Wei Wuxian sees the bodies of the Wen remnants hanging on the wall, and he breaks.
There was nothing left for him anymore – he has just murdered his shijie’s husband, and he doesn’t even have the guile to kneel and apologize to her in Koi Tower. Yunmeng Jiang will never take back the Yiling Patriarch, not without risking the fragile amount of power they have gained back after the war. The people that he has abandoned everything to save are dead because of him too.
He never wanted this, he thought. All he wanted was to repay a life debt, and he has instead sent them to their deaths. All he wanted was to protect his families, but one by one they leave and die and it’s all his fault. Lotus Pier burnt because of his foolish desire to save everyone, but instead he destroyed his second home and everyone along with it. And when he thought that maybe, maybe third time would be the charm and he will stop losing everything he has ever loved, the Wens died. They died because of his naivety that perhaps, the world might just let him a new branch of his family after he has pushed all of them away.
Maybe his hands were never meant to nurture – he was the epitome of destruction after all. He uses the forces of the dead, and death is what he brings.
He stands on top of the roof and watches the ashes of his last family carried away by the wind, and laughs at the world. His hand tightens on the sword that hasn’t been used in years. He makes up his mind.
They had tolerated Wei Wuxian when he proved his skills as the head disciple of Yunmeng Jiang, and then treated him with barely hidden disdain when his skills were needed at war. He had been a weapon that needed to be leashed, even if he has proven his worth times and times again in battle. He has laughed and jokes with his fellow cultivators at the dinner tables, but all they saw was the demonic cultivation that went against their rigid sensibilities. All they saw was the man that abandoned the righteous way – as if he chose the plank across the roaring river instead of the bridge.
And now that he has broken away from the tight chain that the cultivation world has casted on him, he can not be allowed to exist. He was a danger to the thousand years of tradition, and a chess piece no one could control.
He laughs even louder, and the Stygian Tiger Seal vibrates above him.
“Jin Guangshan!” He shouts.
The army below whips around as one, and there is clattering as weapons were drawn. He snorts, three thousand people against one. They had known he was coming, and they wanted him to come.
“Jin Guangshan!” He calls down again. “The Stygian Tiger Seal is here now! Come and get it!”
“Isn’t this what you wanted, Sect Leader Jin.” He snarls. “You wanted Wen Qing and Wen Ning to atone, yet you murdered the rest of the group under my protection!”
Jin Guangshan points at Wei Wuxian, and fires back, “You murdered three hundred of my disciples without mercy, yet you ask for lenience for the Wen dog under your protection?”
“The people under my protection were innocent, Jin Guangshan! They were old and sick, and the youngest one was three years old!” He lets the revelation sit in silence.
Wei Wuxian smirks, and continues. “Who was the one that ambushed two people on the exact site where your tortured the children and the elderly? Who was one that told Jin Zixun that he was allowed to take three hundred disciples from you and the Gusu Lan sect to confront me on my way to my own nephew’s anniversary? Who was the one that confronted two weaponless men in the middle of nowhere, where no one can speak of their treachery?”
Here, he turns his dark eyes on Lan Xichen. “Sect leader Lan, I must wonder if the honourable Gusu Lan gave permission for so many of your disciples to be led by a mere cultivator of Lanling Jin.”
“I wonder,” He scans the rest of the cultivators who have turned their weapons on him. “If Jin Zixun knows that he is just a chess piece in our Sect leader Jin’s plans.”
“What are you trying to imply, Wei Wuxian?”
“Don’t you see it?” He gestures towards Jin Guangshan and Jin Guangyao, standing in front of even the rest of the sect leaders. “Jin Guangshan takes over the Chief cultivator position right after the rest of the cultivation world takes huge hits on their disciple numbers from the Sunshot Campaign. He sits on his little throne gelded in gold hidden deep in Koi Tower, and claims his bastard son that he never wanted only because he dealt the killing blow to Wen Ruohan. The moment the war is over he sets his eyes on my Stygian Tiger Seal, and chases me to the burial mounds. How coincidental that he assaults me on the same day as his grandson’s one hundred day anniversary.”
He laughs. “One must wonder why does he want a weapon of the Yunmeng Jiang so much?”
There are whispers below him, and some cultivators has tilted towards each other in groups.
“Yiling Patriarch is kind of right, why does Sect Leader Jin want the Stygian Tiger Seal so bad?”
“Are you stupid? What do you think the Yiling Patriarch would do with the seal in his hand?”
“The Yiling Patriarch stands with a bunch of Wens, of course we can’t trust him with the seal.” Another one objects.
Jin Guangyao whispers in the ear of Jin Guangshan, and he once again point his fingers at Wei Wuxian. “This is the arrogance of Yiling Patriarch Wei Wuxian! How do we know if you were not going to use this monstrosity against the rest of the cultivation world on your quest for power?”
Wei Wuxian shakes his head in disappointment. “So why haven’t I murdered Jiang Cheng when I had the chance to? And now I have to ask you again, Sect leader Jin. What would you do if you get the Stygian Amulet Seal? Would you slaughter everyone in front of you? Kill everyone who opposes the Lanling Jin sect?”
“Wei Wuxian, not everyone is like you!”
“Like me?” He grips his sword sheath tighter. “I fought for you during Sunshot campaign! Killed thousands for the campaign! But then I rescued innocent people that were being tortured by the so called righteous people I fought beside during the war, and I somehow became the target of everyone’s ire. And what did you do? You turns a blind eye onto crimes committed right under your nose, and you try to blame everything on me!”
“The only criminal here is you!” Some one yells, and an arrow flies out from somewhere, finding its mark on his chest.
He jolts, and looks down blankly. The arrow should've went straight through his heart. But it misses by a mere finger width, stopping itself on one of his ribs. It should feel painful - he can already feel the effect of the broken rib on his breathing, but all his feels is a numb sort of cold acceptance.
Before he even raises his hand against the entire world that stands opposing him, they have already decided his fate. He unflinchingly pulls it out of his chest, and small chuckles turn to laughs that shake his entire body.
“The Yiling Patriarch has been hit!”
“The Yiling Patriarch has been injured!”
“It’s what he deserves!” He hears. He laughs even harder. He wants to scream and cry at the unfairness, he wants to demand why is it him.
They have already decided that he was responsible for casting the curse onto Jin Zixun, someone he doesn’t even know. He was the one who provoked the Jin sect to attack them on his own nephew’s birthday. He was the violent, murderous villain that was responsible for everything that went wrong. He was never allowed to defend himself.
Before he could throw the arrow back to the cultivator who shot at him, he hears a shout and a flutter of white robes settling down on the other side of the roof. “Wei Ying!”
He smiles coldly. “Are you here to stop me too, Lan-er gongzi?”
“Wei Ying.” He pleads again.
But Wei Wuxian has already turned back to the thousands of cultivators standing below him, and the Stygian Tiger Teal flying above him. “Jin Guangshan! Don’t you want the Stygian Tiger Seal? Come and get it!” As he finishes, the seal flies towards Jin Guangshan, and a greedy glint appeared in his eyes.
“Get the seal!” Jin Guangshan orders, and the scene dissolves into chaos.
The seal weaves around cultivators like a fluttering pheasant he used to catch in Yunmeng all those time ago. Who ever touches it instantly collapses like a puppet with its strings cut, and those who can hold it for barely a second gets stabbed through by the cultivators who has stood on the same side just second ago. Jiang Cheng stands in front of his disciples, and Zidian warns anyone who dares to join the fray. The resentful energy from the seal has not touched a single one of them.
Wei Wuxian watches the scene detachedly from his roof. “Wei Ying.” He hears again. “Stop.”
“Hanguang-jun.” He says softly. “Don’t you see? I can’t.” He gestures at the chaos under them. The world never wanted him - he was just unfortunate enough to be the owner of the Stygian Tiger Seal. They just wanted the weapon that he never wanted to weld, and when he does they assume he wants the death and destruction and despair that comes with it.
He never wanted any of this. He’s so tired.
He laughs again, and calls the seal back. If it has to be this way. A sharp whistle of the flute, and the chaos ends slowly in confusion.
“Where’s the seal?” Someone calls out in confusion.
“The Yiling Patriarch has it again!” Someone answers, and they abandon their infighting and turns back towards Wei Wuxian.
And they see the Yiling Patriarch slowly draw out his famously sealed sword in that three months he disappeared in the war. Some shuffle around in anxiety. Many of them has grown up along side Yunmeng Jiang’s Head disciple, who was ranked fourth in the young masters of his generation. He is the Yiling Patriarch, but for almost two decades he was known for his mastery of the sword before he strayed from their righteous path.
Wei Wuxian draws his sword, but he just lets it hang beside him. He looks down at them with that knowing smile, and waits for everyone’s attention to focus back on him. “Jin Guangshan! I have done nothing this time, yet your disciples are willing to slaughter your own people for my seal. So who is really the instigator here?”
“I have done nothing, yet someone in your army lets his hand slip on his bow. What a shameful display of your discipline. Who is really the one looking for a fight here?”
“All I’ve done is live peacefully for the last few months, away from everyone! I purified the burial mounds by myself so the elderly and civilians and child you tortured can live away from violence and destruction. I stayed out of sight for months, but you chase me and try to kill me everywhere I go! What did I do to you, Jin-zongzhu?”
“Wei Wuxian! You just used the seal to kill all these cultivators, but you are still so arrogant to believe you are innocent?” Nie Mingjue snarls.
Wei Wuxian glare into his eyes. “Sect leader Nie. You can check for yourself, but any of your cultivators who had foolishly tried to take my seal are unconscious. You are so willing to blame me for everything?” They had been the ones who unflinchingly stab their own brothers, their own people in the back, yet they are still blaming the Yiling Patriarch?
He laughs again. His hand shakes with the strain of keeping his sword out of the sheath, and there’s a battle where his core used to be. The spiritual power of his sword prods through his meridians, looking for the long gone warmth of his golden core.
He lifts his sword, and sets it on his shoulder. There are heightened whispers and shuffling under him, and speculations of what the Yiling Patriarch is up to now. He sees Jiang Cheng jerkily taking a step forward as if to stop him. “Sect leader Jin. The Stygian Tiger seal has claimed me as its master. It listens to no one but me.” He purrs.
He had been spending the last months before everything went wrong making the bell for Jin Ling, but whenever he takes a break, he has been creating a talisman that would bind the seal to his life force. The seal never abides by one master – it is a messy void of resentful energy condensed into a palm-sized artifact that listens to no one but themselves, but he has split the seal into two and his talisman has been slowly weakening and draining out the darkness.
“Perhaps you may be persuaded so.” He grips his sword tighter. “If I die right now, the seal will break itself into dust from my command.”
He smiles coldly. “As for Jin Zixun – I’m sure for all of your hard headed stupidity, even for a snake such as you know that the curse disappears if the caster of the curse dies.”
“Wei Ying.” He hears the plea from Lan Zhan across from him. Lan Wangji just feels cold – all he can hear is the fastened thumping of his heart and the roaring of blood to his ears. There is something wrong with Wei Wuxian. His zhiji has been forced by the cultivation world steps and steps closer to the edge where the only way is down, and he is afraid that there will just be a tiny shove, and he will go falling down into the never ending shadows and never return.
“Wei Wuxian, what are you doing!” Wei Wuxian hears the panicked shouts of Jiang Cheng below him. He smiles back.
“Jiang Cheng, I’m sorry.” Jiang Cheng makes the move to jump up, but Wei Wuxian has already created a wall of resentful energy between them. There are panicked shouts underneath that “the Yiling Patriarch attacking them!’, but Wei Wuxian ignores them. “Jiang Cheng, do you remember the promise we made together?”
Years ago they had sat together on the pier, picking out lotus seeds with stalk attached. They had promised each other amongst discarded lotus pods and the mist that have set in with dusk and swore to be brothers forever and ever.
What if Gusu Lan had the Twin Jades, Wei Wuxian had said while he throws another lotus seed at Jiang Cheng, Yunmeng Jiang has the Twin Heroes. He had promised that they will be together forever and ever, and Jiang Cheng has been so confident even if sometimes Wei Wuxian runs ahead of him and he can’t catch up.
But Wei Wuxian has always stopped and waited for Jiang Cheng to dust the self pity and disappointment off himself before dragging him back up by the hand. They used to run through Lotus Pier in their confidence, and now look where they are. Jiang Cheng should have known – Wei Wuxian has promised to follow Jiang Cheng when he becomes a sect leader, but he got it all wrong. Jiang Cheng has always been the one that follows Wei Wuxian where ever he goes and what ever his doing, even when it leaves him angrily cleaning up the messes.
Even when he let Jiang Cheng stab him and cut his connection to Yunmeng Jiang and Jiang Cheng has been trying so hard to hate him, he just couldn’t. He tries to hate him whenever he finds Wei Wuxian amongst too many jars of wine instead of being by his side, but then all he remembers are his laughs running through the courtyard while he guides the younger shidis in their swordforms, and then he sees way he seems to fall with just a soft shove (almost like Jiang Cheng right after he lost his core, he had thought briefly, but destroyed that thought as soon as he could because there is no way his brother has lost his core too). He tried to hate him for the contentment he sees in his brother's loose shoulders that time he went to visit the Burial Mound, and tried to kick off the Wen child his brother has somehow adopted (there’s a child in the group that Wei Wuxian had taken, he thought in horror. What does that imply?), and then he remembers his impossibly dead eyes right after the war.
He never wanted to be here. He just wanted to know him why he kill Jin Zixuan. He never wanted things to get to this point. (He could have stopped it, something ugly whispers deep in. If he had enough guts to keep the inflammatory words of other sects out of his mind and kept his brother by his side when the world was trying to separate them, this wouldn’t happen.) And now his brother is slipping even further away from him, and he has no idea what to do anymore.
“Yes, Wei Wuxian. I remember, ” Jiang Cheng chokes out. “Brother, please. Put the sword down, we can fix this!”
Wei Wuxian shakes his head. "Look around you, Jiang Cheng. How can you fix this?"
He's right. What can he fix? What is there to fix?
He smiles sadly. “I’m sorry I went back on my promise.” Maybe we can be brothers again in the next life.
His voice rings out, broadcasted to the entire crowd. “Blood for blood, life for life.” The seal still flutters lazily above his head. “If the lives of innocent people under my protection are not enough to repay the thousands of cultivators here to create a blood path, then the blood of Yiling Patriarch will have to do!”
As he finishes, he hears the shout of “A-Xian!” and he meets the eyes of Jiang Yanli still clad in mourning robes running towards the carnage. He smiles at her in finality, and the blade glistens.
The Stygian Tiger Seal vibrates one last time before bursting apart into dust, and fades away in the wind.
Blood flies out in a wide arch, and the motion leads him through a graceful, tragic spin. The wall of resentful energy disappears, and Wei Wuxian falls.
His knees has no more strength to hold himself up on the roof, so he lets his body tumble down to the ground. Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji reach for him at the same time.
The eyes of the cultivators watching has long been thrown to the back of their minds, their confused muttering long blocked out. Lan Wangji reaches him first, and catches his fall in his arms. His head still thuds against the ground, and blood pours out from his neck like a river during monsoon season. He thinks he sees a glisten of something white and bone like amongst the blood. Lan Wangji gathers him up in his lap and sits down in the pool of blood that has already formed under them, uncaring of the way it stains his pristine, white robes. He tries to press against the gushing cut in futile, and blood still seeps through his fingers. It was like a wooden dam to an overflowing river.
Jiang Cheng’s hand flutter frantically between gripping him on the shoulder and shaking him and demanding him why why why, and trying to close on top of Lan Wangji’s hand, already sleek with his brother’s blood. He settles for trying to pass spiritual energy into his wrists, but it felt like a small stream of water disappearing into an endlessly large void.
Wei Wuxian lets his sword clatter to the ground, and Jiang Yanli has pushed through the crowd and fell to her knees beside him. Suibian has cut through his trachea, so all he is doing is opening and closing his mouth in a mockery of a breath. His eyes find Jiang Yanli, and tears gather in his eyes. “Shijie…” He mouths, and more blood flows out of his mouth.
“A-Xian, shijie is here.” She chokes out, caressing his face gently. Her eyes are blurry with tears, face already pale with the grief of losing Jin Zixuan.
“I’m sorry…” He breaths out. His tears clear a transparent track on his cheeks stained by blood.
“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Cheng snaps. “Don’t you dare leave me again.”
His face is already pale with the loss of blood, and he still tries to reach his hand to touch Jiang Cheng’s face. Jiang Cheng meets him in the middle, and grabs his wrist tightly. “You can’t leave me again, don’t you understand?” He begs. “Shijie is still waiting for you to hold Jin Ling. She already lost Jin Zixuan, she can't lose you too! I still need you to be my second in command. We still need you, Wei Wuxian.”
Even as he begs and pleads like he has never before, he knows is useless. There was a strangled whimper beside him, and he thought it was from his sister but it came from Lan Wangji staring at Wei Wuxian hopelessly.
Jiang Yanli sees the same expression that Jiang Cheng saw in Lan Wangji, and she knew in that moment the terribleness of everything. “A-Xian, a-xian. Lan-er gongzi is waiting for you too, and then we can hold Jin Ling together and we will sit on the pier and teach him how to swim. I’ll make your favourite lotus roots and ribs soup, and we’ll save all the ribs just for you. Stay for shijie please?” She whispers, her hand still caressing through his hair just like old times.
Lan Wangji doesn’t cry like them, she sees. His tears are quiet, but his eyes are clouded in shock and misery. His silent exterior hides a battle underneath. Jiang Yanli doesn’t stop him when he slowly brings a hand up, and unties his headband.
He silently takes Wei Wuxian’s wrist, and wraps around it once, twice, until their wrists are tightly connected. Wei Wuxian’s eyes flicker between his tear stained face and their joined wrists, and Lan Wangji thought he could see something that sparkled like what Wei Wuxian used to look like. “Wei Ying.” Is all he replies to the silent question.
Wei Wuxian’s blood stained face twitch into a small smile, and forces himself to thumb away the tear tracks on Lan Zhan’s cheeks. All he leaves is a trail of blood.
His hand pauses, takes one deep breath, and closes his eyes.
His hand falls.
And Lan Wangji felt like his world just ended, right here in this pool of blood and the siblings of his only love beside him. Wei Ying was never meant to be still, he mused in detached horror.
He never told him he loved him, he thought numbly.
The world stands still in that moment, the roar of the crowds and the mournful screams of the Jiang siblings seem like a world away. He thinks he sees his own brother reach them, and he curls his body over Wei Ying in protest. He also sees Jiang Wanyin trying to pull Wei Wuxian towards him with one hand and hugging Jiang Yanli close to him with the other, and he stops him by holding him even tighter. He sees Jiang Yanli wail and stumble back unbelievably into Jiang Wanyin’s arms. He sees the rush of cultivators trying to come closer to see the body of Yiling Patriarch, and he sees a crack of Zidian warning them away. He thinks he sees Sect leader Jin say something, and Jiang Wanyin replying with something angry. He sees Jiang Wanyin swiping his sister into his arms and then walking through the crowd that parted for them. He knows he has stood up with his brother beside him and Wei Ying’s cold limp body in his arms, and they walk past the shocked cultivators together.
He knows all of this is happening, but his world tunnels in this strange air pocket where the only thing that matters are the closed eyes of Wei Ying and his cold body hanging limp in his arms.
The Yiling Patriarch is dead, words spread days later. The Yiling Patriarch is dead by his own hands. Good, some says. He deserved it.
But those who were there that day keeps their mouth shut, because there was nothing they could say. Blood debts must be replayed by blood, but they know blood was already spilled when Lanling Jin executed the remnants of Wen forces. But they had still willingly attacked the Yiling Patriarch because Sect Leader Jin had said Wei Wuxian would use the Stygian Tiger Seal to exact revenge on them. But they had seen the Yiling Patriarch killing himself because he rather destroy the Stygian Tiger Seal than using it. And they were forced to look at themselves, and how willing they had been willing to murder their own brothers to get their hands on the seal. (And some still say the Yiling Patriarch influenced their mind to kill eachother.)
Everyone who touched the seal woke up days later, spiritual power diminished but still there.
In Koi Tower, there are more whispers. The Yiling Patriarch is dead, but Jin Zixun is still cursed and he will likely follow in Yiling Patriarch’s footsteps in less than a month. Jiang Yanli has forbid all contact of Jin personnel with her and she has emphasized that should no point in time that Jin Guangshan will ever be within her sight. She walks around Koi Tower in mourning robes adorned in delicate colours of Lanling Jin and Yunmeng Jiang and her eyes cried red but head held high. Yunmeng Jiang disciples dog her every step. No one says anything.
And then, the young widow of the dead Lanling Jin heir stood in the middle of the next discussion conference hosted in Koi Tower, and declared the Yiling Patriarch innocent of all crimes the Lanling Jin sect has accused him of, including the murder of her husband. She declares such fact with Jin Zixuan’s sword by her side and her son in her hands and Hanguang-jun and the Sect leader of Yunmeng Jiang behind her. Jin Guangshan has tried to object, until his bastard son Jin Guangyao bowed shallowly to the sects leaders staring in incredulity, and laid out all of his father’s crimes and his own involvement in them.
Hanguangjun’s sword flash, and Jin Guangshan’s arm falls. And in it, they find a piece of Yin iron.
Wei Wuxian wakes up sixteen years later in his own body, staring up at the ceiling of Jingshi.