Fanfiction 2: Moyuan and Bai Qian - Chapter 17, Part 2 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 17 - The Plan

Part 2

written by Lala Loop

edited by kakashi

“You have questions,” said Moyuan. Silence had dominated the space between them ever since they stepped through the cave entrance. They were now walking in a dark, steep tunnel and Moyuan seemed, by means Bai Qian could not yet understand, to know the way very well. They made a few turns here and there, met with stairs once in a while and Bai Qian spent the whole time estimating how vast this cave was.

“No, I don’t,” Bai Qian quickly denied, trying to keep her voice calm; but it came out rather shaky.

“Very well, then.”

“Why aren’t we being attacked yet?” she blurted out anxiously. “Shouldn’t who -- or whatever -- is guarding this cave have sensed the presence of essence that isn’t from a Ghost by now?”

“We have not reached the protected area yet,” replied Moyuan. “I believe they would want the intruder to reach the center of the cave first before attacking since that would be the most difficult place to flee from.”

They kept walking on until Moyuan’s steps seemed to slow down. Bai Qian assumed they had reached some kind of destination, though looking ahead, she did not notice anything different. It was only another archway like all the ones they had walked through. But Moyuan stopped at the threshold and took a good look at it.

Then, he drew out his sword and attempted to plunge forward. Bai Qian nodded to herself, finally understanding that there was some kind of special enchantment on this archway that was preventing them to go through, and felt quite amazed at Qingcang’s ability to make it so subtle that she had not felt any trace of it at all in the air. And it seemed Moyuan was having problems breaking it with Xuanyuan.

Bai Qian unconsciously looked down at her boot, wondering if a demonic weapon would make a difference in this case. As if on cue, Moyuan turned to her.

“You guessed right,” he said. “Give it a try.”

Bai Qian quickly removed the fang from her boot, stepped forward and gently plunged it into the invisible shield, afraid that she somehow might cause an explosion. But true enough, the veil broke, revealing itself as a thin layer of mist which slowly vanished.

Moyuan signaled for her to wait. After half a minute, he cautiously walked through the opening and Bai Qian followed. And immediately, Bai Qian experienced it: suppression of powers. She gave a small gasp, they were entering the region with the strongest protective enchantments of this cave.

“You see?” said Moyuan. “An army would be of no use here. Even if they could make it through the door, they would have no powers left to offer any help.”

Bai Qian nodded and said nothing.

They were no longer in the tunnel - the archway was leading to a more spacious domain of the cave. The ground had become smoother below her feet and the air less damp.

“Now you can start worrying about being attacked,” said Moyuan.

Whether it was meant to be a joke, Bai Qian wasn’t sure, but laughter escaped her before she knew it. Though she immediately bit it back and twisted her head around, hoping she hadn’t woken any creatures of the dark.

“It’s quite all right,” Moyuan turned around and looked at her with a soft smile. “A bit of cheerful sound shouldn’t change anything. If the guards want to attack, I’m sure they will.”

Bai Qian smiled back. He took a sudden step toward her, reached up and gently brushed something off her cheek with his thumb.

Had there been dust or soot on her face this whole time? Bai Qian blushed, running her hand over her face as he turned on his heel to continue with the journey.

Soon, a grand sight came into view - they were reaching a long, narrow bridge under which was a deep and dark abyss.

“Are we going to the other side, Shifu?” asked Bai Qian, praying it wasn’t the bottom of this pitch that they would have to travel to to get the wretched soul-gathering device.

“Yes, I believe so.”

Moyuan stepped closer to the edge, examined once again something in the air with magic and after several seconds, turned around, gestured for Bai Qian to follow and strode forward.

The narrow bridge made it impossible for Bai Qian to walk beside him like she had been doing all this time, which she guessed was the reason why Moyuan - in her opinion - unnecessarily looked over his shoulder once every half a minute. Bai Qian kept up in silence, paying close attention to his pace to avoid walking into him since she was sure falling down from here would not prove a pleasing prospect. Looking up at the high ceiling along the way, she noticed there were stalactites the size of Kunlun pillars, only wider, hanging above their head.

Reaching the bridge’s end, they continued their walk forward for several more minutes, avoiding the large cracks and fissures on the ground within which there was water. Only until Bai Qian was about to ask whether Moyuan knew where he was going this time did she realize they were walking into a place that looked like an enormous hall. Various objects and artifacts started to appear on the ground in piles of all sizes here and there, making the place look more or less like a warehouse.

Swiftly Moyuan waved his arms, whereupon fire sparks attached themselves to the few torches there were on the wall and illuminated the area.

Pillar-like rocks lined the wall, hoisting up the ceiling, stacks of strange and dusty artifacts, armor pieces, and weapons laying against their feet, making it hard to see the route ahead.

And as they walked further in, Bai Qian noticed that what occupied the space most was weapons - all sorts of weapons large and small. Some of them Bai Qian had seen for the first time and some were so bizzare in shape and size that she could not believe anyone would want to be seen with them. This must be where Qingcang hid most of his secretly made weapons; several of which Bai Qian was sure were forbidden by Celestial laws.

“This is the center of the cave?” she asked, scanning through the labyrinth-like hall as she walked.

“Yes,” said Moyuan. “But I do not believe we have reached the center of the hall yet. Let’s walk on.”

But something ahead caught Bai Qian’s eyes as she looked ahead at the closest piles. An old and dusty mirror - she noticed as they approached - lying on top of a stack of ancient looking scrolls. But what compelled Bai Qian’s attention was the faint light that was emitting from it.

Without consulting Moyuan, she walked closer and looked down into the mirror - where glass should have been, there was a smooth surface of water. No, it couldn’t be, Bai Qian frowned. But then, it looked just like water. The water rippled and the outline of something started to appear where her reflection was. Something familiar.

She leaned down to get a clearer view, careful not to touch the unevenly positioned scrolls: it was a dais on which stood a wooden armrest.

Kunlun hall, Bai Qian quietly exclaimed, unlit and empty. Looking a little closer she noticed there were layers of dust on the armrest and the cloth beneath. She jerked back at once. Her stomach churned, her heart was racing.

A sudden sound behind Bai Qian made her jolt. Shooting her head upward, she noticed that Moyuan too was looking at the water surface, wearing an expression that pretty much represented how she was feeling at the moment - unnerved and quite agitated. In truth, he was looking more disturbed than he had the whole evening. But Moyuan soon regained his serenity and took a step back.

“Let’s keep moving,” he said. “Objects of dark magic like to tamper with our mind, to make us question our purpose and weaken our confidence. Whatever it is you see is meant to do just that.”

Bai Qian nodded and followed him.

Whatever it is you see? She pondered. Had he seen something different in the water?

She did not, however, have long to linger on thoughts about the mirror because they soon reached a clearer zone of the hall. And something else, something much more important than the mirror came into sight: on top of a raised stone dais that stood completely isolated from the rest of the piles of objects floated what must be the soul-gathering device.

Quietly, they both approached the dais. The device itself was surrounded by a layer of swirling black mist. It was small, Bai Qian observed, a jewellery. A bracelet? What a peculiar - and quite tame, she added - choice coming from Qingcang. But she quickly realized that she was wrong as she took a step closer.

It was a anklet, not a bracelet. A little silver anklet with some unique patterns engraved and two silver bells attached to it - one of those children of young age usually wore for good luck. And this one looked like it would fit a 100-year-old child.

Bai Qian could not pretend that she wasn’t disappointed - she had expected something a bit more sinister looking. Turning to Moyuan, she could see that he, however, wasn't sharing her sentiments. Moyuan was staring at the thing intensely, his lips compressed. And she could have sworn there was a flash of pure contempt sweeping through his eyes.

“Don’t touch it, Seventeenth,” said Moyuan. But Bai Qian had never needed this advice less - she had no intention of touching an object that Qingcang had used a curse on and been proud of, no matter how harmless it looked.

Moyuan swiftly summoned his sword and drew it closer to the black mist. Magical light rays erupted from the tip of the sword, shooting at the mist, yet bounced back instantly without causing any damage. Cautiously, he gave it another try but came to the same result.

Then Bai Qian watched with huge eyes as Moyuan slowly reached up to the mist with his hand. But he retracted it in a split second as if he had had just touched a burning flame.

“I see,” Moyuan nodded to himself.

Bai Qian did not have an idea what Moyuan meant but she assumed he had found a way to penetrate the mist and get to the device. But she had barely begun to ask him how they were going to proceed when there came some whooshing sounds around. And…

“Footsteps,” she whispered.

Moyuan’s eyes averted to every nook and corner of the hall, his expression vigilant but no less calm.

“The Ghost guards,” he said in answer to her look.

Finally, Bai Qian summoned her fan and stared around, anxious yet undeniably eager to see what was coming. At last, something to make this long and suspenseful journey worthwhile. Not to mention that to her, any movement now would be better than this strangling silence. Though Bai Qian’s momentum came to a screeching halt when Moyuan spoke.

“Seventeenth, please hide yourself,” he gestured at one of the rock pillars along the wall.

“Excuse me...” she gaped at him in disbelief. In no stretch of her imagination could she understand why her hiding while an attack was about to happen was a good plan.

“Please hide yourself,” he repeated.

“Why can’t I stay and help?” she protested, still unable to comprehend Moyuan’s intention. “That’s what I came along for!”

“You will help. But it is not your powers that will help us tonight, it is your strength.”


“I will explain later. Please do as I say.”

Bai Qian continued to stare at him. She simply could not believe her ears - was this more of Moyuan’s nonsense about how he was the one who should always play the role of the protector? He couldn’t have brought her all the way here just to make her stand aside and watch him fight? Upon her unresponsiveness, Moyuan’s eyes swept around the area once more and his voice became stern.

“Are you really going to question my first order to you in the whole evening after having promised to do as instructed?”

“But…” Your order is ridiculous, she wanted to shout.

“Seventeenth,” Moyuan said again, his fierce eyes boring into hers.

Begrudgingly, Bai Qian retreated behind one of the pillars, where there was enough space for her to conceal herself completely.

The drum of footsteps became louder, synchronizing with her heartbeat which sped up with every passing second. Then, from where she stood, Bai Qian saw them pouring into the hall from the opposite direction of which they had entered. And they were not mere guards. They were Ghost assassins in black armors, fully armed with all kinds of savage-looking weapons, and by the look of it, hungry for a fight.

Within minutes, the once empty zone of the hall was full of them. There were more than a hundred, forming a circle around the God of War; But Moyuan did not look in the least shaken or concerned.

The tallest assassin, one that was equipped with a long whip, spoke in a voice that sounded like it had not been used for ages.

“State your purpose here, Immortal, and we might show you mercy.”

“You are at my mercy,” said Moyuan. “Not the opposite.”

Bai Qian did not know whether to feel proud or anxious at this attitude of the God of War. He had even put Xuanyuan away. Did he really know what he was doing?

There were cackles of laughter breaking out among the assassins. Then the leader spoke again.

“Do you intend to take us on alone?”

“Only if you are foolish enough to stand against me, of course,” answered Moyuan.

The face under the helmet stretched into a hideous and bloodthirst smile, the slit-like eyes glinted. The distorted voice raised once more.


Something hit the pillar where Bai Qian was, causing her to topple and fall. Staggering up, she took a few hasty steps forward but was immediately thrown back. Astonished, she reached forward, felt the invisible barrier and understood: a shield had been placed around the area where she stood. Helpless and frustrated, Bai Qian pressed her face to the shield to get a clearer view of the fight outside.

Everything that followed was fast and blurry. Jets of magic flew back and forth in the hall in all directions, crashing into each other in midair. Squinting to look behind the shield, she could see that the standing soldiers had been reduced by a significant number if not half already. She saw protective shields being raised, crumbling, and being conjured again, spells being cast from both sides bouncing against them.

Moyuan was standing in the center, blocking, attacking, and disarming the approaching assassins who attempted to fight with magic, his face expressionless still. Every spell he conjured carried such force that it made even the shield around her reverberate. One by one, the assassins fell.

The memory of her last encounter with these assassins came back to Bai Qian’s mind; and watching Moyuan blasting magic at them with ease increased her deep and desperate desire to join the fight. This was her opportunity to see if she had improved at all, yet… Bai Qian cursed under her breath.

Then, when it was more than obvious that their magical powers were no match for the God of War, the assassins drew out their weapons.

But this too, did not seem to give them the upper hand. He managed to dodge and deflect every blow aimed at him.

With a sideway slash of Moyuan’s arm, spears, swords, daggers, caltrops and all kinds of nasty weapons that had been dropped were lifted from the ground. He took one moment - more to savor the commotion among the assassins than to think - and slashed again, sending the weapons flying at them. Some fell on their back, some vanished instantly into puffs of smoke.

The tall assassin, who was now standing at a distance, raised his arm and started to summon fire. Crimson Hellfire… Bai Qian breathed. The flame twirled its blazing body around and flung itself towards Moyuan, sweeping through the device on its way. But no sooner did the flame touch Moyuan than it was extinguished with a spell from him that caused water from the fissures on the ground to rise, twist itself into a current and launch at the assassins, nearly drowning a few.

Then, leaping upward while the enemies were still recovering and with the speed of a tiger on the hunt, Moyuan catapulted himself towards the assassin leader, confiscated the whip and returned to the center before the latter could realize what had happened.

When the whip was in Moyuan’s hand, it looked to Bai Qian like the assassins were wishing they had never attacked. The ones at the front stepped back from the danger zone. In a flash, he swung the whip above his head and struck. Several soldiers were hit by the whip’s cracker before they could react and perished at the weight of those slashes.

Fire erupted once more from the palm of the assassin leader. This time, Moyuan extended the whip toward him, allowing the maturing flame to latch onto the cracker. After another split second, he retracted the whip and struck again.

The ground trembled. Blazing lights and sparks of fire flew blindly around, causing Bai Qian to squint behind the shield. She could hear the sound of weapons being dropped to the ground and the next thing she knew, it was quiet again. There was no one in the area except the two of them and a few puffs of smoke that were still lingering in the air.

Moyuan turned in her direction and flicked his hand. She scrambled out of the hiding place and ran to him instantly.

“You… locked me…” she glared at Moyuan, who simply looked like he had just come back from sword practice rather than a fight with hundreds of assassins. What Bai Qian had just witnessed made her wonder if her help was needed at all on this trip since Moyuan seemed to be capable of handling a few more hundreds assassins with no difficulty.

“My apologies,” he said, throwing the whip to one side. “I could not take any chances.”

Bai Qian wanted to accuse him of not trusting her but then her attention quickly turned back to what was really important.

“I saw they used Crimson fire,” she pointed out. “Why didn’t that damage the device?”

“It is protected,” Moyuan reminded her. “The device itself can be destroyed by Crimson fire. But as long as the enchantment still stands, I do not believe anything can damage it.”

“Did they know we’re here to get the device?”

“These assassins aren’t interested in knowing anything, killing is the only thing on their mind. I doubt they are even aware of the importance of the object they have been ordered to protect. The real protection,” he pointed at the mist, “is what we are looking at. If those assassins had the knowledge of Crimson fire’s power in this case, they would not have dared to use it in such close proximity to the device. A strong enough flame can cause this device to explode and burn to ash.”

Bai Qian jerked back. Given they were deep inside a cave with the exit too far away, she was not too keen on standing next to a potentially explosive item.

“Which is something only a true destroyer can do,” Moyuan added in response to her look. “None of which we are able to conjure on a whim.”

“How big of an explosion?” She eyed the little anklet suspiciously.

“I cannot be sure,” said Moyuan. “My best guess would be: enough to destroy this hall.”

“So, how do we get it?” asked Bai Qian, recalling Moyuan’s remark before the assassins had interrupted.

Moyuan took a long look at the device. It did not seem like he was thinking, but rather preparing himself for something. As Bai Qian opened her mouth to ask Moyuan her question again, he turned to her.

“Listen to me carefully, Seventeenth,” he began, his voice slow and steady. “The only way this enchantment will release the device is when it finds and latches itself onto another being. Which is why I will allow this power inside me....”

Bai Qian let out a gasp of horror and let her thought come out of her mouth before Moyuan could finish.

“Are you mad!”

“No,” said Moyuan with a sigh. “I am thinking like someone who practices dark magic would, which is precisely what needs to be done here. Furthermore, I am familiar with the basics of curses. I know what I’m looking at.”

“But…” Bai Qian stuttered, struggling to counter Moyuan’s reasoning. “This is something that Crimson fire couldn’t penetrate. How could you think about letting it inside you? The powers could…”

“This is an enchantment,” he kindly reminded her, “not a source of power. It’s been made to react to different kinds of invasions differently. The trick, of course, lies in its nature.”

“Its nature?”

“This mist was made with dark magic of the Ghost realm, I am a Celestial. Once it gets inside me, no doubt collision of powers will occur. But that is when my being a High God can prove beneficial.”

“I don’t understand,” said Bai Qian. She could not believe that the same man who had lectured her about safety for daring to ride a fire Kirin was now telling her that he wanted to allow some strange vapor with unknown origin directly into his body.

“What I am saying is,” said Moyuan quickly yet patiently, “a less powerful Ghost would be possessed by this mist completely; a Celestial with less powers would not be able to sustain its magic. It would devour the individual’s essense in seconds and return to form a protection around the device. But, as this enchantment was placed here by Qingcang, he could not have made this too powerful as to prevent himself from being able to collect the device should he have had to come here unaided. The power locked in this mist only matches that of Qingcang’s. I happen to be Qingcang’s equal in powers and cultivation. That is why it is very likely that I will survive the invasion of this magic.”

“Of course you are his equal in powers,” Bai Qian said desperately. “I’d say you’re his superior in powers,” “But still, this is…”

Bai Qian could not think of the words to explain how insane she thought this plan was.

“It is the only way to release the device from this holder, I’m afraid.”

Then, taking advantage of Bai Qian’s stunned silence, Moyuan continued firmly.

“Now, once this enchanted mist is inside me, you will be able to safely get your hand on the device, so do so at once. Then we will have to get rid of the mist, of course. And since I will not be able to do so with my own power, which will absolutely undergo disruption, the way to do that is by destroying it instantly with external forces before it overpowers my immortal essence.”

Bai Qian peered at him. And just when she was about to say she might need more specific instructions than that, a ripple of fear stirred up inside her. He could not be suggesting that...

“Strikes that are strong enough to kill,” Moyuan emphasized each word, looking at her determinedly. “Do you understand? That is the only way we can get rid of it fast enough.”

Bai Qian’s jaw dropped. She stood rooted to the ground, horrified.

“You want me to…” she found her voice at last, pointing at the mist, her eyes twice their size.

“Yes,” Moyuan nodded, his voice gentle yet determined. “And considering we might not have much time until the next batch of assassins arrives, I would like to skip the argument about whether this is a good idea.”

“But what if I accidentally...” Bai Qian swallowed, trying to point out the obvious, feeling sick at the thought. “What if you…”

“Die?” he chuckled as if it was not at all a possibility. “I do not intend to die tonight.”

Bai Qian wanted to yell out that most people who died while messing with dark magic did not intend to. But she doubted it would make any difference.

“Now,” said Moyuan again. “Can you do it or not?”

Looking into his eyes, Bai Qian saw no point in protesting anymore - this was what they had come for after all, to destroy Qingcang’s last hope to return to the eight realms. She drew out the Kunlun fan and held it tight in her hand as an answer, trying, and failing, to revive any hateful memories about Moyuan that might make this coming task easier.

“How do I know when the enchantment has been destroyed?” she asked, unable to hide the displeasure in her voice.

“When I lose consciousness,” he said simply. “Which I will regain afterward, of course, depending on how fast my healing power works. When you’ve successfully rendered me unconscious, that will be when the enchantment has been eliminated and not before.”

Bai Qian quietly scowled.

“I would appreciate it if you could finish the task with one blow,” Moyuan added, stepping closer to the smoke. “But if you can’t, keep doing it until I lose consciousness completely. Do not stop for any reason. The sooner the enchantment dies, the sooner I can start healing myself.”

Without wasting another moment, Moyuan reached forward with his hand. The black mist swirled around - almost merrily, as Bai Qian noticed - and just as he had predicted, attached itself to his hand, finding its way under his skin, and within seconds, vanished completely.

Bai Qian quickly grabbed the anklet as soon as it was released and carefully placed it down on the rock surface, conjuring a shield bubble around it. Turning back to Moyuan, she felt a great weakness coming over her, terrified at what she was about to have to do, more terrified at the danger it posed regardless of Moyuan’s unshaken confidence.

Bai Qian quickly raised her fan. Nothing had been done yet but she found herself breathing as if she’d just run from Qingqiu to Kunlun and back without magic. To make matter worse, she felt alone. Completely alone.

Moyuan did not look too different or possessed in any way. He stood motionless for a moment. Then, his gaze suddenly set on her. Bai Qian took this as a hint that she should not delay what she had been assigned to do any longer.

Taking a deep breath to calm her thundering heart, she slashed the fan upward, sending the strongest force she could conjure at Moyuan. The noise created was almost like an explosion. But to her horror, he withstood the blow without collapsing.

Pain was etched on every inch of his face, his jaw clenching, but still, he did not stagger. Raising her fan, Bai Qian struck again. And again. Moyuan sank down on one knee. She saw his hand rolling into a tight fist, clutching the side of his robe. A line of blood ran down from the corner of his lips; a throbbing vein line became visible on one side of his forehead. Yet, his eyes remained open and he himself did not look like passing out any time soon.

Desperate to get this task done as soon as possible, Bai Qian blasted continuously, sending forces at Moyuan one after another. The crashing blows echoed against the rocky walls. The muffled sounds of agony from him wrenched her apart.

By the Heavens! Bai Qian almost screamed. How useless was she to be unable to knock unconscious an undefended, unarmed man whose powers had been hindered and was not even fighting back? And she was causing him pain, endless pain.

Then it hit her - had she been holding back without knowing it? Even the most powerful weapon could not perform the task successfully if the wielder did not let it.

Exhausted and furious at herself, Bai Qian stopped for a brief moment to catch her breath. Then, sucking air through her teeth and standing up straight, she gripped the fan tightly, pointing it directly at Moyuan’s chest. Before too long, she could feel the summoned forces humming within her arm. Swallowing down her sobs, she slammed him with all the strength she could gather. Tears shot out of her eyes, blurring her vision, dripping down her face as she heard the sound of his body hit the ground.

Gasping for air, she put one foot in front of the other, approaching his stirring body.

Terror rose in Bai Qian’s throat when she saw his hand slightly lifted from the ground, holding out toward her.

His feeble voice seemed to be saying something. But Bai Qian knew there was no time to waste. For all she knew, more assassins could arrive any moment.

Her sword hand trembled. Bai Qian felt a great sickness in her stomach from fear. She did not know how many more times she would have to do this. Was this what Zheyan always had to do? To witness pain and cure pain no matter the cost. That was what she was doing, Bai Qian told herself, saving Moyuan’s life, not hurting him. Sucking in another breath and wiping her tears away with her sleeve, she shook her head to rid it of the image of his helpless figure and pleading eyes, closed her own and slashed her fan once more.

The sound of the last blast echoed across the hall, its force knocking several towers of objects down to the ground and left cracks on the wall in front of her. Panting as if she had just fought a war herself, Bai Qian looked down to see Moyuan lying still, his head to one side and his eyes tightly shut.

“Shifu...” she dropped her fan, and knelt down beside Moyuan, lifting him up from the ground by the shoulders, shaking from head to toe. “Shifu...”

How long would it take for him to regain consciousness? Bai Qian panicked, he had never said. She twisted her head back and forth around the hall in alarm, praying the assassins would not decide to appear now. But the next moment, as she gazed back at the agonized face and the still figure in her arms, she had found herself crying again before she knew it.

The fact that they were both inside a dark cave in a sinister land of the Ghost realm seemed to have vanished from Bai Qian’s mind. She clung to him, sobbing wildly, her heartbeats leaping in hysteria against his stabler ones.

Heartbeats! She gasped.

“Shifu,” Bai Qian said, almost yelling, shaking his shoulders. “Shifu!”

Her hands moved to clasp his pale face. She did not know what to do. Should she leave him to summon self-healing powers on his own or aid him with her own powers?


But Bai Qian became dead quiet - familiar whooshing sounds were coming from far away. Slowly she let go of the unconscious Moyuan and rose to her feet, clutching the fan so tightly in her hand that her fingers were becoming numb. Back in the forest with Lijing, Bai Qian thought, she had taken down many assassins before Qingcang had come. If she were alone now, perhaps she could fight her way out. But seeing that...


The faint voice made Bai Qian turn her head so fast that her neck made a crackling sound.

“Shifu!” She sank down by his side. “Shifu…did I hurt you? Oh, of course I did! Did it work? Please tell me I’ve gotten rid of the mist! How are you feeling?”

“Weak…” Moyuan attempted to stand but toppled back down.

“I’m sorry!“ she bursted into tears again, clutching Moyuan’s arm. “I’m sorry… But you… you made me…”

“I know...” he said.

“I thought…” Bai Qian clasped either side of her head with her hands. “For a second... I really thought I'd killed…”

“It takes a great deal more than that to send me to Nothingness,” said Moyuan.

This statement did nothing to raise Bai Qian’s morale. She was more than ready to admit that the sooner they could see Zheyan, the happier she would be.

“The device,” said Moyuan. “Did you get it?”

Bai Qian turned to the rock dais, broke the shield with a counterspell, summoned the anklet and caught it in her other hand.

“Perfect,” he held out his hand, his expression particularly softened. “Let me see it for a moment.”

But Moyuan did not have the chance to examine the device as he wanted to for there were once again drums of approaching footsteps and whooshing sounds beneath them, above their heads, and somewhere from the other side of the wall.

“Time to leave,” declared Moyuan as he sprang up with sudden agility; and so did Bai Qian. “Do you know your way to the bridge?”

“Yes…” Bai Qian nodded in confusion. “But why? You are coming, aren't you?”

“Of course I am,” said Moyuan. “Go.”

Bai Qian didn’t need to be told twice. She wheeled around and raced to the exit with Moyuan close behind, trying not to get lost among the different passages the piles of objects formed.

But the sound of the assassins’ pursuit was near. Bai Qian ran without turning around once. But they were catching up quickly. More than hundreds by the sound of the footsteps… possibly many more than before.

Curses coming from behind her started to hit random targets around, knocking over the towers of objects, which made loud crashing noises as they collapsed.

Bai Qian looked over her shoulders as she kept running, tirelessly sending spells to the stacks of weapons and artifacts closest to her, making them explode and fly in different directions, detaining as many assassins as possible.

Yes, she breathed, many, many more than before.

It was then that she realized Moyuan was nowhere to be seen.

“Shifu…” Bai Qian gasped. She stopped dead and twisted her head left and right frantically, but there was no sign of him.

Though only one second later, fire originating somewhere among the knocked down masses of objects erupted. There was shouting and thunderous collisions as the flame spread. Then, it split itself and a figure sped through.

“That should stall them for a while,” said Moyuan, seizing her hand and pulling her along in the bridge’s direction. His breathing became short and the strength on his face was wearing out.

Whether it was just a random reaction or a matter of pride, Bai Qian did not know, but she shook away his hand and sprinted onwards.

Speeding along on the bridge, she found herself doing what Moyuan had done on their walk towards the hall: looking over her shoulder to make sure he was still behind.

When they had arrived on the other side and made it a distance from the bridge, however, a grunting sound made Bai Qian turn back. She saw Moyuan had collapsed on one knee, his hand clutching his chest.

“Shifu!” she dropped down, grabbing his shoulder, looking back at the other side anxiously.

“I need a moment…” Moyuan murmured. Then, he turned sideway. “The bridge…”

“Leave it to me,” said Bai Qian and she rushed back to the long bridge, drew out her fan and struck at the bricks several times. But the sturdy bridge did not budge. On the other side, black figures had started emerging out of the ceasing fire Moyuan had created, sprinting towards them.

Something snapped on the back of her brain. Bai Qian lifted her head, directed the fan upward and sent forces at the cave roof. But still, it was no use, the stalactites remained in their places, undamaged.

Bai Qian’s heart started to thunder inside her chest. For a moment, she considered running for it. But it suddenly struck her that Moyuan could not move as fast as when they had first entered the cave. And if there was one thing Bai Qian knew for sure they should not underestimate these assassins for, it was speed. What use would it be if they were stuck inside the tunnel that led to the entrance and surrounded by hundreds of these killers? She could not fight them at a close distance as effectively as Moyuan had. She needed to stall them, to make them stop pursuing.

“Seventeenth…” Moyuan’s rapsing voice sounded like it came from far away.

And then it suddenly hit her. The first device had been destroyed by Crimson fire… Crimson fire… explosion…

Yes, that would work. Bai Qian moved closer to her end of the bridge, the anklet clasped tightly in her hand. And she could notice that her postponing to flee the cave was causing confusion among the approaching assassins. The one in the front signalled for the rest to halt their chase.

“Seventeenth…” Moyuan called out to her again. But Bai Qian did not move.

“Go on,” she said loudly, glaring at the black assassin who stood in front of all the others. Whether they had heard her, she was not so sure. But judging by their laughs of delight, they seemed to have concluded that she had surrendered. We shall see, Bai Qian gritted her teeth, if they would not use fire, she would have to think of a way to make them. But to Bai Qian’s satisfaction the leader shot his palm forward in response, a small flame appeared and enlarged. Then flames of all sizes from his subordinates erupted, merging into one giant ball of blazing Crimson fire above them.

Bai Qian kept her eyes glued on the dazzling fire. Her eyes started to hurt from the light but she did not blink. Then, the second she detected movement from the fire, she tossed the device in the air, made a slashing motion with her fan, sending the little anklet straight into the fire ball.

A blinding flash of light swept across the cave, followed by an explosion that shook the area. Then, within seconds, the giant stalactites fell, smashing the bridge. Some landed on the assassins nearest to the edge on the other side.

Bai Qian backed away from the cliff and raised her fan. A layer of mist emerged, forming a protective shield that stopped the still scorching flame from harming her just in time.

Bai Qian had no idea what had happened to the assassins on the other side, but it did not look like the enchanted fire had given up yet. Its ferocious heat and force kept plunging into the shield's surface, roaring in fury, spreading in to both ends sides of the cave. Bai Qian felt herself being pushed backward, her hands all sweaty and shaking from her effort to hold the slipping fan. The light of her shield was becoming dimmer by the second.

A hand suddenly gripped hers from behind, holding it tightly. Bai Qian could feel palpable powers being channelled through her fan. The silver shield grew stronger, larger and - she shuddered - colder at once, deflecting the devouring flame, protecting them from deadly flying debris.

Moyuan’s other arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her back from the sea of consuming fire, which was, she noticed, starting to subside.

Then, she felt his hands abruptly pushing her to the side. There was a loud, painful grunting noise and a sound of liquid splashing onto the ground. Whipping around, all Bai Qian could see was blood. Blood running down from the corner of Moyuan’s lips, blood dripping down from his chin in an alarming amount. It was as if blood had been held back from when they had been in the hall and was now gushing out unstoppably.

“Shifu...” was all she could manage to say.

Moyuan looked like he was going to say something back but only more blood came out.

“Shifu!” Bai Qian grabbed his arm, alarmed to see he was on the verge of losing consciousness again.

He gave no answer this time, and Bai Qian could understand why - talking seemed to hurt him now. And any movement he made would only cause more blood to pour out.

There was no sight of survival on the other side of the bridge. The explosion by the device seemed to have taken care of the assassins. At least for now, Bai Qian reminded herself.

“Shifu,” said Bai Qian, struggling to keep her trembling voice calm, trying to hide the fact that her head was spinning from worry. “I can get us back. But I can’t cloud-jump from here. We have to walk out of here first.”

Moyuan gave no response.

“Where do I go once we've reached the entrance?” she asked quickly, afraid that he might pass out soon. “Shifu, where exactly are we? Which place is closest from here? Kunlun? Zheyan’s garden?”

“To the West is Ziming Palace…” he finally managed to utter. “Kunlun is closest, but it is a long way from here. Get to where Ziming Palace is first and you will know the way from there.”

West, Bai Qian looked down at her sash to make sure the pointer was still there. Then, turning in the archway’s direction, she felt a fraction of nervousness deep inside as she thought about the long tunnel. But that was the way out after all, Bai Qian told herself, out of this darkness before heavens know how many more assassins would come and continue their attack.

Chapter 17, Part 3