Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 3, Part 1 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 2 - Worthy Or Not

Part 1

written by LalaLoop
consulting by Bunny
edited by kakashi

Bai Qian flipped the page of her book over. For once, the library had failed her.

She knew very well Moyuan lived here, the very same place she spent almost all her time at, yet her mind was somehow full of him, full of the talk they’d had that night at Zheyan’s Garden. As shocking as the truth about the Demon Queen’s death was to Bai Qian, for someone she had never known personally, her sympathy did not go beyond that of an onlooker. Instead, Bai Qian was racking her brain to figure out where her unusual obsession with Moyuan came from and all the little questions she had about him that kept zooming back and forth in her mind.

Perhaps it was the way he had looked during that conversation about the Demon Queen, or his willingness to let her be his comfort, Bai Qian wasn’t certain. She had looked at him with revere and respect for so long it was almost impossible not to think about those things every time they came to meet; but the things that normally guided her conducts were now making it difficult for her to determine what the problem was.

Their conversation had not made her respect him any less. But it had, at the same time, brought on other sentiments. A yearning to see him more than usual, for instance. And a need to know if her assumptions about him were true.

This was quite unreasonable, Bai Qian frowned at herself - it was as if she’d only gotten to know him for the first time.

During the 70,000 years of his sleep, her wish to see Moyuan sitting on the dais once again, calling her ‘Seventeenth’, being their Shifu, had been so strong that it overpowered everything else. So strong that when those things were happening before her, she’d embraced them without a thought.

And in her attempt to submerge in what had been found again, she’d been too happy, too content that she’d forgotten to consider if his wish was the same.

But it had to be. He had never questioned her reluctance, her constant rejection to go beyond that which she considered appropriate.

Even after Zheyan had told her the truth, Bai Qian did not bother to change the way she’d always looked at him. Not completely.

She did not love Yehua, did not want to drag him into a loveless marriage. Her desire to remain with Moyuan was a puzzle at the time. And the truth about him from Zheyan was the missing piece she’d been looking for. Therefore, her decision was simply… logical. More so than something induced by the kind of attachment that would make two people lose reason should they lose each other. Everything had been too easy, too convenient there was never a need to question if such intense affection existed between her and Moyuan.

She’d never felt a need to possess him, never craved his attention as though she could not live without it. Would she be able to? She did not know. She’d never been without it.

No matter what her thoughts toward Moyuan were, none of them was without the respect she’d cultivated for him. She may not be his disciple anymore, but he remained someone she would not fantasize about in an overly amorous fashion, no more than the nature of their former relationship allowed. And this was, perhaps, further enhanced by his insistence on treating her with the same respect, if not more.

She had been inexplicably proud, proud of their agreement, of the unspoken understanding they shared.

But it was also that pride that detained her, pride and the fear of losing what was between them now. The fear of never finding the comfort of courtesy again if she took a step further.

Bai Qian leaned back, elbow resting on the step behind, glancing down the page - never before had she been so distracted, to the point that she had no idea what the book chapter she was reading was about.

Moyuan had been truthful before, unapologetically so at times. But this time, what he had let her know was more than just the truth. It was something far more intimate. Something that forced Bai Qian to question her persistence to maintain a distance with him.

It was strange, frightening even, that several things she never cared to scrutinize, never thought necessary, she felt them all of a sudden.

Part of her head that was supposed to focus on preparing for her meeting with the Crafters would not block out thoughts about him, about how she thought the time they’d spent in the Peach Blossom garden had been too brief.

“This is ridiculous,” Bai Qian concluded.

“It is.”

“WHAT ON --” she jumped and squeaked in shock. But her mouth quickly snapped shut when she realized they were inside the library, and the person who had spoken was her brother Bai Zhen.

“You’re supposed to be in the grand hall right now,” he smiled. “Not hiding in the library.”

“What… why… oh...” Bai Qian breathed out, stretching her arms. She remembered now. They were supposed to be in the hall for a meeting concerning the Demons.

“So, daydreaming about --” Bai Zhen leaned down, turned the book cover over and looked at it -- “The Mathematics of Legendary Formations, are we?”

Throwing the book aside with a scowl, Bai Qian sprang to her feet, pretending to straighten herself while shaking away those thoughts that were making her look like someone who’d just gotten back from a dreamscape.

---

From across the yard, Bai Qian could make out Donghua’s tall and purple figure walking into the grand hall. Several seconds later, another figure appeared from behind the grand pillars. And Bai Qian gasped in joy despite already knowing he would be coming. She picked up her pace toward Yehua, getting ahead of her brother.

Recognizing her, Yehua halted at the steps leading to the hall.

“Yehua,” she smiled. “You look well.”

“I am well,” his smile was equally bright. Indeed, there was no trace of illness on his face.

“Yehua.”

Bai Qian’s heart skipped a beat when the deep voice reached her ears. Next to her, Yehua bowed; his expression sterned. She stepped to the side and dipped her head in acknowledgement as Moyuan advanced toward them.

“Shi --” Bai Qian looked at him, suddenly tongue-tied. His appearance now somehow commanded her attention more than when they had been in the secret Ghost cave, even though he was not doing anything impressive. Yehua, who seemed to have been waiting for her to finish speaking, glanced sideway at her in musement when Bai Qian simply cleared her throat and abandoned her line of greeting.

Though Bai Qian realized a moment too late that her failure to start a conversation was a mistake because as soon as Yehua bowed to his older brother, it started to feel as if she was standing between an ice block and a colder one.

Uneasy glances were passed back and forth and the silence was strangling, at least for her. She gripped the side of her dress, back straight but eyes firmly on the ground. The grand hall began to look like a paradise she could not wait to hide inside now. Surely, facing Donghua’s silence was better than this. At least it would not have been her fault.

Abruptly Yehua’s voice cut through the silence.

“High God Moyuan.”

“You do not need to address me so,” said Moyuan gently.

The prince made no immediate reply. From the corner of her eyes, Bai Qian could see his lips open but then close again.

“I -- hope you are in good health,” he said.

“Thank you,” Moyuan nodded. “I am.”

Without another word, he turned and proceeded into the hall.

Bai Qian let out the breath she’d been holding. The half minute that had just passed felt like an eternity. She did not believe she would want to stand in between these two men again. Celestials, she thought, as if it would kill them to not be so stoic all the time.

---

Once they were inside the hall, however, Bai Qian once again found herself between the brothers for Yehua, possibly out of politeness, insisted that she take the table closest to the dais while he settled at the next.

But this did not remain an issue for too long. The moment Bai Qian sat down, her eyes sought the person on the dais like some sort of instinct. Quite a perfect image - him, the wooden dais, the cup of tea in his hand.

So perfect she felt as if a single thought out of place would ruin it. Was this why? Was this the reason she had put him in a frame all along and treated him like a painting only to be admired but never get close to? Bai Qian blinked a few times - her view had never been better.

Yet her perception never more obscure.

“Where’s the King of Xunzhua?” asked Yehua, whose voice forced her to tear her eyes away from the overhead. “I thought he would want to be in this meeting.”

“He’s with his sister right now,” Bai Qian replied. “She just came to this morning. It’s all right, I can tell him about everything later if it’s necessary.”

“Very well,” Yehua nodded and turned up at the dais. “If I may, High God.”

“Please,” Moyuan waved for him to carry on.

“What happened in the Nine Heavens last time was obviously a warning,” Yehua began slowly, “A warning, and an attempt to examine our security. Luckily, the news of the incident did not spread far. None of the guests were affected. But,” his eyes flashed. “It was obvious they could have easily killed anyone they targeted if they wanted to.”

Bai Qian flinched - A-li’s face came to her mind almost instantly.

“The Demons are getting out of control, that’s a fact,” he continued. “I don’t believe we should waste leniency and compassion on those who don’t appreciate it.”

Having been with Yehua to a few meetings before, Bai Qian was familiar with his views on many issues. She always knew that behind that calm expression and the tender voice was a fierce and determined personality. Watching Yehua now suddenly invoked in her a desire to see him and Pojing engage in a debate.

“Here’s what I propose,” said Yehua. “I will send an ambassador to the Demon tribe to speak with the current steward one last time to make them see reason. If the steward denies responsibility for what his subordinates have done, we can conclude that he is either incapable or concealing a plan underneath the facade of peace. Either way, if we can’t settle this by negotiation, we’ll prepare for war.”

“You are sure it was Demons who committed the crime?” Bai Qian asked.

“Our Medicine King and his scholars have found the source of the poison and determined the fashion in which it was concocted,” replied Yehua. “The Demons might have been skillful in their scheme but everything leaves a trace. No matter how profound they think they are, we are much better in subtle sciences.”

Donghua uttered a sound of agreement, keeping his eyes on his cup of tea.

“You are right,” said Moyuan. “Send your ambassador to the realm. Be sure it is someone who’s eloquent enough. In the meantime, I would advise you to recruit immortals who are familiar with the Demons’ methods on the battlefield and impose more training on your soldiers.”

“I’m not sure I follow. Why would I --” Yehua exchanged a brief look with Bai Qian and stared up at Moyuan in honest confusion. “The Demons’ ‘methods’?”

“The Demon tribe has produced excellent warriors through the ages. Their battle formations may not be as advanced as ours but when it comes to combat, they are more ferocious, more flexible and can easily adapt to changes. I simply mean that those are the elements we need to consider in the training of Celestial soldiers.”

“I see,” said Yehua, quite puzzled still though his voice remained utterly respectful. Sensing the disagreement in his tone, Moyuan went on.

“Of course, we do not seek to imitate their techniques. However, to defend yourself against them, you must first know what you are defending yourself against.”

Yehua said nothing else, his head barely moving up and down in a nod.

Bai Qian looked away to hide the fact that she was as perplexed as Yehua. Even though she knew Moyuan’s advice was right in essentials, Qingqiu had never condoned the Demons’ ways or viewed them as people one could learn from, no matter how skillful some of them might be.

After another wordless minute, Bai Qian decided to take the opportunity and ask the question that had been bothering her the most.

“Why do the Demons need a soul-gathering device?” She looked back and forth from Moyuan to Donghua. “Who could they possible want to resurrect?”

“That’s right,” Bai Zhen said.

“What are you talking about?” asked Yehua. “They’re trying to resurrect someone?”

“Yes,” Bai Qian nodded and quickly related her encounter with the Spinner in the Demons’ forest to the room.

“This is forbidden magic,” was Yehua’s response, his voice breathless.

“I know,” said Bai Qian, gazing back at him. They both had nearly committed this act and brought catastrophe upon themselves as a result. Fortunately for her, Moyuan’s soul had already been pieced together for the most part by the time the Soul-Gathering Lamp was lit. As for Yehua, his attempt to bring back Susu, if successful, would only have yielded a mortal body. What they both had done was nowhere as dangerous as the blood curse Qingcang had used or what the Demons seemed to be doing.

“I’m afraid we have no answer to this,” said Donghua. “The Demons have always been carrying out experiments in their realms to study foreign magic, soul-gathering is something they happen to be interested in. Fortunately, there are no known devices out there as far as I know.”

“How do you know if a device exists?” asked Bai Qian curiously.

“Advanced tracing magic,” he answered. “Very complex to explain in full and you must know what you are looking for in order to apply the spell. Also, a soul-gathering device is not something you can make just by looking at instructions from a scroll. It takes years, decades even.”

“Well,” Bai Zhen took a deep breath. “If that’s the case, we should not have to worry about the Demons’ mysterious scheme for now. Let us focus on the trouble at hand.”

“But someone is behind this,” Bai Qian pointed out. “The Spinner and his followers, they receive directions from some man called ‘the Master’. Do we have anything on this person? Is it a… a demon leader? Some mastermind who operates behind the steward’s back?”

At this, Donghua briefly glanced up at the dais. His voice became less detached.

“This is why I have been to the Arctic Prisons. We have evidence to believe that a certain immortal is planning to gather forces to wage war against the Nine Heavens.”

“Who is it, Lord Donghua?” asked Yehua. “And what does it have to do with the Arctic Prisons?”

“An ancient immortal whom we came across during the last Demon war.”

A jolt of shiver ran down Bai Qian’s spine. Last Demon war? Was Donghua referring to the man who had stabbed her father in the chest to get his heartblood?

“There are signs of intrusion around the Arctic Prisons, where many of this immortal’s loyal supporters are being held. The protective shield has been disturbed.”

“What happened to this immortal in the Demon War?” asked Bai Qian.

“We were able to defeat him and prevent his armies from invading the realms,” said Moyuan. “His body and soul scattered. However, we realize now that he might have done it on purpose to avoid a worse fate.”

“What’s a worse fate than having your soul scattered?” she exclaimed.

“Never finding your soul again,” Moyuan replied, his eyes holding hers for a long moment, disregarding other pairs of eyes in the room that were also setting on him. “For some others: confinement. They’d rather have their soul in pieces and gather them again than be locked in one place with no hope of ever escaping,” Moyuan broke their gaze. “Many immortals across the realms have been sent to search for this man. 70,000 years ago,” he sighed. “Before the Ghost war, we received the first news of disturbances around the Arctic Prisons. If it is as we fear, that this immortal has somehow regained his soul and body, he would be amassing powers to go after what he failed to achieve last time.”

A stunned silence fell upon the room.

“I remember this,” said Bai Zhen. “Zheyan and my parents occasionally had conversations about the Arctic Prisons’ defenses during those years after the Ghost war.”

“What is it?” asked Bai Qian. “What did he fail to achieve last time, Shifu?”

“The Celestial throne,” Moyuan said, briefly looking at his brother.

“And -- Who has been in charge of searching for this immortal all these years?”

“Experts on the field,” said Donghua. “The Fox Emperor and Empress are also doing what they can to trace his essence. For now, it seems he is not strong enough to make a public appearance, but let us prepare for the worst and assume that it is only a matter of time until he is. And unfortunately, none of us is able to tell for certain if his soul has been completely assembled. This is why I am urging you, Crown Prince, to send your best scholars and generals to investigate the Demon tribe. Acquire as much information as you can. Not all of them were his supporters last time, but a large number of them were. The sooner we can estimate the magnitude of their loyalty to this immortal’s cause, the better.”

“I understand,” said Yehua.

“What it all comes down to is, and I cannot emphasize this enough,” Moyuan carried on, “nothing is more important at the moment than strengthening your armies. We will do our best to prevent another bloodbath and this immortal’s attempt to assume power. But if that is no longer an option, we must be ready for war. Train your soldiers and choose your confidants well.”

Yehua nodded again. “This immortal, what does he call himself?”

“Luoji (罗戟),” Moyuan replied.

Yehua thought for a while, the tips of his brows almost touched. “I have never heard of this name.”

“Naturally. Very little of him was recorded because his involvement during the Demon war last time was minimal and we managed to dismantle his armies before any major damage was done. Those who know avoid speaking of him when they can.”

“Who knows of him, Shifu?” Bai Qian asked.

“High immortals who were involved in the first Demon war, many of whom you met at the Eastern Forest. The Skylord, of course, is also aware.”

“How dangerous is this man as an individual should he regain his magical powers in full?” asked Yehua. “Has he reached High God rank before the last Demon war ended?”

“I’m afraid he has,” said Donghua. “But what is more dangerous is his ability to gain loyalty from his supporters. Which brings us back to the subject,” said Donghua. “Should there be a war, where does Qingqiu stand?”

“Qingqiu will offer assistance if the Nine Heavens ask for it,” Bai Qian responded, turning to Yehua. “Although I should say that --” she glanced at her brother.

“We will only do so if the Crown Prince is in full command of the Celestial armies,” Bai Zhen said shortly. “It is always a difficult decision to send our people into war so if we do, we’d like to be certain it’s for a worthy cause. I’d like to be clear that we can’t afford to aid someone whose sovereignty is influenced by -- ignorance. Intentional or not.”

Bai Qian could only hope Yehua was not too offended by her brother’s bluntness. She might feel compelled to tone down her dislike toward Yehua’s grandfather, but she knew the rest of her family had no reason to do so.

“I understand, High God,” Yehua said, respectfully but coldly, giving Bai Zhen a ceremonious nod.

That seemed to have concluded the discussion for now and no one brought up anything else. Donghua and Moyuan subsided into puzzling silence while Yehua looked as if he was already drawing up a military plan and training strategies mentally. Bai Zhen, on the other hand, was quietly enjoying his cup of tea. His pose reminded her so much of the Old Phoenix, who, apparently, was still on his herb hunting trip.

A possible war, Bai Qian sighed, a mad immortal on the loose. It seemed she needed to try and get that fan as soon as possible. There would be no hope of helping anyone in a war if she walked around with a rusty old sword.

Her eyes once again landed upon Moyuan, her head a mountain full of questions about everything. Were the Demons trying to acquire a device to aid this ‘Master’? Was he the one she’d heard about? If only she could speak with Moyuan now. And why… why did the closest table suddenly not seem close enough? It usually was.

The silence was, shortly afterward, interrupted by Changshan, who did not seem too comfortable to walk into the hall.

“Shifu,” he bowed. “The Princess of Xunzhua would like to greet you. What should I tell her?”

“The princess?”

“The King of Xunzhua is also with her, but it’s the princess who wishes to see you.”

“It’s quite all right, our discussion is finished,” decided Moyuan. “Invite the king and princess in, Changshan.”

“Another pair of siblings in the room?” Donghua swirled the teacup in his hand. “I am beginning to feel insignificant.”

---

In all fairness, that cat of a king is not terrible looking, Bai Qian silently admitted as she watched them enter the hall. And neither was his sister. Arresting figures they both were and the resemblance they shared was so great that she simply looked like a more feminine version of him. Her thick and wavy hair was half put up and Bai Qian could notice some color had returned to her face.

Frail and unfamiliar with her surrounding still, yet the princess’ expression remained confident, her footsteps stable, carrying the same aura of challenge her brother processed.

Staring around at them all, curiosity filled those amber eyes that were identical to Pojing’s. Her gaze stopped at Yehua, seemingly lingering on his hair that was, in truth, almost longer than hers, then moved to the occupant of the dais, showing no sign of surprise - Pojing must have already told her of Moyuan and Yehua’s relation.

The king of Xunzhua, who seemed overjoyed by the fact that his sister had woken up after several days of unconsciousness, looked a lot less intimidating. He even threw something that looked like a smile in Bai Qian’s direction.

When they had arrived at the center of the hall, Pojing whispered something to the princess, she then gave each of them a quick looked acknowledgment and a mannerly smile.

“My sister,” Pojing bowed and gestured at the girl with apparent pride. “Princess Zhuowei (卓卫).”

“High God -- Moyuan?” she whispered in a cautious voice, staring up at the Master of Kunlun with wide eyes full of awe and reverence.

Moyuan nodded. The princess immediately bended down in a bow.

“I’ve long heard of you and Kunlun school’s reputation,” she said, quite eloquently. “It’s a great pleasure to finally meet you in person. You are --” she took a moment -- “exactly as I imagined.”

Bai Qian unconsciously glanced at Moyuan, recalling her first day at Kunlun and smiling to herself.

“Please do not stand on ceremony, Princess,” said Moyuan. “You are still recovering.”

“Lord Donghua,” the princess bowed again to a detached Donghua, who gave her a slight nod in return.

“High God Moyuan,” she continued. “My brother and I are grateful to you and High God Zheyan for saving my life and providing such hospitality. We’re forever in your debt.”

A short silence followed. Bai Qian could tell the princess had not come here just to express her gratitude, the eagerness in her eyes said it all. But by the look of it, she did not dare to breach whatever subject she had in mind before Moyuan said something first.

“It is fortunate that I see both of you here today, King and Princess of Xunzhua,” said Moyuan. “It is you who have done us a great service. I’d like to thank you both personally for rescuing my disciple and the Queen of Qingqiu from the Demons’ forest. Please let me know if I can return the favor.”

At this, pure joy filled every inch of the princess’ face. She glanced up at her brother, who gave her an encouraging look, a wide smile appearing on her pale face. The tone of formality vanished from her voice.

“Do you mean it, High God?”

“I do. Anything within my ability.”

“Well, I --” she began gingerly, her pale skin blushing pink. “There is something.”

“Indeed?”

“There is something you can help us with. Something I’ve always wanted ever since… ever since I learned to read.”

“And that is?” Moyuan asked.

“Your mentorship.”

All heads in the grand hall whipped in the two siblings’ direction. Even Donghua no longer looked bored; he turned to face the princess, his chin slightly lifting.

She wanted to be Moyuan’s disciple? Bai Qian was not sure whether to applaud or frown upon this Princess’ boldness. Her heart began to beat a little faster for no particular reason.

“I must apologize, Princess. Anything except that,” said Moyuan gently. “I stopped taking on disciples a long time ago and do not intend to resume doing so.”

That was a quick decision
, Bai Qian breathed out, so quick it’d given her no time to decide whether welcoming this princess to Kunlun would have been a good idea.

From his seat, Yehua quietly gave her a look, and Bai Qian understood right away - he must have felt Moyuan’s reply was a bit hasty. Being the future Celestial ruler, it was Yehua’s instinct to always prioritize good relations between tribes. He certainly would not say anything that might offend the leaders of an ally.

Just then, Bai Qian caught sight of Pojing’s face. The veil of civility in his eyes could not hide his astonishment completely - Moyuan’s blunt refusal must have sounded somewhat arrogant to him.

The Princess’ smile, however, did not fade. But when her lips opened a fraction, Moyuan went on.

“I am sure your ability exceeds expectations, but since you have not been chosen by a Kunlun’s magical weapon, admittance to my tutelage cannot be granted. That is one of Kunlun’s most sacred rules. However, if one of my disciples are willing to take you on, I would be more than happy to admit you to Kunlun.”

“Were all of your disciples chosen by magical weapons?” she asked, seemingly more interested in how the rule worked than the fact that her requested had just been denied.

“Not all of them, Princess,” Donghua suddenly spoke, eyeing the eager princess with some interest. “Some took other tests to determine their qualifications. What High God Moyuan meant is that he no longer takes on disciples and the only way you can be admitted to Kunlun is if you are chosen by a Kunlun weapon. Which is, at the moment, an impossibility, because Kunlun has not produced any magical weapon recently.”

Being addressed directly by Donghua, the pink shade on the princess’ face deepened. Though his explanation did not seem to dampen her determination.

“No,” she shook her head. “I don’t need to become a Kunlun disciple. What I’m looking for is not apprenticeship at Kunlun, though I’m sure it’s a great honor. High God Moyuan,” she took a few steps closer to the dais, brimming with excitement.

“I’ve heard of your reputation as a scholar, I’ve read many of your books and they are such a source of inspiration. I’ve started many projects and researches back home, at Xunzhua. What I seek is your consultancy and guidance. There are too many things I haven’t figured out despite my best effort.”

“I see,” Moyuan nodded. “Is there a specific subject you need guidance on?”

“Weaponry,” the princess answered right away, her hopeful eyes as wide as orbs.

Of course, Bai Qian nodded to herself, more than half of the weapon inventory in the Nine Heavens was from Xunzhua. The tribe itself was famous for inventing many unique types of weapons. She’d also heard many times from Pojing about how his young sister played a major role in the tribe’s defenses. If that was the truth, if this princess was as capable as described, then she was more than qualified to be Moyuan’s disciple, let alone just to receive his mentorship for a short time.

On the dais, Moyuan looked more unfathomable than ever. His eyes did not leave the princess for a while. What was he searching for? Bai Qian wondered. Character? Strength?

“Granted,” he said finally. “You may reside at Kunlun for as long as you like and make use of our library. I cannot promise to always be present whenever you require my assistance, but I shall offer you guidance on your favorite subject to the best of my ability.”

Chapter 3, Part 2