“In the meantime, I’m told you want to visit the Bardic Collegium,” Talia went on. “I’m sure that won’t be a problem, our Bards always want to meet new musicians. But why would two sect heirs be sent for that?” She smiled, to take some of the teeth out of the words. “If you don’t mind my being blunt – my Queen is honestly wondering why two cultivators of very high rank would be sent this far, to a land they don’t know and that doesn’t know them. What are you looking for, officially? And… not officially, if you’d like to bring that up in confidence?”
Nie Huaisang tilted his head, eyes almost guileless. “Companion Kellen did say he would pass along our current inter-sect difficulties?”
“He did,” Talia allowed. “But sometimes what our Companions think is important isn’t what we think is important. I’d like to hear what you need, and what you hope to find.”
That got a trade of three glances, that went on for a long, long minute.
Hmm. Lan Wangji’s dealt with Nie Zonghui, but he knows Nie Huaisang, Kero judged. Similar status means they met more often? Or something else?
“We would never wish to slander another sect.” Huaisang sat painfully straight, fan lowered. “But after the Sunshot Campaign was over, certain of Wen Ruohan’s cultivation notes… went missing.”
Kero stilled, as if an icy spider had walked up her spine. Oh, that did not sound good.
“They were to have been taken into custody of the four remaining Great Sect leaders, so the techniques to create kuǐlěi – puppets – could be sealed away,” Lan Wangji stated. “The intent was to study them later, and create countermeasures, so no cultivator would ever be so cursed again.”
“Puppets.” Talia paled. “The… living dead you faced.”
Lan Wangji inclined his head.
Definitely not good.
“Only the array notes are missing.” Nie Huaisang’s smile had a definite edge. “It’s interesting how quickly Jin Guangshan declared it must have been the work of escaped Wen cultivators. Why, I didn’t know we’d left any combat-capable Wen cultivators alive… outside of the prison camps, of course. Which the Jin have run. For the past two years.” The fan lifted again. “Of course, it’s not impossible. I’m sure a few slipped our nets. But I would have thought they’d be more preoccupied with running for their lives. My elder brother is very determined to see all Wen of martial strength dead. Venturing into the heart of Qishan to steal cultivation arrays they wouldn’t even have the power to use seems very… inconvenient. Don’t you think?”