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Aug 08, 2020 8:20 AM
Untamed characters travel back in time
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What a pretty bird!! "Ooh, how interesting!" he whispers back. "It has such nice gold feathers..."

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- it sounds like him.

They're whispering, and it sounds like him. And together with the bird they're making a lot of noise; Wangji's supposed to look now. It would be strange if he didn't. He - looks over to the right behind him.

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It is so fun to sneak around like this!  A minor infraction that won't have disastrous consequences if discovered.  A game.  

When he notices someone more serious and rule-abiding is turning towards him, he quickly straightens back up and pretends he was listening to the rules.  

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Aw, but it would be so much more fun to keep talking about the bird. There's truly very little that would be worth paying attention to this absurd and unnecessary quantity of stupid boring rules. 

But fine. Just since Jiang Cheng is already so wound up today Wei Wuxian will be extremely generous and attempt some """decorum.""" He looks over to see what scared off his new acquaintance.  

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Ah, of course. His new friend! Kind of! His new friend who possibly somewhat hates him? But that's fine because they've already started Bonding and Wangji-xiong did let Shijie and Jiang Cheng inside the other night and honestly sword fighting seems like a perfectly fun way to spend a friendship.

Wei Wuxian beams at him and waves.

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...okay so he does indeed seem to still hate him???

Lan Wangji looks. Really upset. Wei Wuxian frowns just a little; it looks for all the world like Lan Zhan thinks Wei Wuxian was the one to break his Emperor's Smile. Wei Wuxian is definitely the wronged party here and he's getting punished anyway so honestly Lan Zhan has no right to look at him like that.

But fine, he'll stop waving and face ahead again. ~~Decorum~~

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- he's there and alive and smiling, he was smiling so, so brightly -

- towards the end it felt like Lan Wangji must have imagined how bright those smiles used to be. He'd concluded that the memories were exaggerated, colored by nostalgia and affection, because how could one person's smile possibly be that bright, but there it is and Wei Ying is smiling at him and -

There are so many other more important things to process right now, but he can't look away and it's really absurdly difficult to think about anything else.

When Wei Ying turns away he seems nonplussed but unaffected by whatever he saw in Wangji's face. This Wei Ying doesn't know how to read him the way he did, the way he will, and this Wei Ying doesn't particularly care if Wangji likes him. In the end he cared, for all the good that did him, and Wangji knows exactly what those bright eyes will look like when he points his sword at them for the final time -

 

But he won't, he won't do that, he won't ever let that happen. If this is real, if he's here and Wei Ying is here and smiling and alive, then he is never going to let that happen.

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Now that Wei Ying is no longer looking at him, Lan Wangji can see the world around him again.

Jiang Yanli is there, alive. She looks beautiful and kind and quiet as he remembered. Jiang Wanyin is there: shockingly young and bearing fewer stress lines than the last time Wangji saw him, looking no less sour or miserable for it.

...Jiang Wanyin stands in front of Wei Ying. Two feet away. A sword's length away; tension claws down Wangji's arms and curls his fists. He has seen Jiang Cheng exactly twice since everything, since leaving his seclusion. Wangji did a very good job of not killing him either time. (It was hard; it hurt not to hurt him. But receiving another severe punishment would undoubtably kill Wangji, assuming they didn't save time and execute him promptly. He had too many responsibilities for that.)

(And Wei Ying wouldn't want it.)

He can't hurt Jiang Wanyin now either. It's much harder to do that when Wei Ying is right there, no matter that the man - boy, really, now - hasn't done anything yet, no matter that Wei Ying isn't in real danger. His entire body aches with the suppressed urge to lunge forward and shove Jiang Wanyin away. Wangji glares viciously at him but stays very still.

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He's concerned, watching his brother, and a little surprised. Perhaps being around the cultivators from other clans is a more difficult adjustment for Wangji than he realized.

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It is very hard to concentrate with Wei Wuxian standing right behind him.  Jiang Cheng wants to turn around and pull out his sword.  No matter that it would be a very bad idea when surrounded by a packed room of people, none of which seem to be aware that a future-Demonic Cultivator is in their midst.  

Instead, he mentally recites his lines, glancing down at the note hidden in his own sleeve when eyes don't seem to be on him.  

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(It would be a very bad idea. If he pulls his sword he is going to die.)

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No one is going to die.

 

After a very long time, the rules are finally finished. The same Lan disciple who read them out clears his throat and begins to call up and introduce the representatives from visiting sects, one at a time.

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He sweeps to the center of the room and bows respectfully. "I am Jin Zixuan, from the Jin Clan of Lanling. I have come to visit the Grand Master."

He kneels, bows again more deeply, and continues on presenting his tribute. Jin Zixuan seems very alive: healthy and well-dressed as always.

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So well-dressed, isn't he.

 

Seeing his brother here feels... complicated. Brother? Half-brother? It doesn't really matter; of course neither Jin Zixuan nor his father would deign to acknowledge him as either.

He watches very carefully as shiny, golden Jin Zixuan presents his shiny, golden present. The Jin Sect Heir is composed and well-spoken. (Not quite as well-spoken as Meng Yao. But of course, he would never have to be.)

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He had started to warm up to Jin Zixuan, or at least his memory, after a while.  Mostly on account of A-Ling.  

Seeing him again.  Alive, younger.  Everything is getting too much for Jiang Cheng to process.  He defaults to annoyance.

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Her future husband, chosen by her parents and his years ago.  

Where Jiang Cheng defaults to dislike, she is hopeful.  Despite the incident at the tavern yesterday, she thinks that she can see true kindness in him, beneath the facade that he puts on.  

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An attendant accepts the tribute for the Grand Master Lan. Jin Zixuan and his fellow Jin disciple return to their seats.

"The Nie Clan of Qinghe is saluting!"

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Getting to watch Lan Zixuan go first helped.  He quickly sets down the canary and prepares to step forward, trusting Meng Yao to follow.

"Nie Huaisang from Nie Clan of Qinghe, here to visit the master," he bows, repeating the same formal procedure he'd just watched.  "The Nie clan presents to you this dark-red sand elixir pot."  

With a whispered command, he nods towards Meng Yao to continue.  

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He's happy to. He holds the heavy box out in front of him and, eyes lowered, speaks to the virtues of the gift and its recipient. He speaks very deliberately, very cleanly, with an articulate and poetic turn of phrase. Meng Yao wonders if Jin Zixuan will think anything of this, of what Meng Yao could be beside him. Above him.

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While he speaks, there is murmuring from the corner of the room.

"Isn't that -"

"- the love child of Sect Leader Jin, isn't he? Why is he..."

"- heard that he went to the Jin Clan for a proposal... kicked out of Carp Tower. After that..."

" -children of Sect Leader Jin, they are treated so differently..."

They are not being especially quiet.

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In some ways it impresses him, how far the gossip actually manages to reach. Meng Yao sometimes wonders if Father spread the story around deliberately, if he encouraged it. Perhaps to discourage his other bastards from wandering up to Carp Tower and soiling his pretty marble steps.

It burns, all over his skin like he's been set alight. The indignation of this has never once stopped burning; the angry buzzing tension in his skull, his fingers, gnawing at his stomach, it never gets any better. Meng Yao finishes his speech. He lowers his eyes and holds out the tribute and braces for them to ask about his mother, to laugh at the idea of her - that will burn worse, it always always does.

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"Quiet," Lan Qiren barks.

The mumbling disciples stop whispering immediately.

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How cruel of those disciples to gossip brazenly about this well-spoken young man. He's disappointed.

Xichen steps down from the dais himself to accept the gift. "I have heard that Clan Leader Nie has a helpful assistant. Hearing the elegance of your speech today, I see that my expectations are met."

If anything, Mingjue-ge had rather undersold him.

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