Chapter 43 Allure—Part One
He never actually expected Lan WangJi to drink with him, and simply finished the liquor in his own cup. However, staring silently at him, Lan WangJi gently swept his own sleeves aside. He poured a cup for himself as well and, after a pause, he slowly downed the liquor.
Wei WuXian was quite surprised, “HanGuang-Jun, you really are considerate, aren’t you? You’re really gonna drink with me?”
The last time they drank together, Wei WuXian didn’t pay much attention to Lan WangJi’s expression. This time, however, he went out of his way to scrutinize it.
Lan WangJi closed his eyelids when he drank. With a faint frown, he finished the liquor, and only opened his eyes again after subtly pursing up his lips. A blanket of mist even seemed to have fallen over his eyes.
Resting his chin in his hand, Wei WuXian started to count in silence. As he had expected, when he reached the number eight, Lan WangJi put the cup down. He touched his forehead, closed his eyes, and fell asleep.
Wei WuXian was completely convinced—Lan WangJi really did fall asleep before he woke up drunk!
For some unknown reason, he was starting to feel a bit eager. Finishing all of the leftover liquor in one gulp, Wei WuXian stood up and paced around the room, his hands folded behind him. After a while, he walked toward Lan WangJi, bent down, and whispered by his ear, “Lan Zhan?”
There was no reply. Wei WuXian continued, “WangJi-xiong?”
Lan WangJi was leaning his head on his right hand. His breathing was calmer than ever.
Both his features and the hand at his forehead were impeccably fair in color. He looked as if he was a piece of fine jade.
The faint fragrance of sandalwood that surrounded him had originally been cold, somewhat grim. Now, however, as it combined with the liquor’s mellow aroma, a few tinges of warmth rippled through the coldness. As though a saccharine whisp had wound its way through, the scent could almost be described as intoxicating.
Now that Wei WuXian was near enough, the scent intertwined with his breaths. He couldn’t help but bent down further so that he was even closer to Lan WangJi. Vaguely, he thought to himself, Strange… Why is it starting to feel a bit hot in here?
Amid the fusion of liquor and sandalwood, his face inched nearer and nearer, while he himself didn’t notice it at all. His voice had lowered as well. In an almost teasing manner, he murmured, “Second… Bro-…”
Suddenly, a voice entered his ears, “Young Master…”
Wei WuXian’s face was already less than an inch away from Lan WangJi’s. The word “Brother” was at the tip of his tongue as well. Startled by the sound, he almost fell onto the ground with a slip of his feet.
He immediately positioned himself in front of Lan WangJi. Then, he turned to the wooden windows of where the voice came from.
A careful knock could be heard through the windows, then a small voice drifted through the slit, “Young Master…”
Wei WuXian finally noticed that his heart was beating a bit too fast. He puzzled over it again, then regained his composure. Walking over, he raised the window to see a black-clothed figure dangling upside-down with legs hung at the roof, preparing to knock once more. Wei WuXian quickly opened the window, which bumped into the person’s head. The figure exclaimed with a light ah. Holding the windows back with both of his hands, he finally made eye contact with Wei WuXian.
A cold breeze barged into the room. Wen Ning’s eyes were opened, no longer an ashen white, but instead filled with a pair of black, silent pupils.
The two stayed like this, one standing, one hanging, and stared at each other for a few moments.
Wei WuXian, “Come down.”
With a sudden loss of balance, Wen Ning fell and slammed onto the ground outside the inn.
Wei WuXian wiped away the nonexistent sweat on his forehead.
He commented, We really chose the right place!
It was a good thing that they chose this inn. For the sake of tranquility, the windows of the private room faced a small grove instead of the streets. Using the support pole, Wei WuXian left the windows open and looked down, leaning outside. With his heavy body, Wen Ning made a man-shaped dent on the ground. He was still staring at Wei WuXian even as he lay in the dent.
In a hushed voice, Wei WuXian shouted at him, “I told you to come down, not go down. ‘Come’, you understand?”
Wen Ning looked up at him. Dusting off his clothes, he crawled out of the dent and hurried to reply, “Oh. I’m coming.”
As soon as he finished, he clung to a pillar and prepared to climb. Wei WuXian interrupted him at once, “Stop! Stay where you are. I’ll come get you.”
He returned to Lan WangJi and leaned down toward his ears, “Lan Zhan, oh, Lan Zhan. Please sleep for a while longer. I’ll be back before you know it. Won’t you be a good boy?”
After he spoke, he felt a strange urge. He couldn’t help but brushed the tip of his finger against Lan WangJi’s eyelashes.
In a slight manner, Lan WangJi’s lashes trembled and his brows twitched. He looked rather perturbed. Removing his hand, Wei WuXian leaped out the window. He hopped a few times on the branches by the roof, then landed on the ground. Right after he turned around, Wen Ning kneeled down in front him.
Wei WuXian, “What are you doing?”
Wen Ning said nothing, his head hanging low.
Wei WuXian asked again, “Do you really have to talk to me like this?”
Wen Ning lowered his voice, “Young Master, I’m sorry.”
Wei WuXian, “Well then.”
Immediately after he spoke, he kneeled in front of Wen Ning as well. Startled, Wen Ning proceeded to kowtow him, while Wei WuXian soon returned the kowtow as well. Wen Ning was so alarmed that he jumped up at once. Only then did Wei WuXian stand up again, sweeping off the dirt at his hems, “You could’ve just stood straight and talked to me, you know?”
Wen Ning was still looking at the ground, afraid to say anything. Wei WuXian asked, “When did you regain consciousness?”
Wen Ning, “Just a while ago.”
Wei WuXian, “Do you still remember the things that happened when the nails were in your head?”
Wen Ning, “Some… but not all.”
Wei WuXian, “What do you remember?”
Wen Ning, “That I’d been chained in a really dark place. I think people sometimes came to check on me.”
Wei WuXian, “Do you remember who they were?”
Wen Ning, “No, only that somebody nailed something into my head.”
Wei WuXian, “It was probably Xue Yang. He also used those nails to control Song Lan. He used to be a guest cultivator at the LanlingJin Sect, but we still don’t know whether he did such a thing out of his own intentions or was it the LanlingJin Sect’s wishes.” After giving it some thought, he continued, “Most likely, it was out of the LanlingJin Sect’s wishes. Back then, they all said that you’d been completely annihilated. If the LanlingJin Sect didn’t take part in this, he wouldn’t have been able to hide the truth all on his own.” With a pause, he asked again, “Then, what happened afterwards? How did you go to Dafan Mountain?”
Wen Ning, “Afterwards, I don’t know how long had passed, but I suddenly heard someone clap, and then, Young Master, you said ‘wake up,’ so I… struggled out of the chains and rushed outside…”
It was the command that Wei WuXian gave to the three fierce corpses at Mo Village.
In the past, Wei WuXian had given the Ghost General countless commands. Thus, he also heard the first command that Wei WuXian gave after he came back to this world.
And so, in a muddled state of mind, Wen Ning followed other corpses’ directions and Wei WuXian’s commands. The LanlingJin Sect, on the other hand, knew that they couldn’t make public the fact that they’d been hiding the Ghost General. Or else, if the news leaked out, not only would its own reputation be damaged, the people would also start to panic, which was why even though Wen Ning ran away, they didn’t dare to pursue him with any fanfare. After a mess of a journey, Wen Ning finally reached Wei WuXian, who was playing the flute on top of Dafan Mountain, and the two successfully met again.
Wei WuXian sighed, “You said that you ‘don’t know how long had passed’. It’s already been more than ten years.” He continued after a short pause, “Well, it’s fair to say that I don’t know much more than you do. Do you want me to tell you some of the things that happened?”
Wen Ning, “I’ve heard of some.”
Wei WuXian, “Like what?”
Wen Ning, “I heard that the Burial Mounds are gone, that everyone… is gone.”
Truthfully, Wei WuXian had only wanted to tell him about the more trivial gossip, such as how the rules of the Lan Sect had increased from three thousand to four thousand. Not at all expecting Wen Ning to bring up such a grave topic to start with, he could only stay silent.
Despite of this being a grave topic, Wen Ning’s tone wasn’t mournful at all, as though he had already known that it would’ve happened. In reality, though, this was indeed the case. They expected the worst-case scenario countless times, as early as more than a decade ago.
After a moment of silence, Wei WuXian asked again, “What else have you heard?”
Wen Ning whispered, “Sect Leader Jiang, Jiang Cheng, brought a siege upon the Burial Mounds. And he killed you.”
Wei WuXian, “I’ll have to clarify this one. He didn’t kill me. I died from a backfire.”
Wen Ning finally looked up at him, “But, Sect Leader Jiang clearly…”
Wei WuXian, “Nobody can walk safely on a single-plank bridge for their whole life. It couldn’t be helped.”
Wen Ning seemed as if he wanted to sigh, but he had no breath to let out. Wei WuXian ended the conversation, “Okay. Let’s not talk about him anymore. Have you heard of anything else?”
“Yes.” Wen Ning gazed at him, “Young Master Wei, you died such an awful death.”
“…” Looking at how miserable he was, Wei WuXian sighed, “So you haven’t heard any good news?”
Wen Ning frowned, “No. There hasn’t been any.”
“…” Wei WuXian was speechless.
Suddenly, a loud shattering noise came from the main hall of the first floor. Lan SiZhui’s voice followed, “Were we not talking about Xue Yang? Why are we now arguing over this?”
Jin Ling, “We are talking about Xue Yang. Was what I said wrong? What did Xue Yang do? He’s worse than scum, and Wei Ying was even more disgusting than him! What do you mean ‘we shouldn’t generalize them’? These monsters are vermin to our world! We should kill, murder, and slaughter every single one of them!”
Wen Ning flinched. Wei WuXian gestured for him to stay still. On the other side, Lan JingYi joined in as well, “Why are you being so angry about it? SiZhui did not say that Wei WuXian should not have been killed. He just said that not everyone who cultivates the ghost path is the same type of person as Xue Yang. Did you have to throw things? I did not get to eat that one yet…”
Jin Ling sneered, “Didn’t he also say that ‘the founder of this path may not have intended harm with it’? Who was ‘the founder of this path’? Go on, tell me, who else could it be except for Wei Ying?! I just can’t seem to understand you. Your GusuLan Sect is also a prominent sect, and back then you also lost quite a number of people in Wei Ying’s hands, didn’t you? Was it hard, killing all those corpses and whatnot that were under his control? Lan Yuan, why are you speaking from such a strange standpoint? From the way you talk, don’t tell me that you’re making excuses for Wei Ying!”
Lan Yuan was Lan SiZhui’s birth name. He protested, “I was not making excuses for him. I was simply suggesting that we may not want to make conclusions before we understand the entire situation. You know, before we came to Yi City, a lot of people also claimed that the YueyangChang Clan’s Chang Ping was killed by Daozhang Xiao XingChen for revenge, right? But what was the truth?”
Jin Ling, “Nobody actually saw whether or not Chang Ping was killed by Daozhang Xiao XingChen. All they had were guesses, so why are you calling them claims? Just try and count how many cultivators lost their lives to Wei Ying, to Wen Ning, to the Tiger Seal during the battles at the Qiongqi Path and the Nightless Day! These are truths that everyone accepts, that nobody can deny! And what else I’ll never forget is that he ordered Wen Ning to kill my father and mother!”
If Wen Ning had a single trace of blood in his complexion, it would’ve already drained out of his face.
He breathed, “… Maiden Jiang’s son?”
Wei WuXian stayed still.
Jin Ling continued, “My uncle grew up with him, my grandfather saw him as his own child, my grandmother wasn’t horrible to him either, but what did he do? He made Lotus Pier the lair of the Wen Sect, he wrecked the entire YunmengJiang Sect, he caused the deaths of both my parents and grandparents, and now my uncle is the only one left! He brought about his own death through the havoc he created and ended up leaving not even a whole corpse behind him! Just which part of the entire situation do you not understand? Just what excuses are you still making for him?!”
He argued forcefully, while Lan SiZhui didn’t reply at all. A moment later, another boy spoke up, “Why are we suddenly getting so heated over such a thing? Let’s just drop the subject, alright? We haven’t finished eating yet. The food’s gonna go cold.”
Judging from the voice, he was the “sentimental” one that Wei WuXian poked fun at. Someone else agreed, “ZiZhen is right. We should stop arguing. SiZhui simply forgot to choose his words carefully. It was only an offhand comment—how could he have thought about so much? Sit down, Young Master Jin. Let us continue to eat.”
“That’s right. All of us had just left Yi City, so technically we’ve already been through life and death together… We really shouldn’t argue over such a careless mistake.”
Jin Ling snorted. Lan SiZhui finally responded, his tone as polite as ever, “I am sorry. I should have put more thought to my wording. Young Master Jin, please sit back down. We would not want to continue and bring HanGuang-Jun down here as well.”
The mention of HanGuang-Jun was truly a splendid move. Immediately, Jin Ling stopped, not even making another noise. The sounds of moving tables and chairs came through. It seemed that he sat back down again. The hall quickly refilled with clamor, and the boys’ voices were soon drowned out by the clinks of bowls and dishes. However, Wei WuXian and Wen Ning still stood silently in the grove, their expressions stern.
Without making a sound, Wen Ning kneeled down again. Wei WuXian only noticed him after a short pause. Waving his hand weakly, he responded, “It wasn’t your fault.”
Just as Wen Ning was about to open his mouth again, he suddenly looked behind Wei WuXian and hesitated. Before Wei WuXian could turn around, a white-robed figure walked past him and kicked Wen Ning’s shoulder.
Wen Ning created another man-shaped dent on the ground.
Wei WuXian hurried to pull back Lan WangJi, who seemed as though he wanted to kick again, “HanGuang-Jun, HanGuang-Jun! Calm down!”
It appeared that the time for “sleeping” had passed, while the time for “being drunk” had arrived, and thus Lan WangJi found his way outside.
The situation felt somewhat familiar—history really did repeat itself, didn’t it? However, this time, Lan WangJi looked even more normal than last time. He didn’t wear his boots wrong, either. Even when he rudely kicked over Wen Ning, his expression was still perfectly righteous. Nobody could find any fault on him. After Wei WuXian pulled him back, he fixed his sleeves and nodded. He stood proudly where he was, stopping himself from kicking again.
Wei WuXian used the time to ask Wen Ning, “How are you?”
Wen Ning, “I’m fine.”
Wei WuXian, “If you’re fine then stand up! What are you still kneeling for?”
Wen Ning crawled up and hesitated, “Young Master Lan.”
Lan WangJi scrunched his brows and covered his ears. He then turned around with his back toward Wen Ning. Facing Wei WuXian, he used his own body to block their eye contact.
Wen Ning, “…”
Wei WuXian, “It’s best if you don’t stand there. Lan Zhan, uh, doesn’t really like seeing you.”
Wen Ning, “… What happened to Young Master Lan?”
Wei WuXian, “Nothing much. He’s just drunk.”
“What?” Wen Ning’s face was blank, as though he couldn’t accept such a thing. After a while, he finally continued, “Then… What are you going to do?”
Wei WuXian, “Well, what can I do? I’m gonna carry him inside and tuck him in.”
Lan WangJi, “Okay.”
Wei WuXian, “Hmm? Aren’t you covering your ears? How come you’re suddenly able to hear me again?”
This time, Lan WangJi refused to answer, pretending that the one who interrupted them a moment ago wasn’t him. Wei WuXian wasn’t sure of how to react. He turned to Wen Ning, “Be careful, yourself.”
Wen Ning nodded. He couldn’t help but look at Lan WangJi again. Just as he was about to leave, Wei WuXian stopped him, “Wen Ning, why don’t you… find somewhere to hide first?”
Wen Ning paused for a second. Wei WuXian added, “One can say that you’ve died twice already. Go get some good rest.”
After he left, Wei WuXian took away the hands that Lan WangJi blocked his ears with, “Alright. He’s gone. You can’t hear or see him anymore.”
Lan WangJi finally let go of his own ears. He stared blankly at Wei WuXian with the pair of light-colored eyes.
His eyes were so clear, so honest that a desire of mischief surged through Wei WuXian. As though something inside of his body had been ignited, he smiled teasingly, “Lan Zhan, you’re still gonna answer whatever I ask? Do whatever I tell you to?”
Lan WangJi, “Mnn.”
Wei WuXian, “Take off your forehead ribbon.”
Obediently, Lan WangJi reached behind his head and slowly untied the strands. He took off the white forehead ribbon, which had been sewn with the motif of drifting clouds.
Holding the ribbon in his hands, Wei WuXian turned it over a few times, examining every angle of it, “So there really isn’t anything so special about it, is there? And I thought that it’s hiding some sort of a gigantic secret. Back then, though, why were you so mad when I took it off?” Or perhaps the past Lan WangJi simply hated him, alongside everything that he did?
Suddenly, he felt something tighten at his wrists. Lan WangJi had tied both of his hands together using the forehead ribbon and was starting to make knots over it.
Wei WuXian, “What are you doing?”
He wanted to see what exactly Lan WangJi wanted to do, so he let him continue. After Lan WangJi secured his hands together, he first tied a simple knot. He thought for a while and, as though he felt that something wasn’t quite right, he changed it to a tighter knot. He then thought about it some more, still unsatisfied, and tied another knot on top.
The GusuLan Sect’s forehead ribbon was a strip of fabric that hung down at the back after it had been fastened. When one moved, it fluttered elegantly in the air, which was why it was rather long. Lan WangJi tied seven or eight knots on the ribbon, forming a stack of small, ugly-looking lumps, and finally felt pleased enough to stop.
Wei WuXian, “Hey, do you still want this ribbon of yours?”
Lan WangJi’s frown dissolved. Holding onto the other end of the forehead ribbon, he lifted Wei WuXian’s hands in front of himself, as though he was admiring what a masterpiece he had just created. With his hands suspended in the air, Wei WuXian thought to himself, I probably look a lot like a criminal right now… Wait, why am I playing with him like this? Wasn’t I supposed to be the one playing him?
Wei WuXian finally realized, “Take it off.”
Lan WangJi happily reached for his collar and sash, repeating the exact same approach as before. Wei WuXian shouted, “Don’t take this off! Take off the thing on my hands. The thing that you’re tying me with. The ribbon.”
If Lan WangJi not only tied his hands together but also stripped him of his clothes, the scene would be scary beyond belief!
Hearing his request, Lan WangJi furrowed his brows again, and proceeded to do nothing. Wei WuXian raised his hands and coaxed, “You said that you’ll listen to me, didn’t you? Be a good boy and take it off.”
Lan WangJi glanced at him, then silently moved his sight away, as though he couldn’t understand what Wei WuXian was saying and had to ponder upon it for a while longer. Wei WuXian complained, “Oh, now I get it! You’re all hyped if I tell you to tie me up, but you can’t understand it if I tell you to take it off. Is that so?”
The Lan Sect’s forehead ribbon was made from the same material as its uniform. Although it looked flimsy, it was actually quite sturdy. And, since Lan WangJi wrapped it tightly around and tied a long strand of knots, Wei WuXian couldn’t struggle out of it no matter how hard he tried. He commented in silence, I really did shoot myself in the foot, didn’t I? Good thing that it’s only a forehead ribbon, not some weird magical ropes, or else he would’ve really tied me up.
Lan WangJi stared into the distance as he tugged at the ends of the forehead ribbon, contently swinging them around. Wei WuXian pleaded, “Can you please take it off? HanGuang-Jun, how can someone as graceful as you do such a thing? What’s the use of tying me like this? It’s gonna look so bad on you if someone sees us like this, right?”
Hearing the last sentence, Lan WangJi started to drag him toward the streets.
Pulled around by Lan WangJi, Wei WuXian staggered, “W-w-wait a sec. What I meant was that it’d be bad if someone sees this, not that you should let someone see this. Hey! You’re just pretending to not understand me, aren’t you? Are you doing this on purpose? So you’re only gonna understand what you want to understand? Lan Zhan, Lan WangJi!”
Before he even finished speaking, Lan WangJi had already dragged him out of the grove. They walked around onto the street and entered the main hall again through the first floor.
The juniors were still eating and fooling around. Even though a minor disagreement happened, young people were always quick to forget these matters. They were in the middle of playing a drinking game. Some of the bolder juniors of the Lan Sect wanted to sneak a few sips as well. There would always be somebody watching the stairway that led to the second floor, keeping an eye out for Lan WangJi. None of them expected that Lan WangJi would suddenly drag Wei WuXian through the main entrance, where they never paid attention to. All of them were shocked after they turned around.
As Lan JingYi hurled himself at the cup of liquor on the table, hoping to cover it up, he knocked over a few bowls and dishes along the way. The object that he wanted to cover up became even more conspicuous. Lan SiZhui stood up, “H-HanGuang-Jun, why have you come inside through this entrance again?”
Wei WuXian laughed, “Haha. Your HanGuang-Jun was feeling a bit too hot and decided to take a stroll outside so that he could also catch all of you off guard. You see? Here you are, drinking when you’re not supposed to.”
He secretly prayed that Lan WangJi would haul him upstairs directly, without doing or saying anything unnecessary. If he kept silent and maintained the cold appearance, nobody would notice anything wrong with him.
Just as the thought passed through his mind, Lan WangJi dragged him toward the juniors’ table.
Lan SiZhui was beyond shock, “HanGuang-Jun, your forehead ribbon…”
Before he could finish his words, he saw Wei WuXian’s hands.
HanGuang-Jun’s forehead ribbon was tied around Wei WuXian’s wrists.
As though he felt that not enough people noticed this fact, holding the ends of the ribbon, Lan WangJi held up Wei WuXian’s hands and displayed it for everyone to see.
Burial Mounds: Well, now that we have the Cloud Recesses, the Lotus Pier, and the Koi Tower, why not give Luanzang Hill a proper name as well?