Midday, on the far side of Cloud Recesses, a bunny and his friends hid behind the greeneries and white stones as they made the final preparations. Their target will appear soon, an impromptu arrangement for the Senior Rabbit to meet the youngster for talisman training. As a good excuse as any, because if their Elder Lan Qiren were to find out they are training under Yiling Laozu, the consequences would be dire. Far worse than transcribing Gusu Sect's four thousand rules with ink on paper alone.
And speaking of punishment, what kind of penalty would HanGuang Jun impose on them if they were caught this time, Lan SiZhui debated. His brows furrowed, already having second thoughts.
“Let’s not do this now,” Lan SiZhui said after much internal deliberation.
“Why not? This would certainly get them to talk,” Lan Jingyi argued. “Those two have stopped communicating since Wei Wuxian woke up. If we don’t do something, they will probably go their separate ways again.”
“Lan Jingyi, what I meant was, we can still complete our task, but let’s wait until after HanGuang Jun finishes…”
“No!” the rivaling pair rejected.
“Why?” Lan SiZhui resists the urge to groan in frustration. It’s always worse when these two are in agreement.
“Because at this moment HanGuang Jun is in his vulnerable state, which is the best time to deliver his person to him. Always attack when the target is too preoccupied to take notice. That’s how hunting works,’” Lan Jingyi explained.
“I agree,” Jin Ling corresponded. “If my trap worked on them, we could have used it, but that is not possible considering those two are invincible together. Our plan was a success at the inn, why can’t we try the same trick? There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the situation.”
“I have to ask, where do you two learn these underhanded tactics?” Lan SiZhui questioned, then suddenly realized. “Wait, don’t tell me. I should’ve known. Still, may I remind you, we were lucky HanGuang Jun didn’t punish us from the previous incident.”
“Correct, he didn’t punish us. Which means he doesn’t mind our meddling,” Jin Ling, the young Jin Sect Leader reminded. “Besides, you’re the one who told us the trick to get them together. If you didn’t want this to happen, why invite me to Gusu?”
Lan Jingyi rolled his eyes. “We didn’t invite you. You showed up at the gate with Fairy.”
“And you let me in, which means you needed my assistance,” Jin Ling argued.
“We had to, or you would make a scene and ruin everything,” Lan Jingyi scoffed.
“Jin Ling…” Lan SiZhui interceded, not wanting this to escalate into another juvenile fight, “I think what Lan Jingyi was trying to say is, Senior Wei might use you as an excuse to leave Gusu.”
Of course, his good intention was again shattered by Lan Jingyi who couldn’t help himself from provoking Jin Ling further. “And we don’t need you, nor Fairy this time. Lan SiZhui was the one who noticed the pattern from those incidents. All we have to do is have him touch the shield. You’re only here as an observer...wait, an interference.”
“Why are you suggesting I would ruin your plans?” Jin Ling snapped back. “How am I an interference when I’ve been helping you since day one. Without Fairy and I, HanGuang Jun wouldn’t have brought Wei Wuxian back here.”
“Yes yes, it’s all your work,” Lan Jingyi agreed sarcastically. “Wait, wasn’t it Fairy who should take credit for that?”
“She’s still mine, stupid…” Jin Ling growled.
“How dare you call me stupid!” Lan Jingyi shouted back.
“But you are,” Jin Ling snarled, attacking where it hurts. “Despite being the same age as Lan SiZhui, in terms of cultivation, he’s still far superior than you.”
“He’s stronger than the both of us!”
“Yeah, but I am not his Senior here.”
“That’s it! Let’s fight right now, and see who is better!”
“Fine! I will show you what the Leader of Jin Sect is made of.”
“Can both of you stop! Why are you always like this during the most crucial moment?” Lan SiZhui pleaded, but his words fell on deaf ears as usual.
“Good! I will show you what the future Leader of Gusu Sect could do!” Lan Jingyi unsheathed his sword, as did Jin Ling.
“Really?” Jin Ling asked with an expression of disbelief. “Did Lan SiZhui have to step down for that to happen? Or all your Juniors?”
“Come at me!”
Crying internally, Lan SiZhui gawked at the baffling scene of the two raising their blades at each other and tried again. “Senior Wei could be here any minute...think of our plan....”
“Who gives a damn about Wei Wuxian?!” the angry boys roared before their blades collided. Their internal force caused the air to vibrate, shifting away from their bodies. The leaves started to take flight, as the birds made their appearance known, while the mammals fled. Even critters know blades do not have eyes.
“What about me?” A familiar voice emerged.
Blanched, Lan SiZhui stammered, “Aaaahh....S-Senior Wei…Uuhh, you see...Jin Ling and Lan Jingyi are fighting again.”
However, the two hot headed youngsters were too busy countering the other’s attack to take notice, the catalyst of their initial argument had suddenly appeared right next to Lan SiZhui.
Wei Wuxian folded his arms as he observed their battle with mild interest, his mouth pulled slightly at the corner. “Huh...and here I thought private duels are forbidden. I guess they have not learned all the rules of Gusu Sect yet. Jin Ling I understand, but Lan Jingyi should know better.”
Although nervous, Lan SiZhui's serene face returned, then quickly apologized, “I’m sorry we asked you to help us train today. I tried my best to stop them, but...”
“No one can control these brats when they’re like this. Which begs the question, how did old man Lan Qiren tolerate this special ‘Lan’ for so long? The kid must have some ancestral Lan’s blood in him for him not to be kicked out,” Senior Wei took an educated guess. Of course, Yiling Laozu was always on his mark.
Lan SiZhui nodded in confirmation as they both watched the pair who had taken their fight among the tall trees. This ‘Lan’ is indeed special. Although many disciples of Gusu were orphans from unknown lands, just like Lan SiZhui himself, Lan Jingyi was born here. His bloodline may not be as strong as the two Jades of Gusu, but his late father was one of the Senior of Gusu, rumored to have lost his life protecting Lan Qiren during the siege by the Wen Sect.
Wei Wuxian chuckled softly from the story. “Aaahh, this explains it then. Not once did anyone here tell this kid to shut up. His father must be an exceptional man,” he concluded with respect in his tone.
The small talk was necessary while the boys continued their fight from above. From experience, Yiling Laozu is not someone who could be easily deceived, and Lan SiZhui is not accustomed to telling lies either. Thus why he always needed the other two to mislead others on his behalf. However, at the moment, due to their volatile nature, they’re both too preoccupied to be of use. Lan SiZhui should’ve knocked those two out when he had the chance.
Hold on, on second thought, he didn’t want their trap to come this early. Without them, he could delay the plan.
“Let them fight then,” Wei Wuxian sighed at the angry youths, who still hadn’t acknowledged his existence. He turned to Lan SiZhui. “Do you still want to train in talisman modification?”
“I do!” Lan SiZhui eagerly agreed and pointed to his right. “Let’s head over that hillside. We’ll have more privacy.”
“Good idea. Those young misses will only drag you behind anyway,” Wei Wuxian shrugged dismissively. They began to leisurely stroll away from the battle. Senior Wei said, “Lan SiZhui, out of the three, you’re still my favorite pupil. Do you know why?”
The warmth in Lan SiZhui’s heart grew, despite knowing having such a thought is selfish. Still, he shyly smiled and shook his head.
Senior Wei returned the smile, “You remind me so much of my Shijie, who also had a hard time keeping Cheng Jiang and I in line. I can’t count the number of times she watched us chase each other around Lotus Pier over the most stupid arguments. In fact, at times like this, I remembered...”
All was well, as the two engrossed men conversed over Wei Wuxian’s childhood tales. Little did they know of the changing vibe behind them when a sudden double wave of energy force sent Wei Wuxian flying to the left. His body flew until it struck the makeshift Gusu Shield they had resurrected from earlier. Lan SiZhui’s deduction was correct, a vibrant blue string appeared on the wrist of Yiling Laozu, who started throwing curses at the youngsters as it dragged him away.
Dumbfounded, the opened mouth Lan SiZhui turned to gape at his peers who were fighting earlier, but now seemed to have made up within a flash at the most inconvenient time to send Yiling Laozu on his way.
“What did you two do?” he asked incredulously.
It was certainly their original plan, but they were surely not meant to be caught. By Wei Wuxian’s expression, and the profanity that followed, they could not get themselves out of this mess no matter how much they tried to spin the tale.
“That’s for saying we dragged you behind!” the two impulsive, thin skin youth, who may someday become powerful leaders of the Cultivation World answered in unison.
Speechless, Lan SiZhui’s downcast eyes began to search for a good place to dig. If he burrowed himself long enough, maybe the coming danger would pass?
Even now, these arrogant short-tempered rivals still didn’t comprehend the situation they were in. Once Senior Wei rats them out to HanGuang Jun, they are as good as dead. Jin Ling included. It doesn’t matter that the particular spell was cast by HanGuang Jun himself.
No one touches his Wei Ying.
Lan Suzhui could only pray for Buddha’s mercy. Because really...rabbits may be lucky, but there are limits to their chances!
How many times has this happened? Lan Wangji pondered, not because he did not know, but seeing that he could not forget.
The first time was intentional, the second was passing by, but this time...it was unintended. Obviously, when the distance it would require for the blue thread to retract would be the other side of the hill. The charm of the third time was that Wei Wuxian had disturbed his tranquility. More precisely, Han Guang Jun’s quiet bath time, at the same place without fail.
Wei Wuxian yelped after resurfacing from crashing into the cold spring. Barely able to hold himself up, he held onto the only solid figure he could grasp. Shivering from the icy water, this drenched rabbit clung to the other person far longer than he should.
Lan Wangji, not surprisingly had frozen in place. Momentarily, his mind wandered to the secret of the past, a deja vu from their experiences. Soaked through just like that time, the white robes clung to Wei Wuxian’s form, leaving the other to imagine the rest. What was it about this man, no matter how disheveled he became, his beauty did not diminish his youthful appearance. Those long thick locks may be wet and disarrayed, yet, every strand with its sparkling water droplets held the shape of his perfect features.
“L-L-Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying gulped, his red lips moistened, quivering as though they wished to beckon.
Images from that night resurfaced. Lan Wangji’s heart responded, jerked frantically, though he remained motionless.
Escape? There was none, when the warden was himself. Yet, the other could be said to be the same. Who was trapping who, he could no longer tell...now that his person was here.
Neither react nor respond. HanGuang Jun could only stare back at the soaked rabbit who could not bare silence from others.
Suddenly, Wei Wuxian let go and scowled. “Don’t you give me that look. If you hadn’t put this bonding spell on me, I wouldn’t have been thrown in the pool in the first place!”
Lan Wangji’s brooding gaze remain firm. If I hadn’t, you would have left.
Wei Wuxian took a breath, followed by a reluctant sigh. “Still won’t talk to me? Whatever, I might as well bathe while I’m here,” he said, then began to remove his wet clothes.
Eyes widened by the impulsive action. Bathe? You want to take a bath? Panic set in, Lan Wangji shifted to reach for his clothes, but a hand grabbed his.
“Oh no, you are not going anywhere! I don’t want to be pulled away in the middle of my bath for whatever reason. Unless you want me streaking through Gusu, you’re not going anywhere,” Wei Wuxian threatened. “Imagine what everyone would think?”
His brows lifted at the lie. They both know that’s not how the blue thread spell worked. He wanted to speak, but refuting now would only be admitting to his fault.
At a standoff, their silent battle began.
Lan Wangji hadn’t spoken a word to his guest, or more precisely his detained visitor. Not even once...for what had transpired after Wei Wuxian woke up from his fever. It was fortunate, there was enough discipline to distract the man who pays no heed to others' feelings. Wei Wuxian acted without thinking; spoke with no regard. A habit that often draws blades from others. Still, who was he to judge, when HanGuang Jun himself caused the same kind of blades to be drawn, but from a different kind of nature, when no words were uttered.
He had lost Wei Ying twice, no…. thrice. The time at the Wen’s Station, under the storm on the bottom of Qiongqi Path, and again in Nightless City. Each time, one step back becomes like the distance from the moon to the sea.
Those moments, the pain was more unbearable than the next. Who would have thought, the person who always ran away would keep uttering the same plea.
“Stay,” the other spoke again, his eyes never failed to study Lan Wangji’s quiet demeanor. But more often, Wei Wuxian saw what he wanted to see. Rejection, rather than acceptance. That’s why, although HanGuang Jun could easily break the hold on his wrist, he found it impossible to push Wei Wuxian away, no matter how alarmed he felt.
The current situation may not be ideal, as usual, but he reluctantly gave in to Wei Wuxian’s demands with a slight nod. And only then did the grip on his wrist release.
Settling back into the cold spring, Lan Wangji averted his eyes so the sight of the other’s exposed body could be ignored. Luckily, the spring water was chill enough to prevent the flame from spreading, but the fire could not be entirely stifled at the other’s presence.
“I should’ve thought this through,” Wei Wuxian mumbled under his breath as he struggled to strip off the remaining clothes. Quite difficult in the water, even falling back into the spring when he tried his best to remove his boots. Coughing and cursing, he resurfaced again. Wei Wuxian glared accusingly at him for moving out of the way.
“Why didn’t you catch me?” Wei Wuxian accused, but his outburst only earned Lan Wangji’s silent back as he turned away.
“Yo-You…,” he stuttered and splashed water at the other’s back. “Lan Zhan, why are you still acting like this? You won’t let me go, but you don’t want to talk to me either. What have I done to offend you this time? Can’t you just tell me why you’re upset so I can make amends?”
Amends? What amends?
His eyes squeezed shut, a crushing pain in his chest.
HanGuang Jun was not upset, mad, or angry as others had presumed. No, the truth was more disturbing.
He was afraid.
The same fear that rose every time danger came towards the walking hazard who attracted conflict wherever he went. This uneasiness was not stemmed from the dread of Wei Ying leaving, but that he was closing his heart again.
That night of the approaching storm at the inn, this person had clung to him. Pleading, he had wept in a vulnerable state, unseen before. It was one of the few times Lan Wangji saw a side he wishes he had seen sooner. How many times had Wei Wuxian called out for help from others, but no one would respond? This man always believed he could shoulder the mountain on his own, but how can he, when it crumbles to pieces. Yiling Laozu, no matter how powerful could not catch them all. Once those pieces hit the ground, the shadows descend.
Lan Wangji had really hoped that things would be different this time, but after Wei Wuxian woke up, it wasn’t to be…
Initially, HanGuang Jun thought the other had played a trick on him. But after further observation, the disappointment arrived.
Wei Ying had forgotten.
Easily forgetting others, while he did not want others to forget him.
How unfair you are...
But fairness does not exist in this world, or they would never have reached this state. As one sought comfort, the other stepped away. Their dance since the day they met never ceased even to this day.
Like now...it didn’t take long for the lonesome rabbit to act. Lan Wangji nearly jumped when he felt a hand was placed on his person, precisely his scarred back. Fists clenched under the surface, he dared not retract.
Wei Wuxian, for whatever reason that piqued his interest, must have decided he didn’t want to give his target a reprieve.
Wei Ying...what are you doing?
To be continue...
Author's Note: Happy Luna New Year! I hope those who are celebrating are enjoying the holiday with their family. I was excited to watch Detective Chinatown 3, but it was canceled worldwide due to coronavirus outbreak, closing all theatres in China. So as a reminder, please keep yourself healthy during this flu season.
Apologies for the belated update, my editor was preoccupied with her home life and I was also busy with my first translation project. Translation turns out was more difficult than I thought. It's like deciphering a Rosetta Stone because I have to compare three different languages when I only know two.
P.S. As a reminder, I will ignore comments that tell me to update. Reactions, jokes, questions and reviews are highly encouraged. But ushering me to post faster will only keep me away from my laptop. So keep that in mind (^-^)