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up on melancholy hill

Chapter Text

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Nie Huaisang wakes up gasping for breath, a plea for help halfway out his lips. It takes him several disoriented moments to recover from the nightmare, his dark but familiar surroundings finally reminding him of where he is - in his room, in Qinghe.

Safe. For now.

Then he recalls the red-hot flashes of fire and the screams of the strangers from his dream, and he freezes. In his mind’s eye, he sees the smoke and the blood and the burning curtains-

The curtains. The curtains were purple -

Huaisang rushes out of bed, slipping his cardigan on as he runs to the door and down the hall. He doesn’t know what time it is, and he ignores the people who ask after him on his way. By the time he gets to his brother’s office, he’s already feeling faint, winded, and he almost falls over if not for the pair of arms that had hurried to keep him upright.

He vaguely registers Nie Zonghui’s voice near his ear asking him if he’s okay, or the inaudible murmurs of the other people in the room. He only focuses on his big brother, who stands up from his chair and all but runs to him.

“Huaisang?” Nie Mingjue asks, brows furrowed in concern as he takes in his brother’s pale, terrified face. “What’s wrong?”

“Da-ge,” Nie Huaisang says, voice trembling. “It’s Lotus Pier. We have to send help.”

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Huaisang paces in his room for the next hour.

They can’t send help, his brother had told him. There’s too little information to go by and no one from Lotus Pier had sent word. Nie Huaisang had a dream , and with his powers, they’re never sure with dreams. Even if they were sure, they can’t send help. They don’t have enough people, Nie Mingjue had said - and the people that they do have are tired, wounded, scared

“There is too much at risk.” his da-ge said, a hand cupping his cheek, apologetic, and Huaisang knows then that this is difficult for him too. His brother is never one to stand back when people are in need. “We are the last major safehouse standing - and we must remain standing.”

“But-… da-ge, my friends-”

“Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan would never go without a fight, and they will never let anything happen to their children. The best we can do now is wait, and hope. If they come to us, we’ll provide them sanctuary. The others would, too. I’ll tell our people to keep an eye out. But we must stay here. I’m sorry, Huaisang.”

Huaisang understands, but it doesn’t mean he feels better about it.

So he paces, and paces. At some point, Xiaoyu had perched on his window, and Nie Huaisang had only spared the black myna a glance before pacing again.

He recalls what his brother told him when he sent him off. “It’s late. You should be resting. If we hear anything, I’ll come tell you myself.”

He paces a bit more, until he has to sit back on his bed, his exhaustion catching up to him.

Not for the first time, Huaisang curses the cost of his gift, the toll it takes on his already weak body.

Xiaoyu flies to him, perching on his lap, and he smiles softly at the bird, petting her head.

“I’m sorry for waking you.” he tells his pet. “I’m just restless. I think my friends are in danger, but I can’t be sure, and I can’t do anything about it.”

Then he stops, taking a deep breath. He might not be able to do anything, but he has to do something , if not to at least distract himself.

“Will you help me, Xiaoyu?” he asks. The bird looks up at him, tilts her head, beady eyes meeting his.

He leans down, closes his eyes and fights through the haze of exhaustion to focus and reach out with his mind. It’s almost second nature to find Xiaoyu, so near and so attached to him. He feels a little spark as the familiar link ‘clicks’ into place.

When he opens his eyes, they’re glowing a light pale gold. He raises his hand and the myna perches on his finger. In his mind’s eye, he sees himself, like looking into a mirror, except he could see so much more .

“Okay.” He looks out the window, the bird in his hand mimicking the movement. “Let’s fly.”

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Nie Huaisang first met Jiang Wanyin at the Lan safehouse in Gusu when they were 15. His da-ge had told him that his gift could be useful, if only he can control it. Meanwhile, he had heard that Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan’s son had a very powerful gift himself, but lacked restraint in using it. So they were there to learn control and restraint, because it was said that Lan Qiren is the best teacher for young people like them.

That’s how he spent lots of boring afternoons in Gusu: kneeling and staring at his pet bird’s eyes (as if Xiaoyu will be any less mischievous and will be easier to ‘link’ with if Huaisang pouted at him hard enough).

In between staring sessions with his pet, he is sneaking glances at the boy sitting across the room from him, meditating.

At least, he was supposed to be meditating. Nie Huaisang wasn’t blind. He knew that Jiang Wanyin was trying not to fall asleep half the time.

Wei Wuxian, who didn’t need training and only came to Gusu to keep his brother company, just laughed at their complaints after every ‘training session’ before dragging them to explore the mountains, to Lan Wangji’s disapproval.

It was fun. Nie Huaisang had been friends with other kids in the Nie safehouse, but a lot of them treated him like he was fragile, so it was a nice change. It was a bit difficult to catch up to the other two at times (they’re just so… athletic!) but he still enjoyed being with them a lot.

Until he learned that they really should listen to Lan Wangji more often.

Because of course Huaisang would slip and fall into… somewhere. A… pit? A trench? He didn’t know what it’s called. He only knew that everything hurt, and no one could hear him when he called for help, and he wanted to cry.

On the bright side, that’s how he learned that he could actually link with Xiaoyu from afar.

He also saw how worried Jiang Wanyin was, and yeah, that left Huaisang feeling a bit fluttery and stuff, but that’s another matter entirely. All he knew was that somehow he was able to link with Xiaoyu well and long enough to lead his dashing rescuer to him.

“D’you think Master Lan will be pleased with me for once?” he asked, voice muffled against the back of his friend’s shoulder as he is carried back to the Lan safehouse.

Jiang Wanyin rolled his eyes and shifted his hold on him. “Pleased? That you fell off the mountain? No. That you managed to link with Xiaoyu from afar and got to hold that for hours? Definitely.”

“Is Jiang-xiong praising me?”

“Don’t let it get into your head.”


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Jiang Cheng falls to his knees, coughing the smoke out of his lungs, eyes stinging and in tears. Beside him, his brother is wide-eyed and shaking, and on his other side, his sister’s sobs come out in quiet gasps. He looks up and around - the night sky is clear. No smoke, no fire. In the bright moonlight, he can see they’re in some kind of forest, surrounded by unfamiliar trees. Except for the coughing and crying, it was dead silent.

Then he hears voices behind them, and when he whirls around, it’s to see a handful of other people tumble out from the familiar glowing purple portal, before it vanishes into thin air.

Dread settles in Jiang Cheng’s gut as he realizes that might be the last time he will ever see that portal.

“No...” he hears his sister’s shaking voice. “No… Father-... Mother-”

“Everyone, get up.” he says, voice weak and strained from coughing. He stands shakily and tries again. “Get up! We have to keep moving.”

“Where are we?” someone from their group asks, a teenage boy, holding on to two other children.

“Qinghe.” Wei Wuxian says, standing up before pulling Jiang Yanli to her feet. She wipes her tears with her sleeve. “We should be in Qinghe.”

“How did you know-”

“Because that’s where my father meant to send us.” Jiang Cheng answers, firm. “So that’s where we are.”

Jiang Cheng looks at them. There couldn’t be more than 20 people with them, mostly teenagers and young adults, with a few older people and young children. Most of them were wounded. One young woman, her eyes glowing blue, is handing out small chunks of ice to the people with burns. She looks worse for wear too.

He sees his sister step towards a child who couldn’t have been older than ten, clearly on the verge of breaking down as she struggles to carry a crying toddler. Yanli takes the toddler and then pulls the older kid to her, gently shushing them both. The effect is instantaneous, both children’s sobs subsiding.

“But there should be a safehouse, right?” someone else asks. “Where is it?”

Wei Wuxian sends a reassuring smile to their group. “Uncle might have just… missed a bit, but I’m sure it’s nearby. We just have to-... We have to keep moving, find our way to the safehouse. They’ll help us there. Can someone here… like, sense? Or find people? Nearby?”

A lot of them shook their heads, including Jiang Yanli, which is enough to tell Jiang Cheng that they are well and truly lost. One man raised his hand. “I’m not hearing any humans around at all. But I can hear running water. It’ll be a long walk, though.”

“That’s better than nothing.” Jiang Cheng says. He looks to his siblings and they nod at him. He turns back to the man. “Lead the way.”

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It feels like they’ve been walking for hours, and the stars are already starting to fade from the sky when Wei Wuxian looks up and sees a single black bird flying right above them.

“Jiang Cheng. Is that-...?”

Jiang Cheng follows his brother’s gaze and squints at the bird for a few moments before his eyes widen in recognition.

“It better be.” he says, tentatively reaching out. The bird lands on his arm, and his fingers hover above the little jade green ribbon on her leg. He looks to his brother and nods. “It’s Xiaoyu.”

“Do you think-...?”

Before he could finish his question, the bird leans forward and lightly tugs at Jiang Cheng’s hair with her beak.

Jiang Cheng startles before he breathes out, almost laughing in disbelief.

“Huaisang?” he says, not giving a damn about how it might look to the others as he talks to a bird, desperate. “We need help, if you’re nearby-”

Xiaoyu tugs at his hair again before taking off and landing on a nearby branch. Then she flies to another tree, and another, further and further through the forest.

Jiang Cheng lets out a relieved sigh. He turns to the others. “Follow her. We’re getting there soon.”

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