For generations Gusu Lan's year-long lectures for foreign students were famous and parents from sects all around eagerly sent their children to get schooled. Since Wei Wuxian became Lan Wangji's husband and cultivation partner and they settled in the Cloud Recesses permanently parents all over still sent their kids to get schooled by the esteemed Lan cultivators but perhaps a little less eagerly. Interestingly enough, the students themselves seemed much more eager to go.
The Yiling Patriarch's lessons were always interesting, whether he showed them the inns and outs of talisman creation, led sword practice or supervised a night hunt. He was not so rigid as Lan Qiren and welcomed all questions with enthusiasm but, in sword practice especially, no excessive fooling around was allowed. His night hunts, on the other hand, were chaotic in the best way.
Hanguang-Jun also taught classes and his were equally popular. He talked about the theoretical side of cultivation, efficient use of spiritual energy and yes, also led sword practice and night hunts. Always prim and proper but obviously knowledgeable and less terrifying than his usually expressionless face would suggest.
(Funnily enough, they were both surprised with their popularity.)
The true treat was getting both husbands on a night hunt together. Though it usually meant a high-level hunt for the best, most skilled disciples only, the presence of two of the most powerful cultivators alive was incredibly reassuring and those allowed to participate counted themselves priviledged.
It just so happened that a certain quartet, inspired by the events that transpired in Yi City and later at Burial Mounds, have clawed their way up to the top and fought tooth and nail to stay there. The fact that sharing their near-death experiences made them fast friends only helped with that.
Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi, Jin Ling and Ouyang Zizhen. These days they were called the four most skilled cultivators of their generation. Lan Sizhui denied the praise humbly, Lan Jingyi accepted it with a beaming smile, Jin Ling huffed in satisfaction and Ouyang Zizhen almost cried from happiness when they heard. As a disciple of a less-known, less powerful sect it was rare for someone like him to be noticed. For his skills to be recognized throughout the whole cutlivation world, it was something incredible. The proud light in his father's eyes always warmed him to his core.
Speaking of cores.
"Hey, does anyone know why is it even called a golden core?" Lan Jingyi asked absentmindedly, trying to focus his energy like Hanguang-Jun showed them and cheering when the blue beam cleaved a tree in half.
"Sure, because it is golden," Senior Wei answered casually. "Good job on that one, Jingyi."
Three pairs of eyes turned to him, shining with curiosity. "Senior Wei, you've seen it?!"
Wei Wuxian froze. He looked caught off guard. His eyes, previously positively sparkling with enthusiasm, went dull and unfocused. Lan Wangji stepped closer and put a hand on his shoulder, jolting him back into reality. He did not say anything.
"Focus on the hunt," Hanguang-Jun commanded. Sizhui, Jingyi and Zizhen exchanged worried glances - they must have stirred some bad memories. They noticed, however, Jin Ling still staring at his uncle with a weird expression on his face. Catching their eyes, he grimaced and shook his head.
Thus was the topic abandoned.
It was not exactly rare to see Sandu Shengshou at Cloud Recesses. Between sect leader business and visits to Jin Ling and Wei Wuxian disguised as sect leader business his appearence never surprised anyone. It was, however, surprising to see him on the training fields with Suibian in his hands! Pretending they were not eavesdropping, Lan Jingyi and Jin Ling dragged Lan Sizhui and Ouyang Zizhen behind a convenient piece of wall and settled in to watch whatever was going to happen.
Jiang Wanyin waited impatiently, leaning against a practice dummy, his fingers caressing the black-and-gold scabbard and the name carved in it. Soon, Wei Wuxian arrived and greeted his brother with a small smile on his lips. Jiang Wanyin only scowled and thrust the sheathed weapon at its master.
(In his hiding place, Jin Ling scoffed.)
Wei Wuxian caught his sword in sure hands and his smile went wistful. In a smooth motion he unsheathed the weapon and put his fingers to the blade as if checking its condition.
(Of course it was in a good condition, spiritual swords do not just deteriorate and Suibian was one of the best swords out there! At least that's what Jin Ling heard.)
"Well?" Sect leader Jiang's harsh voice rang out through the training grounds. The four disciples winced in unison feeling scolded, even though the words were not meant for them. "Aren't you going to use it? It's waited long enough for you to get your shit together and cultivate a strong core."
Wei Wuxian's smile only became more bright. He took a few steps back, gathered his spiritual energy and performed the same attack Hanguang-Jun had been trying to teach them during their last night hunt. The bright beam of red energy flew right at the Jiang sect leader, who cursed very creatively (Sizhui winced) and jumped away. The practice dummy he had been leaning against exploded in a shower of wood splinters and hay.
Wei Wuxian looked at his sword as if it was the best, most precious thing in the entire world and beyond it but his brother only snorted, unimpressed. "Pathetic. Back then you could have mowed down the entire row."
(The disciples' jaws dropped. Their seniors were on another level entirely, even then!)
Wei Wuxian shrugged. "Hey, Jiang Cheng! Spar with me!" he said with a grin.
"No," sect leader Jiang replied curtly. "I'd crush you."
"Hey!" Senior Wei brought his hand to his chest as if wounded.
"Come back to me when your core is at least at the level it was during Sunshot Campaign."
The offended expression on Senior Wei's face melted off, leaving a familiar look of wistfulness. "I guess it's only gotten stronger since then, hasn't it?"
"Obviously," sect leader Jiang said with fake haughtiness.
"You took good care of it, Jiang Cheng. I'm really happy," Senior Wei continued.
"Of it and of Suibian. I can't believe you let the Jin sect have it though! My sword!"
"Fuck off, you left it in that creepy fucking cave and I was looking for- for Chenqing," - sect leader Jiang stuttered, - "I couldn't be in two places at one time, alright?!"
"Hmm, I guess you're off the hook, then! Suibian can take care of itself, as evidenced, even when it was in the sticky hands of Jin Guangyao! Such a good sword," Wei Wuxian cooed. "we'll practice lots and surpass you and Sandu again soon, just you wait!" he declared and danced away, expecting a lash from Zidian to come his way.
(The look on sect leader Jiang's face was one of such absolute offense Lan Jingyi barely suppressed a snort.)
Sect leader Jiang stared at him silently for a long minute and then sighed, closing his eyes. "I look forward to it."
Then, with a swish of his purple robes, he left the training area and Cloud Recesses - and five people in a state of absolute shock.
Sword practice with Senior Wei became even more fun now that he joined their exercises with his own sword in hand. Before, he sometimes used a practice sword but seeing him wielding Suibian they realized how much a spiritual tool matters in cultivation. Suibian was like a part of Senior Wei's body and with it in hand he somehow became even faster and more graceful. He was also happy to spar with his students and despite their similar levels of power they never once managed to win, not even attacking in a group.
Senior Wei was glowing with happiness and it was amazing.
Hanguang-Jun even came to look at the sword practice classes led by Senior Wei. "To soak up his joy," Ouyang Zizhen declared with a stupid blush on his face - it was true though. He never did anything but watch and smile as his husband hopped around the training field with Suibian in hand.
Well, never, that is, until Wei Wuxian called him over. "Hey, Lan Zhan! Lan Zhan, spar with me!"
To the disciples' absolute delight, Hanguang-Jun complied easily and stepped forward, unsheathing Bichen. Wei Wuxian's answering grin was positively blinding before it gained a mischievous edge. "Lan Zhan, do you remember when we last crossed swords? Ah, it must have been in the Library Pavilion when I showed you that- whoa!"
Bichen flashed. Senior Wei made an impressively fast sidestep and kept talking. "You were so angry back then! Hahaha, I remember, you reduced the entire book to cinders with a single touch! Hanguang-Jun, righteous second master Lan, so strong even then!"
Lan Wangji fought with great skill and great power, not holding back a single bit, probably trying to shut his husband up. Wei Wuxian, still inferior in terms of power, demonstrated all the agility and skill he possessed, jumping and dodging, dancing around his husband like water and running his mouth all the while. "And before that it was at the roof, right? Our first meeting, a fight on the rooftops over broken curfew and jars of Emperor's Smile in the moonlight! How romantic!"
Good gods, the disciples thought, watching, absolutely fascinated, the riveting fight between their legendary seniors, accompanied by the equally riveting story of their past. Somehow, they couldn't imagine their Hanguang-Jun losing his composure enough to fight Senior Wei in the Library Pavilion over some book - destroying a book! What kind of a book would it be, for Hanguang-Jun to destroy it?!
"Ah! That was close! Lan Zhan, such ferocity!" Wei Wuxian found a moment to very clearly send his husband an exaggerated wink - and it turned out to be his fatal mistake. Bichen flashed, flying out of its master's hand and touching Wei Wuxian's throat before he managed to lift Suibian for a parry. Dramatically falling to his knees, he declared, "This Yiling Patriach yields before Hanguang-Jun's might!"
Lan Wangji called his sword back and held his hand out to his husband, who grasped it gratefully and let him pull him to his feet, then pretended to overbalance and fell right into Lan Wangji's chest. The disciples covered their eyes in embarrassment and fled.
"Ah, my favourite ducklings!" Senior Wei grinned, ruffling Jin Ling's fringe solely for the pissy expression it got him. Jingyi and Zizhen puffed up happily but Jin Ling scoffed.
"Who are you calling a duckling?!"
"You, of course! You're even more of a duckling than the rest, in your yellow robes!" Senior Wei insisted.
"If anything, with his temper he's a gosling," Lan Jingyi snorted. Jing Ling tried to strangle him to the sound of Senior Wei's delighted laughter.
"Jingyi, for this you get a reward. You can ask me any question and I'll answer truthfully!" Senior Wei promised.
The boys immediately fell silent. This was an occasion, especially for Jingyi who often complained that he never knew if Senior Wei was being serious or making fun of them.
One question popped into the boy's head, one he's pondered over many times. He hesitated though, remembering the last time the topic it concerned was mentioned. Senior Wei hadn't taken it well.
"Oh? I see you already have one! Come on, lay it on me!" Senior Wei encouraged but in a rare fit of maturity, Jingyi shook his head.
"It's inappropriate," he insisted.
Senior Wei's thoughts went in a different direction than he anticipated for his smile turned wicked and he said, "That kind of question? I guess you're in that age..."
"NO," Jingyi screeched, red in the face.
"No? Then what is it?" Senior Wei baited.
"We heard your conversation with sect leader Jiang when he brought Suibian, at the training grounds! So... have you really seen a golden core?" Jingyi blurted out.
Silence fell over the group. Finally, Senior Wei sighed and answered, "Well, well, well. Eavesdropping, are we? But I guess it would be interesting to you... I have," he admitted lowly after a few heatbeats. "Twice, in fact."
"Twice?!" Jin Ling exclaimed. He knew of one possible time where such a thing would happen - and the other boys suspected, from that one conversation they overheard - but twice?
"Yes, twice." Senior Wei gracefully lowered himself to the floor and patted the space beside him, inviting them to sit with him. "One was my own and the other one belonged to Wen Zhuliu."
"The Core-Melting Hand?!" Such a legendary cultivator and Senior Wei knew him! Sometimes it was hard to believe that their teachers really did all the amazing things their generation is now learning about. They seemed unreal. "Wait, your own? How would that be possible?"
Senior Wei closed his eyes with a mirthless little smile and began his story. "What I am going to tell is isn't taught in school. You won't hear it from anyone but me and you should never repeat what you are going to hear, ever. Under the pain of death, understood?" Hearing four agreements, he continued. "It happened during the Sunshot Campaign. When Wen Chao brought his forces upon Lotus Pier and burned it to the ground, Madam Yu sent Jiang Cheng and myself away, to give the Jiang sect a chance of revival later on. We tried to lay low and regroup but, somehow, Wen Chao's men managed to capture Jiang Cheng when I was out buying food and..."
Clearly, he was omitting some parts of the story but the four disciples, already pale, had a feeling that the whole truth was too terrifying to be spoken out loud.
"I managed to find him and steal him away again but I was too late to stop Wen Zhuliu from destroying his core." Ignoring the four gasp his words caused, Wei Wuxian continued speaking. "It was... an unimaginable loss and I could not stand to see the future play out like that. Therefore... when Wen Ning brought us to the Yiling Supervision Office to hide us from Wen Chao, I asked his sister, the genius medic Wen Qing, to give my core to Jiang Cheng. The operation was... long and unpleasant. The golden cores truly are golden. They are... they are magnificent. And they are very warm." Wei Wuxian shuddered, eyes distant and face pale. Nobody dared to say a word until he visibly shook off the memories and ploughed on. "The second time was much more satisfying, though I probably shouldn't be telling you about it either."
But in a true Wei Wuxian fashion, he said it anyway. "When I came back from Burial Mounds as a demonic cultivator I sought revenge and what better way to punish Wen Zhuliu than to take his own golden core from him? Oh, if you could see the surprise on his face, the expression he made when I crushed that burning core of his in my fingers..." For a second, red light flashed in Wei Wuxian's eyes and a horrible smile curved his lips. For a heartbeat, the real Yiling Patriarch was there before he disappeared, replaced by Senior Wei.
But what was seen could not be unseen. The four disciples shivered in fright, pale-faced, their thoughts scattered, chasing each other in useless circles, making connections and realizations that made the boys tremble.
Wei Wuxian sighed. "I really shouldn't have told you," he assessed, looking at their horror-stricken faces. When they remained silent, the corners of his lips turned downward before he forced a smile. "Well, I think that's enough for today. You're dismissed," he said and then left himself. They knew he was upset - both by calling up such terrifying memories and by their reaction but they couldn't bring themselves to reassure him of their continued admiration through their visceral horror.
They remained together all through that night, digesting his words and sharing conclusions drawn from his words for what he omitted. Not one eye remained dry.
The next day, feeling as if their very souls were wrung out completely, they marched to the jingshi as soon as the bells rang for five in the morning.
Hanguang-Jun opened the door, his clear eyes filling with surprise at the sight of his adopted son and his friends looking quite miserable. "Sizhui?"
"Hanguang-Jun, can we... talk to Senior Wei?"
Lan Wangji looked at them for a long moment. Whatever he was searching for, he must have found it, for he nodded curtly and said, "Wait." before retreating inside.
A few minutes later the door opened again and, to their surprise, they were ushered inside Hanguang-Jun's private quarters. Senior Wei was sitting at the table, one hand rubbing at his eyes. When he spotted them, his expression turned disconcertingly neutral. "Can I help you?" he asked.
Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi, Jin Ling and Ouyang Zizhen forgot all about propriety, manners and Gusu Lan rules and wrapped him in tight hugs, holding on fast through his surprised yell, his sputtering and finally, pleas to allow him to breathe. They held on as his chest shuddered and as he stuttered a laugh. "Such clingy children, ah! Who would have thought!"
They held on for a long time and he held them back while Hanguang-Jun watched over them until they found peace.