“I have met Wen Qing, who is the closest surviving sect heir. She would take great risks to save her people. She knows I mean them no harm.”
“Oh?” Elcarth lifted an intrigued brow. “An enemy of your clan, a high-ranking enemy at that – and she’s sure you wouldn’t treat her people just as the Jin have?”
A nod, and a mental nudge, as Lan Wangji offered them images through an open mind.
:A grubby toddler, clinging to white-and-blue robes and smiling like the sun.
:A Wen, he has to be a Wen, but-
:The same boy running over a stone-studded hillside, pulling a grass butterfly through the wind. Watched over by so many wary eyes; peasant-robed men and women, one grandmother so old and tiny she was almost unreal.:
“His name is A-Yuan.” For a moment, Lan Wangji couldn’t speak. “Wen Qing knows I would never harm him.”
Elcarth was pale. “There were children in that camp?”
The shadow of a wince crossed the cultivator’s features. “There were never supposed to be.”
Well. That made Dirk feel slightly better about Sect Leader Nie Mingjue. He might bear a lethal grudge against the Wen Sect, but at least it hadn’t extended to children. “And if the Jin lied about that, then that story about prisoners being murdered gains a lot more weight.” More weight, and suddenly far more urgency. “Oh gods, if they were killing children – the Wens are witnesses, they’re not safe-!”
Lan Wangji lifted his hand a bare inch above the table. “They are… not comfortable. But they are safe. For now. The Yiling Laozu protects them.”
Elcarth scribbled another note. “Laozu. If I recall, that’s a term your sects use for a founding ancestor? Which sect?”
“In your language, it might be patriarch. Or grandmaster?” Lan Wangji frowned. “He is – unique. And has chosen his ground well. The energy there is… untamed, even by our measures. The Jin are not skilled in handling resentful energy. So long as only their sect attacks, they do not have enough force to break his wards. It would take a combined effort by all the major sects to shatter his defenses.”
“So they’ll be alright,” Dirk concluded. “For now.” But we’d better start working on a rescue plan. Those people are in trouble.
“The Yiling Laozu is an honorable man, and there are innocents in his care.” Lan Wangji glanced between them, calm restored. “He will be prudent.”
“Wen Ning! Look, this sap even sticks rocks together!”
Wen Ning regarded the bits of rubble clinging to the tarry mass in his friend’s hand the way Wen Qing looked at one of Yiling’s stray tomcats bringing her a gift of mice. That’s nice, but what am I supposed to do with it?