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Scum Disciple's Adventures into the Unknown World

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EXTRA FILE: Save_N/A-1482.2.0901.log


Lan Jingyi was beginning to think that maybe just maybe, going with only a group of disciples wasn’t such a good idea.

Now normally it wasn’t his first thought, in between super-disciple possibly future Sect Leader Lan Sizhui and future Sect Leader Jin Rulan and monster future head disciple Xue Yang- they pretty much had the power players covered to the point where he and Ouyang Zizhen could kick back and let the prodigies do their work.

He wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking he was exaggerating, but Sect Leader Jiang wasn’t an easy teacher so anyone who managed to survive the things he put you through were bound to be monstrous. Lan Sizhui and Xue Yang just happened to excel, Jin Ling was up there too but he wasn’t about to extend praise to someone who was so slow.

“That’s only because you’re lazy Jingyi,” Lan Sizhui had said with a sigh, “Uncle Jiang’s obstacle courses are quite fun.”

Yeah right, Lan Jingyi shivered at the thought of having to run across all around Lotus Pier on a couple of poles. Fun if you like running yourself to the ground, I like senior Nie’s past times. Painting birds and reading, those are real hobbies.

“Senior Mo, is this really where the walking corpses have been gathering?” Lan Sizhui asked, they had been walking in the direction one of the denizens of the city had pointed out for nearly an hour. But they had yet to see anything else other than trees, bushes and even more trees.

Mo Xuanyu’s frown was heavy on his face, his hands gently wrapped around one of the famous Yiling Patriarch’s inventions- the evil compass, “It’s still pointing in the same direction. The notes say that it should only be detecting a strong source of yin energy within a relatively short radius.” 

Xue Yang made a noise, “So…what if there are more than one just…dunno, walking around?”

They halted.

Jin Ling turned to the Jiang disciple, “You couldn’t have mentioned this earlier?!

“Hey, I’m just here to hack and slash, no one ever said I was the one who was gonna be the one doing the hunting!” Xue Yang scoffed, “’Go with them A-Yang’ ‘it’ll be fun A-Yang’ ‘Doing some leg work after a head injury like that will do you some good rather than clawing up the walls like a disgruntled cat’ I don’t even know why A-Die even put me in here with you guys.”

“Oh well then, if you’re not gonna help track these things down then why are you even here?!”

“Just because I’m interrupting your date with-“

“Shut up!

“You want me to answer the question or do you want me to shut up, make up your mind!”

“Jin Ling, Senior Xue,” Lan Sizhui said, coming in between them, “whichever the case, it might be best we pick a spot to wait. Perhaps we might have a better luck.”

Lan Jingyi watched as Jin Ling and Xue Yang continued to bicker over each other, which was kind of hilarious because Xue Yang was older by almost four or five years without any indication that he actually was save for the handfuls of knowledge the other boy would spit out when it amused him the most.

“Look at all this wasted education,” Lan Jingyi mused to himself.

Ouyang Zizhen, who has since been spending the past few minutes trying to decide whether he would actually want to get himself involved in between The Kind But Hot-headed Young Master of the Jin Sect and The Corpses’ Nightmare of the Jiang Sect, merely looked at Lan Jingyi with a deep frown on his face. Lan Jingyi didn’t blame the guy, he had really been added onto their Night Hunt Party a little last minute through his father just before they departed from Yunmeng Jiang, “You’re not worried at all about them?”

Lan Jingyi shook his head, “Just watch a little longer, you’ll see.”

Lan Sizhui’s temper visibly began to rise just behind his very close copy of Sect Leader Lan’s Smile as it became stiffer and colder, more towards the oncoming storm of Head Disciple Meng just before shoved you off the proverbial cliff.

In a split second, Lan Yuan struck in a speed only matched by the greatest doctor of their parent’s generation, tugging both boys by the ear with a menacing smile on his face, “Now, now Young Master Xue, Young Master Jin; I’m sure we can come to a reasonable close to this argument, right?”

Both boys were frozen still, but nodded.

“Sure,” Xue Yang said, carefully bending so he wouldn’t strain too hard against Lan Sizhui’s grip, “Sure, uh, you can let go now Sizhui.”

“Young Master Jin?”

Jin Ling swallowed audibly, pale and thoroughly chastised  as he nodded without further convincing.

“Excellent,” Sizhui let them go, smile still etched on his face, “Jingyi, can you help me set up camp?”

Lan Jingyi walked forward, leaving a pale Ouyang Zizhen behind, “Yeah sure.”

“Um…” Mo Xuanyu glanced uncertainly as Jin Ling and Xue Yang scampered off into the woods under instructions to gather wood for their prolonged stay for the night, “do you need me to do anything-?”

“Ah, yes actually, could you set up an array Master Mo? To help us stay safe while we stay here,” he turned to Ouyang Zizhen, “could you help him get a fire going so he could see?”

“Sure! Yeah, I’ll go-“ the younger of the two scrambled for a moment to finish his sentence, “uh- do that.”

With that, the two ran off. The younger man quickly casting light with a surge of energy that lit a small area, not a lot but Mo Xuanyu had worked with worse. Pulling out sheets of paper and a brush and what was probably a pot of cinnabar, his hand quickly moved with certainty as he made talisman after talisman in impressively quick time.

Lan Jingyi whistled, “Those are done pretty fast.”

“Mn, yes, if I recall correctly Auntie Yan said he had a very good memory for these,” Sizhui turned back, “you get that side I’ll get this side?”

Jingyi shrugged, “Sure, after you future Sect Leader.”

“Jingyi,” Sizhui scolded, rolling his eyes as Jingyi raised both hands in a show of nonaggression before the two continued on their way.

-

“Say Master Xue?”

“Yeah?” Xue Yang rolled the candy inside his cheek to speak, “that’s my name, whatcha callin’ me for?”

Ouyang Zizhen looked uncertain for a moment, eyes drawn to Lan Sizhui who looked encouraging before returning back to Xue Yang’s surprisingly patient visage.

“H-How is it that you came to be adopted by Head Disciple Yan?” Ouyang Zizhen asked softly.

Xue Yang hummed, leaning on his fist, “You askin’ or is it that old man of yours who keeps bothering my A-Die about having babies or whatever.”  

Ouyang Zizhen squirmed, “Partially- I’m curious myself- actually curious, not like I want Head Disciple Yan to- to do something she doesn’t want to or something like that. I mean, I just thought you know- with her relationship with Sect Leader Jiang and all…”

Lan Sizhui quickly hid behind his sleeve to hide his smile, but Lan Jingyi, Jin Ling, and Xue Yang himself had no such qualms as they snorted in near unison. Glancing at each other in disgust before Xue Yang spoke,

“Look, despite what everybody and their grandma thinks, A-Die isn’t getting it on with Uncle Jiang.”

Jin Ling nodded, making a disgusted face, “Jiujiu and Aunt Yan are more like…like Jiujiu and Mother, I can’t imagine them being any more than that.”

Ouyang Zizhen frowned, clearly confused.

“I know it’s a little difficult, it took me a while to get it too,” Mo Xuanyu said consolingly, “really it’s just a matter of knowing them long enough I think. Head Disciple Yan grew up with Sect Leader Jiang and Madam Jin – the then Maiden Jiang – she pretty much acts like the oldest sibling between all three of them, although Jin Ling’s mother is only younger by two months.”

Jin Ling nodded, “They’ll do that weird thing where they’ll tease Auntie Yan but really it’s just to make fun of everybody else. Father said it was something of a joke that for the longest time people didn’t know what Auntie Yan’s relationship with mother or Jiujiu actually was, even he thought Mother had a thing for Auntie Yan before everything got cleared up.”

Xue Yang snorted, “Yeah- you’re dad’s kinda dumb.”

“Shut up,” Jin Ling grumbled, but it was telling that he didn’t protest further. Every year Auntie Yan, mother, and Jiujiu got together to tease father over it so it wasn’t as if he could defend someone who was constantly reminded every year on his birthday. There were even jokes about how surely Auntie Yan was actually Jin Ling’s A-Die and that’s why Xue Yang got stuck calling her A-Die.

But really Jin Ling only went along with it without much fuss because Auntie Yan always let him get more servings of mother’s soup than what he could normally get, they usually disappeared fast and she had some sort of magical technique to ensure refills.

In any case,” Lan Sizhui said, smiling gently, “I believe the person you’d be referring to when it comes to who’s in a relationship to Auntie Yan is my older cousin known as the doctor Wen Qing.”

“…The famous Doctor?!” Ouyang Zizhen’s hands went to his face in surprise, “I mean- I mean I knew they were close but people always said that they were kind of…”

“That cousin Qing was always very annoyed by Auntie Yan?” Lan Sizhui finished for him.

Ouyang Zizhen only nodded.

Xue Yang cackled, “That’s the way they’ve always been. Even when I was a kid I’d hear them fight over whether it was okay to give me as many sweets as A-Die did, of course A-Die was in the right, but she always said it wasn’t healthy for me. As if A-Die didn’t have me running around for hours to work the sugar off whenever I asked for a lot.

“But back to your question,” Xue Yang hummed as he leaned further into his fist, “you know, it’s hard to say why A-Die adopted me the way she did. It was around here too I think, she was on a Night Hunt and saved my pinky from getting crushed by a stinky wannabe big-shot. She got me into the Jiang Sect and put me under her register as a son- people talked for weeks, someone even called her a whore.”

Ouyang Zizhen winced.

“Yeah, I got pretty mad too,” Xue Yang absentmindedly thumbed the handle of the knife his A-Die had given him on his birthday- and the day he became a senior disciple of the Jiang Sect, “I’m pretty sure I was ready to bite his ear off or something, but A-Die’s tongue is almost as sharp as her sword, and if that’s the case- Uncle Jiang’s got it even harsher. And of course everyone knows that the real one to watch out for is Auntie; you think Uncle Jiang could make you cry, she can make you weep. They’re both students of Wei Ming after all; or I guess Ming Fan now. Of course, if anyone were to try that now…

Xue Yang grinned something vicious, “I think people wouldn’t miss those types anyway.”

Ouyang Zizhen shivered, “We-well your mother seems to be a very nice lady.”

“She really is,” Mo Xuanyu smiled faintly, “I remember even when I was a disciple of the Jin Sect she used to greet me whenever she came with Sect Leader Jiang. She even used to tell me things about talisman making and helped me read difficult characters.”

Xue Yang made a noise, “Yeah, I think she taught me how to read too. Dunno how since she always seems really busy.”

Sizhui smiled nostalgically, “She used to tell me stories about when I was younger and how Xian-Gēge used to bury me in the dirt as if to plant me. She always seemed so…different, from everyone else. It’s hard to say how or why, but it’s like she knows a lot more than she lets on sometimes.”

“She used to make me warm milk whenever I was staying at Lotus Pier,” Jin Ling shrugged, “she’d probably still make it if I ask, but I know she wouldn’t make fun of me for it either.”

Lan Jingyi, feeling left out, chimed in, “She’s my favorite teacher, she’s the only one who doesn’t run me into the ground.”

“She used to be so huffy when Gēge was making everyone do laps!”

Lan Jingyi screamed, the other boys drawing their swords instinctively while Mo Xuanyu went and hid behind Xue Yang.

“Aw, I thought we were sharing things about Yan Fēnglàng? Oh, Xue Yang, your mother said your favorite candy came in and told me to give some to you,” The man’s smile was so bright- it was almost blinding. With long hair pulled back with a cinnabar colored ribbon and clothing that seemed to be a mix of reds and blacks, he stood waving around a bag that crinkled with paper.

Xue Yang perked up, sword lowering, “Really?”

“I got hungry though.”

“Hey!” Xue Yang pouted, “A-Die got that for me.”

The man cackled, “I didn’t say I ate it silly, here you go. I’m actually quite hungry though, how about you kids make room so I can cook this pheasant I caught?”

“Yeah uh, before that,” Lan Jingyi pointed, completely missing Mo Xuanyu’s wide eyes and Lan Sizhui’s dropped jaw- even Jin Ling was having a hard time. Moving to pinch himself before looking back incredulously at the man in question. “Who are you?”

“So rude,” the man huffed, turning to someone who was very clearly Hánguāng-jun; standing next to him, “they don’t know who I am Lan Zhan!”

Lan Jingyi gaped, turning to Ouyang Zizhen mouthing, ‘Lan Zhan’?!

“Mn,” Lan Wangji nodded solemnly, “This is your senior, he is known as Wūdēng-zun, or-“

Ouyang Zizhen leaped to his feet, shrill voice enough to startle the resting birds, “The Yiling Patriarch!”

Wei Ying grinned, bowing in a somehow strict and straight arch that not even the best of the Lans disciples could achieve with only a few years in their experience, Wei Wuxian rose with the same finesse and grace one could only find in the learned and the elder, “This one’s name is Wei Ying, courtesy name Wei Wuxian! Honored to meet you!”

-

“Soooo,” Wei Ying drawled leaning into his side, “having trouble finding all those walking corpses huh?”

“Uh…” Lan Jingyi exchanged looks with Jin Ling, “yeah pretty much.”

“Well…?” The one known as one of two Beasts of Qinghe raised a brow, “you wanna give a small summary or have you really not found anything out beyond that they’re somewhere around here? I thought Fēnglàng told you kids it was hanging around Yi City- you guys didn’t go there to ask?”

“We did, ah, only for a brief moment.” Lan Sizhui’s shoulders raised to his ears, reddening, “we sort of decided as a group it’s probably better to stay out for…a myriad of reasons. Most noticeably because we found no traces of demonic energy within the city so we concluded that the walking corpses must be surrounding and not within the vicinity, based on the frequent sightings we assumed a common trade route.”

“Not a bad place to start, but let’s save that thought. I don’t think you’ll get answers tonight, or any night here after. I don’t sense any walking corpses close by, so we may need to get back to the first phase here.”

“Sense?” Mo Xuanyu perked up, “you can sense walking corpses?”

“If you concentrate you can sense more than just yin energy filled creatures,” Wei Ying winked paired with a smirk that one could call arrogant on any other person’s face. “Gēge trained me very young to be able to tell the difference; well to be more accurate he trained me to run from the really troublesome ones. Anyway, dinner!~”

-

It must have been hours later when Lan Sizhui roused from his sleep, the moon still plenty high in the sky, with drowsy eyes he looked around until he came to pause at what felt to be a familiar sight.

Wei Wuxian was seated around the still burning fire, quiet in a way he never usually was even before his stint with death. That is, unless you happened to be Ming Fan.

Lan Sizhui watched as the older man seemed to be working on some sort of object, the Evil Compass Mo Xuanyu had brought with him he recognized. Wei Wuxian fiddled with it, a red aura of demonic cultivation wafted around him in waves, occasionally with a brief reprieve of spiritual energy.

His eyes were lit with red.

“Can’t sleep?”

Lan Sizhui startled, his inability to respond drew Wei Wuxian’s attention to him, the other man’s head tilted with a small smile on his face.

“Come on then,” Wei Wuxian motioned to the place free next to him, “I don’t actually eat people for demonic cultivation or some such- as I’m sure A-Yuan would know.”

Lan Sizhui quietly rose without further encouragement, moving to scoot next to Wei Wuxian by the fire light with knees drawn to his chest. The younger suddenly realizing he had no idea what he wanted to do or say hereafter.

Sensing this, Wei Wuxian started first, “Fēnglàng told me you’re a very good student.”

Lan Sizhui blushed, “Auntie Yan is a good teacher.”

Wei Ying laughed softly, “Of course, she learned from the best after all.”

With a wink, Wei Ying continued further, “She also said that when you were younger, you asked a lot of questions about Gēge and I. Most of which she could not answer as readily as some others, what did tiny radish A-Yuan want to know?”

Lan Sizhui’s continued silence drew Wei Wuxian into a more somber countenance. Not quite in expression, he doubted if Wei Wuxian could ever truly fall from the sunny disposition of which was ingrained into his very being. Could become eclipsed certainly, by anger and rage or grief, desperation and more- but always sunny was he.

Wei Ying nudged him, drawing Lan Sizhui from his thoughts as Wei Ying pointed in a direction.

“I once came to this area with my Gēge,” he whispered, “somewhere there’s a tree here with some old gouge marks. At the time Gēge was still learning how to best control his energy.”

“What is he like?” Lan Sizhui turned, eyes wide. “I remember you vaguely…but when it comes to Fan-dage…”

Wei Ying chuckled, “That’s to be expected. Gēge didn’t actually play with you that much when you were small. Too busy watching everyone and scaring away Jin Guangshan and others like him, he’d mostly leave you to me, Fēnglàng, or Wen Qing and Wen Ning if you weren’t with Grandma Wen.”

“Oh…”

But, you did tend to cling to him when he was able to be around,” Wei Ying pressed at Lan Sizhui’s side with a teasing smile, “’Fan-dage A-Yuan wants another magic trick!’ He’d give you a fun little trick every time, you’d keep following him around until Wen Qing or I managed to convince you to let your Fan-dage rest since he’d be up all night guarding the Mounds.”

Lan Sizhui blushed in embarrassment.

“He enjoyed it I think, but sometimes he’d be a little too tired to say something, Gēge pushed himself a lot back then. I guess it was a good thing since we never had trouble from other Sects before everything went belly up, but it got really frustrating sometimes,” Wei Ying pouted, “he actually forgot it was his birthday once, can you believe that? It wasn’t even when we were in the Burial Mounds, he was Head Disciple still of the Nie Sect and he somehow forgot it was his birthday.

“Now to be fair, I guess he wouldn’t have actually known since he never bothered to tell us what his birthday was as Ming Fan but that’s not the point,” Wei Ying sighed, “but beyond that we were content with what we ended up. However short that ended up being.”

“Senior Wei…” Lan Sizhui trailed off, uncertain before frowning. “Xian-Gēge.”

“Mhm?”

“Don’t you…resent me? Resent any of us, for what ended up happening?” he bit his lip. “If it weren’t for me-“

“If it weren’t for you, some of the last things I would remember from that time would only be some terrible things. Gēge and I both, what we did during the Sunshot Campaign, that is something that will stay with us forever and a day,” Wei Ying smiled gently. “Those were dark times, our morals were pressed and questioned, our intentions almost always failing to be understood and fear was at every corner. Fear that we would be discovered, my fear that Gēge would be hunted down. His fear that I would be used for someone’s gain. It was horrible, but it wasn’t so bad with A-Yuan there. Wen Qing, Wen Ning, Fēnglàng, Lan Zhan and the others.”

“I think the first thing Gēge could tell you about our mother was that she wasn’t one to hold grudges,” Wei Ying giggled, “he always said that Mama was quick to apologize and even quicker to forgive, I like to think I’m following her example. Besides, there's is nothing to forgive where no offence was taken.”

He who became the Yiling Patriarch winked cheekily, “Gēge likes to say it sometimes, I thought it would be cool if I said it once or twice.”

Lan Sizhui chuckled, and yet somehow…

Somehow, he did feel better.

“I think Auntie Yan likes to say that too sometimes.”

-

The afternoon brought them into Yi City, to which there was an incident somehow almost immediately upon entering. The Wei Effect, indeed, was in full swing. Not that it actually had anything to do with this oddball version of murphy’s law, but in fact, had more to do with one familiar man.

“I swear if I ever hear about that Fēnglàng disciple again,” he scoffed, shaking his head. “Honestly, the Jiang Sect really has fallen into slump if they have that woman of all people as their brightest disciple.”

Xue Yang’s eye twitched, drawing Jin Ling to loudly and insistently point at a candy stall.

Lan Wangji stilled for a moment, shifting his gaze to everyone in their group. Lan Jingyi had joined Jin Ling in the attempt to distract Xue Yang, and while they were doing that Ouyang Zizhen was doing a noble job of attempting to distract Sizhui along with Mo Xuanyu about something related to the  city.

He turned his gaze towards Wei Ying.

Surprisingly, the latter seemed to have little to no reaction. Distracted by various wares and generally not caring much for the man spouting nothing but empty words and envious claims, Lan Wangji had long since accepted that there were people who just didn’t seem to see sense, and has thus decided they were not qualified to take up his time.

“Baah, but what can anyone expect, she’s probably fucking that Sect Leader to maintain her position.”

Lan Wangji shifted his attention with narrowed eyes, but seems no one took offense to that quite like Yan Fēnglàng’s own son.

Xue Yang was there faster than anyone could predict, with one arm swung back and the other aimed forward, a strength that was no doubt made to damage drove the man whose name Lan Wangji could not be bothered to remember down with a solid thud. The crowd silenced, watching with wide eyes as the lone disciple in Yunmeng Violet stood high with an impressively passive expression.

Xue Yang stood straighter, looking down with a stony expression that was a perfect copy of his mother’s when she was particularly angry. Lan Wangji knew the look well, she wore it more often after the Massacre at the Burial Mounds.

“I do not care who you believe you are, who you believe you have influence on, neither do I care what position you hold,” Xue Yang murmured, reaching down to drag the man up with narry an effort. “But no one, talks about my mother that way.”

“You talk like that again about anyone, I will gut you. You breathe in her direction I’ll gouge your eyeballs out,” Xue Yang murmured lowly. “And if you continue to drag her name in the mud, I’ll tell her all of the little bad things you’re doing just so I can watch her drag your ass to Uncle Jiang myself. Understood? And trust me.”

Xue Yang grinned maniacally, “She’s far crueler than I could ever be.”

“Now,” his voice softened, “do we have an understanding?”

The man who no one cared too much to know by name nodded frantically, scrambling away once Xue Yang saw fit to allow him leave.

Wei Ying whistled, drawing eyes towards him.

“Shame,” he admitted, shrugging carelessly with eyes aglow with an intimidating carmine. “Scrambled away before I could start pulling off that bad luck charm I was putting on him.”

They heard a thud, a loud crunch, and a scream.

“Oh well, come on boys! Let’s go look for some rumors,” Wei Ying cheered, taking Ouyang Zizhen, Lan Sizhui, and by proxy Mo Xuanyu, by the shoulders before dragging them off the nearest tavern.

Lan Wangji shook his head, smile fond, before following closely behind.

Two men, one in white and another in black watch the group leave. Open curiosity on one’s face while the other was pensive.

“Such an interesting person that young one,” the man hummed, “I wonder what sort of person raised that boy, very defensive.”

“He looked feral,” the other said, “but considering they all looked ready to rip that poor excuse of a person to pieces I guess it’s not too surprising. And Hánguāng-jun being there…”

“That’s who that man was? I wondered…” with a brief shake, the man in white turned excitedly to his counterpart. “What do you say Song Lan? I think it might be interesting to get to know that young man.”

Song Zichen shook his head, “You have a strange definition of interesting Xingchen.”

“But you go along with me anyway,” Xiao Xingchen laughed, one that drew the eyes of passerby as they walked off. “Besides I really want to meet that interesting young man again! We hardly got a chance to talk last time.”  

Abruptly, Xue Yang stopped walking to sneeze, his nose stuffed into his elbow.

“Uh, not catching a cold on us are you?” Lan Jingyi raised an eye at the odd motion.

“No,” Xue Yang huffed, shaking his head, before he used the excuse Yan Fēnglàng always gave. “Allergies.”

-

Another handful of hours brought the group of legendary status seniors Hánguāng-jun and Wūdēng-zun along with prospective disciples to a place outside the city limits. Oddly empty of wildlife with looming trees and heavy fog.

They walked carefully, with Wei Wuxian at the lead and Lan Wangji nearby towards the middle of the group. Xue Yang walked nearer to the back, one hand holding his sword while the other idly scratched at the back of his head.

Then Wei Wuxian stopped.

Xue Yang carefully loosened his grip, allowing his sword to slip along the palm of his hand, just until he could maneuver his grip to better suit their needs. Carefully moving so that his other hand rested on his shoulder, elbow poised in anticipation for a necessitated quick draw. His breath carefully controlled, he shifted his stance wider. Canting his point of view until he met eyes with Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui.

They nodded back, both tense.

One moment, and then another- and then-

Wei Wuxian made a motion with his hand, group together, and that was the last they heard before the fog rolled in.

-

Xue Yang blinked around him, sword drawn and body carefully wound for any fight; his breath steady, heartbeat slow.

He walked slowly, dragging his foot into the dirt and leaving a trail behind as he went, walking from tree to tree in a sedate pace as he kept silent and kept his senses open to whatever mysterious creature or nefarious cultivator could have cooked up something like this.

Nervous wasn’t the right way to describe it, excited maybe, a little impatient for something to happen, but if there’s been anything that’s been beaten into him through the rough and difficult punches of training, it’s patience. Trouble will find a way, you just gotta wait around a bit until it gets to you- usually it’s going after Wei Wuxian first. He kind of got what his A-Die kept talking about all the time now, trouble magnet didn’t quite describe it. If anything it just seemed like trouble and Senior Wei were jilted lovers and trouble was jealous of Hánguāng-jun for stealing her favorite subject away. Miss fortune was always a fickle one, or something like that.

He stilled at the sound of a cracking leaf, gentle but still loud enough to raise his hackles.

He breathed out, slowly, leaning slightly on the nearby trunk as if he was merely taking a break.

Then he struck.

Swinging on his left side, sword pressed close to his chest, Xue Yang followed his momentum back before flipping the handle around his hand, bringing his sword up for another cut through the right with whoever was following him.

He grunted in surprise as his strength was met with someone who must have been equal if not more, causing Xue Yang to instinctively lighten his stance and back off as soon as he swung again to force his stalker back more.

Diving into the fog, Xue Yang easily maneuvered himself up a tree, crouching in wait and squinting at the blank white bellow. Damnit, too hard to see…

“Young Master, apologies for startling you!”

Xue Yang startled, eyes narrowed into the fog.

“We’re quite lost too, my friend and I. We were following a guide who said she knew where the trouble was and we were quite surprised when this fog rolled in,” the voice paused for a moment, to take a breath maybe, “we mean you no harm!”

Xue Yang narrowed his eyes skeptically, “Yeah, like I’d believe that. You’ve followed me for more than ten steps and didn’t say a word. That’s suspicious behavior.”

Actually he wasn’t sure if the mysterious stranger was following for that long, but Xue Yang had an inkling.

“Sorry about that,” the voice admitted, a touch embarrassed, “we were kind of caught up in the moment.”

Xue Yang rolled his eyes, “Nice try, but these Jiang Sect robes don’t do my ass any favors. I asked A-Die, she’d never lie about this to me.”

He heard a second voice sputter, damn, if there were three people following him he was getting too cocky. If A-Die ever heard she’d put his ass back on the training fields again, not that he was ever forced to go but he’s feeling more than a little disgruntled at not noticing he was being followed.

As ditzy as the man who was spoke first seemed to be, these people were no joke.

“You know Uncle Jiang doesn’t pay ransoms,” he decided to throw in casually, “if that’s your intent.”

“No no! I promise you Young Master, we mean no harm!”

He heard a brief shuffle of fabric and a small thud, maybe a hit?

“Oh, sorry! This one is named Xiao Xingchen, my friend here is Song Lan and our guide here is A-Qing! I understand you may not believe me, but I also believe that Shuanghua will prove my word true.”

Xue Yang eyes narrowed as hesitation took to the main stage, tightening his grip on the branch. Those names sound familiar, but where…?

“How do I know that you didn’t kill the original owner?” Xue Yang challenged, adding in a spice of arrogance in his voice in an attempt to goad the other, “or that you didn’t steal it? It’s what I would do if I wanted to lure poor unsuspecting idiot Cultivators into my dastardly trap.”

“Young master is quite sharp! I don’t blame him for being doubtful, but I have no other way of attempting to prove myself true to him.”

Xue Yang frowned, this sort of odd speech wasn’t typical for the average rogue- perhaps he was Xiao Xingchen, the recently descended disciple of Baoshan Sanren. Even so, anyone could fake an old style speech, but he didn’t have enough experience with it to do a test. Fuck.

“Forget it Xingchen, he’s not gonna reveal himself. Too damn paranoid.”

He bristled on his branch, but refused to rise to the bait.

The other voice, different from the first, muttered low, “but smart, apparently.”

“What are we going to do Master Cultivators?” A younger voice, female maybe, spoke. “We’re trapped and the only other person who might know a way out refuses to help us.”

“Ah, not to worry A-Qing, I’m sure we’ll find a way soon,” the first voice again.

Maybe she’s in league, or maybe she’s in trouble, Xue Yang scowled, I can’t fucking tell without their faces damnit. What the fuck should I do in this situation.

“Young master? You’re awfully quiet there, have you moved on?”

“Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t,” he crowed, “you don’t know.”

The hairs on Xue Yang’s neck stood on end.

“But you’re about to find out!”

He moved just as soon as a dark mass crashed into the branch he was just on, shattering the wood into splinters and himself falling through the distance. Curling up on himself to prepare for the rough landing and inevitable roll that would come, he would have rather preferred to prepare more but between the distance of the branch, the ground, and gravity- time just wasn’t on his side.

Or at least, he would have rolled away if someone hadn’t caught him first.

Xue Yang starred for a moment, startled before scrambling away, unsheathing his sword once more and holding a defensive stance, eyes narrowed at the man who held out both hands palms out.

The man who caught him could be called breathtakingly handsome, and he’s seen Sect Leader Lan in the flesh. Dressed in a white-black ensemble with swooping bangs and hair pulled together with a single pin of white, jade maybe? He certainly lived up to the part of recently descended disciple, but whether he actually was is a different story.

Oh right- that one guy who went down a mountain or something. Wait- why does he look familiar? Why do they both look familiar?

The other man with him wore the robes of Baixue Temple, the cultivator Song Zichen maybe.

He looked behind the girl, a peculiar one carrying a bamboo stick and white eyes. He’d assumed she blind had it not been for the odd focus she seemed to have on him once he landed back to his feet.

He shot forward, dragging her behind him before thrusting his sword downward on the…whatever, the thing was.

Crouching down, Xue Yang frowned, dragging his hand through the black mass and feathers before eyeing the three feet of the crow.

He raked his brain for a moment, “…Sānzúwū? But why does it look so…different.”

He observed the carcass further, indeed, with black feathers but three legs- the only thing it could have been was a Sānzúwū, but these were creatures of the sun. Red usually, or gold maybe-? There’s no reason why there would be black one around here unless there was some very high levels of corruption somewhere in the area, but if Senior Wei couldn’t tell right away then just what was going on?

Xue Yang jumped back, holding his breath as a puff of smoke came up from the body, the black seeming to melt until three legs became two and a long, lizard like tail trailed from the tail feathers. The head now dawning three eyes.

He had no idea what this thing was.

“Stay back there,” he called out, carefully moving away from where he could sense the cultivators were. “I don’t know what kind of shitty powder this thing spat out at me after death but I’m not taking chances, it could be some airborne variant of corpse poisoning for all I fucking know.” 

“I don’t believe it is,” Xiao Xingchen said, as if that would help at all.

“Not that I care if you take offense,” Xue Yang growled, “but I’m not getting your death on my record either way. A-Die would drag me back from hell just to ground me for being reckless.”

“Ah- no I really mean that it’s most likely you weren’t infected by corpse poisoning,” Xiao Xingchen raised his sword, “Shuanghua would have told me as much if you were, with its ability to sense walking and living corpses.”

Xue Yang’s eyebrows rose, turning his head just slightly to stare incredulously at the man over his shoulder, “Why the hell would your sword be able to do that?”

Xiao Xingchen blinked, as if he had never thought about it before.

“Well whatever, if that’s the case, it’s not going to cost me much to assume you’re the real deal,” with no small amount of hesitation, Xue Yang sheathed his sword. “Look, I came here with a group of disciples- Jin Rulan of Jin Sect, Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi and Hánguāng-jun of Lan Sect. Ouyang Zizhen, guest disciple of Jiang Sect. Another guest and a disciple of Nie Sect.”

He carefully went around the fact that the Nie Sect disciple happened to be Wei Wuxian, he wasn’t sure how these men would react to the news anyway, “Since we’re all stuck in this shitty mess in the first place, I guess we can stick together for the time being.”

Seeing that he felt the conversation was quite finished, Xue Yang then proceeded to walk ahead of them with his hand stuck into his robe, one foot dragging behind him.

“Must you be so crass? I expected a disciple of the Jiang Sect would be more refined than…this,” The man in black, who must have been Song Zichen, said.

Well, Xue Yang thought to himself, at least now I know we’ve never actually met.

“Yeah well it’s either deal or come up with a way out on your own. I’m not changing my attitude just cause you want me to. I only do that for the people I care about, and last I checked- you weren’t a short woman with the patience of a bodhisattva but the rage of an asura.” Making a noise of celebration, he drew out a pre-folded, pre-organized talisman that could be made into the shape of a bird. Something that Hánguāng-jun had passed around sometime in Xue Yang’s youth while the man was visiting, a lasting gift from yester years.

With idle concentration, he folded the bird back together and concentrated a small amount of energy- the bird’s paper form fluttering to life. Resembling a something of a cuckoo bird that he had seen on a trip south, the original was green beaked with a streak of read around its’ eyes with a brown to light brown plumage. The forest here wasn’t too dense so it would do just fine flying around.

The bird talisman cocked it’s head at him.

“Go see if you can find the others,” with another talisman, he carefully wound a string of energy- an invention of Wei Wuxian’s apparently, on the bird’s leg. “don’t fly too far.”

The bird cooed, soundless, before fluttering off; the thin trail of energy following behind it.

“Fascinating,” Xiao Xingchen said, if Xue Yang turned he could imagine that the guy probably had stars in his eyes or something. “I had heard of the advance techniques of talismans the greater Sects began taking up, but I didn’t think that it would be this advanced.”

Xue Yang rolled his eyes, “It’s not taught everywhere, mostly the senior disciples- or if you’ve got ties to Hánguāng-jun. Usually the energy and sensitivity needed to make an independent bird talisman takes time to master. I had a head start but I could only do things like pigeons that flew around the place smacking into walls in the beginning. It was the Wei Brothers who first introduced it before it became slowly integrated into our arsenals, the use got expedited for the Sunshot Campaign since the Nie Sect didn’t want to risk losing Hawks, but even then the only people who could use it to such an advanced degree were the brothers themselves and the disciples who trained directly under Wei Ming.”

He turned at the quiet, frowning as he saw that Xiao Xingchen’s eyes were sparkling. The fuck?

He turned to Song Zichen, who merely raised a brow of his own.

“That must mean you’re rather advanced yourself Young Master,” Xiao Xingchen continued. Gushed? Xue Yang was not quite sure what to do with this type of…man, as his A-Die’s son he was either looked down upon or respected, not this…blatant sparkly shit.

“I had a head start on the basics,” Xue Yang eyed the man wearily for a moment before turning around. “A-Die always said that I was a hard kid to entertain so she just fell back on teaching me cultivation stuff.”

“…’A-Die’,” the girl, A-Qing? Frowned. “’she’?”

“A-Die is A-Die, if you got a problem with that, fuck off.”

A-Qing huffed, “I never said anything bad!”

“So?”

“You’re so ridiculous!”

Xue Yang stuck his tongue out.

“You-!”

“Now now A-Qing, settle down. I’m sure Young Master just feels defensive over his parent,” Xiao Xingchen placated. “Ah- that reminds me, what is Young Master’s name?”

Xue Yang shrugged, “Not that important.”

“It is important, I’d like to know the name of the young man so valiant as to help two rogues like us. Isn’t that right Zichen?”

Song Zichen sighed, “He’s not gonna leave you alone until you give it kid.”

Xue Yang huffed, “Then I guess he won’t leave me alone.”

Wait.

“That came out wrong,” he frowned, cheeks beginning to redden before he swiftly moved forward to where the string was leading him. “Whatever, I’m going ahead. Follow me or don’t.”

He ignored that maybe not-blind girl’s snickering behind him.

-

The next hour or so saw Xue Yang being slowly and methodically driven up the wall by Xiao Xingchen’s various questions ranging from the Jiang Sect to other Sects to how he knew Hánguāng-jun; for a man who seemed so…out of place? He seemed rather comfortable bombarding him with questions.

Then again, that might be why he was allowed down that celestial mountain of theirs in the first place. The questions must have made Baoshan Sanren’s head go in a tizzy too, didn’t the rumors go that Cangse Sanren was also kind of a hyper talker? Was that a quality you needed to batter the master so that you could go down? He’s only got evidence of two instances, he’s really unsure if he’d even want to know the third and fourth.

So distracted was he that he failed to notice the lingering hand buried in the dirt.

Xue Yang grunted as soon as he felt his leg grabbed, wrenching it away instinctively with a painful twist. Nearly toppling over from the force before Xiao Xingchen hovered near him, hand on his waist and stabbing at the loose dirt floor. Most likely wherever the corpse was since the hand fell limp as soon as the blade sunk with a dry sound.

Xue Yang winced when he tried to put his weight on the grabbed ankle. Sprained then.

“Apologies for not acting swifter Young Master,” Xiao Xingchen’s expression was pulled into a severe frown, “allow me to-?”

He waved him off, “Yeah don’t worry about it. I got it.”

Carefully balancing on his good leg, Xue Yang came down to a squat. Tugging the loose fabric of out from his boot, Xue Yang examined the area of damage.

The beginnings of a visual bruise was starting to show, both on his foot and around the area where he was grabbed in a very distinct hand pattern. Technically speaking he should take some time to focus on healing this, but he wasn’t sure how long this peace would last considering they were in the middle of unknown territory. For now he needed to cool it, and hope they didn’t need to run very fast. Luckily it was a sprain, and not something more serious.

With a hum, Xue Yang dove into his sleeves again- pulling out a roll of clean, stiff fabric that would serve well to restrain his foot and hold the cooling talisman. He didn’t have any, but a little improvisation wouldn’t kill him.

He slipped his sword open just enough to cut a small wound open on his thumb, moving to press the blood against the skin to draw out a talisman that would slowly cool over a long period of time.

Xiao Xingchen was surprisingly quiet as he did this, but Xue Yang just kept going until he had the ankle in a good enough wrap.

“Nothing Auntie Qing would praise but it’s good enough,” he mused, rising to his feet to shift his weight, not too bad. He’s had worse sprains considering he’s of Jiang Sect. “Let’s keep going.”

“Do you…” A-Qing trailed off, shifting her grip on her bamboo pole, her uncertain glance towards Song Zichen and Xiao Xingchen told him all that he needed.

“Na, a sprain like this isn’t going to slow me down too much. Just need to be careful and shit,” he flapped his hand about. “Stop it with the concerned looks alright? It’s a sprained ankle not a mortal wound, fuck you guys are dramatic.”

“Still, between the three of us…” Xiao Xingchen trailed off.

“And me who wasn’t looking where I was stepping,” Xue Yang rolled his eyes, “look, it’s a hazard in this job. A sprain isn’t the worst thing ever to happen in a night hunt, trust me. Just get that weird look on your face like you’re gonna carry me or some shit. I’m fine.”

To demonstrate, Xue Yang walked confidently onward, not bothering to look back- but minding his step this time. He could however, feel the more somber mood that suddenly began to breed like rabbits behind him, not that he cared too much about the morals of strangers but…

He’d like to reinforce his previous statement now- fucking weird.

He wouldn’t have to suffer too long before Xue Yang’s little scout began to fly back, making motions in its flight pattern before settling on Xue Yang’s shoulder. Beak open for another soundless coo.

“Got something huh? Alright, point the way.”

They followed the bird into a much more sparse section of the weird forest, the fog slightly thinner and enough that he could see more than just an arm’s length ahead of him.

He cupped his hands, “The snake hisses for the peacock to call, what does he say?!”

He could feel three pairs of eyes boring into his head, not that he had enough shame in him to explain the weird password he and Jin Ling came up with when they were kids.

Just then- a peacock call echoed around them.

“The peacock calls and waits for an answer from the owl, what does the owl respond!?”

Three pairs of hoots, one distinctly deeper from the rest.

It was an utterly stupid way of asking for a password but his A-Die came up with it when they were all kids (with Hánguāng-jun stoically following her lead) and it stuck ever since.

“The owl looks for the crow!” Xue Yang frowned as Lan Sizhui called out, did Wei Wuxian get separated from them? “Where is he?!”

As if commanded, a circle of black masses began to call around them. The ground beginning to shake and yin energy beginning to spike, he felt the air leave him when Xiao Xingchen tugged him behind- sword drawn and Song Zichen taking the free side while he was stuck with A-Qing.

“Hey- let me go-“ Xue Yang snapped up as soon as he heard the loud rumble of cracking rock. The fog rapidly beginning to rise in the air and leaving their sight free to roam save for what was beyond their view. He could make out the three white mases of the Lan Sect and the odd yellows, blacks, and olives of Jin Ling’s group. The black-red mass of Wei Wuxian however, was missing.

“Yang-ge!” Lan Sizhui drew his sword.

“I’m fine, where’s that other guy?!” He shoved Xiao Xingchen away, moving forward with purpose to meet with Sizhui, Jin Ling rushing up with Mo Xuanyu and Ouyang Zizhen in tow.

“I don’t know, he ran off somewhere-“ Lan Sizhui paused, Xue Yang could tell too as they looked up.

Wei Wuxian landed peacefully on the ground, the recently reclaimed Chenqing in his hands twirling in his grip with a sunny smile on his face.

“Found out what was causing the fog,” he said merrily, “some sort of elaborate array that entrapped spirits here, which was probably what made all those walking corpses. Don’t really know why the array was put down though, but I’m pretty sure we’ll find out as soon as whoever put it down in the first place realizes it’s not there anymore.”

He peered around Xue Yang, “Oh- and you are…?”

“Ah- um,” Xiao Xingchen scrambled for a moment- leaving Xue Yang to roll his eyes.

“Xiao Xingchen, the man next to him is Song Zizhen, the girl is A-Qing. They were trapped in the fog too so we stuck together until we met up with you.”

“Ah,” Wei Ying peered at his leg, “sprained ankle?”

“Grabby corpse,” Xue Yang wiggled his fingers for emphasis.

Wei Wuxian laughed, “Well at least you can give it a rest for now, it’s safer to wait around for the mysterious assailant than to go after ‘em at the moment.”

You sprained an ankle?” Lan Jingyi starred incredulously, “seriously?”

Xue Yang swung his other leg to trip up the other boy, earning a dirty look and a gentle shake of head from both of the younger Lans. “Yeah, it happens. Am I not allowed to trip up sometimes?”

“That’s not what we’re saying Yang-ge, but it is a little concerning that you of all people got caught. They do call you one of Jiang Sect’s finest,” Lan Sizhui smiled gently.

Xue Yang huffed, “That’s all sucking up talk and you know it, besides. Even A-Die gets roughed up once or twice and she’s one of the best of her generation. Then again-“

He gave Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji a look, “The bar’s kind of screwed over.”

Wei Ying cackled, “Don’t blame us! Blame Gēge, he’s the one who looked at a bunch of us and went- hey, maybe I should stuff some more info down there. Maybe it’ll fit. I mean, it did, but the matter still stands.”

Lan Wangji chose not to respond, “Do you need to sit down?”

He shrugged, “Probably need to.”

“Then what the hell are you standing around for? Auntie Yan would slap me if she heard we’d just let you stand around,” Jin Ling huffed, tugging Xue Yang along. “Honestly you jerk, don’t you care about anyone else’s mortal life than your own?”

“Nope,” Xue Yang smirked, “you guys can take A-Die’s wrath and I’d be just as comfortable as before.”

Jerk.”

“Prissy peacock,” Xue Yang teased, but settled as soon as he managed to get his legs under himself long enough to get seated.

Ouyang Zizhen it seemed, later joined by Lan Sizhui went to approach A-Qing and her group of people with polite smiles and even politer greetings. Something that Xue Yang didn’t normally bother with (for good reason) so he merely laxed into his seat and watched Jin Ling and Lan Jingyi duke it out for some new argument or another. It was surprisingly light given what happened a few hours before, but then again, these things could change on a flip.

He kept his sword close just in case, but he released the energy holding his bird talisman together and carefully folded it back out flat.

“So.”

He blinked, looking over to watch the shadow looming over him- oddly it wasn’t the one in white but the black one. Song Zichen.

“Are you still not going to introduce yourself?”

Xue Yang rose an eyebrow, not bothering to answer.

Song Zichen scoffed, “I don’t know why you bother with being so mysterious with your identity.”

“It’s more about the fact that you wanted to know so bad,” Xue Yang snickered, “what’s the fun it letting you guys just have what you want? It’s just a name anyway, not that important.”

The conversation rolled off the cliff of ease and straight to the bottomless pit of awkward the longer it continued, his teeth beginning to ache from how hard his jaw clenched.

Xue Yang dug into his robes, pulling out a sweet and throwing it in his mouth before he could think too hard.

Another piece lingered in his hand, warming. Mind beginning to wander.

“As much as I love your little off-the-walls wallflower energy kid, you’ve got to learn how to connect with people outside of family. You should have at least one friend.”

“I have Sizhui, Jin Ling and the others.”

“A-Yuan is practically your cousin the same way Jin Ling is.”

“What if I don’t wanna.”

“That would be a valid choice, if you actually tried to make friends. But you’ve always stuck to us. A crush maybe Yanyan, I would prefer a couple friends- if you don’t find yourself attracted then it’s fine, but at least one friend. Maybe more- but I’m not gonna shoot for the moon.”

An twelve-year old Xue Yang pouted at her before looking down; frustration beginning to build behind his eyes to the point where they, to his horror, began to water.

“I know you’re scared that people won’t actually like you, that they’re just using you to get to me- or to your Uncle Jiang or Auntie Jin, or even Wen Qing and Wangji. I know you think that people don’t care about you because you’re a street rat who just so happens to be a disciple of the Jiang Sect that’s my son but not even related to me by blood. I know. But there are people out there who could give less of a shit what Clan you come from, there are people out there who are good and decent and just want to make the world a little less shittier. They exist, and you can find them if you just take the time to curb the smarmy feral child you feel you need to be all the time just to drive unsavory people away.”

Xue Yang bit the inside of his cheek, “People don’t like people like me, people who can’t do nothin’ or give anythin’.”

Yan Fēnglàng gently cradled his cheeks in his hands, “You’re not a one-trick pony Yanyan, feral shit-talking smart ass might be your default but it’s not all there is to you. I know that, and one day you gotta make the choice to see if you want someone else besides your family to see that too.”

Xue Yang refused to answer more, clearly his A-Die wasn’t getting it.

“Tell you what,” his A-Die pulled a bag of his favorite candy from her waist band, Xue Yang could already feel himself drool.

“Ah-“ she pulled the bag away from his extended hands, “listen first.”

Xue Yang’s arms dropped, pouting.

“How about I give you candy bag every week,” Xue Yang’s entire expression brightened, “but, promise me something first.”

Xue Yang contemplated this for a few moments before nodding.

Smiling gently, Fēnglàng made her proposal.

Xue Yang sighed. Considering it for a moment.

These guys…seemed decent. Maybe…just maybe, this would be his chance to at least try for once. It’s been a long while since he found a couple of people who he could maybe use the extra candy on other than little orphan kids he came across.

He held out his hand, palms up and open, revealing the still perfectly wrapped sweet in his hands.

“..nt one?”

Song Zichen frowned, “What?”

“A candy,” Xue Yang cursed under his breath before clearing his throat. “You want one?”

“WHAT THE FUCK.”

Song Zichen’s attention was snapped as Lan Jingyi pointed accusingly at Xue Yang, “Why the hell are you giving candy to the scary one, you’ve smacked me with your scabbard like I just insulted Auntie Yan just for getting one from your stash!”

“Yeah well I never offered you one Jingyi so shut up,” Xue Yang hissed, he turned back to the older man in black. “Look- it’s clean and sanitary and nothing inside has been touched by anyone but the sweet-maker’s chopsticks. A-Die would never let me hear the end of it if she saw me trying to wash a sticky robe again so it’s not even melted. You want one or not?”

“…” Song Zichen frowned, turning to Xiao Xingchen.

…Who looked imploring- seriously?

“What…flavor is it,” Song Zichen finished lamely.

“Uh- sweet…?”

“Oh.”

Xue Yang watched the other man’s expression more closely, “You know you can say ‘no’ if you want, more for me.”

“I’ll take it!”

Heads swung around to Xiao Xingchen who scrambled forward- odd for a man who was supposedly a swordsman of the highest caliber. Then again, he did kind of move around like an airhead somewhat. At least if you compared it with his other adult companion who carried himself more carefully and more deliberately.

“I’m not gonna be offended if he says no,” Xue Yang scowled, “some people don’t like things that they don’t know about, that’s normal. He doesn’t know if the cooks were really clean and he’s not gonna believe me just because I tell him.”

Wei Wuxian watched as Song Zichen’s eyes widened slightly.

Hoh?

“Well I’ll take it in his stead, I like honey!” Xiao Xingchen smiled pleasantly.

“…Whatever,” Xue Yang sighed, throwing him one before turning to the girl. “You want a candy too? Uh- A-Qing?”

“I’ll take one!” She said, eagerly moving closer.

“Yeah yeah, open up your palm.”

“I guess you’re not that much of a jerk after all,” she said brightly, unwrapping it with deceptively deft fingers. He better watch his money pouch.

“Yeah whatever.”

“A-Yaaaaaaanggggg,” Wei Wuxian moved to Xue Yang’s free side, flopping his head on the young man’s shoulders. “Give your Uncle Wei a piece too?”

“No.”

“What?! Why!? That’s unfair!”

“Don’t think I don’t know who ate some from this bag, A-Die always makes sure to give me least twenty five because she always wants me to share so she gives me five extra,” he glared at Wei Wuxian, “there were only twenty three when you gave them to me.”

Wei Wuxian pouted.

“Ask Uncle Lan to buy some for you, don’t come looking to me for something as cheap as candy. He’d buy you a stall’s worth!”

Lan Wangji nodded very seriously.  

“Young Master Yang, may I have seconds?”

Xue Yang turned his glare in Xiao Xingchen’s direction, “Don’t push your luck.”

“Um,” Mo Xuanyu moved closer uncertainly, “are those the ones she never tells anyone where she gets them?”

“Yeah.”

“May I…?”

“Yeah here,” he threw one to Mo Xuanyu, “you’re probably the type to get useless with low blood sugar anyway.”

Mo Xuanyu chuckled light heartedly.

“Low…blood sugar?” Song Zichen frowned, but if Xue Yang were to try and guess what the weird guy was thinking it was probably something along the lines of ‘what the fuck is a blood sugar’ or something like that.

Maybe less cursing, but it wasn’t like he was going for authenticity here.

“Not enough energy, like being a sad boring candy-hating guy. Low blood sugar.”

Hánguāng-jun tilted his head, “It was described as something of a level of which the body has to maintain energy from sugars consumed in meals, sweets happen to be plentiful of it. A concept that his mother first introduced.”

“Is that so.”

Xue Yang narrowed his eyes at the older man, “You calling A-Die a liar?”

“If you’d be less defensive,” Song Zichen said stiffly, “I’m only wondering how such a concept came to be, not everyone wonders about sugars and how we consume them.”

“Hmph, well she’s just like that.”

“It’s not-“

“Tell us more about your Mother!” Xiao Xingchen cut off urgently, staring at Song Zichen until the other man sighed, “she sounds like a wonderful person!”

“Well if you must know, she used to be something like the worst student ever as a disciple.”

All eyes snapped to Wei Wuxian.

“I was…hm,” Wei Wuxian frowned, “young, but I remember that much. Uh- she was one of the disciples of the Jiang Sect, had pretty much saved Jiang Cheng and I once from this really big wolf that got some sort of sickness, it was attacking humans and almost took a chunk out of A-Cheng. She has a pretty wicked aim though, hit the beastly thing square in the face with a really big rock. She was just wandering around, an orphan as much as we figured, so Uncle Jiang made her a disciple. She was really bad at it though.”

Xue Yang frowned, “…She never told me that.”

Wei Wuxian shrugged, “Maybe she doesn’t think it’s too important. She doesn’t really talk about herself too much actually unless asked. For years she struggled with catching up with the rest of us, no one could figure it out until I went to Gēge, he’s really good with struggling students so I thought he could help. He found out it wasn’t that she was bad at cultivating, she just couldn’t read the manual and no one realized until Gēge talked to her. She’d been cultivating pretty much based on how we tried to help her figure it out and what was discussed in class, which was also affecting her physical performance since she used to be pretty far behind compared to the rest of us. I think her eyesight might have been declining because of it too, she said things were blurry beyond a hand length away.”

Lan Wangji tilted her head, interested, “She did not say this before?”

Wei Wuxian shook his head, “No- I think she just thought it wouldn’t help any, or she didn’t want to bother or something like that. After that Jiang Cheng and I ran laps with her, she’s got excellent hand-eye coordination when she can see but low endurance, sometimes she’d do laps even when she shouldn’t be handling them anymore- it really grated on Aunt Yu’s nerves.”

Lan Wangji slowly nodded, “They argued that time, after you…” Died.

The awkward silence was palpable.

“Well,” Wei Ying scratched his head, “for a long while I’m pretty sure she hated Aunt Yu so it doesn’t surprise me. I don’t know; she always got this sour look whenever she was around, but I could never get her to tell me why. Anyway- long story short we found out she actually was really good at cultivation, in fact studying and absorbing information and spitting it back out was pretty much her greatest strength, even Gēge was impressed with how quickly she’d take a concept and understand it. By then though she was already pretty much A-Cheng’s prospective second-in-command, she was good with younger disciples and can dish out orders, she just hated running, which of course she kind of over did it- but I think by the time we were at Gusu Gēge kept a pretty tight limit on how many laps she was allowed to do at the short time she had.”

“Oh-“ Xue Yang realized, “her breathing problem?”

“Yeah, she’s got a bad history of ignoring it until she collapses, one time she had a pretty bad attack in the middle of training at Lotus Pier and Madam Yu sent her to be tánɡjiě’s personal attendant for close to a whole month, she was extra pissed but you’d only know if you knew how to read the air when she’s nearby.”

Lan Wangji nodded solemnly, like he knew exactly what Wei Wuxian was talking about, and in fact he did. It had been a grating week with A-Yuan beginning to be rebellious in light of the lack of display of remorse in what happened at the Burial Mounds, little did he know, during the anniversary of Wei Wuxian’s death. Lan Wangji had drunken Emperor’s Smile and ended up with a new burn scar.

Yan Fēnglàng was far more frigid in those two months than he had ever experienced, she had been angry at him, and made sure Wangji knew by pretending he didn’t exist. It was a distressingly effective way to spite someone.

“But I mean, she’s nice though. Kind, willing to help if she can. If she care she’ll even go the extra mile. I was surprised to learn that she didn’t have any marriage proposals but the fact that people think she’s in a relationship with A-Cheng is hilarious and makes it more understandable.”

A-Qing tilted her head curiously, “What’s so funny about that? Sounds like a pretty good deal.”

Wei Ying snickered, “They’re actually kind of alike- which is why they’d never get along in a marriage. A-Cheng has a bad habit of running himself to the ground and Fēnglàng does the exact same thing more sneakily- but they both get pissed at the other when the other does it, it’s kind of funny sometimes but I heard she’s gotten a lot calmer with Wen Qing around- which you know- is pretty great actually since Tánɡjiě isn’t around to keep them in line all the time.”

Xue Yang snorted, “Only to other people, she still pisses off Auntie Wen on a regular basis.”

“Ah well that,” Wei Ying smirked, “is a very old story.”

“Woah wait- so it’s true the rumors? Head Disciple Yan actually has a crush on Doctor Wen?” Lan Jingyi leaned forward.

Jin Ling, Lan Sizhui, Mo Xuanyu, and Xue Yang frowned at the same time.

“Jingyi, Auntie Yan is in a relationship with Cousin Qing,” Lan Sizhui said, exasperated, “they just never look like it when there are other people around.”

What?!”

Lan Wangji solemnly nodded, “They’re quite happy, and Fēnglàng derives amusement from individuals who do not believe they are together, in most cases- they attempt to sway her opinion as they are of the knowledge that she is close to Sect Leader Jiang. Therefore, favor with her is favor with Sect Leader Jiang.”

“Gifts for the most part, it really makes Aunt Wen angry when she carries them to her room since a lot of the time they realize A-Die really likes plants,” Xue Yang snickered, “someone gave her a flower- from the far East, A-Die’s eyes sparkled.”

He caught Xiao Xingchen’s curious look and was compelled to elaborate, “She’s into plants.”

“Oh how interesting.”

Xue Yang shrugged.

“And how about Young Master?” Xiao Xingchen leaned forward.

Xue Yang snorted, “What’s so interesting about a randomly picked up street rat? A-Die’s the interesting one not me.”

“What? No! You’re mother told me they call you ‘The Corpses’ Nightmare of the Jiang Sect’ you can’t expect me to hear a name like that and not get excited!” Wei Ying poked him annoyingly, “come onnn tell your Uncle Wei how you got the name!”

“You’re not even related A-Die,” Xue Yang scoffed, “I don’t have to tell you shit.”

“A-Yaaang, Yang-eerrrrr, Yangyang. Yangyang. Yangyang. Yanyan-“

“It’s not that impressive anyway! I barely remember what happened, A-Die said I ended up with a concussion after some intense Night Hunt,” Xue Yang turned red, from being so close to the fire of course, nothing ridiculous like blushing, “it was a while ago- I had just recovered enough to do Night Hunts again when I was with Uncle Jiang and Jin Ling before running into that monster brother of yours; but people started calling me that weird ass name after.”

He sputtered at various looks of disappointment from the ‘Juniors’, “What?!”

“You didn’t even ask her why you got that name? Dude…lame.”

“You could have asked Uncle Lan! Uncle Lan do you know why they call me that?!”

Lan Wangji shook his head, “It is not to be discussed.”

“What?! Why the fuck not?”

Lan Wangji leveled him a look.

“I mean-“ Xue Yang cleared his throat, “why is it that you cannot say anything of it Uncle?”

“It is a matter for only those involved in the incident to know.”

Xue Yang’s expression fell.

“…For the moment,” Lan Wangji amended, “with Wei Ying’s return I imagine that the matter will soon be resolved and your mother will tell you herself.”

Xue Yang nodded reflexively, however absentminded it was, “Understood.”  

He remained quiet after, fiddling with the fraying threads of his clothes while the Juniors quietly brought the conversation somewhere else.

Xiao Xingchen exchanged an unreadable look with Song Zichen.

One that Wei Wuxian caught with a slight narrowing of his eyes.

-

Xue Yang was up long after everyone else settled for the night, not purely because he wished to, but they needed a look out while everyone else got some sleep. Wei Wuxian was subsequently stared into submission as Lan Wangji waited until Wei Ying stopped protesting against him sleeping in favor of settling next to said man and sleeping himself- at nine.

Cuddled up together like that, staring at each other while the other wasn’t looking. His A-Die was right, they were downright teeth aching.

Well whatever, it wasn’t as if Xue Yang was complaining too much about the whole thing, if anything the whole quiet flirting fuckery was way more tolerable than the stuff his A-Die and Auntie Qing would do when there was no one to fuck around with using their old as fuck act about hating each other’s guts.

“Time moves faster with company Young Master.”

Xue Yang hummed, “With good company.”

He eyed the man in those strange nearly pure white robes, not at all like the blue-ish tinged ones of the Lan Sect, “Don’t think this counts.”

“Hm,” Xiao Xingchen said instead, “Young Master, I’ve still yet to know your name.”

Xue Yang scowled, “I already told you it’s not important. Besides, I’m not even anyone particularly important in the Jiang Sect. Just a regular senior disciple, don’t’ believe the shit people yap about.”

“Perhaps it would be more effective to guess,” Xiao Xingchen continued, as if Xue Yang hadn’t said jack shit. “Yan Yang?”

Xue Yang narrowed his eyes, “You think making fun of me will frustrate me to telling you my name?”

“It’s not?” Xiao Xingchen frowned, confused, “I had thought your mother was Yan Fēnglàng.”

Such a good listener,” he said sarcastically, rolling his eyes, “I’m adopted genius. She gave me the choice of whether or not I wanted her name or keep the one I got. I decided to keep the one I got.”

“Um- Wei Yang?”

“No.”

“Jiang Yang?”

Adopted. Ah-dopted.”

“Lan Yang.”

“Now you’re just grasping at straws, just because I call them my uncles doesn’t mean we’re related by blood. They’re just my A-Die’s classmates who happen to be pretty close to us.”

“Er- Wen Yang?”

Xue Yang sighed, “Just give up already.”

“Names are very important Young Master, surely you’ll spare this humble senior and kindly gift him Young Master’s name?” Xiao Xingchen smiled- as if the added sparkle that comes around his face when he does it will actually make Xue Yang rat off his name or something. Well tough. He used to play with A-Yuan and Zewu-jun as a kid; there is no one on Earth as sparkly as A-Yuan and Lan fucking Xichen-top-lister-for-most-handsome-cultivator.

“Hmm…” Xiao Xingchen looked hopeful, making his decision all the more satisfying. “No.”

Xiao Xingchen pouted.

Xue Yang didn’t care.

He didn’t.

He didn’t give two shits and that’s why he’s looking the other way.

“A hint then,” Xiao Xingchen continued, “Young Master can at least give this one a hint yes?”

Xue Yang rolled his eyes. “Fine. ‘sh’”

“Sha Yang?”

“No.”

“She Yang?”

“No. And,” Xue Yang looked at him with a deadpanned stare, “’Yang’ is my personal name.”

“Oh, apologies. What is young master’s courtesy name then?”

Xue Yang smirked, “Not telling~”

Xiao Xingchen pouted once more.

-

“Shao Yang?”

“No.”

“Shen Yang.”

“No.”

“Sheng Yang?”

“No.”

“Shi Yang?”

“No.”

“What about Shou-“

Xue Yang yawned, turning over before nodding at the slightly dazed Jin Ling, who had gotten up for his part of their security rotation, “Night weird guy.”

“Good night….Shu Yang?”

Xue Yang closed his eyes.

“No.”

He smiled as he heard soft cursing.

-

“You haven’t told him your name.”

Xue Yang was up again in the morning, woken by the sound of rousing people; side-effect of living as a street urchin. Still he squinted through a glare in Song Zichen’s direction. Not that it could have done anything considering the other man was staring at a frustrated looking Xiao Xingchen, amusingly it didn’t seem like the older man got any sleep which was fucking hilarious.

All that just for his name, if that wasn’t quality comedy right there, Xue Yang didn’t know what was.

“Nope,” Xue Yang said casually, “he doesn’t need to know it.”

“We could just ask Hánguāng-jun,” the man’s voice was in deadpan, as if he expected Xue Yang to not have thought of it.

Xue Yang however, could only smirk, “Seems like you don’t know Hánguāng-jun very well. Besides, that partner of yours needs to actually ask before he can get my name from Hánguāng-jun.”

He jutted his chin out towards Xiao Xingchen’s direction, “And from the looks of things- he might just refuse to get help just ‘cause he wants to figure it out by himself. ‘Ve met lots of people like that, he seems like one of them when he gets really into it.”

Song Zichen hummed, not disagreeing, “He’s very stubborn however.”

Xue Yang snickered, “Then we’ll just have to see who’s more stubborn now won’t we.”

He walked off to talk to Hánguāng-jun before Song Zichen could respond.

Lan Wangji watched his approach with a neutral expression, waiting on Wei Wuxian as the man slowly roused himself, the little Lans already bustling around them with the beginnings of breakfast. Jin Ling, being a delicate little peacock, was still asleep. Ouyang Zizhen was drowsy, bu moving along with the Lans as they walked about.

The surprise came in the form of Mo Xuanyu, bustling about their little area and reaffixing or retouching certain talismans. The guy probably had a weaker Golden Core, but it was enough that careful talisman work was probably within reach. Xue Yang liked him, kept to himself a lot though, not enough to justify Xue Yang taking an extended interest when his visits to Lanling-Jin were few and far when the guy was still walking around. After the big coup with Former Jin strong-arming her son on the Sect Leadership role to the surprise of absolutely no one he got busy with other stuff.

Nice to know that the other wasn’t too banged up.

“You are disrespecting your senior,” Lan Wangji said lowly, catching Xue Yang’s attention.

“My name isn’t that important,” Xue Yang muttered, picking at the stray dead needles of pine that seemed to have stuck to his outer clothes. They would be a pain later and he damn well knew it, he wasn’t even sure how they even got there. “His fault for making such a big deal out of nothing.”

“Is it amusing,” Lan Wangji said in that fucking awful tone of voice that was exactly Uncle Xichen when the man was being particularly mischievous, except more flat and less intoned with general cheeriness. He’d straight up laugh his damn lips off if anyone tried to say that Hánguāng-jun was a cheerful, happy-go-lucky man.

Not like a jaunty person, more like a calm person,’ his A-Die had said, then when he was older. ‘Like- you got two different sets of boobs- one might a particularly impressive and maybe health concerning rack- the other is flat. Nothing wrong with the flat one, just comes off a little plain when you first look at it, then you realize- it’s still boobs.’

Yeah no, he didn’t understand why she used breasts as the analogy either but it did make sense; in a strange way.

“Or,“ –oh, Xue Yang had nearly forgotten Lan Wangji was speaking to him– “is it because you find that you do not want him to become close to you.”

Xue Yang shrugged.

“…Yang-er,” Lan Wangji said softly, “your Mother has already discussed this with you.”

“Yeah well, he’s not family so I don’t give a-“ he glanced at Lan Wangji, “poo.”

“He seems to have taken a liking regardless,” there was something in Lan Wangji’s eyes that was all too knowing. Not like usual- these weren’t the eyes of someone who were just older, more experienced, these were the eyes of someone who knew. “People of those type are not often ones to be dissuade by mere rejection alone. And Yang-er has not done anything even remotely of the sort.”

He shrugged again, “It’s funny.”

“Yang-er.”

He looked up.

“Your mother will not be happy to know you still do not trust people as you should.”

Xue Yang shifted his gaze towards the rising sun, “I don’t know them. It doesn’t count.”

“Hn.” Lan Wangji’s worried look stuck with him, all the way to when Wei Wuxian had pulled the mat underneath all of them by knocking out some wannabe demonic cultivator who was the cause of all the ruckus; the man having been sneaking around for most of the early morning apparently. Small time but tricky, nothing he couldn’t handle so it wasn’t even worth mentioning.

The talk stayed with him though. All the way to slow trek to the Unclean Realm. Frustratingly enough, the rogue cultivators in tow.

Oh joy.

-

The Unclean Realm was an interesting place in Xue Yang’s opinion.

There were loads of people walking about, not as many as Lotus Pier when the docks would fill up with traveling merchants both foreign and domestic, but it was busy. And the food- as a man grown in Lotus Pier of Yunmeng Jiang- the food was fucking impressive.

Even better, Wei Wuxian, Uncle Wei, he supposes wouldn’t hurt if he called him that in his head; knew everybody. From the older folk who ran the stalls with their in-laws and kids to the random merchants who passed by, and they gave the guy food. Gave- for free.

He made  a vow to himself that he’d hang around his Uncle Wei a little more, he’s gotten a taste of at least four different new sweets and they’ve only gotten past the outer limits of the city.

Wei Wuxian waded through the waters like a deft crocodile, he knew where he was going. Knew were the best spots were, perusing through each booth and greeting everybody with a smile, question, and a soft prodding for some tastes. Which most of the regulars gave readily, those who weren’t were quick to follow suit, despite the fact that they may not have known his face- they knew his uniform.

Clad in blacks of greens with a shock of violet hanging with a gentle chime, intricate splashes of silver pieces that were scattered across his shoulders. They were new, Xue Yang had caught the man carefully putting them on before the last leg into the City. Something of a symbol of rank amongst the Qinghe Nie Sect maybe, he didn’t know.

He broke away as Wei Wuxian chittered excitedly to a wide-eyed Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi, clinging to Lan Wangji’s arm as he described childhood memories in great detail. The others with them certainly seemed just as enraptured, so he was sure he’d hardly be missed any, if at all. Even A-Qing was starting to look a little excited, slipping a little too since it was easy to tell she was staring at the intricately made sugar sculpture.

“A-Yang!”

Xue Yang swung his head, “A-Die?”

The woman in a shock of brilliant violet amongst the sea of earthly tones bounded in with a wide grin, her hair was up in intricate braids that delicately fell against her back. Swinging back and forth with a slight clink of metal beads as they twanged against each other. Upon her sword hand on the pointer finger was seated a neat ring with two Cobras glaring against their relief bed of silver in the center was the subtle glow of something that was very powerful.

He blinked at it curiously.

She smiled, holding her hand in such a way that he could watch the ring’s jewel glow until white, light flashing into a length of a sword with strings of lightning gently brushing against the blade before dissipating.

“A gift from a recently awakened friend,” she winked at him. “Neat right?”

“Yeah,” he frowned, “isn’t that like Uncle Jiangs?”  

Yan Fēnglàng nodded, “It came from the same person who gave the ring.”

Xue Yang’s eyes went wide.

“This one is actually supposed to be Jiang Cheng’s,” She shrugged sheepishly, “he insisted I get it, his sword is enough apparently, also a bit of an inside joke.”

She glanced over his shoulder, “Ah, master Song, master Xiao- I didn’t expect to see you again so soon in person, much less in Qinghe.”

Xiao Xingchen smiled wide, “So you are the greatly revered Yan Fēnglàng, it is an honor. My apologies for my rudeness in not recognizing you when we did meet; but I imagine it was quite the incident.”

“The sentiment is greatly returned, I too didn’t spare much time making a proper introduction; if you can forgive me for that then there’s no need to mirror it,” she glanced at Xue Yang, “might I inquire why you happen to be walking with my son?”

“We had thought he had a better idea of where to go, Master Wei’s experience is no doubt valuable, but there’s nothing quite like exploring the city on your own terms. We had met on a Night Hunt at Yi City, he was kind enough to lead us out of the fog to join the rest of his party,” Xiao Xingchen smiled cheerily.

Yan Fēnglàng rose a brow, “…I see.”

“Ah- about your son, he is a very upstanding young man. If it is not too much trouble, might I-“

“He’s been dangling his real name like bait in front of Xingchen,” Song Zichen cut off, ignoring Xiao Xingchen’s protest. “You mind telling us his clan name to put him out of his misery?”

Yan Fēnglàng blinked before turning to Xue Yang with narrowed eyes, “Yang-er?”

Xue Yang crossed his arms, “I don’t get why I have to tell them my name.”

“Because they are your seniors Yanyan.” Yan Fēnglàng’s gaze was critical, making his face hot and his teeth grind. “Is there a particular reason why you’re being so stubborn about this? Did they do something to you?”

Shit, “It really wasn’t that important, I don’t know why they’re so fucking insistent. I’m just being cautious A-Die-“

“Your caution isn’t the problem here, it is your trust issues that are,” she said, tonelessly. Which meant that she was pissed. “I had deemed it best to address it at a later date but the way you are attempting to squirm your way out of this conversation says otherwise.”

Xue Yang wilted, “Mother, I’m trying.”

“I know you are Yanyan but Master Song and Xiao are your seniors, they are to help you in Night Hunts, and if you cannot learn to trust them then I cannot trust you out on your own in Night Hunts by yourself,” she whispered even lower, “do not think that the fact that you did not tell me of your studies of Yin Energy Cultivation has escaped me.”

He paled, “It’s not what you think, honest. Those are theoretical.”

“Yanyan,” she said, tone still flat, “those observations are not theoretical.”

He swallowed passed the lump in his throat as Yan Fēnglàng wordlessly turned around and began walking.

Meekly, Xue Yang followed.

Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen looked at each other, silent in the face of such personal conversations before following, worried looks on their faces.

Xiao Xingchen looked to Song Lan, I should have been less stubborn in my attempt to get young master’s name.

Song Lan shook his head, Not your fault.

He nodded towards the boy, demurely following behind his mother, He doesn’t remember.

-

Xue Yang watched as Yan Fēnglàng politely but firmly held up the two Rogue Cultivators at the door, her smile -the one she used on stubborn as fuck visiting Sect Leaders who wouldn’t give Jiang Cheng, and her by extension, a fucking break- slipping as soon as she closed the door. Leaving the two of them alone at one of the guest rooms within the Nie Sect itself.

“Xue Yang, I want to make one thing clear. I’m not angry that you tried Yin Energy Cultivation,” Yan Fēnglàng said slowly. “Do you understand that?”

Xue Yang nodded, albeit a bit slowly.

“Why…” she began, pausing not because she wished to prolong the conversation but because she was attempting to get an answer freely given.

If teaching for close to forty years had taught her anything, it was that she had to be non-aggressive, calm. Careful to withhold anything that would sound like an accusation. People sometimes clammed up when being accused and that was the last thing they needed here.

“No-“ she denied, shaking her head. “How’s this, tell me why you think you needed to keep quiet about your studies. We’ll work from there and I can explain to you properly why I reacted so intensely. Sound good?”

Xue Yang pursed his lip nodding. It took several seconds for the young man to even gather his thoughts, another few to try and clump them together in a way that made sense, “I just…I thought it would be interesting. I…demonic cultivation is greatly looked down upon if not wearily looked at, it wasn’t…I just thought that if I did tell you it needed to be sometime when you were alone. Then we got busy.”

The sudden odd spike of walking corpses and fierce corpses were a pain, it died down now but during the time it felt like everybody had a problem. Sometimes it was real, sometimes it was something else, usually they preferred it if it was a false alarm- or at least Yan Fēnglàng did. Sometimes they weren’t.

Sometimes, they were a little worse.

“Okay…okay,” she took a seat in front of him. Settling on her back legs out of habit, sinking on the floor was a familiar comfort, but one day- one day she was going to reinvent the damn beanbag chair. “First- I’m sorry for being angry without saying anything to you Yanyan.”

“I’m sorry too, I should have told you a lot earlier,” Xue Yang frowned, “you…met Song Zizhen and Xiao Xingchen before?”

Yan Fēnglàng pursed her lip before sighing, “Yes. It was on the Night Hunt that put you through a coma.”

Xue Yang frowned, “But I don’t-“

“You don’t, most likely because you tapped into a very volatile source of demonic energy- yin energy,” she nodded towards the room around her, “it’s why I’m here- Wei Wuxian is the foremost expert of our generation- but Teacher Wei- Ming Fan, if he’s around then it’s more than doubled. I was hoping to get more information about the source of energy you tapped into that practically drove you insane in an instance before you collapsed.”

Xue Yang nervously swallowed, “…did I..hurt anyone?”

Yan Fēnglàng shrugged, “I got a small cut- nothing major. You sort of…used me as a hostage I guess?”

Mother.” Fucking hell, Xue Yang wanted to scream, “why didn’t you tell me?”

“At first it was because I didn’t want to hurt you with it, then I realized it’s a move only an asshole would make so I considered it seriously. It was then I decided that I’d tell you once I got more information on what happened.” Yan Fēnglàng wrapped her hands around her knees, “I’m gonna assume here that you have no clue what happened after you went berserk?”

Xue Yang shook his head, “I remember A-Shen was about to be bitten by a corpse and I acted- I was going to manipulate the yin energy enough to control the weaker corpses, get them to get the other one way; after that…nothing.”

“You went mad- and I don’t say that lightly. I mean you started screaming and then you froze at the sight of your Uncle Jiang then grabbed the nearest person towards you and threatened to let the blood spill.” Yan Fēnglàng gently patted his knee at the noise Xue Yang made, “then those two Rougue Cultivators- Xiao Xingchen I mean and Song Zichen showed up. You froze and then practically collapsed- that’s when I got the cut by the way, your hand slipped off your sword and nicked me a bit in the arm. We got you and took you to A-Qing as fast as we could, probably inadvisably fast but I couldn’t have given less of a shit if I tried.”

Xue Yang stayed quiet.

“Hey, no one holds it against you. Least of all me, I just wish you could have told someone- me. Your Uncle Jiang, I don’t know- Jin Ling maybe? About the fact that you had been practicing, we could have been more aware- but no one ended up dead so it’s easy to forgive until we can figure this out.”

“Still…” Xue Yang refused to look up from his feet, “I’m sorry I-“

“I forgive you. But…I know this sounds kind of stupid, but have you at least met Song Zichen maybe? I’d ask about Xiao Xingchen but he just recently came down from the mountain so I’m banking on probably not,” Yan Fēnglàng scratched her neck, “I’m just trying to figure out why you reacted so strongly to them.”

Xue Yang shrugged, but if he had been paying more attention he probably would have noticed that Yan Fēnglàng’s expression hadn’t changed. Not disappointed or even contemplative. Of course- this was because she already knew.

The question is, why that moment? Why that instance?

Well. Talking to Ming Fan, even he wasn’t quite sure. They weren’t anywhere significant at least in his memory, but he did say to wait for Shen Qingqiu to visit before anything happened.

Fuck though, if it wasn’t the slightest bit frustrating to have absolutely no reference to what was going to happen.

“Xue Yang, you’re still in very big trouble,” she scolded softly, gingerly rubbing his knee to show she wasn’t mad at all. “Disrespecting your seniors is a big no-no, even if it’s funny as fuck.”

Xue Yang cracked a smile at least, that was good. She’d take a brittle smile over the blank one.

“So, as your punishment. First- tell those two Seniors your name, second- you’re in charge of showing them around for however long they’re staying. Understood?”

Xue Yang nodded. “Got it.”

“Okay, c’mere,” she opened her arms, “you know the drill.”

Xue Yang sniffed before diving.

-

Xue Yang, Xue Yang. Xiao Xingchen could not piece together why that name was so familiar.

And Song Lan couldn’t understand why he became so angry when he heard that name.

But they will.