A meeting, in Jiang Yanli’s perspective.
Jiang Yanli hates the “war meetings”.
They’re not at war. They’re on the run.
. There is no war. Only a massive, senseless act of violence brought on by one man’s greed and hunger for power.
“We have to leave this place, don’t we?” Nie Huaisang asks, his voice small in the tense silence of the room. He’s the first one to voice what all of them know to be true. “We have no choice. Our location is compromised. After Gusu and Yunmeng… they’ll be coming here anytime now-”
“No.” Nie Mingjue says, his hands balling into fists as he looks at the map on the table, crumpled and battered and marked many times over. “This is our family’s home. We have to stay. Fight back.”
” Wen Qing steps forward. Of course she does. All of the people in the room are brave, yes, but the other woman simply is made of steel.
One would have to be, after what she’d been through – what she
. Until now, Yanli could still remember how badly Wen Qing and Wen Ning looked when Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji first brought them to the Nie safehouse. Wen Qing had looked desperate – long hair burnt at the ends, uneven, cheeks tear-stained, clothes torn and arms covered in her brother’s blood. Wen Ning looked like he simply wasn’t going to make it.
(And he didn’t make it. Until he
(Yanli never thought she’d ever be afraid of one of her brothers.)
“Half the people in this safehouse don’t have the ability to defend themselves.” Wen Qing continues. “Those who do were not trained for it. Those who were, well, they’re wounded. Fight back, with who? The children?”
It’s not a war, Yanli thinks, if all one side can do is run and retreat, again and again. If day after day, they’re backed into a corner, and they’re starting to believe that it’s all they’ll do until they’ve run out of corners to be backed against.
They live in a world already so against people like them. Her parents and their generation had barely even managed to convince their society that they were not a threat, that they were still humans, not meant to be hunted. It took considerable wealth, influence and resources for the five families to build the five major safehouses that took in whoever came to them for sanctuary.
And now… those safehouses are falling one by one…
“You know we can’t fight them-” Wen Qing argues.
Nie Mingjue glares at her. “You say
as if it’s not
family responsible for this.”
Oh. That’s just frustration right there.
, because I am here, like all of you are, healing
wounded.” Wen Qing glares back. “And yes,
, it is my family. So I know firsthand what Wen Ruohan can and
do to get what he wants, and that’s why I
“Ah, yes, you left, that’s right. After doing your uncle’s dirty work?”
Remorse. Yanli flinches at that overwhelming wave of guilt.
“I had no choice. You weren’t there, you don’t get to judge what I did for my family- my brother’s safety!”
Yanli is part of a generation raised to hope, to call their abilities
. She grew up believing that eventually their society will welcome her people without fear and trepidation.
Until it became apparent that the Wen ‘safehouse’ was not a sanctuary but a
, that Wen Ruohan was training the ones in his protection not as people but as
put the other factions under suspicion, sowing fear among the public and bringing back the discrimination, the witch hunts. Until the Wens started brutally attacking innocent civilians in the guise of ‘defensive measures’, and then their leader demanded that others like him join his cause.
(And what they wouldn’t give him, he’s all too happy to take for himself.)
“He doesn’t have a cause.”
Yanli remembers her father saying.
“What he has is greed.
He came after Cloud Recesses first, then Lotus Pier. The Jin faction’s safehouse in Lanling remains unharmed, but by their silence in the midst of the others’ calls for help, it’s starting to look like they’ve already rallied behind the Wens.
The Nie faction’s safehouse is Qinghe is the last major safehouse standing, but it seems that would not be the case for long. Whatever semblance of peace they’ve had for the past two months they’ve been in Qinghe under Nie Mingjue’s protection will not last.
A flare of anger distracts Yanli from her thoughts, but the anger is not hers. No, the anger is Nie Mingjue’s and Wen Qing’s, combined. Whatever amount of composure Yanli had managed to keep for herself amidst the heavy mixture of grief, remorse and fear from the other people in the room –
on top of her own emotions
– almost slips away.
For a moment, she feels the familiar feeling of
, and by instinct, she reaches out to the person closest to her for purchase.
Nie Mingjue stops mid-sentence when he feels a hand grip his own, and he turns to Yanli in surprise.
The anger is gone, all of a sudden. Yanli breathes easier. The anger is replaced by surprise, an easier emotion to handle, then
Fear that Yanli hadn’t meant to pass on to him.
She quickly withdraws her hand as she realizes what she had done.
“I’m sorry.” she bows her head. “I meant to calm you down, not-… I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s… It’s fine.” Mingjue says, shaking his head. He is not angry at her, only apologetic. Even worried. “I was forgetting myself.” He makes an effort to pat her shoulder before stepping away, now more conscious of their space, knowing that physical proximity is a big factor in how much another person’s emotions can affect hers.
Out of the corner of her eye, Jiang Yanli sees Wei Wuxian approach Wen Qing and touch her arm. Wen Qing visibly tries to calm herself down and she steps back, though not without a last pointed look towards Nie Mingjue.
Yanli sends a reassuring smile towards her worried brothers. She’s fine. She’ll be fine. The room is once again manageable. It’s still a struggle, but one she can power through.
There are concerned murmurs between the other people in the room as Mingjue goes back to the map, now with a clearer head.
“Alright.” he finally says. “We should move quickly. I’ve already had Zonghui and others scout our backup safehouse a few miles from here. Only a handful people know where that is, so we should be safe there. Problem is, that’s too small, so we’ll go through with our first plan. We’re sending the children, the non-fighters and those with serious injuries to Meishan.”
“Isn’t Meishan practically a fortress?” Song Lan asks. Yanli doesn’t know a lot about him, just that he is rarely seen without Xiao Xingchen by his side, and that together both young men are responsible for saving many helpless stragglers and bringing them to the safehouse.
“That’s true. It’s how they’ve kept safe all this time. They’re too small to be a threat, they don’t let anyone in or out, and they’re very far out.” Nie Mingjue says. “It’s the safest place we can go to, but that’s also why we can’t all just hide out in there. Because after Meishan, there’s nowhere else.”
Even with the increased distance, Yanli could feel his dread.
She looks at his hands balled into fists, on the wooden table and the damage marks left in it, and then to his grim face. His eyes are steely as he looks ahead. When she follows his gaze, her eyes land on Nie Huaisang who is sitting beside her brothers, barely holding himself up and obviously leaning his full weight on Jiang Cheng’s side. His pet bird Xiaoyu is perched quietly beside him.
Ordinary humans seem to think that people with special abilities are all-powerful, that they can use their gifts at will, with complete control over them, but Yanli knows better. Their abilities have a cost. They’ve been taught this growing up.
‘Physical’ gifts come at the cost of one’s mental or emotional control. Her mother would lash out with her lightning powers in a fit of rage, and her brother who had inherited those abilities always has a hard time stopping once he has lost his temper. She had heard similar stories about Nie Mingjue.
(They say Wen Ruohan’s flames, at their brightest and strongest, burn as if the sun itself had come down to Earth. Yanli wonders if that was why the man had so easily let his greed take over his entire being.)
Then there’s the ‘mental’ gifts that take a toll on one’s body. Over the past few months, she had learned that Nie Huaisang is always holed up in his room, or sitting despondent by his brother’s side because linking his mind with other creatures, seeing through their eyes and serving as a lookout –
for hours on end
– leaves him tired and weak.
Finally, there’s people like her, who suffer from neither of the effects, but that’s because they can’t turn their abilities “off”. Yanli could feel
near her – their joy, their sadness, their pain and everything in between – at all times. And she can never be too careful when touching others. It’s a different kind of fatigue, of instability, that she’d had to work hard to learn how to manage through the years.
There’s a reason their abilities were called curses first, before they learned to call them gifts.
Now, she feels doubt – again, not hers – and she looks up in time for another person to ask, “Will they let us in? The people in Meishan?”
“They’re my mother’s family. They’ll let us in.” she answers. She feels the doubt ease slightly.
Nie Mingjue nods. “The Jiangs will lead the way to Meishan. Everyone will be given a choice, if they want to go, or stay with us in the new safehouse.” When he looks up, his eyes find a young man standing by the corner of the room. “Lan Wangji will go to Caiyi to keep the Lans informed.”
Lan Wangji nods, quiet and dignified as always. Yanli doesn’t miss the way the young man’s eyes flit towards her brother, and how Wei Wuxian looks hesitantly to the other’s direction before bowing his head, looking down. Most of all, she doesn’t miss the emotions
that accompanied those actions.
“And if Wen Ruohan finds us in the new safehouse too?” Wen Qing asks.
If Nie Mingjue noticed that she had basically declared her choice to stay, he didn’t bring it up. He only looks back at her, and to the rest of the people in the room. “Then we fight back, no questions this time. We’ll hold the line from there. We have to.”
Jiang Yanli looks at him – at his straight back, his clenched fists, his chin up, his eyes now calm and determined. She feels a surge of hope, of admiration, then an echo of determination from the other people in the room. They really look up to him, and it makes her smile that one man can do this much and encourage people who have been steadily losing hope, just by showing them how he’s ready to fight with them,
She holds her smile, even as she feels the doubt, the
that Nie Mingjue has expertly learned to hide behind his steel composure. She almost wants to reach out again, to hold his hand and let him
how much everyone else had believed him, how hopeful he had all made them feel. Maybe that would quiet his doubts.
But there are too many eyes around them, and there were plans to make and work to delegate.
, she thinks.
‘Later. When he’s allowed to have his mask down.’
Yanli clenches her hands on her lap, and waits.
*whispers* hello i guess i am here for the mingqingli agenda