Jiang Cheng had apologized when asking Jin Guangyao to help with the siege preparations. “I realize it’s below what we should expect of you given your rank, but my first disciple knows Lotus Pier, what we need, and what resources we have at hand.”
“You should know that I am happy to help in any way I can.”
There had been much to do and the work had kept him up well into the night, but Jin Guangyao felt a fierce joy to be of such assistance. He hadn’t had such a strong sense of belonging, of family, since the death of his mother.
The first suggestion that things were about to change was towards the end of the day when Lotus Pier started rocking beneath his feet. While he’d spent little time on boats, Jin Guangyao knew, without being told, that large waves were raising the floating wood of the pier. Following the crowd, he ran to the docks.
He couldn’t tell what was causing the waves but far upstream a lone figure could be seen flying in. Jin Guangyao couldn’t see enough details to make out who it was, but the white robes, flaring like a beacon in the sunset, gave the identity away. “Lan Wangi?” He couldn’t have come alone. Were they already under attack?
Someone slapped a friendly pat against his arm. Jiang Cheng had found him in the crowd and was, unexpectedly, grinning. “It’s my brother.”
“Wei Wuxian?” Jin Guangyao didn’t say “but he’s dead.” Those they worshipped were gods after all. But why would he be wearing mourning colors? Was it a sign he’d returned from the dead?
When the man set down on the docks, Jin Guangyao couldn’t repress a gasp. It was Lan Wangji but not how anyone had ever seen him. His ever-present headband was gone, his hair tied up in a messy knot, his posture relaxed, and his face more animate than Lan Wangji’s had ever been. The body might once have belonged to Lan Wangji but the spirit inhabiting it was Wei Wuxian.
A giant tortoise rose from the lake, sending the docks rocking more furiously. The water splashing at his feet felt like a blessing. “Is that Túshā Xuánwǔ?”
Wei Wuxian released his brother from a hug. He gave Jin Guangyao a nod, accepting his place in their family. “Actually, she’s the great-granddaughter of the Tortoise of Slaughter.”
Jin Guangyao had heard that Wei Wuxian had defeated the beast alone while Jiang Cheng had gotten the wounded out of the cave. He could now see the reason for their deception. Neither son of Lotus Pier could allow an Elder to be killed.
Jiang Cheng bowed as he handed over Chenqing. Wei Wuxian twirled it in his fingers before bringing it to his lips. Tentacles, attached to some amorphous thing that could not be seen, rose from the lake. Winged fish, their mouths filled with far too many teeth, darted around the writhing tentacles. Things with dozens of eyes flew overhead on bat wings. Slug-like creatures with long metallic spines slunk out of the swamp. Creatures and what had once possibly people dragged themselves out of the river. Their eye sockets were dark hollows as if they’d given up their eyeballs to the bat-winged creatures. Their hair rippled on the wind as if floating across the surface of a lake. What could be seen of their skin below the river weeds and muck was corpse-pale, greenish-gray. And Jiang Yanli was among them. Jin Guangyao glanced to Jiang Cheng to see tears in his eyes but a smile full of joy. Jiang Yanli’s answering grin, a dark green slash from ear to ear, faded as she turned to their war leader. She carried no weapon. None of them carried weapons for they were the weapons. Once Jin Guangyao would have called them monstrous, but as he watched them rise for battle, he welcomed them. They felt like family.