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In Mystery Our Soul Abides

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Jiang Cheng has always had a passion for otome games. No one knew, of course, because it would've been way too embarrassing to admit that out loud but he really enjoyed them. He was nothing but a hopeless romantic: the stories, even the most boring and plain one, captivated him and he often found himself glued to the screen, unable to tear his eyes off the game he was playing.

He was currently on the last route of “Flower magic! Choose your flowery path!”. A cheesy title for a cheesy story.

The MC was called Lan Xichen, a gentleman who was secluded into his home for 20 years because of an illness. At the ball, held in occasion of him finally overcoming this mysterious disease, he met all his different love interests. It was an interesting game; not all of the route involved romantic feelings, such as Lan Wangji's one which was about reconnecting and mending their relationship as a family, and there were also many bad endings.

Jiang Cheng died, many times, and it was all his fault. The bane of his existence, the evil, cruel and wicked Jiang Wanyin.

He was the crown prince's fiance, Lan Wangji's enemy, Wei Wuxian's childhood friend and so on. He always meddled with Lan Xichen's affairs, always plotting against him and ruining the sweetest moments. He was so irritating, one time Jiang Cheng thought about smashing his phone because of the nth bad ending caused by him.

Still, he had to give it to the developers of the game. They created truly an insufferable character.

Jiang Cheng smiled happily as he saw “good ending” written on his screen. He finally finished the game and managed to get all the good endings for all the different main leads. He was about to exit the game when a notification popped up:

Do you want to play the secret route?
[Yes] [No]

He never heard of a secret route. None of the forums or pages he followed ever mentioned something about another game. Perhaps, they couldn't? Shaking his head, he scoffed and looked at the clock. It was only 5pm, he definitely had time to play a little more.

[Yes]

He was expecting the same intro, the same prologue and course of events he already played a billion of times. Without paying too much attention, he tapped on the screen.

“You're late. Again.” my father said. Funny. He never cared about it before, why now?

His brows furrowed. Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji were orphans. Was this set in the past?

“Apologies.” I muttered. I wasn't really sorry and, by the hateful look I received, he probably knew it too. Oh, well. Nothing new.

“Good evening, father. Wanyin.” my sister came in right after that, late as well.

No one reprimanded her. Of course.

He read that line again. Wanyin? Why would the developers make a route about the most annoying villain in all history? It didn't really make sense.
He thought about quitting the game since he didn't really care about Wanyin anyway but he was still... interested. He was easy to hate but he was also a very well written character. Deep down, he was curious about this Wanyin. Why was he so evil? What made him into the monster he was in the normal game?

So, he pressed next and kept reading the new prologue.

-

Intense. That was what Jiang Cheng would use if someone asked him to describe Jiang Wanyin's life. Resented by his father since the minute he was born, lost his mother when he was barely a toddler and had the responsibility of the Jiang dukedom since he was barely 10. Too busy to make friends with other nobels, he only had his fiance Nie Mingjue whom he hopelessly loved, even if it was unrequited. He fought a war when he was only 17 and then Wei Wuxian, his only friend, betrayed him and flee with the enemy.

Resentment. Anger. Grief. That was all Jiang Wanyin knew, that was all he had.

Even if he was unforgivable, his actions were understandable. The feeling of numbness, the loneliness, the fear of being alone in the world, screaming for help as people turn their back on you. Jiang Cheng knew them as well.

He took a deep breath. It's just a game, no need to get this involved.

But, he had to admit, this route helped him appreciate Wanyin's character more. He was not perfect like Lan Xichen, he was far from being righteous like Lan Wangji or Wei Wuxian – but he was human, maybe the most human and realistic character in the whole story. He had flaws, many flaws and issues, but he also had a big heart. He loved, he loved so much, and hid it in silence and coldness.

Misunderstood. He was misunderstood. Jiang Cheng whised he could get inside the game and give Wanyin a big hug. It was such a dumb thought but it was still oddly comforting.

Jiang Cheng sighed. Well. It's not like it was possible for him to help Wanyin.

-

“Young master Jiang, the Duke is asking for you.”

Jiang Cheng opened one eye, ready to shout at whoever interrupted his dream. The man only scoffed as he left the room, slamming the door.

Jiang Cheng recoiled.

There was a man in my room!?

He jolted awake, getting out of bed as fast as he could. Wait – that was not his room. He looked around. A big canopy bed, a desk with many books and a quill on it. That was definitely not the room of a college student like him.

He opened one door, panting. There it was. A mirror. And – this was not happening. Impossible. He was still dreaming, of course, that must be it! There was not way that was real because the person reflected in the mirror wasn't him, but Jiang Wanyin. The villain of “Flower Magic”.

It looked so real. But it must've been a dream, right?

“Young master Jiang. Don't make me repeat myself again. The Duke is asking for you. If I get reprimanded, I won't serve you food for a week.”

Jiang Cheng shivered. It was a dream but it felt so real, he was actually shaking in fear. His body trembled as he stepped out of the room only to be greeted with the most hateful pair of eyes.

That was – butler Su She.

“Young master Jiang is not even dressed!” the man growled “Please, make it quick. I don't want to wait for you.”

Why was a mere butler talking to him like that? Was he not afraid of dying?
Still, he decided to get dressed quickly and follow him. He didn't have the time to elaborate what just happened to him – he had to survive this, dream or not.

“Duke Jiang.” the butler bowed at the sight of Jiang Fengmian. Jiang Cheng cringed; what a change of attitude. “Here's young master Jiang. Would you like me to brew you some tea?”

Jiang Fengmian simply nodded and butler Su left. The Duke's gaze fell on his son; he was adverting his eyes but was still looking at him coldly. He nodded towards the chair.

“Sit.”

Jiang Cheng cleared his throat, not knowing what to do. How was he supposed to talk to a duke!? He knew nothing about courtly manners – the setting was confusing too since it was a weird mix of old european and ancient Chinese culture. Lazy writers, he thought.

“Tomorrow Jin Zixuan will come here to visit A-Li. Do not cause problems.” he simply said, still not looking at him.

Before he could say anything, the butler came back with the tea. Jiang Fengmian took his cup, gently blowing on it. Jiang Cheng took his as well. He tried to sniff it but the smell almost made him gag. He looked at the cup – that was not tea.

He opened his mouth to say something but nothing came out. Scared, he looked around until he heard a little ding of a notification.

1. drink the weird tea and spit it on the butler's face
2. drink the tea in silence
3. throw a tantrum

So. It was really like the game. He mentally sighed before picking option number two. He knew from experience that the other two options wouldn't help him: in the game, when he chose the first option, Wanyin was punished gravely and when he chose the number three, Wanyin was throw out from the dukedom. This game was way too cruel.

He looked at the tea, cursing whoever created this damned game in his head. He brought the cup to his lips and started to drink. It was disgusting. His throat was aflame and he had to swallow his bile more than once. Still he stubbornly drank it. Butler Su looked at him like he was a ghost, definitely expecting young master Jiang to throw a tantrum and make a fool out of himself.

Unfortunately for him, Jiang Cheng played almost all of the game beforehand. He wasn't going to get a bad ending so easily.

As soon as he finished it, he started to cough as his whole body rebelled against that “tea”. The duke was almost concerned, his hand lingering in the air as if he was contemplating about helping his own son or not. Then, his hand settled on his lap again.

“Go get him some water. Quick.” he order. The butler simply nodded before disappearing. Jiang Cheng wasn't coughing anymore but he had to suppress a gag or two and his throat and stomach were begging for mercy.

“Can't even drink tea anymore.” the Duke commented. “Don't make a fool out of yourself in front of young master Jin tomorrow.”

Jiang Cheng could only nod.

-

Days passed, nothing much happened. Jiang Cheng was sure that was not a dream anymore – for whatever reason, he was now part of the game.

Whatever deity was in heaven, it probably hated him. Maybe it was even laughing, looking at his struggles in this new world.

He wanted freedom. All he could do was nod and walk in the mansion. He couldn't say what he wanted and even his choices were limited, almost nonexistent. All of his conversations were almost one-sided. Well, not that there were many people that wanted to talk to him. He greeted Jin Zixuan when he came to visit but that was it.

Strolling down the hallway, a shout pulled him out of his thoughts.

“Jiang Yanli!”

He froze. That was the voice of the duke. A memory rapidly flashed trough his mind; he knew exactly what was coming. Yanli sneaked out of the house during the night and a guard caught her. In the original story, Wanyin only made it worse for her, by saying she confided to him that she was off to meet a lover. That made their father so mad he put her on probation until her wedding with Zixuan.

He didn't want to interfere. His goal for now was to survive and get back to his world. If he didn't interfere and talk, maybe they'd leave him alone and he could, perhaps, not be the villain.

[Special Mission!] Young Lotus

He looked at the notification with distrust. That didn't happen in the story.

Help your family resolve their issue.
Reward: OOC
[Accept] [Decline]

Jiang Cheng mentally gasped. That was his ticket for his freedom. Without thinking twice, he pushed the button “accept”.

Instantly, he started to walk towards the pair.

Jiang Yanli's eyes shone with unshed tears, her limbs trembling while her father was towering over her, fuming.

“Wanyin.” she called him. He nodded towards her, waiting for the duke to acknowledge him. The man scoffed.

“Do you know something about what your sister did, Jiang Wanyin?” he asked, his voice dangerously low.

Jiang Cheng looked up at his option.

1) “Yes, father. She sneaked out with a man!”
2) “I couldn't care less about what this person is doing”
3) “Father, it was my fault”

Jiang Cheng internally cringed. They were all terrible choices. Carefully he pushed on the third option. Almost immediately, he felt some kind of force pulling him on the his knees. Two pair of eyes were looking at him in disbelief but he couldn't see them as his head was forced to look on the ground. Then – “Father, it was my fault.”

He heard the soft gasp that escaped Yanli's mouth and the low growl the duke emitted but most importantly, he heard a robotic voice: Congratulation on unlocking your first reward! You have unlocked OOC. Use it wisely, player #5!

Immediately, he tried to move one of his hands. He smiled. Finally, he could do what he wanted.

The Duke's voice pulled him out of his thoughts. “How come?” he asked.

Jiang Cheng gulped. He didn't think this trough.

“Father, I-” he started, trying to gather his thoughts. Perhaps having options was helpful. “I told her I wanted a hairpin I saw at the market. She only did it because I asked her. Please don't punish her.”

He didn't have the options anymore but he still new the story and, most importantly, he knew the characters. Jiang Yanli was a sweet girl and she was one of the few people who actually cared about Wanyin – that is, before he became a total douche to her too.

He felt a hand pull him by the collar of his shirt. “Stand up. You're a noble, not a peasant.”

Then – a slap. “Don't you dare ask for something again! Ungrateful child! Don't you have enough hairpins already? Did you had to bother your poor sister like that? You'll be on probation until I say so.”

And with that, he left.

Jiang Cheng was trembling, scared. He sounded just like – no. He never killed Wanyin. Never. Ever. But the story could change, right? What if –

He felt a hand on his back, caressing him soothingly. It was odd but warm and comforting. He looked up only to see Yanli smiling at him, her face stained with tears.

“Thank you, A-Yin.” she whispered.

He simply nodded, wondering if the real Jiang Wanyin also yearned for his sister's warm touch.

-

Nie Mingjue: crown prince, kind of a douche, hates JWY. Killed JWY in five different endings. Has a lover, apparently? Idk

Nie Huaisang: second prince, liar. DO NOT BEFRIEND. Killed JWY is two different endings. STAY AWAY.

Wei Wuxian: childhood friend, skilled swordsman. Killed JWY in three different endings.

Lan Wangji: royal guard, hates JWY. Killed JWY in eleven (!!!) different endings.

Lan Xichen: main lead. Never killed JWY with his own hands.

Wen Qinq: enemy, doctor. Killed JWY in one ending.

Wen Ning: enemy, nurse. Killed JWY in one ending.

Jin Zixuan: sister's fiancè, hates JWY. Killed JWY in two endings.

Jiang Yanli: sister. Never killed JWY.

He put the quill down and sighed. Well. He was fucked. Chills ran trough his spine as his eyes fell on Lan Wangji's name. Eleven times. He killed Wanyin in eleven different endings. He should definitely stay away from him.

Then, what should he do to stay alive? If he treated Yanli kindly, he could avoid his fiance's rage. But he couldn't really avoid everyone else, could he? He'd have to stay away from the palace. As royal consort –

Jiang Cheng stilled, an idea forming in his head. Jiang Wanyin never helped his sister in the game, meaning that he didn't have to exactly follow the game's rules. He didn't have to be a royal consort, or anyone's consort.

He took a new sheet of paper and re-inked the quill.

Dear Crown Prince,

He sighed. Maybe that was not the best way to address him. He crumpled the letter and started again.

Your Highness,

I'm asking to please grant annulment of our engagement.

Best regards,
Jiang Wanyin.

That could work. Straight to the point. In the worst case scenario, he'd get beheaded. He sighed again. He still had do try.

“Su She.” he called.

To his surprise, the butler actually answered and came in. He took the letter and bowed politely, not making eye contact with Jiang Cheng. He tilted his head, confused but shrugged it off. Butler Su being weird was the last of his concerns.

-

Dear crown prince whom I hold in the highest regards,

isn't it such a good day? Summer is finally coming. So I sincerely ask to call off our engagement.

Jiang Wanyin.

-

Crown prince Nie Mingjue,

annul the engagement.

-

Your Highness,

the engagement. Annul it.

-

Jiang Cheng almost growled. He had been sending letters to the crown prince for two months now and still no reply. He bit his nail, gaining a worried look from his sister who was there to send him off.

Why the fuck was Nie Mingjue not answering him!? Did he hate him that much that he couldn't even bear to open a letter from his betrothed?

He got into the carriage, Su She jogging behind him. “Young master, are you sure? It doesn't seem safe to-”

The butler stopped talking after seeing the furious gaze of his master. Jiang Cheng didn't care much about the butler at first; he started to treat him kindly after the whole tea fiasco, probably because he was feeling guilty, and as much as Jiang Cheng didn't want to trust him, he had to admit he was pretty useful.

Still, he had to call off the engagement no matter what Su She thought.

A pair of royal guards greeted him at the gate. The worried look they exchanged didn't go unnoticed by the young heir but he simply scoffed. The two guards didn't say anything and simply accompanied him to Mingjue's room. He opened the door, not bothering to knock. Su She stayed outside, dutifully waiting for his master.

A voice: “Ah, da-ge~”

Jiang Cheng's eyes twitched. Ah. So that was the reason he didn't answer.

The couple didn't even notice him. Mingjue was shirtless, hugging the woman from behind and snuggling in the crook of her neck. She giggled, throwing her head back and resting it on his shoulder.

Jiang Cheng had to admit it. They looked good together. But wasn't flirting with another woman in front of your fiance a little too much?

He cleared his throat. Mingjue looked at him.

“Jiang Wanyin.” he nodded, still not letting go of the woman.

That was no news for poor Wanyin.

Mingjue was known for his many lovers and his hatred for his fiancè. Many times Wanyin had to watch his beloved have fun with other people, right in front of him. Wanyin, on the other hand, was known to get angry at his fiance's lovers and fought them countless times. Such a childish act, both of them.

Jiang Cheng clenched his jaw. I am not Wanyin.

“How dare you stay with another woman right in front of me?” he shouted “We are engaged! You're cheating on me and you're not even trying to hide it.”

Mingjue stood up, clearly not knowing what to do. He was used to see Wanyin's anger but usually it was not directed towards him.

Jiang Cheng furrowed his brows. “At least dress up, you're the crown prince, for fuck's sake!”

The prince and the woman actually tried to dress up and collect themselves.

Jiang Cheng tapped his foot furiously on the floor, trying to hold his anger. He couldn't make a scene – that would just help him get a bad ending faster.

“Why are you here, young master Jiang?” Mingjue asked, looking bored. Jiang Cheng wanted to strangle him. And to think he was one of his favorite characters in the game – ! Such a shame he was actually an asshole.

“Didn't you read my letters?” he barked. He cleared his throat, trying to calm himself and then spoke kindly: “I'm here to ask you to cancel our engagement, Your Highness.”

“No!” Mingjue shouted. The woman looked at him, shocked.

Jiang Cheng cocked an eyebrow and smirked.

“No? But you clearly don't like me.” he pointed at the woman, who squirmed under his gaze “So why not make all of us a favor and cancel our engagement?”

Mingjue seemed to think about it. “No.” he repeated “I won't cancel it.”

Jiang Cheng was growing impatient. Why was Mingjue being so difficult?

“And why” he accentuated every word “can't you, if I may ask?”

“You love me.” he said, shrugging.

Jiang Cheng took the candlestick off the table and threw it at him.

He blinked. Oh, he didn't actually do it. He only imagined it. Such a pity.

Jiang Wanyin loved him. For whatever twisted reason, Wanyin actually loved the dude and was heartbroken when their engagement was canceled because of Lan Xichen. But Jiang Cheng? He didn't love him, pretty much the opposite.

“I don't.” he deadpanned.

Mingjue looked a little lost but he regained composure quickly as he sat on the sofa, near the woman. “You do.”

“No, I don't.”

Mingjue shuddered. “You told me!” he accused.

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes. “That was some time ago. I loved you, but now I don't love you anymore. Cancel the engagement.”

Mingjue blinked a few times. “You don't?”

“No.” Jiang Cheng sighed. He was getting tired. Not only he was a shameless bastard, he was also dumb. “I don't love you anymore, Nie Mingjue. Call off the engagement.”

The prince stayed silent, not knowing what to do. He thought – well, Wanyin was always so insistent, so clingy, wasn't he supposed to stay in love with him forever?

“Look.” the other man's voice made him snap out of his thoughts “I'm sure you can find someone else. Don't worry about me – my father will take care of finding me another suitor. Or not. Doesn't matter.”

He took a step forward, moving closer to the couple. The woman trembled, clearly uncomfortable.

“You could marry Lady...?”

“Xuan Ji.” she whispered.

Jiang Cheng clasped his hands together. “Lady Xuan Ji! Doesn't that sound nice?”

“I don't understand.” Mingjue said. Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes again, holding back an insult.

Clearly you don't understand, he thought, you overgrown cucumber.

“You have been sleeping with other people all this time!” he snapped, not holding back anymore. He didn't even know why he was feeling so vicious, it's not like he cared about what he did with his stupid life. “In front of me, even! Do you realize the great offense you have caused me and my family? I cannot stand this behavior anymore. Cancel the engagement.”

“But-” he tried to interject but Jiang Cheng shushed him.

“You self-centered prick! I'm not here to be used by you like some sort of tool! You can find another way to get an alliance with our dukedom, try marrying my father instead since he likes you oh so much!” he was screaming.

The pair looked terrified. Jiang Wanyin resembled a tiger, ready to attack his preys.

“You absolute arshole. You pillock! Cheating isn't fun, even if you don't like me! I have a reputation and you're tarnishing it.”

“Pillock...?” Mingjue whispered. “What are you even saying?”

“Idiot. I'm not gonna stand here like a fool. And just so you know, Nie Mingjue, I would've broke it off even if you weren't cheating – you're not my type.” he finished.

Oh, he was so going to die for this. But, at least, he'd die happy. Satisfied. And maybe, someone would even mourn him this time. Not so bad, if he could say so himself.

Before Mingjue could speak again, a royal guard came in rushing.

“We heard shouting. Is everything okay, Your Highness?” the guard asked.

Mingjue hugged Xuan Ji's waist and made a face – he almost pouted. Jiang Cheng could not believe his eyes.

“Jiang Wanyin was being mean to our guest.” he simply said, that fake hurt look still on his face.

Jiang Cheng was about to pounce on him but two guards held him back.

“We'll get him back to his place, Your Highness, no need to worry.” the guard promised.

“You fucking bastard!” Jiang Cheng shouted while being dragged away “You scum! Jerk! I didn't to anything wrong!”

Okay, well, maybe shouting insults didn't really help his case.

He continued to shout curses until the guards released him. He grunted, marching off to his carriage. He stopped on this track.

In front of him, talking with his butler, there was no other than Lan Wangji.

-

So. Jiang Cheng is fucked.

He had come to terms with the fact that he probably would die since his temper was so bad but he didn't realize it was going to happen so soon. The plot of the game hadn't even started yet!

Wasn't it a little too soon? Surely, the system wasn't that cruel. Was it?

He had to get out of that place and fast.

He gulped, regretting the time he decided to disable his options. Then – If he disabled them, was he also able to get them back...?

System, he thought, can I see my options?

1) run home
2) shout at Lan Wangji
3) ask Lan Wangji to spar

Jiang Cheng wanted to cry. Clearly, the developers weren't that creative either. All those options were stupid and would probably lead to his premature death.

He started to walk toward the carriage. He could see the butler trembling under the guard's eyes. He beamed when he saw his master approaching.

“Young master!” he greeted him with a big smile “It's so good to see you. Ready to go back?”

He had to hold back his laughter. Was talking with Lan Wangji that bad? Probably.

“Yeah, it was disastrous anyway. No need to stay here.” he grunted.

As he was approaching the carriage, he felt a weight on his abdomen. Lan Wangji's sword was blocking him. He gulped.

Was he already going to be beheaded?

“Is there a problem, royal guard?” he asked, trying not to make his voice tremble. He was really fucking scared but he'd die before letting Lan Wangji notice.

“I heard everything. You insulted His Highness.” he simply stated.

“And so what?”

He was going to die anyway. No need to be polite.

“This could be considered treason, Jiang Wanyin.”

Jiang Cheng snorted. How was this his life?

“Oh? Are we close? Since you're calling me by my full name and all.” he asked falsely innocent.

Wangji's hold tightened.

“You don't deserve my respect.” he said, as if that explained everything.

“Yes, yes, neither do you, prince's dog” he didn't know where all this confidence came from.

Might be the near death experience talking.

“It was merely a lovers' quarrel. No need to get all prissy about this. You should start to mind your own business and... maybe threatening a duke's son is not really smart, is it?” he kept going. Jiang Fengmian wouldn't care but Lan Wangji didn't need to know that.

The guard withdrew his sword and bowed. “This subject apologizes.”

Jiang Cheng had to suppress a laugh. He was not sorry in the slightest.

“Of course you are, dog.” the duke's son waved him off and finally settled on his carriage. Butler Su looked at him worriedly but was too scared to actually ask something.

So. Recap. Mingjue was a total bastard and Wangji had to revise basic manners. Jiang Cheng grunted.

Homicide. That's it. It's the only answer. I have so kill them or, even better, pay someone to kill them. Yes.

Only when he saw his butler trembling in fear he realize he said all of that out loud.