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Generated: Apr 11, 2021 12:22 AM
Post last updated: Apr 11, 2021 12:21 AM
no body no crime
I think I'm gonna call him out
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"Wen-er-gongxi is here!"

Wen Chao descends from the top of the ziggurat, flanked by two guards. He reaches a level within earshot of the unwillingly visiting disciples, but still high up enough that he can lord it over them without any kind of actual achievement to back it up. The herald announces him again. 

"Look at you. Like a pack of mangy dogs," Wen Chao sneers. 

Better to look like one than to be one, Wei Ying thinks, rolling her eyes. 

Wen Chao studies them all for a moment, as though he had the wit to actually glean any information from the fact that literally nobody is looking at him like they respect him, then calls, "Bring her over!"

Wei Ying turns to look. 

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'Her' turns out to be none other than Lan-er guniang, dressed in blinding white and hair billowing dark behind her.

Two guards march Lan Zhan across the plaza, bringing her up to stand in line with Wei Ying and the other sect heirs. Unlike the other sects, there is no larger contingent of Lan disciples behind her. Lan Zhan is alone.

She does not seem pleased.

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Wow. 

 

Lan Zhan doesn't seem like she's in good shape, and that's not good, but, wow. What a much better entrance than Wen Chao's. 

"Lan Zhan! Psst, Lan Zhan!"

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Seeing Wei Ying is as lovely and terrible as ever. Lan Zhan really really really wishes Wei Ying weren't here; she also wishes that Wei Ying would shut her mouth and stop drawing attention. Lan Zhan glares straight ahead and doesn't acknowledge her.

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"Lan Zhan!"

"Shh, don't draw attention," Jiang Cheng mutters to her, shooting a glare at Wen Chao. "She's all in one piece, you can talk to her later." 

Wei Ying pouts at her brother and then hisses again, more quietly, "Lan Zhan!"

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She's FINE and Wei Ying should LISTEN TO HER BROTHER. Lan Zhan's fist tightens around Bichen.

She worries it could seem like they're conspiring over the Yin Iron's location in plain sight to Wen Chao, Known Idiot.

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Instead of observing information about the world and drawing inferences from it, Wen Chao demands that they turn over their swords. There is some protest but Wen Chao quashes it by waving his father's dick around. Metaphorically, thankfully.

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A clump of guards make their way across the pavilion to collect everyone's swords and place them on a handy floating sword-tray.

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She hands Bichen over without protesting, stone faced and furious.

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Wei Ying quietly promises her brother not to make trouble and hands over Suibian with false brightness. 

Then she goes back to pestering her friend. 

"Lan Zhan!"

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Shut The Fuck Up Wei Ying

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Jin Zixuan does not give up his sword!!! None of the disciples agreed to this humiliating treatment by coming here and Wen Chao is completely crossing the line, he better watch himself.

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Wen Chao raises an eyebrow. "Are you challenging the Chief Cultivator?"

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"I am not the one challenging common decency, Wen-er gongzi. You push it too far. The Jin Sect stands with our swords!"

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Wen Chao snorts and approaches Jin Zixuan. 

"Where do you think you are? If the Wen sect says it's common decency to hand over your swords, then it is."

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The disciple behind Jin Zixuan clears her throat and steps forward, bowing deeply. "Please pardon him, Wen-er gonzgi. Our Young Master did not mean to offend you, we beg your forgiveness."

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"Mianmian, you don't need to beg forgiveness from these dogs."

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"Gongzi, please, remember your father's wishes," she whispers back. "Wen-er-gongzi, Sect Leader Jin instructed us not to neglect the Wen's commands. Our sect clans have always had a good relationship; of course we will comply."

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"It looks like this disciple of yours is both smarter and prettier than you are," Wen Chao mocks. He turns away. "Take his sword," he orders the soldiers. 

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Jin Zixuan nearly draws his sword on them - if they want it so much, they may have it at their throats! But Mianmian tugs at his sleeve and he relents with a huff.

Mianmian shoots Wei Ying a relieved grimace.

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Wei Ying gives her a sympathetic look back, then continues peering at Lan Zhan as Wen Chao prattles on about the Wen sect and how they have to memorize this book and what an asshole he's going to be about it. 

She almost hisses Lan Zhan's name a few more times, but Jiang Cheng catches her and grabs her shoulder to stop her. 

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Lan Zhan would like to set Wen Chao and his entire white fortress on fire. She does not attempt to do this. She stands like a statue and stares off into space, pointedly paying as little attention as humanly possible.

The guards hand out books. 

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Wen Chao dismisses them not long after. 

Wei Ying studies the Wen precepts, sporfles over the Wen hypocrisy, tries to check on Lan Zhan, finds out they're all under house arrest, and Plots. 

 

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Lan Zhan is returned to the dungeons beneath the Indoctrination Bureau, wherein she continues to have a massively unpleasant day. 

On the bright side: Wen Xu’s men continue not to discover where she hid the Yin Iron in Cloud Recesses. As long as that fragment is kept from them, Lan Zhan doesn't care how much blood stains her nice white robes.

 

It's a little harder to disguise limping when she joins everyone for indoctrination the next morning, but she does her best.

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Wei Ying definitely notices! And gives her Concerned Looks! 

Wen Chao would like a volunteer to recite the entire book he gave them yesterday. Nobody stirs. 

Wen Chao's gaze sweeps over the assembled disciples and he calls on Lan Zhan with a smirk. 

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No.

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Wen Chao sneers and calls on Jin Zixuan. 

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He won't either!

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Wen Chao's nostrils flare with anger. 

Wei Ying brightly interrupts his incipient tantrum by volunteering instead.

She folds her hands demurely and smiles and begins reciting the Cloud Recesses rules. Heaven knows she copied them enough. 

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Oh.

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In his next life Jiang Cheng would like a sister with a functioning self-preservation instinct please!

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Wen Chao throws a tantrum and assigns all three of them to go carry manure in a vegetable garden. 

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...Wei Ying glances at Lan Zhan. Oops?

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That could have easily gone so much worse. Lan Zhan would like a Wei Ying with a  functioning self-preservation instinct in this life! Please!

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MANURE??? 

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Yes, manure. Guards lead the three of them off to the vegetable garden and show them some them large buckets of manure to lug around and distribute. 

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Well this is gross and she's kinda sorry she got Lan Zhan involved with it but on the other hand the peacock hauling buckets of manure and being indignant about the indignity is hilarious. 

"Hey, Lan Zhan, do you think it would be hard to modify you guys's mouth-stopping-up charm to work on noses instead?"

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Lan Zhan ignores her and focuses on hooking her buckets up to the bucket-carrying-stick.

Yes, it would obviously be hard. The silencing charm was never designed to block sensory input. Wei Ying is being ridiculous. Talking to Lan Zhan while they are hostages under enemy surveillance is extremely ridiculous.

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But obviously you can't taste things while your mouth is closed! Even if the intent is completely different, if the mechanics are related...

Wei Ying hurries to catch up with her. 

"Lan Zhan, I heard something about Wen Xu coming to the Cloud Recesses with an army. Are you okay? Did they find you-know-what?" she asks in a low voice, actually checking to make sure the guards can't hear her. 

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She shakes her head stiffly. No, they did not find it. Wei Ying should please extrapolate from that that they are still looking and will easily turn their suspicions on anyone Lan Zhan talks to. Especially Wei Ying, who Wen Chao already despises.

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Well, if wishes were horses then beggars would ride; no matter how much Lan Zhan may wish it, Wei Ying hasn't grown a self-preservation instinct in the past five minutes. 

"Did something bad happen?" she asks, and reaches out to put a hand on Lan Zhan's shoulder. 

No sooner has she touched her friend than her hand is struck by a whip, what the fuck. 

She turns to see Wen Chao, followed by a posse of his cronies. To Wei Ying's surprise, Wen Chao is the one holding the whip. Astonishing that he's competent enough to hit what he's aiming at with that thing. Unless, of course, he wasn't aiming for her hand. Hm. 

"I knew you wouldn't be doing your work," he sneers. "What are you two whispering about?"

"Wen Chao, I understand that skills like counting are way too advanced for you, but there was only one person whispering. Lan Zhan didn't say a thing, even though I've been trying to talk to her for hours! She's so stubborn." 

This may have been a mistake, as his gaze turns to her companion and his lip curls. "Oh, I know all about the stubbornness of Lans," he sneers. 

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Wow this is exactly what she did not want to happen on multiple levels!!

"Wen Chao," she grinds out, in a way that means leave Wei Ying alone and go fuck yourself.

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"Maybe you'll be more cooperative," he drawls, sauntering up to Wei Ying. "Where is the Yin Iron?"

Wei Ying blinks at him innocently. "What do you mean? Didn't Xue Yang take it back here?"

Wen Chao is taken aback by this. "What?"

"Xue Yang stole it while he was escaping Qinghe," Wei Ying lies smoothly. "We thought he was working for you." 

Wei Ying's self-preservation instinct may be a shriveled and vestigial thing but it doesn't take a genius to work out that Lan Zhan will be safer if Wen Chao isn't badgering her about the Yin Iron. 

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Lan Zhan neither confirms nor denies this. She glares at Wen Chao and works very hard not to grab Wei Ying back and shove her out of his reach.

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Wen Chao glares at her. "I think you're lying." 

"Why would I bother lying to you?" Wei Ying scoffs. "If I knew where the Yin Iron was, I'd just tell you to fuck off. I mean, you've got the moral fiber, general competence, and also odor of this stuff you've got us slopping over your vegetable gardens. It's not like you could really do anything about it." 

Wen Chao goes purple with rage. "You little bitch!" he screeches, flailing his whip at her. She catches it easily, then snaps it back in his face, sending him stumbling backwards. He makes a gesture, and his subordinates shoot magic rope at her similar to the magic chains they had to fight near Dafan mountain. 

This time, Wei Ying does not have her sword. 

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ohfuck

The robes lash Wei Ying's arms to her sides and yank her up into the air. Lan Zhan hisses and dives between Wei Ying and Wen Chao with her arms out. 

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Wen Chao's whip lashes out at her injured leg. 

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Lan Zhan braces for pain, intending to stay firmly put, but her leg cannot physically withstand the blow. She collapses to the ground.

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"Hey! I'm the one who called you out, leave her the hell alone!"

Obligingly, Wen Chao turns and hits her with the whip, hard. She hisses involuntarily in pain. 

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Jin Zixuan throws down his shovel. "Wen Chao! Don't cross the line!"

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Wen Chao sneers disdainfully and attempts to whip Wei Ying again. 

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Lan Zhan surges back to her feet, balanced entirely on her left leg, and catches the whip from the air. She yanks, hard, freeing the handle from Wen Chao's grasp and whipping it back across his own face.

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Wen Chao stumbles backwards, his hand coming up to where he was struck. Blood drips from the corner of his mouth. He holds his hand up and stares at the red smears. For a moment it looks as though he's going to physically choke on his rage, ideally to the point of fatal qi deviation, but then his eyes narrow and he lowers his hand. 

"Let her down," he says coldly. The soldiers comply. 

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Wei Ying, unprepared, collapses to the ground in an ungainly heap. 

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Lan Zhan is at her side in an instant, gripping her arm. "Wei Ying."

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Wei Ying gives her something that attempts to be a reassuring smile. 

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"Seize them and bring them to the dungeons," he orders the soldiers, flinty-eyed. 

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"You can do what you want to me, but leave Lan Zhan alone!" 

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Wen Chao slaps her. "I can do what I like to her," he says coldly. "The rebellious Cloud Recesses have been crushed." 

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Wei Ying swings her head around to look at Lan Zhan with distraught concern. 

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Lan Zhan wants to touch Wei Ying's cheek and soothe the forming bruise away. She wants to punch Wen Chao in the face.

Instead, she avoids Wei Ying's eyes as the guards fall upon them both and wrestle chains around their wrists. 

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Jin Zixuan has marched closer. "Wen Chao, how dare you! You would treat the first disciples of two major sects like this?"

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"If you think the Lan are still a major sect, you information is very much out of date."

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This is as confusing as it is horrifying. Zixuan's father had said that the Qishan Wen were still behaving within bounds, when they'd left for Indoctrination! Zixuan doesn't know what this means about the fate of the Lan Sect, but it very much seems out of bounds.

"What did you do?"

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"What the Qishan Wen sect chooses to do is none of your concern."

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"-- even still, it is unacceptable for you to treat Lan-er guniang this way. No one came to indoctrination from any sect to be trod upon by you!"

Well. Technically Father said the Jin disciples were supposed to be trod on as necessary, but he has evidently been misinformed about the depths of the Wen Sect's depravity!

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"You came here to be taught how to behave. I can see that you still have far to go."

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"I need to learn how to behave? Wen Chao, you're deranged! Nothing you're meant to teach us can require putting women in a dungeon."

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Wen Chao makes another gesture and one of the soldiers hits Jin Zixuan hard in the belly. 

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WOW WHAT THE FUCK

RUDE

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Lan Zhan will use this diversion to get a better look at Wei Ying and assess her injuries. Did the whipping draw blood?

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If it did, it hasn't seeped through the dark layers of her dress yet.

Wei Ying attempts to convince her with facial expressions that Wei Ying is fine and Lan Zhan doesn't have to worry about her. 

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Jin Zixuan is huffing and attempting to catch his breath. "Wen Chao you're going to regret behaving like this. We were doing our jobs! Do you want to go spread the manure yourself?"

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"Your insolence is unacceptable. Clearly you're going to have to be taught better." He jerks his chin and some soldiers grab Jin Zixuan too. 

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Bitch.

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The soldiers begin lugging all three prisoners towards the dungeons. Lan Zhan's limp has gotten worse.

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Wen Chao has thick chains put on the girls. Jin Zixuan just gets shoved in a random cell and the door slammed and bolted. He ignores Wei Ying's continued fluttering that he should let Lan Zhan go, and shoves the two of them into a cell with hay scattered on the floor. 

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Wei Ying has half formed some kind of wry, optimistic comment when her eyes land on the room's prior occupant and she freezes. After a stock-still second, she lunges back towards the door, but is shoved back inside and the door slammed shut, to the laughter of Wen Chao and some of his men. She falls over from the shove, then scrambles to the wall as far from the giant dog as possible. 

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"-- Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan scoots closer to her, concerned.

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"No no no no no," she whimpers, ducking behind Lan Zhan relative to the dog. 

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...

The dog is indeed large and gruesome and looks like it could severely injure them at any moment, but it's still very strange to see Wei Ying react this openly afraid to anything. Lan Zhan puts her hands against the stone, chains and all, lifting her arms as a shield between Wei Ying and the dog. "Wei Ying. Wei Ying. Stay calm."

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Wei Ying buries herself against Lan Zhan and takes deep breaths against her friend's collar. 

"Dog," she says shakily. 

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Lan Zhan is abruptly Very Distracted from the dog!!!!

 

"W...ei ing?

You are frightened of dogs?"

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Nod nod nod. Whimper. 

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Oh no. 

"I won't let it hurt you."

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Shiver. Huddle. 

 

"Thank you."

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Lan Zhan very gingerly huddles around Wei Ying in turn. She places a hand on Wei Ying's shoulders.

 

...how is the dog doing? Is it leashed properly?

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It is Super Not. It is growling and advancing on them menacingly with zero restraint whatever. 

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Shit. Okay. Okay. Keep Wei Ying calm and safe, is the most important thing. Lan Zhan gingerly pats Wei Ying's back and looks around for anything that could be used as a weapon. Possibly she could choke out the beast with her chains?

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The contents of this cell:

-The dog
-Wei Ying and Lan Zhan
-Their very heavy chains
-Various pieces of hay scattered across the floor
-Anything they had in their sleeves??? They weren't frisked before they were shoved in the cell. 

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Lan Zhan hasn't been allowed to keep anything in her sleeves since she was taken at Cloud Recesses.

"What do you have in your sleeves?"

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"Um--"

She rifles through her sleeves for a moment, firmly Not Looking at the dog, before literally just dumping everything out. 

There are a lot of papers, including her copy of the Wen precepts and a handful of talismans, not optimized for fighting a fuckoff dog. 

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Great.

Well. Lan Zhan leans against Wei Ying to help her feel Secure while she gathers her chains up and waits for the dog to get too close.

Maybe it won't? Maybe it will just change it's mind, and Lan Zhan can continue feeling Wei Ying's breath on her neck helping...

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The dog lunges, trying to take a chunk out of one or both of the girls. 

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NO CHUNKS WILL BE TAKEN OUT OF WEI YING. Absolutely not permitted.

Lan Zhan presses Wei Ying behind her and swings out, trying to beat the dog back with the chains.

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The dog makes a sound too deep and scary to be a yelp, then lunges again and sinks its teeth into Lan Zhan's arm. 

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OW

 

-- she, doesn't cry out, ow, because that -- that would alarm Wei Ying, Wei Ying is very scared -- these teeth are very long, how. unpleasant. ow -- 

Lan Zhan lunges up and swings the shackle of her available hand as hard as she can at the dog's eye.

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The dog lets go and seems about to lunge again when it suddenly collapses. 

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-- hmm. Seems. Like nothing will immediately go wrong if Lan Zhan... also collapses, just for a little bit? She might. Take a moment to do that then.

Calmly.

Ow.

It feels rather like the entire left side of her body is set on fire.

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Wei Ying slides down with her. She peers over Lan Zhan's shoulder, sees that the dog has collapsed, sees Lan Zhan's bloody arm, and hisses a sharp intake of breath. 

"Lan Zhan? Are--are you alright?"

She clutches her heroine and shuffles away from the dog. 

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"Mm." Yes, she's fine. She closes her eyes and concentrates on breathing evenly. The pain will pass. The pain will pass.

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Wei Ying snuggles her helplessly. "Your arm?"

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Headshake. It's fine. She's fine.

This legitimately isn't the most pain she's found herself in this past week, it's just -- a lot. All at once. It may take her some time to meditate past this, but she knows she can do it.

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A soft voice whispers from the door. "Wei-guniang?"

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"--Wen Ning?" 

Wei Ying crawls towards the door, tugging Lan Zhan with her. 

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A little slot opens further at the base of the door and Wen Ning peers through. "Wen-guniang! I'm s- sorry, I meant to, to get here faster... oh no, is, is Lan-er guniang..."

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Lan-er guniang is Completely Fine. (Being tugged aggravates multiple of her injuries, but it's completely worth it to have Wei Ying's hands on her like this. Honestly 10/10 would get mauled by a monsterdog again.)

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"I think that horrible thing bit her. And I think her leg already had something wrong with it."

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Oh no! She really was too late :(

"I'm sorry! Yeah, I, I heard that... well, I. I brought some medicine, anyway, it should help. If she's bleeding a lot, you should tie something, tie something around the wound. We, can use my robes if you're already cold." Wen Ning pokes a little pouch of medicinal herbs through the slot.

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"Thank you so much," Wei Ying says gratefully. She tears off a strip of bloody fabric from Lan Zhan's already-ruined sleeve and ties it around her bicep and applies medicinal herbs. "Is the dog dead?"

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"No, it's only sleeping. I used th-hree needles, if you removed them the dog would wake up. But they'll, definitely last overnight, I'm sure. I'm sorry I couldn't bring more..."

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"You did what you could. Lan Zhan would definitely have gotten more badly hurt if you hadn't come. Thank you so much." She snuggles her armful of Lan Zhan and peers at the wound with concern. 

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(W o w. Snuggling.... good. This is actually a great day.

All the other days she was tortured she did not get any Wei Ying snuggles.)

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Nervous nodding. "I'm, still sorry though. Are you hurt, too, Wei-guniang?"

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"No. Lan Zhan was really brave, she protected me from that horrible creature." 

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"That's good! At least you're still okay. I felt really bad when I heard what happened to, Cloud Recesses... Jie didn't say much about it but I know she feels bad too. I'm, I'm sorry, Lan-er guniang."

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"I'm sorry too. I wish I had come with you when you left the Unclean Realm."

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"Is. Is Zewu-jun, okay?"

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Yeah sorry she'll. She'll stop talking about that. Sorry.

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HUG. 

"If there isn't enough to rebuild you can come to Lotus Pier," she offers. "I know it's not--your home, or anything, but--"

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She closes her eyes.

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"I should- maybe go. Soon. Is there anything else I can do, somehow, Wei-guniang? I'm not sure if I c- could sneak back in here again..."

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"I think we're okay. Thank you so much for the medicine." 

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She nods and shuffles off, really not feeling like she helped at all.

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"Still scared?"

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Headshake. 

"I'm so sorry about your sister." 

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"Missing. She might live."

Maybe. She might be alive but hurt. She might be dying right now, while Lan Zhan does nothing to find her or save her.

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"I hope so. I can't imagine, if anything happened to Shijie--she had better be alright." HUG

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The hug is slightly painful, but Lan Zhan doesn't mind. She nods. 

 

"Wen Chao whipped you. Are you bleeding?"

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"I don't think so."

Due to who Wei Ying is as a person, she proceeds to lean back slightly and open the front of her dress to get a look at the whip mark. 

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!!!

Conveniently, blood loss makes an excellent excuse for slumping over in gay shockpanic and nearly Passing The Fuck Out.

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"Ah! Lan Zhan!"

Wei Ying does not bother to close her dress before she lunges forward to catch Lan Zhan and hug her. 

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Lan Zhan makes a choking noise and jerks in her arms, her heart quite literally and painfully skipping a beat.

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"Lan Zhan!?!?!?" HUG. INADVERTENT BOOBSQUISH. 

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WHEEZE.

Is this a qi deviation. Lan Zhan thinks she's qi deviating. What the fuck. What the FUCK. Oh god Wei Ying's boobs are so soft oh no oh NO

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"Lan Zhan are you okay??? What's wrong??? You have to tell me, Lan Zhan, I can't fix it if you don't tell me!" 

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HNrnrnnngh boobs still on chest oh n. o. Oh no. This is definitely causing her to loose blood more rapidly Lan Zhan is definitely going to Actually Die from overexposure to Wei Ying's bare breasts which are STILL THERE RIGHT THERE AND TOUCHING HER AAAAA

"Hhh," she attempts. 

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"Don't you dare die on me, I'll never forgive you if you die, I'll--I'll loiter by your grave like some kind of reverse ghost!"

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"F- ine," Lan Zhan gasps, blinking rapidly. (Breasts. Wei Ying's breasts. They're so delicate and cute and soft and Lan Zhan wants to Bite Them oh NO. Oh No.) She-- coughs -- and something wet drips over her upper lip.

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Wei Ying makes a panicked sound and tears off part of her own sleeve to press against Lan Zhan's nose. 

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Oh no Wei Ying's hand is very nearly over her mouth, that's, hot, oh no, oh No,, , ,, ,,

 

Lan Zhan makes a muffled noise that is definitely not a moan and then -- faints.

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When she wakes up she is lying on her side on the floor, with Wei Ying hovering over her in Concern and her dress closed again. 

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Lan Zhan's ears burn. It's hard to accept that any of what she remembers actually happened. (What the fuck. What the Fuck.) Perhaps the dog carried some strange venom that induced hallucinations, and none of that was real. Perhaps Lan Zhan did not in fact demolish her dignity just moments ago.

"Wei Ying," she mumbles, guilty. Wei Ying looks wretchedly concerned.

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"Lan Zhan! Are you alright?" Wei Ying had been so terrified that Lan Zhan would never wake up again, she almost cries with relief. She wants to walk over to that horrible dog, damn her fear, and twist its awful head off. But that would involve not hovering over Lan Zhan. What if she needs something. 

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"Fine," she whispers. Does being ostensibly-dog-poisoned qualify as a worthy excuse to gently touch Wei Ying's cheek, probably not. It's so tempting. Ripping both of their robes back open is Also Tempting.

No, focus. "Apologies for alarming you. No more danger."

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"Oh thank goodness," she says, slumping in relief. She takes one of Lan Zhan's hands and gently squeezes it. "You're not allowed to die."

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!! Stilted, nervous handsqueeze.

"How long...?"

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"Only a few minutes." She gently brushes her thumb over the back of Lan Zhan's hand. 

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Lan Zhan restrains a full-body shiver. "I am alright now."

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"Good. Lan Zhan, ah, you really are amazing."

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- she Is?

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"You protected me from that dog and you kept the Yin Iron away from the Wens and you're just. So good." 

Handsqueeze!

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Of course she protected Wei Ying from the dog. Wei Ying being scared or harmed in any way is a grave injustice.

“We were fortunate. They first imprisoned me above a rabbit burrow where the Yin Iron could be hidden.”

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"Awwww. Those bunnies sure are lucky for Yin Iron protection."

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They're such good bunnies.

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"I'm really sorry I got you into this mess, Lan Zhan. If I hadn't mouthed off to Wen Chao like that..."

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Headshake. "Be sorry on your own behalf. I would be in these dungeons anyway."

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"With a giant dog!?!?!?"

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"Wen Xu, usually."

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"Oh. That might be worse."

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Yeah. Plus, this way she gets to be with Wei Ying. Wei Ying does not belong in a dungeon and this is a very selfish thing for Lan Zhan to appreciate in any way, she knows, but -- still.

Being held like this is nice.

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"Then...I'm really glad you're here with me, Lan Zhan. I can't think of anyone else I'd rather be stuck in a horrible cell with."

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I love you, she doesn't say.

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The two of them manage to get any sleep that night. 

Wei Ying wakes in the morning to the sound of approaching guards and Wen Chao, whose obnoxious speculation as to how badly mangled the prisoners would be was unmistakable, and, grimacing, crawls over to the dog to pull out Wen Ning's possibly incriminating needles. 

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It hurts to sit upright, but Lan Zhan forces herself to face the door before it opens.

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Wen Chao peers in, notices the only lightly scathed women and the just-now-stirring dog, and scolds the dog for not doing extremely horrible things to the prisoners. He gestures for the soldiers to take them back up to the indoctrination with the other hostages. 

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Where Jiang Cheng has been F R A N T I C since Wei Ying failed to come back last night.  

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"Hi A-Cheng, I'm fine A-Cheng," she says tiredly. 

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"What happened?" he hisses. 

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"Wen Chao is a bitch. But Lan Zhan protected me," she assures him. 

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He takes in Lan Zhan's considerably more battered appearance and does not look super reassured.

"Thank you for taking care of my sister." While I couldn't goes unsaid. 

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Nod.

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Wen Chao continues to behave with characteristic obnoxiousness by announcing what happened to Cloud Recesses and that the Wen sect is now moving on Qinghe.

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The Jin clan, having been thus far compliant, will be spared, despite the fact that they're clearly inadequate at teaching their young people manners.* 

(*Translation: Jin Guangshan, unlike his heir, is a pathetic toady) 

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He fumes, but doesn't say anything. (Zixuan is still unharmed after his own night in the dungeons, but he slept poorly and is Very Grumpy at Wen Chao in particular.)

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If the stupid peacock hasn't figured out yet that the Wen sect in general and Wen Chao in particular are grossly unreasonable, he needs to git gud. 

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Wen Chao proceeds to posture ominously about the Jiang sect, which leads to the unusual circumstance of Wei Ying being the one to restrain Jiang Cheng from doing something rash. 

Wen Chao then proceeds to make them read aloud from the stupid Wen book for several hours. 

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No, actually, Lan Zhan isn't going to read a single word. She doesn't even open the book.

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Wei Ying has her book open but spends more time with her eyes on Lan Zhan than on the words. 

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Lan Zhan's gaze is fixed straight ahead. She does not acknowledge any Gay Eyesight from Wei Ying.

 

But her ears feel progressively warm.

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Eventually, after some retainer comes up and whispers something in Wen Chao's ear, he interrupts Reading Time to shanghai everyone into a night-hunt. In the middle of the day. Without giving their swords back. 

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Oh wow haha what's that over there Whoops looks like it's heatstroke! Sorry, guess he can't come!!!

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Bold of you to assume Wen Chao gives a shit about anyone's health and safety! If medical excuses were valid Lan Zhan would be excused and you can guess how that's coming out. 

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Well shit.

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"Psst. Lan Zhan. Let me carry you."

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"Ridiculous."

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"You got hurt protecting me, it's the least I can do!"

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“My leg was injured previously.”

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"So? It's still injured, you shouldn't be walking on it!" 

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"Not your responsibility."

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"It doesn't have to be my responsibility! I care about you! It wasn't your responsibility to protect me last night!"

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"Also, if you let me give you a piggyback ride, you can cover my mouth with your hand if I start to mouth off to Wen Chao again."

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"Ridiculous. We should not draw attention."

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"Pretty sure it's too late for that."

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Lan Zhan has no further protests, despite still looking Loudly Disagreeable.

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Wei Ying scoops her up. 

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AAA????AAAAA

"Do not strain yourself," says Lan Zhan, sounding quite strained herself.

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"I'm fine," she assures her. 

Is this carry cuddlier than it strictly needs to be? Nah, couldn't be. Right?

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A a a a a. This feels infinitely more hazardous to Lan Zhan's health than walking on a broken leg, actually! 

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At least Wei Ying isn't actively squishing her boobs on her. 

 

They keep walking for some time. If Wei Ying tires of carrying Lan Zhan, she doesn't show it; and of course Lan Zhan isn't using her bad leg, so there's no reason to ask Wen Qing to stop so she can rest it. 

They don't find the cave until the sky has begun to darken and somebody literally trips over the entrance. 

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Well it's about fucking time! These disciples are so useless.

Wang Lingjiao pouts at Wen Chao and asks him if they have to search the whole cave today, can't they come back later? She's tired.

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He chucks her under a chin and promises that they'll make all the useless disciples do all the actual work. 

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They had Better. 

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Lan Zhan insists on being put down before they enter the cave.

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Fiiiiiine. Wei Ying will comply but she will also Pout about it. 

The cave is very dark. Torches are busted out. 

Eventually, they reach a seemingly dead-end cliff face. 

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Yikes. Lan Zhan will aggravate at least one of her many injuries if she tries to go down there without a sword, assuming the cavern even has a bottom. Do they have rope?

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"Do you seriously think we're going to be able to kill whatever's down there, without swords, after descending that cliff somehow, without swords?"

Wen Chao responds to this by shoving her down the cliff. 

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"Wei Ying!"

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She shoots a furious glare at Wen Chao and crouches down, painfully laying herself to the ground and preparing to slide down the cliff face as quickly as she can. Wei Ying, Wei Ying -- 

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The soldiers get out rope. Wen Chao leers at her and offers to have one of the soldiers assist her down if she promises to be good.

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Of course he'll even make eyes at that Lan whore when Lingjiao is right here. She huffs and flounces in front of him, pouting Loudly.  Shouldn't Wen-gongzi be making sure someone helps her get down safely instead? Not the prisoner of war.

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He is so attentive about making sure she gets down safely!!! Super distracted from the prisoner of war. 

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Lan Zhan grabs a robe and scrapes her own painful way down the cliffside, sliding the last few meters. Fresh blood stains the sleeve of her left arm by the time her feet touch the ground. Immediately she darts to Wei Ying's side and grips her shoulder, eyes wide. "Wei Ying."

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"I'm fine," Wei Ying says a little breathlessly. She has some shiny new bruises, but there isn't any blood anywhere on her. Her gaze zeroes in on the blood on Lan Zhan's sleeve immediately. "What about you!?"

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"Fine." She can still lift her arm if she needs to. That's what counts.

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"You're bleeding!"

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"A normal amount."

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"The normal amount to be bleeding is none, Lan Zhan. --Well, from your arm anyway. I really hope you aren't also experiencing more normal bleeding somewhere else at the same time!"

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She is NOT, thank you very much. Lan Zhan looks extremely offended that Wei Ying would mention something like this in public, even for a value of 'public' that includes the bottom of a very dark, deep cave. Lan Zhan is UNAMUSED.

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Wei Ying attempts to take advantage of her offended distraction by checking the wound on her arm. 

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The dog bite is oozing blood through the makeshift bandages. A separate long gash on Lan Zhan's forearm is either new or freshly reopened.

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"Yikes, where did you get this one!?"

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"Worry less about that and more about yourself!" Jiang Cheng snaps, catching up to the two of them. 

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"I'm fine, A-Cheng." 

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"And how long are you going to continue to be fine if you keep up this reckless behavior!?"

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Lan Zhan tugs down her sleeve and drifts away nonchalantly. Some of the disciples with torches have discovered a pool at the dead end of the cave; she joins them at the banks to take a look.

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Wen Chao yells at them to report and is summarily ignored. Wei Ying peers around and frowns. 

"Something's off..." 

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Lan Zhan looks out over the water and narrows her eyes. "The echo is wrong."

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Wei Ying frowns and nods and spots a couple of floating leaves and nudges Lan Zhan and points to them. 

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Nod. "There's another way out."

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Further comment is cut off when Wen Chao and his lackeys catch up. 

After determining that Wen Chao Will Not Let This Go, he orders the soldiers to get somebody hung up and bleeding as though this were a casually reasonable thing to do.

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"Nonsense! You can't kill your own hostages like that!"

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Wen Chao turns slowly to look at him. 

"How many times do I have to explain it before you understand? The rest of you are nothing more than dirt under the Wen sect's boot," he sneers. 

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"Will your father agree with you, when the Jin Sect wages war against him? Sect Leader Jin would not take my death lightly!"

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"The Jin sect is being spared because your father obeys the Chief Cultivator. If he ceases to do so, he will be crushed. My father will not tolerate insubordination from anyone," he scoffs. 

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His hand jerks to his hip, but there is no sword hilt there to grab. "You--"

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"Oh shut up, no one said anything about you being strung as bait. There's plenty of other worthless trash here to choose from." She sidles up to her boyfriend and strokes his shoulder, humming softly. Then she tilts her head and flicks a finger at the Lan bitch. "If I may suggest... how about her?"

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"Her? Hm..."

He looks slightly reluctant, in the least reassuring way possible.

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She is SO SICK OF THIS, why does it have to take SO MUCH WORK to stop her boyfriend from having an affair with ONE IRRELEVANT PRISONER. Her life is so HARD.

"You're reluctant because she's pretty."

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"I'm not reluctant!" he puffs up. "If you want it to be her, then it's her."

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TRY IT BITCH. 

Wei Ying steps in front of Lan Zhan, fists clenched. 

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Jin Zixuan also steps forward in Defensive Support. No women are getting carved up as monster bait on His watch! Also he really wants to punch Wen Chao in the fucking face! 
"Wen Chao, you're going too far!"

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Jiang Cheng quietly attempts to tug his sister out of the way but you know what Wen Chao really has gone way too far so he doesn't try that hard. 

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"I can see I've put up with far too much from you," Wen Chao tells Jin Zixuan. "You can tie her up yourself here and now, or none of you are leaving this cave alive."

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Like Fuck He Will.

Before Zixuan can say anything, another Jin disciple crumbles and lunges for Lan Zhan behind his back.

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Wei Ying lunges for him and kicks him between the legs.

Hard.

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The disciple yelps loudly and falls over.

Jin Zixuan scowls down at him. "Coward. Disciples like you are a disgrace to the Jin Sect!"

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Wen Chao decides that the appropriate response to this is to throw a temper tantrum and order the soldiers to attack. 

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Fortunately, while the soldiers cannot hope to aspire to the sheer levels of incompetent buffoonery that Wen Chao exemplifies, they're certainly weak enough that relieving one of a sword isn't too difficult. 

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Many disciples immediately join in on the fighting, wrestling away swords and whacking soldiers with torches. Lan Zhan herself holds up decently, despite her injuries. She knocks down any Wen that gets close to her. Not many do; Wei Ying is a very effective guard. 

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Wei Ying is a very effective guard, but not effective enough. There are too many soldiers. 

She's going to have to cut this problem off at the root. 

It isn't hard to bait Wen Chao with his own clan traditions that he was forcing them to memorize, and then once he's just a little ways away from that terrifying bodyguard of his, it isn't hard to take him hostage (counter-hostage?) and retreat to the big rock in the middle of the pool. 

"Put down your swords or I start spilling blood," she calls. 

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After a nervous pause, Wen Qing barks orders for the men to drop their swords.

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The standoff continues for a little longer, Wen Zhuliu having to be prodded again to stand down and not try any shit, when the ground beneath Wei Ying and her captive begins trembling. 

"Earthquake," she hisses, cursing the poor timing. 

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--The ground isn't shifting here, just under his sister--

"No, it isn't that--"

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RAAR CRANKY WAKEUP TIME

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Oh shit

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OH SHIT

There’s some alarmed yelling and clanking as everyone fumbles for their swords.

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Wei Ying holds very, very still and clamps a hand over Wen Chao's mouth so he can't scream and draw this thing's attention faster. 

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The thing doesn't seem to care about Wei Ying and Wen Chao; instead, its snake-head swivels towards the clanking where Wen soldiers grab up their swords.

"Quiet," Lan Zhan whispers forcefully. "It cannot see. It's relying on sound."

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The creature, perhaps sensate of the weight on its shell, perhaps in memory of recent sound there, pokes its snout menacingly in Wei Ying and Wen Chao's general direction. 

It doesn't take too long for Wen Chao to break, wrestling Wei Ying's hand off his mouth and screaming for Wen Zhuliu to save him. 

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Wei Ying yeets Wen Chao, who does not stop making noises, because he is an idiot. When the creature makes to lunge towards the noise, Wei Ying grits her teeth and smacks it with her stolen sword, not because she has any objection to it eating Wen Chao, but the innocent are mixed together with the guilty over there and she can't let one of her fellow non-Wens--or Wen Qing--get munched. 

Quickly realizing her disadvantageous tactical position, she jumps over from the creature's back to solid ground. She throws a glitter talisman in its face, which does less good than she might have hoped. 

The creature's head darts forward, catching a Wen soldier in its jaws and whipping him around like a dog with a chew toy, except slightly less terrifying. 

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Disciples start lunging at the tortoise creature, flying at it and attempting to strike at its head one after another. Some of the Wen soldiers kneel down to shoot arrows at the beast. Others amidst the chaos go back to attacking disciples. Lan Zhan blocks a strike from one Wen and then cuts down another.

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Wei Ying is busy fighting the fuckoff monster but she has the spatial awareness to realize this and be pissed! --As much as she wants to go protect Lan Zhan, as long as she seems to be holding her own Wei Ying should really focus on the monster--

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Well luckily Lan Zhan is completely fine and absolutely holding her own, stolen sword in one hand and torch in another. Her technique is flawless even as pain flares in her leg and something tears in her wounded arm -- ow -- which she firmly ignores.

A soldier lunges suddenly on her right. Lan Zhan spins and whomps him hard across his chest with the flaming torch, and -- loses her grip. The hand she was busy ignoring is red and slippery with blood, now, fuck -- what an offensively stupid oversight -- 

Hands clap down roughly on that shoulder, which hurts enough to stop her from reacting in time to the next soldier on her left. 

Lan Zhan is suddenly not completely fine.

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Yeah you bet your ass she isn’t.

Three entire soldiers hold the bitch in place as Lingjiao stalks forward with her branding iron. 

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WOW OKAY WHAT THE FUCK UNACCEPTABLE

She is going to be over there now and STABBING one of the dudes who has the GALL to lay a hand on her Lan Zhan. 

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THIS IS VERY ANNOYING SHE NO LONGER HAS TIME TO BE AS MENACING AS SHE WANTED

Wang Lingjiao hurls the iron at Lan Zhan's face.

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Oh no. 

Absolutely not. 

She shoves Lan Zhan out of the way. 

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"Wei Ying!"

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The brand hits Wei Ying right beneath her collarbone.

Damn it. Lingjiao has to cut her losses here, she won't be able to retrieve the iron without getting very stabbed. Instead she scuttles off to go cling to her boyfriend.

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WANG LINGJIAO SURE IS RIGHT ABOUT THE TACTICAL SITUATION. 

Wei Ying grabs her chest where the brand hit and grimaces, but just says, "Lan Zhan, are you okay?"

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WHAT SORT OF A QUESTION IS THAT

WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT

No Lan Zhan is NOT okay because her Wei Ying is HURT. "How bad is it?" she demands, dragging herself to the nearest abandoned sword and then to Wei Ying's side.

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She hastily removes her hand. "I'm fine, I'm fine!"

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Other Wen are also becoming increasingly aware of the tactical situation and their likelihood of being stabbed; the surviving soldiers scramble off after Wen Chao and Wang Lingjiao. 

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Running sounds like a Great Idea, actually. 

Wei Ying picks up a discarded Wen bow and quiver and shoots at the horrible thing while yelling for everyone to retreat. 

With her and a few others covering their withdrawal, they all make it to the base of the cliff, only to find that the ropes have been cut. Fuck. 

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"...we go back to the pool. The maple leaves."

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Nod. "There aren't any anywhere else in the cave. There must be another way out under the water. If we can distract that thing somehow..."

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"With noise?"

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She grimaces. Obnoxious of the peacock to have an actually good idea. 

"Let's try with the torches, first," she suggests. "The fire will stay put without a person having to guard it. Throwing a rock will make a brief noise, but..."

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Are there any still-lit torches at hand or nearby? 

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A good handful. 

It isn't difficult to set them up at the edge of the pool farthest from the leaves, and then retreat. 

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After a few minutes, the creature pokes its head out of the water and investigates. 

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Alright, great, let's go Quickly. Zixuan starts shooing people into the water.

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Ugh don't be so bossy.

Sneak sneak sneak. 

He foolishly assumes his shijie is right behind him. 

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Instead, Wei Ying and Lan Zhan are peering at the creature to make sure it stays distracted while the group streams quietly past. 

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For a while, it does. 

Then it tries to eat a torch, scorches its tongue, and blows the thing out with its offended gust of breath. It doesn't take long after that for its meager gaze to wander.

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Shit. Fire talisman time.

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HISSS.

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OH NO

Lan Zhan's hurls another talisman at the beast and lunges forward to grab Wei Ying by the shoulder and shove, sending her soaring out of turtle range. She hears the thing snarl and jumps back herself, flipping in the air --

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NOM. The creature bites at her leg. 

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Teeth slice through the flesh of Lan Zhan's broken leg. There is -- a lot of pain, and a lot of blood, and the leg buckles when she lands on the rocky bank.

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OH SHIT. 

Wei Ying rushes to her side, helping her to her feet and away from the thing. 

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Jiang Cheng has by this point realized that the girls have gotten held up, and is having to be physically restrained from going back for his sister. 

"Shijie!"

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"Go for help, A-Cheng!" she urges him as she helps Lan Zhan dash back beyond the reach of the monster. 

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With assistance, Lan Zhan can limp to the further cavern before sinking down against the cave wall.

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"Let me see your leg," she urges, once the creature has finally stopped snapping at them through the cave aperture. 

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She peels her bloodstained robes away to get a look at the wound herself.

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It's nasty. Wei Ying hisses and fumbles in her sleeves for the remainder of the medicine Wen Ning gave her in the cell. 

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"You are hurt."

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"You're hurt worse!"

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Challenging glare.

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"Look at how much you're bleeding. I'm, like, slightly singed, do you really think Wang Lingjiao is capable of seriously hurting me with her own two hands?"

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"--Oh, I have an idea--"

She runs off (not, fortunately, in the direction of the monster) and comes back with a tree branch. 

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What.

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She starts stripping off the leaves and twigs and then holds it against Lan Zhan's broken leg. 

"Hmm, need something to tie it with..."

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"Let me borrow your ribbon for a bit? I know it's all special but I already touched it in the cold pond cave."

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Tiny nod.

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She takes the ribbon and gently, carefully, earnestly uses it to splint the tree branch to Lan Zhan's broken leg. 

She looks up at Lan Zhan consideringly. 

"You got pretty wet when we were distracting that thing, huh? You should take off the wet clothes before they make your situation any worse, what with your arm and leg already being in such bad shape."

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Lan Zhan is so deep in Gay Reverie that it takes this suggestion several moments to register.

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"--What."

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"Your clothes are soaked! Do you want to get sick?"

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"No."

 

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"I didn't get so wet, you can borrow my outer robe while your clothes dry, I know your modesty is important to you," she says, and proceeds to begin to strip out of her black outer layer.

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okay that's fine this is fine Wei Ying isn't stripping down to her breasts this time so Lan Zhan absolutely has a handle on the situation and everything is Fine and she's not dizzy you're dizzy

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Once Wei Ying is down to her red inner dress, she drapes the black outer layer over her arm and goes after the ties to Lan Zhan's outermost layer. 

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AAAAAAAA???A??

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She peels off the soaked outermost layer carefully, then hands Lan Zhan her own mostly-dry clothing and turns around to give her friend privacy while she tries to make a fire out of the peeled-off branch parts. 

(It probably isn't intentional that crouching like that in only her underrobe gives Lan Zhan a fantastic view of the outline of her ass.)

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It takes Lan Zhan a minute to remember that she's supposed to be changing. Undressing turns out to be difficult with only one functional arm and the overall weakness of blood loss, but she makes it work. Wet clothes off (ow), dry clothes on (ow).

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When she's done, Wei Ying turns around with a bright smile and an insouciant remark--

that dies on her tongue when she sees Lan Zhan wearing her outer robe and nothing else. 

Oh. 

Gosh. Golly. Wow. 

Her face goes BRIGHT RED. 

"You look really nice," she blurts. 

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w   hat.

 

Lan Zhan stares at her, eyes wide with surprise and Yearning. (Wei Ying is blushing. Wei Ying is blushing while looking at Lan Zhan.) Her lips part, but no sound comes out.

She -- probably shouldn't be taking this seriously, this must be part of some joke, Wei Ying always teases her --

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"Let's, um, let's put your wet things closer to the fire. Now that it exists," she says, stumbling over her words and NOT looking at the way her robe, cut for her somewhat more modest figure, leaves a lower neckline on Lan Zhan than any of Lan Zhan's own clothes do. "How's your arm?"

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Lan Zhan holds out her wet robes, neatly folded over her good arm. "It has bled a lot. I do not expect permanent damage."

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Wei Ying takes the robes and lays them near the fire to dry. "It had better not be. I wish I could give you shijie's soup, it's the best thing for building your strength while recovering from an injury."

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It sounds very nice to eat anything, really. Lan Zhan hasn't in days.

"I should rebandage." If she can, that is. They are not very well equipped.

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"That's a good idea."

She pushes back the sleeve on the offending arm, undoing the original bandage and trying not to think about the heat of Lan Zhan's skin under her hands. Until the wound is revealed, at which point she is distracted from Sexy by Concern. 

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(Lan Zhan is still extremely distracted by Sexy).

Wound: not in great shape! The bite mark injuries are freshly torn and oozing blood in rivulets down Lan Zhan's arm. That combined with her mauled leg makes it remarkable that Lan Zhan is still conscious, really; it turns out that even losing a pint of blood cannot compare to the sight of Wei Ying's breasts.

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Wei Ying hisses and tears some strips off her underrobe and re-bandages the wound. 

"Ugh ugh ugh, I hate dogs." 

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Wei Ying's hands are gentle and her face is so close. Lan Zhan can't breathe. 

Deeeeeep breath. "After this, tend to your own wounds."

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"Huh, this? It's no big deal."

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It is absolutely a big deal. Lan Zhan radiates disapproval. "That shouldn't have happened. You should not have done that for me."

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"That vicious bitch was probably going to brand your face, Lan Zhan! That would be desecrating a work of art, I couldn't let that happen!"

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"A brand scar will remain for your whole life, Wei Ying!" And it will be Lan Zhan's fault for her whole life. A reminder of Lan Zhan's weakness and Wei Ying's suffering.

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"It would have been your whole life too, you know. And it's not on my face. Besides, it's a badge of honor! It shows that I once protected a beautiful girl who won't ever forget me. Isn't that poetic?"

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"Don't say things like that."

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Pout. 

"Huh? How come?"

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She looks away, jaw tight. "If you don't mean it, you shouldn't flirt with anyone."

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Softly: "Who says I don't mean it, huh?"

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INTENSELY GAY EYE CONTACT. WUJI SWELLS IN THE BACKGROUND.

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Lan Zhan's gravity tilts helplessly forwards. 

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Wei Ying meets her halfway, her lips pressing sweet and soft against Lan Zhan's. 

She pulls away after a moment, smiling nervously. 

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Lan Zhan does not remember how to breathe.

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Wei Ying's smile dims slightly.

"Lan Zhan? Was that okay?" Oh NO she's ruined EVERYTHING--

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Wei Ying smiling less is a tragedy, but does in fact make it easier for Lan Zhan to breathe.

She blinks several times, her lips still parted. "W.   Was it?"

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"--I thought maybe you wanted--I shouldn't have presumed, I'm sorry--"

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Wheeze. "No -- Wei Ying -- I want. I want."

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Her head whips back around to look at Lan Zhan, and her eyes widen, and then she lunges forward to kiss her again.  

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!!!!!

Lan Zhan is overcome!! She swoons forward against Wei Ying; she might not have enough blood left to hold herself upright but she apparently has enough blood left to kiss very passionately.

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OH GOOD. Kisses kisses kisses. She shifts to better support Lan Zhan's weight. 

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She must be dreaming. Surely. But it's a nice dream.

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Snuggle snuggle kiss kiss. 

"There's nobody I'd rather be trapped in dark horrible spaces with monsters with than you."

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"I don't understand," Lan Zhan whispers. "You liked men."

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Blinkblink. 

"...Yes? I like both. Girls just usually don't want to be flirted with by another girl."

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-- it had never occurred to Lan Zhan that anyone would like both, though it figures that Wei Ying has found a way to be exceptional even with something like this. Lan Zhan blinks slowly back. "You... were not trying to flirt with me?"

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"Well...I wasn't not trying to flirt with you. But that was because I liked you. A lot."

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This is the most absurd thing Lan Zhan has ever heard in her life.

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"I don't flirt with Mianmian or Wen Ning or Wen Qing."

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Lan Zhan doesn't think this is true at ALL, but she's still going to kiss Wei Ying very enthusiastically for saying so. "You flirt with everyone. I thought you were teasing me."

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Pout. "I'm just friendly, is all. I never even kissed anyone before you!" It is very mean of Lan Zhan to accuse her of flirting with everyone and she should make up for it, immediately, with more kisses. 

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Well Wei Ying should make up for how she is constantly flirting with everyone in front of Lan Zhan with more kisses, so that works out. 

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Yes. Clearly all disputes should be solved with kissing for the forseeable future. That way everyone wins. 

Kissing Lan Zhan is just as wonderful as Wei Ying imagined it would be. 

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Lan Zhan loves her so much, stupidly much. This is the first time that loving Wei Ying so much doesn't hurt.

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Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss. 

"Lan Zhan, you're really really great, you know that?" she asks, pressing her forehead against Lan Zhan's.

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Lan Zhan is completely incapable of processing words when Wei Ying's face is that close, let alone answering questions. She stares muzzily. 

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Snuggle <3

Lan Zhan is so so so holdable. 

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They cuddle so gently.

Lan Zhan shivers slightly against Wei Ying; energy must be spent on sealing her wounds, still bleeding thickly beneath their makeshift bandages, and not on keeping warm. She is woozy and in pain. Contentment still somehow warms her heart.

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Lan Zhan may not have energy to spare on keeping warm, but Wei Ying does. 

When Lan Zhan's clothes are dry enough to do more good than harm, Wei Ying drapes them around the two of them, keeping the heat in. 

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It’s getting late. Lan Zhan sags against her, semi conscious and cozy under the dry robes.

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Wei Ying pets her softly until she too succumbs to sleep. 

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When Lan Zhan wakes, they are... still hurt and trapped and starving in an underground cave, which isn't great. The fire has gone out. Lan Zhan closes her eyes again and huddles closer to Wei Ying.

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Wei Ying sighs contentedly and snuggles into Lan Zhan in her sleep. 

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She doesn't hurry to wake her. There isn't anything for either of them to do in this cave, really, awake or asleep.

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Wei Ying slowly opens her eyes a while later, visibly reorienting herself with respect to time and location until her eyes land on Lan Zhan and she smiles. 

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Eeeeeeeee. "Wei Ying."

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"Lan Zhan." <3

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Happy shiver. "I didn't dream you."

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"Would it have been a good dream, if you had?" she teases.

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"Yes."

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Snuggle. "Good."

...Her smile fades. "Too bad about that stupid monster."

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"Could it be the one Lan Yi spoke of?"

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"Hm?"

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"Xue Chonghai created a monster. His Snake-Tortoise of Slaughter."
 

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"You know, I am really coming to hate that guy almost as much as I hate Wen Chao."

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Yeah.

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She snuggles Lan Zhan quietly for a few minutes and then picks up a stick and starts doing figures in the dirt to see how long it's likely to take before rescue arrives. She arrives at a number she doesn't like and makes a face at it. 

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Her own sect certainly isn't in a state to send aid. Lan Zhan doesn't need to follow Wei Ying's numbers to feel pessimistic. 

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"I don't think anyone is going to make it back soon enough. I think we have to at least try to get out of here on our own."

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Lan Zhan doesn't have much confidence in her ability to walk at the moment, let alone a more strenuous escape, but getting Wei Ying out of here is very important. "Could we create a larger diversion on our own to get past the beast?"

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"I don't know...if we were both in the water and the distraction failed, it could be pretty bad." 

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"Could you try climbing the cliff, even without ropes?" 

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"I could try...I don't think it would work, though, since I'd have to carry you too. I don't think they left any convenient ropes at the top either."

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"Try without me."

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"I guess it can't hurt to try. And if I succeed maybe there'll be some convenient vines or something that they didn't think to destroy." 

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Nod. Lan Zhan would rise to accompany her to the base of the cliff, but. Well.

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Well. 

Wei Ying actually manages, with several attempts and a great deal of bloody-minded determination, to make her way up the cliff. 

She comes back not long after, sliding down in a much more controlled fall than when Wen Chao pushed her. 

"They blocked the entrance." 

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Fuck, of course they did.

Lan Zhan lowers her eyes in contemplation. "I can distract the Xuanwu while you escape. I cannot swim anyway."

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"Absolutely not!!! There isn't any help I could go for that A-Cheng hasn't already."

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Getting help isn't the point.

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"I'm not going to just abandon you!"

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"Wei Ying."

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"Lan Zhan! Do you really think I'm going to kiss you and then run off to leave you alone with this horrible thing? What kind of girl do you think I am!"

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"You could kiss me multiple times."

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She leans in and kisses her.

"Still not abandoning you," she says when they part. 

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"I want you to live."

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"Well I'm not going to let you kill yourself accomplishing that!"

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"I cannot help you get past the Xuanwu."

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"Well I'm not going to go past it without you."

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"Do you think I could stand to lose you now?"

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"Then you must come up with another plan."

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"See, that's fine, I'm good at coming up with plans." Snuggle. 

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Sigh, snuggle.

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"I think," she declares, some cuddlesome time later, "that we are going to have to kill it."

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"How?"

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"Well, it's a turtle, right? Or a Xuanwu, close enough. It should be way weaker inside the shell."

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...well yes, but shells are as difficult to carve doors in as they are to stab. Lan Zhan blinks at her.

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"And shells have natural openings so, uh, if you're still up for being a distraction..."

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"You'll go in... around the tail? Is there room?"

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"Well, I was thinking around the neck, but the tail might also work, sure."

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"I don't want you to be near the head." Even if the head is distracted.

Unless there won't be enough room at the tail end, somehow? Lan Zhan feels woefully unknowledgeable about turtle anatomy and monstrous snake-turtle anatomy in particular.

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"I'll check the tail and circle around if it doesn't work."

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"I'll use a torch to draw its attention?"

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Kiss. "Alright. Be careful." 

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Kiss. She'll try, of course. This is almost certainly going to be bad for her injuries, but not as bad as slowly starving and/or bleeding to death in a cave. "You be more careful."

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"You be more careful! You're hurt way worse than I am to start with."

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"You are more foolish than I am to start with."

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POUT. "Why is my Lan Zhan so mean to me." Kiss. 

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My Lan Zhan, eeeee. Kisskiss.

Lan Zhan pushes herself up on the cave wall; it's time to find a useable torch and ideally other weapons.

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Wei Ying helps her find a torch and collect some bow strings for exciting Lan chord techniques and hugs her before circling around to the other side of the pond.

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She waits for Wei Ying to be in position before lighting the torch and slamming its metal base against rock as loudly as she can.

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RRAAAAAAAR. 

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Wei Ying wastes the barest fraction of a section confirming that Lan Zhan is still okay before diving into the water where the Xuanwu's tail is thrashing the water into a froth. 

Climbing into the beast's shell without getting whacked is no small thing, especially without dropping or cutting herself on the pilfered Wen sword that she has to do the deed with, but she manages it. It's mostly dry inside, but the resentful energy that chokes the space is not an improvement. 

Stab. Stab. Stab. 

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The Xuanwu is busily menacing Lan Zhan when it suddenly is very distracted from the distraction. It turns its head towards its own rear.

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Lan Zhan hisses and hurls the torch at its nearest eye.

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It whips its head back and tries to bite her. 

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She jumps back; something in her leg crunches unpleasantly when she kicks off. When she lands, it buckles and tips her backwards. Even as she hits the rock Lan Zhan is desperately grasping for anything within reach to bang or throw to distract the creature from Wei Ying.

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Nothing immediately comes to mind. The Xuanwu hisses at her for another second before continued butt stabbing draws its attention back to Wei Ying. 

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Well Crap. This is less stabbing than Wei Ying had hoped to accomplish before this thing came after her. On the plus side, it's relatively difficult for this thing to maneuver its own head in the back side of its shell. 

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Chord Assassination Technique time. Lan Zhan throws herself into the air once more, this time flipping up from a handspring to spare her leg. Bow strings shoot from Lan Zhan's fingertips to slice around the Xuanwu's neck.

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The Xuanwu makes a VERY LOUD ANGRY NOISE that echoes weirdly but unpleasantly in its enclosed butt area. 

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She yanks the rope tight, twirling through the air. 

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The creature yanks its head free to deal with this new and alarming threat. 

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Wei Ying desperately wants to chase the thing out and prevent it from going after Lan Zhan but they had a plan and if they both die because Wei Ying couldn't follow the plan then Lan Zhan is going to be quite reasonably furious with her. Stab stab stab. 

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She lands on its shell with one foot. Holding the injured leg up hurts just as much as stepping on it would, but this way she keeps her balance.

Lan Zhan pulls the string tighter, yanking it with her whole weight.

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The creature flails and lunges and lurches, mostly going after Lan Zhan but occasionally snapping at Wei Ying. 

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If Wei Ying doesn't find a vital turtle-organ soon, they're probably both going to die. Lan Zhan can't do much more than this, but she needs to try harder. Even as her wounds bleed. Even as dodging becomes increasingly difficult. She uses Chord Assassination technique again: cuts the string around the Xuanwu's throat twice and then three times, looping her noose ever-tighter. 

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Whether Wei Ying ever found a vital organ, it's unlikely that the two of them will ever know. The result of her work was a slippery bloody mess, and she would be hard-pressed, under the circumstances, to identify any individually-wrapped baggies of the horrid viscous goo that spills forth from the desperate hacking wounds her stolen blade makes in the Xuanwu's flesh.

But between Wei Ying's efforts and Lan Zhan's, the thing loses a lot of blood, and some stuff that probably isn't just blood mixed in with it. All of it smells horrible, but eventually the Xuanwu loses the strength to fight back and sort of collapses into a partially-eviscerated lump of horror.

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A few dramatic seconds after the dying beast splashes dramatically back into the water, Wei Ying breaks the surface, gasping. She is not, objectively speaking, as badly injured as Lan Zhan is; but the few slices in her skin that the Xuanwu's teeth inflicted have been marinating in its blood and possibly worse things for much too long. She shivers as she treads her way to shore, Wen blade forgotten and left to fall to the bottom of the pond. 

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"Wei Ying!" Lan Zhan drops the rope from bloody hands and staggers towards her, eyes wide.

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"I'm fine," she coughs, you know, like a liar. "Are you okay?"

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"Wei Ying." She takes her by the shoulders, touches a hand to her forehead. Inhales sharply.

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"It's just a scratch. Okay, a couple of scratches." And a fever, apparently. "What about you? Is your leg worse? What about your arm?"

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Lan Zhan doesn't care. She pulls Wei Ying over to the cave wall near where they made camp. They collapse together. "Do you have medicine left?"

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Slow headshake. Shiver. "Would've left it with you if I did...it'd be no good now if I had. Nasty turtle slime..."

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She's going to be fine. She's going to be fine, Lan Zhan is going to fix this. She closes her eyes and touches two fingers to her temple, then presses the same two fingers gently to Wei Ying's rapid pulse. Breathes deeply and centers herself.

Spiritual energy flows between them in a beam of cold blue light.

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"Nn, you should...y're hurt..."

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"Quiet." It's true that Lan Zhan's golden core is under high demand. She has wounds to heal, blood to regenerate, a leg to rescue from permanent damage, chill to avoid, starvation to prevent. Those are all lesser priorities to her than taking care of Wei Ying. Wei Ying is hurt and Lan Zhan knows the way to heal and cleanse her, and so she will. It is really quite simple.

Cold reaches her first, now that she is no longer using spiritual energy to stave off the unhealthy chill of the cave and its freezing waters. That's fine. Lan Zhan has always been good with cold

She shivers and bleeds and kisses Wei Ying's forehead as she works.

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Wei Ying tilts her face up and makes a quiet pleading noise when Lan Zhan kisses her forehead.

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"Concentrate," she whispers, and kisses her.

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"'Ll try," she whispers. 

It's hard. The fever muddies her mind, and Lan Zhan is the only thing she can easily focus on, where the other girl's skin brushes against hers. 

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Lan Zhan's own vision gets increasingly fuzzy. She squeezes Wei Ying's hand with her available one until its fingers droop and go limp. It's fine. As long as she pours everything into healing Wei Ying, she'll be fine.

She starts to hum.

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"Pretty," she murmurs, her hand curling around Lan Zhan's as her eyes flutter shut. 

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Weak handsqueeze. Stay. I'll sing more if you stay.

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Her breathing evens out some. But it does not stop. 

She's so so warm, and the cave is cold. 

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Very, very cold. Lan Zhan notices and appreciates Wei Ying's warmth. Appreciates it more the more she slumps over on top of her, shivering. The shivering has gotten worse, which is disappointing. It isn't very proper to twitch indulgently about.

Everything hurts except where they hold each other. Everything is cold except where they touch.

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Jiang Cheng still doesn't like the stupid peacock. But he can appreciate that Koi Tower is closer than Lotus Pier, and that while the Jin sect heir has many faults, failing to comprehend how awful the Wen sect is being isn't one of them. 

He doesn't have to forgive the peacock for what he said about A-Jie in order to be grateful when he grabs enough retainers to move a boulder and rushes back to the mountain with Jiang Cheng. 

(A-Jie's honor is of paramount importance, but it doesn't hold a candle to Shijie's life.) 

They find Shijie and Lan Zhan unconscious, in very bad shape, and clutching each other yards from a pool that now contains a very, very dead horrible monster. 

The first order of business is to get them out of the horrible cave, and their wounds cleaned and bandaged.

Then there's nothing they can do but keep guard against Wen patrols and wait for the girls to wake up and be well enough to be moved. 

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Wei Ying wakes up first. Once the fever breaks, she really is mostly fine, at least compared to Lan Zhan's hideous array of injuries. 

"A-Cheng?" she croaks. 

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He's at her side in an instant. 

"You idiot, you could've died," he chokes. "How am I supposed to explain to A-Jie if I come home without you?"

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She pats his cheek. "I'm sorry, A-Cheng. But I didn't die! It'll be alright." 

She glances around and relaxes fractionally when she sees Lan Zhan, then tenses again when she sees that the other girl is still unconscious with the weight of her wounds. "Is she--" 

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"She'll be fine. Eventually. Probably. I'm more worried about you." 

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Pout. "You always worry about me."

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"You always make me!!!"

Sigh. 

"If you think you're alright to travel, we should go home." 

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"--We have to bring Lan Zhan. It's because of her that I'm not way more badly hurt, and--it's not like she can go back to Gusu to recover."

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"Fine." 

The two of them make goodbyes to the Jins (APPROPRIATELY GRATEFUL ones, Shijie, I know he's a stupid peacock but if he hadn't helped I might not have made it back in time--) and set off. 

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Lan Zhan wakes gradually, painfully. The world is dim and fuzzy and does not immediately contain Wei Ying within her line of sight, which she finds profoundly distressing. Lan Zhan tries to sit up.

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"Lan Zhan! Careful!" 

Oh look, there's Wei Ying!

"Your wounds haven't healed yet, you really don't want to put weight on, uh, anything." 

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"Wei Ying," she whispers. "You..."

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Hug. 

"I'm okay," she murmurs. "A-Cheng didn't go back to Lotus Pier, the peacock brought him back to Koi Tower with him and then came back with help from there. He's not all bad, I guess. But they got back faster than I thought, and--it was fast enough." Snuggle snuggle. "We're headed to Lotus Pier now." 

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Lan Zhan hugs Wei Ying back with one arm. The other doesn't seem to be cooperating very well. "No," she mumbles. "'must return to Gusu..."

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"Lan Zhan, you need to rest and recover."

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She tries to sit up again, hisses through her teeth. "I am needed."

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Wei Ying obstructs this by snuggling her some more. 

"Your sect needs you well more than they need you now," she says firmly. "If I had let you get yourself killed covering my escape back in the cave they wouldn't have you at all. If you get yourself killed now then they still won't have you." 

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The snuggling obstruction is pretty effective! Lan Zhan sighs, eyelids drooping miserably. 

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Snuggle snuggle pet pet. 

"We got out of that stupid cave," she murmurs. "We'll get through this, too."

Gentle forehead-kiss. 

"...If I can, I'll come and help."

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Lan Zhan reaches out for her hand. "How close are we to Lotus Pier?"

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Wei Ying takes her hand and squeezes it. 

"A couple of days."

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She presses her lips together.

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"Travel is obnoxiously slow without swords." Pet pet pet. 

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This is taking too much time. Her people could still be dying. They could also still be saved, if Lan Zhan went to them.

"Has my leg been looked at?"

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"Yeah. I re-splinted it, but the medicine we could buy from villages on the way to Lotus Pier isn't as good as what Wen Ning gave us." 

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Hm. Well, she should probably try walking on it.

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NO SHE SHOULD NOT. 

"Lan Zhan! You're a worse patient than I am!" she scolds. 

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Lan Zhan resents that. "I must know how quickly I will recover enough to travel."

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"The answer is: faster if you don't try to put weight on your leg while it's still broken!"

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Lan Zhan looks Grumpy.

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What if Wei Ying tries to distract her with kisses. 

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That's a pretty effective solution to a grumpy Lan Zhan! Wei Ying is very hot in a non-fever way, which is lovely.

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Jiang Cheng walks in, makes a quiet strangled noise, and immediately turns around and walks out. 

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Lan Zhan should probably care about this but absolutely does not.

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Wei Ying completely fails to notice it! Kiss kiss KISS. 

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Eventually there comes a break in the kissing. Lan Zhan snuggles against her shoulder. "If you won't allow me to walk, how am I to get to Lotus Pier with you?"

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"We have been carrying you perfectly well."

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That sounds Problematic. Lan Zhan doesn't want to be carried by anyone but Wei Ying, but she doesn't want Wei Ying to carry anything when she's still recovering.

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Wei Ying, unaware that there is a Problem, pets her hair and nuzzles her. "It'll be easier now that you're conscious and can cooperate." 

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"Cooperate with whom."

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"...Me?"

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"You are unwell!"

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"My fever is totally gone, Lan Zhan," she says, demonstratively putting Lan Zhan's hand somewhere not traditionally used to check fevers.