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i watched the water unfold

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Flashes of a storm and buffeting winds. Those are the only images that come to him when he tries to remember anything about how he arrived on this cliff, so much so that he gives up fairly quickly to stop wasting his energy. 

Instead, he takes to memorizing the same view he sees every day: a well-worn path, only accidentally maintained by the fishermen coming up onto the cliff to survey the weather. Beyond it, a line of trees, the path slanting downwards as it snakes downhill back to the village below. Above him, the sky, bearing down on him for as long as he can remember. The ocean behind him, but he hasn’t seen it for who knows how long because he cannot turn around.

All very uninteresting.

For a while it was only fishermen he saw. They paid him enough mind to kindly ask for a good catch, which he happily provided every other time they asked, whispering to the fish through the wind to appear where the fishermen will be for the day. Might as well repay their kindness with kindness of his own when he’s able to.

So he gains the reputation amongst the dock workers and fishermen for only being able to grant wishes, sometimes, yet he doesn’t mind. This way they don’t demand too much of him and he can recover his dwindling supply of energy to fulfill the next “wish” when it comes along. A simple arrangement.

But on this clear day, something changes. Rather than the familiar band of fishermen that appear at the break of dawn, a woman appears with a young child in her arms and a flower tucked behind her ear. She kneels in front of him, placing the child in her lap, and reaches out to pat his head.

“Oh great bird statue, I know you only grant wishes sometimes, but if you have it in you today, I wish for my husband’s safety on his first mercantile trip since our little one was born,” she whispers, stroking the child’s hair and withdrawing her hand to hold him steady.

Being pat on the head pulls an emotion out of him he hasn’t felt in a long time. He thinks that if he still had a body, his eyes would be welling up with tears, but he pushes that thought aside to focus on calming the winds around the recently-departed ship holding this woman’s husband. With an extra push he also ensures that the winds will guide the ship to and from its destination without harm.

Satisfied, he summons a gentle breeze to let the woman know it is done, hoping she understands his meaning.

Seemingly she does, a bright smile growing on her face. “Did you feel that, little one? Your father will surely return home safely.”

The child frowns. “Do we have to ask it every time?”

The woman hums thoughtfully. “As much as I’d love to ask every day, I think the statue needs time to rest as well. Isn’t that right?” She turns towards him, expression expectant.

Who is he to deny her an answer? Another gentle breeze flits around her and her laughter fills the air.

“And I’m sure the statue enjoys the company. Don’t you like it when company is over, Xiao?”

“Not really,” Xiao grumbles. He hides his face in her neck.

The woman giggles, turning back to him. “I apologize if it’s been boring for you because the fishermen only come here to check the weather and ask you for favors. We’ve only just moved here, you see. If you don’t mind, I would like to keep coming here to keep you company and watch the ocean.”

He brings the wind up and down in a quick motion.

“I hope that was a shrug of approval,” the woman jokes. “If it wasn't, please send a stronger breeze to let us know if we’re bothering you.”

The breeze is light.

“Ah, I’m glad. As much as I love my work and attending to this little one,” she gives Xiao a teasing pinch on the cheek, “usually I’m alone with my thoughts. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone to talk to, wouldn’t you agree?”

If he had a head, he would be nodding vigorously. But translating that to wind is unwise, so he settles for another gentle gust of wind.

The woman ends up staying there to talk until the sun is high in the sky, Xiao having fallen asleep in her arms.

“And then-”

Xiao stirs, tugging at his mother’s hair. “Mm, I’m hungry,” he mumbles sleepily.

“Oh! Time really does fly when you’re having fun.” The woman pats his head one last time before standing up, gathering Xiao in her arms with a fond smile. “This was a lovely conversation. I hope you had as much fun as we did, oh great bird statue. We’ll see you tomorrow then.” She gives him one last wave. “May your day be a good one.”

When her form has completely retreated into the tree line, he feels a pang of loneliness.

 


 

For the next couple of years, every morning becomes much more exciting with the addition of the woman and her son, the latter still shy but slowly opening up with each visit. He tries his best to guide the winds for her husband’s ship on days he’s feeling up to it, but the woman seems to understand, only asking that of him every so often after hours of one-sided conversation that Xiao begins to partake in more frequently. 

In return, he learns more about his new companions. Apparently their visits to him began when the fishermen mentioned this cliff as a good vantage point to see her husband off for his daily trips to the mainland to sell his goods. The goods, from what he can pick up when listening to Xiao’s jumbled recollection of their daily happenings, are all smithed by the woman herself, which explains why they often leave at noon, Xiao’s hunger aside.

Their presence becomes such a common occurrence that when they stop coming for a period of time, he is worried at first. Nothing seems to be too amiss for her husband, whose ship leaves port less often than it used to but still consistently departs, so he distracts himself with guiding the ship as he has been to hold back his sense of dread.

That is until his usual crowd of fishermen casually mention the swell of their wives’ bellies one day, and he pieces together what’s happened, remembering the woman’s own growing stomach. His worry is replaced with relief, realizing that he simply had to be patient.

And his patience is rewarded when several months later, the woman returns with a slightly taller Xiao pulling her along and a small human in her arms.  

“I’m sorry we haven’t visited in a while, oh great bird statue,” she says to him, patting his head in apology as she sits down. “As you can see, we have a new member of the family.” She coos at the baby in her arms, giving her nose a kiss. “We’ve been quite busy, haven’t we Xiao?”

Xiao nods his head excitedly, stumbling forward slightly at the force. “Papa’s been home to take care of Ganyu and me and mama and,” he pauses to take a deep breath before continuing, “and I promised to be the best older brother there ever was!”

The wind excitedly swirls around them.

She laughs, tired but still full of joy. “It seems our dear bird statue agrees.” Her eyes drift close, only pulled awake by baby Ganyu in her arms grabbing at her hair. “Xiao, why don’t you tell it what we’ve been up to?”

He tries to keep up with the same old disjointed way Xiao tells of their lives, his winds barely able to react in time before Xiao launches into the next story, but neither of them mind. He speaks about his merchant father who’s finally found success with his trading and has to return to daily trips to keep up with new business, his lessons in smithing to help produce goods for his father to sell, and of his adventures as a new older brother, protecting his little sister from the evils of a small spider landing on her face.

“It was this big,” Xiao exclaims, throwing his arms wide open, “and I rescued her all by myself!”

The woman laughs so hard her whole body shakes. “Oh my little one. You are truly too strong for a spider to handle. I know Ganyu will appreciate it when she’s older, won’t you?” 

Ganyu babbles happily, tugging at the woman’s hair with one hand and her glaze lily pendant with the other. Xiao intervenes and gently removes Ganyu's prodding fingers, but he's interrupted by his stomach rumbling.

"Noon already?" The woman giggles and stands up, reaching for Xiao's hand. "Let's get home for lunch then. Goodbye, dear bird statue. We'll be back soon!" 

Xiao gives him a clumsy wave in his mother's stead, smiling brightly. 

If he could smile back, it would've been his biggest smile yet. 

 


 

The day starts out bright and sunny, but there is an overwhelming sense of dread within him. He can feel a storm coming, the cacophony of winds in the distance unsettling him, and it makes him wish he had his human form so he could pace around nervously. In the recesses of his memory, flashes of a storm and buffeting winds, visions that he has been unable to decipher but dredge up panic in him all the same. His spiral into anxiety is broken by the appearance of the woman and her children.

Ganyu runs up to him first. “Today mama’s going with papa on a trip!” she exclaims with stilted pronunciation. The memory of her first words not too long ago and her quick learning ease his mind for only a short moment before he realizes what she’d said.

Panic twists tighter within him and summons a frantic gust of wind.

“It seems the great bird statue doesn’t like that idea,” the woman says, giggling slightly. “Do not fret. This should be a quick trip to my sister to deliver much needed medicine for their sick daughter. I promise I’ll be back before tomorrow’s dawn so we can come and visit.”

He tries again, growing more insistent.

The woman simply shakes her head. “I’m sorry, but this is urgent.”

“He’s clearly trying to tell you not to go, isn’t he?” Xiao finally says, having stayed silent this whole time. He looks like he’s holding back tears. “Do you really have to go?”

“Oh, my sweet Xiao,” the woman kneels in front of him, “If we don't do this, your cousin Ningguang will be too sick to get better. You understand, don't you?" When Xiao solemnly nods, she continues. "I’ll be back by nightfall. Take care of Ganyu while I’m gone, alright?” She turns to Ganyu. “And my sweet Ganyu, be good for your older brother.”

Ganyu nods, hugging the woman’s leg. “And you be careful too!”

The clouds are deceptively calm when they leave the cliff and he hears their ship depart. Maybe he is worried about nothing and everything will be fine, right?

Wrong. By mid-afternoon the clouds morph into a dreadful dark gray and the sun retreats behind their impenetrable wall. The ocean churns and the winds scream.

He matches their screams with an internal one of his own as he focuses his energy on the winds, looking for the woman’s ship with a fervor he didn’t know he could still muster. He finds it already in the midst of the tumultuous waves, threatening to capsize at any minute while the crew desperately reign in the sails and cling to what they can to avoid going overboard. Using all of his remaining power, he demands control of the winds from the storm.

It doesn’t work.

In fact, it only serves to confuse the winds more. They toss and turn harder than before, uncertain of what to do, and the ship finally capsizes much to his horror. He frantically calls upon the winds to keep the crew above the water, but they do not listen. Out of options, he dives into the water himself, searching for the woman as he fights the waves engulfing and weighing him down, the anger of the storm raging above him.

“Please, save my husband first,” a voice calls out to him.

“I’ll save you all,” he screams, “I just-”

“You cannot save us all, dear bird statue, else you will be lost too. Please, as my last selfish wish, save my husband,” the voice interrupts him. 

“No! I refuse to let anyone die.” He tries one last time, extending all of his power out to every soul in the vicinity, reaching her husband, the crew, and finally her, and pulls.

...

When he comes to, the storm has calmed, and he feels the relief of the crew members he reached rushing through him, the steady pulse of earth nearby indicating the shore.

Did he succeed?

Something tugs at his hand and he looks down to see the woman’s face, eyes closed but smiling. Her breathing has stopped.

“Do not fret, my friend,” she whispers. It is silent, but he can barely hear her even as she has her head laid on his knees.

Wait, knees?

“So you did have a human form once.” She reaches a hand up to cup his cheek, bringing his attention to the wetness on his face. “Thank you for watching over us all this time, oh great bird statue.”

“No,” he whispers back. “No, no.” He pushes as hard as he can with his energy but nothing comes out. 

NO.

“You’ve already saved all you can. You can let me go.”

“No!” he yells. Is this what his voice sounds like, hoarse and melancholy? “You can’t leave Ganyu and Xiao alone.”

She laughs sadly. “They won’t be alone. They’ll have Zhongli and they’ll have you.”

“I’ll help you. I’ll come back after I’ve recovered-”

“Oh, dear bird statue, I’m already gone.” 

Her body is too light, too transparent for a human’s. His knees are shaking beneath her body, his hands barely holding steady as he claws at his chest to release anymore energy, anything.

“Let me go.” 

“Why? Why did you let go?” he manages to choke out.

“You didn’t have enough for me.” She sighs. “The entire crew would’ve drowned if you’d overextended yourself. Even now, you’re hurting aren’t you?”

“Yes, but that’s because you’re dying.” His hands fall limply to his side. He’s lost all feeling in his legs.

“Dead, dear bird statue.” She falls silent for a moment and he’s almost certain she’s gone, but she opens her eyes one last time and looks him in the eye. “Guizhong.”

“Huh?” Is it her soul fading away or his tears that’s making it difficult to make out the shape of her body?

“My name is Guizhong. I don’t think I’ve told you that.” Her giggle sounds like she’s out of air. “And yours?”

He chokes on his first attempt. “Venti,” he finally manages.

And then she’s gone.

 


 

His consciousness bursts into awareness and he’s back on this miserable cliff again.

Was that all just a horrible dream? With what little energy he has left, he follows the wind around the village, horrified at the destruction in the storm’s wake. Boats strewn about, docks splintered, houses destroyed as the villagers look upon all of it, devastated. Sluggishly, he returns to the cliff and fades away, too tired to think of anything more. 

He doesn’t know how long he stays dormant, only waking up again to a rustling in the treeline. If he had eyes, he’d be squinting in the dark to try getting a better view of the lone figure approaching him with heavy steps, the moon hidden behind the last remains of storm clouds. 

Xiao finally kneels in front of him, eyes red and face stained with tears.

“She’s gone, isn’t she?” Xiao asks quietly.

It takes everything to summon even the smallest of breezes, but he does anyway.

“You tried to warn us that day, didn’t you?”

The wind caresses his cheek as gently as it can.

“Can you,” his voice breaks, “can you bring her back?”

All is still.

Xiao’s face crumples and he collapses in front of him, curling into himself and clutching an all too familiar glaze lily pendant in his hands. He silently cries along with the boy, wishing to the universe that he could hold him and tell him everything is going to be fine.