How to identify a fierce corpse has been one of the earlier lessons taught in cultivation sects before disciples are allowed to go on a night hunt with at least a senior disciple or a teacher.
Of the first thing that was taught was the erratic stunted movements that fierce corpses have the courtesy of the effect of rigour mortis.
Second was the colour of the skin, pale for the lack of blood coursing through the dead dried veins. The noting tendency for evil spirits’ affinity to stay in the dark and out of the sun’s way, giving the rays no chance to burn.
Third was the incoherent groans, emitting from the depths of their throats, tongue severed or not. Screaming, moaning or grunting unspoken words from whence life still beats in their forms.
Fourth was the smell of rotting flesh. While the fierce corpse’s flesh does not rot with the resentment energy keeps it from doing so. Some fierce corpse didn’t come to life immediately after death, leaving its body exposed to the elements.
Fifth requires patience, practice and a certain level of cultivation to identify. A cultivator should be able to detect the abnormal amount of yin energy circulating in a vessel.
These were the basics, the principals every cultivator has to go through. The fundamentals that were taught to townspeople to protect themselves.
Jiang Cheng has no idea why the simple checklist surfaced in his mind as he takes in Wei WuXian’s countenance. He also refuses to entertain the thought why Lan Wangji seemed to have stopped breathing beside him.
“You’re alive.” His mouth says instead, his search for the missing Jiang disciple has finally ended. However, relief isn't coming to him even though there's a solid reason to. “Where the hell have you been?!” He demanded and Wei WuXian smiled, pulling his dry cracked lips.
He shakes his head, drawing Jiang Cheng’s eyes towards the black veins on his Shixiong’s neck.
Taking a step forward, Wei WuXian grabs Jiang Cheng’s hand, ignoring the other’s flinch from how cold his fingers were, and place it on this right chest, right over his heart. Jiang Cheng didn’t want to, he hesitates although he was sure that the man in front of him is whole and alive which is all that matters now, but he couldn’t help the urge to push a pulse of spiritual energy into the other’s body.
Wei WuXian didn’t circulate it back into Jiang Cheng’s hand, instead, he moves it to his wrist when usually small pats of heartbeats would be beating against his fingers.
Jiang Cheng sucks in a breath. In a flash, his unsheathed Sandu, nicks Wei WuXian palm and watches. He watches, eyes boring into the wound that would should draw blood. He squeezes the hand in near desperation, and something flowed.
But it wasn’t red. It was black. And foul, thicker than fresh blood should be. He distantly notes how he feels a surge of yin energy in front of him.
“Jiang Cheng.” Wei WuXian calls, tugging his hand away. He looks up to him, he felt like vomiting and being choked at the same time, his heartbeats loud in his ears. The air around seems lacking, images of poorly hidden Wen flags in the villages they were supposed to meet flashed.
His mother’s sword buried in the ground, his father hand outstretched to an equally dead one-
“Jiang Cheng” Wei WuXian calls again.
Wei WuXian tilts his head towards the corner of the room where the Wen scum is shivering in, the moonlight that streams through the roof highlights the paleness of his skin. “Join this with me.”
Jiang Cheng straightens up, eyes drawing towards Wen Chao and shoves his screaming thoughts back down. Twisting Zidian with his fingers, Jiang Cheng spreads a grin, eyes shining manic.
“So what are you?” He finally asks when they’re on their way to base camp. Lan Wangji was long gone before Wen Chao’s screams died down.
Wei WuXian shrugged, fingers twirling a black flute – Chenqing he calls it-. “A fierce corpse.”
“You don’t act like one,” Jiang Cheng accused. Wei WuXian sure as hell lack the rigidity a fierce corpse should have, and he can talk.
He shrugs again, black robes flowing as he takes two steps ahead. “I woke up like this Jiang Cheng.”
“I thought I survived.” He waves a hand. “But then everything seemed different. It took me a slip down a small cliff for me to realise.”
Jiang Cheng frowns, his lips pursed tight and the overwhelming feelings from before surges in again. His clenched his teeth and tightens his fist till his knuckles turned white.
“A-jie is going to be so sad.”
And she was.
Jiang Yanli bawled her eyes out when she couldn’t feel the light thumps of life on Wei WuXian no matter how hard she searches.
Jiang Cheng sits right beside her as she wails. “A-Xian…”
“A-Xian, my Xian-Xian. Shijie is sorry.” Jiang Cheng frowns deeper, heart-squeezing tight. It is not his sister's fault if someone is to blame it should be him.
“Shijie what are you talking about.” Wei WuXian asks softly, his cold fingers curling softly around his sister’s frame. “It’s not your fault.” He assures like it all they need.
“It’s not Jiang Cheng’s fault either.” He adds, “ this Xian-xian got a little bit careless that’s all.”
Jiang Cheng didn’t have the energy to be mad, he thinks that he should be furious. A bit careless is the understatement of the fucking century. But the heat that usually fuels his red anger melts into something else as Jiang Yanli clutches Wei WuXian harder. The man looks up from his Shijie and towards his Shidi, and Jiang Cheng fiercely detested how Wei WuXian has the ability to form facial expressions.
“I’m sorry.” He says like it would be enough for the broken promises he made. Jiang Cheng wanted to seethe but his lips curled downward more than he wants to.
He tried to forget how his sobs sounded that evening as well. He also tried to forget how cold his brother is as were wrapped around him and his sister.
Wei WuXian finally cries, or at least very much close to with the lack of tears, when he tried to eat Jiang Yanli’s soup.
“Shijie.” He breathes even though he needs no air.
“I can’t taste anything.”
Jiang Cheng doesn’t mind shedding tears for Wei WuXian again because to be unable to taste Jiang Yanli’s soup is a punishment befitting only for those with abhorrent of sins.
So not everyone can tell straight right off that Wei WuXian is a walking corpse which is highly reasonable where the guy still goes around laughing and a jar of wine in hand. His movements fast and nimble as he still were before. His hair is down, only half of it tied into a loose ponytail, hiding the black veins that decorate his neck and edges of his jaw.
Voice high and spirited, greeting fellow cultivators like old friends.
But it quickly became horrifying clear within the battlefield. Calling forth waves of his kind with the chilling shrill of his flute, relentless in his attacks, standing far longer and fighting harder than anyone. He cares not when swords stab through him, or arrows pierce his flesh. Only yanking them all out when the battle is over.
(Jiang Cheng once witnessed someone chopped Wei WuXian’s arm off in the midst of battle.
The man stabs his assaulter, kicks him away and just reattach the lost limb back. All done in a calmly manner.
The young sect leader screamed.)
It took Jiang Yanli’s pleas for the man to at least defend himself and not make any more holes on his body.
Wei WuXian couldn’t use his spiritual energy anymore, Jiang Cheng notes as he sees Suibian sprawled haphazardly in a forgotten corner. Chenqing took the sword’s place tucked into his belt sash. Resorting to use the very energy that fuel’s Wei WuXian body, twisting it, studying it and even cultivating it.
Attempt the impossible
Even at death, Wei WuXian still manages to upheld their Jiang Sect’s motto.
“Second Young Master Lan.” He hears his brother’s voice when he walks out of his tent and stills. “So what if resentful energy is bad and goes against everything your righteous clan believes in.”
“Surely Young Master Lan knows it is the very source that powers this dead body of mine?”
“Wei Ying.” Huh, is that emotion is Lan Wangji’s voice?
“Resentful energy disturbs the peace of the mind and impedes-”
“Are we fighting for the peace of our world or our minds Lan Zhan? Tell me, how can one cultivate a mind of peace under the wrath of war?” So much annoyance dripped from every word that Jiang Cheng smirked.
“…Wei Ying, allow me to play the song of Clarity and Restfulness for you.”
“Save it for your disciples Lan Zhan. I’m sure they need it more than I do.” A rustle of robes can be heard and Jiang Cheng scrambles back in his tent. He fakes getting up from his bed as Wei WuXian pushes the entrance open.
“Jiang Cheng.” The remnants of a scowl brush Wei WuXian lips as he searches the tent.
Jiang Cheng takes the chance to take in his overall appearance. Wei WuXian doesn’t look much different from the first time he found him the night they killed Wen Chao. But if it’s possible, Jiang Cheng is sure that he looks tired.
Wei WuXian hardly, if ever, sleeps at all. Granted that he is now a fierce corpse and doesn’t actually need it. But Jiang Cheng would give anything if it weren’t for the war to see Wei WuXian in his perpetually empty bed, faking to be comfortable under the flimsy sheets and straw mats. He scowls fiercely every time the fierce corpse offers his bed to an injured cultivator. Jiang Cheng may or may not have scared them away a few times with his glares and unwelcoming visages.
The other sects are obviously abusing this fact that they sends him to each battlefield as he suffers from no tire and injuries. And the thought that they tried to kill him at first had Jiang Cheng thoroughly disgusted.
He saw spent too much time watching Wei WuXian plan strategies, helping the injured or wasting away drinking jars and jars of alcohol despite not being able to feel its numbing effects.
Jiang Cheng also makes sure never to mention how his sister just tears up at the sight of Wei WuXian lounging every night under the moonlight, keeping guard. How the light colours his feature and wistful thinking that it’s the only reason why he looks so pale.
“What?” he asks with a scowl when eyes that will never bear its former glint locates him.
“They’re having another strategy meeting again.”
“I know.” Jiang Cheng huffs, adjusting his arm guard and pushes his way out of the tent. Wei WuXian glides up to his side, a grin on his face.
“Apparently they call you Sandu Shengshou now. How does the Sect Leader Jiang feels about this hm?”
He snorts and shoves his face away. “Unsolicited spoils of war.”
Wei WuXian hummed, placing his palms on the back of his head. “It seems fitting. Good thing they didn’t name you purely on your temper huh? I have a few suggestions if that were the case.” Wei WuXian laughs as he bends back to avoid a back-handed slap.
Wei WuXian’s presence is abhorred. People see him as one of the wicked, bringing death as he is the death himself, cultivating the unthinkable.
They send him looks of disgust, vile and hateful gazes as if he isn’t one of the main forces behind the Sunshot campaign. There was once where an arrow almost lodged itself into Wei WuXian’s skull. Jiang Cheng sends the attacker flying with a whip of Zidian.
And more on several occasions that some minor sect leaders (Sect Leader Yao especially) subtly offered their services after the Sunshot Campaign ends. Jiang Cheng snorts. As if one of the great sects, YunMeng Jiang couldn’t handle a fierce corpse.
But he wouldn’t, not without making his sister cry. Keeping Wei WuXian as part of the sect would definitely affect the sect’s reputation. If his mother was alive, she would have whipped Wei WuXian into oblivion but now it was Jiang Cheng’s choice to make. And he chooses to put his foot down.
So what if his brother is now is an aberrant fierce corpse, so what if his skin is void of blood. So what if he doesn’t need to do the necessaries of the living.
(Jiang Cheng conveniently forgets how he brawled with Wei WuXian for the last bowl of Lotus Pork Rib Soup.
“In your dreams Wei WuXian!”)
So what if life doesn’t thrum under his skin every time Wei WuXian slings an arm over him. Wei WuXian is still standing. His voice unchanging speaks like the living. Laughter ever ringing.
Wei WuXian is here, walking dead and cold but Jiang Cheng learns to settle with that, if he has to power through sect leaders with rough words and snarls to make Wei WuXian stay. Then he shall.
He has died once and that is enough.
But oh, oh he forgets.
It starts at the banquet after Wen RuoHan’s head detached from his shoulders.
Lotus Pier is halfway rebuilt and their dead were burned, buried and mourned.
Wei WuXian stumbled for the first time, jar of wine sent crashing into the ground as he tried to regain strength in his legs. If Jiang Cheng doesn't have the tendency to keep an eye on him despite being the undead, he would have missed how Wei WuXian pants for breath and eyes looking lost. Jiang Cheng contemplates whether to reprimand or drag him out of the banquet away from prying eyes.
But a moment after, he straightens up and laughs it off, tried to push the liveliness in the banquet again. But it doesn’t as the hall was heavily reminded of the presence of a fierce corpse among them. Wei WuXian assures that he is fine when Jiang Yanli fusses, a bit low on resentful energy that is all and proceeds to snatch another jar off the table.
It happened again a few months later, they were just replanting lotus seeds when the idiot slipped and fell in the lake. Jiang Yanli was saturated in worry and on the brink of tears when Jiang Cheng finally pulled him out on the banks.
Almost resorting to resuscitation when Wei WuXian’s eyes just slide open. Sitting up, he spat the water out and laughs. Defending himself from Jiang Cheng harsh attacks and sinking in his Shijie’s arms. Something was wrong with Wei WuXian but they didn’t have much time to think about it as the Jin discussion conference draws closer. And things went downhill when Wei WuXian appeared at the midst of the banquet, drinking Lan Wangji’s cup and making demands.
He then took off, tore down the Jin labour camps and disappeared along with the Wen remnants.
Jiang Cheng and other sect members searched high and low for his whereabouts, turning heads at any whiff of the name Wen. But as if they have vanished, they couldn’t find them anywhere.
Wei WuXian reappeared five months later, steps trudging through the gates of the now finished Lotus Pier. Slow and jagged, forced and stiff.
All words and anger died on Jiang Cheng’s lips when his Shixiong fell face-first into the ground.
The initial approach is to utilize the gratitude of his relatives and grant his dying wish, set free what he could not let go of.
Wei WuXian has no more to power on.
The proud former head disciple of YunMeng Jiang.
Wei WuXian, his brother, a fierce corpse, is dying. For the second time.
“I’m sorry.” He whispers between his siblings and Jiang Cheng promptly storms out of the room and maybe out of Lotus Pier.
“We have to let him go.” Jiang Yanli says that night when he finally went back and collapses in his sister’s arms. “A-Xian needs to rest. He fought for us for too long now.”
Jiang Cheng felt like he’s six years old again, to throw a tantrum like when his dogs were taken away. And he did, shouting muted screams and complains the unfairness of it all into his sister’s shoulders. Withering under her soothing but trembling strokes on his back.
If it helps, Jiang Cheng is more than willing to never adopt any dog just to have life breathe in Wei WuXian again.
His sister is suffering too, with soft hiccups and tears. This is so much worse compared to the first time Wei WuXian appeared as a fierce corpse. Because this time, he’s dying for real.
He passes on a bright sunny day, cold despite the hot summer heat. Limp in his sister’s arms, a kiss in his hair, tight grip in his hand, deaf to his sibling’s sadness.
It took Jiang Cheng a week for him to finally commission a name tablet for Wei WuXian. The decision to place it among the ancestral halls were unanimous and heedless for words.
Despite Wei WuXian being something that many fear and cultivating a heretic path, many attended his funeral. “So that he could see his friends A-Cheng.” Jiang Yanli had said.
Somehow it doesn’t surprise Jiang Cheng to see Lan Wangji amongst those who attended, even Lan Xichen is there, paying his condolences and prayers for his brother. Lan Qiren though was another matter, the elder Lan just nods at the surviving direct Jiang siblings and pays his respect. Nie MingJue didn’t even muster the energy to keep his brother’s appearance up as Nie HuaiSang sniffles behind his fan. Jin Guangyao gifts them carefully curated words while Jin ZiXuan offered them his condolences, hovering unsurely beside Jiang Yanli throughout the whole process.
But needless to say, it was a shock to say when Jiang Cheng managed to catch a slip of a tear down Lan Wangji’s cheeks as he stood before Wei WuXian’s body. He also catches Lan Xichen soft yet sad gazes for his brother, murmuring words only for him to hear.
Two vaguely familiar faces appeared briefly at the end of it, hoods over their heads voice low. Jiang Cheng just grits his teeth and scowls when they said their names. There’s no ‘Wen’s. But even so, purple light flares in his hand. Before Jiang Cheng could lash Zidian on them, Jiang Yanli gave them her thanks and sends them away.
Although despite being officially dead, Jiang Cheng never fails to bring his parents and Wei WuXian’s tablet to his sister’s wedding, or to Jin Ling’s one-month celebration or to any other events that he would be sure Wei WuXian would have loved to attend.
And if he ever saw Lan Wangji caressing Wei WuXian’s name tablet when he leaves it unattended. Jiang Cheng says nothing.
He carries it for years, wiping it when it gets dusty. Visiting them with his sister and Jin Ling, sometimes Jin ZiXuan too. Wei WuXian is also made sure to be alive within Jin Ling as well as he and his sister took turns to tell him his dajiu’s adventures.
Lan Wangji’s letter to ask for permission to pay his respect never ceased every year either, bringing Wei WuXian’s favourite Gusu Emperor’s Smile every time. It took time, years, Jiang Yanli’s intervention and a night of words for Jiang Cheng to know and understand. And if the letter comes more frequently than before, Jiang Cheng says nothing.
They all carried for thirteen years and no more.