Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi and Ouyang Zizhen stared at Jin Ling as he stood on the balls of his feet, hopping impatiently from side to side as he waited. They had seen Jin Ling when he got angry, they had seen him sad, he had broken down crying in front of them. They had even seen him happy and having fun with them, smiling, and laughing at the jokes they cracked or when they complimented him. They had seen his screaming rage and silent apologies, his embarrassment, and his shyness.
But they had never, ever seen him like this before, not even when he had become Sect Leader or when he had been given the responsibility of setting up a discussion conference in Jinlintai for all of the sects. Jin Ling seemed nervous, unsure, excited and bursting to the brim with joy all at once. His friends didn’t know what to make of the situation or how they should act, so they just stood and continued to stare at him.
Jin Ling had invited them all to visit Lotus Pier with him. He had told them that he had spent this season with his uncle, Sect Leader Jiang, in Lotus Pier every year since he had been born, and that he was planning on doing the same this year. Although he was responsible for an entire sect now, he was still young, and he was sure that he could persuade the elders to show him leniency. After all, it had only been a year since Jin Ling had received the title, and he had outdone himself, even if he did say so himself.
Jin Ling had been granted permission to stay with his uncle for a couple of weeks and he had enthusiastically invited Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi and Ouyang Zizhen to join him. They had asked him if he had taken permission from Sect Leader Jiang, the great Sandu Shengshou, but Jin Ling had only snorted and begun to laugh in response.
“Yeah, right,” Jin Ling had said, “As if I need permission to call you into my home. Jiujiu would get mad if I did ask for his permission.”
All three of them had exchanged glances with each other before agreeing to go to Lotus Pier with Jin Ling. He had reassured them that they would love it there, telling them that there were amazing surprises waiting for them once they got there.
They had arrived in Lotus Pier barely a few hours ago, and they were standing near the entrance now, ready to leave for their destination as the sun slowly began to set on the horizon. Jin Ling had not told his friends where they were going, apparently wanting this to be the first of their surprises. So, they were all left waiting. On whom, they did not know yet, but considering Jin Ling’s behaviour, it had to be someone important. Someone who mattered a lot to Jin Ling.
“Jiujiu, where are you?!” Jin Ling’s scream echoed throughout the corridors of Lotus Pier. “The sun is almost about to set! We might get late. I don’t want to be too late!”
Ouyang Zizhen, Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi gaped at each other. They had thought that the person they had been waiting for had been a Jiang disciple or at least someone around their age, who they could have fun with or act freely around. They had not been expecting it to be the great Sandu Shengshou. How were they supposed to relax around him?
To the Lans and Ouyang Zizhen’s surprise, the exclamation made Sect Leader Jiang appear and they watched him hurry over with a tightly wrapped bag in his hand. “I’m coming, I’m coming. I’m right here,” he responded calmly, although his demeanour said otherwise. Jin Ling’s friends used the time it took for Sect Leader Jiang to reach them, to observe him.
The Sandu Shengshou did not seem to be wearing his royal robes, choosing instead to wear plain purple robes that neither the Lans nor Ouyang Zizhen had ever seen him wear. He seemed to have rushed through an important meeting to meet up with them. His hair was not tied up into a tight bun like it usually was, instead it stood straight behind his back with a quick top bun tied on his head. He was frowning slightly, which was his signature expression.
Despite Jin Ling’s several reassurances before the trip, and childhood stories of Sect Leader Jiang’s soft demeanour, none of Jin Ling’s friends believed him. Sect Leader Jiang had welcomed all three of them with a nod of his head and Jin Ling had been greeted with an eyeroll as he had explained what his friends were doing in Lotus Pier with him. Sect Leader Jiang had huffed out a breath and instructed a few of the maids and servants to set up three rooms. Apparently, Jin Ling’s room had already been cleaned and was ready for him to enter.
So Jin Ling had not been lying when he had said that Sect Leader Jiang had been expecting him. Still, the rest of the juniors were skeptical about having Sect Leader Jiang join them to go wherever Jin Ling was taking them.
Jin Ling had crossed his arms and was tapping his foot by the time Sect Leader Jiang reached them. “What took you so long?” Jin Ling demanded. “You promised me you’d be here on time.”
The rest of the juniors held their breaths as they saw the Sandu Shengshou bristling slightly, his frown deepening. They expected to see Zidian flare up and in action at any moment, instead, Sect Leader Jiang sighed heavily. “I’m sorry A-Ling. There were a lot of preparations to be made for the festival and the disciples wouldn’t let me leave. I had to give them a set of detailed instructions before I could be allowed to leave. We can still make it on time.”
Lan Jingyi, Lan Sizhui and Ouyang Zizhen saw a hopeful look cross Sect Leader Jiang’s eyes before it flickered out as Jin Ling turned around with a huff of breath and stomped away. Sect Leader Jiang called out to Jin Ling and grabbed his arm. “A-Ling, here. Hold this.”
“What is this?” Jin Ling asked, turning sharply to meet Sect Leader Jiang’s eyes.
“Some warm food prepared for you and your friends. We do not know if we’ll get the chance to get some food during or after the ceremony.” Sect Leader Jiang explained.
The ceremony? What ceremony? Jin Ling’s friends watched as Jin Ling’s posture relaxed and his facial expressions softened. “Thanks, Jiujiu.” A small smile appeared on Jin Ling’s face as he held the bag of food and fell in step with Sect Leader Jiang as they walked.
“Where are we going, Jin Ling?” Lan Sizhui asked politely after they had been walking for a few minutes.
Jin Ling shared a secretive look with his uncle and faced Sizhui as he responded. “You’ll see.”
They walked for another half an hour before they reached the clearing. There was a huge crowd in the clearing. It seemed to Jin Ling’s friends as though the entirety of the Yunmeng Jiang sect had decided to gather there. Every single person there was holding a beautifully designed and delicate looking lantern. All three of the juniors immediately wanted one too, although none of them said it.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Sect Leader Jiang asked them. “Jin Ling, why don’t you and your friends go get yourselves some lanterns?”
Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi and Ouyang Zizhen startled slightly at being addressed directly by the Sandu Shengshou, but they all bowed and nodded quickly. Their response elicited another eye roll from Sect Leader Jiang, although none of them could figure out why.
“What about you, Jiujiu? Aren’t you going to come get a lantern with us?” Jin Ling questioned, and it puzzled his friends how much Jin Ling wanted his uncle to accompany them. Surely he had invited them over because he had wanted to spend time more time with them and not his uncle.
“You can choose one for me,” Sect Leader Jiang said, making a shooing gesture with one of his hands. His attention seemed to be focused on a particular vendor. “Go ahead now, we want to be able to start the ceremony on time.”
“Alright, I’ll make you share a lantern with me then.” Jin Ling stated with a slight smirk at his uncle, then turned to his friends. “Come on, let’s go. Follow me.”
As the rest of the juniors followed Jin Ling, they looked around the clearing. Tiny stalls stood at the edges of the clearing and they contained all sorts of different things. Most of them were selling lanterns but there were also some food stalls. Lan Jingyi, Lan Sizhui and Ouyang Zizhen wondered which stall had caught Sect Leader Jiang’s attention.
They reached one of the lantern stalls and watched Jin Ling greet the stall owner by name and an easily familiarity.
“I was looking around for you and your uncle earlier, but I could not seem to find you anywhere. Some of us were wondering whether you were even going to make it here on time,” the stall owner spoke to Jin Ling conversationally.
“Ah, you know how it is. Jiujiu was running late because he was preparing for the upcoming festival,” Jin Ling responded as he checked out the lanterns around him. “Why don’t you three take a look around and tell me which lanterns you like the most? I’m not letting any of you pay!”
“Alright, Young Mistress,” Lan Jingyi muttered under his breath, making sure he was loud enough for Jin Ling to hear him. Ouyang Zizhen snorted and then turned to innocently look at one of the nearby lanterns. Lan Sizhui, who was standing right next to him, nudged him lightly, and Jin Ling simply glared at him.
Shut up,” Jin Ling said, before turning to the stall owner again. “Do you have any lanterns with designs of particular animals?”
“Yes, I do,” the stall owner replied, nodding her head, “Which animal do you wish to have on your lantern?”
Jin Ling chewed on his bottom lip and glanced at Ouyang Zizhen, Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi. He lowered his voice and said, “How about a dog?”
His friends looked at each other and smiled. Of course, Jin Ling would want a lantern with a dog as the design for it.
“Aren’t you supposed to be sharing your lantern with Sect Leader Jiang?” Ouyang Zizhen piped up all of a sudden.
Jin Ling shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, so?”
“So, shouldn’t you get a design that you both like instead of just getting the design of a dog?” Lan Jingyi added, confirming that Jin Ling’s friends were all thinking the same thing.
An amused expression flashed on Jin Ling’s face. “I was thinking of something we both liked, that’s why I asked for a dog,” he said. “Jiujiu loves them even more than I do.”
There was a stunned silence between the juniors as Jin Ling’s words sank into his friends’ brains. Sect Leader Jiang loved dogs more than Jin Ling did, and Jin Ling adored Fairy. The three juniors didn’t know anyone who loved dogs more than Jin Ling, and to imagine someone who did was difficult, let alone when that person happened to be the mighty Sandu Shengshou.
“Have you three chosen your lanterns? We have to go back to Jiujiu, or we’ll be late,” Jin Ling said, hurrying them along. They all chose their lanterns and Jin Ling paid the stall owner, thanking her before walking back to the middle of the clearing where Sect Leader Jiang was waiting for them.
“You’re right on time,” Sect Leader Jiang said. As Jin Ling’s friends looked around, they saw that everyone in the clearing had already lit their lanterns. Jin Ling’s attention, however, was on his uncle.
“What did you buy this time?” he asked. Sect Leader Jiang raised an eyebrow. “Show me, Jiujiu!”
“Fine.” Sect Leader Jiang gave in and pulled something out of his robes. It was a long purple ribbon made of silk. It had beautiful intricate designs on the sides.
“Wow,” Lan Jingyi said before he could stop himself.
“It’s beautiful,” Lan Sizhui agreed.
“Are you going to gift it to someone?” Ouyang Zizhen asked. A lady friend, maybe?
The three of them blinked, taking in the sight of Sect Leader Jiang smiling at their words. He did seem a bit surprised at Ouyang Zizhen’s question, looking over at Jin Ling as if expecting him to answer it.
“Jiujiu’s bought this ribbon for himself. He’ll need to wear it to look sharp for the festival he’s arranging. He’s got an entire collection of them, you know,” Jin Ling told his friends, and they noticed the way he proudly spoke about his uncle.
“Does this mean that you like it?” Sect Leader Jiang asked, elbowing Jin Ling.
Jin Ling nodded and took the ribbon into his own hands. “I love it, Jiujiu.”
“Well, you can keep it then,” Sect Leader Jiang said, and Jin Ling froze, his mouth dropping open.
“What? But Jiujiu—”
“You don’t have enough possessions from Yunmeng in your new room in Jinlintai. We can’t have that, can we? So, you’re keeping the ribbon.”
“Jiujiu,” Jin Ling said softly, and the rest of the juniors watched in awe as Jin Ling hugged his uncle. “Thank you.”
Sect Leader Jiang patted Jin Ling’s back awkwardly, chancing a quick glance at Jin Ling’s friends as a red flush made its way up his cheeks. “We should light up the lanterns now.”
Jin Ling pulled away; his face as red as Sect Leader Jiang’s as he nodded in agreement with him. Jin Ling lit up his lantern, as did his friends, before holding the lantern out to his uncle. They both held it in their hands as the countdown began.
“You have to make a wish before letting go of the lantern,” Jin Ling informed Lan Jingyi, Lan Sizhui and Ouyang Zizhen.
“Have you decided on your wish yet?”Jin Ling asked his uncle. His uncle frowned in response. “I’ll make a wish on your behalf then.”
“I wish to be a great Sect Leader. One that the Jin Sect will be proud of. Jiujiu wishes to be the best uncle that he can be by visiting me at Koi Tower more often—” Jin Ling looks at Sect Leader Jiang meaningfully, “—and by inviting me to visit Lotus Pier more often.” Jin Ling fiddled with his fingers nervously and watched his uncle as he added quickly, “He also wishes to make amends with Wei Wuxian, his brother.”
“Jin Ling, you brat!” Sect Leader Jiang shouted, stepping threateningly towards Jin Ling. Jin Ling immediately let go of the lantern, and as the countdown reached zero the next second, so did Sect Leader Jiang. Their lantern flew up high, looking brighter than any star in the sky.
Ouyang Zizhen, Lan Jingyi and Lan Sizhui let go of their lanterns too, but instead of watching the lanterns float up into the air, they watched the Sandu Shengshou chasing down Jin Ling.
“I said come here and let me break your legs!” Sect Leader Jiang warned.
Jin Ling was laughing. “You should thank me, Jiujiu! I did you a favour. We both know you want to talk to Wei Wuxian again! Aaaah—!” Jin Ling let out a girlish cry as Sect Leader Jiang caught him.
“You brat! Who told you to interfere in my business, hmmm?” Sect Leader Jiang demanded. But the three juniors noticed that he had the slightest smile on his face.
“If you can interfere with my busines, then I can interfere with yours, too,” Jin Ling replied, thrusting his chin up at his uncle.
“That boy is really asking to be killed,” Lan Jingyi muttered, and even Lan Sizhui had to agree with him.
“He’s going to get us killed by his uncle too.” Ouyang Zizhen muttered. They were all walking towards the uncle-nephew duo.
“How dare you! When we go home, I will break both of your legs and your arms too!” Sect Leader Jiang exclaimed. That was when Jin Ling’s friends finally reached him.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” Lan Sizhui said, before their argument could escalate further. “Thank you for having us here, in your home. This ceremony is quite beautiful.” And it was. Hundreds of lanterns floating in the night sky were quite the sight.
“You don’t have to thank me,” Sect Leader Jiang said gruffly. He crossed his arms in the same way Jin Ling had earlier as he spoke, “You are all welcome to visit Lotus Pier whenever you wish. You’re Jin Ling’s friends so his home should be your home too.”
Sect Leader Jiang’s response had the three juniors looking at him in a new light. He was no longer Sect Leader Jiang or the great, mighty Sandu Shengshou. He was just Jin Ling’s uncle now, and maybe someday, they could call him their uncle as well.
It was obvious now to all three of them why Jin Ling had called them to Lotus Pier. He had wanted them to experience and enjoy this season in Yunmeng, but it was his uncle whom he had wanted to spend time with.
Maybe spending time with Jin Ling’s uncle in Lotus Pier would not be as bad as they thought it would be.
“Hey Jiujiu,” Jin Ling said. They were all sitting in the clearing, on top of a dry cloth Jin Ling’s uncle had brought with him, and they were about to eat the warm food he had packed for them.
He was carefully unwrapping it all for them and looked up as he heard his name being called out. “I just wanted to ask you,” Jin Ling continued, “that if you broke both my arms and my legs, how would I be able go back to Koi Tower to run my sect?”
Lan Sizhui sighed. “He really is asking to be whipped by Zidian, isn’t he?”
Ouyang Zizhen and Lan Jingyi nodded their heads as Jin Ling and his uncle began arguing loudly again, their food laying forgotten on the dry cloth in front of them.