Dear Lan Zhan,
Since I left Cloud Recesses, I have been staying here and there, but this letter will be sent from Koi Tower. I was in Lanling to visit the central market, and do you know how many kinds of ink that they have there? I bought a little stone rabbit, and was just buying myself some noodles when I ran into Jin Ling, who positively insisted that I come here and pay him a proper visit. Since the last time I was here he stabbed me, I hardly expected a warm welcome, but actually it is very nice when I’m not sneaking around looking for evidence of murder.
Jin Ling showed me all around the gardens here. Lan Zhan, did you know that they have a Lotus pond? Apparently, Jin Zixuan planted it for my Shijie! It’s too early in the year for lotus blooms, but the leaves are green and reaching for the sun.
Jin Ling is treating me very well. He served me tea made with last year's rain water! So fancy, they keep it in jars covered with paper and only use it for special occasions. I didn’t tell him that I couldn’t taste the difference between that and plain well water. He was very proud of his peacock green porcelain tea set, too. It was lovely--too good for my clumsy fingers--but there were plenty of purple sweet potato cakes and spicy snacks so I enjoyed it very much.
Poor kid seems lonely, though. When I was his age I always had a crowd of shidi to play with. We would always be sneaking off and getting into trouble somehow -- flying kites, catching fish, stealing lotus pods, you know the kind of thing. Or I suppose you don’t. But Jin Ling doesn’t seem to get along with his fellow disciples at all. I think they used to bully him, but now they scurry around looking frightened. What were his elders thinking? You must tell A-Yuan and Jingyi to come visit him sometime! That kid could use some friends who can see through his bluster.
Jin Ling tells me he’s been going through old records trying to understand sect matters. He’s found some of my old notes too, luckily nothing too dangerous, but I offered to take them back. Some of these ideas make me question what I was even thinking back then. But I did find a cute rabbit with a Lan forehead ribbon that I drew, and a picture of A- Yuan. What a cute child he was.
It’s been nice to visit for a few days, but tomorrow I’m off again, heading north I think. There is so much of the world to see, and I have seen so little of it. I know you are doing great at being Chief Cultivator! You are good at everything you do. For me I’m not sure what’s next, but the world is wide, and surely there is a place for me.
Dear Lan Zhan,
You’ll never guess where I’m writing you from! The top of the Green Mountain! I helped some monks for the monastery here on a Night Hunt and they invited me up here to visit. We had to walk up so many stairs! They go on and on, twisty and narrow. My calves hurt now! I left Lil’ Apple at the town at the base of the mountain because there’s no place for a donkey up here.
But the view is fantastic! We can see for miles and miles. We had a simple dinner of tea and fruit in the tea garden, where the tea bushes grow. We drank tea that had been grown right there in the garden in little brown cups. From there you can see so many peaks. It’s like the mountains go on forever. I suspect that the monks here prefer it without my chatter.
But Lan Zhan, I should have started by thanking you for the ink sticks you sent! Such a fine dark black ink, I think it's the nicest I’ve written in years, maybe since I had to copy all those rules at the Cloud Recesses. I’m using some now, because a letter to you deserves the best. Though you’ll still have to muddle through my handwriting.
Today is the first full day I’ve spent up here. The monks have invited me to stay and given me a cell to sleep in. It is very bare, with barely more than a sleeping mat, but it's home for the next few days. Today while the monks chanted I wandered all over the mountain top. The air is very clear, which reminds me a bit of the back hill, but everything smells different.
After the morning prayers they took me to see the workshops. They weave all their own cloth, sew all their own robes, and make all their own plates and bowls. I’m to have a lesson in throwing pots!
And after we saw the workshops there was a light meal and they took me round to see the vegetable gardens. They grow so many things here: eggplants, bittermelon, cabbage, even some radishes! Compared to what we grew at the Burial Mounds there’s so much variety. Really one could imagine a worse life than that of a monk here.
Dear Lan Zhan,
Don’t worry I could never really make it as a monk! Imagine me being silent so often! Impossible right? And the food is bland, do you know that the monks are forbidden to eat spicy foods? That’s no life for me, even if the vegetables are really good. Life in a monastery was fun for a few days, and making pots is great. I was covered in so much mud -- you would not have approved at all -- but I hope to do it again some day.
Before I forget, thank you for the muscle salve! I shall be sure to use it the next time that I climb twisty stairs to the top of a mountain.
But I haven’t told you where I am now! I am staying at the Unclean Realm. I was in the market in Qinghe selling some of the talismans that I made when I ran into some Nie cultivators. They did not feel well disposed to my wares so they dragged me to see their clan leader, who of course recognised me as his old friend. Then we shared a few jars of wine and had a very fruitful discussion about the lines between justice and revenge.
So now I’m invited to stay here and work on a very interesting project. Nie Huaisang is trying to make a new kind of Nie saber -- one that makes it less likely for the wielder to qi deviate, and he thought I might have some useful ideas, seeing as I know a lot about resentful energies. Every morning I go to the Nie forge and watch the smiths work. It's a very complex process. I really shouldn’t tell you any details as it’s a Nie sect secret. But I asked them to teach me a bit of smithing so I could better understand it all. Do you know that hitting hot metal with a hammer is pretty satisfying? It’s not about strength though that helps, it's about precision. But it's very hot at the forge. I’m always drenched in sweat after the morning’s work.
After I’m done at the forge I have lunch with some of the junior disciples. Nie Huaisang joins us some days. The food is simple, but there’s always plenty of meat, and a lot of smokey flavored tea. The kids are so great! They always ask me the strangest question about cultivation -- but then they listen to me with rapt attention. I’m not used to this kind of thing.
After lunch I go to the archives and read about Nie cultivation techniques, or sometimes I go watch the disciples practice their sword forms, or just go for a walk. In the evening I talk theory with some of the elders. It’s nice to have a job to do and a place to be, even if it's just for a little while. I will be heading back south again before the leaves turn.
Nie Huaisang told me that he very much approves of your plans for increased cooperation between sects. I think he’s enjoying using your fast couriers to send letters. He seemed a little surprised that I was traveling on my own, but didn’t press me when I told him I needed to see how the world had changed after all that time I was gone. He’s a sneaky one, but I don’t doubt that he supports you.
Dear Lan Zhan,
That burn ointment you sent was wonderful! It works very well, though it smells terrible. (Don’t worry I only got a few minor burns working at the forge -- I’m fine now!) Learning smithing was fascinating but I’ve had enough now. I left the Nie sect with several things to try -- all of which will take time. But I’ll visit again.
I’m back on the road, night hunting here and there. I’m staying a few nights with an old woman and her two daughters, after I helped them get rid of some ghosts around the place. They are all very kind and wanted me to stay since they can’t pay me. I told them it was fine, but I could see they’d lose face if I went so I am staying -- and doing as many chores as I can get away with. They seem surprised that I know what to do with a hoe.
The food here is not very much, I offered to share my travel rations but was turned down. Still they offered me tea, and carefully broke off a chunk of leaves from a bing that it seems is kept for special occasions. It's good tea, well aged, and brewed with such care. It’s such little gestures that really make a place a home.
You know it's strange that for everyone else sixteen years have passed since the second battle of Nightless City. For these people the Yiling Patriarch is a tale of long ago and far away. But for me, it wasn’t that long ago. Sometimes I can’t get over those missing years. How much happened while I was dead, how much A-Yuan grew. In some ways the world has changed so much, and in others not at all. I don’t know what to do with myself or where I fit anymore.
I’m sorry Lan Zhan. The night is late and I am dwelling on my melancholy thoughts. I will stop writing this and go to bed.
Dear Lan Zhan,
The tea you sent me is so cute! The leaves curl up like little snails, and they are fuzzy! I made a pot with some this morning and kept refilling it. The leaves lasted for many steeps, and it felt like a bit of you was keeping me company.
I’m staying in a real manor. I met up with Ouyang Zizhen and three of his older sisters on the road. And they invited me to join their night hunt, which let me tell you, turned out to be a very interesting case. It involved a ghost, and willow tree that had cultivated to consciousness. The juniors are writing up a proper report so I won’t bother you with a full account here. But it was on land belonging to a merchant and so we are staying in her house for a few days to regroup.
It’s nice for me because the case gave me several ideas for uses of willow bark that I wanted to try and I needed more space then the side of the road really allows. So I have set up a bit of a work room, in an old storage room that happened to be empty. The Ouyangs are very helpful! They take direction well, but ask some useful questions too. Those young women remind me of Wen Qing! So knowledgeable! and they won't stand for any of my nonsense. Zizhen is perhaps a little in awe of me, but his sisters just roll their eyes, and get on with things.
I really miss her, Lan Zhan. She was with me through the hardest time of my life, keeping things running every day. How can she be gone? And my Shijie too? For you they’ve been gone a long time, but for me it was not so long ago I saw them last. The world seems so much emptier now.
Always, Lan Zhan, back to something more cheerful. Shall you tell you about the food? It’s lovely, perhaps not as spicy as I’d prefer, but we were served a dish of bamboo shoots cooked with sausage and mushrooms, that was so good! And there seems to be fresh fish from the mountain streams every day! It is quite delicious, I’m getting spoiled eating food prepared for me instead of what I can cook for myself.
Perhaps someday I will stop wandering, seeing the world is starting to make me wish to stay still. If I did find a place to stay I would set up a proper work room with all the right tools. Here I keep having to borrow pots from the kitchen and I'm a bit worried that I will ruin one!
Dear Lan Zhan,
The pots you sent are excellent! So light and yet so sturdy -- they would be hard for even me to ruin. How do you always know just what I need? I will be sure to use them the next time I’m doing experiments. And on the subject of experiments I hope you found Ouyang Zizhen’s report on our willow bark concoctions useful. He showed it to me before he sent it off, and I thought it was very well organized. I think our new fever reducer will work very well, and besides we didn’t explode anything!
I am writing this form an inn near Dafan Mountain, I ran into A-Yuan and Wen Ning on the road -- or really they ran into me as I was playing Chenqing by the side of the road. We were all delighted to see one another of course. I still can’t believe my little A-Yuan has gotten so big.
Wen Ning has been restoring the old family shrine on Dafan Mountain, and with some help from A-Yuan. It was run down even before the Sunshot Campaign, and being abandoned for years didn’t help. But Wen Ning has really fixed up the place! They invited me to help with the finishing touches and everything sparkles now!
After we finished repairing the shrine we made proper offerings. We put together a whole feast. Some good wine for Fourth Uncle, Granny’s favorite tea, sesame balls which Wen Qing loved, fish soup like we ate together in Yiling, because I always wished I could have shared that meal with them, roast duck, steamed fish, pan fried greens, spicy eggplant, and so much fresh cooked rice! I wish we could have shared such a feast just once when they were alive. We burned paper money for them as well. And then we just sat and told them stories of what our lives had become. I know they would all be so proud of A-Yuan now! And they gave so much for me I’m sure they are glad I’m alive. Whatever place I find or make for myself, I’ll always carry them with me.
We have heard rumors of some fierce corpses in a village not far from here so tomorrow the three of us will investigate. It will be good to go on a proper night hunt with A-Yuan!
Dear Lan Zhan,
I am writing this from the road, Lil’ Apple and I are camping out under the open sky tonight. So please forgive my messy handwriting, as I don’t have a proper flat surface to write on.
Night hunting with A-Yuan was great fun, even though those fierce corpses were hardly any trouble. He’s such a strong cultivator, and so polite too!
It’s nice out tonight, the air is starting to get a little chilly now, but not enough to matter. As I’m writing this, I keep stopping to look at the moon. I wonder if you are looking at it tonight too? Well it's after nine so you are asleep now, but maybe you looked at it before you went to bed. It's about half full and waxing tonight. I can only see part of the rabbit.
All this wandering has been to try and find my place in the world. The more I wander the more I wish to stay still. I have learned some things on my journey. I’ve made pots, and helped forge a sword. I’ve been on quite a few night hunts, and seen many old friends. But there’s one place I haven’t been, a place I think I could stay and belong for a long time if you’d let me: And that is by your side.
So I’m heading back to the Cloud Recesses, I’ll be there before the first snow.
Thank you for your latest report. Your work is a credit to the sect as always. Now that winter is here I hope things will quiet down, and you can return home.
Wei Wuxian arrived at the Cloud Recesses just after the first snow. He will be staying. I have been looking for a good place for him to set up a work room for his inventions. We both miss you and look forward to seeing you when you return.