Huaisang liked the stone monument in the outermost garden, mostly because no one else went there, and when he wanted to paint, he could go there for peace and quiet and be free from everyone else’s judging looks and whispers.
The monument was large and circular and made of the same dark stone that much of the fortress was made of, carved with symbols whose meaning was lost to the annals of time, though Huaisang had heard that they represented the stars, and once upon a time the monument had been used to read people’s fortunes. Huaisang knew what his unfortunate fate was: when Da-ge died, Huaisang would lead the Nie Sect, and somehow he would have to stop it from falling apart.
He wasn’t a cultivator of great strength. He wasn’t a swordsman of impressive skill. He wasn’t a talented musician.
But he was good at reading people, and noticing the things no one wanted others to notice, and quietly pulling strings.
So he’d paint his fans and hide behind them and bide his time.
But today, he was sitting beside the monument and painting a new fan.
And then the inner ring of the monument began to move.
No one knew what to make of the four strangers who’d come through the monument. They called it a stargate or an ancestral ring. They said they were travelers from another planet - a whole other planet - and they were interested in trading for food or medicine.
Their leader was a man called Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, some kind of soldier. Dr. Rodney McKay was a scholar. Teyla Emmagan was a warrior, as was Ronon Dex. They all carried strange weapons, though Ronon Dex also carried a sword and knives. Many knives.
They knew nothing of cultivation, spirits, or fierce corpses.
“You mean zombies?” Sheppard asked.
“Maybe it is their term for Wraith,” Teyla said.
Da-ge, sitting on his throne, looked unimpressed with them.
Colonel Sheppard was not a large man. Dr. McKay was a soft man. Huaisang knew better than to underestimate a slender woman. He’d seen how Teyla Emmagan moved, and he knew she was a formidable warrior.
Ronon Dex, though. He was quite possibly taller than Da-ge, and looked very strong.
“What’s a Wraith?” Huaisang asked.
Da-ge cast him a look.
Huaisang ducked behind his fan.
“White skin. White hair. Pointy teeth. Bitey hands. They steal your life force and you wither and die,” Colonel Sheppard said.
Da-ge frowned. “We have not encountered such creatures.”
Dr. McKay looked skeptical. “Ever?”
“I have not ever heard legends of any similar creatures,” Da-ge said. “Huaisang, in your studies at the Cloud Recesses, did you learn of anything thus?”
“No, Da-ge,” Huaisang said respectfully.
“Sometimes they come through the gate like we did, in their darts, you know, zoom -” And Colonel Sheppard made a high-pitched, whining noise. “Or they just drop down from the sky in their darts and cull with their beams of light.”
“Light?” Da-ge asked.
Colonel Sheppard rocked back on his heels. “Well, I’ll be damned. You’ve really never heard of them.”
“Do you have some kind of...shield system?” Dr. McKay asked. “Powered by a ZedPM, maybe. It looks like - oh, someone help me out.” He looked at Huaisang. “You. With the paintbrushes and the paper. We could draw one. Ah -”
“I’ll do it,” Ronon Dex said. His voice was a deep rumble.
Da-ge raised his eyebrows. He had no care for art, or women, or wine, or anything but his sword - and avenging the death of their father, who’d been murdered by the Qishan Wen.
Ronon Dex approached Huaisang and bowed, not the way cultivators bowed, but politely all the same. “May I?”
Huaisang nodded and pushed his brushes and ink toward the massive man, along with a blank sheet of paper.
Ronon Dex knelt and assumed proper painting posture. He ground some ink and mixed it with quiet competence, and then he picked up one of the brushes. His expression was - calm. Contemplative. When he picked up the paintbrush, his grip was proper, sure.
And when he painted -
Huaisang leaned in, eyes wide.
The paintbrush moved across the page in a single, fluid stroke, the likes of which Huaisang had seen from only the most gifted masters. The image that came alive in the ink was familiar.
“It’s a cultivation jade,” Huaisang said.
“That’s a name I’ve never heard,” Colonel Sheppard said.
“What’s a cultivation jade?” Dr. McKay asked.
Huiasang opened his mouth to answer, but Da-ge made a sharp gesture, and Huaisang ducked behind his fan once more.
“Before we impart any kind of knowledge, we must know you are honorable,” Da-ge said. He rose.
Huaisang watched how Dr. McKay gulped and looked nervous, how Colonel Sheppard’s eyes narrowed, how Teyla Emmagan assessed Da-ge’s build and strength calmly.
But then Colonel Sheppard nodded and said, “We are always willing to be diplomatic. What are your terms? Drinking? Dancing? Share a meal?”
Da-ge extended a hand, and Baxia flew into his hand from its pedestal near his throne.
Fear and surprise crossed the faces of Colonel Sheppard, Dr. McKay, and Teyla Emmagan.
“A duel,” Da-ge said.
Ronon Dex rose and bowed and said, “I would be honored.”
He drew his own sword and moved to stand opposite Da-ge.
“As you are not a cultivator, I will not use cultivation against you,” Da-ge said, and bowed.
But Ronon Dex grinned. “Don’t go easy on me.”
And he lunged.
There were only three swordsmen in all of the cultivation world who stood a chance against Da-ge in single combat: the Twin Jades of Lan, and Wei Wuxian.
All three of them were allies and would never come against Da-ge in combat.
Ronon Dex was sure to be defeated.
But he was fast. And he was strong. And he was unafraid.
For the first time, Huaisang saw a light in his brother’s eyes, the same light other men had when they looked at fine women or drank fine wine.
Da-ge probably didn’t realize it himself, but he was alive in combat in a way he hadn’t been since the Sunshot campaign. Since he’d had purpose.
The fight ended in a draw, Da-ge with his blade at Ronon Dex’s throat, Ronon Dex with a small knife aimed at Da-ge’s belly.
Da-ge stepped back and bowed, his gaze alight with respect. He said, “We will show you the Nie Sect cultivation jade. And you will be welcome guests in the Unclean Realm whenever you care to visit.”
“Thank you for this honor,” Ronon Dex said.
“The place looks pretty clean to me,” Colonel Sheppard murmured.
Da-ge led Ronon Dex and the rest of his companions through the fortress to the meditation chamber where the cultivation jade was kept.
Dr. McKay lit up immediately when he saw it. “That’s it! That’s a ZedPM!”
He started toward it, but Colonel Sheppard caught his shoulder.
“May we approach it?” Colonel Sheppard asked.
Dr. McKay had some strange boxy device that he waved at the cultivation jade. “It’s mostly charged. It’s definitely connected to some kind of network, and it has a pretty massive power drain on it. The connection must be through the pedestal. How long has this been here?”
“It’s been passed down through our family for generations,” Da-ge said.
“And it’s been fully-charged this whole time?” Dr. McKay asked. “I mean - what am I saying? You probably have no way of calculating its energy levels.”
Da-ge said, “All the sect cultivators place some of their spiritual energy in the jade as part of their training.”
Dr. McKay blinked at him. “What?”
“Didn’t see that one coming,” Colonel Sheppard said.
“Please explain further,” Teyla Emmagan said with a pleasant, patient smile.
Huaisang knew that kind of smile. Zewu-jun had that kind of smile.
What followed was a fine meal and many discussions during which Dr. McKay spluttered in disbelief a lot, Colonel Sheppard calmed him down, and Teyla Emmagan asked thoughtful questions.
Ronon Dex ate in silence, but he watched everything, listened to everything.
Da-ge watched him back.
At the end of the fine meal, an agreement had been reached: Dr. McKay would be allowed to respectfully study the cultivation jade, with Ronon Dex at his side, and in exchange, Atlantis would provide medical supplies to the people of Qinghe as needed, because cultivators couldn’t meet all the medical needs of the people, and also the people of Atlantis would provide military aid in case of a Wraith attack, should one ever occur.
Dr. McKay taught Da-ge and Huaisang how to dial the gate to contact them on the City of Atlantis in case of emergency, and gave them the Atlantis equivalent of a messenger butterfly to prove their identity to make contact through the gate, and then they departed with a promise to return later.
Huaisang watched the sparkling water in the gate vanish, and he turned to Da-ge. “What’s to stop other people from coming through the gate?”
“Nothing,” Da-ge said, and ordered guards on the gate.
Huaisang was allowed to return to the monument - gate - garden and paint, but there were always guards watching. And waiting.
Eight days after Colonel Sheppard and his team had departed, the gate flared to life once again.
Huaisang ducked behind some of the guards, clutching his fan and watching as water exploded outward from the gate and then sucked back in, and then -
Ronon Dex emerged first, footsteps measured and wary.
A moment later, Dr. McKay emerged behind him. He yelped when he saw the guards.
Huaisang poked his head out from behind a guard and waved his fan. “Hello!”
Ronon Dex bowed. “We have returned.” He was carrying a large white box with a red cross on the side. “I have medical supplies.”
Huisang tapped the guard he was hiding behind. “It’s fine. They’re friends. I’ll take them to Da-ge, okay?” He beckoned with his fan.
The guards parted to let Ronon Dex and Dr. McKay through.
Da-ge was in the courtyard teaching the senior disciples sword forms. Huaisang paused at the edge of the courtyard and flipped open his fan.
He said in a low voice, “We’d better wait till he’s finished.”
“Of course.” Dr. McKay sighed.
Ronon Dex set down the box and then straightened up, watched. His expression was impassive, but his gaze was appreciative. He was assessing and learning as he watched the disciples move through their forms. But when he looked at Da-ge, there was a light in his gaze that Huaisang knew all too well. He’d seen it when Wei Wuxian looked at Hanguang-jun in the early days while they were studying at the Cloud Recesses.
When the form ended, Da-ge dismissed the disciples. They bowed, and then they filed out of the courtyard.
“Da-ge,” Huaisang said, bowing his head. “Dr. McKay and Ronon Dex have returned.”
Da-ge nodded and tossed his head. “Welcome back to the Unclean Realm. Do you require refreshment before you study the cultivation jade?”
“I’d like to get straight to the ZedPM, if you don’t mind,” Dr. McKay said.
Da-ge wasn’t one for wasting time either. “Very well. Huaisang, make sure their needs are met.”
Ronon Dex said, “We brought medicine for your people.”
Da-ge’s gaze lit on the box. “Of course. If you could explain what the medicines are for…?”
Huaisang said, “I’ll take Dr. McKay to the meditation chamber, Da-ge.” He beckoned with his fan. “This way, Dr. McKay.”
Dr. McKay and Ronon Dex had an extended wordless conversation about whether they should separate before Dr. McKay nodded and followed Huaisang to the meditation chamber and Ronon Dex picked up the box of medicine and followed Da-ge in the opposite direction.
Dr. McKay seemed quite content to spread out his equipment, talk to himself, and eat food out of the many pockets in his vest. He required no responses from Huisang, though he often asked questions - and then answered them himself.
It was a full mark of the incense before Ronon Dex joined them. He smelled faintly of green tea. So he’d taken refreshments with Da-ge, then. But then he stood guard over Dr. McKay, and Dr. McKay directed his not-questions at Ronon Dex.
After some predetermined time, they returned to the gate and dialed it up, spoke to someone back on Atlantis and made a progress report, and it was determined that they should return to Atlantis and speak to more people there, and perhaps return to the Unclean Realm another time for further research.
Da-ge had no objections to this plan.
Huaisang was allowed to continue to paint in the monument garden.
When Ronon Dex and Dr. McKay returned a second time, they were accompanied by Dr. Zelenka and Dr. Lee, both also scholars who would help with the question of the cultivation jade. While the three of them puzzled over the jade under Huaisang’s watchful (bored) eye, Ronon Dex spoke with Da-ge about another delivery of medicine - and drank tea.
Halfway through an argument during which Dr. McKay and Dr. Zelenka swore at each other in foreign languages and Dr. Lee tried to placate them both and ended up trying to smack both of them with a tool, Huaisang heard shouts of excitement from outside.
He said, “Stay here, it might be dangerous,” and headed for the door.
He could hear the disciples placing bets.
Immediately, all the other three men stopped arguing and followed him.
Huaisang headed out to the central courtyard - where Da-ge and Ronon Dex were sparring, hand-to-hand.
Huaisang couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his brother so animated. He was grinning and laughing as he swiped at Ronon Dex and then dodged a counter-attack. The two of them were practically dancing around the courtyard, attacking and dodging, darting and lunging.
The match ended with Ronon Dex on the ground, Da-ge pinning him, but of course Ronon Dex had a knife aimed right at his ribs.
Da-ge should have been infuriated at such a dishonorable finish, but instead he laughed and helped Ronon Dex to his feet.
Ronon Dex was smiling faintly, amused.
Da-ge called for water, and they both drank.
“How goes the research?” Da-ge asked, spotting Dr. McKay.
“It’s almost done,” Dr. McKay said. “I think we’ve mostly figured things out.”
He glanced at Dr. Zelenka, who pursed his lips but nodded, and Dr. Lee, who nodded and bowed respectfully.
“And when your research is finished, what then?” Da-ge asked. “We’ll never see you again unless the Wraith attack?”
“Or if you need more medical supplies, I guess,” Dr. McKay said. “Or if we have more questions about, you know, cultivation. Is it hard to learn?”
“It takes a lifetime,” Da-ge said. “One must begin to cultivate one’s golden core when one is very young.”
“Golden core,” Dr. McKay echoed faintly.
Dr. Lee said, “I told you, it’s very similar to Taoist practices about qi -”
“Yes, yes, I’ll talk to one of the anthropologists later.” Dr. McKay waved a dismissive hand. “Back to the ZedPM.”
Huaisang watched the exchange between Dr. McKay and Dr. Lee - who was much younger - and then followed the three men back to the meditation room.
When he glanced over his shoulder, Da-ge was standing close to Ronon Dex and talking quietly to him.
True to his word, Dr. McKay finished with his research at the end of the day. He explained that the cultivation jade - or ZedPM, as he insisted on calling it - was connected to a planet-wide shield network through the pedestal it stood on. Every sect had a ZedPM that contributed to powering the shield, and all the cultivators kept the shield activated by keeping their respective ZedPMs charged.
Dr. McKay claimed he had managed to map the network and download a copy of the structure, and he hoped to be able to replicate the technology on other planets to protect them from the Wraith. He said he’d return if he had more questions about cultivation, and of course, if Da-ge or the Nie Sect needed anything from Atlantis, they could dial the gate and ask for anyone on Colonel Sheppard’s team or Dr. Weir, their leader.
Da-ge walked with Huaisang as he escorted Dr. McKay, Ronon Dex, Dr. Zelenka, and Dr. Lee back to the gate.
Dr. McKay dialed the gate.
It was Dr. Zelenka who handed Huaisang a little ball made of the same dark gray stone as the gate.
“Can you light it up?” he asked.
Huaisang turned it over in his hands. “Light it up how?”
Dr. Lee said, “Perhaps by putting some of your spiritual energy into it.”
Huaisang wasn’t much of a cultivator, but he took several deep breaths, closed his eyes, and focused his qi. When he opened his eyes, the little ball was glowing bright blue.
“Well, that answers that,” Dr. Zelenka said. “Thank you, Huaisang.”
Huaisang handed the ball back - and it winked out.
“What does it answer?” Huaisang asked.
“It means,” Dr. Zelenka said, “that your ability to, er, cultivate your qi would also allow you to use Ancient technology, should you encounter it.”
Huaisang nodded. “Should I encounter it,” he echoed warily.
The gate activated. Dr. McKay contacted Atlantis to let them know he and his comrades were coming through.
Ronon Dex bowed to Da-ge and bade him farewell. He bowed to Huaisang as well. He was the last one through the gate.
After the gate shut down, Huaisang and Da-ge remained staring at the empty circle where the glowing water had been.
Then Da-ge spun on his heel and returned to his throne room.
Huaisang returned to the meditation chamber and considered the cultivation jade some more. He tried putting some spiritual energy into it.
And he wondered.
Several days later, a servant approached Huaisang and reported - a stranger had appeared in the monument garden and wished to see Da-ge.
Huaisang grabbed his saber and his favorite fan and then hurried to the garden.
Sure enough, Ronon Dex stood just beyond the gate.
He bowed respectfully. “Nie Huaisang, greetings.”
Huaisang bowed back. “Ronon Dex. What brings you to the Unclean Realm? I thought your research here was finished.”
“It is,” Ronon Dex said. “Today’s my designated Sunday - my day off-duty. I can go where I want. I came here.”
Huaisang blinked. Then he said, “Da-ge is seeing to his duties as sect leader, so you’ll have to wait a while, but have some tea and refreshments in the meantime.”
Huaisang led Ronon Dex not to the throne room but to Da-ge’s private quarters. Huaisang asked servants to bring tea and an assortment of savory and sweet snacks. He also asked them to bring a desk, paper, ink and brushes.
Ronon Dex thanked him politely. He ate and drank first.
“You’re an artist as well as a warrior,” Huaisang said.
Wei Wuxian had been both, though his art skills had been more of a hobby than a formally trained skill.
“It was the Satedan way, before Sateda was destroyed by the Wraith,” Ronon Dex said. “A man had to be balanced in both creation and destruction.”
Huaisang listened to Ronon Dex’s deep voice, his hesitation, and had the sense that he wasn’t one for speaking much.
Huaisang said, “Balance is important, in cultivation.”
Ronon Dex nodded and drank his tea. He ate and drank deeply, like one who had suffered privation and didn’t quite trust that he wouldn’t be deprived again in the future, but his hands on the teacup were sure, steady, graceful.
Huaisang flipped open his fan and fanned himself a bit before he added, “Da-ge has never been very good at balance, but then balance has always been difficult, for those of us who carry the sabres. Now that Da-ge has avenged our father’s death, maybe he’ll have a chance to find the balance he was never able to seek.”
Ronon Dex looked at Huaisang for a long moment, and then he nodded.
Da-ge flung open the door and strode into the room, thunder on his brow.
He drew up short when he saw Huaisang, opened his mouth to yell.
Closed his mouth when he saw Ronon Dex.
“I’ll be going now,” Huaisang said. “I was just keeping Ronon Dex company till you were finished with sect business, Da-ge. Ronon Dex is here to see you while he is off-duty from Atlantis.”
He bowed and scurried out of the room, closed the door behind him.
After that, it became routine to see Ronon Dex arrive through the gate every eight days. Sometimes he came with additional boxes of medicine for the people. He usually came with a gift for Da-ge - a small blade he’d hand-forged himself, other weapons he’d bartered and traded for from other denizens of Atlantis or on other planets. Sometimes he came with gifts for Huaisang - fancy colored pens and paper to try to draw with, or books of pictures called comic books that told stories of heroes from Earth, which was the planet that Dr. McKay and Colonel Sheppard hailed from, or a sweet treat called chocolate.
Huaisang stayed out of Da-ge’s way whenever Ronon Dex came to visit. Most of the time they sparred. Sometimes Da-ge would teach Ronon Dex a Nie Sect sword form. Sometimes Ronon Dex would teach him a sword or combat technique from Sateda.
Sometimes Ronon Dex came through the gate bearing injuries from a mission to another planet, and he and Da-ge would sit and drink tea and not talk much, or Ronon Dex would accompany Da-ge quietly while Da-ge saw to sect affairs.
Sometimes Da-ge was too busy to spend time with Ronon Dex, and then Ronon Dex would stay with Huaisang, teach him how to paint or learn to paint from him. One time they decorated a fan together in vivid colored inks that Ronon Dex said had been rescued from his home planet of Sateda. On one side they’d painted the Unclean Realm, and on the other side the city-scape of the capital of Sateda, which seemed crowded and massive, full of so many giant buildings.
“You have flying ships?” Huaisang asked.
Ronon Dex nodded.
“We don’t have ships that fly,” Huaisang said, “but really strong cultivators can fly on their swords.”
“...On their swords?” Ronon Dex echoed.
Huaisang smiled. “Have Da-ge show you sometime. I’m not nearly strong enough for that sort of thing.”
Huaisang didn’t say anything to anyone when he saw his brother go soaring across the sky on Baxia one night, Ronon Dex tucked tight against his side.
Huaisang didn’t say anything when Da-ge started hanging art in his quarters even though he’d always refused the paintings Huaisang had offered him; the art on Da-ge’s walls was from a different hand.
Huaisang didn’t say anything when he was awake early one morning to go to the meditation chamber to donate some spiritual energy to the cultivation jade and saw Ronon Dex slip out of Da-ge’s quarters.
The guards didn’t say anything after a while when Ronon Dex arrived; he could come and go as he pleased, as he was Da-ge’s honored guest.
The servants didn’t say anything about Ronon Dex, knew to have his favorite tea and snacks ready every eighth day when he came to visit.
Local officials didn’t say anything about the foreign man who accompanied Sect Leader Nie on business; the man was tall and strong and carried a sword, and obviously Sect Leader Nie trusted him.
One day Ronon Dex arrived with two necklaces in hand, both dangling with matching pendants. He and Da-ge remained in Da-ge’s quarters for the entirety of the visit.
When Ronon Dex departed, he was wearing one of the necklaces.
Huaisang said, “Has Da-ge found balance, finally?” He was sitting in the monument garden, painting another fan.
Ronon Dex said, “We’re helping each other find balance.”
Huaisang nodded and said, “That’s enough for me.”
Ronon Dex looked at him. “And if it weren’t?”
Huaisang glanced up and said, “It is, and that’s all that matters.”
Ronon Dex looked at him for a moment longer, then went and dialed the gate.
Later that day, Huaisang took a meal with Da-ge, who was wearing the other necklace.
Huaisang said, very quietly, “Is he your soulmate?”
Da-ge curled his hand around the necklace and nodded.
When Xue Yang slaughtered the entire Yueyang Chang Sect, Da-ge went to the Lanling Jin Sect and demanded justice for the Chang Sect, spoke to Jin Guangshan and insisted that Xue Yang be executed.
In the political storm that followed, and the nightmare that was the Chang Sect’s manor being filled with corpses and probably resentful spirits and energy, no one thought about the fact that the Chang Chan’s cultivation jade was going uncharged and unfilled by disciples.
Huaisang was watching and listening to how Jin Guangyao bent his father’s ear and convinced him to keep Xue Yang alive, sentenced to life imprisonment. Something else was going on. Xue Yang had something - knew something - that Jin Guangshan thought was worth the lives of an entire sect.
And then one day while Huaisang was sitting in the monument garden, he heard a strange sound. It reminded him of the odd noise Colonel Sheppard had made when he’d been describing the Wraith and their darts when they came culling.
He saw a beam of light flare downward from the sky, and he knew.
He shouted for the guards, ordered one of them to summon Da-ge and the senior disciples, ordered the others to send up signal firelights for assistance from other cultivators immediately. He dove for the gate and dialed.
He activated the message butterfly box - radio - with shaking hands.
“Atlantis, this is Nie Huaisang, do you read?” he shouted.
“Go for Atlantis.”
“The Wraith are here! Our shield must have broken. Send Ronon Dex and Colonel Sheppard and Teyla Emmagan!”
And the gate shut down.
It reopened mere moments later, and Ronon Dex spilled through, Colonel Sheppard and Teyla Emmagan and dozens of other men and women in uniforms like Colonel Sheppard’s behind them.
Overhead, the sky was filled with speeding ships that flared light.
Da-ge and other cultivators had taken to the sky on their swords, were firing arrows and casting guqin chords.
Colonel Sheppard had a giant metal tube on his shoulder. “Let’s get some of those suckers out of the sky and clear the way for some jumpers and figure out what went wrong with the shield. Get Rodney and Radek and Dongmin here pronto.”
Teyla nodded and used her radio to call back to Atlantis for Dr. McKay and other reinforcements.
Colonel Sheppard aimed upward with the giant metal tube, and fire exploded out of the end of it.
One of the flying craft plummeted out of the sky in flames.
Ronon Dex said, “Get me up there.”
Huaisang could only stare as several giant gray metal tubes came through the gate and shot skyward. They headed for the smaller, pointier flying ships - and glowing lights exploded from them and flew toward the enemy ships. Wraith darts, Colonel Sheppard had called them.
The dart exploded when the glowing lights hit it.
“Tell your people to stay out of the culling beams,” Sheppard said.
Huaisang nodded. He turned and shouted orders to the guards.
Ronon Dex shouted for Da-ge, who came plummeting out of the sky on Baxia.
“You’re here,” Da-ge said.
“To fight,” Ronon Dex said.
Da-ge slung his arm around Ronon Dex’s waist and pulled him up onto Baxia, and they were skyward once more.
Huaisang saw Ronon Dex leap off of Baxia and onto a dart as it flew past. He stabbed it with his sword, and it started to fall. Da-ge was there to catch Ronon Dex as he jumped off the falling dart, and together they went to attack another.
Colonel Sheppard was shouting and directing his troops through his radio, including the Atlantis flying ships which were called, puzzlingly, Jumpers, although they had no legs or feet with which to jump.
It was Teyla Emmagan who came to Huaisang.
“Go, gather your people, anyone who cannot fight. Tell them to avoid the beams of light. Take them to caves or shelters, somewhere the Wraith cannot see. What they cannot see, they cannot cull.”
Huaisang’s heart raced. He nodded. And he ran. He shouted to the servants to round up all the non-cultivators, the children, the weak and the unarmed, to send up signal firelights for more help, and to send word out to the villagers to gather in the fortress. There was a central chamber below the meditation chamber where the people of Qinghe could gather in case of an invasion, where they could wait out a siege. Huaisang handed out fans to all the senior servants to be used as signal devices to guide the people to the right place.
“What the hell are you doing?” Dr. McKay demanded. “I need the meditation chamber free and clear so I can - oh. Stairs. There are stairs. Since when are there stairs? Why are there stairs?”
“Do what you must, Dr. McKay,” Huiasang said. “Tell Da-ge the people are safe here.”
He kept waving his fan and trying to ignore the zooming and whining sounds overhead, the discordant twangs of guqin music, battle cries and clanging swords, explosions and more.
Dr. McKay, Dr. Zelenka, and Dr. Lee crowded around the cultivation jade pedestal, tapping furiously at their devices and speaking rapidly to each other.
Servants kept asking Huaisang what to do if people were missing, had been taken by the light. He didn’t know what to do. It was Teyla Emmagan who suggested they make a list of the taken and missing, that they distribute food and water and blankets and care for the injured. Cultivators couldn’t be spared from the battle, so physicians from Atlantis, people in uniforms like Colonel Sheppard’s and Dr. McKay’s but with yellow patches instead of blue or black, descended the stairs, carrying bags with red crosses on them.
Red crosses meant medicine. Red crosses meant everything would be all right, right?
Huaisang kept waving his fan and directing people down the stairs.
“Fanboy!” Dr. McKay shouted.
Huaisang started. “Who, me?”
“His name is Huaisang, and he’s the Sect Leader’s brother and next in line as leader,” Dr. Lee snapped.
“The shield has a hole in it,” Dr. McKay said. “Did one of your ZedPMs break? Drain? Did someone stop filling theirs?”
“It’s called a cultivation jade,” Dr. Zelenka said.
“Yes, fine. Your magic jades. Did one of them break or something?”
“Our jade is fine,” Huaisang said slowly, his fan faltering.
Dr. McKay rolled his eyes. “Obviously yours is fine. I mean someone else’s. Did someone fall asleep on the job? Stop putting energy into theirs? I mean, would an entire clan do that? Short of all of them dying -”
“Yes,” Huaisang said. “The entire Chang Sect was slaughtered recently.”
Dr. McKay blinked. “O-oh. Did they have a magic jade?”
“They were a minor sect, but they might have,” Huiasang said.
“Did no one think to check?” Dr. Zelenka asked.
Huaisang said, “Their manor was full of corpses, and even though those have been cleaned up it’s probably still haunted.”
“Haunted,” Dr. McKay echoed.
“We have to go there,” Dr. Lee said. “Right away.”
“Right now?” Huaisang asked.
“Right now,” Dr. McKay said.
“I don’t actually know how to get there,” Huaisang said. “And there are Wraith outside.”
Dr. McKay tapped his radio. “Sheppard, we found the hole in the shield. Where are you on taking out the Wraith? Oh? Good.” He looked at Huaisang. “There are no more Wraith outside. Let’s go.”
The servants cried out when Da-ge swept into the meditation chamber, Ronon Dex at his right hand.
“Huaisang, are the people safe?” Da-ge demanded.
“As many people as possible,” he mumbled from behind his fan.
“Teyla?” Ronon Dex asked.
Teyla Emmagan said, “Huaisang organized the servants to guide many people here. Some were taken by the Wraith, and the people helped us make a list of the missing.” She held out a piece of paper.
Da-ge scanned it, expression grim.
Dr. McKay said, “We figured out why the shield crashed. Apparently the, uh -”
“The Chang Sect,” Dr. Lee supplied.
“They all got killed, and they stopped charging their ZedPM, and their section of the shield failed.” Dr. McKay’s mouth twisted into a grim frown. “If someone charges up their ZedPM and restores power to their section of the shield, the planet should be fine.”
Da-ge and Ronon Dex looked at each other and swept back out of the room. Baxia flew into Da-ge’s hand even before they were halfway down the hallway.
“That will never not be scary,” Dr. McKay said.
“Everyone should stay in the basement until they return,” Teyla said to Huaisang, who nodded.
Dr. Zelenka said, “Perhaps you should also warn other sects, that if one of them falls or ceases to maintain their cultivation jade, the responsibility should pass on to someone else, for the safety of all.”
Huaisang wondered who had taken over the cultivation jade for the Qishan Wen. Probably the Lanling Jin.
It was Dr. Lee who said, “Huaisang? Are you all right? Do you need to sit down?” moments before Huaisang’s vision turned red and the world turned sideways.
When Huaisang came to, seconds later, he was sitting on the floor and one of the servants was fanning him with his own broken fan.
“Maybe you should eat something,” Teyla said. “When was the last time you ate?”
“...Breakfast?” Huaisang said.
“What time is it now?” Dr. Zelenka asked.
Dr. Lee cast about. “Where’s the incense?”
“Are you going to smell the time?” Dr. McKay asked.
“They probably have incense clocks,” Dr. Lee said.
“What are you, an anthropologist?” Dr. McKay wore a scornful expression.
Dr. Lee just looked at him.
“Right,” Dr. McKay said.
A servant said, “Young Master should have had lunch an incense stick and a half ago.”
“Three hours, or thereabouts,” Dr. Lee said.
“So he definitely needs to eat,” Dr. McKay said.
Huaisang said, “Please bring food for myself and all the scholars and Teyla Emmagan - no oranges or lemons. And also please bring tea. And then rest yourself.”
Dr. Zelenka handed Huaisang a water canteen. “Drink some of this now.”
“Thank you.” Huaisang drank deeply. His hands were shaking. He looked at his broken fan and sighed. He could always paint another.
Colonel Sheppard strode into the meditation chamber. “How’s everyone holding up? I heard you got a line on the busted shield.”
“Ronon and Sect Leader Nie are on the way to retrieve the drained ZPM,” Teyla Emmagan said.
Colonel Sheppard raised his eyebrows. “Ronon went with him? Good, good. In the meantime - Radek, Dongmin, Rodney, I need you to help us get people out of Wraith culling beam boxes.”
“Someone was about to bring us food,” Dr. McKay protested.
Teyla Emmagan said, “Huaisang is suffering from low blood sugar and swooned. We are watching over him till his brother returns.”
Dr. Lee found food in one of his many pockets. “I’ll go get started. Save some food for me, Radek?” He nodded at Colonel Sheppard and left.
Colonel Sheppard knelt beside Huaisang. “You all right, kid?”
“I’m fine,” he said faintly.
Colonel Sheppard patted his shoulder. “Okay. You did good.”
“Did I? We lost people in the beams.”
“You did good,” Colonel Sheppard said, more firmly.
Huaisang closed his eyes and waited for the food to arrive.
Hours later, it was dark, and most of the Atlanteans had departed, save for Teyla Emmagan, Colonel Sheppard, Ronon Dex, and Dr. McKay. It was decided that they would meet with the rest of the Sect Leaders at the next discussion conference to speak about the Wraith and the importance of the cultivation jades.
Cultivators from several other sects had come to assist in the attack and were no doubt reporting back to their own leaders about what they had seen.
Huaisang knew Da-ge would face criticism for not reporting about the fact that the monument functioned as a travel portal, and about the potential of attack from the Wraith, and not sharing the medicine from Atlantis.
Huaisang would see who wished to protect their people with aid from Atlantis and who wished to leverage a relationship with Atlantis for their own gain.
In the meantime, Nie Sect cultivators would restore the Chang Sect’s cultivation jade and reconnect it to the pedestal to ensure the shield around the planet was complete.
When Ronon Dex stood at Da-ge’s right hand and was unflinching in the face of accusations and criticism from weaker sects, Huaisang was proud. Dr. McKay spluttered and tried to argue, and Colonel Sheppard and Teyla Emmagan had to restrain him.
But eventually it was agreed - every sect would maintain their cultivation jades diligently, and every sect would assist other sects should Wraith attack again. Where the stargate was located in Qinghe, the Nie Sect was responsible for maintaining security on it, but all future visitors through the gate would be brought before the council of all sect leaders and the Chief Cultivator in future.
As Colonel Sheppard and his team departed from Golden Carp Tower, Colonel Sheppard said,
“Well, that could have gone worse.”
“At least we did not have to engage in any musical performances,” Teyla Emmagan said.
Ronon Dex said nothing.
“Back to your fortress, then?” Colonel Sheppard asked.
They’d traveled to Lanling in one of the jumpers, which Huaisang wasn’t sure he liked.
Huaisang sat in the back with his eyes closed and could pretend that he wasn’t moving at all.
Da-ge used the time to meditate and cultivate his golden core.
“So,” Colonel Sheppard said. “You and...Chifeng-zun?”
“Mingjue,” Ronon Dex said.
Huaisang had never heard anyone just call Da-ge by his name like that.
“He has a sword. You have a sword,” Colonel Sheppard continued. “You’re both...badass.”
“He’s a formidable warrior,” Ronon Dex said.
“You are both very focused,” Teyla Emmagan offered.
It was Dr. McKay who said, very awkwardly, “Does he make you happy?”
Ronon Dex said, “We’re balanced.”
Colonel Sheppard said, “Good enough for me.”
After that, things returned to normal. Every eight days, Ronon Dex came to visit.
Da-ge didn’t change. He didn’t smile more. He wasn’t kinder.
But sometimes he’d sit beside Huaisang and meditate while Huaisang sat in the monument garden and painted.
One day, Huaisang dialed Atlantis.
“Atlantis, this is Nie Huaisang, do you copy?”
“We read you loud and clear, Nie Huaisang. Over.”
Huaisang swallowed hard. “I need to speak to Ronon Dex.”
“He is currently unavailable. Shall I take a message? Over.”
“Please tell him to come visit me as soon as he is able. Over.”
“Roger that. Atlantis over and out.”
The gate shut down.
Huaisang retreated to the throne room and waited.
When Ronon Dex arrived, he saw Huaisang sitting on the throne, and he stopped. Stood very still. Curled his hands into fists.
Huaisang waved his fan, and all the servants departed, locking the doors behind them.
“How?” Ronon Dex asked. His voice was cold.
“Murder,” Huaisang said.
“I’m not sure, but I’ll find out.”
Huaisang opened his fan and spun it expertly. “By pulling the right threads.”
Ronon Dex curled his hands into white-knuckled fists. “Can I see him?”
“There’s nothing left to see.”
“Buried, according to custom. He thought I didn’t know, but it’s full of resentful energy. That’s the only way to protect others from it.”
“What can I do?” Ronon Dex’s gaze was full of fire.
Huaisang said, “You have to wait. This requires...what do your scholars call it? Magic.”
Ronon Dex growled and spun away.
Huaisang cleared his throat and held out one hand.
Ronon Dex turned back to him.
Huaisang opened his hand. “I saved this.” It was the necklace Ronon Dex had brought to him.
Ronon Dex crossed the throne room and took it from him. He wrapped the cord around his wrist like a bracelet, pressed his lips to the pendant solemnly, the gesture a farewell and a promise. “When it’s done -”
“You’ll be the first to know. Please tell Colonel Sheppard and the others.”
Ronon Dex nodded. He said, “You gonna be okay?”
Huaisang said, “Yes.” Then he said, “This will take a very long time.”
Ronon Dex said, “I’ll wait.”
Huaisang said, “I won’t stop till it’s done.”
Ronon Dex looked him up and down. “You are his brother.”
Ronon Dex brought his hands together and bowed low, just like a cultivator, and then he left. Huaisang watched him go and missed Da-ge fiercely.
And he started to plan.