Fanfiction: Ink in Water - Chapter 11 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 11 - The more beautiful the illusion, the more pain

written by Bunny
consulting/editing: Le, LalaLoop, LigayaCroft
editing: kakashi

“That’s good. Now, spread apart.”

“But it’s too tight…”

“Keep going. It’s going to be tight the first time.”

“This is really as far as I can go, Shifu… it hurts…”

“You’re tensing up too much. Try to relax.”

“I think this might be too big for me.”

His hand reaches for the middle of my back and I flinch.

“Right now, you’re only using arm strength, that’s not enough. You need to employ your core.”

Squeezing the end of the makeshift arrow between my blistered fingers, I try to draw it back again, but I can barely make this rigid bowstring budge; my arms are shaking from fatigue.

I feel his fingers pressing into my scapula. “Keep the feeling right here between your shoulder blades when you pull the string to your chin.”

Another attempt results in the arrow slipping out of my fingers completely and landing in the snow. I am up to my eyeballs in frustration and all I want to do is scream my head off, but instead, I bite my lip and bend down to snatch that arrow back up.

As miserable as I am, there is no one else to blame for my current situation but myself.

Because of the nightmares I’ve been having these days, it doesn’t matter what we do, I’ve been sticking to Moyuan like glue, not wanting to be even an inch apart. So as he prepared for another hunting excursion this morning, I begged and pleaded him to take me along—not realizing, of course, the torture that I was signing myself up for.

This Master of mine did not know that of all the various forms of combat, archery is the thing I am most terrible at. But now that he does, he is hellbent on making me good at it.

“Seventeenth, who has been in charge of your archery training?”

“Ah? F-First senior…” Why do I feel like I’m selling out my First senior right now?

Moyuan lets out a heavy sigh.

“Shifu… It’s all my fault that I’m no good at this…”

“Of course it is. Die Feng is an excellent teacher.”

Do you have to be so honest? Adjusting the cramp in my neck, I start to bring the bow and arrow back up for another round, but he reaches over to stop me.

“No. Let’s start from the beginning.”

Coming up from behind, his hands grasp onto both my shoulders. “First, your stance. Your feet need to be shoulder width apart. Let your weight distribute evenly.”

My feet separate a few inches more. “Like this?”

“Good. Now step your right foot back a bit.”

I am not sure what ‘a bit’ means, but I take a step and immediately collide into him. His body is like a rigid wall behind me that doesn’t flinch at all.

“S-sorry, Shifu.” Why is he standing so close anyway?

“Next thing is your left hand, it’s holding the bow wrong. All the pressure in your grip should be in your fingers, never in your palm. Simply enough to stabilize.”

“Shifu, how do I know if I’m applying the right amount of pressure?”

Before I even finish my question, he is already knocking the bow out of my hand and it falls to the ground easily.

“That’s about right. Now, do it again.”

I purse my lips and quickly drop down to pick the bow back up before he can catch me rolling my eyes. Is he teaching me, or bullying me?

By the time I resume my stance, he’s inching up from behind even more so than before. Suddenly his arms are coming around and hooking onto mine. I was not expecting this set up.

“I’ll guide your movements this time, and then you can do it on your own.”

Our proximity puts me on edge and I can’t help but twist my head back to look at him. The glaring sunlight makes me squint my eyes. I can’t see his face because it’s being obstructed by that giant flame in the sky, but I think it must be very close to mine right now.

“What is it?”


“Are you ready to concentrate?”

I quickly snap my head around. Who’s the one making me lose concentration?!

Joined together, our hands slide the notch of the arrow into the bowstring and bring it up.

“Now we aim.” His breath dances on my earlobe. “What do you want to aim for?”

I swallow, then swallow again. I’m not sure I even know what he just asked me.

“Seventeenth, you’re trembling. Are you cold?”

I’m definitely not cold right now.

“There’s a lot of heat coming off of you…” One of his hands is brought up to my forehead. “Are you sick?”

It’s quite possible...

“S-Shifu! Can we just shoot already?!”

“Be patient. Keeping your hands still is key, you can’t be shaking while you shoot. Just take a deep breath and relax.”

I do as I’m told. I take not one but about a dozen deep breaths, nose and mouth.

“Alright, let’s aim for that tree over there.” His grip tightens over mine and we swivel a bit to the left. “Keep your eyes on the tip of your arrowhead, make sure it’s aligned with your target.”

In one strong, fluid motion, his right hand pulls mine and the arrow back, drawing the string along with it. This is the exact step I’ve been failing at and he does it so effortlessly, I almost want to believe this string is broken.

“We’re going to release, are you ready?”


“Little Seventeenth…” He nudges me.

What did he just call me?

I snap out of my daze and vigorously nod my head, wanting to get this over with.

The arrow leaves our fingers and travels in a straight line, landing right in the center of that tree trunk we aimed for. I am staring at it, utterly mesmerized. Although I am well aware that this had very little to do with my own ability and mostly to do with his, no arrow has ever left my hands and hit a target before, so suddenly, I am overwhelmed with excitement. And a desire to do this on my own. Grinning ear-to-ear, I dash off to retrieve the arrow for another attempt. But I don’t get far.

Several steps out, a sound coming from the mountain behind us halts me.

It starts as a shudder—a low rumbling vibration in the air and in the ground. This sort of frequency, it is undetectable to most beings, except for me. My fox ears do not miss it.


My eyes dart around. I can’t see anything move, but my ears do not lie. And when they start to pick up on another strange sound, the faint cracking of wood, I look toward Moyuan.

“What are you doing, Seventeenth? We’re not finished, hurry and pick up your arrow.”

I don’t respond to him. My eyes are locked on that tall pine tree behind him, wavering in the harsh wind picking up all around us, and as I stare at it unblinking, I see that it is starting to waver just a little too far.

I am not thinking. I don’t have time to think.

A spinal signal hits my brain and my legs propel like machines, taking only three strides to get to him, and with my arms outstretched, I push him with everything I have.

When that tree comes down on top of me, in the millisecond before it hits, it almost looks like it’s moving in slow motion. But there is nothing slow about it. The pain that shoots through my lower body a moment later is so intense that I am convinced my legs have been severed from the rest of me. It hurts so much that I can’t even make a sound. My vision is swirling. The next thing I feel is the tree being thrusted off. With the crushing weight removed, another wave of intense pain rips through me, and I’m breaking out in a cold sweat.


I can’t locate Moyuan, but the sound of his voice tells me that he is not happy with me right now.


His arms collect me and right away, he reaches down to examine my legs. The way I was struck, I think one of my legs shielded the other, but the pain is such that I can’t figure out where it’s actually coming from. I can only make out the fact that my right leg is bleeding profusely.

I grit my teeth, trying to not cry out as he palpates the injury.

Another wave of vibrations roll through the ground beneath us, and I feel it clearly, but he doesn’t seem to. All I want to do is focus on my pain, but I know I need to warn him.

“Shi… fu…” I am half crying, half panting out my words as my hands latch onto him. “Earth… earthquake...”

“Hold on, Seventeenth! Can you move your legs?!”

He’s not paying attention to what I just said. By the pained expression on his face right now, I can’t tell if I’m the one who is injured, or him. My brain is scrambling but I know I need to tell him again.

My mouth opens, but this time, a loud rumble breaks the silence that spreads for miles and does the talking for me. Moyuan swings his head back toward the snowy peak behind us. I feel his body stiffening around me and although I can’t see for myself, I know that whatever he is looking at is definitely not good.


There’s panic in his voice; I’m not used to it.

“We have to go—get up!”

I struggle to move and his arms are pulling me up, but the pain in my leg is crippling. I can’t contain my cries. My body wants to collapse back down.

“GET UP! I don’t care if it hurts—you don’t have a choice! We’re going!”

Based on the growing sounds that fill my ears and the tremors that build beneath us, I know that we are right in its path. This mountain is coming down on us. If I can’t even stand up right now, how can I possibly outrun it?

I am scared out of my mind, but I say the first thing that comes to me.

“Shifu, just leav—”

“QUIET!” My words are cut off as he grabs all of me by the waist and hoists me up into his arms. Startled, I let out a yelp, before quickly wrapping my arms around his neck and letting my body go limp.

Carrying me, I don’t know how he does it, but he takes off on a sprint. We are racing downhill. And within minutes, the low rumble becomes a roar.

As I cling to him, my eyes can only watch the monstrous cascade of snow barrel down toward us. The sounds of the trees splintering and cracking as they are taken under are like bones in a lion’s mouth.

The snow on the ground in front of us is also being kicked up like a giant cloud of dust. It blows fierce and blinding in our direction, scratching our faces as we cut through it. Moyuan’s speed is impressive and gravity is on our side, but I can hear his breath straining more and more. I want to do something for him. But it seems I am helpless once again. Drowning in the fear that we are about to be swallowed up any minute now.

Will it feel like drowning? Under all that snow?

The tremendous pressure advancing toward us is causing the ground and our bodies to shake uncontrollably. I am sure we are seconds away from losing this chase, when suddenly, Moyuan takes a sharp turn.

I am thinking that maybe he has located a hole in the ground, or a boulder to hide behind, but instead, his pace is picking up at a terrifying speed, aiming us straight toward a cliff. Does he think that this method of dying is better than the other?!

In the moments before we reach the edge, his arms tighten around me.

“Do you trust me?”

With all the doubts I have, I still nod.

“This is going to hurt.”

Before I can process it, we are in mid-air.

I look down to see a frozen lagoon and my mind blanks out with dread. We are about to land on solid ice. He is holding onto me so tight that we must be welded together. His hand cradles my head, covering it, and our bodies brace against one another.

“Hold your breath!” I hear him shout right before impact.

The sound that ice makes when it shatters is not much different than glass. And as we break through that surface, I can feel the sharp broken edges slicing through the fur and hide wrapped around me, right through the fabric of my under-layers and cutting into me. Moyuan is shielding me as best as he can and I know for a fact that he is suffering much worse damage.

In an instant, we are plummeting into sub-zero temperatures. When water is this cold, it feels a lot like being burned by fire. My skin is searing in pain. I can feel my body and my mind shutting down. The response is ten times quicker than the last experience I had in the ocean.

The arms holding me are shaking forcefully, not allowing my consciousness to slip away. He is trying to get us back up to the surface, but I know that he’s struggling.

I can’t let myself be useless right now, I simply cannot.

At this point, all my energy is coming from a primal place and despite the state of my leg that is likely broken, I am frantically kicking along with him, not allowing myself to stop.

When we reach the surface, Moyuan propels me to latch onto the edge of the ice. I hug the surface and use my elbows to force my weight up while he gives me a push. A few heaves and my body drops onto that hard surface. Quickly, I turn back to check on him, prepared to help fish him out, but he is not moving. He is barely holding onto the edge with his hands and his face is so pale, I realize instantly that something’s wrong. Those half-lidded eyes look like they are about to shut.


He is slipping, sinking under. My hands immediately come after him.

Fingers wringing into his robe, I pull him back up. Depending only on my legs at this point to anchor myself and keep me from falling into that water, they are screaming in pain, but I ignore them. My mouth incessantly calls for him, but he is not responding. His body is limp in my arms—dead weight. Using every ounce of strength I have, I am grunting, screaming and crying trying to drag him up. I don’t know how I manage to do it, but eventually both our bodies collapse like bags of wet sand onto that ice.

My teeth are chattering so loudly that I can’t even think.

I need to wake him up. His body is still on top of mine. I keep shaking him but he won’t budge. When my hands pull away, it is soaked with his blood. Everywhere I touch, my hand is further stained red. And he feels so cold, I can’t detect any warmth anywhere.

With a forceful push, I turn him onto his back. Hovering over his limp body, I take his face with both hands and try rubbing his cheeks to warm him and wake him, but not an eyelash moves. His face is the same color as the ice beneath us. I check for breathing, for a pulse, any sign that might disprove the terrible thought stirring in the back of my mind.

The despair that creeps in is wanting to consume me, but I shut it out. I do the only thing I can think of. I open his mouth and give him my breath.

After a few tries, I start to alternate between giving him air and compressing his chest, but he remains lifeless. I keep going even though my hope is quickly draining. I don’t know what else to do. What can I do?!

“Please… Wake up!” I beg, “Please… just take a breath.”

The tears filling my eyes are so full they are blurring my vision, but I force them back. If I cry now, then it’s over. It means I give up on this person.


I press my lips to his again and suddenly his body jerks.

When I pull back this time, his eyes start to flicker open.


I’ve never seen my Master in such a weakened state, his voice is barely audible, but he’s alive. He’s alive and looking at me. My heart is swelling up with so much happiness, I think it might burst. And my tears finally release like a flood.

“I’m here… Shifu…”

A few flakes of snow land on his forehead and I quickly brush it off. As the deafening rumble of the avalanche continues on in the background, the silent snow is starting to fall around us. It is nothing more than flurries at this point, but I know it will be minutes before it turns into a full-blown blizzard. The weather has taken a turn. The sun is nowhere to be seen, and the clouds are hanging like a herd of ominous spectators getting ready to watch the reckoning that is about to unfold.

The most frightening thing, however, is the sky. It is not blue, not gray, not white, but black.

The kind of blackness that reminds me of the very thing I’ve been trying not to think about, what I’ve been pretending doesn’t exist—The Shen Demon.

I think it’s finally found us.

I want to give Moyuan time to regain his senses, I want to give him all the time in the world, but there is no time.

“Shifu—we need to get back to the cave—now! Can you get up?”

I see him clutch his head in pain and realize I can’t yell at him right now. Struggling for a bit, he sits himself up and although his movements are unstable, after just a few moments, he manages to rise to his feet. He helps me do the same and I seem to be struggling much more than he is. At this point, I can no longer feel my injury, my entire right leg is numb. For a moment, I actually believe I can walk on it, but after just two steps, I am crumpling sideways about to fall over.

“Get on my back.”

Moyuan bends down. His battered back is presented to me—the fabric covering it shredded and dyed red—I can’t bear to touch it, let alone make him carry me on it.

“I’m fine, Seventeenth.” He grabs my hand and wraps it around his shoulder.

I give in and carefully rest my weight on him. As he lifts up off the ground, my arms lace around his neck.

He starts walking and the snow that blows against our faces has gotten so thick, I cannot see more than ten yards outward in any direction. I can’t imagine he’s seeing any better. Where is the cave from here? Does he know where he’s going? I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. My face is pressing into the back of his neck.

At least I have him to hide behind; but he has nothing.

Quickly, my hands reach around to cup over his cheeks.

Moyuan says something to me, but it’s lost in the sound of the wind pillaging my ears.

How we actually find our way back is a mystery to me. And I only realize this when the endless surge of white that we are swimming in is suddenly replaced by gleaming shades of blue. Never have I been happier to be surrounded by ice.

As soon as he sets me down, Moyuan takes a pile of fur and drops it on top of me.

“You should hurry and get out of those wet clothes.”

He is right, the longer I stay like this, I colder I will be. But I can’t seem to move quite yet. My eyes simply follow him as he spins around and heads to the opposite end of the cave. For some ungodly reason, I am now watching as he sheds off his layers. The wet and torn-up strips of fabric covering his body are peeled off piece by piece, and I can clearly see the sections where they are stuck to his wounds.

He is not wincing in pain, but I am.

“Seventeenth, are you going to change on your own or do you need me to come help you?”

Startled, my hands scramble to wad up the giant ball of fur in my lap to cover my eyes. Did he see me peeking just now?!

“N-No! No need!”

Panicking, I haplessly knock my hand on my injured leg and let out a squeal of pain.

“Are you alright?” He starts to make his way over.

“J-Just stay over there, Shifu!”

I also want to tell him to put his shirt back on, but I hold those words in my mouth.

With careful movements, I try and maneuver myself around without disturbing my right leg again. Sitting with my back to him, I slowly remove my layers.

As soon as my skin is exposed to the cold air, it starts to take on frost. For as long as we’ve been here, I have never felt this level of chill. The temperature has dropped to a new extreme it seems. After draping on several layers of fur and haphazardly bundling up, I continue to shiver furiously.

When I turn around, I see that Moyuan is busy trying to light a fire. Watching him, I am reminded of the way I looked the first time I attempted this very thing. No flame comes even close to igniting.

“Shifu… What’s wrong?”

“Too much moisture… The wood is damp.”

No fire? I can’t wrap my mind around this. How will we survive this blizzard without it?

Blasts of snow and ice are pummeling through the cave entrance, reaching further in than it’s ever done before. I’m not sure that we are any better off in here than we would be out there. Moyuan continues to fuss with the wood, but I can tell that his patience is wearing thin. And I am just sitting here, hugging myself, unable to move. It hurts to even blink. My blood feels like it is congealing in my veins and my eyelids feel like they have been coated with lead.

As soon as they start to clamp down, a loud grunting noise slips into my ears. I spring up to see the sight of Moyuan irately snapping the pieces of wood in his hands and throwing them onto the ground. It seems this person can actually show this kind of emotion after all. I have never seen him look so helpless.

“Shifu…” I want to come to him but I can’t.

When he turns to me, I see a sudden change in his expression. It goes from angry to distraught.

“Seventeenth… Hang on!”

I think I must look pretty terrible right now to deserve this tone of voice.

When he arrives by my side, his hands rub over my face and I can feel the bits of ice being wiped off. It hurts a bit.

“Try to stay awake!”

Without sparing another moment, he picks me up, but I am so numb I can’t feel his arms around me. Bringing me over to the deepest part of the cave, furthest away from the entrance, he sits us down.

Instead of letting me go, he draws my body closer in.

Maybe it’s because of all the fur wrapped around us that I am suddenly reminded of my first few years of life. And like a baby fox that only knows to seek warmth for itself, I am digging my body into his without even thinking twice. My face submerges into the crook of his neck, while my arms loop around him as I please. How strange it is, to be so tightly wound together that we have no gaps between us, and yet for some reason, I still want to be even closer.

“Is this something that all foxes do?”

I hear faint chuckle and almost think I’m imagining it.


“I’m reminded just now, of someone I once met… The Fifth daughter of the Fox King.”

Isn’t he referring to me? I’m completely bewildered. When have we met before?

On the verge of opening my mouth to ask him, it dawns on me—for a while now, without the setting of Kunlun Mountain to remind me, I’ve nearly forgotten my identity. To this person, I am not Bai Qian, but Si Yin.

“A-Ah… You mean Bai Qian? I’ve met her a few times during my trips to Qing Qiu with Zhe Yan... Shifu, how did you meet her?”

“It was many years ago... I had paid Bai Zhi a visit in the fox den. He, myself and Zhe Yan were sharing a bottle of wine when the little Fox Princess, who had just taken on her human form, came out of her chamber half-asleep, crying, and calling for her father. I think she may have had a bad dream.”

“Oh… that’s unfortunate…” I mumble.

‘How embarrassing!’ is what I wanted to say!

“That’s not all,” he continues, “While her mouth was calling out for Bai Zhi, her steps took her stumbling straight to me. The whole time, her eyes were half open, so perhaps she couldn’t see where she was going, but she did not hesitate to make herself comfortable when she climbed onto my lap and curled up like a ball.”

“I did— I mean, s-she did what?!” I draw my head out of his neck and stare at him wide-eyed. My face is heating up like a glob of fire.

This story… I suddenly recall it now. As I was told, I was once a very fussy child, not allowing anyone to hold me except for my parents, Third brother and Fourth brother. So growing up, my father would often recall this very event—referring to the man whose lap I crawled into that night as the scoundrel who briefly stole his daughter from him, but never fully disclosing who that person was.

The so-called scoundrel is now looking very amused at me. “She was even incessantly calling me ‘father’ the whole time.”

“AH! Stop it, Shifu! Don’t tell me anymore! I… I’m embarrassed for her...” I am diving right back into his neck and squirming around in it.

“Yes, she was doing this very thing too…”

I stop moving and glare up at him.

He starts to laugh, and it completely catches me off-guard. Free and full of delight—this laugh, it’s something I never imagined hearing from him. And it is contagious, I soon can’t help but let out a chortle myself.

There is a steady stream of happiness pouring into me. But how unfortunate it is that in this blissful moment, I have to acknowledge another feeling sinking in: fear.

As miserable as our situation is right now, I still can’t bear the idea of leaving this place. I know our days are numbered, I am more aware of it now more than ever before, that we will either die here together, or we will have to fight our way out. But what I don’t want to consider is what will happen to him.

What if he cannot leave this place? What if he really is just a product of it? What if the next time I see this face, it is not the same person I’ve been spending all my time with?

I don’t think I have ever known the fear of losing something... not like this.

The moment his laugh ceases, the tears are in welling in my eyes again. And his fingers come up to catch the first one as it falls. But they don’t catch the next one, or the one after that. They just watch. Watching the tears that are falling for him like they are some miraculous thing.

“You seem to have an endless supply of these...” His thumb traces an line down my face. “What is it about this time?”

I shake my head and push his hand away to rub my eyes. “I just feel like crying… why should I hold it in?”

For a while, he doesn’t say anything back to me and I am getting so frustrated by these leaky eyeballs that just I keep rubbing them harder and harder, until he stops me. Until he pulls my hand aside and begins wiping my cheeks himself, ever so gently.

“You’re right... you shouldn’t.”

“Don’t you ever just feel like crying?” My voice breaks as I try to speak.

“Feel like crying…”

“Yes… When you feel so full inside that your emotions have nowhere else to go but out through your eyes, don’t you ever have those moments?”

I know that the answer is likely ‘no’, but he doesn’t say it. He simply looks at me, struggling to find some other thing to say instead. And I don’t know why but this unusual expression of his is causing me to be overwrought with feelings. I want to tear down this wall between us. I want to show him that he is cared for. I want to give him my affection. But I don’t know how.

My head collapses back against his chest.

When his breath suddenly heats up the side of my face, it prompts me to look up at him. Our faces are so close, our lips are nearly meeting each other’s cheeks. So close that my brain doesn’t quite work the same. It doesn’t take but a slight push, for my mouth to begin kissing his cheek. And he is motionless while I do it, but my hands still slide onto the sides of his face to keep him there regardless as I plant a whisper of a kiss onto his cold skin, and then another. Until it warms up. Until it is nearly burning beneath my fingers.

When I pull back, I see that my own tears have stuck to him. And for a moment, it almost looks as though they are his own.

I take my thumb and wipe them off. I can’t seem to look in his eyes right now, but I can feel them bore into me.

“Shifu… I think you should try it sometime.”

As I tuck my head back against him, the realization of what I just did hits me.

I can’t tell if it’s the sound of his heart I am hearing, or my own, but it’s beating against my ear—loud and erratic.

“Maybe someday,” he finally responds.

Doesn’t he know that ‘someday’ is a word that people like to say when they really mean ‘never’?

Chapter 12