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Time Loop

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Nie Mingjue opened his eyes in the morning and sat up with a yawn, mind already racing ahead to his tasks for the day: getting in some morning saber practice, working on a giant pile of sect business and even more giant pile of work related to the war, making time to write a letter scolding Nie Huaisang (for what, yet to be determined, but inevitable – if he didn’t, Nie Huaisang would complain of neglect), trying to find a replacement deputy (or seven) to do the work Meng Yao did now that he’d headed off to the Jin sect…

There was a lot to do, and even less time to do it in – and moping about it would only make it build up even more. Nie Mingjue sighed and swung his legs to the side, intending to get up and get started right away.

He stopped as soon as he saw the calendar on his desk.

It was the wrong date.

Now, there were two possible reasons for this. The first was, of course, that he’d simply forgotten to mark the day as completed on his calendar yesterday evening, even though that was generally the very last thing he did before bed and longstanding habit had trained him to have trouble falling asleep if he didn’t do it.

They said forgetfulness was one of the first signs of mental decline.

Easy enough to check, though.

He got up and walked to the tent door, cracking it open. “Hey, you,” Nie Mingjue said to one of the guards going by on patrol. “Where’s Meng Yao?”

“I believe at this hour, Viceroy Meng would be checking over the supplies,” the guard said. “Would you like me to call him?”

“Mm,” Nie Mingjue said, because that wasn’t definitive; the guard didn’t know for certain, and he might just be making an assumption based on past precedent. “What about Lan Xichen?”

“Sect Leader Lan hasn’t yet arrived – I believe he’s due in for later today, closer to noon. Did you want –”

“No, I don’t want anything,” Nie Mingjue said, deeply relieved to have identified that he had not, in fact, forgotten to fill out his calendar. “I’m stuck in a time loop.”

“…ah,” the guard said, looking taken aback – he must be new to Qinghe, like many of the cultivators in the army. Like Meng Yao, for that matter. “Is that…bad?”

“No, it’s fantastic. I’m going back to sleep. No one is to bother me all day.”

“But – Sect Leader Lan –”

“Meng Yao can host him,” Nie Mingjue decided. He’d write out Meng Yao’s recommendation letter, put a big red mark on the calendar right now just to make sure he didn’t forget, and go back to sleep for the entire day like he hadn’t done in what must be literal years. “Like I said: don’t bother me.”

-

Nie Mingjue opened his eyes in the morning and sat up with a yawn. He looked at his calendar.

No big red mark.

Fantastic,” he said, and went back to bed.

-

He slept for four days.

-

“Sect Leader Nie?” Meng Yao said, poking his head in. “Sect Leader Lan is – I’m sorry, are you painting?”

“I haven’t had time for it in ages,” Nie Mingjue said, scowling at the paper. “You know, I thought he was just trying to get out of practice, but actually Huaisang’s right. It really does require quite a lot of dexterity.”

Meng Yao opened his mouth, then closed it again.

After a few more moments, he asked, voice very cautious, “Are you painting a battlefield map?”

Nie Mingjue stopped, appalled. “Is that what it looks like?” he asked. “I was trying for a beaver. You know, the small furry swimming mammal from Xinjiang.”

“No, it looks like a beaver,” Meng Yao said, though now Nie Mingjue wasn’t sure if he believed him or not. “I just thought it might be some sort of – code. Maybe.”

Nie Mingjue conceded that this made sense, given what he was normally like. “No, no code,” he said. “Just a beaver. Thought it’d make for a funny fan painting to give to Huaisang.”

“I see,” Meng Yao said, and seemed to struggle internally for a moment.

“Is this about Xichen’s visit?” Nie Mingjue asked. “You can just show him around yourself if you like. I’ll see him tomorrow, should it ever come.”

“…right,” Meng Yao said. “I’ll – do that.”

“If you want a recommendation to leave to join the Jin sect, you can pick it up on the desk on your way out,” Nie Mingjue said, already turning back to his painting. “Have fun, good luck, kill Wen-dogs. The usual.”

Meng Yao didn’t say anything, just bowed. His expression was very strange.

-

Turned out that painting was a lot harder to accomplish when your supposed ‘friends’ kept trying to spring unwanted and unnecessary medical interventions on you.

Ugh.

-

Actually, that Song of Clarity shit from round 13 seemed really helpful? He’d have to look more into that.

-

Apparently, reading novels was even more concerning than painting.

What, like he wasn’t allowed to have hobbies? What else were time loops for if not to catch a break, damnit?

-

“Oh all right,” Nie Mingjue said, holding up his hands in surrender. “I’ll fix the time loop.”

“You’d better,” Nie Huaisang said, rubbing his eyes and yawning. “What in the world did you do to freak them out at the crack of dawn such that they flew all the way to get me and back before it reset?”

“Uh,” Nie Mingjue said. “Nothing.”

“Did it involve sex?”

“No comment.”

“Did you forget that they’d reset when you woke up?”

No comment.”

“Just fix the damn time loop, da-ge.”

“That sounds like someone who is not getting a beaver fan.”

“…beaver? Fan? For me? Wait, did you paint it? Da-ge! I want it! No, don’t go to sleep, I want to keep -”

-

“Please sit down,” Nie Mingjue said to Lan Xichen and Meng Yao. “I’m going to need your help on a strategic question of great importance.”

“Anything we can do to help, of course,” Lan Xichen said, and Meng Yao nodded.

“I’m always at your service, Sect Leader,” he said.

“Good,” Nie Mingjue said. “Now – what do you know about time loops?”

-

It took about five days, but he finally managed to figure out how to word the explanation so that it only took as long as a cup of tea to explain and got them to believe him without immediately deciding that he was insane. At that point, they were able to finally start seriously brainstorming solutions.

“We just need to figure out what it is that went wrong and fix it?” Meng Yao asked, sounding dubious. “What is considered ‘wrong’ in this context?”

“Things resulting in massive amounts of death, usually? Sometimes your own.” Nie Mingjue shrugged. “It’s a matter of fate, a natural opportunity to avert disaster; you only encounter one when you’re very lucky. Otherwise do you think my father would’ve died the way he did?”

“…an excellent point,” Lan Xichen said, grimacing. “Very well, let’s make a list of all the things you did, play out the possible consequences to see which ones could potentially result in disaster, and then you can try to change them one at a time.”

“Worth a shot,” Nie Mingjue said.

-

“Good morning, Sect Leader,” Meng Yao said, saluting. “What do you need me for this early? Sect Leader Lan has not yet arrived.”

“I need to talk to you about your future,” Nie Mingjue said. “And what you hope to get out of it.”

Meng Yao straightened his back and blinked owlishly, looking wary. “What do you mean, Sect Leader?”

“You want to go rejoin the Jin sect, don’t you? To earn a position with your father?”

Meng Yao blanched. “Sect Leader –”

“It’s a perfectly reasonable ambition to have,” Nie Mingjue assured him. “Unfortunately, I don’t think a letter of recommendation from me will cut it. I’m too young, and one of his rivals; Jin Guangshan doesn’t give me face – and what will you do if he sidelines you and puts you under someone awful to suppress all your achievements? Wouldn’t it be as good as throwing away your life, ruining your best chance for success?”

Meng Yao frowned. Nie Mingjue was pleased to see it was having an impact: he’d consulted Meng Yao the day before on precisely what wording to use, since his own versions were having no luck.

“I have no objection to your ultimate goal,” Nie Mingjue said. “But we’re going to need to be a bit more clever about it. When Xichen gets here, we’ll put our heads together and think about what we can do to make it impossible for your father to reject you. How does that sound?”

Meng Yao swallowed. “Thank you, Sect Leader,” he said, his voice low and sounding, if anything, a little touched. “I – appreciate it.”

“Good,” Nie Mingjue said, and put a red mark on his calendar. “Also, there’s another issue to discuss involving yourself and Xichen –”

-

Nie Mingjue opened his eyes in the morning and sat up with a yawn. He looked at his calendar.

There was a big red mark.

“Oh good,” he said, and turned around and laid back down.

“What’s good?” Lan Xichen muttered into his collarbone. “Mmm, A-Jue, no, don’t lie down. It’s time to get up.”

“It is not,” Meng Yao said from the other side. “It’s time to sleep in.”

“Listen to Meng Yao,” Nie Mingjue said, settling his arms around him. “The world can wait a little more.”

“It really can’t, though,” Meng Yao said with a sigh, rubbing his eyes and starting to sit up, which was obviously the wrong move. “We’re in the middle of a war, and we all have important things to do today.”

“That’s true,” Nie Mingjue said, a little reluctantly. “I owe Huaisang a beaver.”

Meng Yao blinked.

Lan Xichen blinked.

“…it’s a long story.”