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

Chapter 3 - Worthy Or Not

Part 3

written by LalaLoop
consulting by Bunny
editing by kakashi

“What exactly is special about this fan, Shifu? I haven’t seen it do anything more extraordinary than any of my Seniors’ weapons.”

“It is very complicated and impossible to explain in a few sentences.”

“Is it the strongest of all fans?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Does it have -- hidden powers?”

“Perhaps.”

“In the jade core? They’re in there, aren’t they!” she shouted in delight.

“Some of them are, yes,” he smiled.

“How do I unlock them?”

“By earning the fan’s allegiance.”

“Er --”

“Just because a weapon belongs to you does not mean you own it entirely. Some powers only surface when the weapon’s master reaches a certain level of cultivation. That is what makes this fan special.”

“Because it’s -- hard to please?”

“Because its loyalty must be earned.”


---

Such a pity that she never got to find out whether she had earned the fan’s full allegiance, whether she had unlocked all of its potentials, Bai Qian thought and moved away from the window in Moyuan’s study, where she had been standing for the last few hours. Brooding away and thinking about the first time the fan had flown into her hand would not mend it, she told herself as she headed to where Pojing was waiting. It was in times like these that Bai Qian wished she could be more like her Master - able to let everything go with ease and head forward.

Well, she sniffled, it’s no use hanging on to a memory, ‘forward’ really was the only way now.

As she walked along the quiet corridor, Bai Qian halted once she had reached her Sixteenth Senior’s room. Looking through the half open door, she saw the Ghost princess and Changshan by the bedside, exchanging looks and occasionally sighing at Zilan, who seemed to be drifting in and out of consciousness still. Qilin was sitting squarely at the window, the thick torc that prevented him from breathing Crimson Fire still around his neck.

Bai Qian walked on, careful not to make any sound, reassuring herself that Zilan would wake up once she was back.

When she arrived at the courtyard, Pojing was already there, wearing a less conspicuous robe than usual and looking at his own pointer that was feebly twitching left and right in his hand.

“If I’m right,” he said as she approached. “Five extensive cloud-jumps, with breaks and some walking in between of course, will take us to a riverbank, where we can have a proper rest. And then some more walking, I’d say half a day, depending on how long we need to regain the energy to cloud-jump again. Then —” he put the pointer back into his sleeve pocket. “One more cloud-jump should get us there.”

“We’ll take turn to cloud-jump,” Bai Qian suggested.

“As you wish,” he shrugged.

---

In contrary to the way he usually had been during their exchanges, Pojing turned out to be quite an agreeable companion during the journey. Although Bai Qian did not want to admit it, his tendency to keep to himself and end every conversation about the Crafters with some jesting remarks made her a lot less nervous about her pending meeting with the Eldest.

From their first cloud-jump, he also had not asked a single question about how Qingqiu operated, her former relationship with Yehua or why she seemed to spend more time at Kunlun than at her own home. For most of the time, they discussed the Demons and the last meeting from which Pojing had been absent. The most apolitical question he had asked her during their whole trip was, “why did High God Moyuan refer to you as the queen of Qingqiu and not his ‘disciple’ in the hall that day?”

After what seemed like almost a day and a half and with the fifth cloud-jump, they landed on what looked like the edge of a thin woodland. White pebbles laid the way under their feet, leading to a slender river. The surface of water flowed idly, reflecting the clear morning sky above.

“Here we are,” Pojing waved.

Bai Qian took in a gulp of morning air and stretched her arms. There was nothing extraordinary about this riverbank but the sight of it meant that their destination was close. Also, she could not deny that a break from cloud-jumping was needed.

“Which direction are we heading next?” asked Bai Qian, suddenly recalling the red thread Yue-lao had given her. Removing it from her sash, she let it lay on her open palm.

“Northeast,” Pojing said and gestured at the thread. “What is that?”

“A navigation thread.”

“Navigation thread?”

“Yes, it’s enchanted,” she said impatiently then looked back down. “Show me North,” she said loud and clear. The thing levitated an inch from her hand, swimming in the air for a moment then dropped back down.

“Hmm,” she frowned. “All right, South then!”

The thread lifted itself again, moving circularly, then dropped into her palm once more.

“The enchantment is not strong enough,” Pojing concluded.

“Possibly,” Bai Qian retrieved the thread, not too disappointed since the old Man of the Moon had told her not to expect too much from it. She gestured at the river, “let’s get some…”

But Pojing’s arm suddenly sprang in front of her.

“Get behind me,” he said.

“What?”

Not a second later, two puffs of black smoke shot down at the riverbank that was a few yards from where they stood.

Demons… Bai Qian gasped and instinctively waved her arm. An invisible shield emerged and enveloped them both.

Two men materialized. One of them was hooded and the other dressed in a rather light color. Neither of them made any gestures of salutation but simply stared at the other for a while in silence.

“Zhongyin [1],” Pojing hissed.

“That’s Zhongyin?” Bai Qian murmured back, pointing at the man in the light robe. “The current Demon steward?”

“And the late Demon Overlord’s younger brother, yes. You’ve never met him before?”

“No,” said Bai Qian. “He came to Kunlun once to greet my Shifu but that’s it, Qingqiu doesn’t associate with him.”

She inched closer to the tree branch in front of them, craning to get a better view. From the distance, Bai Qian could somewhat make out the features of that face. It was a young face that seemed to have been aged by prolonged grief and hardship. Though what struck her eyes was how perfectly harmless this man looked. His appearance was more like that of a scholar than a tribe leader. The Demon tribe, for that matter. She believed she’d seen more power and strength in the Star Lord of Taichung palace.

“Let’s go,” Pojing suggested. “It’s just Zhongyin. It doesn’t matter if they see us.”

But as Pojing said so, the second man spoke. The voice that came from under the black hood froze Bai Qian, and she could tell from Pojing’s sudden lack of movement that he was having the same thought.

“How was the ambassador's visit, my Lord?” said the Spinner, his tone was everything but respectful despite the proper address. “What did the young Crown Prince want?”

The Demon steward was associated with this crook? Bai Qian strained her ears. Did this mean he also knew of the ‘Master’?

Beside her, Pojing looked like he was wanting charge out and strangle the Spinner.

“Still alive, I see,” he said through his teeth, reaching forward as if to break the shield she’d just conjured.

“No!” Bai Qian seized his arm. “He’s dangerous! And you can’t just march out and assault a Demon citizen in front of Zhongyin without a reason, that would violate the treaty of peace between realms. You should know that, you’re a king! Don’t give them a reason to declare war!”

“Did they respect the treaty when they decided to torture my sister?” he snarled.

“I know,” she said desperately. “But let’s just wait to see what they’re up to —”

No sooner had Bai Qian finished her sentence than they saw Zhongyin grab the Spinner by the collar. “You and your imbecile minions! What have you done this time, why did the Celestial ambassador say we have stepped over the line? Why!”

“What an amorous prince,” the Spinner laughed, making no attempt to break free. “He sent an ambassador to our realm just because his former wife-to-be got a papercut?”

“What?”

“So we abducted the queen of Qingqiu and a Kunlun boy. So what?”

“No, no,” Zhongyin looked threatening. “It was not just because of that, I’m sure. The ambassador was implying that the Celestial tribe was not the only one we’ve offended.”

“Fine, I also took the Ghost Princess.”

“You!” Zhongyin looked for a second as if he was about to slap him across the face. He gripped the Spinner’s collar tighter, nearly lifting him from the ground. “You do not go around abducting the God of War’s disciples and their friends, you fool. Not when I’m trying to appeal to his benevolence.”

“I do not take orders from you, Steward.”

“I am steward of the Demon tribe because I chose to be. I can ascend the throne and have your head whenever I feel like it.”

“You confuse me, Steward. I thought you wanted to know how to find the Lamp. I thought you wanted me to do everything necessary to find out how the Celestial brought back their God of War.”

“Not by letting every single immortal in the eight realms know of our intention by your careless conducts!”

“They were not supposed to escape with their memories intact,” the Spinner hissed.

“But they did, didn’t they? I don’t care how perfect you think your plan is, stay away from those under the God of War’s protection.” Zhongyin scoffed. “I would ask what happened to your face, but I feel I should thank whoever it was that taught you a lesson for me.”

Something snapped under Bai Qian’s foot. She looked down and realized she had stepped on a twig. Zhongyin let go of the Spinner; the two men twisted their heads in her and Pojing’s direction, keeping their gazes on where she stood for a while. Then, having seen nothing suspicious, they turned around and continued their conversation. And it seemed like the little quarrel was over for they were now taking a more serious tone.

“How was your trip?” asked Zhongyin. “Did you at least manage an audience with that Eldest?”

They went to see the Crafters too… Bai Qian gasped.

“No,” said the Spinner bitterly. “Conceited creatures they are. But we expected that, didn’t we.”

Another silence passed by.

“Did you say you’ve met the God of War?” the Spinner spoke, rather reluctantly.

“Yes,” Zhongyin scoffed.

“When?”

“Not too long after his return.”

“And they let you into Kunlun - the best protected place of all Celestial lands? They actually granted you an audience?”

“Yes,” Zhongyin sneered, “well protected, multiple layers of shields that immobilize Demon powers, impossible to break in. But,” he took a breath. “It turned out my sister’s name moved a few hearts.”

“Was that the only time you saw him?”

“Once was enough.”

“And what did you see?”

“Guilt. Well masked, but it was there, no doubt.”

“Was it really guilt?” said the Spinner. “Or simply a chess move in disguise? Has anyone ever told you that in front of that Celestial you can only see what he wants you to see?”

“Not when it concerns my sister,” Zhongyin laughed.

“What did he say then?”

“When I mentioned the possibility, he showered me with lectures on the laws of nature and how one should not violate them, even though he himself had just crawled back from the dead at the time.”

“We all know he’s a wretched hypocrite. They all are. But there is truth in his words. His soul attached itself to the Bell willingly and scattered into fragments. Her soul was burned. Burned. Vaporized. There are no fragments.”

“No fragments,” repeated Zhongyin blankly. “Or just smaller fragments that will take more time and effort to find?”

“Do you truly believe it is possible?”

“I do. And better, I believe he does to. Hence, his refusal to carry on with the subject.”

There was a strange and excessively long silence before the Spinner spoke again.

“You really think he is capable of such treachery?”

“I think someone who could let go of his childhood friend, watch her fall into a sea of fire and still holds his head high is capable of unimaginable things.”

---

After another round of long discussion about the Soul-Gathering Lamp and the Celestials, the two Demons’ talk ended with Zhongyin’s warning to the Spinner that either he be more discreet in his execution of their plan or leave the job to someone else, to which the latter agreed but not without some provoking remarks in return.

Bai Qian and Pojing walked out of their hiding place as soon as the Demons had vanished. Neither made any immediate comment about the conversation they’d just overheard except for Pojing’s murderous threats towards the Spinner.

The Demons want their queen back, Bai Qian thought as she walked alongside Pojing, they believe she will be back. And Moyuan has been aware of this for a long time. As much as she wanted to call the Demons fools for believing it, Bai Qian did not forget that she too had been a fool once.

It was indeed against natural laws to aid a shattered soul to gather itself. No wonder Moyuan had refused to be a part of this despite what he felt towards the Demon Queen. No wonder he and Lord Donghua had been reluctant to mention it in front of Yehua and her brother that day. Or had they really not known about the details of Zhongyin’s plan then?

The nerve of those Demons, Bai Qian thought spitefully, calling Moyuan treacherous because he had no wish to aid them in their plan, to go against nature. What had been loyalty between the four friends of Kunlun had shattered the day they'd agreed to go to war. Neither side could righteously call the other ‘treacherous’ if one was to be fair.

“So that’s it then,” Pojing’s voice interrupted her line of thoughts as they walked on.

“That’s what?” Bai Qian asked.

“They want a soul-gathering device for their queen, that’s why they’ve been searching high and low, abducting any royalties who could have an idea where to find one. They want their fearless leader back now that they’ve seen a walking proof that gathering of the soul can be done.”

“They should know that attempting forbidden magic can do their queen more harm than good, assuming that she can return.”

“You’re right, it’s just --,” Pojing took a considerate pause. “It’s not possible. It can-not be done. But then,” he laughed. “We shouldn’t expect the Demons to understand the meaning of ‘impossible’. They are creatures born to challenge the rules and what’s conventional. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.”

Resurrection, as known to most immortals, was an offense against the universe, against the most sacred law of life and death. Many believed it to be no different from the act of taking lives and that it bore equally serious consequences. No written Celestial laws addressed this issue and that was simply because there was never anyone foolish enough to even think about attempting something so reckless.

It was one thing to piece together a fragmented soul and guide it back to a body with one’s own cultivation, but entirely another to bring back from Nothingness a soul and body that had been burned to ashes.

While trying to sound as detached as she could, Bai Qian could not help but wonder if Moyuan had ever believed in this possibility and how he had perceived Zhongyin’s words about it.

“During that last meeting,” she said, “Lord Donghua assured us there’s no device out there that can help them challenge Death.”

“Let’s hope so,” Pojing sighed. “A Demon leader who is skillful enough to take on Lord Donghua and the God of War is not what we need at the moment.”

“Both High God Moyuan and Lord Donghua?” Bai Qian exclaimed. “Don’t exaggerate.”

“All right, not both of them at once,” Pojing corrected himself. “But according to my father, she was more or less undefeatable on battlefield. Like an untamable fire that will consume you before you have the chance to attack.”

“Is that so?” Bai Qian pressed her lips together, not knowing whether she should feel fear or envy. “What else did your father say?”

“About the Demon queen?”

“Yes?”

“Why?”

“I’m just curious. What else?”

“Hasn’t High God Moyuan told you about her?” asked Pojing with a puzzled expression. “He and Lord Donghua both fought in the Demon war.”

“They told me a few things,” Bai Qian said. “But not everything, of course. It’s an unpleasant subject.”

“Well, I don’t believe we know more than any of them,” Pojing thought for a while. “But I think my father did say that the Demon queen was a loyal supporter of a certain Dark immortal.”

“A supporter?” Bai Qian pressed out.

“Yes, she believed he had the right idea about the Celestials, she also employed his intellect and resources for a long time. But something happened and he ended up not taking any of their sides in the last battle.”

They exchanged a long look.

“Do you think it’s the same one?” she asked in an unintentionally faint voice. “The one they mentioned in the meeting that I told you about?”

“I don’t know,” replied Pojing.

“Did your father fight in the war?” she asked Pojing.

“No,” he said. “But we had our source of news.”

“Hmm,” Bai Qian fell into silence. She’d always had her suspicions because after all, most Demons had proved to be reckless creatures. But if there was truth in what Pojing said, then that Demon woman sounded more dangerous than Moyuan had let on. The little girl in the painting, someone who used to make Moyuan smile his brightest smile… It was hard, almost impossible, to believe that the very same person would go to that extent, shaking hands with a Dark immortal, to win against her best friends in a war. What was it that she had wanted? Power? Recognition for her tribe?

This speculation, of course, could be confirmed by Moyuan in an instant. Though all things considered, Bai Qian did not believe she would be able to even pose the question to Moyuan without sounding like an unsympathetic dolt, not now that she knew how much this past still affected him.

‘Would you mind telling me if it’s true that the friend you grew up with betrayed you all and joined force with the evil immortal that nearly killed Zheyan?’ Even in her head, the question sounded senseless no matter how she twisted the words around to make it more pleasant to the ears.

Furthermore, what use was there to delve into the complicated past of someone who had passed into the Nothingness?

“What is it, Queen?” asked Pojing after a minute. “You look distracted.”

“I’m just thinking,” said Bai Qian airily.

“Well, you might want to gather your wits together because --” he halted and looked around, suddenly sounding more cheerful -- “I believe we’re almost there.”

“Really?” she jolted, all thoughts about the Demon queen fleeing her head.

With the last cloud-jump, Bai Qian found herself in the middle of a completely different woodland, her eyes squinting, struggling to drink in all that was before her.

A vast forest of brilliant green that almost covered the entire sky, leaving only fragments of blue visible. A carpet of soft and damp grass laid under her feet. Wild blossoms sprouted from the emerald sheets of moss that covered giant tree trunks. And for a moment, Bai Qian could have sworn she saw some of those flowers move.

The air was rich with all kinds of fragrances. And then, there were the sounds - the mesmerizing sounds of running water, of dew dripping down onto the green grass, of little birds’ fluttering wings and the magical symphonies they sang.

But that was not all, Bai Qian inhaled the sweetness of the air and slowly breathed out. She no longer felt the exhaustion from cloud-jumping. It was as if her magical powers were reaching their peaks, rippling through her veins with every breath she took.

“Strange,” she whispered.

“Divine energy. Incredible, isn’t it,” said Pojing. “And we haven’t even reached their dwelling yet.”

That, however, was not necessary.

The moment Bai Qian took a step forward, an arrow flew at her from nowhere, missing her face by an inch as she twisted sideway to avoid the deadly impact. Turning to Pojing to make sure he had not been shot, she met with his narrowed eyes.

“They know we’re in their territory.”

Pojing’s statement was immediately confirmed when Bai Qian looked ahead, in the direction the arrow had just been shot from. A group of armed immortals were approaching, all wearing simple robes of similar shades of emerald. Their faces were nothing malicious or dangerous but neither were they friendly. The one in front, who was wearing a silver armor, set his eyes upon Bai Qian, scanning her from head to foot with his hawk-like eyes.

“What is your purpose here?” he spoke with a soft voice that rather contradicted his appearance.

“I would like an audience with the Eldest,” Bai Qian answered, her heart picking up its speed.

“Just you?”

“Yes.”

“Identification?”

She detached the jade pendant from her belt and presented it to him. Having been too focused on the task ahead, Bai Qian had completely forgotten to consider if the Crafters would have any requirements before they let someone in. What sort of people were allowed into their land? However, to her relief, the man responded with a smile after having stared at the green jade in her hand for a long while. A puzzling smile, in fact, but not one that indicated rejection.

“What about you?” he jerked his head at Pojing.

“I seek nothing from your land.”

Paying the king of Xunzhua no further heed, the Crafter turned back to her.

“Come with us,” he said with a nod, holding out his arm in an inviting gesture.

She looked at Pojing, who simply said, “I’ll wait here.”

Slowly Bai Qian stepped closer to be among the Crafters. The one that had been speaking to her snapped his fingers. A shield encircled them all and with a violent jolt, everything around her became a blur as an invisible force pulled her through the air.

Chapter 3, Part 4

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[1] Zhongyin was first mentioned in Book 1, Chapter 1 as well as in the original novel.