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Ask a thousand people and you’ll get a thousand answers to who Wei Wuxian is.

A scoundrel. A hero. A villain. A prodigy. All of the above.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t waste time on self-reflection; he’s far too busy. There’s always something to do, someone to save, turnips to plant, body parts to discover, murders to solve, Lan Zhan to love.

He’s obstinate, clever, playful, reckless: Jiang Cheng can add a hundred other attributes to the list. So can Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian accepts every name thrown his way, sliding with ease from servant’s son to Head Disciple to Yiling Laozu. From A-xian, a blade of a memory, to Wei Ying, uttered low and deep, a rumble during sweet, ruinous nights.

On the rare occasions when he pauses and stares at a sky studded bright with cold-eyed stars, snow smothering the earth, wine slipping hot in his mouth, Wei Wuxian dares to think himself lucky. Lucky to be back in the land of the living, with its fathoms-deep pain and its bright joy. Lucky to be here, in the Jingshi, where Lan Zhan lives and dreams.

It is luck, perhaps, to be plucked from oblivion by the will of the Heavens and thrust back into life. Wei Wuxian doesn’t remember his death; sixteen years gone in a blink. One minute the hot breath of lava enveloped him, the next he woke surrounded by the stench of dried blood on Mo Xuanyu’s dirty floor.

But he remembers every moment in the Burial Mounds. He remembers the resentful energy cradling him in the air, dragging him down to the earth and curling around him, a predator and a protector. Wei Wuxian had crouched and coughed blood and knew he was about to be overwhelmed: the dead were screaming, clamouring for his red pulsing heart. The lack of golden core, negligible; they desired hot blood, flesh and sinew, bone and muscle. Wei Wuxian could break, or he could bend: so, he yielded.

He allowed a place for them inside him. He made room for the angry and the resentful, the furious and the bitter. Soldiers dead for some lord’s war and not even given a proper burial. Dumped to rot like beasts. The poor and the forgotten. Every blood cell welcomed the unholy rage — he let it feed him and sustain him in the land of bones and ash and rot.

‘I’m one of you,’ Wei Wuxian told the energy swirling in the hollow of his missing core. ‘Look past the Jiang Sect training and the lavish bedroom I had next to the Sect Leader’s heir. Sift through my memories. Look in my past. See the icy streets, the rabid dogs, the half-rotten apples, the mouldy bread, the shivery nights, the tears and hopelessness.’

The dead saw; the resentful energy of the Mounds found an echo on the inside. It settled comfortably under Wei Wuxian’s skin, made itself at home.

Three months it took for the sword to be shaped into the Seal. Three months working in near darkness, feeling the Yin iron carefully with his fingers and his bruised mind. The wind whistled around the barren ground as he worked methodically. The trees lowered their tainted fruit within his reach, tasting sweet and rich from the rivers of blood that fed their roots. Three months it took for Wei Wuxian to apply all his cunning, the full force of his intellect, his skill and his iron-will to tame the energy, dominate it, master it. He created the Stygian Tiger Seal, a raft to navigate out of the vast graveyard and into the world of the Sects, unable to use his sword but still a warrior. Still fearsome. Still able to seek his revenge.

Broken, and forged in blood and ash, and transformed; made new, like his Seal.

When Wei Wuxian left Burial Mounds, his belly full of the dead-blossomed fruit, Chenqing hanging from the sash of the outfit he bought selling the harmless bits of iron and steel, he marched inexorably down his single-plank bridge. He kept going even when his choices seemed impossible, even when his mistakes crushed him, even when his footsteps brought him to the edge of the cliff.

But he’s back; life clings obstinately to Wei Wuxian, and these days he clings back as fiercely. The dead were laid to rest in the Nightless City lava with his first body. Wei Wuxian welcomes each new day in the arms of Lan Zhan. He senses Lan Zhan’s worry when Wei Wuxian traipses off to night hunts with his untrained golden core, a sliver of a thing, trembling and weak.

‘My love.’ Wei Wuxian kisses Lan Zhan's temple and inhales his sleep-musk scent. It’s worth being back for this smell alone. ‘You must not forget that above all I’m a survivor.’