Nights were the worst. Lan QiRen tossed fitfully until he could no longer stand to stay in bed. The one lit candle did not fully illuminate his room but he could still make out the spray of cherry blossoms carefully arranged in a form that enhanced harmony. Their porcelain vase, passed down from the sixth Sect Leader, the man who'd first brought the Gusu Lan to great prominence, glowed faintly in the darkness. Lan QiRen burned incense in the bronze censor. It's orchid scent, floral and lighter than the woodier incenses, lingered in the air. The hardwood shelves, holding the work of his lifetime, scrolls that preserved and expanded his Sect's knowledge, were little more than dark shadows. He couldn't even see the landscape on the folding screen that currently separated the bathtub from the rest of the room, and he wasn't sure he wanted to. He'd always admired the few carefully chosen objects he'd allowed into his room. They'd rooted him, strengthened his ties to Gusu but lately they'd seemed fragile, fleeting. He could no longer look upon them with enjoyment and so he opened his window hoping a view of the moon might help him sleep. He knew it for a foolish notion. He'd been gazing at the night sky for months and it had yet to calm this unexplained restlessness.

In clear view from the window, Wei WuXian sat on the roof drinking what was undoubtedly alcohol. Lists of violated rules flashed through Lan QiRen's mind only to scatter like dust in the wind. What did it matter what Wei WuXian did? Lan Zhan valued the wastrel, had even married him, and would never rebuke him.

Of his two nephews, Lan QiRen had thought Lan Zhan the most like himself. Yes, Lan Zhan had fought his elders and yes, he'd wasted time searching for Wei WuXian's corpse, but he had, in the end, chosen duty. Or so it had seemed. For thirteen years, Lan Zhan had kept his pain to himself, or perhaps he'd shared it with his brother. Lan QiRen didn't know. As a young man, he'd given up his desire to travel in favor of taking up his own brother's duties. He'd had no trouble controlling his emotions but lately he'd been feeling overwhelmed. It wasn't jealously although he didn't see why the boys couldn't have followed his example and stuck to their responsibilities, but why couldn't they talk to him? Lan Zhan had never – not once! – shared his pain, and Lan Huan was no better, running off and hiding in seclusion. Neither boy had ever really spoken with him.

Perhaps hiding was the Gusu Lan curse. Lan Zhan had hidden behind the mask of duty, just as Lan QiRen had. No one ever looked behind duty for the person underneath. Lan Zhan's pain and loss had been alleviated when Wei WuXian had returned. Lan QiRen's duty had left him hollow, as dry as ashes, and full of a loneliness that ached like regret.

Useless thoughts! He turned from the window. "If you cannot sleep, lie as still as can be, and then you'll doze off. You'll see." He'd learned the chant as a boy. It was probably still taught to the youngsters. Perhaps he should return to bed. His thoughts were getting him nowhere. He'd survived this long on a diet of duty and regret. What more did he expect from his life?