The Wen Sect contingent is approaching the Cloud Recesses, and Wen Chao has a smirk on his face that's even stupider than average for a Wen Chao facial expression.
That sounds horrible. Hug?
Quick hug while Wen Chao isn't looking.
They're dragged into a dark, ominous cave. This is still objectively much better than Wen Chao perving on Mianmian.
(There are bats. Fortunately, none of them transmit any unfortunate viruses to any of the humans.)
Lan Zhan is given a torch. She goes first, lighting the way along a precarious cliff's edge.
Mianmian is keeping herself in the center of as many Jin disciples as possible. She does not stumble.
She finds a severe downward slope into what must be a lower chamber of the cave. It is difficult to be sure; she cannot make out the bottom of the slope through the deep darkness.
"This must be the place...all of you! Hurry up and find a way down!"
"Wen Chao, are you so unequipped that not a single one of your men brought rope?"
Wen Chao shoves him off the edge.
Mianmian screams. So do several other disciples.
After a few moments, indistinct angry shouting echoes back up to them.
Wen Ying really, really wants to yell at Wen Chao for being an idiot.
She does not do that. Instead she helps get ropes (which they did have) set up, and then gets down as fast as she can without abandoning the other girls to Wen Chao's undiluted proximity to check him for injuries.
There are some nasty bruises and one of Zixuan's palms got scraped up, but mostly he's just extremely pissed. Nothing is broken.
She can get his scrape cleaned and bandaged before Wen Chao makes it down to object if he cooperates.
He will. Maybe that will make it easier to punch Wen Chao in the face. He can dream.
Relevant girls have followed Wen Ying rather closely. The Jin disciples flock immediately to Jin Zixuan, who shrugs off all their concern with a dismissive flick of his sleeves. This exasperates Mianmian, but Zixuan does in fact seem alright.
"If I give you medicine for the bruises later, can you slip it into his tea?" Wen Ying whispers to Mianmian.
"I'll be happy to!"
Lan Zhan has had to do away with her walking stick and slide awkwardly and painfully down the rock face, gripping the rope tightly.
Now, she brushes the dirt from her robes and limps to Wen Ying's side.
"Lan Zhan! Are you okay?"
She wants to kiss her so badly.
Wen Ying doesn't kiss her right now, but she does manage a very discreet handsqueeze.
Everyone moves farther into the cave, ignoring Wen Chao's impotent yelling for them to say something from the top of the cliff. They reach a dead end with a little pond. Wen Ying frowns. Something's wrong with the echo here...
She would very much like to report total failure to find anything, time to move on, but she doesn't think Wen Chao would accept that.
Those with torches reach the edge of the dark pool and cast their light aloft. Only Lan Zhan makes note of maple leaves drifting on the water.
She whispers this observation to Wen Ying; there must be a hidden passage somewhere beneath the pond's surface.
She nods seriously. Who knows if the information will turn out to be important, but it would be a mistake to assume it won't.
"It's a dead end, Wen-gongxi!" the concubine chirps in consternation.
"Impossible," Wen Chao says, as though there weren't a big ol' pool of water that could be hiding any number of monsters right there. "Keep looking!" he instructs the soldiers. "And get someone hung and bleeding to lure the thing out!"
Wen Ying steps forward aggressively before anyone else can react to the latter statement. "Wen Chao, have you completely fucking forgotten what a hostage is?" she demands. "The way hostages work is that you hurt them if their families don't do what you say and you don't hurt them if they do. The latter part is fucking important."
Wen Chao sneers dismissively. "Then we won't use one of the sect heirs."
The concubine cranes her neck. "What about her?" she suggests, gesturing at Mianmian.
"Hm...maybe another one?" Wen Chao says.
"What, you're reluctant to use her because she's pretty?" Wang Lingjiao pouts.
"I'm not reluctant!" Wen Chao blusters.
Jin Zixuan steps in front of Mianmian. Lan Zhan nyooms fifteen feet across the cave in half a second, slipping into place to block Mianmian's other side.
"Enough! Wen Chao, you have cowered behind us for the entire hunt. Do just one thing yourself!"
"You know," Wen Chao says coldly, "I've been putting up with a lot of insubordination from you, Jin-gongxi, but even as patient and generous a man as I has limits. I'm going to give you one chance to tie the girl up yourself, or none of you people are ever going to see your homes again.