"Are these the two runts, then?"
Wei Ying yelps, as his sibling nudges forcibly at him, pushing the other until he is shadowed under and behind his brother's smaller body, crying out as healing injuries protest in flaring bouts of pain as his sibling clamours clumsily over him in an attempt to shield. Tails whipping in agitation, Jiang Cheng hisses in warning as he crouches in front of his brother, wings flapping unsteadily - sending furniture crashing to the floor around them in a mess of commotion.
"All this fuss," Wen Ruohan deadpans, stepping closer with a tilted gaze even as Jiang Wanyin lifts to full height - no longer content to submit and now fully prepared to attack, "I mean to see what damage my sons have done to you two and yet, I find myself greeted with such disrespect, little beasts."
You dare to call us beasts, violet eyes ripple with his seething words, the only beasts are your children!
Said deity remains silent, watching as the slighter Pixiu flares every scale and every strand of fur on his body in an attempt to look far larger than he is - hovering protectively in front of the other. His eyes catch on the shoddy condition of their jerking wings, and following his gaze, the creature snarls in an incensed voice full of condescension.
Our wings are useless, the same voice roars through the crackling air, your sons tore out our flight feathers, broke our bones - they tortured us as pups to break our will to fight back or disobey, ripped us from each other just to see us panic and scream. Locked us in tiny, dark cells to impede our growth, made us easy to collar and trapped in this form. Harnessed our vicious nature as animals for their use to serve you, Lord of Fire!
Despite the growls and snapping teeth, Wen Ruohan observes the patches of missing fur scattered across unhealthy, gaunt bodies unnaturally small and frail for Pixiu. Scarlet-hued eyes rake over lines of raw marks, a familiar emblem seared into knitting skin and sparsely-feathered wings disjointed permanently from healing improperly, can practically taste the air thick in cloying panic and trepidation.
Do you like what you see, Lord of Fire?
Dilated, serpent eyes of magenta gleam dangerously, as windows squeak and slam against the walls in a flurry of wings and rage. Your sons burned us, beat us bloody - sent us on killing sprees and made us eat the corpses like some sick reward. Does it please you to see the work of your children on our bodies? The glory of your legacy, carved upon our bodies in burns and bruises we can never heal from, my Lord!
Wen Ruohan says nothing still, as gnarled words continue to tumble freely with the dragon's bared teeth. He watches silently, as unsheathed claws begin to dig into the splintering floorboards under heavy paws.
My brother struggles to even speak out of this form - savagely muzzled by your son so he could neither bite nor eat without permission! Afraid of his own shadow, terrified to eat alone from your children's sick methods. Protecting me from their brutality by offering himself to be put into the fighting pits, only for them to make me watch from a dirty cage as my brother fought for his life!
Wen Ruohan finally steps back - expression guileless, hard with disgust and ire. A hand is raised, and heat crackles through the air, stopping the other's words.
"Enough, little runt."
The pair of Pixiu fall silent at the terse words, and Jiang Wanyin's eyes narrow at the deity of fire, teeth still bared. Watching the two for a moment longer, Wen Ruohan says nothing and simply takes another step back to nod at the other two deities, twin gazes of pale amber glimmering in infuriation and heartache at Jiang Cheng's words.
"I have seen, and heard enough."
With that, the threatening figure nods again to the Gusu Lan brothers in farewell, and with another long look - leaves the room in a flurry of maroon robes.
As the atmosphere plunges back to a cold silence, Zewu Jun and his younger brother turn back to look across a destroyed room. Hunched around one another, the pair of Pixiu are panting, trying to soothe their frenzied nerves, bodies trembling in the aftermath of Wen Ruohan's visit.
"Jiang Cheng -", the Lord of Night steps forward quickly, only to pause at an enraged click of teeth.
In a burst of light, said Pixiu disappears only to reappear in his mortal form, tired and resigned against the shaking form of his sibling - shaking hands clinging into short fur as his sibling noses into the shadows of his chest. His eyes slide shut with lashes wet behind a curtain of dark hair, which falls forward as he leans down, shaky voice whispering soothing words to the creature in his arms.
You brought him to us.
Wei Ying's voice is a mournful wail, cutting through the room pitiful and broken.
He is their father, and you led him here. Now he knows, now they will all know.
Hanguang Jun's breathing is a shudder of pain, as he reaches out and forward.
Jiang Wanyin's voice is a cold wash down both their spines, and the brothers pause in their steps, uncertain.
Listen, I'm just saying I'm real bored of using the two Qishan Wen sons as baddies cos I've done it before in other work and I personally find their father much more interesting as a character. So I'm not even going to give the two little bastards the time of day in this chapter cos they are literal shit.
At least here, Wen Ruohan is cruel, ruthless and a questionable dad, but he's proud (of himself, mostly) and won't stand for disrespect or have his name besmirched.
The angst is a little heavy here, but it'll all work out if you are familiar with how I write, so hang in there for incoming softness!
Chapter 7: Xiè-zhì
"When we were cubs - me and Wei Ying used to lie in meadows like this. He has a fondness for water, and our wings were far too large and much too thick to dry properly. So the both of us would stretch out under the sun, wings fully spread until every single quill was dry and warm."
His voice drops low to a harsh plea, "Zewu Jun is wise, and the night whispers to you so many things - would you be able to tell me?"
"What does one call a Pixiu that can no longer take flight?"
Surprisingly, both Pixiu do not run from the Cloud Recesses.
They come close to it instead, with how well they hide away in the following days after Wen Ruohan's visit.
Nobody in Gusu Lan - not one servant, guard or deity - manages to catch any trace or even a single glimpse of them. The only sign of the two brothers still remaining somewhere within the Cloud Recesses are the residually warm piles of shifted bedding and trays of touched food, even an occasional feather from unsettled wings. Some nights, the night guards catch a frightened cry or broken whining - indicative of one of them suffering through a nightmare.
Unwilling to aggravate either of them further, Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun bide their time and wait. They maintain a distance - leaving bundles of sweets with the attendants to deliver to the hiding Pixiu, hopeful and restless.
In the end, it is Jiang Wanyin who finally breaks their self-imposed isolation.
When servants hurriedly report to their Lord of Night that the smaller Pixiu has been spotted, he makes haste to find the other. Zewu Jun had been weighed down with guilt, knowing he had egregiously upset Jiang Cheng and possibly given both Pixiu reason to distrust anyone once more. Even his own sibling had been listless, the Lord of Light working through piles of paperwork just to take his mind off a frightened Wei Wuxian, screaming in panic for the two deities to leave.
Making his way through a familiar meadow, the swell of anxious energy grows uncomfortably in his chest as he spots who he's looking for.
Out of his Pixiu form, Jiang Wanyin looks even frailer and hollowed-out, standing amongst the tall grass with eyes shut against the breeze and sunlight. An ever-present violet ribbon barely holding dark locks away from his face, skin dull and hunched tiredly, dark robes whipping around his slight figure and making the same thrum of anxiety in Zewu Jun burn to his very fingertips.
"I know you mean to apologise."
Almost missing the whispered words, Zewu Jun pauses - wondering if he had heard anything at all or if it were simply his mind mishearing. Jiang Cheng's eyes are still shut in a deep inhale, releasing the same breath slowly, finally blinking eyes open to meet a worried, gilded gaze.
"When we were cubs," Jiang Cheng continues, his blinking gaze shadowed with obvious fatigue, "me and Wei Ying used to lie in meadows like this. He has a fondness for water, and our wings were far too large and much too thick to dry properly. Pixiu - like every other creature of flight - cannot fly properly should their wings be laden with moisture. So the both of us would stretch out under the sun, wings fully spread until every single quill was dry and warm."
Zewu Jun says nothing, and simply stands where he is, waiting. The wind picks up, and drifts a faint petrichor of lotus flowers to him.
Shifting, Jiang Cheng shifts to avert his face up to a ray of warm sunshine, savouring the fresh air.
"Wei Ying and I were always too wild. Precarious younglings who did not appreciate the significance of our feathers, or to recognise how our wings were precious parts of us." A sigh, as he continues speaking, "not just for playing in the water, or soaring around as we pleased. Too naive, to realise that every time we took flight, it was a gift."
Releasing an insincere puff of laughter, Jiang Cheng scrubs at his face, revealing a wry smile as his hands fall away.
"We will never know how that feels again."
"His sons took that - ripped it from us. The damage is too great and we," the words stifle into a choked snarl, "now, me and my brother can fly no higher than a tree. We shall never again know what it means to soar between the realms between deity and mortal, or be able to drift through clouds chasing the sunset. Never be able to fly under the cover of nightfall, blessed by the moon and stars."
Jiang Cheng's face is as cold as his voice, the deity observing his eyes flickering into gleaming slits, a well-known indication of his rage. The sight is familiar to Zewu Jun, who has seen how easily the other wears his hurt simply to hide his truths.
His voice drops low to a harsh plea, "Zewu Jun is wise, and the night whispers to you so many things - would you be able to tell me?"
"What does one call a Pixiu that can no longer take flight?"
Zewu Jun smiles, an unnaturally woeful lift of lips against the painful expression on his face.
"A Pixiu, of course."
The immediate answer stuns the other, who stares back with wide and distinctly mortal pupils this time. Pausing for just a heartbeat, the Lord of Night smiles as he spreads open his arms - watching the other flinch mildly at his action.
"Pixiu are still Pixiu, with or without their wings."
His arms remain splayed out and towards Jiang Wanyin, palms facing out. Head tilted mildly at the Lord of Night's defenseless and welcoming gesture, Zewu Jun feels something akin to hope soar within his very core as he spots the other subconsciously move forward just a touch, in a step noticed only by the deity.
"Jiang Cheng is still Jiang Cheng."
Zewu Jun bleeds tenderness and sincerity into a gentle stare against sapphire eyes, and his smile does not falter in the slightest. Not even as he sees a shine of unshed tears, does he move or twitch.
Another slight step is taken forward towards the deity who forces every muscle and every single strand of his body to be perfectly still; feeling his heart begin to thunder.
When golden eyes see the other take yet another tentative step forward, he can feel the same heartbeat become so rapturously, impossibly loud, he can almost feel it thump up into his throat. Even his breathing becomes incrementally slow, afraid to startle the other in any form.
"You still belong, Jiang Cheng."
Zewu Jun chuckles lightly, unsurprised at the sudden impact of Jiang Cheng colliding against his chest, staggering them both to fall backwards and into the grass with a muted thud.
He shifts to hold fast, letting the other tuck his face perfectly into the shadows under Zewu Jun's face, as if he always belonged there. A telltale shudder presses against his chest, as Jiang Cheng's slender arms curl around his middle to cling tightly upon his back.
"I have you."
He whispers, smiling wanly when he feels the Pixiu dig fingers into his robes at his words - clinging so tightly he feels blunt nails press into his shoulder blades.
The lord of evening stars and nightfall hums quietly, pulling forward the memory of a soothing lullaby he once heard in prayer. Wrapping his arms tight around Jiang Cheng's shoulders; the smaller body tucked so completely against his own body. He breathes slowly and rests a cheek lightly atop the soft crown of hair, breathing in a scent of lotus flowers and fresh air, whispering apologies to the engulfed Pixiu.
Whispering soft words, as he protects the little protector trembling in his hold.
"You are not broken, Jiang Cheng."
In the cover of tall, shifting grass - witnessed only by golden sunlight - he hears Jiang Cheng's voice, small and afraid. Zewu Jun smiles again and whispers so gently, so tenderly to the pleading bundle hidden against him.
"I have you."
Wei Ying could not sleep.
The fact remains that neither he nor his brother got to sleep fitfully or continuously every night. Phantom burns and all manner of nightmares still dredged in their minds and bodies - particularly Wei Ying, who often awoke gasping from memories of taunting, roaring laughter against terrible blows against his battered body.
Now, their dreams are plagued with a pair of demon-red eyes, a gargantuan figure of fierce features who boiled the air with his mere presence. Wen Ruohan's voice whispered through their troubled dreamscape, tendrils of fear tying Wei Ying's snout shut, looping around Jiang Cheng's throat and strangling them awake. When Jiang Cheng startled out of sleep, it took little for his sibling to ease the smaller Pixiu, purring loudly and watching until the other returned to restless slumber.
Being awake was a far better option to Wei Ying.
Feet bare against cool, dewy grass, his face splits with a yawn.
Safely enshrouded in the darkness of night, with everything in the forest around him barely illuminated by a waning, crescent moon, Wei Ying walks until his nightmares are a dull fizz against his mind. Even out of his form as a Pixiu, his ears detect all manner of night dwellers out and about, restless as he is. Even the trees around him seem to sing, a symphony of soft rustling from heavy leaves swaying in the cold winds of deep night.
He is mid-way into another yawn, when he hears it.
Plucks of string, a pitched twang of sound lilting through the atmosphere.
Intrigued, and cocking his head towards the source, he follows.
At the edge where thick trees begin to dwindle into a glittering lake, he pauses when a pavilion comes into view at the clearing, staying hidden. At the end of a short bridge, with muted teal tiles lining a pointed roof and heavy pillars carved with heavenly scapes - a sole figure sits in the middle of the small enclosure, black hair and white robes spread amongst thin cushions across wooden floorboards. A Guqin, melodiously strung, set upon a slab of smooth slate used as a table.
Hanguang Jun's elegant fingers pull out a song of yearning to the rippling lake beyond the pavilion. His posture is impeccable, back straight with his head lowered just so in focus - lashes casting shadows upon sharp cheekbones, eyes shut to the music under his hands. Dressed in layers of translucent blue atop ivory silk, with only a single white ribbon tying the middle of his ebony locks so impossibly long that the ends curl behind the deity on the floor like a tail.
For a moment, Wei Ying feels woefully inadequate. As if somehow, he was not meant to lay eyes on one as resplendent as the Bearer of Light, sitting in rest with soft music as his companion.
As he decides to retreat, the music abruptly ceases.
Wei Ying stops as well, watching the hands pause above taut strings, fingers frozen.
Everything around the deity seems to pause with him, and an almost unbearable hush falls over the night air. Even the water seems to ripple gentler, and not one leaf rustles even with the same breeze dancing through the trees. Hanguang Jun lifts his chin, but does not turn his gaze away from the moon.
"Sleep evades you as well, Wei Ying?"
The Pixiu is unsurprised that the deity has detected him, but he does not step out of the shadows.
"Come and sit, little one."
Wei Ying feels himself start to step back, toes digging into cold grass under his feet as instinct pushes him to seek out the safety and cover of a thick forest behind him. Yet somehow, he does none of those things, and simply stands where he is, blinking as Hanguang Jun finally turns to regard him.
"We have not seen each other in many days. Come, and let me apologise to you properly."
Impossibly tired, and unable to walk away from the earnest gaze upon him, Wei Ying acquiesces.
He says nothing as he sullenly makes his way closer to the pavilion, keeping to the edge as far as possible from the deity seated in the middle. Hanguang Jun flits quick eyes over the Pixiu, noting the haggardness of pallid skin and trembling hands, notes the way Wei Ying tries to hold himself still. Wrapped in only a single black robe, the other is evidently cold - even his hair dull and tangled, with more than a few leaves trapped in it from his late stroll.
"You look much too tired, Wei Ying."
A knowing huff, as the other drapes himself over the bannister he sits on, eyes trained on the shimmering water. Hanguang Jun rests a palm against the strings of his Guqin, sighing quietly.
"I did what I had to do, to ensure Lord Wen believed us."
Wei Ying turns immediately, affronted grey eyes narrowing upon the deity who dares to speak the very name he does not wish to hear.
"He would not have given you and your brother up otherwise. If he did not see the evidence of his sons' actions, he would have taken you and your brother back." Lifting his intensely amber gaze, he locks onto Wei Ying's stare. "By force, little one."
A bubble of fear rises like nausea in Wei Ying's chest at the frank words. The Pixiu envisions it, and draw his legs up to his chest, curling tight as he whimpers at the very thought of being dragged away from Gusu Lan in chains - from Hanguang Jun's gentleness, from Zewu Jun's smiles - locked once more into binding collars, caged again to live out miserable, tortured lives of constant fear and pain.
"Yet, I know you are upset. My actions were a betrayal to you, little one."
The same hand lifts from the Guqin, to press flatly against the slate of his table - the colour in swirls of grey resembling Wei Ying's pretty eyes.
"There was no option, and I had to hurt Wei Ying to protect Wei Ying from being taken from m- from Gusu Lan," curling fingers into a tight fist, he withdraws his hand to tuck back into wide sleeves, "at the crux, at this very moment, my intentions are of no significance. Unimportant, when the result I produced is Wei Ying in tears, afraid and hiding away once more."
"For that, I wish to apologise."
Hanguang Jun blinks, when the Pixiu suddenly appears closer to him.
Surprise burns through him, when Wei Ying chooses not to seat himself anywhere else, but right next to him. A tilted head shifts a mess of dark hair to fall over his shoulder, and Wei Ying gazes curiously up at Lan Zhan, so absolutely quiet that the deity wonders if he had offended the Pixiu once again. He finds no malice or coldness in wide, grey eyes, and keeps himself still - the other so close he can count the freckles scattered lightly across his nose.
"Wei Ying -", he starts, but the other growls petulantly and suddenly, interrupting him.
The Pixiu sits back, and makes another frustrated chirrup.
Brows knitted in focus, he begins to speak slowly, "Hanguang Jun."
"Wei Ying. Scared a lot." Looking down to fidget with the red sash circling his waist, the Pixiu continues,"not - when Hanguang Jun is near. Scared only little."
Amber eyes flicker to life at the words, understanding spreading warmth on his ears.
"Lan Zhan. Is good. Big, good thoughts."
Shifting closer, Wei Ying's eyes are imploring, eagerly trying to ensure his words make sense - their faces tilted towards each other. The Pixiu studies every golden gleam through Hanguang Jun's pale eyes staring down to meet his, flecks of copper swimming with the deity's uncertainty. Hanguang Jun swallows, ears tinging red at the proximity of those doe grey eyes peering up at him, silent still as Wei Ying scrunches his face innocently to wrangle out more words.
"Not apologise, Lan Zhan. Wei Ying is sorry - bad to yell, not nice. Not good."
Frowning, the Pixiu declares loudly and firmly.
"Hanguang Jun, is good. Not apologise, not need. Not to Wei Ying."
"Wei Ying want more Lan Zhan. Like sweet. Good."
Grey eyes widen, when a smile appears on Hanguang Jun's reddening features.
Chirruping excitedly at his discovery, the Pixiu all but clamours nearer, pushing his way into a very surprised deity's lap - chasing the averted expression hidden behind a raised arm of pale sleeves. Almost falling over, Hanguang Jun instinctively braces both palms against the cushions behind him as the Pixiu squirms determinedly, curling hands to warm arms.
"Hanguang Jun - happy face! Lan Zhan is happy?"
Shocked into stillness, and absolutely unsure on what to do with an armful of wriggling Pixiu, the deity finally returns his gaze to nod resignedly at an inquisitive look, accompanied with a delighted trill. Hanguang Jun finds himself unable to fault Wei Ying's reckless behaviour, or remove his smile.
"Happy! Lan Zhan is happy!"
With all tension releasing from his posture, Lan Zhan explains patiently.
"Yes, and relieved, little one," he says, "that Wei Ying is no longer upset or crying. That you are not hiding from me anymore."
Nodding, Wei Ying preens, "relieved! Lan Zhan is happy - Lan Zhan happy face! Wei Ying saw happy face!"
Sighing, Hanguang Jun's eyes softens at the familiar rambling, making grey eyes crinkle into a delighted grin - radiance rushing back into flushed cheeks and even wrinkling a sharp nose.
With a rumbling purr, Wei Ying snuggles happily and deeper into the lap he's curled in, rubbing his cheek against the soft robes on Lan Zhan's chest to scent himself before jolting in shock, suddenly realising how grievously he has infringed on the solemn deity's personal space. Hanguang Jun's hands remain respectful, simply leaning back to give the Pixiu space on his body, craning down to check when the other freezes still.
Noting a sudden tension in the other, Lan Zhan sighs again and lifts a hand to press firmly upon the head pressed to his chest, "you are quite alright. I do not mind."
"If it helps you, I do not mind."
Lifting his head, Wei Ying asks confusedly, "how help?"
"Should it help you feel better, of course."
Chirruping in response, the Pixiu contentedly buries his face into the deity's chest once more, rumpling blue silk of sandalwood and sunshine as he begins purring comfortably, feeling Lan Zhan shift to accommodate his weight. Tucking his legs to the side, Wei Ying's folds his knees over Lan Zhan's legs and feels his body loosen into a soothing warmth from the Bearer of Light, who leans back against a pillar, effortlessly carrying the other's weight.
Insistently, Wei Ying fumbles for the hand resting next to his knee - nudging to rest a warm palm upon his head.
"Pat. Feel better. Pat please."
He requests, purring ever louder as the deity obediently begins to stroke down his hair, picking out trapped leaves along the way. Drowsily, his pronounced rumbling only increases, as another arm slides up to bracket his back.
"A demanding little thing you are."
Paying no heed to the teasing statement, said Pixiu murmurs sleepily, "Lan Zhan is warm. Feel safe," he whispers lazily against the solid warmth under his cold skin, "feel nice. Lan Zhan, not share. Only for Wei Ying."
Slender fingers drawing gently through his hair pause slightly at Wei Ying's peevish claim of his new, warm throne. The Pixiu immediately begins to squirm in protest - growling slightly at the hand stopping - before Lan Zhan soothes gently, continuing to card fingers down his scalp to trail through tangled locks. Pleased, Wei Ying feels himself drifting once more, much closer to sleep.
"Promise, Lan Zhan. Only Wei Ying."
As he finally allows himself to slip into slumber, Hanguang Jun's voice is a whisper against his ear.
"I promise, little one."
"Only Wei Ying's."
I promised softness and I hope I managed to deliver. I really went ham on the comfort factor in this chapter and to be perfectly honest, after editing and rereading it for two days there are no regrets here. As someone who suffered trauma personally, i coped by latching onto different things and people (some sincere, some not so much), which was not always such a bad thing.
At the crux of it, the two Yunmeng Jiang babies are actually very touch-starved, and despite everything just cannot find it in themselves to believe that the two Gusu Lan brothers would hurt them - there's just something about their honesty and gentleness.
The next chapter is already in the works and should be up soon - here's hoping this chapter will settle some of those nerves and angst left behind from the previous update.
Chapter 8: Haetae
There were certain things Wei Ying and his brother missed about being in their mortal bodies.
Eating warm food; spoonfuls of soup to sips of fragrant tea tracking heat down to their bellies. Feeling the elements on furless bodies - when frosty winds bite at reddening cheeks and make their eyes water, to simply relishing vivid, lush colours not seen with Pixiu eyes. Reading strange new words and feeling paper from books drag over the soft pads of fingers and palms.
Some things, Wei Ying did not miss as much.
There were certain things Wei Ying and his brother missed about being in their mortal bodies.
Looking into mirrors to find soft skin, sharp noses, tracing blunt nails over long lashes under dark brows. Being able to brush their endless lengths of shining black hair, or curling into comfortable beds. The sensation of sliding on warm robes to protect them from chilly winds, stretching lean legs out to interestedly observe how their sinew of muscles moves under taut skin, the way their delicate joints pop as they wriggle all ten toes.
Eating warm food - spoonfuls of soup to sips of fragrant tea tracking heat down to their bellies. Feeling the elements on furless bodies - frosty winds nipping at reddening cheeks and making their eyes water, relishing vividly lush colours not commonly seen with Pixiu eyes. The way papers drag over the soft pads of fingers and palms as they read strange new words, which after patient explanation, locked into sense with their minds.
Falling asleep with faces pressed into gentle warmth of robes scented like fresh air and soothing incense. Tucking close enough to a lap, hearing an affectionate sigh as a hand smooths down their hair with even puffs of breathing against their own skin, the rhythm of a steady heartbeat barely heard but distinctly felt.
Some things, Wei Ying did not miss as much.
Such as finding out he could not stomach a particular variety of berries, now making his head boil and clenching at his stomach with uncomfortable cramps. No such worries existed as winged creatures - not when they were barely fed, or their heightened senses in Pixiu form could easily detect poisons in any given food they scavenged. What could be eaten, and what could not were easily discernible through their clever senses of smell and sight.
Huffing uncomfortably, he winces against another wave of pain churning through his stomach, cursing his decision to pick those bright red berries. Now, in either form, Wei Ying was doomed to suffer the consequences of his peckish curiosity.
"I have warned you before, brother," Jiang Cheng murmurs with a sigh, "not to go around eating everything you find out in the wild."
Growling unhappily, Wei Ying shuts his eyes and waits for his stomach to unknot itself.
"There, now," his brother comforts, "it will pass soon. Fortunately, you did not have too many of those berries, or there would be much more to suffer."
His sibling tries to soothe as best he can, wiping at Wei Ying's crumpled face with a cool towel and placing a warm palm over his stomach. Restless and aching, Wei Ying sighs at the pain thrumming behind his eyes, making his head throb as another wave of pain curled through his gut.
"Head, not nice," he murmurs achingly, "make light go away."
Shushing, Jiang Cheng quickly turns, blowing out most of the candles in their room and allowing the moonlight to stream softly through an opened window.
In a cold sweat, Wei Ying continues to shift uneasily, sleep evasive in his pain. Subconsciously, he whimpers, and his sibling hushes with gentle strokes upon his head, pushing hair away a clammy forehead. Jiang Cheng begins to purr, a rumbling, therapeutic sound that lifted some of the fog for the other, who huddles deeper into the bedding tiredly. His head continued to throb mutedly, as if his brain were too big in its skull, pulsing and hurting, setting his senses into overdrive.
"Not nice." He reiterates blindly, squeezing his eyes shut only to find even that action flaring pain into his temples. "Cheng - not nice."
Worriedly, Jiang Cheng's hands press upon his temples, massaging lightly to try and ease some of the pain. He rearranges the blankets, shifting bedding around as Wei Ying curls deeper, hunching into his belly with another wave of cramps making his sibling growl.
Distantly, Wei Ying feels his sibling pause before pulling away. He almost whimpers unhappily for Jiang Cheng to come back, but hears the bedroom doors open and close, instinctively tensing.
He slides grey eyes open at the familiar voice, to chirrup tiredly at Hanguang Jun peering down at him, knelt at his bedside with a worried expression. Jiang Cheng has shifted to stand just behind him, looking just as anxious next to Zewu Jun as they mutter quietly to each other.
"Lan Zhan," he whispers, "make not nice go away."
Insistently, he reaches for the deity's hands, and positions one flat against his head, before pushing another palm against his cramping belly. The Pixiu sighs, feeling warmth spread across his sleeping robes and into his skin from gentle hands.
"Not nice here." Wei Ying whispers, eyes sliding shut again.
Distantly, he registers Zewu Jun's voice, soft and gentle as always in explanation. "We have some medicine for the pain caused by the fruits," a rustling of clothes, as Hanguang Jun's blessed fingers massage at his scalp, "he has already expelled what he can of the berries, but the rest will take a while to work its way through his system before his body calms down."
Restless again, the Pixiu snarls at the mention of medicine, which prompts Jiang Cheng to quickly appear by his side. The rumbling purr Wei Ying tries to answer tapers into a displeased, low grumble when he feels Jiang Cheng shift him, gently half-propping him into a lap scented like familiar sandalwood and fresh sunshine.
"Hush now," he hears, and opens his eyes again to blink up at Lan Zhan hovering over him, gently cradling him in his lap, "drink this, little one."
A spoon is held to his lips and blearily he obliges, only to immediately huff angrily at the bitterness of a thick concoction upon his tongue. Growling, Wei Ying tries to get away from soothing hands and a sloshing bowl, hissing at the medicine that his brother holds as Lan Zhan tries to still him. Pushing at the bowl, Jiang Cheng quickly holds it away - barely managing not to spill any of the liquid as he ducks from his sibling waving blindly.
"Not nice!" The uncooperative Pixiu snarls, irritable and nauseated in his attempt to pull away from Hanguang Jun's cradling hold. "Not nice taste."
Soothing, Lan Zhan hushes again, "I know, little one, but the medicine will help to ease some of your pain."
"Pain. Pain is word for not nice?" The Pixiu repeats tiredly, unable to fight as the deity lifts him again to settle back against a warm lap.
Sighing, the other answers softly, "Yes sweet one, pain."
Wei Ying lightens at the new endearment, and barely notices as another spoonful of bitter liquid is tilted into his lips, making him scrunch his face as he swallows distractedly, focusing on pretty golden eyes and Hanguang Jun's gentle voice explaining, "Pain is what one feels, when they eat bad berries, little one. Pain is what is in your head, and your belly now."
Wei Ying nods weakly, repeating obediently as his brother deigns him with another sip of cloying syrup. "Pain. Wei Ying has pain -", a pause as he repeats, before another spoon is swallowed unwillingly, "- berries give Wei Ying pain."
"They did, indeed."
The deity of light coddles as best he can to a scowling Wei Ying lain in his lap, as the last remnants of medicine are finished in two more sips - each followed with a displeased growl by the Pixiu fidgeting in his arms, before he sighs, "I hope Wei Ying learned something today."
A slight scoff, and Jiang Wanyin answers airily, "one can hope, Hanguang Jun. My brother still has much to learn about being out of his other body."
Petulant, Wei Ying purrs for his brother again, who accedes by wiping gently at a sulking face despite his scolding words.
"Not eat pain berries anymore," Wei Ying declares softly to a sighing Jiang Cheng, holding fast onto his sibling's wrist, "promise, Cheng."
Sighing, his sibling murmurs resignedly, as he presses another cold towel to Wei Ying's forehead, "You must be the silliest Pixiu I know, brother. To eat berries you find out in the woodlands, thinking they are edible. Now look at you, suffering through pain and medication."
Returning the rumbles he hears from his brother, Wei Ying shifts to turn, trying to relieve the cold sweat gathered at the back of his neck. ignoring the uncomfortable twist in his gut at the movement, he chooses to half-bury his face into Hanguang Jun's arms and snuffles into the cosy, scented warmth.
"Promise -", he yawns, as the ache in his stomach settles to a muted churn, "- not eat pain berries. No more. Wei Ying promise."
Chuckling, Zewu Jun nods to the bundle burrowing into his brother's lap.
"I think our little Pixiu has learned his lesson now, Wangji. We should leave now to allow him rest, the medicine should help with any pain through the night."
Wei Ying, too sleepy to return the smile he sees on the Lord of Night's face, simply whines at his statement - fumbling to hold fast onto Hanguang Jun's robes when he feels himself being jostled off the comforting lap. "Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan no," a mumbled protest, "stay here. Pain go away."
There is a long pause, followed by some whispering he simply cannot catch through cottoned hearing. Worriedly, Wei Ying releases another long, pleading mewl as he stubbornly clutches tight into Hanguang Jun's arm under layers of soft clothing. Finally feeling a cool hand pat at his head, he whimpers again in another fidget, not wanting the other to leave.
Immediately, Jiang Cheng soothes as he assures his sibling, "alright, alright. Stop fidgeting, Wei Ying. The medicine might disagree if you keep moving around."
He feels his sibling leave the bed - a weight disappearing as a blanket is pulled over him. Under him, Hanguang Jun's arms slide to wrap around his shoulders, easing him to settle down as a palm begins to stroke along his hairline, massaging perfectly into the nook of his neck and relieving a muted ache under muscles.
"Hanguang Jun will stay with you. Get some sleep now, you troublesome thing." He huffs at his brother's scolding tone, but finds that his body no longer wishes to move.
"Not go," Wei Ying mumbles, refusing to relinquish his hold regardless, "Lan Zhan stay please?"
In response, the Bearer of Light simply continues massaging at his neck, making him purr again.
"I am here, Wei Ying."
Jiang Cheng says, putting down his book abruptly.
Next to him, Zewu Jun's brush pauses in writing, amber gaze flickering up in mild curiosity and uncertainty, silent.
Leaning back in his chair, the Pixiu wears an unexpectedly awed expression on a usually solemn face.
"I believe-", he begins, "I am jealous of Hanguang Jun."
The Pixiu almost laughs when he sees Zewu Jun's expression morph into owlish surprise, dropping his brush against half-written stacks of papers.
Explaining, Jiang Cheng smiles wryly, "my brother may behave like a child at the best of times, but under all that, Wei Ying never depends on anyone during pain or illness. Even with me, he looks for comfort only when afraid, but hides away if hurt."
"It was a hard lesson we quickly learned in captivity. Giving away any signs of our pain led only to more punishment." Unclenching his curled hands, the Pixiu continues, "I sought him out instinctively - our bonds were strong, and we had to ensure the other survived. In the moments where he did cling to me, it was only through a haze, or the shock of his system attempting to process the grievousness of wounds."
Looking down at his palms, the Pixiu sighs. "Yesterday night, when he refused to allow Hanguang Jun to leave his bed. I was taken aback at how outwardly he showed his displeasure, his neediness simply for your brother's presence to comfort him."
Zewu Jun nods, before leaning back as well.
He asks carefully, "so it is jealousy that you feel, then?"
Shrugging, Jiang Wanyin meets his gaze, eyes honest and body held taut. "I admit the emotion is new to me. Yet there is no other way to explain how I felt when I saw Wei Ying being vulnerable with Hanguang Jun, and looking for Hanguang Jun, instead of me."
The deity seated next to him nods slowly, before he queries, "is that such a bad thing? To your mind?"
Humming in consideration, Jiang Cheng looks up at the evening sky, tracking the smattering of starlight across the deep darkness of night time. The deity responsible for the twinkling display sits just next to him, shifting just slightly to face the silent Pixiu, who distractedly draws his fingers through the ends of his long ebony hair, tucked over his shoulder to cascade loosely over his chest.
"No." He finally answers, and Zewu Jun releases a breath he did not realise he was holding. "No, it is a good thing. Only new to me - but not all that bad, for Wei Ying to allow himself to latch onto someone other me."
The Pixiu startles, as a sweet is gently placed next to him.
He looks up, observing Zewu Jun's gentle smile. The moonlight brings a different glow to the deity's skin, and tinges his hair sapphire - the inky darkness of long locks almost melting into the darkness of his formal robes, layers of blue studded with precious jade and silver embroidery of crescent moons hidden amongst drifting clouds. The headpiece affixed to the crown of his hair gleams silver, curling around his half-braid with sharp and twisted edges, making the Lord of Night look godly even in his gentleness.
"Jiang Cheng has always been clever and mature." Zewu Jun speaks with a voice softened in something akin to affection. "You are younger than your sibling, yet protect him to your best efforts, with fierceness beyond your years - as does he. Both of you were forced to harden against countless pain inflicted, but never lost your tenacity and softness for each other. A formidable, enviable bond."
The words lock into the Pixiu with nothing but warmth, who simply blinks in surprise at the honesty.
Smiling still, Zewu Jun continues, "You mustn't disallow yourself to feel, Jiang Cheng," the other feels a bubble of indignation, but says nothing as the deity presses on, "even if they are bad feelings - jealousy, or envy, or anger - bad feelings have their points as well."
The Pixiu finds that he cannot look away, but he answers nonetheless, haughtily, "Might I assure you, Zewu Jun - that while I might not look it - I am capable of feeling more than just those emotions."
A brief flash of surprise flits through the other's impeccable face, but it disappears just as quickly. Tilting nearer, he asks, voice lowered and eyes darkening.
"What else is it that you feel then, Jiang Cheng?"
Swallowing against the swell of nervousness and suddenly keenly aware of his own heartbeat, Jiang Wanyin considers speaking honestly, unsure on when their faces suddenly came to be so much, much too close to each other. He is so near to the other, a familiar scent of rain and forest frost ignites in his heightened senses - associating them with a deity of the moon and stars.
"I feel", he blurts, "- too much."
Another smile, and an unyielding gaze of consideration as Zewu Jun prompts.
Impatiently, the Pixiu declares in a huff, "yes, too much. Being out of my Pixiu form pushes me to a range of emotions we have all but locked away in our years caged, both literally and figuratively, Zewu Jun. As beasts, our range of emotions were limited to only aggression or fear - even comforting each other were fleeting moments me and my brother stole."
He scoffs, displeased, "Yet in Gusu Lan, it is absolutely confusing how I find myself feeling everything and nothing at the same time, on most days. My head - my entire being is full of thoughts and my soul is filled to the brim with emotions muddled and unexplainable!"
The other asks again, interestedly, "Pray tell, Jiang Cheng - when do these muddled feeling become clearer to you?"
"Of course these feelings only become clear when I am with y-"
He freezes, stopping.
The anxiety previously flooding his chest is now replaced with dawning panic at the statement he almost completed, and Jiang Cheng quickly averts his eyes from a golden gaze that suddenly intensifies knowingly.
Zewu Jun chuckles meaningfully, but chooses to keep his silence, turning to lean back again with a quirked smile removed of all gentleness and replaced with a clever expression of understanding. Next to him, the Pixiu fumbles in silence, staring down at his hands once more as he scrambles to dissipate a flush crawling up his neck and sitting across his cheeks as he rubs quickly at his face.
"Will you not finish your sentence, Jiang Cheng?"
Feeling the blush creep more determinedly into his face, the Pixiu mutters, "Zewu Jun -", he tries weakly to dissipate the shake behind his voice.
He is interrupted, as the deity of nightfall pushes the sweet closer, smiling still.
"My name is Lan Huan."
The other blinks, taken aback and flustered at the declaration, ears burning as his heart thunders against his chest. His response is stifled when Lan Huan asks again, glided eyes shining with his ever present knowing smile.
"Will you ever tell me the rest of that sentence, Jiang Cheng?"
"Zewu Jun," he tries weakly, before shaking his head and trying again, "Lan Huan."
He finally murmurs, voice dwindled quietly and uncertainly, "one day, perhaps."
"Yet, not - not now, Lan Huan."
Looking up at the celestial landscape he himself painted, Lan Huan's smile is as tranquil as a sprawling night sky above them, as he nods to a blubbering Pixiu, patient and imperturbable.
"Whenever you are ready, shy little Pixiu of mine."
Did everyone ask for more softness because I decided to write more softness anyway. The world might be burning down around me but I'll be goddamned if I don't at least put down one chapter with a flustered Jiang Cheng and a sick Wei Ying.
Don't eat those berries, guys. Forest berries that are red and grow in the wild are probably not our friends.
Chapter 9: Qí lín
This time, the lord of fire brings two more.
Scowling behind Wen Ruohan, are his equally fiery, equally impatient sons. Their irritable expressions deepen when Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun's arrival is announced by a bowing attendant - breezing into view with unnaturally pale, watchful gazes giving away nothing.
Behind them, follow two more with familiar eyes of violet and grey.
Flying is different now.
Where the action used to be carefree and simple, now grated wrongly on twisted sinew and rolling uncomfortably into torn joints. Where plumage used to splay perfectly uniformed and instinctively taking them into the air, sat gaping holes where crucial feathers needed to be, quills that were necessary to keep heavy bodies streaming on winds through clouds.
Wings that used to move effortlessly, now took repeated, wincing tries. Movements that caused any level of discomfort into scar tissue and bone that was never given an opportunity to heal properly - mending wrong and beyond repair.
Their escape had taken them everything, and more.
Twin messes of blood, scales, fur and feathers, crumpled wings unable to do anything other than flutter for short bursts.
Allowing them to only take flight for minutes, sometimes mere seconds, just enough to aid their speed in stumbling gallops before losing traction. Only able to struggle, helping them claw up rocky cliffs, keeping their balance as they ran, leaping from tree to boulder to land, shielding their owners as they dragged each other through cold rivers and grassy fields.
Falling limp, feathers snapped and as thoroughly broken as their tired bodies. Stumbling blindly, to find themselves lost and hidden deep in a forest unrecognisable, looming trees and deer watching in pity as they finally stopped to succumb to rest. Their hurt making them wail, helpless against their injuries, flopping scales dotted in blood, antlers chipped and bodies torn asunder as they begged for any comfort, for help.
With damage permanently knotted into wing bones, flight feathers unable to grow back - the Pixiu knew - no longer were they capable of flight into the skies.
Formidable beasts, now laying against each other in a cool breeze and soft sunlight. In the same Cloud Recesses, where looming trees and deer watched them, only with quiet interest this time.
A stray tuft of down feather floats away with cold winds, unnoticed by either Pixiu as Jiang Cheng continues to gently and slowly groom at a crumpled wing splayed towards the sky, twitching. A prickly tongue laving over the spread wing's soft, downy undercoat with practised, precise licks under and between the sparse, stiff feathers atop. His scaly snout huffs, his grooming tickling along a sensitive muzzle.
In his preening, a constant rumbling purr resonates from the beast, assuring another of his presence - protective even in a moment of relaxation.
Next to him, napping in a comfortable curl on a patch of soft grass, Wei Ying breathes evenly in rest. His paws are tucked under his serpent-like maw, soft fur of his lean flank rippling like golden sand from restless dreams and twin tails flopped against his sibling's. The sleeping Pixiu snuffles deeper into his paws, as the breeze tickles along the glimmering scales of his jaws and disturbing at long whiskers.
Two pairs of tufted ears swivel up abruptly, and Jiang Cheng's wing folds slowly back against his body as Wei Ying's eyes slide open.
The sleeping Pixiu remains as he is, unmoving even as his eyes blink open slowly, slits of drowsiness. He begins to growl lowly, when he feels Jiang Cheng's antlers nudge insistently against his belly to rouse him. Wei Ying huffs, staying in an obstinate curl as the other begins to growl unhappily, only to nudge harder in warning before gently nipping at his scruff, teething at fur and scales to tug.
Relenting, Wei Ying finally unfurls himself, shaking his brother's teeth off his neck with an indignant chirp before stretching into a wide yawn. Shaking off the sleepiness, both Pixiu rise to their paws to slink languidly alongside one another, playfully crossing antlers as they romp across the grass, chirruping and rearing up to continue butting heads in their play fight. Wei Ying gives in at some point, huffing even when he is physically bowled over by a pouncing younger sibling, before they continue to chase each others' tails.
As two familiar figures come into view across the meadow of rippling grass and flowers, they pause to purr aloud - tails flicking high into the air.
Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun stop in their approach, holding out twin robes of black when they see two quick flashes of light.
Silently, the two deities fold lengths of dark cotton over slender bodies, as quick hands tie the dark cotton tight against their waists, dark hair gently lifted away to be tucked into loose ponytails - one scarlet, the other violet. Smiling down to a nodding Jiang Cheng, the Lord of Night steps back to watch as the Pixiu turns, helping tighten his sibling's red waist sash into a perfect bow as always.
Wei Ying chirrups again, patiently standing still as his brother busies himself with tidying his unruly sibling. He turns to smile up at Hanguang Jun, as the two deities slide another layer of warm robes, long lines of black and mauve, over the two siblings' slender shoulders, seeping heat into their more fragile forms.
Next to his solemn brother, Zewu Jun speaks with a voice soft.
"Whenever you are ready."
A meaningful stare between hues of violet-sapphire against taupe-grey, as Wei Ying's purr taper into nothingness. Fingers twitching with eyes that begin to flitter between colours and shapes, the pair of Pixiu seem to hesitate, just for a moment.
Lifting their chins, Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying instead straighten to stand tall, eyes gleaming as rounded pupils catch beautifully in the sunlight.
Taking each other's hands, fingers entwining in their silence - Jiang Cheng nods, and finally speaks.
"We are ready."
This time, the lord of fire brings two more.
Scowling behind Wen Ruohan, are his equally fiery, equally impatient sons.
Removed of all haughtiness and decor, Wen Zhuliu and Wen Chao are far removed from their splendour as their father's spoilt children. Knelt in the middle of a familiar great hall in Gusu Lan, their irritable expressions deepen when Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun's arrival is announced by a bowing attendant - breezing into view with unnaturally pale, watchful gazes giving away nothing.
Behind them, follow two more with familiar eyes.
As the four bow in greeting to their solemn father, his sons frown at the familiarity of the averted gazes hidden behind two deities. Despite this, Wen Zhuliu's mind immediately begins to tickle in familiarity of those gazes, afraid and undefeated all in one.
The recognition snaps into him like a tidal wave.
"You two", he starts, voice low, "you are the two Pixiu beasts who ran away."
Immediately, his view of them is blocked as two deities of day and night come into his line of vision. He frowns, looking up at the Gusu Lan brothers and sizing up to both before his own father affixes him with a sharp look, cowing his eldest child into silence. Next to him, Wen Chao begins to laugh, snarling with unrepentant rage.
"Those Pixiu are rightfully ours, why are they still in Gusu Lan for?"
A sharp slap rings out in the silent air, as Wen Ruohan abruptly backhands his youngest son - the force of it so hard it sends the other crumpling to his side and immediately leaking blood from his nose. Groaning, Wen Chao struggles back into a kneel, cowering as his father watches him, silently appraising as if in wait for his child to say anything else. To further test his father's patience.
When he says nothing, his father scowls in disgust before turning to speak to the deities.
"My family has wronged the Pixiu behind you, Hanguang Jun, Zewu Jun." A booming voice, more rumble than lilt as he continues, "Wen Ruohan brings his sons to you this evening, to apologise for their dishonourable and abhorrent behaviour towards sacred creatures of our realm."
Gently pulling free of his frightened brother, Jiang Wanyin nods to a wide-eyed Wei Ying, who tucks close to Hanguang Jun's back as he steps forward. His fear is obvious, but his eyes are determined, set jaw and sharp features of intelligence and consideration.
"Master Wen is generous, and just." He speaks, steadying his voice and gaze against the terrifying scarlet glare from the deity of fire, "yet it is the opinion of this Pixiu, that an apology does not suffice."
Shutting his eyes to a well-expected rise of tension and anger from the trio in front of him, Jiang Cheng continues, voice loud as he presses ahead, "Master Wen. Your sons have subjected me and my brother to acts of violence, abuse undeserving of your family name. We are powerless to demand for more, but yet it is my right to speak - even if not as your equal, then as a celestial creature."
"Father, this is ridiculous -", Wen Zhuliu tries, lips snapping shut with another stare of flashing red eyes.
Seating himself heavily, dark hair and robes settling like flames around him, Wen Ruohan speaks with a dismissive wave.
"Speak, little runt. My sons shall remain kneeling, or lose their legs."
Swallowing against a nervous breath, Jiang Cheng continues. "An apology is a pale punishment in comparison to the years of suffering your sons have allowed me and my brother, Lord Wen. We were close to death on many occasions, and now stand before you as healing but broken Pixiu. The damage inflicted is beyond repair on more than a single front, and irreversible."
"An impudent little thing. Two mere Pixiu and you seek to demand recompense from me?" Snarls the deity, terrifying and ferocious, "my sons are still children of a great family. If you wish to inflict death or damage upon my blood, I shall not acquiesce easily."
Jiang Wanyin pauses, mind buzzing from glowing red eyes set upon him.
We will seek neither death nor damage, Lord Wen.
Every set of eyes turn to a sudden voice lilting out from behind Hanguang Jun. A Pixiu stalks out from behind the surprised Lord of Light, ears laid flat and radiant silver eyes gleaming with intent at Wen Ruohan, who gazes back at the creature warily - knowing that a celestial creature was capable of ending an immortal's life, even one as damaged and skittish as Wei Wuxian.
Wings tucking close to its body, the Pixiu continues to prowl forward, twin tails swaying low to the floor as heavy paws take careful steps towards the deity.
From this day forward, never again shall any creature belong to your sons or family.
Wei Wuxian's voice is accompanied with a low growl, as his voice continues to float. Your sons will instead, free every celestial creature in their prisons today. There will be no more fighting pits, or trapping of any creature for taming - no creature will serve your family's purpose. No more abuse, or violence may be mete out, no further dishonour to your name, with no creatures in possession to your family.
That shall our recompense, Lord Wen.
Scowling, Wen Ruohan simply drawls, "and if I do not agree, Pixiu? What of it?"
We shall rend your children limb from limb before the sun sets today.
The answer pulls another blanket of silence over the great hall, as another Pixiu appears next to Wei Wuxian, both gazes slitted and unwavering. Their tails flick against each other, wings stretching and scales along their dragon heads raising in warning. All too clearly, the deity of fire's gaze intensifies, smouldering like flames in his rage. Yet he remains silent, contemplative in his seat, watching the imposing creatures of jaws and speed beyond his control - one winged beast, he would struggle to fend off, let alone a pair.
Wen Chao barks mockingly, "pathetic wildlings who dare to make demands of our clan, I should strip you of your hides!"
"Father, there is no reason for us to continue bearing these insults!" He turns, arguing aloud, "this is an outrage! You would have me and brother kneel here in front of us lesser things. All the creatures in our clan are rightfully captured, bought and belong to us - as our property! These worthless things dare to demand we free all of our possessions? We should kill them now and spare everyone this treachery and waste of time!"
"What will it take -", a ringed hand slams heavily upon the arm of his chair, as Wen Ruohan grounds out, "- for you to shut your mouth?"
Wen Chao falls into a stunned silent, scowling and unrepentant as his brother shoulders him, eyes flashing in warning. The two creatures circle closer, teeth baring and eyes flashing in caution, fur at their nape prickling gently.
"Perhaps I should just let these two runts eat you today, my son. What is the use of your existence if only to bring me shame and dishonour such as this? You are on your knees in front of all of us, and yet still do not see how precarious, how absolutely worthless your life is in this moment. How much more shame will satisfy you? In the least, your elder brother has the good sense of accepting his punishment instead of causing me further unhappiness."
Seething, his youngest child falls to silence once more, and both sons lower their gazes to the floorboards. Their hands curl into fists in lieu of any further protests, and their father turns back to the pair of Pixiu watching the trio.
"Very big threats, for such small cubs you are. Does one think they might escape with their lives, after killing my blood, Pixiu?" Wen Ruohan asks, "there may be two of you, but I trust even you understand that any vengeance I take, the Lord of Day and Night cannot defend you from."
We are prepared to die if so, but not without first taking your sons' lives.
Wei Wuxian's voice answers easily, Lord Wen is welcome to exact death upon us. Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun will bear you no grudge if you choose to take our heads for your sons, as rows of wet, gleaming-white cuspids appear from behind glimmering scales, make no mistake - one of two things will happen today, Lord Wen. Your captive creatures will be freed, or we will stain Gusu Lan with blood today.
"If I may be so bold." Zewu Jun finally speaks for the first time through the entire exchange, stepping forward. "Your family has served fire and calamity since the start of time, Master Wen. Surely, one can see how unnecessary the use of celestial creatures are to serve your purpose?"
Lips curling into another snarl, said deity snips, "do you presume how I should run my empire, Zewu Jun?"
Lowering his head fractionally, Lan Huan simply sighs with a wry smile.
"I am simply suggesting," his golden gaze slides back up to meet blazing scarlet pupils, "that perhaps your sons should take a page from their great father. As far I am aware, Lord Wen has never used, or depended on anything other than his own two hands, throughout his immortal life. A veritable trait for your offspring to inherit, should they choose so."
If his two children note the insult veiled behind praise, they do nothing and keep their eyes trained to the floor.
"Flattery will get you nowhere." Wen Ruohan growls, as he continues, "does Zewu Jun think I do not see through your strategy?"
In his silence, his younger sibling steps forward, arms clasped behind him as he speaks. "My brother's honesty is no strategy, Lord Wen. It is my humble wish for you not to doubt the two Pixiu before you. We have all seen the prowess of such creatures through our years in this realm - surely Lord Wen would wish to avoid an inevitable death of your two children in their jaws. There would be no greater shame to your family."
"Relinquishing mere creatures' their freedom is a small price to pay for penance, when one considers the alternative of a bloodbath."
"You are all ludicrous creatures." The fearsome lord growls, tapping his finger slowly against the wooden grain of his seat. "Brazen, impertinent fools who dare to demand terms of me - the great king of fire and destruction. I have lived since the beginning of time itself, seen everything and lived through it all. Yet here I sit, in the Cloud Recesses with our lords of day and night, my sons kneeling in front of two silly cubs who dare, have the nerve to threaten my family line if I do not free my children's silly pets."
The silence that falls over the great hall is thick, a smog of heat and tension craggy and uncomfortable.
Wei Ying and his sibling almost buckle, ready to rear back in aggression at every blink of those terrifying, oxblood eyes. Behind them, Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun stand absolutely still - as always, pillars of serene peacefulness masking their true intentions, unwilling to remove pale, golden gazes from the same deity. No one speaks or moves, and even his sons train their eyes to the same floor, blinking in the unnerving hush.
Wen Ruohan finally breaks the still air, standing abruptly in a swing of heavy robes, "I shall accept your offer, little pups, and free every creature in our service today. That is my word, and Gusu Lan may deploy whomever they wish to verify my fulfilment of your silly terms."
As he speaks, the deity begins a languid approach towards the pair of Pixiu brothers. Almost immediately, his sapphire-eyed sibling inches forward, tufted ears swivelling back in muted caution, lowering protectively into tensed haunches in a mock display of submission. Behind him, his sibling's silver eyes blow wide in fear, their tails stiffening low against tensed flanks even when neither creature flinch or move back in response.
Watching this display with mild amusement, Wen Ruohan simply continues in a voice coloured with his constant state of displeasure.
"One would do well, to consider their penance paid today, Pixiu."
Both creatures' eyes flit nervously, as the powerful deity bends just slightly to meet their gaze, arms clasped behind him. Narrowed eyes gleaming like droplets of blood as he speaks lowly, "Mark my words, little cubs. Should I find that either one of you continue to incite violence or seek to reap further vengeance towards any member of my family - there will be no further acts of graciousness from me to you, or to either your resplendent gods in Gusu Lan."
Hearing his two sons begin to shift in protest, Wen Ruohan inhales deep. Slowly, his back straightens to stand tall once more as his intense gaze seemingly studies a ceiling of drifting clouds, his low voice continuing to ring out airily.
"My sons have today, made me pay the price for their shameful foolery."
At his words, the two Pixiu finally begin to step back slowly, slinking behind Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun respectively, tails curling around their ward's legs for comfort. Their eyes continue to watch, securely hidden behind the deities of day and night, as Wen Ruohan turns to gaze calmly upon his two simpering children.
"My sons have yet to pay the price for dishonouring their family name."
"That," he drawls with another crimson glint in his eyes, "is a completely different lesson."
I maintain that Wen Ruohan is The World's Not Greatest Dad, but he will not entertain any disrespect to his name - snooty as he is. If you wish to know what he's going to do to his two little shit kids, that is completely up to your imagination. It's left open-ended because I have no further wish to allow the two Wen sons any further screen time in my work.
More healing time coming, maybe a few adventures, some mishaps and all-round just plain cuddling times.
Just in case - Wen Zhuliu is one of Wen Ruohan's sons here, but whether he is adopted or biological is entirely up to the reader. Wen Xu is not featured here as he's the eldest son and works much more closely with his father - he has some semblance of honour and duty, unlike Wen Chao. He does not share Wen Zhuliu's blind loyalty to protect and enable Wen Chao, so hopefully that made sense.
Chapter 10: Tiān-gǒu
He finds Wei Ying in the pond again.
Whimpering and lonesome, sitting almost unseen in the rippling shadows of Hanguang Jun's pond, loosened hair and soaked robes a curtain of darkness around his pale skin and sad features. In the moonlight, a familiar scarlet ribbon can be seen threading repetitively through his hands, tattered ends in fidgeting, restless hands.
Sighing, Lan Zhan steps out from behind a shroud of trees and Wei Ying turns immediately at the sound, grey eyes gleaming with tears.
Jiang Cheng was in a foul mood.
His fluctuating temper was obvious to everyone, and particularly to his sibling, who tried to soothe the other as best he could, trying everything to comfort an undoubtedly upset brother. For three days, Wei Ying would find himself spurned - whining and scratching at shut doors as his sibling holed himself away, emerging with eyes puffy from tears and their bedroom furniture splintered from rage. Any questions were unanswered, met with more silence as Jiang Cheng shunned any attempt from anyone to comfort him.
With his brother unwilling to speak, Wei Ying could do little but wait. Quietly curled nearby or outside their bedroom, creeping in only when his brother had fallen asleep, to curl lightly around his restless sibling, purring to try and abate the other's restless moods.
His brother's restless moods came to a head tonight, as Wei Ying found himself chasing the other through the quiet of nightfall in Gusu Lan.
Stop - Jiang Cheng!
Cold winds whip through his fur now, pleading as he ran after his sibling, hefty wings fluttering to keep his balance and grey eyes trained on the other in the darkness. Jiang Cheng ran equally quickly even out of his Pixiu form, and abruptly vanishes for seconds with a sharp turn taken through a familiar meadow. Growling in frustration, Wei Ying only willed himself to run faster, worry and confusion at his brother's behaviour making him refuse to cease his pursuit.
The Pixiu skids to a stop on the cold grass, wings tucking back against his flank as the other finally comes to a stop in the middle of a dimly-lit meadow, both brothers breathing harshly from exertion. Wei Ying steps back, when he sees Jiang Cheng whip around with a scowl already on his face as he yells, "just leave me alone, Wei Ying! I just - need to be alone."
How could I leave you when you are like this - the Pixiu argues in a plea, approaching slowly, tell me what is bothering you so, brother. You have been so upset , I just wish to help.
"You can help me by leaving me be! I just want to be alone." Wei Ying hears the other grit out, and finds himself at a loss for words - silent as he sidles up next to his upset sibling, gently rubbing his snout along Jiang Cheng's leg. His brother whispers harshly, "I just need to be alone to think."
But why -
"I said just go away!"
Wei Ying startles at the shout, instinctively crouching tensed to the grass as Jiang Cheng hisses aggressively - a terrible sound making his eyes flash into violet slits. Threatened and worried, the Pixiu instinctively postures himself smaller, pressing his stomach low with ears flattened and tails tucked tight under his body, forlornly whimpering at his brother's outburst even as Jiang Cheng continues to snarl menacingly, stepping away from the other.
Jiang Cheng snarls still, "can you not leave me alone to myself, Wei Wuxian?"
"Just leave me be!"
As he angrily turns to continue stomping through the meadow, Jiang Cheng pauses momentarily when a pitched whine sounds out from behind, pleading and concerned.
Conflicted, Jiang Cheng takes off into another run, quickly disappearing into the dark forests - determined to run until he can forget Wei Ying's wet eyes and mournful cries.
He finds Wei Ying in the pond again.
Whimpering and lonesome, the Pixiu sits almost unseen in the rippling shadows of Hanguang Jun's pond, with loosened hair and soaked robes a curtain of darkness around his pale skin and sad features. In the moonlight, a familiar scarlet ribbon can be seen threading repetitively through his hands, fidgeting and restless with the tattered ends as tears drip into the water around him.
Sighing, Lan Zhan steps out from behind a shroud of trees and the Pixiu turns immediately, grey doe eyes gleaming with tears.
He is prepared this time, when Wei Ying all but rushes right into his arms, pouring himself into Lan Zhan's lap and burying his face into the deity's neck, a bundle of soaked hair and upset mewls. Sitting into the grass, he curls arms around the Pixiu, soothing at tears he finds.
"Little one, why do you weep?"
Lan Zhan asks softly, stroking hands along wet tresses as the other trembles through fresh tears, clinging tight to the lord of daylight.
Between the hiccups, Hanguang Jun manages to hear the muffled words, "brother, brother is sad."
"Your brother just needs time," he quickly coaxes, "there are many things on his mind and he will not be sad for very long, I promise, little one. Did he scold you? Is that why you weep?"
Wei Ying looks up to nod, expression stricken and absolutely shattered. Through his crying, the other lets Hanguang Jun pull dry robes over his shoulders, willing warmth into the soaked body as more tears roll down ruddy cheeks, the Pixiu whimpering loudly as he tries to wipe at his face, distractedly allowing the other to dry him. As Lan Zhan squeezes water from damp locks, Wei Ying continues to cry, sobbing so much that his entire being seems to crumple in upset.
"Brother is sad. Does not want - not want Wei Ying with him. Tell Wei Ying to go away."
His voice is impossibly soft and choked from hurt, even as he continues to try and wipe his tears away. Lan Zhan shushes immediately, cradling the shaking body, as Wei Ying's heart breaks over his brother's state, seemingly upset at himself for not being able to unburden Jiang Cheng. Gently, Hanguang Jun begins to rock the Pixiu in his arms, hushing and whispering comfort through quiet sniffling and tracing tear tracks trickling down a flushed face.
"Crying a lot. Brother - cry from sad, but does not let Wei Ying be near - tell to go away. Wei Ying cannot help?"
"Hush now, sweet, little one. Listen to me."
Hanguang Jun murmurs gently, cheek pressed against a cold forehead damp from pond water. Above them, the midnight sky is glimmering in a sheet of stars, reminiscent to the Bearer of Light of tears dripping from wet lashes. "Your brother is sad, but only for a little while. He has trauma like you do, but in a different way. Your brother had to do the right and honourable thing, and sometimes, doing what is just instead seeking vengeance, it takes something from us. It makes us sad, or angry, maybe even confuses us."
"Your brother and you - agreeing to let the Wen brothers off with their lives - it was right, but perhaps inadequate to your brother. He has seen your pain, suffered his own, but is unable to do anything to abate his anger or need for justice."
"Cannot kill Wen family! Only Pixiu, cannot ask for death." Wei Ying's voice is high as he argues, wiping at his face again, "just want pain to go away from Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng."
Lan Zhan nods, and continues to explain gently, "we must let sadness pass in its own time, little one. Tears will run dry eventually, and your brother is simply conflicted now. He only means to protect you from his anger, so he hides himself away. Sometimes, that is all we can do in our anger or unhappiness - we drive others away."
Whimpering, the Pixiu looks up, "Wei Ying cannot make sad go away?"
"I know you mean to, little one," Hanguang Jun soothes again, gently wiping at sad grey eyes, "your heart is in the right place. Sometimes, all we can do is wait for them to allow us in. We all process pain in our own ways - some cry and some lock themselves away, some do not even show it. Your brother is strong like you, but so different, so you must trust and have faith that he will seek you out for comfort if he requires it. "
In response, the Pixiu sniffles again, laying his cheek upon Lan Zhan's chest to scent against soothing sandalwood. In turn, the deity tucks his chin over Wei Ying's head, pressing the other closer against his own body heat, humming softly against a symphony of other sounds lilting through the night sky.
"Now, you must change into some warmer robes quickly, Wei Ying. Your brother would be heart broken to know of your state now."
In the silence, Lan Zhan continues, "please do not weep anymore, Wei Ying. How it aches at my heart, to find you seeking solace in my pond alone and crying."
Bolting upright, the Pixiu seems to be on the verge of tears once more as he presses cold hands to hold the deity's face, head tilted worriedly as he asks, "Lan Zhan - Lan Zhan is sad? Why?"
"Hush, I am not upset," smiling wanly, the deity soothes as he hears another pitched trill, sad and curious all at the same time, "do not worry yourself, little one."
"Not be sad, Lan Zhan." Wei Ying insists, clamouring up to his haunches so he can wrap arms around Hanguang Jun's shoulders, pressing the other close. Hanguang Jun blinks, when he realises the other is mimicking him - circling the deity's head against his own chest with hands stroking along Lan Zhan's hair gently. Ignoring the cold dampness against his own cheek now, Lan Zhan rests hands over a small waist, allowing a distressed Pixiu fuss over him instead.
The deity sighs, leaning back to look up at concern gleaming through pretty doe eyes, "my heart aches when you are in pain. In the same way you weep for your brother. I am simply worried for you, Wei Ying."
"Can - can Wei Ying make sad go away?"
"Do not worry yourself," Lan Zhan answers quietly, "you need only to cease these tears, and I will be alright, little one."
Nodding, the Pixiu tucks himself tight against the other again, hooking his face over Hanguang Jun's crown of hair as he begins to rumble with loud purrs. Hanguang Jun smiles softly, knowing the instinctive reaction of the winged creatures to comfort and heal each other through purring.
"Little one," he murmurs, "I promise, your brother will be alright sooner than you imagine."
Still purring, the Pixiu pulls away slightly to tilt his head down at the Bearer of Light once again, intrigued. In his distraction, Lan Zhan reaches for crumpled robes next to them, pulling them over cold skin once more and folding soft layers over the small waist he holds.
"How Lan Zhan know?"
Gentle amber eyes softening, Hanguang Jun simply leans his head back down to press against Wei Ying's chest once more, eliciting a surprised, curious chirrup.
"I have sent someone who might be able to help Jiang Wanyin."
Flashes of mauve, gleaming like jewels in the early hours of dawn. Zewu Jun stands at the entrance of the other's quarters, scanning a variety of disarray - torn curtains, furniture moved or chipped from claws and teeth. Unmade linens, some ripped with crumpled robes piled into a corner. Averting his eyes, said Pixiu responsible for the mild chaos turns to curl deeper into his seat next to an open window, wrapped in a simple robe, fatigued face tucked into arms folded over bent knees curled up and into his chest.
"Why -", Zewu Jun begins, before pausing to reconsider his words, "- you worry me so, Jiang Cheng."
Digging fingers into his arms, the other simply growls tersely in response. "Well, I apologise for the inconvenience, Zewu Jun."
"You know that is not what I meant." The deity answers calmly as he steps into the room, all woeful eyes and reproachful tone, "you have been punishing yourself for days now, and your brother is beside himself with worry. Will you not tell me why? It pains me, pains everyone to see you like this."
Snarling, the other curls tighter into himself, "I did not ask for anyone to come and see or care for me! I am literally hiding away in my own room to think - what more does one have to do for some peace in Gusu Lan?"
The deity of nightfall draws nearer despite the outburst, silently taking a seat in front of the other.
"Just go away, Lan Huan." The deity hears, but does not acquiesce to the request from the Pixiu. "I am not good company right now."
Amber eyes observe red-rimmed corners of tired eyes, hair untied with pallid skin and unhappiness etched into every pore of the Pixiu presented to him, who does not move or startle at the other's approach and proximity. Noting the lack of reaction, Zewu Jun silently and carefully reaches out to press a warm hand upon Jiang Cheng's cheek, finding pale skin cold and cheeks dry from his nights spent wandering outdoors.
"Since Wen Ruohan's visit, you have been most upset." Zewu Jun murmurs, leaning forward slightly to try and catch a dull gaze, "will you not tell me why? Did the meeting not go according to your expectations?"
The upset Pixiu sighs at this, shutting his eyes to instead nuzzle into Zewu Jun's seeking palm, letting a familiarity of fresh snow and smokey incense wash over his frazzled mind. Mildly relieved at the acceptance, long fingers scratch lightly along his ear, massaging an earlobe gently as Lan Huan watches the Pixiu try very hard not to react to bestowed attention, sadness overwhelming into a familiar wetness along his lashes.
"It is not enough." The Pixiu finally grinds out, jaw tensed as his eyelids squeeze tight, "I wanted - they, the punishment. It is not enough."
Sighing, Lan Huan simply reaches out and jostles a willing Jiang Cheng forward, wrapping strong arms around the smaller body.
"Me and Wei Ying," he snarls angrily, voice shaking against the pulse of Lan Huan's neck, "all our years of torment in their hands. Our wings, I wanted more -," warm arms tighten around Jiang Cheng's shaking shoulders, fingers pressing into the divot where his wings would be, "- our wings will never work properly anymore. They made my brother fight other creatures like us, rendered Wei Ying half mute, afraid of everything - he cannot even sleep - gave us nothing but pain and trauma and scars it is not enough!"
As he begins to struggle against Lan Huan, wild eyes looks up, refusing to let his tears fall even as he meets pained amber eyes with a warm hand cradling his cheek once more, "- it is all so unfair, Lan Huan. I needed, wanted them to suffer as we did, I wanted to rip their throats out, tear their limbs from them and make their father watch, to make them pay for all our years of pain, Wei Ying - my brother's trauma - our suffering our wings our pain all those years of screaming -"
Jiang Cheng's rambling comes to a screeching halt when Zewu Jun's lips abruptly press against his.
His eyes blink shut, tears now falling freely as he freezes for the briefest moment against the deity's kiss, feeling warm lips seek permission.
With a sob, Jiang Cheng nods, allowing the other to deepen their kiss, never breaking apart even as he clamours closer into Lan Huan's lap, wrapping arms around the deity's neck. Insistent hands gently hold his face, wiping at his cheeks as he gasps into a searing kiss, tongues and teeth meeting desperately, stealing his very breath from him.
Pulling back, Jiang Cheng presses their foreheads together. Shaking, he tries to steady his breath against words breathed; traced right against his own lips.
"My beautiful. precious Jiang Cheng," his arms lock tight over Lan Huan's shoulders, trembling as hands stroke along flushed cheeks, tucking loose strands behind his ears as the precious bundle in his lap shudders with his touches, eyes sliding open as the deity touches their noses together, nudging. "Listen to me, Wanyin. My brave, good Pixiu."
Their gazes lock once more as Lan Huan continues earnestly, "their suffering, no matter how great or painful, will never be able to negate any pain or damage you and your brother went through, please believe my words. We must never let these thoughts of retribution and vengeance cloud us, beautiful one. You must see how these unworthy thoughts will only cause more suffering."
"It will never be enough, my sweet."
With his words, Zewu Jun presses a kiss to Jiang Cheng's damp eyes, as he continues to urge, "no matter their punishment, whether it be by your hand or their father's, it will always be insufficient. Even if Lord Wen agreed to forfeit their lives, even if you tore them apart, vengeance is a bottomless pit that will only consume us. You must hold belief that what you and your brother sought was just. They can never harm another, and no other innocent life will be held captive anymore."
In response, the Pixiu simply breathes against the other, murmuring, "I know - I know what you speak of, Lan Huan. Yet still, something in me," lashes tickle along Lan Huan's cheek as violet eyes blink shut again, "something in me just wants to scream, wants to rage at the unfairness of it all."
"Live, Wanyin." The baritone lilt of Zewu Jun's voice rumbles insistently, "you and Wuxian must live and heal, claw back all those years you lost to their cruelty. That, and that alone will be the best form of vengeance to those who wish only for your suffering."
Silence pulls taut between them, as Jiang Cheng lets the words sink in, burrowing deeper into a warm enclave of strong arms and even breathing. He feels Lan Huan gently nudging against his temple, nosing for his attention once more. Nervously, he blinks a curious gaze to observe cheekbones dusted with the faintest colour like his own, strands of dark hair loosened from Jiang Cheng's hands.
"You," the Pixiu murmurs suddenly, "you kissed me."
Sighing into a smile, Lan Huan bumps their foreheads together playfully.
"That I did, Wanyin. Did you only realise this now?"
Huffing, Jiang Cheng feels another wave of heat spread over his cheeks, and he swallows nervously. The deity's smile does not falter, and in the silence, he asks softly, "what is it, Wanyin? Tell me what is on your mind."
Eyes wide, the Pixiu untangles his arms from around Zewu Jun's shoulder, tracing fingers along said deity's dark brows and defined cheekbones, drawing across a jawline prominent under locks of long hair. Jiang Cheng's tentative touches continue, as amber eyes darken. His hand is loosely captured, and Lan Huan presses a kiss to Jiang Cheng's open palm, desire thrumming through his body at the affection as he whispers.
"I just think, that you are too good for me, Lan Huan."
His words make the deity growl, abruptly tightens the grip around his own body. Mewling in surprise, the Pixiu peers down at the lord of nightfall, and his hands return to cradle Lan Huan's face, continuing to explain, "you are simply, just far too good for me."
The deity says nothing and simply runs warm hands down a curve of his spine, sliding so impossibly slowly down an arching back of the smaller body, finally resting to press heat upon spread legs bracketing Zewu Jun's hips, robes sliding apart just so.
"Yet, no matter how much I find myself undeserving of you," the Pixiu whispers, fingers tracing those same, smiling lips, "I find myself selfish."
"I am so incredibly selfish, Zewu Jun."
Sapphire eyes begin to dilate into pools of darkness as his voice drops further, toes curling as he sits back onto strong thighs under him. The hands gripping at his legs clutch harder as he presses closer, heartbeat thundering, pounding in his chest with a staccato thump - a reminder to be brave, be brave, be brave.
"I would very much like to keep you, Lan Xichen."
Jiang Cheng jolts, a mild keen reverberating from his throat as Zewu Jun's hand twitches to slide under his parted robes at his words. He gasps softly, as the same hand splays out possessively - long fingers pressing into the skin upon his thigh under dark cloth.
"Will you let me keep you, Lan Huan?"
This time, when Lan Huan surges up for another kiss, Jiang Cheng meets him halfway.
I COME FORTH WITH THE SOFT.
Is anyone surprised at that XiCheng got their kiss first? Please hear me out - if anything, I'd like to think that Lan Xichen is a little more forward of the Gusu Lan brothers. He's not as precarious as his little brother, but definitely can read the situation better than Lan Wangji. Just my two cents, so he gets a reward first in this update.
TLDR: Softness all around either way, and a bonus of Wei Ying trying his very best to mother not just his brother, but also a worried future-boyfriend, bless him. Our little WY's speaking is improving gradually as well!
Chapter 11: Tiānlóng
As he blinks, Wei Ying realises this night is a little peculiar.
As he blinks again, after rubbing at sleepy eyes, Wei Ying realises this night is absolutely peculiar.
Jiang Wanyin, you come down from there this instant!
Hissing, said sibling shakes his head as a stubborn grip around a branch tightens with antlers continuing to shake at the tree he's perched on, "I will do no such thing. Not until you promise not to threaten Zewu Jun!"
In the name of all things holy in this realm, come down right now so help me, Wei Ying growls in response, wings twitching as his antlers knock hard against an ancient willow tree once more for good measure, circling said tree in a slow prowl, before sitting to begin digging unsheathed claws into its trunk, - come back down now!
"If you even think about climbing this tree, there will be consequences!" Jiang Cheng snarls in response, leaning over the sturdy branch he's seated on, "I am staying right here until you can learn not to threaten others over nothing!"
A cough sounds out from behind Wei Ying, and both Pixiu pause their arguing to find two deities standing near, steps edging at the same line of forest with heads tilted with curious amber gazes. Silver eyes narrow when they fall upon Lan Huan, who simply smiles in mild concern.
"No - Wei Ying, don't you dare," an abrupt rustling can be heard from above where said Pixiu sits, "- I forbid you from asking!"
With his warning largely ignored, he immediately stands to his paws, ambling near the Gusu Lan brothers, a snarl appearing upon its scaly muzzle directed at a very perplexed deity of nightfall, what exactly did you do to my brother, did you defile him?
"Wei Wuxian!" A voice screeches as Jiang Cheng scrambles down from the tree, swiftly leaping onto his surprised brother's back, who yelps as he rolls over with paws and wings flailing.
Still not saying a word, Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun watch as the two siblings tussle around the grass. Wei Ying growls, trying very hard not to nick his sibling in any way with sharp teeth or claws despite being physically scruffed and rolled around by an angry brother. Get off me this instant, Jiang Cheng, they hear the other's voice once more, you are my sibling and I have a right to ask, this concerns your honour!
"No you absolutely do not - and stop using your tails!" Grabbing the flicking appendages, Jiang Cheng mimics his sibling's low growl, tugging hard at said tails in warning and making the Pixiu yelp once more, "you are being embarrassing and I shall not stand for it. You will stop this ludicrous behaviour."
Snapping teeth come dangerously close to a moving arm as pain pinches up his back, stop it that hurts! You are the one pulling my tails and I am being embarrassing?
Another distracted cough, and both Pixiu look up once more from their tangled pile.
"If I may ask," Hanguang Jun finally murmurs, eyes softening as he observes Wei Ying allowing himself to be trapped under Jiang Cheng, "what exactly is the situation we are seeing at this moment?"
Shaking off a huffing Jiang Wanyin, the Pixiu rolls over to his paws and trots to Hanguang Jun, affectionately rubbing his head along long legs in greeting. Wei Ying's silver eyes glare menacingly towards a blinking Lord of Night from behind Lan Zhan's legs as he complains, your brother defiled mine! I can smell Zewu Jun all over him - he has marks on his skin and refuses to answer my questions, blushing like a maiden every time!
Affronted, Jiang Cheng jolts into a seat on the grass, and yells, "Wei Wuxian!"
Zewu Jun laughs lightly, which only seems to offend Wei Ying further.
"Now, young master Wei," the deity of night time soothes as he bends to kneel into a seat on the grass, "I assume you do not approve of my recent development of your brother?"
Surprised at the posturing of the resplendent lord, Wei Ying's ears flatten back slightly as he huffs, plopping into hindquarters - still hidden behind Lan Zhan's legs even as he releases a tiny growl at a smiling Zewu Jun. Of course not! Jiang Cheng is my brother, I would not allow him to be mated with anyone unworthy.
"Mate -," Jiang Cheng grits out as he flushes prettily, "- Wei Wuxian, what manner of language are you using towards Zewu Jun and Hanguang Jun!"
Paying no heed to his blushing Pixiu, Zewu Jun leans forward, eyes locking upon an unhappy silver gaze.
"Does young master Wei think me unworthy of your sibling?"
Nobody is worthy of my sibling!
Nodding with a woeful sigh, Lan Huan beckons a still-red Jiang Cheng to him, tugging the other Pixiu into a seat and joining them on the grass. He smiles gently to Jiang Cheng, whose cheeks are impossible flushed but allows his hand to be taken by the other.
Sapphire eyes turn, even as Wei Ying growls at the implication of Zewu Jun speaking his brother's name so effortlessly.
"Does Wanyin think I am unworthy of you?"
Blinking, Jiang Cheng stiffens at the sudden attention before he rebukes gently, "Lan Huan."
With eyes uncertain, the Pixiu glances between a trio before him, hand still grasped lightly in Zewu Jun's own.
"I," he starts, "Lan Huan is worthy. More so than I am, of him."
Silver eyes narrow at his murmured statement, growling lowly at the following silent interaction shared between Zewu Jun and his sibling, making the Pixiu huff unhappily. Placatingly, Lan Zhan reaches down to pet gently along Wei Ying's forehead, flattening a palm against tufted ears to scratch absently behind them. The action has an immediate effect, and Wei Ying begins to purr, with a light bump of his snout along soft blue robes in response.
Watching this display, Jiang Cheng scowls with shoulders tightening as he releases a sharp, threatening growl - their roles reversing as he earns a sharp look from his sibling. Wei Ying bares his teeth mildly, whiskers flaring as he warns.
Stop it, Jiang Cheng. I will not tolerate disrespect to Hanguang Jun.
Huffing, said sibling simply crosses his arms petulantly. The two Pixiu continue to stare down each other, as Zewu Jun and Hanguang Jun's eyes soften at their interaction, hands quickly reaching to smooth over tawny fur and creased brows. As Wei Ying flicks serpentine eyes up to meet Lan Zhan's tender gaze, he chirrups with another gentle nudge of velveteen antlers against the deity's legs, before turning to face his sibling and a smiling Zewu Jun.
My apologies, Zewu Jun. It was not my intention to be disrespectful to you. I do not genuinely deem you unworthy, I was only concerned.
Reaching out, the deity's palm is immediately met with the warm nuzzle of a snuffling nose. He smiles and coos gently, scratching lightly as Wei Ying rumbles happily at bestowed affection, tilting his dragon head up to allow scratching fingers under incandescent scales under his jaw in forgiveness.
Next to the lord, Jiang Cheng sags mildly in relief, before allowing his brother to climb into his lap. Sighing, he returns a loud purr, trying to accommodate the large body clamouring to rest against him with licks of a scratchy tongue and insistent drags of a gigantic dragon's head huffing for his petting hands.
As Jiang Cheng appeasingly pets his sibling, slitted silver eyes regard a smiling Zewu Jun as he speaks.
When I scented Zewu Jun on my brother, it alarmed me and I spoke out of turn. Jiang Cheng is still my little brother, and to know someone marked him -, Wei Ying rumbles, silver eyes wide and beseeching, it surprised me greatly.
"Understandable, young master Wei," the other speaks gently, "it is I who should seek forgiveness from you and Wanyin. I should not have taken such liberties, no matter how overcome I was. It has simply been many eons since I was overcome by such emotions, and incredibly so for Wanyin."
The deity pauses in consideration, before continuing steadily, "i shall endeavour to court Wanyin with the proper proceedings, until both of you are duly satisfied of my suitability."
In their huddled pile, two pairs of silver and sapphire gazes tilt at Zewu Jun's words, confused and intrigued.
As his brother's words sink into understanding, Lan Zhan stares down at the trio - his resigned sigh unnoticed.
Wei Ying often awoke to tears or fright, from his dark dreams.
His trauma rendered his sleep restless, and more often than not, he would sit awake, gazing out a window near dawn - observing as Hanguang Jun gently and so slowly pulled the sun awake to warm a sleepy world, spreading sunlight to rouse life back into action. Sharp ears would catch early birdsongs, welcoming the first rays of sunlight as grey eyes flickered distractedly, following as a world stretched lazy limbs and rubbed sleepy eyes awake.
The Pixiu had found it soothing, even enjoyable somehow.
This night had been no different from any other for Wei Ying.
Blinking awake with damp eyes, natural reflex making him immediately reach out for his sibling still curled in sleep next to him. His thunderous heartbeat calms, albeit slowly, as his palm presses warm against Jiang Cheng's sleeping body, breathing evening out even as his brows furrow mildly. Instinctively, Jiang Cheng detects his sibling's disturbance, and begins to purrs in his sleep - tucking closer to his sibling's body under thick blankets and soft bedding.
Wei Ying rumbles lowly in return, watching as the other is slowly lulled back into sleep. Satisfied, the Pixiu extracts himself slowly from a curled arm to sit up, shuffling over to and folding arms over an open window next to their bed to gaze out into familiar, dim skies once more, cold breeze tickling at dark lashes of sleepy eyes.
As he blinks, Wei Ying realises this night is a little peculiar.
As he blinks again, after rubbing at sleepy eyes, Wei Ying realises this night is absolutely peculiar.
With a confused mewl, he scrambles up to his knees - all but leaning his body out their window to squint hard.
He turns slightly to nudge his brother with a foot, and whispers again, "brother. Wake. Fast."
Chirping urgently, before he pulls out more words frustratedly, "brother - wake up!"
At his urgent words, sapphire eyes slide open immediately as his brother's hand curls tight around Wei Ying's leg with a protective snarl.
It takes only a few seconds in the silence, for the other to locate Wei Ying through dimmed lights of their bedroom. As his growl fades with the gleaming aggression in his eyes, he tracks a careful gaze over an intact brother, noting no imminent danger around them with a quick flit of said gaze.
A tilt of his head, and Jiang Cheng detects no shift in the air, nor sign of impending approach peril.
Sliding his hand free, his face splits with a yawn before a languid stretch is interrupted by more prodding, scowling at his brother chirruping impatiently, still pointing out their window.
"Brother, see! Quick see!"
"Wei Ying, what could possibly be that important you would wake me up at this hour?"
Jiang Cheng complains, begrudgingly rubbing at his face before he resigns to his fate with a great sigh, swatting away his sibling's prodding foot.
Finally discarding a comfortably warm, thick blanket to climb to his knees, he finally joins his loudly-chirping brother at their bedroom window and finding whatever the other is gesturing wildly at in the barely visible touches of dawn's light across a mountainous horizon.
As his eyes adjust, the Pixiu stiffens into surprise.
Confused, Wei Ying tugs at him insistently, before yelping as Jiang Cheng abruptly grabs him to scramble out their bedroom and into their garden.
Immense flowers, of every spectrum and variety lining every visible inch of their garden, usually a bare expanse of tall green grass across their front yard.
A veritable carpet of swaying petals so colourful and so lush, it sends wafting, soothing scents to surround both Pixiu, as they tread carefully and gingerly into a fluttering sea of petals, uncertain and excitable. Even with soft light from a sun barely arisen, the brothers could still spot the colours.
"Pretty!" Wei Ying yells, big grin on his face as he and his brother turn slowly in circles, taking in everything with nothing less than awe, "brother, many flower! Pretty flower!"
Smiling, the other nods as he follows an excited sibling, correcting gently, "many flowers, Wei Ying. They are very lovely."
Chirruping, Wei Ying repeats obediently, "pretty! Many pretty flowers," he continues rambling, moving through their new field of bright hues and soft scents with his brother, "pretty, pretty flowers, lovely flowers."
"Now," his sibling cautions, "we must be careful not to trample too many."
He smiles to Wei Ying's solemn nod, before dutifully allowing himself to be pulled along, feeling soft petals run along their hands and shift in parting with careful steps.
As both Pixiu amble to a stop, their eyes run over even more sprawling flowers, chirping to each other in delighted confusion. Wei Ying continues to murmur, praising every different colour he finds and pointing them out with a trill to Jiang Cheng, who quietly mumbles names pulled from memories; of when they were cubs rolling around similarly-scented flowers in spring, or landing into mountains of winter flowers midway through flying across peaks and cliffs.
Memories neither Pixiu have ever entertained they would be able to relive.
As they slowly lower into gentle seats within a small clearing, both continue to marvel, laughing lightly to each other as petals tickle at flushed cheeks. Dawn continues to inch light across everything in sight, revealing more colours from caressing blooms around them.
Through shared revelry, Jiang Cheng notes quietly - as he knows Wei Ying does as well - nothing in their new garden appeared by coincidence.
Every single bloom had been sprouted with magic, carefully coaxed to life.
Even more so, only specific wildflowers that endeared to Pixiu and their unique constitutions. Knowledge so mysterious, only very few would be aware of such elusive information, as difficult to find as the divine creatures themselves. Information so vague, even younglings themselves would not be fully conscious of their attraction to only certain verdure, until they happened to stumble into different scents to find themselves captivated.
Yet here, in a sprawling yard surrounding their guest accommodations within the Cloud Recesses, were every variation of said flowers.
Nectarine-scented Valerian bunches, dusted lightly in soft pink and white, dispersed into stalks of pale Chamomile - pops of bright honey melding into pale amber of thick petals from cats claw flowers. Scattered patches of spidery liquorice root and goldenseal, sitting amidst their foliage of mint green cushioning precious flora, all surrounded by luscious hues of spotted pastels of lavender, pink and blues from bunches of nepeta.
Surrounding by alluring petrichor, it takes both Pixiu no small amount of determination, fighting their instinctual need to lie down and roll around to their hearts' content. Instead, Wei Ying shifts to his secondary form, nosing at the robes he leaves behind to curl around a chuckling Jiang Cheng, resting comfortably.
Yawning aloud, Jiang Cheng follows suit - his body of glimmering scales and sandy fur curled equally loose around a drowsy sibling as sunshine gently warms their bodies despite cool morning winds.
As both Pixiu purr, drifting into sleep surrounded by swaying foliage, they are watched by two more.
Zewu Jun and Hanguang Jun stand a distance away, ensuring their perch on a tall cliff is positioned with the wind gently blowing against their bodies, scents undetected by their two guests.
Twin pairs of gleaming eyes, hued like golden sunshine courtesy of the Bearer of Light, calmly observing as their two wards tuck perfectly around each other in their natural forms, tufted ears and tails flicking contentedly as they rest in emerging sunshine - almost hidden in the small clearing amidst thick flowers, serpentine eyes drooping lazily as they halfheartedly groom at each other sleepily.
Satisfied, the two deities simply step away, melting back into rippling shadows of a delighted forest behind them.
Their first courting gift, duly accepted.
If you take anything away from this chapter, I hope it is that one should never, ever challenge Lan Xichen. Especially not when it comes to winning over the affections of Jiang Wanyin, or the approval of his protective brother.
There's plenty more of these strange courting rituals, so I hope you got a bit of a laugh from the imagery of an angry dragon-lion Wei Ying waiting at the bottom of a big tree while Jiang Cheng sits in a branch and yells at his brother for being a prude.
Also, yes, nepeta is cat nip.
Chapter 12: Nāga
"You smell like wildflowers, Wanyin," a voice makes the Pixiu pause.
Tilting his head back to meet an amber gaze, Jiang Cheng studies how the barest of crinkles show at sharp corners of Zewu Jun's eyes with a knowing smile. The expression has become familiar to him, and he narrows his eyes mildly in response.
"Wildflowers, you say," he drawls, "me and Wei Ying have been rolling around in a fair amount of newly-acquired flora in the past few days."
"Wanyin, come closer."
Said Pixiu hums distractedly, obligingly sidling nearer to a beckoning Zewu Jun, nose still buried in the book held in his hands.
The deity shifts, sitting behind the smaller figure and smiles when the other instinctively leans back to be cradled against the warm strength of Zewu Jun's legs. Settling in quietly, busy violet eyes never leave the yellowed pages of another book from Gusu Lan's immense library, even as a hand pets down the dark crown of hair.
As a familiar purple ribbon loosely wrapped around his dark hair is pulled free, Jiang Cheng barely flinches - instead tapping an index finger against the spine of his book as he continues reading.
"What are you doing," he murmurs, as his eyes continue to rove over scrawled lines, "I told you, the ribbon stays."
Behind him, Lan Huan chuckles softly and agrees placatingly, "fret not, your ribbon is safe and sound. I am only brushing out your hair - there are a fair few knots and I know how it bothers you."
He receives no further response, knowing the other is satisfied with his assurance.
Slowly, a bundle of soft hair falls free, waist-long locks curling slightly and kinked from Jiang Cheng's habit of braiding sections of ebony hair into a loose bun atop his head daily. Feeling fingers card through his untied hair, Jiang Cheng scents familiar sandalwood - reminiscent of the Lord of Night's many assorted bottles of hair oils - before a comb slowly begins to draw through and down his hair, tingling down his scalp and almost making him purr.
Pausing every time a snag is felt, a lord hums patiently as his deft hands ease found tangles free, ensuring he does not tug at his ward's scalp in the slow, gentle process. Scented oil is pressed to ebony lengths, smoothing it down as Zewu Jun repeats the process with practised motions.
Halfheartedly, Jiang Cheng tries to continue reading, attention flickering with tender hands and the cool press of a jade comb sliding through his hair in increments. The Pixiu finds it difficult to focus, toes curling pleasurably at the delicate touches and valiantly resisting his instinctual need to preen at the bestowed attention. His body relaxes fractionally, as the wind floats through Zewu Jun's patio, drifting lazily over the couple reclined against the pile of soft cushions under them.
"You smell like wildflowers, Wanyin," a voice murmurs into the silence, making the Pixiu pause before finally setting down his book.
Tilting his head back to meet an amber gaze, he studies how the barest of crinkles show at sharp corners of Zewu Jun's eyes with a knowing smile. The expression has become familiar to the Pixiu, who narrows his eyes mildly in response.
"Wildflowers, you say," he slowly drawls, "me and Wei Ying have been rolling around in a fair amount of newly-acquired flora in the past few days."
A slow blink gleams gold, as Zewu Jun asks with an ever-unwavering smile.
"Is that so?"
Jiang Cheng simply mimics the other's humming, relishing the fingers that continue to comb through another knot. He then nods, answering, "indeed - a fair amount of wildflowers have sprouted up in me and Wei Ying's garden three nights ago. Just appeared in our surrounding yard space, perfumed blossoms specifically appealing to Pixiu."
His eyes tilt up again to find a golden gaze shrewdly staring, "strange, is it not?"
"Verily," Lan Huan answers airily as he slides freshly-untangled, silken locks over Jiang Cheng's shoulder to trickle down his chest, the ebony hair so long its ends curl against piled seat cushions under them, "perhaps they were a gift, Wanyin. Flowers are a significant symbol for romance and affection."
Settling back against arms that immediately raise to wrap around his middle, Jiang Cheng shuts his eyes as he speaks, "well, whoever deigned to display such an outlandish symbol of affection must have something quite important to say to us."
The deity's answer is immediate, "perhaps they do."
Silence stretches over the pair with Zewu Jun's words, as the Pixiu distractedly runs his own fingers through brushed hair, marvelling at the dark sheen of his locks now scented like sandalwood and fresh petals of morning flowers.
"If they do, I have yet to hear it." Jiang Cheng finally says.
"Hopefully we will not have to wait long for whatever they wish to declare to me and Wei Ying. Heaven knows when me and Wei Ying might stumble across another Pixiu out there in the wild forests of Cloud Recesses, willing to court us for their own."
The arms wrapped around him twitch, and the Pixiu almost smiles at the reaction, before the other speaks again to ask, "would you accept if another Pixiu attempted to court you?"
"Well, if they gave me a field of flowers, maybe -"
Yelping, Jiang Cheng is interrupted by an abrupt tug of his body, making him flop lightly onto his back against cushions.
Looming over him is a passive-looking Lord of Night, his own hair falling forward with a tilted head as arms bracket the smaller body now under him - his somber expression making the Pixiu chuckle lightly, sighing with dramatic woe, "Zewu Jun, how rude! What have I done to deserve such rough treatment? Another Pixiu would never treat me so."
"Another Pixiu would be wholly and exceptionally unworthy of you, Jiang Wanyin."
Golden pupils gleam once more, as his head lowers just so.
"You know who gifted you and your sibling those flowers - I did not take Wanyin to have a teasing nature in courtship."
Unable to hide his amused smile, Jiang Cheng questions with eyes wide in faux-innocence.
"Oh? Do tell, Zewu Jun."
Amber eyes narrow at an exaggerated, teasing lilt of the other's voice, before the deity lowers himself further to press their bodies against each other - a comfortably warm weight atop Jiang Cheng's body as cool fingers trace over dark brows, tucking untied locks behind a flushed ear. Silently, he observes a flutter of lashes as watchful, sapphire eyes blink at his touches, before peering up at him coyly.
Against his better nature, Jiang Cheng swallows nervously despite his expression giving away nothing.
Still observing the flustered Pixiu under him, a smile returns to the lord's impeccable features as he declares.
"I assure you, Wanyin, I shall do much more than just tell you."
Their noses just about graze each other's, before someone's voice rings out in the distance.
Sighing at their broken revelry, the pair detect following sounds of footsteps - no doubt from Gusu Lan attendants in approach.
The Lord of Night sighs again before pushing off and away, shifting to seat himself at a more modest distance from the other, who follows suit before both begin tucking their hair and robes to neatness. Tucking his hair into a loose ponytail, Jiang Cheng resolutely does not show his mild dissatisfaction of their intervened moment.
As a small group of panting servants eventually appear at their patio, Jiang Cheng only begins to take notice of them, when he spots Hanguang Jun at their helm.
His attention gives way to worry, when he spots a frown marring the Bearer of Light's usually stoic face.
His worry gives way to fear, when the same deity's gaze fixates on him in approach.
"What is it, Wangji?"
Zewu Jun immediately asks, already detecting that something had gone grievously array.
The Bearer of Light's frown deepens as he looks towards the other Pixiu with nothing less than desperation.
"It is Wei Ying."
In response, the Pixiu is on his feet in seconds, bristling at the mention his sibling's name.
"Wei Ying - he is missing."
A shorter update because I refuse to let my readers wait any longer for updates. I have been much too lax with this story and for that I apologise, what with Christmas and holidays looming.
A short interlude from your regularly-schedule courting updates. Trust me, everything is really less angsty than everyone thinks, and the cliffhanger is there because it makes more sense to reveal why in a separate and upcoming chapter, which is well on its way! Nothing bad happens in my universe so just ... hang in there!
You have my word that I shall update within a day or two, I swear upon Bichen.
Chapter 13: Jīngwèi
Detecting Wei Ying by scent was an easy enough task for a Pixiu like Jiang Cheng, well-versed in chasing and combat in any terrain.
Less easy for Jiang Cheng - who never shared his brother's tenacity for calmness - was being still to listen for the forests' whispers, tracking through the whispered secrets of nature around them.
If he needed said secrets to find his brother, the dark forests surrounding the Cloud Recesses' misty mountains did not easily divulge them.
Tracking his sibling came as second nature for Jiang Cheng, after years next to and tracking Wei Ying's familiarly heady scent.
The Pixiu brothers shared a scent of aquatic flowers, but any experienced nose would be able to tell the difference - his brother smelled sugary, reminiscent of ripe lotus blossoms but soured by a constant copper note of blood. Jiang Cheng's scent was milder, almost undetectable compared to Wei Ying's, but often more attractive to others for its soothing wafts of fresh buds and sea salt, much to his chagrin. Even his brother often slept with his nose tucked close to his brother's skin.
Detecting Wei Ying by scent was an easy enough task for a Pixiu like Jiang Cheng, well-versed in chasing and combat in any terrain.
Less easy for Jiang Cheng - who never shared his brother's tenacity for calmness or patience - was being still to listen for the forests' whispers, tracking through the whispered secrets of nature around them.
If the Pixiu needed said secrets to find his brother, the dark forests surrounding the Cloud Recesses' misty mountains did not easily divulge them.
Even with two deities trying to assist him where they could - there existed no easy way to find the other, if Wei Ying did not wish to be found, or was too far from reach. For two nights, his brother's scent had been faint, dipping through the air with strong winds or found in crevices of trees, making it a task of skill and patience for his reticent brother.
Zewu Jun's voice elicits a tufted ear to swivel towards his voice, and both he, as well as a silent Hanguang Jun simply wait.
The winged creature in front of them dips his head in acknowledgement before continuing in its trek. Ambling through the fog of a thick forest, Jiang Cheng's mighty paws make not a single sound on soft soil and leaves, before the creature comes to a stop once more, a paw raised in attention with tails twitching lowly in appraisal, unmoving as sapphire pupils watch the birds flit from tree to tree, not one singing to him.
The last time he disappeared like this from me, a voice whispers to both lords with every muscle in his long, powerful body tight with tension, was after his last fight in the pit, before we escaped.
As with his elder brother, Hanguang Jun is silent in attention. Both pairs of pale eyes are stormy and fettered, as they follow a trotting Pixiu intently watching a line of birds flutter away.
They put him in there to combat two other creatures, wild bird spirits who shrieked like banshees, with fiery wings and talons of acid. Sapphire eyes narrow with another long sniff in the air, before he takes a turn through long grass, Wei Ying barely came out of the fight alive.
I found him two days later, hidden away in a deep trench. The only reason I found him, was from following the acrid smell of his infected wounds.
Slowing down again, Jiang Cheng tilts his dragon head into the air. The whiskers on his scaly snout seem to shiver, fanning out to greet an incoming breeze, before his body tilts towards the same wind direction interestedly, wings splaying slightly.
Continuing in his canter, his muzzle finds a pile of dried leaves, muzzle disturbing at it in a rustle before rumbling appraisingly.
At the time, Wei Ying had masked his scent with wet dirt and rotting leaves from the same trench, out of his fear and pain - too damaged and too afraid to think coherently, or to realise he was hiding himself too well from anyone else, good or bad.
His serpentine eyes scan an exposed root of an old pine tree, before circling past it and coming into view of a tiny, trickling stream.
Even from his own brother.
A humongous boar splayed on its side into the river, glazed eyes rolled into its head, ivory tusks heavy and curled into its own snout. Ripped sinew and exposed flesh, dried blood flecked across matted fur of a grievous wound of a torn jugular, with a body so hefty it barely submerges into a stream under it, a fallen beast rotting into the water.
The Pixiu sniffs tentatively in his approach of the carcass - as he stands in the water to keenly observe a towering body lopped onto its side. Feathers stretch out with his wings, before he hops onto the bloated corpse to observe it further. A wild boar too large for a normal predator to bring down; clean marks from sharp claws on its back and neck.
He killed it.
Jiang Cheng murmurs, peering down at a fatal bite against its neck and seeing the white of its severed windpipe, finding no other injuries the corpse sustained whilst being hunted down.
The two deities stay on the bank of rippling water, heads tilted as they wait for more information from the Pixiu inspecting his brother's work. Hanguang Jun's amber gaze is worried once more, afraid for Wei Ying's wellbeing in taking down a wild boar almost four times his size. Even with formidable teeth, mighty claws, even with wings, speed and strength - a wild pig, let alone one this large, is a fearsome creature capable of inflicting significant damage to anything in its way.
Climbing down from his perch atop the corpse, the Pixiu steps back into rippling water, his ears pointed forward and stilling.
I do not smell my brother's blood on it, he mumbles, if Wei Ying sustained injuries hunting this boar down, he did not bleed.
"There must be a waterfall near this stream," Zewu Jun supplements, as he and his brother follow along the bank with a Pixiu still wading through moving water, "perhaps Wei Ying sough refuge in there. If he has been injured by his hunt, it would make sense to hide away behind a waterfall to heal."
Both lords pause as Jiang Cheng abruptly stops, snout pointed into the air.
He is not alone.
As tufted ears quiver to attention, Jiang Cheng's mane begins to prickle agitatedly.
And neither are we.
He leaves the water immediately, joining two surprised deities on the riverbank with a loud snarl, tails whipping angrily with bristling fur.
Show yourself, he hisses.
Jiang Cheng's violet slits track moving shadows from a long line of shrubbery.
He snarls loudly, scales flaring with a thumping heavy paw scuffing against earth. A dipped head defensively waves heavy antlers - a challenging display from one Pixiu to another.
In response, two creatures appear to ease through shifting leaves, slowly moving into the sunlight.
Two more Pixiu, evidently larger and older than Jiang Cheng, from their sizeable wings to endlessly long curls of their twining antlers. One significantly darker - black and inky dark compared to its companion's paler visage, hued like soft cream. Both unmistakably fearsome, dangerous creatures much wilder than the likes of Jiang Cheng and his sibling.
If the pair were offended at the other's challenging display, they do not react with any reciprocated aggression, but instead gaze bemusedly at the trio. The darker of the duo steps forward, staring evenly at the two deities behind a protective Pixiu.
Song Zichen and his partner, Xiao Xingchen pay their respects to the Lords of Day and Night.
Sooty antlers lower to the ground fractionally as said Pixiu bows his head, lowering himself very slightly onto his front haunches with downcast eyes. The action is mirrored by his paler companion behind him, still silent with an observant, clever gaze.
Instinctively, the two deities return the bow - hands clasped respectfully even as they say nothing, waiting.
As Song Zichen rights himself into a seat, a shimmer of dark scales ripple mildly as he tilts his head down to continue watching a snapping youngling crouched low and upset. Blinking slow, he peers down at a tensed Pixiu, meeting narrowed eyes and watching tufted ears flatten with tails twitching low in warning. He huffs softly, shaking his dark mane gently in a sleepy gesture, before speaking directly to Jiang Cheng.
Our greetings to you as well, little cub.
Snapping his teeth as he growls, Jiang Cheng is unwilling to back down from a piercing stare.
I will not be disrespected, he hisses, pawing the ground once more threateningly, relinquish my brother back to me immediately or I will have both your heads.
If his words have any impact, neither Song Zichen nor his partner show any sign of offence towards his petulance. Xiao Xingchen slowly slinks up to join a still-staring partner, both pairs of eyes now focused entirely on an unhappy, growling Pixiu obstinately refusing to back down, even in the knowledge that he would be slaughtered easily by one, let alone two elders.
What threats from a pup, the pale elder stretches large, pale wings distractedly as he speaks, when you have yet to even ascertain if we know this brother you speak of.
Another huff, as Song Zichen noses his partner, tucking twin tails around seated haunches as he reprimands, it is unlike you to be dishonest, Xingchen.
Rumbling quietly, his own tails sliding up and around a flank, Xiao Xingchen's response is silent in the way volumes are spoken, as pale fur ripples through a wave of excitement, despite the serenity of dark eyes still watching a growling young pup in front of them, valiantly trying to resist his innate instinct of submitting to two stronger Pixiu.
Your brother -
Song Zichen's sentence ends as quickly as it begins as Wei Ying suddenly bursts out from a nearby tree, clumsily stumbling into the same riverbank.
Rolling to his paws, he shakes off his fall, trilling excitedly to be reunited with his Gusu Lan lords and a surprised brother.
He chirps, before pausing at the tension between everyone.
Jiang Cheng snarls, his anger now completely diverted upon a perplexed sibling.
Wei Wuxian, his voice shaking in rage as he turns to face his brother, in the past two nights, has it ever crossed your mind how worried we may have been with you disappearing?
He stalks closer, teeth bared as Wei Ying whines towards his brother's anger, immediately lowering himself into the ground submissively in an attempt to placate another's temper.
Wei Ying presses his head low, ears flat as he wheedles uselessly, I did not mean to - I only wanted to hunt -
You disappeared for two nights for a hunt?
Shoving his snout to prod against a whimpering brother, Jiang Cheng snarls still, do you know how upset you have made Hanguang Jun? How worried, and how afraid me or Zewu Jun was for your safety? Has any of that crossed your mind, before you went gallivanting into the dark forest with strangers, having us track after you whilst fearing the worst?
After all we have been through to find safety, after all we have lived through to find a peace of mind, my idiot brother decides to run away to kill a pig - have you any sense!
Wei Ying remains silently appeasing and apologetic, not wanting to further exacerbate his brother's anger.
Is the young master Wei not a free Pixiu?
Another voice lilts in interruption, and Jiang Cheng turns to roar at a speaking Xiao Xingchen.
That is none of your business!
"Wanyin," Zewu Jun finally interrupts, sensing the fragility of their situation, "it may be wiser to have this conversation back in Gusu Lan."
Song Zichen's tail unfurls from around him at the lord of night's words, twitching in mild interest as he stands to begin stalking towards Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun. Gleaming dark eyes stare pointedly, as he ignores both the distressed chirp from Wei Ying as well as a warning growl from Jiang Wanyin to the threatening approach by an elder.
Pixiu are not pets, Zewu Jun. They come and go as they please, with none taking orders.
"Neither Wei Ying nor Wanyin are pets in Gusu Lan," Zewu Jun counters calmly, "they are our guests, and cherished companions as such."
Onyx scales begin to ripple once more in a display of displeasure, as Song Zichen circles both deities in a slow prowl, both lords still calmly watching as he asks, oh? Then why do the little cubs have to come and go with you or your esteemed brother, Zewu Jun?
"They are free to go anywhere as they please," Lan Huan continues coolly, unaffected and unwilling to rise to the other's baiting. "They are safe in Gusu Lan, and it is only natural for us to worry for Wei Ying's wellbeing, when we consider ourselves close to him."
Wei Ying, for his part, woefully pleads, please - please stop fighting. It is my fault, I should not have left on my own accord. This is all a misunderstanding, please stop this fighting.
Xiao Xingchen asks gently from his seated position, perhaps a question better asked directly, Zewu Jun, is whether young master Wei wishes to leave with you at all.
Still hissing, Jiang Cheng leaves his brother's side to begin stalking towards an unmoving Xiao Xingchen.
Sliding amused eyes to the other, Xiao Xingchen's tails swing languidly, head canted in interest as the youngling speaks, save your treacherous words, elder. Wei Ying and I will not be separated no matter how you try - where one of us is, the other one will be.
Where we choose to be, whether that place is Gusu Lan or not, is none of your concern.
Ah, Xingchen. I do not recall the last time we came across Pixiu so well-leashed.
As Song Zichen eases off his prowl to return to his companion's side, he continues to drawl, after all little Wei Ying tells us about what has happened to you both, it is baffling to me how you and your brother would still want to remain next to more deities. Surely, one sees the irony.
Eyes flickering quickly between the two younger creatures, Xiao Xingchen murmurs calmly, as Pixiu, your natural instinct is to be free - even if your wings have been rendered from you. A Pixiu is not meant to be caged, or kept in fancy manors hidden in misty mountains.
Do you disagree, little pup?
All eyes turn to regard Hanguang Jun's voice.
Lan Zhan ignores them all, staring only at said Pixiu as he holds out an armful of familiar dark robes, scented like lotus flowers and sandalwood.
Bending low, he keeps an amber gaze locked upon blinking, serpentine eyes of glimmering silver.
"Wei Ying," he repeats softly, hands now outstretched fully.
In an open palm, unfurled fingers reveal a single wrapped sweet of candied hawthorn.
"Come back to Gusu with me."
Oh and there we have it, a rarely-sighted pairing of Daozhang and his Song Lan (i have an unholy amount of love for those two, and my heart breaks every time I remember their storyline in MDZS #theydeservedbetter). I really really hope the dialogue is not confusing here, it was challenging to edit those parts to be more coherent! I apologise if it is all a little confusing at this point.
Is it another cliffhanger if we all already know what Wei Ying would do?
If you want to know why WY disappeared to hunt a wild boar, it will be answered in the next update. He has a lot of explaining and grovelling to do - lord knows not only his very angry brother, but a certain Bearer of Light will give him a hard time for it.
Chapter 14: Yeonggwi
Every afternoon, the Pixiu appears, chirping to a resolutely silent deity - ranting about his stacks upon stacks of calligraphy, copying scripture after scripture like Lan Zhan does.
Every evening, the Pixiu falls asleep next to a resolutely silent deity - only to wake up alone in the same study, his papers untouched and the Bearer of Light gone.
Wei Ying whispers, shuffling closer to his brother's silent back.
"Am sorry," he tries again, "please. Wei Ying is sorry."
He sniffles, curling around his seated brother pitifully to nose gently at an elbow.
Jiang Cheng's eyes flicker to the other with a sharp, warning glance - making Wei Ying shrink guiltily - before disinterestedly returning to his book. Resolutely, the smaller Pixiu maintains his silence, as he has since their hasty return to Gusu Lan, with Wei Ying's tails forlornly tucked between his legs the entire journey back. Even the accompanying pair of deities had deigned to speak, uncertain as to what one should do or say when faced with Jiang Wanyin's silence to his sibling.
"Am sorry, Jiang Cheng." Wei Ying's voice is small as he repeats for the umpteenth time, "did not mean to scare brother. Wei Ying want to show big hunt."
Slamming down his book, said Pixiu turns angrily to his brother. Immediately, Wei Ying meeps in surprise, tensing at the attention now focused on him with a sapphire glare.
"Show who, Wei Wuxian? What could you possibly be trying to achieve, with all of this fuss you caused?"
Grey eyes avert guiltily to the floorboards, and Wei Ying fidgets restlessly with his satin-red ribbon.
"Want - make big kill. Show Lan Zhan am good."
Blinking in surprise, Jiang Cheng recovers quickly to lean back into his seat. Shutting his eyes, the tired Pixiu rubs gently at his temples for a moment, intensely processing his brother's words.
"You ran away by yourself," he begins to growl lowly, eyes squeezing shut against an impending headache building under his skull, "into the dark forests outside Gusu Lan, just so you could track down and kill the biggest wild boar you could find -", looking up, he turns to face his brother.
"- so you could present it as a courting gift for Hanguang Jun?"
Chirping, Wei Ying nods fervently, smoke-grey eyes lighting up in wide excitement.
"Make big kill! Wei Ying want to show Lan Zhan. Show thank you for pretty many flowers."
"Many pretty flowers," his brother corrects instinctively, as he scrubs at his face with a drawn-out sigh.
Jiang Cheng scowls, as Wei Ying begins chirruping loudly, "many pretty flowers! Lan Zhan and Zewu Jun give many pretty flowers! Wei Ying and brother like many pretty flowers! Brother happy - rolled in flowers all day!"
Pausing when he sees Jiang Cheng sigh again, he tilts his head to ask, "no? not good to kill for gift?" Squirming close to worm his head onto his pliant brother's lap, he frowns when Jiang Cheng responds by shaking his head, "how Wei Ying show Lan Zhan thank you? He give many pretty flowers."
Looking down at his brother, Jiang Cheng resists the urge to groan at doe eyes presented to him, but makes no move to shift away from the other. Finding it entirely impossible to be angry when faced with Wei Ying's innocence, he quietly files the incident away as a learning experience for the other Pixiu - who has always been receptive to lessons from his brother's upset.
Resigned to his fate, he simply places a hand on his brother's head, who mewls contentedly as Jiang Cheng gently pushes away stray locks of ebony hair from dark brows. Mustering every ounce of patience he could possibly pull to his heart, the Pixiu slows his thoughts and words meaningfully.
"Wei Ying," he begins, "we must not go around hunting all manner of prey as presents for Hanguang Jun or Zewu Jun. It is too crude."
He pauses at the confusion washing over Wei Ying's face.
"Crude means it is not suitable for people as proper as Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun. They are deities - good deities - and not Pixiu like you or me; it may offend them. For us to bring home a dead animal for them, it might be strange or difficult for them to accept."
As his brother hums, he already spots the beginnings of a familiar sulk as Wei Ying contemplates the prospect of not being able to hunt for a cherished person.
"How show," said Pixiu murmurs with concerned eyes, "that Wei Ying like many pretty flowers? Make kiss like brother and Zewu Jun?"
As heat crawls up his neck and ears from the other's declaration, Jiang Cheng growls as he swats gently at his brother's forehead, chiding.
"You will do no such thing, Wei Wuxian."
"Brother kiss!" Wei Ying scoffs indignantly, rubbing at his head.
Jiang Cheng growls in response, pinching his sibling's scrunched nose.
"I kiss Zewu Jun because I am fond of him romantically, and vice versa. Kissing him feels right, like something natural and good. A lovely thing to share with someone who makes us happy, lightens our fears and someone we hold close to our heart, and has affection for us in a different way."
"Wei Ying, we do not kiss others to repay them for something," he continues to explain, "not flowers, nor food, or other pretty things."
Jiang Cheng reiterates with a firm look, "do you understand what I mean?"
Pausing, Wei Ying repeats as he peers up at his brother inquisitively, "not kiss Lan Zhan for many pretty flowers? Or sweets?"
Nodding, the other affirms, "absolutely not. We do not give kisses away as repayment for courting gifts - never ever."
"Remember, Wei Ying," he repeats, eyes far away as he begins stroking along his brother's dark hair, spilled over his lap, "kisses are only for special, cherished people. Like Lan Huan is to me. If Hanguang Jun is special and cherished to you, kisses will happen naturally - we will have no need to rush into it. You will feel it in you - your heart will be warm, and it might even feel a little scary, but it will feel right."
"Brother," Jiang Cheng blinks, looking down to meet a soft gaze from a smiling brother, "Jiang Cheng soft, when talk about Zewu Jun. Different - different good." As Wei Ying speaks, curious fingers reach up to draw along the other's flushed cheeks, delicately purring, "brother is happy when talk about Zewu Jun. Wei Ying happy too, for brother."
Smiling gently at the other's sincere, open words, Jiang Cheng shifts to lie down, his brother's responding purr becoming louder as he curls atop Wei Ying's stomach. Humming distractedly, Jiang Cheng lets warm hands pet at his hair this time, drawing through his loose hair. In the gentle quiet, both Pixiu release rumbling purrs to each other in familial comfort, nosing into each other's scents with equal parts contemplation and relaxation.
"You will be happy too, Wei Ying."
Grey eyes blink in surprise at his brother's whispered words, "one day, someone will make you so happy - like I am with Lan Huan. Perhaps it will be Hanguang Jun, perhaps not, but one day your heart will sing out to someone. I shall see to it that they do right by you."
Wei Ying lies back fully to study their bedroom ceiling, seeming to mull deep with expressions rotating between conflict and bashfulness.
Groaning frustratedly - as if the weight of his thoughts were laden heavy - he turns back again to tuck his nose into his brother's stomach, murmuring again, "am sorry. Did not mean to run away - or make worry everybody."
Huffing mildly at what he recognises as a change of topic, Jiang Cheng corrects quietly, "make everybody worry."
Tucking a stray lock of long hair behind Wei Ying's ear, he insists, "you must promise never, ever to run off alone again without a word," he continues, brooking no argument, "anything could have happened to you alone out there alone, with no one around if you needed assistance somehow."
"How would I go on if you met a mishap, or if poachers found and trapped you again?"
Burying his face into soothing waves of blossoms and sea salt from his sibling's scent, Wei Ying simply nods, mumbling more apologies in a whimper.
"Jiang Cheng," a muffled voice rings out pleadingly, "Lan Zhan mighty upset with Wei Ying. Still quiet and not speak."
Noting a sudden wash of distress in his brother, Jiang Cheng coos instinctively, seeking to comfort his upset sibling. Wei Ying simply shakes his head, curling tighter as his sibling gathers him closer into his waist, petting at his hair. Purring louder, Jiang Cheng soothes as best he can, even as Wei Ying refuses to remove his face from soft purple cotton, arms winding tighter as he whimpers sadly.
"Shush," he whispers, "when someone cares for you, they will be afraid for you. You just need to apologise properly to Hanguang Jun, he was so worried for you when you disappeared. I did not see him drink or eat or rest in the two nights we spent on your trail through the fog."
A muffled protest from the body tucked close, "Wei Ying - Wei Ying not mean to. Want to show Lan Zhan, am good Pixiu."
"Why does Wei Ying want to show Hanguang Jun so badly? You are good. We all know."
Sighing, the slighter male gently and firmly extracts his brother's arms, cupping his sibling's flustered, guilty face. He studies Wei Ying's features, thumbing over worry lines on creased brows and a pout, watches the way his brother's beautiful grey eyes flicker with his fleeting thoughts, as if they were a tangled mess and he had no way to decipher them.
Narrowing his eyes, Jiang Cheng asks carefully, "Wei Ying. Tell me honestly - do you like Hanguang Jun? Romantically?"
Blinking, Wei Ying seems to struggle again with his own thoughts for a brief moment, conflicted and silent. Still holding onto his brother's face, Jiang Cheng presses on insistently, not allowing the other to pull away from his knowing stare.
"Does Wei Ying wish you are with Hanguang Jun all the time? You are your happiest by his side, and wish to continue staying by his side? Does Hanguang Jun make your heart warm, and you feel fear of losing him?"
He catches it - the moment understanding dawns over Wei Ying's face, before the other whimpers to bury himself back into his brother's waist. Jiang Cheng lightly laughs, before he continues speaking with a tinge of teasing, "it seems to me, that my brother has become quite enamoured with the Bearer of Light. It is little wonder then, that you so eagerly wanted to present him with impressive prey."
Sapphire eyes gleam knowingly, as he drawls, "or that you so quickly offered kisses an alternative previously."
His brother tenses at the declaration, before squeaking in embarrassment.
"Come now, you are being very silly, Wei Ying." Purring, he taps lightly along his brother's scalp, clicking his tongue, "you know what to do. If Hanguang Jun is upset with you, then you must go and apologise to him properly, and cease all this avoidance. He must be waiting for you even now."
His brother protests again, shaking his head, "Not like angry Lan Zhan! Scary when angry. Not speak to Wei Ying - not happy face, cold!"
Frowning, Jiang Cheng pulls at his brother's ear until the other peeks out from soft robes to steal a look at his sibling.
"Then the solution is clear," he insists to a perplexed Pixiu.
"Wei Ying must apologise, until he wishes to speak to you."
Hanguang Jun was many things as deity.
His elder brother knew this, and possibly everyone in the realm knew this.
A magnificent beauty and elegantly powerful, he existed as a deity difficult to stay near to with his ironically soft words and coolly dissecting gaze. Like his brother, he encompassed brilliance and impressive capabilities well beyond their duties or knowledge as twin sons of Day and Night.
Yet, unlike his sibling, the Bearer of Light was never one to make friends easily. He seemed to despise speaking without purpose - detesting falsities behind veiled words crooning praises to him and his brother, eyes of warm sunlight turning cold in mere seconds, able to ruthlessly reduce the greatest lords to nothing with mere words. Where Lan Wangji was kind and generous, the same lord of light could also be unforgiving and fatal.
Every being in their realm knew, Hanguang Jun was not one to forgive and forget.
This did not seem to deter one particular Pixiu.
Lan Zhan hears his arrival, before he even comes close to the Jing-shi.
His fortress of silence and tranquility loses both said aspects, as the lord of daylight detects the kerfuffle of loud footsteps and fussing growls approaching his quarters.
Sighing, his brush never ceases even as the same footsteps become loud enough to completely disrupt every thought in his mind.
Slowly looking up, Hanguang Jun tilts his head, as if perplexed even when he has seen the same sight three days in a row now - Wei Ying clamouring down wooden steps to his study, arms absolutely brimming, full of crumpled papers they reach well over his head in a wobbly pile, ink smudged all over his cheeks and hands as he gingerly toes down the stairs. Even after his endless apologies, the Pixiu was always met with the same response from the other, but he neither falters, nor ceases his attempts to get any semblance of attention from Lan Zhan.
Every afternoon, the Pixiu appears, chirping to a resolutely silent deity - ranting about his stacks upon stacks of calligraphy, copying scripture after scripture like Lan Zhan does.
Every evening, the Pixiu falls asleep next to a resolutely silent deity - only to wake up alone in the same study, his papers untouched and the Bearer of Light gone.
Wei Ying is beaming as always, pride and nervous excitement in every chirrup as he takes slow steps, even when he receives no response from the other. Hanguang Jun simply stares expressionlessly, before blinking slow to look back down to his own paperwork, brush never faltering in perfect ebbs of writing.
He knows - can feel it - the way Wei Ying goes silent for a brief moment; crestfallen at being ignored once more.
It changes neither the deity's silence, nor his continued lack of acknowledgement to the other and his piles of scrawled work. Shuffling closer, the Pixiu grunts as he plops his veritable pile of work next to the other, who still pays him absolutely no mind nor heed, so he whines a little to push his inky mess of words closer.
Huffing, Wei Ying kneels forward, petulantly leaning on Hanguang Jun's desk, pouting as he rests his chin on arms folded on the same study to peer up at an impassive lord of light. He sighs quietly, studying the way Hanguang Jun's lashes flutter as he blinks in focus, slender fingers curled perfectly along a brush swiping precise strokes along parchment paper, ink as dark as his hair - endless locks of it spreading behind his seated position like a black cape.
Wei Ying feels himself falling asleep, almost nodding off until he hears footsteps approaching down the study once more.
"Oh," a delicate voice greets them.
The Pixiu turns to chirp, when he sees a familiar face of Gusu Lan's handmaids smiling kindly at him, a tray of tea in her hands. He cannot recall her name, but the Pixiu recognises the same lady, whose smiles were soft as her hands and lilting voice.
"Hello, young master Wei." She greets warmly, and approaches with a tray laden with warm tea.
She bows to the deity seated at the same desk, paying her respects and announcing gently, "Master Lan, serving your evening tea. Shall I prepare it for you?"
At Lan Zhan's nod, she sets down a heavy tray to begin steeping precise scoops of tea leaves, before setting the table, just out of the way from a busy Hanguang Jun's work.
"Will young master Wei be having some with Hanguang Jun this evening?" The handmaid asks lightly as she makes quick work serving said tea, practised hands warming tea cups and pouring fragrant tea into delicate ceramic, setting down a small plate of snacks.
Purring shyly, Wei Ying beams once more, before Lan Zhan places his brush down abruptly.
"No," he states.
A heavy silence pulls over the room at his word, pushing tension into a previously candid atmosphere. The Pixiu blinks, as does the young handmaid, who pauses before she nods, slowly placing the teapot back into its stand, leaving a single tea cup now wafting with steam - sitting between her master and his companion, who now stare at each other with warring expressions. Blinking away from their locked gazes, Hanguang Jun returns to his papers, and Wei Ying can do nothing but reel back.
"Our guest will not be joining me for tea," Hanguang Jun continues, "you may both leave. I have work to complete."
The attendant catches it - the moment the Pixiu blinks away to avert a grey gaze at her master's curt words. The Bearer of Light, seemingly unaffected, simply slides an offered tea cup closer to himself, before picking up his brush once more to continue writing, lightly sliding a fresh roll of parchment out upon his large desk.
There is no clearer dismissal.
Nodding once more, the handmaid can do nothing, except smile encouragingly to a bowing Pixiu. She bows once more to a reticent deity, before picking up the same tray now emptied of its content to take her leave, slowly and worriedly making her way back up the same flight of stairs.
The silence seems to thicken after the attendant leaves, and with her absence, Wei Ying swallows nervously in the tension.
Uncertain and almost fearfully, the Pixiu shuffles back on his knees, and away from the desk.
Awkwardly, he stands, dusting off his knees as he glances between the stairway and a silent Hanguang Jun. Reluctantly, Wei Ying takes slow, quiet steps towards said exit, before pausing to turn around, wringing his hands as he steals another look at the immortal at his study, still denying him any attention or forgiveness.
He sits, as statuesque as ever, unaffected and unperturbed by anything or anyone, a picture of regality and aloof coldness, despite his title as the patron saint of dawning sunlight itself.
"Lan Z- ," Wei Ying starts with a small voice, "Hanguang Jun." As he waits to find no reaction regardless, the Pixiu seems to wilt, curling into himself despondently.
Bowing his head, he finally allows an ache wash over his entire being at being ignored by the other, feeling like his heart is rending in half and making his eyes burn warm with tears he refuses to release. In the silence, he wonders if this was what his brother spoke of - to suffer heartache for another, to long so desperately for their attention and affections.
To feel a chasm burning into his very soul, simply from being denied the tender gaze from amber eyes, the guilt of knowing he singlehandedly made the deity so upset he would refuse to even look at him.
"Wei Ying just, just not -", Wei Ying murmurs brokenly, "- not understand why."
If the other is interested in what he wishes to say, or notices how Wei Ying's hands or voice shakes as he speaks, he makes no indication of it - brush still flitting over paper in a rustle, gaze still pointedly set upon his work.
"Why Hanguang Jun want Wei Ying back to Gusu Lan for," he whispers, wiping at his eyes, "if not wish to be around Wei Ying?"
The infuriating brush does not stop, but neither does Wei Ying's words.
Shuddering, the Pixiu wipes at his face quickly, before beginning to move back up the stairs.
"Why Hanguang Jun want Wei Ying back to Gusu Lan," he chokes, "if - if."
His voice drops a whisper as he disappears.
"If Hanguang not want Wei Ying anymore."
I hope everyone has had a lovely Christmas! If not, I am here for you with this healthy dose of angst. Hanguang Jun is many things but a communicator he is not - not in this instance when he is trying to figure out some things. Don't be too worried for our poor, sad little bb Wei Ying, everything will make sense as we move further on this trajectory, I promise. I am a firm believer in the heavier the angst the sweeter the softness that follows (I don't believe in sad endings in any of my work).
Works might take longer to update this week as I am taking time off to travel, but I hope everyone looks forward to more!
Chapter 15: Bakeneko
"Have neither you nor Wei Ying ever contemplated freedom? Outside of the Cloud Recesses?"
His query is met with a careful tilt of Jiang Wanyin's head, who too, leans back in his seat with a finger slowly pressing against the same desk.
"Is Hanguang Jun asking because he's curious," the Pixiu murmurs carefully, "or have we overstayed our welcome in Gusu Lan?"
The next time someone stomps down the stairs to Hanguang Jun's study, it is neither attendant nor Wei Ying.
Blazing violet eyes and a jaw set in delicate haughtiness, wearing his trademark scowl on a slighter body no less powerful than anyone else, immortal or beast.
All of it encompassing much, much more anger than any other being that the Bearer of Light had ever borne witness to.
"If I may have a moment of your time, Hanguang Jun." The voice that growls low leaves no room for negotiation, and the deity simply sets down his brush, pausing before slipping his ink pot's lid back on for security.
Jiang Wanyin stands front and center of his study, eyes narrowed in irritation with his arms clasped to his back. By all intents and purposes, the Pixiu is trying his best to pass himself off as relaxed, despite a back ramrod-straight; posture tightened with tension. Lan Zhan did not find much that intimidated him, and while he knew the other is not capable of killing him, he was more than capable of doling out real, grievous harm to any immortal.
The Bearer of Light sits back, carefully splaying both hands flat against his desk, "I am all ears, young master Jiang."
To his surprise, said Pixiu steps forward at his words and folds himself into a seat directly opposite the deity still studying him.
Neither immortal nor celestial beast relent from their locked gazes, before Jiang Wanyin speaks, tone cold and unpleasant, "Hanguang Jun, it has come to my attention that you have secluded yourself for more than a few days," studying the other's expression, "and while it is of no concern to me how you choose to go about your days, it might interest you to know that your actions have had repercussions on those around you."
Lan Zhan tilts his head just slightly, but maintains his silence in a bid to let the other continue.
Not requiring a response, the Pixiu presses on, "your self-reclusion has not only worried Zewu Jun greatly, but has also driven my brother into a mess of tears and heartache."
"Those two issues," Jiang Wanyin growls, "are a grievous matter to me indeed."
The quiet that falls over them both almost crackles with tautness, before the lord of light sighs, breaking their eye contact to slide a tray of tea closer. Across him, Jiang Cheng stays motionless and watching as Hanguang Jun begins to steeple fresh tea, lifting his chin at an offered cup slid gently towards his direction.
"While it may be difficult for you to believe this," Hanguang Jun speaks calmly, "it was never my intention to cause this much turmoil to my brother or yours."
The deity notes the gleam of disbelief in the other's serpentine eyes, "if I may be so bold to ask, young Master Jiang."
Lan Zhan's gaze is tired, despite the splendour of gold in his pupils.
"Have neither you nor Wei Ying ever contemplated freedom? Outside of the Cloud Recesses?"
His query is met with a careful tilt of Jiang Wanyin's head, who too, leans back in his seat with a finger slowly pressing against the same desk. His blunt nail taps sharply against gleaming oak, a slow rhythm like a tensed metronome between the pair.
"Is Hanguang Jun asking because he's curious," the Pixiu murmurs carefully, "or that he wishes me and Wei Ying to leave Gusu Lan?"
"Have we overstayed our welcome?"
Lowering his gaze, the deity responds quietly, "I have no intention of forcing you or Wei Ying from Gusu Lan. In fact, the opposite is what I had wished for."
If Jiang Cheng is surprised by Hanguang Jun's honesty, he does not show it, before repeating, "had?"
"Indeed. I had hoped that your brother and you might find a home in Gusu Lan after your time here. Yet one must admit, that Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan-jun speak the truth," Hanguang Jun continues, studying a tea cup cradled in his hand, "as Pixiu, what of your instincts to be in the wild? We rescued both of you, yet it seems we may only be caging both of you here in the Cloud Recesses, and the thought is unbearable to me."
"I do not wish for us to be the ones," a hand tightens its grip on delicate ware, "to repress you or Wei Ying's need to be out in the forest, hunting or being around others as you. Living as you wish, like the lives led prior to your years of captivity with the Wens."
"Hanguang Jun," said deity looks up, to see Jiang Cheng scrubbing at his face with a pinched expression.
Letting his hands fall away, he growls with finality, "you are a monumental idiot."
Sighing, the other says nothing to the insult and simply waits, brows raised expectantly.
"Why do you speak as if you know what me or Wei Ying would like," he drawls, "as Pixiu, our nature is not limited to being in the woods living in packs to hunt or survive. Being able to change forms between beast and immortal gives us double the option - of being able to live as either one. We cherish the ability of both, and hone both forms."
Amber eyes downcast once more in thought, Lan Zhan murmurs in response, "I do not wish for Wei Ying to keep himself here for me, if he has no wish to stay. I sought him out and brought him home for his safety, but perhaps it was my selfish intention."
"You presume we want the freedom to be away from Gusu Lan, or that Wei Ying wishes to be free."
Fingers graze a warm cup, as Jiang Cheng murmurs questioningly, "has Hanguang Jun thought that perhaps Wei Ying and I wish to stay with the ones we wish to protect? Out of our own volition?"
Jiang Wanyin sips from his cup, allowing Lan Zhan to fully comprehend the implications behind chosen words, before gently setting said cup back down to stare coldly at the other, "what Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan-jun speak of is truth, but entirely one-sided, Hanguang Jun. One would do well to remember that assuming me and Wei Ying wish to have what they have is not only presumptuous, but also cruel to my brother, who only ran off because of his instinctual need to hunt for you."
Frowning, the Bearer of Light repeats, "for me?"
"For you, Hanguang Jun." The other repeats with a steely gaze.
The Pixiu observes a mild confusion that tinges Hanguang Jun's features at his open-ended words, and nods once more, sighing as he rubs at his temples.
Stretching his neck, Jiang Wanyin drones, "I have to admit, I came here today to give you a piece of my mind, thinking your stubbornness to forgive was the reason for this reclusion, or to teach my brother a lesson," he rolls his eyes in exasperation, continuing, "but now I see that I was wrong in that assumption."
Hanguang Jun keeps his gaze trained on the other, who leans forward on the desk between them, murmuring low and dangerously, "if you have any affection for Wei Ying - you will do well to remember he is his own person before anything else. Not just a simple Pixiu, nor a mere immortal, or even yours until he says so."
Surprise glints over in golden pupils but Jiang Wanyin continues, eyes hard as his voice.
"A word of advice, then," Jiang Wanyin continues with mild snark, chin once again lifted haughtily.
"Instead of sitting here with your duties in an attempt to continually avoid my brother, and by extension cause him this much heartache, perhaps it would make more sense to simply speak your mind with someone you consider to be of significance to you."
Violet eyes narrow, as he slides an empty tea cup back to the other.
"If Hanguang Jun wishes to know, you need only ask."
He is hiding in the woods - has been for days now - unwilling to speak even to me, except to cry.
Lan Zhan's palm grazes gnarled, roughened bark of a willow tree, silently following in familiar tracks through moonlit woodlands along the perimeters of Gusu Lan. Above him, a night owl watches silently as a lord of light moves through their forest, eyes unblinking as it hoots.
Nodding, the Bearer of Light continues along a track of disturbed grass.
Make no mistake, Hanguang Jun. You have hurt him.
Jiang Wanyin's displeased words continue to ring through his disquiet mind.
If he has no further wish to speak to you, you will not find him.
Precautionary words growled to him in parting from a very unhappy Jiang Wanyin, protective of his sibling even when he wishes for Hanguang Jun to seek the other out.
Looking up once more, Hanguang Jun pauses as a cold breeze soothes at his frame, using the moment to try and calm his mind as best he can, with Jiang Wanyin's words still fresh in his memory. The chilly night wind is tinged with a scent of soft earth and wildflowers, before he catches a lingering note of saccharine lotus blooms.
There were no lotus flower ponds this deep into the woodlands.
Hanguang Jun turns in said direction of a strong breeze, filtering through rustling leaves and curling trees entwined over his head like a dark canopy.
He stops once more, the forest now so dense that draping willow leaves fall like curtains around the wanderin deity. Sharp golden eyes continue to survey, gently holding swaying branches from his face as he looks up, dragging his gaze slowly across dim lights, almost squinting at a yawning expanse of darkness above in tangled foliage.
Gilded eyes stop, before he finally speaks.
There is no response, so he sighs, still staring intently at an unnatural patch of darkness high up in said tree.
"Little one, I know you are up there."
Finally, an answering growl, almost muted in the wind that carries the same scent of lotus petals to Hanguang Jun.
"Will you not come down from there? It is awfully high up and not very safe." Hanguang Jun asks softly, when gleaming steel eyes finally present themselves through the murky darkness with a rustle of leaves. "I have much to say to you, if you would join me."
Another growl rings out, unhappy and resolute in its displeasure.
"Wei Ying." He tries again, stepping into the moon light under a sparse patch of foliage, "do you have no wish at all to speak to me?"
In the chilly silence, he receives no further response. Woefully, Hanguang Jun softly intones, "You know I will not force you, little one. It is clear to me, that you are quite upset with me, and rightfully so. I have not been completely forthright with you and was unkindly."
Waiting once more, the deity nods when he hears nothing else from the trees - not a single rustle or answering growl, not even a slight chirp - nodding once more, before he turns to leave with a heavy heart, knowing patience is needed with an upset Pixiu intent on hiding from him in upset. He steps back, lowering his gaze and following the same line of swaying grass away from the wisened tree.
"When you are ready, we will speak."
Hanguang Jun is moving away, steps heavier this time - but pauses when he picks up a sudden squeak of his name.
The familiar voice is worryingly cut off, followed by desperate scrabbling and a yelp.
He reacts immediately, barely managing to make it when he sees Wei Ying helplessly falling straight out of the ancient willow tree.
Bearing the sudden weight of the other falling heavily into his arms, he holds on tight even as they both wobble unsteadily upon impact - eventually allowing himself to topple backwards and into the soft grass with a grunt, arms tight around a whimpering Wei Ying curled against him with eyes squeezed tight in fearful anticipation. As his pale robes flutter to rest around them, he sighs in relief when he peers down to see the Pixiu unharmed - with only stray twigs and leaves in his hair or stuck betwixt dark robes.
The deity sits up, still cradling a shaking figure close to his chest as he whispers, "little one, you are quite alright now."
Fingers clutching tight into soft satin robes, Wei Ying slowly peeks an eye out, before gasping up at a smiling Hanguang Jun, scrambling out of a protective hold to face a surprised deity. He urgently checks over Lan Zhan, still leaning back against the grass, thoroughly perplexed as the Pixiu pets over his arms, holding his face to observe him carefully and with great concern, brows furrowed worriedly.
"Hurt?" He asks, voice small as his hands continue to check over Lan Zhan, "Lan Zhan hurt from Wei Ying?"
Soothing, the deity sighs before taking Wei Ying's hands into his, smiling gently.
"I am unhurt, little one. You, on the other hand, seem to be unaware that you feel from a very tall tree."
Squeaking, Wei Ying sits back, still facing a softened gaze of a lord of light. Blinking, he looks down to their hands, his own comfortingly clasped in large palms and elegant fingers curled over his own, flushing further as he peers back up, chirruping in embarrassment before Lan Zhan sighs, a hand pulling away to begin brushing stray twigs from his robes and pulling twigs trapped in his hair.
"Do you hurt anywhere, Wei Ying?"
Shaking his head resolutely, the deity nods, satisfied that the other is unharmed, before murmuring, "would it be possible for you to allow me the chance of an apology?"
Hanguang Jun finds himself surprised, when Wei Ying quickly looks back up with wide eyes, shaking his head once more.
"Wei Ying," the Pixiu speaks, voice high and loud, "Wei Ying am sorry first! Wei Ying know - bad to run away, make everybody worry! Am sorry, to Hanguang Jun. Brother big scold, Wei Ying know now."
Shushing his rambling, Lan Zhan nods.
"Your apology is accepted, little one," he murmurs, "I too, have treated you most unkindly from my conflict."
Tilting his head, Wei Ying's face is awash in uncertainty and confusion.
"You see," Lan Zhan begins, continuing to brush trapped leaves from dark hair, "when you ran away, and we later found you - I was upset at seeing how at ease you were hunting and being out in the wild. When your other two Pixiu friends told us about returning you and your brother to live freely, away from Gusu Lan, it dawned on me that perhaps you did not wish to be here, in the Cloud Recesses."
Gently tucking loosened hair away from Wei Ying's face, he sighs, "the thought of you leaving me, or of me caging you, it made me wish to avoid you. For that, and how coldly I treated you, I must apologise."
Wei Ying swallows nervously, staring into gleaming honey eyes as he speaks slowly, "Wei Ying - I, I make big hunt, because big hunt show... shows I am good Pixiu. When Lan Zhan and Zewu Jun give many pretty flowers, I know courting... intention."
Silently, Hanguang Jun says nothing despite his brows high in surprise.
"Want to show Lan Zhan, I am good. Strong, maybe."
Shyly, Wei Ying peers up, cheeks blushing even as he pauses to lick his lips nervously again, before he continues.
"Want to show, am worthy mate. To Lan Zhan."
The Pixiu sees the deity blink, before the very tips of his ears begin to flush red at Wei Ying's words. He sits up to shuffle closer, knowing his cheeks are just as red, but no longer finding it in himself to care about propriety as he tentatively places his hands back upon Wei Ying's, gently rubbing his thumbs over thin, pale skin stretched over shifting knuckles. In the short silence, Wei Ying chirrups lightly - expression crumpled in confusion.
"A strange coincidence, when this entire time, I imagined myself to be unworthy of Wei Ying's affections." Hanguang Jun whispers with a woeful sigh at a protesting chirrup from the Pixiu in front of him, "to think, I almost drove you from my side with my foolishness, when I could have been honest with myself and you."
Wei Ying shakes his head, but Lan Zhan continues, solemn and intense, "will you stay, little one?"
Grey eyes blinking owlishly, the Pixiu straightens his back, fingers curling up to tighten around Hanguang Jun's warm palms.
The deity's expression is open, honest and guileless, as he repeats, "will Wei Ying accept my affections, and stay?"
Before he asks once more, Wei Ying speaks, eyes wide and earnest, "Brother, brother told Wei Ying something!"
Tilting his head at the change of topic, Lan Zhan simply waits patiently, knowing the Pixiu will arrive at his point soon enough despite the abrupt mention of his sibling.
"Jiang Cheng said. Not good to pay back for many pretty flowers, or sweets, with kiss," the very word makes both of them flush once more, and Hanguang Jun tenses, "kiss only for... important, special person! Only for person we keep in heart, person who make heart crazy. Only for people who make heart warm, and make scared to lose important person."
Looking up, a smoke-grey gaze is determined, and Lan Zhan feels a slight tremor in the very hands he holds under his.
"Wei Ying knows. This person is Lan Zhan. Only Lan Zhan."
"Only want kiss to Lan Zhan," they draw closer, as Wei Ying's voice drops to a whisper, "not to thank, but to show care, show... affection."
"Only want kiss to show, Wei Ying will stay by you."
The resulting kiss is sweet, burning through their bodies and making Wei Ying gasp lightly as he clamours further into Lan Zhan's hold.
He cradles Lan Zhan's face in his hands reverently, as the other tilts his face up against the deity's kiss; tilts his entire universe of its axis with desire and blooming affection in every pore of himself. Whimpering, he part his lips subconsciously to a strange growl reverberating from the Bearer of Light, jolting in surprise as a tongue finds his. Both seem to shudder, finally tasting each other through deepened kisses, fervent and urgently seeking out more against lips and teeth nipping.
The kiss is no longer chaste, nor uncertain in any way - turning heavy as they breath against each other, Hanguang Jun swallowing every whimper and mewl.
As they break apart, they smile to each other, eyes shining in affection as they press their foreheads against each other's.
"Wei Ying want to kiss forever," he chirps breathlessly, making Hanguang Jun chuckle, the action bringing an impossible radiance to his handsome features, "feel good. Feel... right. Only one Wei Ying want to kiss every day. Lan Zhan is important person to Wei Ying."
Nodding, the lord of light bundles the other nearer, smiling down at the deep purring against his fluttering pulse, "and Wei Ying is important to me, as well."
Squirming a little, Wei Ying peers up bashfully, asking, "for always? Am worthy mate for Hanguang Jun?"
Pressing a kiss to a scrunching nose, Hanguang Jun nods, "more than worthy. Absolutely perfect to me, Wei Ying is. My precious, beautiful, worthy Wei Ying."
Delightedly, the Pixiu erupts into tinkling giggles, before preening loudly, "Lan Zhan worthy too! Perfect, strong, good Lan Zhan. Smart and pretty like many pretty flowers, I want to keep forever. Will never let go of Lan Zhan, only want Lan Zhan."
Hesitating, Wei Ying asks, "forever one mate for Pixiu - not change?"
"Forever, little one," the deity reassures, tightening his arms around the other, feeling like his heart might burst from affection. "I will never leave you, Wei Ying. Wherever you go, I shall follow with no hesitation. Anything you wish of me, will be yours."
Chirping excitedly, Wei Ying nods, "have wish now, Lan Zhan!"
Smiling, Lan Zhan simply acquiesces, "what is it you wish for, little one?"
Cheeks flushed and beaming, Wei Ying pauses for only a heartbeat, before asking, voice small and shy, "wish for more kiss, please."
If the deity is surprised by the request, he does nothing more than smile, nodding to pull Wei Ying to lie back against soft grass, gazing tenderly down at the giggling Pixiu under him. He tucks long locks away from flushing cheeks, moonlight softly gleaming off taupe grey pupils, fingers tracing kissed lips, following the lines of a delicately defined jawline and flushed ears, full lashes fluttering with a contented sigh.
"Kiss, please." The Bearer of Light hears in a whisper, and he nods, lowering to meet an intense grey gaze, desire thrumming through them both once more.
He smiles, and whispers against smiling lips under his.
"Anything you wish, Wei Ying."
Ok, a last-minute update for all the lovely readers who loved the mad angst from the last update. I will not be updating for a week as my flight leaves in less than 12 hours, so here is an update with bonus Jiang Cheng threatening his future brother-in-law to hold you off until then! One could even say, that Wei Ying fell for Lan Wangji here.
I hope it all read well, I have not had much time to proofread it as thoroughly as I would have liked!
Chapter 16: Xiāngliǔ
"I for one, am curious to know how one might be able to begin redeeming themselves," he murmurs in consideration, "after all, a crime of this nature will warrant nothing less than death."
Zewu Jun sighs to the predicted uproar of terrified pleas and stuttered apologies - words he has heard through lifetimes, superficial and insincere prayers.
Unhappiness etched into every pore of his impassive features, he continues, "as deities of the sun and moon, it is reprehensible for me or my brother to take any lives as punishment, no matter the crime."
"We cannot spill blood - such is our duty as wardens of day and night."
Another evening in the Cloud Recesses washes everything in a sea of burnt-orange, glowing across a heavy fog of clouds.
Next to the Bearer of Light - whose pupils are blown wide in an unnatural amber incandescence of skies above - his elder brother calmly observes as an auburn glow around them ripples, yielding and ebbing so gently it was almost undetectable.
Under Hanguang Jun's administrations, everything around them, from rolling clouds to the green of trees and fields become doused in ochre, soft even in its saturated brightness. A final dose of flaring colours for all manner of day dwellers chasing their last rays of sunlight before darkness would descend through their realm once more, preparing for a deity of night to bless their world in cool evening winds and peaceful midnight skies.
For millenniums, they have maintained the same routine, silently watching over each other as their realms switched between day and night, keeping each other safe at their most vulnerable moment.
As his younger brother continues to work, Zewu Jun stays close, but tilts his attention interestedly to a pair of Pixiu wading noisily through a stream only a small distance away.
Jiang Cheng's eyes, and the mild annoyance in his familiar sapphire gaze can be spotted a mile away, as he swats a heavy paw at a mischievous brother stalking him through rippling water. Ignoring the other's insistent nosing, he turns to lap at cool water, ears flicking to track the other's movements. His feathers flared briefly in warning before disappearing into the water with a yelp, as Wei Ying finally leapt to pounce - throwing them both under the freezing surface with a heavy splash.
Sputtering, the younger Pixiu rises from the water choking and snarling at delighted chirrups at his soaked state.
Silver eyes widen, when Wei Ying is faced with a gleam of sharp teeth and a mauve glare full of menacing intent.
In retaliation, the elder Pixiu finds himself being chased by a faster and infinitely more agile younger brother, with a much shorter temper.
Zewu Jun smiles, chuckling lowly when he spots the smaller of the pair quickly land a successful tackle, tossing his protesting sibling's larger body underwater in a mess of wings and flailing paws. Squeaking in surprise, Wei Ying begins to yowl miserably as he finds himself trapped tight, whining angrily as Jiang Cheng all but sits on him, sinking the other further into cold water with a satisfied purr of his own.
Huffing in muted laughter, Lan Huan's attention flickers back to his own brother, waiting as pale eyes begin to shutter and blink back to muted amber, before his attention returns to the present and his own sibling.
Nodding to the elder deity, he tilts a head at a noisy scene near them.
Two sets of identically amber, curious gazes watch indulgently as their pair of Pixiu continue to tussle, splashing and nipping at each other playfully. As two deities begin to stroll towards the still-squabbling pair, Lan Huan notes bemusedly, "it seems our young master Wei might be in a bit of trouble."
Lan Zhan simply nods once more, observing an indignant Jiang Cheng tossing water at his elder sibling, who rears back upon hind legs to lock their antlers together in a faux battle for dominance, scales shimmering as they raise in a mocking display of indignation before he is once again flipped into the water, deflating slightly in confusion at how his younger sibling manages to continually gain the upper hand.
When the two Gusu Lan lords finally come to a stop at the bank of the same stream, Wei Ying is once again trapped under his sibling seated on him; tufted ears are forlornly drooped in a useless struggle as he swats lightly at the other's flicking tails.
"Wanyin," a pair of serpentine violet eyes flicker up to Zewu Jun, "please do not chew on your brother's ear."
Obediently releasing the other's ear from his teeth, the Pixiu sidles off his brother, huffing proudly at his obvious victory before wading to climb onto the river bank to shake himself dry. With a purr, he sits to languidly lick at tawny fur, flicking rivulets of cold water from a thick mane.
A sopping Wei Ying clamours to the same patch of grass, chirruping as he spreads crooked wings to begin drying himself in the lingering rays of sunshine, as two deities begin to hold out dark robes, identical eyes softened in affection.
All four pause, when an unfamiliar howl abruptly wails into the darkening evening sky.
It catches all their attention, and their two wards' ears swivel to attention, tails stiff and gazes narrowed towards a following wail of distress piercing through the quiet air once more. In the distance, they watch as a flutter of birds burst to the clouds in alarm, a startling display making their fur prickle in agitation.
Wei Ying takes a step forward, paw raised and his head tilted slightly.
"What is it?" Hanguang Jun urges softly, the entire group tensing with another shrieking howl echoing from thick forests.
Said Pixiu turns, silver eyes blown wide as Jiang Cheng slowly approaches to stand next to his sibling, protective and waiting.
It is Zichen Jun.
"Kill the injured!"
Flying nets, useless against gnashing teeth and spread wings, as a dark Pixiu roars in rage, whipping round to crouch over an injured partner struggling and fatigued against blood-stained grass. Hissing with an agitated ripple of pitch-black scales, the creature relentlessly protects, ebony feathers flared defensively, scuffing dangerous antlers to ward off a circle of shouting poachers.
"We cannot hold both of them down - kill its injured mate and use our traps!"
A hunter shouts in surprise, when said Pixiu turns towards his voice, claws unsheathed from planted paws and growling gutturally with a flash of canines.
Song Lan, a voice whispers amidst frenzied chaos, Song Lan - you must leave, quickly.
Helplessly, a bloodied leg continues to tug against taut chains, sinking terrible steel teeth deeper into flesh and fur. Crying out, a pale-furred Pixiu flops to its side in pain, gasping and whimpering as the other noses him still, bristling once again to snap fearsome teeth at approaching poachers, their hands full of ropes and chains.
Please, you must leave now or they will take you.
A glint flies across the air to land across a prickling mane of dark fur, and Song Zichen roars as a metal hook tears into his shoulder, before twisting to rip an offending hook away with a scaly maw - all but throwing its owner across the clearing as he growls low.
My Song Lan, please, I beg you to listen to me.
More ropes are unfurled, more noisy jangling of heavy chains, amongst an overwhelming chorus of angry yells and shouted instructions, as more men close in upon the pair of Pixiu.
I will not leave you, Xingchen.
Feebly, his injured mate cries out again as jagged blades of a trap clamp ever tighter upon his hind leg.
Alive or dead, they will not take us today.
"Indeed they will not."
A voice interrupts, as calm and as cold as the night that has fallen over Gusu Lan's forests.
"Who dares to interfere -", a poacher's words stutter to a stop, and the small group of hunters step back, eyes widening in fear at being presented with two deities emerging from inky-dark foliage.
With glowing amber stares narrowed in focus, the twin Jades of Gusu approach the same clearing; their anger palpable through strong lines of their posture and cold features on stoic faces. Their very presence seems to chill the air, as the poachers drop to their knees, immediately pleading and blubbering for forgiveness from the lords of day and night.
"I must admit," Zewu Jun states coldly, "it is quite a surprise, to find such a scene in our forests."
Next to him, the Bearer of Light is silent, a calculative gaze marking each and every terrified face in front of them, frozen in place at a glinting pair of golden eyes. He says nothing, electing only to move closer to the pair of Pixiu still struggling against tangled chains and ropes - catching sight of his approach, Song Zichen growls distrustfully, unwilling to leave or allow anyone near a distressed mate.
"A devious trap, clamping tight over your mate's leg," Hanguang Jun murmurs, holding his palms out placatingly as he waits, until the enormous body of sooty fur hesitantly shifts, immense wings tucking loose to accommodate a deity crouching low to inspect the injuries, explaining calmly, "we must remove it with haste, before it causes damage to the bone."
Slowly, and as tentatively as he can, Lan Zhan reaches light fingers, "I shall be as gentle as I can, but it is a terrible device."
As steel teeth of said trap are shifted just fractionally, another broken whimper rings out and immediately draws Song Zichen into another snarling approach, hackles raising defensively.
Zichen Jun, a familiar voice lilts, please wait!
The group of poachers watch with dawning fear, as two more Pixiu appear suddenly - much smaller, with strange wings - trotting quickly over to their injured friend.
Wei Ying pays no mind to anyone else, and positions himself submissively as he worms between a lord of light and an angered Pixiu, whose enormous teeth are bared towards Lan Zhan in anger. The deity does not back away, but also stays still in the face of a looming muzzle of a dragon head dawning closer, a sheen of onyx scales puffing up in rage at his mate's cries. Under his gigantic body of soot-black fur, Xiao Xingchen continues to pant as he shifts in pain.
Distractedly, the younger Pixiu tries to nose at his senior's heavy paws, sending a plaintive whine to both him and his suffering partner still bleeding into the grass.
As dark eyes flicker between the two, Wei Ying positions himself as unthreateningly as possible, whispering desperately, Lan Zhan will be able to remove the mechanism, but it will cause some discomfort. I swear upon my life, Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun mean to help you and Xingchen-jun.
Amidst his sibling's continued persuasions to a protective Song Zichen, Jiang Cheng prowls along their perimeter, slender body of tawny fur bristling as he watches the group of hunters with a serpentine gaze of flashing violet. Despite being the smallest in stature, the creature is no less terrifying - pulling back a muzzle of gleaming scales in ugly warning at stunned poachers, the display perfectly presenting rows of ivory incisors, striking fear as they flinch back at his curling antlers and sharp claws.
Faced with not just two powerful gods, but also an entire quartet of terrifying beasts - three of which were unmaimed - their predicament becomes all too clear.
Finally, Song Zichen relents, crouching close to press comfortingly against his mate, nosing into pale fur amidst more harsh whimpers, as the lord of light busies himself with the grievous clamp locked over torn flesh and cream-white fur mottled with blood. Nearby, a deity of nightfall watches, immensely displeased with what has transpired to a magnificent pair of Pixiu, who have lived through eons only to be ensnared so ruthlessly.
The terrible scene is all too familiar to Zewu Jun, who is reminded of when they found a crumpled Wanyin in the same forest, broken and dying.
"Such distress it causes me, to witness a terrible act of trespass and suffering on sacred creatures of our realm," his voice is clear, low and chillingly calm as he turns to a group of cowering hunters.
Waving away more useless apologies, the god continues, "all of you have caused significant offense to more than just me and my brother on this night. Intentionally trapping respected celestial creatures, and further attempting to kill another is no small matter."
"I for one, am curious to know how one might be able to begin redeeming themselves," he murmurs in consideration, "after all, a crime of this nature will warrant nothing less than death."
Zewu Jun sighs to the predicted uproar of terrified pleas, and the hunters begin frantically bowing in stuttered apologies - kowtowing repeatedly and pressing their heads to the ground in prostration - words he has heard through lifetimes, superficial and insincere prayers.
Impeccable robes shift, as the deity steps forward and closer to the group, unhappiness etched into every pore of his impassive features. Droning with a sigh, he continues, "as deities of the sun and moon, it is reprehensible for me or my brother to take any lives as punishment, no matter the crime. We cannot spill blood - such is our duty as wardens of day and night."
His eyes gleam, as the lord tilts his head to the fear receding from pale faces at his words, "you are assuaged at this information?"
Lowering to bend close, the same pair of golden eyes blink curiously, catching in dim moonlight to glint once more, "it is true that we cannot spill blood."
"Yet we are fully capable," he murmurs, "of sending all of you to somewhere, and someone who can do this for us."
Righting himself, back now straight and chin lifted high, a chill settles deep into the still air with the implication of the deity's words.
"The Cloud Recesses will take no prisoners, I am afraid," a voice slicing easily through the terrified hush, "my guards shall escort all of you to your next point of destination."
Perfectly on cue, he turns as a line of armoured guards seamlessly march out of the looming forest around them, faces solemn and weapons drawn. Rounding up the protesting, pleading hunters, the guards remain stoic in their reticence, continuing to yank the offending group away, now unable to break out of heavy chains fastened on their own ankles and wrists - a mimicry of the same, devious traps laid out for the celestial creatures they pursued.
As their pleas for clemency and cries of fear fade with the heavy steps of Gusu Lan's fleet, a group of attendants hurriedly approach to bow low, waiting for instructions and wide-eyed at two much larger, much wilder Pixiu laid in front of Hanguang Jun deep in thought.
Everyone turns suddenly to a pitched cry of pain, followed by a series of loud jangling - the Bearer of Light leaning to sit back with blood on his pale sleeves, as a heavy contraption is lifted to be flung away, now useless and incapable of trapping anything.
The injured Pixiu pants heavily, and his mate nuzzles around him protectively as his heavy leg is lifted to rest on a pile of soft cloth. Standing near, the two smaller companions pace worriedly, watching as more blood leaks from torn flesh. Quickly, his servants offer clean water and bandages, watching as their lord rinses at ragged wounds gently, observing as he begins slowly and gently wrapping unrolled strips of cloth around Xiao Xingchen's hind leg.
"There is no harm to his bones," Lan Zhan explains softly, "but the gashes are far too deep. He has lost a significant amount of blood so far, and will continue to bleed until we close the wounds."
Two pairs of dark eyes, one half-lidded in pain and the other narrowed with doubt.
We must hurry back, Jiang Cheng urges, as he watches Xiao Xingchen's laboured breathing, wings splayed lifelessly to the side in a worrying display.
Wei Ying noses at his senior of pale fur, the usual gentleness in familiar eyes glazed in weakness as his body slumps into shock. Whining, the younger Pixiu nudging gently once more at the other, who simply sighs, heavy antlers scuffing gently at the grass as he tries in vain to even lift his head. Pressed close, Song Zichen licks at his mate's unresponsive paws, worried and uncertain even as he says nothing.
Sapphire and silver gazes watch in waiting, before Jiang Cheng tries again, tails wrapping around his lowered haunches as he sits close, Gusu Lan is the safest place at this moment, Zichen Jun.
It is crucial that we save Xingchen Jun first, above all else.
Zewu Jun steps close, but remains at a respectable distance as he meets a pair of eyes narrowed upon his own amber stare.
"When we first met, you showed me and Wangji due respect - it is my assurance to you that your respect is not misplaced," he speaks quietly, "it is my belief, that none of us have given you and Xingchen Jun any reason to distrust us or see our actions as threatening to you or your partner."
As the makeshift bandage is tied, Lan Zhan shifts to stand, his attendants quickly coming forward to help the deity rinse his blood-stained hands. In the stretching silence, Wei Ying glances between a silent Pixiu, who is still curled around his injured partner, tensed and obstinately stubborn even in his evident worry for his mate.
Please, Wei Ying tries, I promise no harm will come to you or Xingchen Jun, not on my watch.
Song Zichen's attention flicker, shifting from deity to deity, before meeting a pair of wide, beseeching silver eyes.
Not on our watch.
It has been far, far too long, my beautiful people.
I hope the holidays were good for everyone - and if they weren't - well, you have this update (which hopefully helps). A new year is upon us, and I return to A03 refreshed after a thoroughly long duration of solo travels. I promise, we will return to the regular updates, as well as the promised courting gifts our two Gusu brothers still owe a pair of Pixiu.
Till then, here's more Song Lan & Xingchen, because I just am soft for these two.
Chapter 17: Imugi
In the following days, Gusu Lan's inhabitants determined two crucial pieces of information on their new visitors.
The first, was that the Pixiu known as Xingchen Jun, was devastatingly and impossibly beautiful.
The second, was that the Pixiu known as Zichen Jun, mate of this ethereal being, was more terrifying than any being they had ever met in their lifetimes.
There are discussions of violence and gore in this chapter, so proceed with caution if those turn you off.
There is noise everywhere, air rancid with cloying blood and mold on looming, damp walls. The sound of struggle, tugs against loud chains and a sharp crack of a whip too near. Pain flaring at a twitching body with another snap of the same weapon. Gasping for air, crumpled wings straining amidst a symphony of cheering roars and terrible screams. Serpentine eyes, dull silver pupils following an ear-shattering shriek of a fire bird's war cry.
Wings trickling flames with searing talons, a frenzied attack ripping and dragging. Sharp claws dislodging rows of iridescent scales clattering to the stained ground.
Fight, you dumb beast! Fight or your brother will be next!
In the deep hours of night, Gusu Lan awakes to noise.
Every single attendant rushes awake as their lords arrive with two more winged creatures, both injured, and one unconscious, slumped in a wagon dragged along by no more than ten of their strongest guards. A gigantic white beast of pearly scales and velveteen antlers curling endlessly, wings so large and so expansive the tips of dirtied feathers drag along the earth as it is brought into hastily-prepared accommodation for their new guests.
Following close by, an equally massive Pixiu of dark fur and wings slinking protectively next to an unconscious companion, antlers sharp like weapons and heavy paws matched by a threatening silence. The new pair of celestial beasts are enormous, almost too large to even fit through the gates to their temporary abode - undoubtedly of a great age and immense power.
Through the night, all manner of medicine, buckets of hot water, clean bandages and mountains of soft bedding are corralled into the cottage. The lit quarters seeing numerous physicians, with their busy hands and murmured discussions with Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun on stifling bleeding wounds on an unfamiliar anatomy. Nearby, two Pixiu brothers hover close, helping where they can with pinched, worried expressions.
A final surge from enormous flapping wings of liquid fire, terrible shrieks arising into a crescendo. A fatal maw clamping tight over a long neck, claws sinking into a struggling body and swallowing down panic, fear, pain - swallowing all of it. Futile, pointless struggles, hopelessly trapped under fatal teeth and impossible strength. Blood already pouring from the torn neck of a dying bird, a broken thing like the rest of their broken possessions, collected and stored away like mere toys.
Somewhere, he hears a familiar wail. More rapturous cheers for a bitter victory, overwhelming sensitive hearing.
I am sorry, he thinks, I cannot let them put my brother in here. I am sorry, sorry -
Somewhere near the stretching hours of dawn, an injured white Pixiu manages to rouse itself enough to switch into a smaller, more familiar form.
Curled in pain, the Gusu Lan physicians sigh in relief at now being able to treat terrible injuries twisted around a slender leg, flesh mangled with blood still dripping from it. Song Lan, they hear, a gasping voice pleading for relief, Song Lan, my leg, he murmurs as quick hands stitch and clean his wounds, finally easing the bleeding with fresh bandages around his leg.
His partner says nothing, also out of his Pixiu form as he wipes at clammy skin and tucks away locks of damp hair from the pale face of a precious bundle in his arms. The morning sees everyone exiting into cold frost and soft sunlight, with an anxious Wei Wuxian being the last to leave - pulled along by his brother and followed by two deities - who leave strict instructions for their guards standing at unlocked gates.
No one is to enter or interact with their two new guests, not without either deity's presence.
Foul blood pouring into flexing jaws, a vice clamp on snapped bones and mauled flesh. Lifeless throats tasting of death, as tufted ears prick to a familiar cry somewhere - screaming for him to stop, to hide, to come back. Back into a cage, back behind rusted bars, back to a terrible box filled with nothing but hurting bodies and terrified whimpers, until another creature came along, another war to fight.
Another forcible battle, more roaring choruses of raucous noise amongst more killing, more splintered bones and ripped skin, more desperation. More blood flooding down his throat, a snarling muzzle spraying sinew and chunks of discarded flesh everywhere.
Disgusting, wrong, we have to go - we have to run -
Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng are not seen for hours after their departure from their elders' guarded cottage.
Another day passes in tensed silence as everyone waits with bated breath for any signs of distress within the safety of Gusu Lan's walls. Calmly, Zewu Jun and Hanguang Jun continue about their day, carefully quiet and pausing at every shift in the air, listening for any cries that require their immediate attention, nodding to divulged information from their attendants as day turns to night, and back to day.
It is only near the second evening, that Zewu Jun and Hanguang Jun find their Pixiu.
Keeping their distance on a nearby ledge, cold winds diverting their scent - a pair of deities watch as two familiar figures curl around each other in a large meadow only beginning to bloom with wildflowers. Sunset hides them well, with their tawny fur camouflaged in tall, soft grass. From their high ground, the Gusu Lan brothers observe the pair tucked tight against each other, with only an occasional flick of tails and an occasional tremble - not from the cold, but from something far worse, hidden in troubled depths of their minds.
A scoffing chuckle accompanied by more jarring chains. In the haze of pain, they pant in exertion, releasing the dead from their jaws. Heads flopped lifelessly around them, fire and destruction as high as walls around piles of bodies, discarded weapons like broken things - more broken things. A flag flutters in clouds of dark smoke, another bitter victory, another mouth tasting like sand and ash. A whip cracks once more, and large ears flatten in fear, aching bodies frozen under dirtied boots - submit, submit, submit.
Cold spikes on warm fur of a mane, prodding in warning. More hunting, more killing, eyes of silver and sapphire tracking every movement from enemy lines, listening to sneering instructions and more painful strikes of a whip.
So many bodies, dumb beast. It is time for you to eat.
The lords of day and night do not intrude on the moment, choosing to step back into shifting shadows.
Leaving their beloved to rest, snouts pressed under each other's bellies, purring in comfort through bouts of whimpers and trembles. Their eyes shadowed under wings resting protectively over each other's backs, crookedly sparse feathers shuddering through memories haunting their sleep. Dreams they do not speak of, not to anyone, not even to each other; simply riding their trauma out in restlessness and silent reassurances to one another.
Much later, when the same pair of Pixiu siblings eventually step out from the security of lush foliage - wriggling toes cold and nightmares receded - they see two neatly folded bundles, lain at the edge of the meadow, clothes scented like familiar sandalwood and warm incense.
They smile wanly, when sweets roll out from the unravelled robes and into their hands.
In the following days, Gusu Lan's inhabitants determined two crucial pieces of information on their new visitors.
The first, was that the Pixiu known as Xingchen Jun, was devastatingly and impossibly beautiful.
The second, was that the Pixiu known as Zichen Jun, mate of this ethereal being, was more terrifying than any being they had ever met in their lifetimes.
What they feared, was neither fierceness nor wildness.
There existed not a single ounce of malice from the stoic Pixiu. Unlike his younger counterparts, Zichen Jun showed little to no expression or reaction to anyone, not once displaying any inclination of aggression. The tall male never shied away from strangers - presenting himself with a conciseness so distinguished that it rivalled two deities of Gusu Lan - donned only in plain layers of grey and black, folded so neatly on a stiff posture it only exacerbated his mysterious nature.
Simply a constant figure, sitting ramrod straight and keeping watch over his mate with gleaming dark eyes.
His eyes - those, they were afraid of.
No one wanted his gaze fixated on them.
An all-seeing stare shining like black onyx gemstones, dusted by fine lashes with only a barest hint of fatigue lines under them.
His appraisal seemed to read anyone down to their soul, dragging out every secret, bringing every dark, terrible thought - whether in their past and present - to the forefront of their minds. A single flicker of observing eyes from Zichen Jun, and faces would uncomfortably avert, finding themselves incapable of fighting an overwhelming sense of foreboding, a sudden panic of bubbling anxiety that rises from deep within their very core when faced with a gleaming, heavy look.
If the Pixiu saw anything, he did not speak of it, calmly removing his gaze when eye contact was broken. His silence seemed to speak volumes, yet in his infinite quiet, his immeasurable amount of affection towards his mate was evident.
A mate who awoke days later in better spirits, even with his leg still in considerable pain.
Out of his form as a winged creature, Xiao Xingchen was a breathtaking sight to anyone, and even more so when he was conscious. Despite a sickly pallor to his skin, there was no mistaking his exquisitely coquettish face of sharp features and feline-like eyes. Yet he was also wise - delicately polite in mannerisms, gifting easy smiles with a scholarly elegance. Even next to the resplendence of Zewu Jun and Hanguang Jun, he held his own - sagely with murmured words behind knowing eyes twinkling in amusement.
The Pixiu also seemed exceedingly motherly to his younger counterparts, often seen resting against his mate's careful hold as he held conversation with two vastly different younglings. Where Wei Wuxian seemed to be in awe, always nodding excitedly to his stories with eyes wide in wonderment - Jiang Wanyin simply sat nearby, listening carefully despite his quieter and intensely respectful nature around the two elders.
Regardless, both seemed to trail after their elders with mild curiosity and flickering gazes to the various injuries from their tussle with the poachers.
In particular, the injuries of a stoic, brooding Pixiu with dark eyes.
One who'd resolutely refused any help with his own wounds - particularly a gash left behind on his shoulder from a piercing hook - only allowing his own mate to see to them behind shut doors in the deep of night.
Jiang Wanyin can see the wound still bothering the elder, nothing how the silent elder is favouring his right shoulder, watching every movement towards his mate as a Gusu Lan physician cleans at Xingchen Jun's wounds.
"Will Xingchen Jun be able - able to use leg again? Hurt big." Wei Ying asks, nose scrunching at the heavy scent of medicine. He chirrups when the physician answers in affirmation, explaining that the wound is healing as it should with no sign of infection, but grievous injuries should not be aggravated nonetheless.
Curiously, the two younglings scoot closer, peering down at a caked wound now washed of dried blood and unwanted tissue. A ring of mottled pink flesh and muscle slowly healing under skin held together by sterile strings, making Wei Ying squeak and Jiang Cheng tilt his head, perplexed. Xingchen Jun smiles at the innate inquisitiveness - knowing all too well that while a Pixiu may have two forms, it also meant that they often knew half of each anatomy, with constantly blurred lines between their bodies as beast or immortal.
"Flesh heals differently in this form," Xingchen Jun explains softly, smiling at two puzzled gazes, "as Pixiu, we may heal faster but often incorrectly."
Jiang Cheng makes a small sound, understanding dawning on his features.
"Will it - will this wound heal right? Xingchen's leg was already beginning its healing process when he was unconscious," he states quietly, "like our wings."
The statement sinks everyone into silence, and pulls even Zichen Jun's attention, staring at the smallest Pixiu of the group and watching as his shoulders undulate subconsciously with his statement. Sitting back, Xiao Xingchen simply smiles as he reassures, "scar tissue always looks a little unusual, but it will heal in its own time with the right care."
Gently, he adds, "there is no need to worry for me, little cub."
Blinking, Jiang Cheng looks up with a slight scowl, "I am not worried -", before petulantly murmuring, "- and I am not a cub!"
The Pixiu tenses, when he finally catches onto another elder staring at him with an unreadable expression, turning away from both knowing gazes to press closer behind a chuckling Zewu Jun, displeased frown with his ears red. In response, Lan Huan soothes, leaning close to bracket the smaller figure in his shadow.
He smiles down at blinking sapphire eyes, sees the uncertainty in a gaze directed up at him for reassurance.
"Xingchen Jun will heal in due time, Wanyin," the deity of nightfall promises, "our physicians are confident that his wounds will not leave lasting damage on his mobility - maybe a scar that will eventually go away."
Jiang Cheng's eyes blink, downcast as he makes a wounded noise before tucking behind a tall deity of night, ducking further away from a dark gaze of Zichen Jun.
"Scars do not go away," he murmurs quietly, fingers just barely curling into Lan Huan's sleeve.
"They never do."
"You are afraid."
Jiang Wanyin startles at the words, almost dropping the sweet in his hands as he turns to blink at Zichen Jun peering down at him, arms folded into his long, black sleeves fluttering with gusts of cold wind.
"You -", the younger Pixiu gapes, "did you just speak to me?"
The smaller figure tries very hard not to tense or move away, as the other simply exhales slow in response, before gracefully folding himself into a seat on the porch of their guesthouse. Silently, Zichen Jun neatly folds his robes over crossed legs, sleeves falling perfectly over his knees.
Still looming over Jiang Cheng in his seated posture, Zichen Jun's eyes are far away, staring out into the morning sky and tracking a flock of cranes in the distance.
"I am capable of conversation," he begins, in a voice familiar yet strange, "it is simply easier for me to be silent."
Forcing himself to uncurl tension from his body, the other owlishly stares as his mind races at the new development. Sitting side by side at such proximity, Jiang Cheng spots a dusting of freckles across Zichen Jun's high cheekbones; a handsome face frozen in time. His hair shines like black silk, the top half of his long locks brushed perfectly back to be tied and fastened with a single ebony hair stick, the same as an ivory piece worn in similar fashion by his mate.
Despite the soft sunlight bearing down on them, Jiang Cheng finds his skin instantly prickling with a sudden chill, when Zichen Jun's eyes shift back to focus on him.
"What is it that you so afraid of?"
He asks, voice low and unassuming, making another bubble of nervousness rise and pop in Jiang Cheng's chest.
Swallowing back his unease, the younger Pixiu answers quickly, "I am uncertain what you mean, Zichen Jun."
The dark eyes neither falter nor flicker in the slightest, as the elder smoothly states, "you are not very well-versed at being honest about your emotions, little pup."
Bristling, Jiang Cheng scowls, "I am not little -," before adding, "or a pup! Me and Wei Ying are already reaching our fifth century!"
Song Zichen's eyes narrow fractionally, as he counters, "to me and Xingchen, you and your brother are fledglings," watching as the other huffs, he coolly adds, "if either one of you can still recall your approximate age, then as Pixiu, one is still much too young."
A mauve gaze widens with surprise, "Zichen Jun and Xingchen Jun do not know your ages?"
Pausing with a slow blink of his eyes, the elder answers flatly, "we decided to stop keeping count after our third millennium."
Cowed into silence, Jiang Cheng says nothing and returns to intensely studying the wrapped candy in his palm.
The elder observes silently, years of wisdom able to quickly read the smallest movements and gestures. At present, the youngling next to him is showing enough - fidgeting fingers over crinkling paper, furrowed brows and a slight sulk. Under the petulance, hid a body of mild tremor in coiled muscles constantly poised to run, eyes that constantly flickered rapidly as a mind addled with trauma tried to process information much too quickly, breathing much too quickto be comfortable.
Song Zichen recognises it for what it is, but it brings him no joy to realise what he is seeing.
Under the veil of intimidation, lay deeply-rooted pain and fear.
Song Zichen abruptly declares, standing in one smooth motion and making the other jolt in surprise once more.
The youngling hears a squeak, and realises he made the sound as his senior glows familiarly - disappearing in a matter of seconds to reappear as an enormous winged beast, shaking off his clothes with sooty paws and beautiful ebony feathers flexing into a lazy stretch. The creature raises to full height, large triangle ears swivelling back to an awed Jiang Wanyin staring at perfect, unbroken wings and a gigantic body of muscle and rippling scales trailing into a full, dark coat.
The Pixiu takes a step into the grass in front of them, before turning to face him with unreadable eyes, long tails swaying and dragon head canting.
Come along, little pup.
Not much Wangxian/Xicheng here, but this chapter needed to happen. My premise is to allow actual Pixiu to unravel WY and JC's trauma somehow, maybe teach them a few things. Who better to do this than a pair of wise elders who are also easy on the eyes?
Also I realised this may be the first time I have concretely inserted any Song Lan or Xiao Xingchen in any of my work, so that is both terrifying and amazing all at the same time. I hope I didn't bastardise their characters too much, and that everyone enjoyed this very wordy chapter - I just went on and on, didn't I?
See you in the next update!
Chapter 18: Bakunawa
Zewu Jun hums quietly, as he dots the dark skies with constellations.
He stands alone in his pavilion, long sleeves of pale teal and emerald shimmering with embroidered silver thread, twinkling as if he had plucked the very stars he wields and pressed them into long robes.
Smiling, the deity nods, satisfied at seeing a deep night sky no longer dull and dark, instead now patched in blinking lines of astronomy. The crescent moon herself seems to glow ever brighter down towards a smiling lord, as if appreciative of his hard work.
Jiang Cheng spends the better part of their two-hour walk trotting.
Obstinately, he refuses to fall behind, forcing his tinier body to keep up with his elder - whose larger strides weave him effortlessly through thick forests and tall fields of overgrown grass.
The fledgling maintains his position closely behind the other, who seems to languidly stroll along with his much larger body, longer limbs and wide paws, perfectly unaware of a smaller Pixiu hopping over gaps he simply steps across, or how Jiang Cheng would pause occasionally to sneeze, tall hay tickling at the younger's muzzle when the other hunkered well above endless lines of pale grass.
Song Zichen only pauses, turning when he catches the sound of scrabbling against a rocky ledge behind him.
Twin tails curling to wrap perfectly around his seated haunches, the elder tilts his head down at the curious sight of a smaller body huffing as it struggles furtively against an incline too steep for him to climb, all flattened ears and unhappy whines as he begins to slide helplessly back down the same slope. As he lands with a light growl, Jiang Wanyin huffs as he shakes off his failure, honey-gold fur prickling in irritation.
Dark eyes continue to observe, as the fledgling's crooked wings spread in an effort to right himself, circling around to try again as it leaps onto a lower ledge.
Jiang Cheng growls as he wills his claws to sheathe deeper into loose earth - feeling himself lose his tenuous grip once again, as he prepares for the inevitable descend.
The younger Pixiu yelps in surprise, when he does not land back onto the ground, but instead feels himself being lifted completely - mind scrambling as he realises an enormouse muzzle is biting at his scruff - before his entire body succumbs to instinct and slackens under Zichen Jun's harmless clamp on the loose skin of his neck, before bodily hoisting both of them up over the same ledge with little effort.
As he is brought over the small cliff and released back onto his paws, Jiang Cheng shakes off a pair of loosening maws, displeased.
I did not need help.
The spark of annoyance only heightens, when the elder's response is simply to blink slow, saying nothing as he carries on prowling through a clearing, black wings now spread and flattening tall shrubs, undoubtedly for the youngling following him.
We are here, tufted ears prick up to attention, as Jiang Cheng sees the larger Pixiu stop, tucking ebony feathers back against his flank.
As he sidles up next to the other, the younger sees only a grave stone, a nondescript slab of grey sticking up crookedly, dead center in a sunlit clearing and surrounded by a dotted ring of white daisies. Confusedly, sapphire eyes peer up towards the elder Pixiu, whose intense gaze firmly fixates on the tombstone in front of them, lowering into a seat with twin tails once again tucking around his impressively-sized body in contemplation.
She used to come here all the time, Zichen Jun begins, to pick flowers for Xingchen.
It is why we buried her here.
Following the elder, Jiang Cheng takes a seat as well, eyes flickering between Zichen Jun and an unmarked tomb. If the other sees how he too, curls his tails perfectly around his folded haunches in a mimicry of his elder, Song Zichen makes no remark, and simply continues speaking.
We found her when she was only an infant, just an abandoned kit in the woods, the elder continues, her parents were fox spirits that had been killed by hunters. Her eyes were too weak for their liking, so they simply left her to die. When we decided to bring her home, neither of us imagined she might survive - she was a runt, far too small and exposed to the elements for far too long.
Processing what he hears, the younger Pixiu simply remains silent and waits.
She survived the first night with us, and fought out of sickness. We named her A-Qing, after the same bamboo forest we found her abandoned in, and she grew into a mischievous thing who always got into trouble, even with only half her eyesight - a fox cub who was rambunctious and constantly getting into trouble. Xingchen cared for her like she was his own, raised her into a fine young lady.
All he sought to do, was to protect her.
Dark eyes glint as they catch in sunlight when Song Zichen bends, scales shining as he leans down to nuzzle against the ring of daisies. As tiny, pale blooms sway under the light graze of his snout, Jiang Cheng wonders if the older Pixiu before him is as unfeeling as he led everyone to believe.
For the first time, he thinks the other's dark eyes are softer, much less terrifying to look at, as a huffing muzzle continues to fidget at young flowers surrounding a grave stone.
How did she - Jiang Cheng murmurs questioningly, before pausing to think, what happened to her?
Fine, inky strands of a heavy mane flutter lightly with a passing breeze, before Zichen Jun answers all too easily.
She was murdered.
The words are spoken plainly, but the smaller Pixiu recognises that slight tightness of grief behind them, even as nothing shows on his elder's body or expression. In the following silence, Jiang Cheng finds himself unsure of what to say, watching as a ring of daisies sway and bob with another gust of cool wind, surrounding both of them with nothing but a peaceful chorus of the woodlands surrounding them.
Song Zichen rights himself to sit back down, ears twitching slightly as he begins speaking again, she was killed by another Pixiu - hunted down by his previous pack by killing another in an act of mutiny. Saved by Xingchen just in time, who happened to be passing by. He intercepted their fight and pled with them to spare his life.
His name was Xueyang.
None of us saw him for what he was, until it was too late.
Song Zichen pauses with a slow blink of serpent eyes.
He fixated on Xingchen after that, he continues, still watching the grave in front of him with an unreadable expression.
Courting him relentlessly, a persistent suitor who always seemed to toe the line between right and wrong. A-Qing and I were warned not to be unkind to him - Xingchen insisted he was harmless, just a pup who was infatuated. Xingchen always saw the best in every creature, and never stopped trying to lead Xueyang back into the path of righteousness.
No one anticipated how disturbed his mind truly was, Zichen Jun continues resignedly, until he turned up at our nest one day proudly dragging the body of another - murdered a Pixiu who had offended Xingchen in passing. We were entirely appalled, and thoroughly disturbed at his behaviour.
Xingchen told Xueyang to leave that very day, afraid of what else he might do in his terrible obsession, a murmur of soft, woeful words.
Yet on the same day, he would show us the depths of his mind's depravity.
Jiang Cheng feels tension tightening like a coil into his body at the elder's words, stomach churning unpleasantly at the implication behind them.
A-Qing could do nothing. A fox as little as she was stood little chance of fending off a Pixiu as vicious as he.
As an enormous dragon head lifts to watch the sky, a line of black scales ripple as Zichen Jun's eyes slide shut against a calming breeze and soft sunlight pouring over the field.
She was collecting daisies again, right here, when he hunted her down through the grass and tore her tiny body apart. He barely left anything for us to find, pieces of her strewn across this very meadow like terrible pieces of a puzzle, sneered at our pain.
He took her eyes - we never recovered them.
Finding his blood running cold as he envisions the heartbreak of such a gruesome, terrible discovery for a pair of elders at the time, Jiang Cheng finds himself at a thorough loss for words at the information his elder is divulging.
I killed him, and Xingchen buried her.
Song Zichen murmurs blankly, he was laughing even as I delivered his penalty of death, saying he would have slain me as well, if it meant he could show Xingchen how wrong he was to refuse him. He had decapitated our child, out of nothing more than spite for being spurned. Xueyang never came to recognise how twisted his morals were in nature, and how they led him to justify his acts of violence.
Pausing once more, Song Zichen seems to draw a long, resigned inhale. His tails flick, one of them slithering forward to flatten a stray bit of weed overgrowing a tiny daisy, caressing white petals towards the patch of sunshine.
Xingchen was inconsolable, the elder's voice lilts with pain, I could do nothing but watch as he wept day in and day out, starving himself from grief and regret. He blamed himself for A-Qing's murder, blamed me for not preventing it, blamed us for finding her as an infant, raising an innocent kit into adulthood only to have its young life snuffed out by another.
Killing Xueyang did nothing to abate our pain, he continues, and in our endless cycles of trauma, we went our separate ways for years after her death.
The admission surprises Jiang Cheng; whose tails twitch agitatedly as he tries to imagine any moment where the mated pair would willingly leave each other.
It is strange to think, with a sigh, he adds, that it was us meeting each other again here, that we finally reconciled. As though A-Qing had intended for us to meet somehow, simply by coming to visit her grave at the same time, after many years away from one another. Making us see each other, realise how much we had yearned for one another even in pain and mourning.
In the stretch of silence, Jiang Cheng finds it in himself to timidly ask a burning question set at the forefront of his curiosity.
Did you and Xingchen Jun move on... together?
His question deigns an appraising stare of onyx eyes, slitted pupils knowing as they flit over smaller paws flexing distractedly in a nervous gesture. Song Zichen mulls over the query, sees a tensed line of muscles making disfigured wings twitch unknowingly.
Turning his gaze away, he studies a cracked, jagged line down a plain slate of mottled grey.
You must know, little pup, that there are some forms of trauma too grievous; so severe we may never truly move on from them.
The elder finally responds, tone careful as sapphire eyes blink owlishly up at him, and it is not lost on the elder that there is no annoyance displayed from his endearment or flicker of petulant indignation, so he continues quietly.
Xingchen and I -, the elder speaks gently, - there is little use in denying A-Qing's death has changed us permanently. We are careful now, no longer as carefree. Xingchen's belief in all things good of this realm has been destroyed. We have nightmares still, painful memories that do not go away. Some days, the guilt burdens us in precious, rare moments where we feel lightened in joy - reminding us that we do not deserve to be happy.
Ears of black fur swivel as Jiang Cheng releases a sharp whine of protestation, but the youngling says nothing, his own ears drooping unhappily once more.
The circle of daisies bob and sway again, pretty clusters of white and yellow starkly contrasting in soft, pale green of an undisturbed clearing. As the wind settles, Song Zichen stands once more, circling the tomb to face Jiang Cheng, whose ears prick up in attention.
We can only attempt.
As they face each other, the elder continues softly, simply try. Every day, gently and patiently, we remind each other that A-Qing's death was an egregious tragedy - yet it happened, and no matter how we wish or exact vengeance, it can never be undone.
We will carry the scars of trauma for lifetimes to come, little pup.
That is the universal truth of tragedy, in our lives as immortals.
Meaningfully, Song Zichen's heavy stare tilts down at the tinier Pixiu as tufted ears droop once more, signifying his own awareness of what his elder's words. Jiang Cheng does not respond, and in his stead, the other's voice rings out again, making splendid violet eyes lock upon his own in attention.
What can be done, is for us to not let it define our days to come.
We can choose to heal, whilst bearing the scars, whether alone or with someone precious.
Zewu Jun hums quietly, as he dots the dark skies with constellations.
He stands alone in his pavilion, long sleeves of pale teal and emerald shimmering with embroidered silver thread, twinkling as if he had plucked the very stars he wields and pressed them into long robes.
Smiling, the deity nods, satisfied at seeing a deep night sky no longer dull and dark, instead now patched in blinking lines of astronomy. The crescent moon herself seems to glow ever brighter down towards a smiling lord, as if appreciative of his hard work.
He turns, gentle expression softening further when he sees Jiang Cheng stepping into the same pavilion, hair in a mess and robes hastily tied, unkempt and wide-eyed whilst being slightly out of breath, as if he had run all the way to the deity of nightfall.
He is silenced, gilded eyes blinking wide as a desperate kiss is pressed against his own lips after he quickly catches a Pixiu who all but runs to leap into his arms, arms circling around the deity's shoulders.
Surprised laughter muffled against the other's mouth, Zewu Jun simply goes with it, arms wrapping under slender legs folded around his waist; the other pressing close to chase deeper into parted lips and affectionate kisses. Jiang Cheng's arms slacken just enough for his hands to cup against Lan Huan's warm face, thumbs rubbing soothingly along high cheekbones with deepening kisses, the Pixiu refusing to pull away, chasing Zewu Jun's mouth fervently.
Eventually, he relents, legs still hooked on the other's hips, comfortably held as they lean their foreheads together, breathing harsh through light chuckles and a wry smile on Jiang Cheng's face.
"Well," the deity murmurs, lips as flushed as his cheeks, "I must admit that was unexpected, but I am thankful it did."
Huffing, Jiang Cheng swats playfully at the other's shoulder, before leaning back just enough to stare down at beautiful golden eyes of a tender gaze.
Zewu Jun finds his heart tightening in affection, when he is rewarded with a slight smile from the Pixiu he carries - bringing lightness to mauve eyes fluttering with line of dark lashes and fullness to blushing cheeks. He smiles, tilting his face up for the other as Jiang Cheng presses kisses to his brows, sighing as he does so, adding more to closed eyes, cheeks, even one bestowed on the very tip of his sharp nose, and his heart feels so full, it might burst.
"My sweet Jiang Cheng," he whispers under the other's administrations, "what could I have possibly done, to be so rewarded by you this evening?"
An intense gaze darkens onto his own questioning stare, and for a moment, the Pixiu chews on his bottom lip with a flicker of uncertainty on his face.
"I love you."
Everything roars to muted static in Lan Huan - everything screeches to a stop, the ripples of a sprawling lotus lake in front of his pavilion, stars pause in their constant twinkling, cold winds halt to stillness, there is no noise from the woodlands, not a single chirp of any creatures in the night, everything - the entire universe seems to stop in their tracks.
All he sees, all his mind replays, are those three words, spoken so clearly without hesitation, by a beautiful Pixiu he cradles in his arms with sapphire eyes and a small, bashful smile.
Golden eyes blink in quick succession, and his mind comes back to the present slowly.
A small puff of laughter from Jiang Cheng, and that - a chortle of tinkling mirth - makes Lan Huan snap out of his stunned silence.
"I love you," Jiang Cheng sighs out, with another kiss pressed to wide eyes, "I love you, and I want to heal - for you and for me. I want to heal with Wei Ying, right here in Gusu Lan, where you are, where I belong, with your night skies, your smiles, your sweets and your forests, even with Hanguang Jun," he whispers, their eyes locking once more as he continues, "I want to heal with you, Lan Huan."
Setting the lanky body down, Zewu Jun's shocked expression dims, as he cradles a nuzzling face in his palms, watching tenderness flood those impossibly pretty features.
"I want to heal with you, Lan Huan, because I -"
This time, the deity is the one to interrupt, joy breaking across his face with a smile as he cuts in.
"- I love you."
Jiang Cheng blinks, before laughing into an eager nod and pulling the other down for another kiss. Lan Huan obliges easily, melting into each other as he feels wetness on his hands cradling Jiang Cheng's face. As the Pixiu shudders through their kisses, his thumbs sliding to wipe the tears away as their affection bleeds into each other's lips.
As they pull away once more, the Pixiu tucks his face into the lord of night's neck, blinking tears into warm skin and hands clinging to the deity's robe collar.
"Say it again," the Pixiu whispers, voice so small it almost goes unheard.
"Won't you say it again, my Lan Huan?"
Pressing his cheek against a temple, Zewu Jun only smiles, fingers coming up to delicately tuck locks of loosened dark hair behind a flushed ear, before he bends low to whisper into it.
"I love you. I love you and I will be with you, every step of the way."
He smiles, as arms tighten with his words.
"How i love you, my Jiang Wanyin. My beautiful, brave Pixiu."
"I love you."
A surprise update! I have been sneaking time at work to write more chapters, so my readers stand to gain (don't worry I won't get fired).
I hope everyone enjoyed this - I mulled over it for a while, trying to determine what is the best way to convey the complex nature of healing from trauma and pain, and how different it is for everyone. In the same regard, Wei Ying may not heal the same way Jiang Cheng does, but in the very least, we all know it's a process and the outcome can only be progress.
I want everyone to know this is a safe space for them, and I love each and every one of you. You are loved, and important. We all mean something, so don't ever feel your pain is irrelevant.
Chapter 19: Duraþrór
Hanguang Jun found solace comforting.
An undeniable existence; any being would undoubtedly admit it was the sun who shone brightest.
Existing to serve a kingdom of daylight, the Bearer of Light knew his sacred duties were seen as an irony to many. After all, Zewu Jun was known for his easy smiles and softer personality, in comparison to a shyer lord of light who, ironically, preferred to stay in the shadows and out of attention, so reverently given to a pair of Gusu Lan deities.
"Lan Zhan! Lan Zhan!"
"Wei Ying," the deity responds quietly, eyes still flitting over his endless scrolls distractedly, "we must not raise our voices in the Cloud Recesses."
A whine rings out, pitched unhappily - the pitiful sound making a brush pause, and a busy gaze immediately look up at a pouting Pixiu. Sighing, he relents, and sets down a dipped brush to shuffle back into his seat.
"You are making that face to get your way." Hanguang Jun murmurs with little heat, and the other chirps, brightening as he clamours into an offered lap.
As he presses a kiss to a nosing face, Wei Ying purrs happily, rubbing his cheek into Lan Zhan's neck, contented to already find it scented in a heady mix of ripe lotus petals and sandalwood.
"Pray tell, little one," the deity asks calmly, "where might have you been all morning?"
Leaning up to peer at a questioning gaze, Wei Ying chirps, "with Xingchen Jun and brother! Went - look in forest. Learn new flowers, smell nice." He reiterates his excited words with another nuzzle against bare skin of Hanguang Jun's neck, purring against a fond expression and a hand scratching at the base of his skull, picking out loose flower petals from his hair to set them on his desk. Curled into his lap, the Pixiu continues to ramble about his day outdoors with his elder, unwilling to leave the other's embrace even for a second.
"Xingchen Jun is a good teacher," the lord of light agrees, "you and your brother are fortunate, that he and Zichen Jun are willing to teach you what they know."
Making a noise of agreement, the other chirrups, "lucky! Know more - be better Pixiu."
"You are already outstanding, Wei Ying." A nose scrunches as Hanguang Jun corrects mildly, "you are simply learning things you were robbed an opportunity of."
Huffing, Wei Ying manages to peel himself away just enough to look up at a reproachful gaze.
"Am good Pixiu." He repeats, propping his chin on Lan Zhan's chest, smiling up at the impeccable face, fingers tracing the lines of high cheekbones and smoothing brushed hair.
Suddenly sitting up, Wei Ying chirps to a blinking Hanguang Jun, "learned new word! Xingchen Jun teach Wei Ying today."
His arms loosen as the Pixiu squirms to pull an empty scroll nearer, dipping a brush into ink just so as he begins to write slowly. Behind him, a deity watches curiously, as a hand begins to carefully and methodically swipe along parchment in a picture of focus - brows furrowed just so, with just the tip of his tongue peeking out from his lips.
"See, see new word!" He finishes, shifting to proudly show his calligraphy to the other. "Xingchen Jun said its good word. Wei Ying learned!"
Nodding, the other tilts a gaze down to see two words, written in Wei Ying's best handwriting.
Sensing no response from Hanguang Jun, the Pixiu abandons his brush to turn back, tucking close concernedly.
"Lan Zhan? Not happy?" He murmurs worriedly, seeing the deity's face shutter into coldness, all warmth and affection seeping from a face he knows, and reads all too well, "not good word?"
Blinking out of his stupor, Lan Zhan soothes quickly when he notes the perplexed expression. Smiling, he shakes his head, and pulls Wei Ying closer to press another kiss to a creased forehead.
"It is an excellent word, little one," he reassures softly, earning a pleased rumble, "a very good word."
Unconvinced, Wei Ying says nothing, simply curling tighter into the lap he rests in, clutching at soft robes as he continues to purr.
"Lan Zhan is sad." He murmurs, reaching up to pull the deity down for a kiss, their lips meeting in a chaste moment. Tilting his face up and parting his lips, the Pixiu lets the deity take control - feeling himself being lifted before being splayed backwards, lain against the floorboards with the other atop of him, their kiss deepening into contented sighs against each other.
"I am fine, my sweet," Hanguang Jun murmurs against his lips, drawing breath harshly, "as long as you are here with me, I will be alright."
Wei Ying smiles up at the other, and pulls him down, whispering into a much less innocent kiss.
Hanguang Jun found solace comforting.
An undeniable existence; any being would undoubtedly admit it was the sun who shone brightest - flooding every crevice of their realm in a comforting wash of gold, its glory capable of drawing life or incinerating it.
Existing to serve a kingdom of daylight, the Bearer of Light knew his sacred duties were seen as an irony and strange incompatibility to many. After all, Zewu Jun was known for his easy smiles and softer personality, in comparison to a shyer lord of light who, ironically, preferred to stay in the shadows and out of attention so reverently given to a pair of Gusu Lan deities.
Solemnly disciplined to a fault, Hanguang Jun never took lightly the severity of his role in their heavenly realm, learning and working alongside his elder brother, only able to depend on one another to ensure balance.
It was only when nightfall arrived, that the Bearer of Light managed any respite.
Passing the start and ends of their shifts together, both Gusu Lan brothers would retreat back into silent quarters or lakeside pavilions to rest, allowing tranquility back into burdened minds and immortal souls wrung dry from their days of overseeing dawn to dusk.
In precious moments of quiet and solitude, it brought the lonely god comfort, to watch Zewu Jun's masterpiece splashed across a darkened sky.
"I too, find Zewu Jun's work remarkable."
If the soft interruption startles a silent lord of light, it does not show on squared shoulders reclined against his throne, overseeing a majestic lake rippling with moonlight and lined with wisteria trees.
Instead, Hanguang Jun extends an arm, inviting a smiling Pixiu to take a seat opposite his desk of heavy, gleaming oak. Under the warm tones of lit lamps swaying with a cold night breeze, everything in the Bearer of Light's pavilion seems to come alive, fluttering sheets of translucent blue curtains, intricate carvings of clouds across every arch of a long table, even the wisteria trees and their curtains in hues of purple and blue seem to dance towards a god of dawn seated in the middle of it all.
Gracefully accepting his seat, Xiao Xingchen looks every bit of deity as the other in his delicate features and cream-white robes, almost glowing like the moon watching over them.
As two knowing gazes study each other, the Pixiu simply smiles, bowing his head slightly to an ever-polite Hanguang Jun. In response, the other silently begins to steep more tea, setting out another cup between them.
"I am glad," Hanguang Jun breaks their silence, "to see Xingchen Jun moving around once more."
As he gently fills a cup with fragrant tea, perfectly slender fingers slide it forward to the other, who simply nods in thanks.
"None happier than me, Hanguang Jun." The Pixiu remarks softly, eyes following a trail of steam lazily drifting from an offered cup, "it has been burdensome to be unable to use my leg. In the least, Song Lan is able to rest now, knowing I have regained use of my leg somewhat."
As silence draws across the pair, Hanguang Jun watches as the other sips gently at warm tea, and notes the way he breathes, slowly and purposefully. He watches still, spotting the way long fingers tap minutely against a ceramic cup, perfectly tapered nails tinkling before an expectant gaze sets upon him once more.
Sighing mildly, the Bearer of Light speaks, "you are free to speak your mind, Xingchen Jun."
With a mild chuckle, the Pixiu nods, "Hanguang Jun is as astute as they come," he says, "I do have some things on my mind."
Dark eyes gleaming with intent peer up at a waiting deity, before another wry smile.
"I wish to discuss with you, some matters pertaining to young master Wei."
Pausing to find no response from the other, their gazes level evenly as he continues, "little Wei Ying has mentioned to me of his fondness for you, and how he finds solace in your mutual affection for one another."
Finding no warmth at the frank words, a pair of amber eyes stare unwaveringly, waiting for more.
"As I have previously mentioned," Xingchen Jun speaks, "it is a known fact, that Pixiu do not live well in captivity. Young master Wei is different from his brother - my humble observations have witnessed a heightened, innate curiosity for what lies outside of these forests. His primal nature, underlying tame looks and clever smiles, leads me to worry for his wellbeing within the Cloud Recesses, and how he might attempt to tamper said wildness simply to remain by your side."
"I am concerned, that the pup would deny himself what we consider to be an integral fraction of our lives, to remain in your affections."
Hanguang Jun's gaze narrows as he responds, "I have seen this wildness, and recognise it. Yet your statement perturbs me - he has shown me nothing indicating his concealment of his true nature, or of any desire to leave Gusu Lan."
His voice drops to a hush, "if Xingchen Jun wishes for me to relinquish Wei Ying to you, one would not need my permission. You would only require Wei Ying's word."
Slowly, a sleeved arm draws back and away as an empty tea cup is placed back to the centre of a large desk, before Xiao Xingchen speaks, "I do not wish for him to be given up to me, or anyone else. While he may not show you any signs, one hopes Hanguang Jun remembers that Pixiu are loyal creatures who value bond mates and pack members over all else. His relationship with young master Jiang would have shown you the levels of this devotion."
"Young master Wei and his brother have suffered cruelty at the hands of immortals," Xingchen Jun states quietly, eyes downcast, "I mean no offence, when I say he may be projecting similar feelings of blind submission to you. That, I worry immensely about, perhaps for both pups in Gusu Lan's care."
As the implication sinks in, the deity responds with words quiet and calculated.
Without malice, he murmurs, "I am aware of which you speak, Xingchen Jun."
"Yet you would also do well to remember that Wei Ying is his own person, before he is my partner or agrees to be." Hanguang Jun pauses, as a pair of dark eyes flit back to his own amber gaze in rapt attention, "whether that individual wishes to stay by my side in the Cloud Recesses," a considering pause, "or one who chooses, in the end, to run free in the wild."
"It is only Wei Ying's decision, and his alone to make."
Blinking wide, Xiao Xingchen pauses minutely, before his dark stare softens with a blink, all tension dissipating between the two.
"I will not drive Wei Ying from me," the Bearer of Light murmurs with a voice tinged in sadness, "and neither will I bind him to stay, even if it is from our feelings for one another."
"As long as I love him - Wei Ying belongs to, and answers to no one."
The finality of his statement plunges silence between two old souls once more; their silence saying more than any terse conversation could.
A familiar lilt of a voice draws both elders to look up, finding their conversation interrupted by a pair of silver eyes, peeking out from the edge of a tiled roof above them.
Smiling at an approaching Pixiu, Xiao Xingchen watches as a youngling silently prowls down a stone pillar and sidles up to purr in greeting against his elder first - serpentine eyes drooping in relaxation as clever fingers curl under a scaly chin to scratch. Huffing contentedly, Wei Ying grazes a scent gland on his cheek mildly against an open palm, ears flickering happily at a nod from the older Pixiu, before he turns to Lan Zhan, curling a large body around a silent deity, whose gilded eyes almost glow in affection.
I want to belong to Lan Zhan, for as long as he would have me.
The straightforward words make Hanguang Jun blink, but he says nothing, simply lifting his robe's endless sleeves obligingly to allow a nosing muzzle to rest over his lap to see familiar, silver-hued eyes now staring up at him.
Xingchen Jun, I have lived in pain for many years, and sought to protect only my little brother for twice as long, Wei Ying whispers into the cold air, we were close to death, and fate brought us to Gusu Lan's doors. I have struggled, as you and Zichen Jun have, to trust in others again - to believe in the things that are good in our realm, to find any will to continue living.
The elder maintains his silence, eyes awash with aching heartbreak at the fledgling's recollection.
Lan Zhan has shown me that kindness still exists. His love has shown me, that I am worthy of being cherished; I am more than just a mere beast or another immortal - I am my own, singular being, and capable of strength I did not know I possessed. He has given me the same strength to unlock my trauma, and bestowed upon me a reason to heal.
Eyes the colour of smoke and steel blink, as he continues, Xingchen Jun knows, Pixiu mate for life. We are destined for only a single, fated one in our lifetimes, and how fortunate I am, to have found him.
Twin tails flick, before Wei Ying purrs with a hand stroking over his thick mane, scales shimmering joyfully.
Xingchen Jun taught me a word - freedom - the elder nods as he recalls the lesson, this also indicates my freedom to make my own choices, is it not?
With his fur rippling, the Pixiu glows bright for a second - reappearing under an outer robe instinctively held out by Hanguang Jun.
Chirping as he burrows into warm, sandalwood-scented robes belonging to the lord of light, Wei Ying smiles, beaming radiantly towards a lord of light who smiles wanly. Preening, he basks in the other's attention as a heavy robe is folded over his waist and dark hair is piled over a shoulder, leaning into a hand smoothing stray locks from cold skin of his cheeks, and smiles up at another tender look from the deity.
"Wei Ying choose, long ago. Only - only Lan Zhan for Wei Ying," the Pixiu says, turning to his elder, "want heal with Lan Zhan. With brother, and Zewu Jun. Gusu Lan is home, not want to leave home. Good nest!"
A mild sulk, as brows furrow to bring the correct words to his mind.
Lifting sincere eyes to look at a surprised Xingchen Jun, he continues beseechingly, "Wei Ying decide. Have decide long time ago."
"Wei Ying wish to be Wei Ying again, with Lan Zhan."
With a shy trill, the Pixiu ducks back and further into a protective embrace as Lan Zhan sighs, his delight evident with another slight smile seeping into handsome features.
Tucking his nose against a soft crown of ebony hair, Hanguang Jun inhales deep, feeling like his heart might implode from warmth and affection as the scent of lotus petals and sea salt fills his senses. The Pixiu cuddled against him begins to purr, fingers curling into their melded layers of cerulean and gold.
Unperturbed by their outward displays of affection, XIngchen Jun simply nods, chuckling as he sighs to lean back against his seat.
"Forgive me then," he murmurs, "my worries for two silly pups seem unfounded. It has long been told to me by Song Lan - this penchant of mine to be being protective over fledglings, but I hope Hanguang Jun found no offence in my words. You have been kind, and I find no reason to doubt little Wei Ying is incapable of making his own decisions."
Lan Zhan simply lowers his head in a half-bow, before their gazes level once more - both smiling in gentle understanding.
Once again, their silence says more than words could.
We are days away from Chinese New Year and I have been caught up with preparations, but here I am with another update, I do apologise for how sporadic these updates are, but hopefully everyone finds the wait worthwhile.
There's really nothing like the shovel talk from a face as delicate as Xiao Xingchen's, is there? I hope everyone has managed to catch on to what I'm doing so far - this series is very slowly, and so very gradually drawing to a close, but we have a few more left to go before then.
Before I go, I want to wish everyone a lovely Chinese New Year - may the year bless you with fortune, luck and love!