For the most part, Jin Guangshan is a predictable man. There is a pattern to his behaviour, and he adheres to a schedule. He has to, in order to deal with the responsibilities of Chief Cultivator.
Which is why it’s such a surprise when he leaves Koi Tower for a week and returns with a wide-eyed young boy who looks around ten and introduces the boy as Mo Xuanyu, his bastard son. He declares that the child is going to be taught cultivation in Lanling, which isn’t exactly a popular announcement.
Jin Zixuan is discomfited by the reminder that his father had fathered yet another child with a woman who wasn’t his mother. Madam Jin is apoplectic with rage at Jin Guangshan’s audacity for bringing another one of his bastard sons to Koi Tower— As if one wasn’t enough, she’s overheard shouting. Jin Guangyao is well aware of the reason Mo Xuanyu is here, to show him how replaceable he is to his father, to keep him from getting too secure about his position. His tight smiles say as much. Mo Xuanyu himself seems eager to please, but he struggles to keep up with the students he is grouped with. He doesn’t fit into Koi Tower very smoothly at first, even as he learns to keep out of Madam Jin’s way.
As for Wei Wuxian, he does not miss the pointed comments about how Mo Xuanyu has been trying and failing to form a golden core, and that he would benefit from an alternative cultivation method. This is so obviously yet another ineffectual way for Jin Guangshan to get insights on demonic cultivation. He is hinting heavily— and very unsubtly, in Wei Wuxian's opinion— that he expects Wei Wuxian to teach his young son, and Mo Xuanyu is both young enough and eager enough to prove his worth that he is highly susceptible to his father’s demands. Jin Guangshan would have no trouble convincing the impressionable young boy to use anything Wei Wuxian teaches him on behalf of the Jin sect with the right combination of words.
Wei Wuxian has never been one to do what others want him to do just because they tell him to do it. if Jin Guangshan isn't going to screw up the courage to tell him to his face what he wants, Wei Wuxian can't outright refuse, but that doesn't mean he'll actually do anything the man wants. His resolve does not waver— he will not teach anyone demonic cultivation, much less someone Jin Guangshan can manipulate. But well, seeing how timid Mo Xuanyu is and how he gets picked on in Koi Tower, Wei Wuxian decides he’s going to teach the boy an alternative cultivation method, alright.
Every afternoon, Wei Wuxian sits Mo Xuanyu down and begins teaching him the basics of talisman theories. The cultivation world often neglected this because talismans were meant to be used merely as supplements to sword cultivation. Most people learnt only a few essential talismans, and even then, they mostly learnt to draw them by repeated practice. Most never bothered to learn how talismans worked, nor did they focus on how to create new ones. While talismans couldn’t replace a sword in a fight, for someone having trouble with developing a golden core— or someone lacking one like Wei Wuxian— talismans could be an indispensable resource.
Wei Wuxian finds that Mo Xuanyu does have a knack for talismans, and he grasps the idea of them quickly. Under Wei Wuxian’s careful guidance, his skill improves, and with it, so does his confidence. Slowly, he grows in leaps and bounds, and his golden core grows in power, albeit only slightly. Perhaps he will never have an impressive golden core, but with his knowledge of talismans, he is neither defenceless, nor does he think of himself as useless any longer. He also takes to following Wei Wuxian around starry-eyed, which scares Wei Wuxian a little bit, because he is probably not the best role model for a child, but it doesn’t stop him from giving Mo Xuanyu the positive attention he is clearly starved for.
It helps his relationship with Jin Guangyao that Mo Xuanyu clearly has no intention of usurping his half-brother’s position. He is respectful and tries his best to help without trying to take over, and there is something endearing about the way he clearly looks up to Jin Guangyao. He is so eager to please, so timid and polite, that even Jin Guangyao softens towards him eventually. Mo Xuanyu is far too young to help Jin Guangyao with his responsibilities, but he does him little favours and runs errands he doesn't find time for, and somehow manages to win him over. Perhaps, Wei Wuxian thinks, there is something about him that reminds Jin Guangyao of himself at a younger age.
Jin Zixuan takes to having a new little brother with surprising ease. When he catches Wei Wuxian’s surprise, he admits that he had always wanted siblings, at least before he had known about his father’s infidelities. He wryly confesses that he had found it hard to relate to Jin Guangyao because he was already an adult when they met, but with Mo Xuanyu who was still a child, he found it easier to initiate a relationship. Mo Xuanyu responds positively to his attention too- it takes almost no convincing to get him to call Jin Zixuan ‘Xuan-gege’. In this vein, Wei Wuxian tries to get Mo Xuanyu to call him ‘Xian-gege’, but he insists on calling Wei Wuxian ‘Shifu’, which amuses him to no end.
Mo Xuanyu doesn’t fit into Koi Tower perfectly, but he does find his place within the Jin sect, with the help of his half-brothers and Wei Wuxian. Within a month of his arrival, he seems to find his new home satisfying enough to be happy there. As awkward as it is at times, Jin Zixuan, Jin Guangyao, and Mo Xuanyu seem to be learning how to be brothers, and begin to genuinely grow fond of one another. The two older ones also start looking out for Mo Xuanyu a bit, which, combined with Mo Xuanyu using his talismans to fight back against two of his bullies, means that the kids his age pick on him less than they did before. He is still quiet and withdrawn and doesn’t have many friends, but he is no longer terrorized as he once was.
As for Wei Wuxian, he takes great pleasure in informing Jin Guangshan that he has begun training Mo Xuanyu in alternative cultivation practices as the Chief Cultivator had recommended, only to watch the smug, greedy joy drain out of the man’s eyes and be replaced with frustration as Mo Xuanyu proudly demonstrates his newfound skill at talisman crafting.
If there was one thing Wei Wuxian had learnt from marrying into the Jin sect, it was that the Jin sect really, really enjoyed throwing banquets. It seemed to him that they would take any excuse to celebrate, any excuse for drinking and merrymaking. Neither of those were things Wei Wuxian was opposed to on principle, but the mind-numbingly boring politics that also accompanied banquets were truly terrible, in his opinion. He knew the importance of political charades, and most times, he knew to play the game like the rest of them. In fact, recently, he had even been enjoying himself a little bit— there was something supremely satisfying about turning Jin Guangshan’s political allies and supporters into his own, or rather, his husband’s. Still, that didn’t preclude him from finding it absolutely exhausting. Living at Koi Tower meant that he could trust no one but Jin Zixuan, and it was incredibly draining to put a mask on for as long as he did.
While most of the banquets were internal affairs, it was only a few months after the hunt at Phoenix Mountain that the decision was made to hold a banquet to host all the sects once again. Wei Wuxian had been pleasantly surprised at the idea of seeing his family and Lan Zhan again so soon, but the weeks leading up to the banquet had been quite a trying experience. Ever since he had interrupted Jin Zixun’s idiotic plan at the previous banquet, the man had become a thorn in his side, constantly cornerng him around Koi Tower and making threats or throwing childish insults, ranting about how Wei Wuxian had had caused him to lose face in front of all their guests, as though he hadn’t done that all by himself by pressuring the Twin Jades to drink. Once another banquet was announced, these incidents increased in frequency and in the irritation they caused Wei Wuxian.
Wanting to be free of the man’s annoying presence, Wei Wuxian decides to head out of the tower into Lanling. He hasn’t had much opportunity to explore the place. He can’t imagine that he has been living in Koi Tower for over a year now, but he still doesn’t know enough about Lanling. He never thought this would be his life, and now that it is, he doesn’t know what to do about it. He meanders through the streets, stopping at the odd stall to consider someone’s wares, or to watch children run around and play. There is something about Lanling that is so cold and unwelcoming to him, even if he can’t figure out why. It simply doesn’t feel like home.
As he walks, he hears an odd noise coming from one of the alleys to the side of the street he walks on. Curious, he enters the alley, one hand on his flute in case there is a threat, the other hand extending a non-threatening hand just in case it’s a street urchin he doesn’t want to scare. When he finally catches sight of who it is, he freezes. A phantom pain tugs at his abdomen.
Wen Qing is here. Here, in Lanling.
Wen Qing looks terrible, frankly. Her face is covered in dirt and she is staggering, barely able to keep herself upright. Her hair is bedraggled and her robes are worn with rips and tears at the hems. Her eyes are as sharp as ever, but there is a wild desperation in them that Wei Wuxian would have never thought to associate with the elegant, efficient, professional doctor who had methodically extracted his golden core and given it to Jiang Cheng. Wen Qing usually radiated a quiet confidence and level-headedness that was entirely absent from the woman in front of him.
“Wen Qing?” Wei Wuxian calls, his voice hesitant and disbelieving.
Her head jerks up as she turns to look at him in horror. For a moment, her eyes widen, then she recognizes him. “Wei Wuxian?” she asks, swaying lightly on her feet. “How…?”
He rushes over immediately to support her. He gently guides her down to the ground against the wall. The alley is dirty, but a little dirt doesn't really matter in the state she is in. She grabs his wrists tightly, seemingly using them to ground herself while she takes deep breaths. She closes her eyes and her breaths even out, then she opens them. Her grip on Wei Wuxian’s wrists loosens, but she doesn’t let go.
“Where am I?” she asks softly at last.
“You’re in Lanling,” he quickly replies. He wonders what has happened to her, why she had no idea where she was.
The minute Wen Qing hears the word ‘Lanling’, her eyes widen again, her breathing gets sharper, and she begins looking around rapidly. She looks absolutely terrified.
“You’re okay, you’re safe,” Wei Wuxian assures her, hoping he’s saying the right things. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I can’t be here!” Her voice is filled with terror, and she is quiet, like she is too afraid that a louder voice will call attention to her.
“Wen Qing, what’s wrong?” Wei Wuxian asks. “I’ll help you no matter what it is.”
“You can’t! You won’t! You won’t be able to…”
“Wen Qing, I owe you a great debt,” Wei Wuxian tries to soothe her. “If you can’t trust me as a person, trust that I will repay that debt, at least.”
At this, she seems slightly mollified. Her breathing evens out again.
“What happened?” Wei Wuxian asks gently, not wanting to spook her.
Wen Qing takes a deep breath. “They have A-Ning,” she says.
“What? Who has Wen Ning? What’s going on?”
Wen Qing closes her eyes. Her breathing shudders. When she speaks again, her voice sounds fragile. “Jin cultivators. They were rounding up the Wen cultivators after the war,” she says. “Some time ago, they came to our village and captured all of us. We couldn’t even fight back. We’re healers, we don’t fight…”
The Jins had taken up the responsibility of tracking down Wen cultivators. They had reported to the sects that they had all been found, but from what Wen Qing tells him, it sounds like they hadn’t stopped at finding the fighters alone. He wonders if the other sect leaders knew, if Jiang Cheng knew, if Jin Zixuan knew, but it seems unlikely. Jiang Cheng knows that the two of them owe Wen Qing and Wen Ning a debt for sheltering them, he wouldn’t approve of such a thing. And Jin Zixuan is painfully honest, and from everything Wei Wuxian has seen, he is honourable— he wouldn’t allow this to happen if he knew either. Zewu-jun has always been fair, too, and the Lans believe deeply in righteous actions. Or at least, so Wei Wuxian hopes. If they had all known and decided to allow it, decided to cover it up, all of them people that Wei Wuxian respected and liked, if his judgement had truly been that bad… no, he couldn’t think like that right now.
“What did they do to you?” he asks.
Wen Qing’s gaze turns pained and distant. “Qiongqi Path,” she says. “Qiongqi Path. A-Ning is— they’re hurting him— I didn’t know where to go— I—.”
Wei Wuxian thinks of Wen Ning, the shy, timid boy he had helped with archery, the one who had bravely risked his own life to get him and Jiang Cheng to safety, who had put himself at further risk to retrieve Madam Yu and Uncle Jiang’s remains, the one who had been there with him as Wen Qing pulled his core out of him, as he felt it’s warmth ebbing away. Wen Ning who had no reason to defy Wen Ruohan but did anyway because he remembered the kindness Wei Wuxian showed him, Wen Ning who was brave and kind, who did not deserve to be hurt because of the actions of Wen Ruohan.
“I’ll find him,” Wei Wuxian tells Wen Qing at once. “Just one thing, do you know who is in charge?”
Wen Qing shakes her head. “I didn’t recognize him, none of us did.”
Wei Wuxian braces himself for the answer to the next question. He needs to know but he’s scared of what the answer will be. “Was Jin Zixuan involved?”
He cannot stop himself from sagging in relief when Wen Qing quickly shakes her head. “I overheard a couple of them saying he would be too weak-willed to properly punish us if he knew,” she says. “I don’t think he was involved.
“Okay,” Wei Wuxian says. “Okay. I’ll go find Wen Ning, you stay here-”
“No, absolutely not, I’m coming with you,” she replies immediately.
“Wen Qing, do you really think you can make it to Qiongqi Path in the state you’re in?”
She looks at him defiantly. “And you going alone is a better idea?”
Perhaps she is right and going alone isn’t the best idea after all. What if there are complications? Wen Qing in her current state would hardly be able to do anything to help him, and he would be better off if he was with someone who had an unimpeachable reputation to vouch for him if something went wrong. Mind made up, he pulls out one of his communication talismans.
“I have a plan,” he tells Wen Qing, “But it will take a little while to enact. In the meanwhile, I’ll get you some food, alright?”
Wen Qing hesitates, and he adds, “After that, I’ll definitely take you to Qiongqi Path.”
She nods grudgingly, and he smiles reassuringly at her before turning his attention to the talisman. He concentrates until it turns into a little crow with a puff, then begins talking to it. “Remember when you made me promise to ask for your help if I needed it?”, he whispers. “I need it now. You’re probably already on the way, but come to Lanling as quickly as you can and meet me by the fifth florist’s stall on the main street.”
He and Wen Qing watch as the little bird disappears with his message.
“What now?” Wen Qing asks, raising an eyebrow.
Wei Wuxian sighs. “Now, we wait.”
By the time Lan Zhan arrives, Wei Wuxian has managed to get Wen Qing to eat something and drink some water. When he receives a message from Lan Zhan that he has arrived, he tells Wen Qing to stay right where she is before going to find him. His stomach twists unpleasantly at the thought of the last time he had said that to someone and what had followed, but he doesn’t believe Wen Qing is in any condition to move. Besides, she needs him with her to go to Qiongqi Path.
Lan Zhan stands in front of the florist’s stall while the man tries to unsuccessfully wheedle him to buy a flower or two for his sweetheart. His stiff position shows a discomfort that only eases when he catches sight of Wei Wuxian. Immediately, he walks towards Wei Wuxian.
“That was quick, Lan Zhan,” he says as soon as they are close enough to converse without being overheard.
“Mn, we were on the way to Lanling,” Lan Zhan says, giving him a worried onceover. There is the slightest furrow in his brow, and the look in his eye is reminiscent of the look he had given Wei Wuxian at the Burial Mounds.
“Oh, I’m fine,” Wei Wuxian assures him as soon as he notices the concern. “What I need help with… well… come this way.”
Wei Wuxian guides Lan Zhan to the alley, looking behind himself a few times in what he hopes is an unsuspicious manner, just to ensure that no one is following them, that no one has noticed them. Lan Zhan isn’t exactly the most inconspicuous of cultivators, after all. To his great relief, they go unnoticed.
Another matter for relief is that when the two of them reach the alley and Wen Qing is still there. If she had left, he doesn’t know what he would have done. When she catches sight of Lan Zhan, her eyes widen.
“Hanguang-jun?” she asks. “What are—?”
“He’s here to help, Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian assures her.
“Be assured, Lady Wen, I do not mean any harm,” Lan Zhan says, bowing carefully. Then, he turns back to Wei Wuxian. “Wei Ying?”
“Do you remember Wen Qing’s brother from the archery contest in Qishan?” he asks. “Wen Ning? Wen Qionglin?” Lan Zhan shows the faintest hint of recognition. “Right, well, after Lotus Pier fell, he helped me and Jiang Cheng. He and Wen Qing sheltered us and treated our wounds. Except, after the war, the Jins took charge of the prisoners, including Wen Qing’s family. They’ve been mistreating them.”
Lan Zhan frowns. Wei Wuxian supposes his explanation was a bit disjointed. Before he can figure out how to clarify, Wen Qing takes the opportunity to speak instead.
“My family— they’re not cultivators, Hanguang-jun,” Wen Qing explains. “They’re in a camp at Qiongqi Path, and they’re being beaten, killed. I couldn’t— I managed to escape and I didn’t know—” She cut herself off and turned to Wei Wuxian. “I meant to go to Yunmeng,” she confesses, “I thought you would be able to help. I didn’t realize I was coming to Lanling.”
“That’s actually really lucky. It’s a good thing you didn’t go to Yunmeng,” Wei Wuxian says. “You see, I’ve married into the Jin sect.”
Wen Qing's eyes widen, her mouth drops open. “You—”
“Not by choice,” he rushes to assure her. “It was just— it’s a long story, I’ll tell you later.” He quickly turns to Lan Zhan in an effort to get back on topic. “I’m going to Qiongqi Path to find them. Would you— would you come with me, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Zhan nods solemnly. He is ever sincere, and the immediate agreement he gets eases the tightness that’s been building in Wei Wuxian’s chest. He could have done this alone, he would have done this alone. It was what he was used to, after all. It was only that the thought of someone standing at his side, someone who was willing to defend him, help him, trust him— it makes him feel warm, somehow, this assurance that even if he can do something alone, he won't have to.
Travel is going to be a problem though. He can’t fly on a sword— he doesn’t have Suibian with him in any case— and Wen Qing has neither a sword nor, he would wager, the strength to use one right now. Lan Zhan is strong, but to ask him to carry all three of them that distance… And besides, Wen Qing knows he doesn’t have a golden core but Lan Zhan doesn’t and this would be the worst possible way to have that conversation if he had any intention of having it, which he most certainly does not. He curses himself for not working on the modifications he had thought up for a transportation talisman. That would have proven incredibly useful at this moment.
Wei Wuxian exchanges a glance with Wen Qing who has seemingly come to the same conclusion. Before either of them can say anything though, Lan Zhan speaks.
“We can travel on Bichen,” he says resolutely.
“Lan Zhan, I appreciate the offer, but isn’t Qiongqi Path a bit too far for you to carry three people?” Wei Wuxian asks hesitantly. He has every faith in Lan Zhan’s abilities, has seen him balance three people on Bichen— himself included— but this is a situation where they cannot afford the risk. This would all go wrong if they got stranded mid-way, unable to help anyone.
Wen Qing looks similarly contemplative. The most expedient solution would be for her to stay behind— she is the only one of the three of them who is in no fit state to fight if it comes to that, and besides, Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan have far more power in this situation— their words might actually count for something to the people manning the camp. On the other hand, her reluctance to stay back makes perfect sense. Her family— her little brother— is stuck there, and she needs to be able to see for herself the state they are in, what has happened to them since she has managed to escape. As a doctor, her skills might be needed too.
If all of them have to go, but their means of transport is limited, there is one last thing Wei Wuxian can try. It isn’t something he was incredibly pleased about doing, but desperate times call for desperate measures. He had no idea how his idea would be received, but for the sake of Wen Ning, he had to try.
“I have an idea,” he says. “But uh… Wen Qing… I don’t know if you’ll like it.”
“I’ll do anything to save my brother,” she says firmly. “What is it?”
“So uh,” Wei Wuxian gives her a sheepish look, “Remember when I said I married into the Jin sect?”
Jin Zixuan arrives in a dark cloak over his gold robes, thankfully having followed Wei Wuxian’s instructions to look less like himself— they really do not need the heir of the Jin sect to be recognized by anyone and figure out what they’re up to, at least until they reach Qiongqi Path. There, Jin Zixuan being recognized might actually offer them leverage, or credibility— something to make their work easier.
When Jin Zixuan hears what’s happening, his jaw goes tight with what Wei Wuxian can now recognize as frustration and anger at injustice. It’s the same look he gets when he has a particularly challenging conversation with some bigot at Koi Tower. It makes Wei Wuxian relax infinitesimally. If that is how Jin Zixuan is reacting to this knowledge, not only does it mean he had no prior knowledge of it, it also means that he agrees that it is extremely unjust treatment— Wens or not. Jin Zixuan is on his side about this issue.
Wei Wuxian wonders briefly how the two of them have spent a year trying to take down Jin Guangshan, but neither of them had figured this secret that the Jin sect was keeping. Everything he had been doing over the past year and this has been happening right under his nose. He is angry at himself for not finding out sooner. A part of him is thinking how could I not have known? How could I have been so ignorant of this gross miscarriage of justice? What is the point of everything I have been doing if I couldn’t even protect innocent people? When he meets Jin Zixuan’s eyes, he can tell that his husband is thinking the exact same thing.
Wen Qing had been understandably against Jin Zixuan going with them at first— she thought it was stupid to involve an actual Jin in this endeavour, but when faced with Jin Zixuan’s earnest offer of help, she relents reluctantly. She knows, just as the rest of them do, that they need him here if they’re going to get to Qiongqi Path as soon as they can. She still gives him a wary look or two, and Wei Wuxian is the only one of the three whose presence she is truly comfortable with, but she is hard pressed for allies, and begrudgingly accepts the help.
They begin their journey after a short discussion, Wen Qing and Lan Zhan on Bichen, Wei Wuxian and Jin Zixuan on Suihua. For just a second, Lan Zhan looks vaguely displeased at the prospect of Wei Wuxian spending an entire flight practically in Jin Zixuan’s arms, but Wen Qing is too wary of Jin Zixuan to be in close proximity to him for an entire flight. And besides, Lan Zhan clearly knows that there are more important matters at hand— matters that overshadow any jealousy he might feel. Neither Lan Zhan nor Jin Zixuan ask about Wei Wuxian not using his sword, which he is grateful for. He cannot focus enough to come up with a plausible excuse just right now.
They spend the flight in silence, all four of them, each preparing for the prospect of seeing what exactly Qiongqi Path holds. Somehow, Wei Wuxian thinks their day is going to get worse from here on out.
They reach Qiongqi Path in the twilight hours. The setting sun paints the sky in beautiful colours. It is a shame that the revolting sights they see at the camp far overshadow the sight of the sky.
The overseers attempt to stop them at first. They bluster and put up a pretence of being worried about security. The presence of three war heroes— specifically the heir to the Jin sect, his husband, and Hanguang-jun— makes them relent. They are obviously nervous even as they pretend that nothing untoward is happening under their watch. Already, that is a hint for what is to come.
Wei Wuxian has seen many horrible things.
He fought in a war— he was responsible for some of the horrible things he had seen. He had killed brutally, efficiently, fiercely; he was almost certain that he had the highest body count of everyone who had fought in the Sunshot Campaign. Even before that, he has seen horrible things in the Burial Mounds— he still has nightmares about what he had encountered, the spirits, the bodies, the hallucinations, the pain. Freshly out of the Burial Mounds too, he had tortured Wen Chao and Wang Lingjiao violently— something he is not particularly proud of, but certainly does not regret.
Wei Wuxian is certainly no stranger to the horrifying sight of suffering.
But there is a key difference between the horrors of war and this. Of all the people Wei Wuxian has killed, none were innocent. Of all the people Wei Wuxian has killed, none of them was a non-combatant, barring Wang Lingjiao. Even when Wei Wuxian had killed ruthlessly, he had never taken pleasure in killing, or in the prolonging of it, except for what he did to Wen Chao and Wang Lingjiao. And Wei Wuxian, to the best of his knowledge, has never killed anyone who didn’t deserve it.
What was happening here was wrong— there was no other word for it.
He watches weary, dirt-covered men and women stagger around, performing harsh menial labour. Their backs are nearly bent with the force of what they are being made to do. A few have noticeable limps— one man’s foot practically drags behind him as he walks, and walking would be a generous description for what he is doing. Several of them are bleeding from open cuts, and their faces are heavily bruised. He even spots a peony-shaped brand on a few of them. Each of them is old— not in the way cultivators are, but in the way civilians age. There are middle-aged people doing back-breaking work. Some of them are past middle-aged, and can only be called elderly. One particularly old woman is carrying a child on her back. A child. A child barely two years old, from what he can tell.
Wei Wuxian sees red. He can feel himself shaking with rage, his teeth bared as he fights not to lose control of the resentful energy. And the place is chock-full of it. It is teeming with the resentment of innocent people who have died horrible, painful, miserable deaths at the hands of the overseers of this camp. Wei Wuxian can feel the red bleed into his eyes as he nearly lifts his flute to play—
There is a warm grip on his wrist, forcing it down. The smell of sandalwood replaces the stench of death and surrounds him, grounds him.
“Wei Ying, you cannot kill them,” a soothing voice murmurs, though he can hear the barely contained anger. “If they die, they will become martyrs. They must face justice for what they have done.”
He wants to though. He knows that to be true, but he wants to kill them so badly. His fingers itch to call for the power at his disposal, to show them his displeasure, his fury, his sheer incandescent rage. He does not want to hold back. He wants to return this suffering to them tenfold. The people who died at their hands deserve revenge. Do you know how many people died here? he wants to demand. Do you know how many voices are wailing in my head right now, do you know how many suffered until their dying breath? Can you not smell the decay in the air? Can you not see the bodies piled up—
“Wei Ying, you must control yourself,” he hears again. “They will pay, but not now.”
He inhales sharply, closing his eyes.
They must face justice. It would be justice to let them die screaming like their victims did, a part of him asserts viciously.
They must testify to the atrocities they committed in front of everyone. No one will believe you unless they admit their guilt themselves.
There needs to be justice.
He wrenches down the anger and the sadness and the hopelessness, wrestles it into a manageable shape. He holds on to it tightly, not letting it escape even as it simmers just beneath the surface.
His soul aches with the effort.
He exhales, opens his eyes.
Lan Zhan is still looking at him with concern, his fingers are still curled around Wei Wuxian’s wrist. Wei Wuxian nods resolutely at him, and whatever Lan Zhan sees in his eyes makes him let go.
Jin Zixuan steps forward, between the overseers of the camp and Wei Wuxian. “What is going on here?” he asks, projecting every bit of commanding arrogance he can.
Then men fall over each other to explain themselves to him.
“They’re the remnants of the Wen sect—”
“The prisoners are unruly—”
“— very accident-prone—”
“— haven’t done anything wrong—”
“You haven’t done anything wrong?” Jin Zixuan repeats, looking disbelievingly between the overseers and the trembling prisoners. “What is the meaning of this?” he waves at the injured men and women who are struggling to stay upright, at the discarded whips and brands on the ground.
“This is what they deserve—”
“— they’re Wen-dogs, who cares—”
“—simply making them pay for the atrocities they have committed against us—”
“Atrocities?” Wei Wuxian interrupts in a soft, dangerous voice. “And what atrocities has that child committed against you?” He clutches Chenqing harder, sees the men pale in fear. “You would kill these people who are too old or too young to have been part of the war? Just because they’re Wens?”
Only one of the overseers, presumably the bravest one dares to speak to him. “Didn’t you kill most of the Wen-dogs on the battlefield? How can you look down on us for doing the same thing you did?”
Wei Wuxian turns a glare towards him. “The ones I killed chose to be on the battlefield. Are you trying to say these elderly people and this child were fighting against you?” he demands.
“Do not try to justify yourselves by insulting my husband,” Jin Zixuan says firmly. “As the heir to the Lanling Jin sect, I order you to release these prisoners to our custody at once. You will all be investigated. I will not let this abuse of power stand.”
The overseers protest, but Jin Zixuan is unrelenting. It is a combination of that and Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian glaring from behind him, making it clear that they will back him up that makes them submit unwillingly. Jin Zixuan wastes no time implying that if they do not surrender to him, he will let Wei Wuxian deal with them however he sees fit, which understandably terrifies them. They are scared of being punished, indignant that anyone would care about their treatment of Wens, but none of them is foolish enough to believe that standing against all three of them would be possible, or that Wei Wuxian would be merciful.
As soon as they surrender to Jin Zixuan, Wen Qing takes off, calling her brother’s name, screaming for him. Wei Wuxian follows her, while Lan Zhan starts freeing and helping the elderly Wens. They find Wen Ning behind a tiny shed, bleeding out from a stab wound in his abdomen.
“Jiejie,” he murmurs when he sees her. “I tried to keep them safe, but…”
“A-Ning,” she cries, falling to her knees at his side, her hands pressed to the wound, staunching the blood flow as much as she can. “You did your best, you did good, let me help you!”
“Jiejie, you’re here,” he says, coughing a little. “You brought help?”
“Wei Wuxian is here,” she replies absently as she begins prodding her brother’s wound. She exhales slightly. “This is… this is… I can fix this, I just need to stop the bleeding first.”
“I’m at your disposal, Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian tells her. “Anything you need.”
She looks at him for a second, then nods. “Come over here and help me hold this together,” she says, her voice professional, no hint of the raw worry or the relief that had permeated it an instant ago. “I need both my hands free.”
Wei Wuxian quickly follows as Wen Qing continues to bark out instructions at him— he does not presume to think that he is particularly good at what she’s telling him to do, but his willingness to help alone eases Wen Qing’s burden. They have no medical supplies, but somehow, between the two of them, they manage to bind Wen Ning’s wound so that he will not bleed out immediately.
“We just need to get him out of here,” Wei Wuxian tells Wen Qing. “We’ll find a town or something and buy whatever herbs we need.”
“I won’t be able to leave,” she replies as they help Wen Ning to his feet— dazed and unfocused as his movements are. “I’ll have to stay with A-Ning to monitor his condition, I’ll describe the herbs to you and you go buy them.”
“Alright,” he agrees as they slowly begin their three-person shuffle to the gates, where Jin Zixuan and Lan Wangji wait, along with the recently arrested overseers and Wen Qing’s family— what is left of them, anyway.
As they near the others, they notice that somehow, a number of horses have been acquired from somewhere. Wei Wuxian has no idea how they found so many horses, but he definitely isn’t going to complain about something making their getaway easier. One quick decision of what town they’re going to stop at for the night later, everyone mounts a horse— those who are too injured or too old sharing with someone who will ensure they stay on the horse. Wei Wuxian himself ends up sharing a horse with the little child— A-Yuan— who clings to him tightly. He is quiet, and his eyes are large and fearful whenever he sees the overseers, or when he catches sight of the gold of Jin Zixuan’s robes, and he regularly buries his face in Wei Wuxian’s robes, whenever he feels overwhelmed. The thought of this child being put through whatever was happening at Qiongqi Path enrages him, but he reassures himself with the thought that those who did this will pay soon. It also helps that both Jin Zixuan and Lan Zhan have picked up on the fact that his temper is hanging by a thread and make sure he doesn't get anywhere near the Jins who were in charge— he would not be able to control himself if he sees them.
When they reach the town, they enter the first inn they find. It’s early enough and the place is remote enough that no other travellers have come there seeking accommodation, and Jin Zixuan hands the innkeeper a heavy bag of money and asks to rent out the whole inn. That kind of flaunting of wealth would have annoyed teenage Wei Wuxian to no end, but the Wei Wuxian of today can only feel grateful. The money is enough to convince the innkeeper not to look too closely at them, which is a blessing— fifty odd refugees and three cultivators from major sects are not easily ignored or hidden, especially when so many of them are clearly injured and covered in the grime of Qiongqi Path.
As soon as they get Wen Ning settled in one of the rooms, Wen Qing gives him a description and the names of the herbs she needs. They stopped once before reaching the inn to buy the ones Wen Qing needed urgently, and a roll or two of bandages— those would not wait until Wei Wuxian could find them and return— but there are more herbs that will be needed once the wound is closed up, to prevent infection. It is these that she sends him off to find. Wei Wuxian sets off immediately— carefully disentangling a sleeping A-Yuan and passing him off to his grandmother first— leaving Lan Zhan and Jin Zixuan behind to ensure that no trouble comes their way— not from the overseers, or from the townspeople. There is an old apothecary a few li away from the inn, and she thankfully asks no questions and doesn’t try to make small talk. Normally, Wei Wuxian excels at engaging people in conversation, in getting them to open up and give him a little information without even realizing that was what they were doing, but he is in no mood to do that today, nor does he have the time. He just wants to get back to the inn as fast as he can.
When he returns, Lan Zhan is keeping guard alone, his eyes sharp and his posture wary. When he sees Wei Wuxian, his face softens as it always does for him, and he inclines his head slightly.
“This is really something I’ve dragged you into, ah, Lan Zhan?”
“It is important,” Lan Zhan replies. “I am glad Wei Ying dragged me into it.”
“I could have done it on my own,” Wei Wuxian admits, “But it wouldn’t have gone this well. Those men… they would have never submitted peacefully to my authority the way they did for Jin Zixuan. And when we get back, having Hanguang-jun’s testimony will be more influential than just my word. No one would have believed me over the whole Jin sect.”
“I am certain Wei Ying would have found a way,” Lan Zhan assures. “You are very creative. Resourceful. Intelligent.”
“Aiya, stop Lan Zhan, you’ll make me blush,” Wei Wuxian can already feel the heat rising to his face. “What I’m saying is, thank you for coming when I called.”
“Mn, I will always come when you call, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan replies, his eyes and voice gentle. “No need for ‘thank you’s between us.”
Wei Wuxian wants so badly to put his arms around Lan Zhan in this moment, sink into his embrace, soak in this feeling of trust, in the utter kindness Lan Zhan is showing him, the declaration of what is practically devotion. It wraps around him like a blanket of warmth. He wants to drown in this moment and never escape it.
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” he sighs, “You’re really too good to me.”
“Not too good,” Lan Zhan shakes his head. “Never too good. Never as good as Wei Ying deserves.”
Wei Wuxian’s breath catches in his throat. He sees the sincerity of the statement written in Lan Zhan’s golden eyes, and he does not know what to do with it. If this were a different world, now would be the time Wei Wuxian would cradle Lan Zhan’s face in his hands, would lean in to kiss him, would pour every bit of the depth of his regard— his feelings for Lan Zhan— into the kiss. If this was another world, this would be when Wei Wuxian buried his hand in Lan Zhan soft hair, and murmured it’s you, it’s you, it’s always been you against his lips. But this is not another world.
“I should… get these herbs to Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian says after a long moment.
Lan Zhan inclines his head once again. It is an acknowledgement that goes deeper than words.
When Wei Wuxian enters the room where they had settled Wen Ning, he sees clean white bandages in place of the gaping wound that was gushing blood. Wen Ning is asleep, though Wei Wuxian cannot tell if it is a natural sleep, or if Wen Qing has sedated him. Wen Qing herself is at her brother’s bedside, holding a clean roll of bandages. Most surprisingly, Jin Zixuan is there, kneeling in front of Wen Qing.
“— my clan has done you and your family great wrong, and I would apologize on their behalf,” he is saying to Wen Qing.
“Young Master Jin, right now, you are the only Jin I trust was not complicit in the cruelties my family suffered,” Wen Qing says.
“Be that as it may, from what I know of my clan, you will not receive an apology from the ones responsible. I ask, Lady Wen, that you allow me to help make up for their transgressions. You are in no way obligated to offer forgiveness or even accept my apology, but I would be remiss in not offering one.”
Wen Qing looks at him sharply, coolly assessing, then nods slightly. “Young Master Jin, I fear you are right about that,” she says. “I cannot forgive your sect, but you have helped us. Thank you for your apology.” She watches Jin Zixuan nod. “Now please get up, we both have other things to do.”
As Jin Zixuan scrambles to his feet, Wei Wuxian feels an unbidden affection for him. Jin Zixuan has been dispelling Wei Wuxian’s reservations against him since they first got married, but this is on another level altogether. To see Jin Zixuan willingly admit to his sect’s mistakes, to see him apologize for something that he was not involved in merely because an apology is warranted from someone— it shows Wei Wuxian exactly how much of a good person Jin Zixuan is. He is suddenly immensely grateful for this marriage, for what it has shown him of Jin Zixuan’s character. A part of him still wishes it hadn’t happened, of course— the part of him that wants his shijie and Jin Zixuan to find happiness in one another, the part of him that yearns for Lan Zhan— but he is glad for it, for the support and power that comes with it, and for the relationship he has built with Jin Zixuan.
When Wen Qing and Jin Zixuan notice Wei Wuxian’s arrival, Jin Zixuan immediately takes his leave, informing them that he is going to be checking on the overseers who have been confined to separate rooms, each secured completely. Wen Qing, on the other hand, takes the opportunity to beckon Wei Wuxian towards her so he can hand over the herbs. As they cross paths, Wei Wuxian can’t help but reach out and grab Jin Zixuan’s sleeve, stopping him in his tracks.
“A-Xuan,” he says quietly, using the name in all sincerity for the first time, “Thank you for everything.”
Jin Zixuan smiles at him, though there is still a certain grimness in his face. “I’m glad I found out about this,” he says. “I’m glad I could help.”
They exchange nods before parting ways, an acknowledgement that they both understand, and Wei Wuxian loses himself in the comfortable cadence of Wen Qing’s voice as she guides him through helping her prepare the herbs. He offers to help her as she makes the rounds, treating the others— help that she gladly accepts— and further loses himself in the repetitive motions of cleaning wounds and rubbing newly made herbal pastes on them. He catalogues the way the Wens flinch when he moves his hands a certain way or speaks in a certain tone of voice and has to fight not to react to anything.
As he works, Wei Wuxian makes a silent promise to himself that whatever happens when they get to Lanling to confront the Jins, he will ensure that Jin Zixuan becomes the sect leader. There is no one else he would trust with the leadership of the sect.
Once Wen Qing is finished, she goes to bed, sharing a room with her brother— partly because his injuries may need monitoring in the middle of the night (or early dawn, as it is already close to morning when she goes to bed), and partly because she does not want to be apart from him any more than she already has. There are many free rooms left that Wei Wuxian could choose to rest in, but the prospect of sleeping in a cold, empty, unfamiliar room tonight of all nights is not particularly appealing. Embarrassingly, he has gotten used to the presence of another while he sleeps, and after the turmoils of the day, he doesn’t want to sleep alone.
After he bids Wen Qing a good night, he goes downstairs to the inn instead, hoping that a drink would lull him into sleep quicker. Unfortunately for him, the innkeeper is not there— presumably having gone to bed himself. Lan Zhan and Jin Zixuan are there though, sharing a table, both equally vigilant, neither saying a word. Wei Wuxian has to hold back a laugh at the picture they make— his husband and the man he loves, sitting together in silence.
Wei Wuxian makes his way towards them and throws himself into one of the empty places at the table. He props his chin up with his hand, which in turn rests on his knee, his posture meeting most of the requirements of sprawling, which he is sure is offensive to Lan Zhan’s delicate sensibilities, even if the man doesn’t say anything about it.
“Not going to bed?” he asks, directing his question at both of them.
“Someone needs to keep watch,” Jin Zixuan says.
“Mn,” Lan Zhan concurs.
Wei Wuxian sighs, then leans heavily on the table. Both Lan Zhan and Jin Zixuan send worried glances towards him, then their eyes meet, and they both look away quickly, pretending they were not just doing the same thing. Wei Wuxian nearly laughs out loud, but he doesn’t have the energy for it, so he just huffs in amusement instead.
“Great, now both of you are going to be badgering me about my health, aren't you?” he pouts exaggeratedly. “Ganging up on poor old me, so unfair!”
“Wei Ying should sleep,” Lan Zhan says, placid and unaffected by Wei Wuxian’s whiny tone.
“I agree,” Jin Zixuan says, with a particularly amused glint in his eyes that makes Wei Wuxian uneasy about what is to come. “We all know what happens when you get too tired, hmm?”
The nerve of that—
“Peacock, I told you to never bring that up again!” he hisses through clenched teeth, begging for Lan Zhan to not ask what they’re talking about. He may act shameless, but even he cannot look Lan Zhan in the eye and say ‘sometimes when I have nightmares, I think of you to comfort myself’. He absolutely cannot! How dare his annoying husband bring that up?
“I take back every nice thing I said about you,” Wei Wuxian whispers angrily to Jin Zixuan. “And all of the nice things I thought about you too.”
“Oh, so you think nice things about me?” the infuriating man asks.
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian turns the full weight of his pout on Lan Zhan instead. “Are you just going to let Jin Zixuan bully me like this? Didn’t you say you would help me?”
“Young Master Jin is merely worried about Wei Ying’s health,” Lan Zhan replies nonchalantly, as though he isn’t betraying Wei Wuxian. “It is a concern I share.”
“Seriously,” Jin Zixuan adds. “The two of us have been sitting here all night while you’ve been running around helping Lady Wen. You definitely need to rest.”
Wei Wuxian has learnt that Lan Zhan is, by nature, prone to jealousy. He had hoped earlier that it wouldn’t cause any awkwardness with Jin Zixuan—because truly, there were absolutely no romantic feelings between him and Jin Zixuan— but seeing the two of them teaming up against him this way, he thinks he would have preferred it if they had gotten into a fistfight over him. How unexpected and unfair of them to join forces this way!
He does have to admit they might have a point. He does feel tired, and well… he wouldn’t mind sleeping here. He trusts them, both of them, enough to let his guard down and fall asleep around them. As much as he hates to give in, they’re not wrong about how drained he is. Especially given that he doesn't have a golden core, even if neither of them knows that. He glares at both of them, but he can’t keep it up too long. He sighs and slumps into his seat, leaning fully over the table, laying his head on it.
“I’ll sleep,” he huffs, “but not because either of you told me to.”
“Of course not,” Jin Zixuan snorts.
“Sleep well, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, the traitor.
He falls asleep embarrassingly quickly, almost as soon as he closes his eyes. As he drifts off, Wei Wuxian feels gentle fingers running through his hair. That feels nice, he thinks, before falling into a blissfully and surprisingly dreamless sleep.
They have to travel slowly, to account for the injured and the elderly. It is particularly dangerous for Wen Ning to travel so soon after such a major injury, but it can’t be helped— it is not safe for them to stay here any longer, and once the Jins find out that the camp at Qiongqi Path was emptied, they would start searching for the Wens immediately. So they take it slow, make sure not to push anyone past their limits. It is quite a harsh journey, especially for people who have been practically starving for months now— two days of eating regularly is certainly not enough to make up for that.
Wei Wuxian, Lan Zhan, and Jin Zixuan switch positions in shifts, always ensuring that both the front and the back of the group are protected. They draw some odd looks from people as they pass, but no one outright questions them, which is a small consolation. It is also promising that there aren’t any cultivators in the towns they pass— it seems the Jin sect is yet to discover their missing prisoners. It is truly a wonder to Wei Wuxian at first that no one has come looking for the missing Jin heir, but Jin Zixuan explains that he made their excuses quite thoroughly before he came, some story about a night hunt on the edge of their territory which needed two incredibly strong cultivators.
Travelling at a sedate pace, the group manages to arrive at Lanling when the banquet is right about to begin at Koi Tower. The plan, so far, has been to interrupt the banquet— it is the only way to ensure this information comes to light. The point of contention is whether the Wen remnants should come into the banquet hall or not.
On one hand, seeing what the overseers had done might be better to convince the sects of the inhumane treatment the Wens had faced. It would be impossible for the Jin sect to sweep it under the rug if every sect leader saw the situation for themselves. On the other hand, Wen Qing is doubtful about whether anyone would sympathize with the Wens. Lan Zhan is convinced that his brother would not stand for this treatment, especially if he knows that the camp had held civilians. Wei Wuxian would like to think that the sects would be outraged at the thought of a child in a place like Qiongqi Path— if not because they are morally opposed to it, then at least because the optics of the situation would be horrible. Of course, there is also the worry that if they simply leave the Wens in Lanling, they might be rounded up and imprisoned once again, though that might also happen if they enter Koi Tower.
They discuss it at great length, but in the end, the advantages of bringing the Wens with them outweigh the disadvantages.
In the end, that is how it goes.
It turns out, a missing heir is not enough to prevent Jin Guangshan from getting into the mood for a celebration, even if said heir is missing along with a notorious demonic cultivator who has been blackmailed into marrying him. Certainly, night hunt or not, potential for covert assassination or not, having his son miss such an important political event should bother him, but he seems not to care, to a degree that baffles Wei Wuxian. Is Jin Guangshan setting his son up to fail as a sect leader? How would that benefit him if Jin Zixuan took the role after his death? Is he grooming someone else in the line of succession to take over for him? It’s a puzzle Wei Wuxian resolves to solve once the matter at hand is dealt with. The one benefit Jin Guangshan’s attitude has is that it takes quite a while for them to be noticed. Most of the staff has been relocated to the banquet hall— only a few guards are around to notice their entrance.
As they enter Koi Tower, the sound of music and chatter fills the air. It paints a stark contrast to the somber, dark air around the new arrivals. The guards they encounter seem to notice this, and confusedly try to hold them back, trying to figure out what is going on, before Jin Zixuan coldly dismisses them. One or two try to go and warn the banquet attendees, but are stopped by the Lan Silencing Spell, and three glares levelled their way. Many of the guards simply freeze in terror and allow them to pass without meeting their eyes, which frankly makes Wei Wuxian worry for Jin Zixuan— he needs to have less cowardly guards when he becomes sect leader, ones who won’t cower and give in when faced with a set of— admittedly impressive— glares.
They only needed to go unnoticed until they got to the banquet. Once they were actually there, they needed to get everyone’s attention, and Wei Wuxian has designed a sufficiently dramatic entrance for this very purpose. When they reach the doors of the banquet hall, Wei Wuxian doesn’t stop or slow down. He simply pulls a talisman out and flings it towards the doors, not even changing his pace. The talisman slams against the massive double doors, firmly attaching to them. With a snap of Wei Wuxian's fingers, the doors bang open, and the sounds of the banquet are replaced by a hushed silence, as all eyes turn to look in the direction of the sound.
Wei Wuxian storms forward, one hand wrapped tightly around Chenqing, ignoring the questioning looks and outraged expressions from the sect leaders he passes. A few steps behind him, Jin Zixuan and Lan Zhan enter, each with their hands resting on the hilts of their swords, the overseers of the prison camp in between them— chained so that they cannot escape. Following the three of them is an entire group of Wens, staggering slightly with the effort of travel and walking. Wen Qing and one of her uncles are supporting Wen Ning between them— Wen Ning who is barely conscious. At the very front of the group is Granny Wen, who holds A-Yuan in her arms.
Every eye is on them as Wei Wuxian comes to a stop right before where Jin Guangshan sits. Before the man can demand an explanation, Wei Wuxian speaks. The hall is so hushed that even his quiet voice carries through it.
“Sect Leader Jin,” he says, his voice dangerous and menacing, his eyes cold and hard. “You have a lot of explaining to do.”
Jin Guangshan’s face is slowly turning red. He goes to open his mouth, to say something about Wei Wuxian acting inappropriately, perhaps, when he is interrupted by his own son.
“Yes, father,” Jin Zixuan says from behind Wei Wuxian, looking and sounding equally displeased. “You certainly do.”