Jiang Yanli woke up soaking and muddy, the memory of shoving her precious brother out of the way of an incoming blade, of the tears on all their faces as the pain and blackness enveloped her, the only thing she could see for a few seconds. The pain in her chest was excruciating, yet as she lay there curled tight into herself in a vain attempt to make it stop it seemed to lessen slightly. She reached a shaking hand up to her chest, and whilst her robes were stained with enough blood to kill a man, whilst her chest felt like it was on fire, there was no wound on her skin. She stood, shaking slightly from fear and pain, and looked around. She felt herself sway in shock. She was no longer in Nightless City.
Instead she was in Yunmeng Jiang, only a few streets from the main compound.
Jiang Yanli resisted the urge to cry. She was somehow home, and yet she was so, so far from home. She wanted her husband, the man who had soothed away her fears, who had loved her and cried at their wedding. But that man was dead, and Jiang Yanli was alive, so she would continue going as she always did. She wanted her child, her precious A-Ling, her light and her laughter, the only presence she had allowed in her rooms in the first dark days after Jin Zixuan’s death. But he was in Jin Lanling, under the guard of her most trained and trusted disciples. He was safe, she was alone, and she would keep going as always. Her brothers were in Nightless City fighting for their lives, and Jiang Yanli could only go so far on her own.
So Jiang Yanli picked herself out of the mud and began to walk, shaky step after shaky step, making her way through unfamiliar yet familiar streets to the main compound of the Jiang Sect. By the time she made it to the gates she was shaking from exhaustion, pain ripping through her body with every step, and yet she kept going. She collapsed against the gates panting, and silently despaired the lack of guards. It was no wonder that there where none, they were all at Nightless City but still. She reached a trembling hand up to the family lotus emblem and pushed a small amount of spiritual energy into it.
Let me in. I’m home. Please.
The gates creaked and moved, the sound saying that they had not been opened in this manner in many years. She took a trembling step inside and was immediately hit with a sense of wrong.
The buildings were to old to be new.
To different to be the old ones.
She took another step forward and staggered, the pain in her chest seeming to increase tenfold at the movement. She reached down to the bell on her waist and with almost all of her remaining spiritual energy rang it.
Help me Help me Help me I’m home Help me
The clear sound rang and spiralled through the courtyard as Jiang Yanli near collapsed against a pillar breathing hard. Two young disciples were the first to skid into the courtyard, feet sliding in the torrential rain, swords out. They looked around, searching for the source of the gentle beckoning ringing, and Jiang Yanli managed to lift a hand from the pillar to gesture weakly. The two disciples instantly rushed over, gentle hands on her arms, quick words above her head.
“-never seen her before-”
“-Jiang Sect Bell-”
A familiar crackle of lightning.
“Step away from her.”
Jiang Yanli took the last of her strength and stood, pushing away the disciples with gentle hands as she turned. Sure enough, standing there in the torrential rain and the dark, looking utterly furious and drenched to the bone was her younger brother, his sword out and Zidian crackling, harsh purple light reflecting up from the water, giving him a look straight from a nightmare. It seemed that in the time taken from her to get from Nightless City to here he had developed an increased sense of Drama. It was cute. She managed to give him a trembling smile, and sighed, her joy and relief huffing out of her in the sound.
“A-Cheng…” She called, voice the same gentle reprimanding tone she always used when he and A-Xian were being ridiculous.
Jiang Cheng’s eyes went wide and his sword fell from his grasp onto the stone of the courtyard with a sharp clang. Zidian spluttered slightly. All around them the bell still rang.
...help me help me i’m home help me…
“…A-Li?” Her darling little brothers voice was a soft and nearly broken thing, and Jiang Yanli smiled wider even as the pain in her chest grew. The silly boy. Who else would she be. Jiang Yanli poured all her acceptance and love into her voice as she spoke.
“Oh A-Cheng who else would I be?”
Jinag Cheng looked so lost, almost as though he was about to cry, and she took a step forward, intending to walk over and hug him, to chase away the darkness as she always did, but as she took the step, the pain in her chest overwhelmed her. The last thing she saw as darkness enveloped her was Zidian vanishing and Jiang Cheng lunging forward to catch her.