Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 3, Part 4 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 2 - Worthy Or Not

Part 4

written by LalaLoop
consulting by Bunny
editing by kakashi


“In there,” the Crafter pointed ahead.

Bai Qian stepped through the guarded archway and found herself inside an enormous hall. Dazzlingly lit and lined with columns the size of oak trees. Or were they really… trees?

In fact, the place looked like the inside of a giant tree trunk, within which were smaller trees.

Bai Qian’s eyes sought the distant end; and she took in a hasty gulp of air as she spotted him - the Master of this land. He was resting on a high dais with his head slightly dipped. Her feet took up their pace instantly.

The distance was, Bai Qian made a guess, almost four times the length of Kunlun hall. The man’s posture became clearer with every dozen of steps she took. Emerald robe, she noted.

Two thirds of the way up, she met with a set of stairs. The man appeared to be deep in thought - Bai Qian told herself and halted, not wanting to disturb him by coming any closer. And truth be told, something else had claimed her attention.

There were flowers, twigs, and dried leaves hanging in the air around where the Eldest sat, flocked mostly to his head, making buzzing sounds. She thought back to the forest where Pojing was now waiting for her. Now Bai Qian was sure she had not gone mad because she had spotted moving flowers there too.

The Eldest did not seem to want to acknowledge her yet; and she noticed that his eyes were in fact closed. But he could not be sleeping, not with those things flying around. Furthermore, the Crafters would not have allowed her in here if their Master was resting. Bai Qian cleared her throat.

“Eldest,” she said, softly but loud enough for the man to hear.

Suddenly, one of those fluttering flowers zoomed toward her. Bai Qian gasped, jolted backward and summoned her magic, ready to defend herself. But no attack came. Instead, when she had regained her balance, Bai Qian found herself looking at a tiny face with unusually large eyes.

Not flowers… her mouth fell ajar. Sprites.

Those things hovering around the Eldest were wood and blossom sprites - creatures found only in the most ancient woodlands with the most Divine energy.

Bai Qian squinted at the impish face and the wide grin that stretched from one ear to the other. This particular one had yellow leaves for wings, twig-like limbs, feet that looked like two flower buds and some kind of dried and spiky crown on its head that she guessed served as a cap.

Without warning, the sprite shot forward an inch, eyes narrowed into two long slits, causing her to gasp in shock once more. Then, twirling and making some twittering noises that sounded suspiciously like laughter, it flew back to rejoin the other ones.

Before Bai Qian’s amazement ceased, the man on the dais suddenly sat up straight, waving his arm. The little sprites dispersed to either side and group by group raced out of the hall through little windows like soldiers on a mission.

The Eldest brushed aside his long emerald robe, rose from his dais and started to step down. His high and tall figure and the elegance in his movement as he slowly descended from the steps caused Bai Qian to move closer in an eagerness to see him more clearly.

The term ‘Eldest’ had brought to her imagination a long white beard, wrinkles and possibly a walking cane. But approaching her now was an completely contrasting image. The man was young, younger than any of the Crafters who’d greeted her in the forest. But the kind of youthfulness that indicated great powers and vast cultivation, not immaturity.

Long hair that was almost a shade of brown. A pale complexion. A regal gait. A certain aura of eminence.

The man was… Bai Qian blinked when his figure had become clear… beautiful. Atop the broad but graceful shoulders was a face that did not look like it belonged to any realm. It was as if the most skillful of immortal hands had found the finest of jade and decided to carve a face out of it. His features were heavenly and unreal yet defined, his expression rather nonchalant and his eyes, deep and resolute.

And the brilliancy of that face hid so well what was underneath that Bai Qian did not have the faintest idea what he was thinking as his gaze fixed upon her.

“Queen of Qingqiu?”

“Yes,” she said.

He took another step forward. And another. Until they were only an arm’s length apart. Emitting from this man was the most seductive fragrance she had ever inhaled.

“Eldest,” she began. “I --”

“I know what you want,” he said. The mesmerizing voice rendered her silent instantly and almost oblivious of the words being said. With a slight lift of his lips, he went on, “I might even know what you're afraid to want.”

Slightly provoked by these cryptic words, Bai Qian swallowed and looked straight back at him, keeping her voice small but clear.

“I don’t understand.”

“No, I didn’t expect you would,” he said. “But -- ahh -- you are not here to have a heart-to-heart with me. You’re here to negotiate.”

She said nothing - by that tone, it seemed he was open for negotiation. The man tilted his head, his eyes narrowed for one split second during which Bai Qian felt as if all her thoughts became bare.

“You seek Ironfeather.”

Baffled for a second, Bai Qian almost asked what he was referring to. But it quickly dawned on her.

“How do you know I’m looking for a weapon, Eldest?”

“My dear,” his head shook left and right gracefully. “It is written plainly on your face. Bai Qian of Qingqiu, owner of the famous Kunlun fan - both a weapon and a tool for magical purposes. Yet she is now carrying a sword by her side like a mere soldier,” he paused, seemingly savoring the look on her face. “Tell me, what happened to your fan?”

She looked away from those gleaming eyes for a moment and said, “It’s broken.”

“Broken? What could have caused such a powerful weapon to break?”

“I -- I don’t know.”

The man gave no reaction to her response, his head simply going up and down.

“I see. Well, there we have it. What else would you need from us if not a new weapon? You want something no less than the fan of Kunlun, something that can provide the same powers and ease. Am I right?”

“Yes,” she whispered. There was no need to deny the truth in his words.

The man studied her up and down.

“Your determination is admirable,” he stated. “Your ambition fascinates me. But let’s hope those two qualities are enough to get you through this quest you’ve set for yourself.”

“You mean -- you’re willing to consider letting me have it?” she asked.

He did not answer but instead gave her another mystifying smile.

“How much do you want this fan?”

“I want it --” she took a deep breath, no longer able to hide the excitement in her voice -- “more than anything.”

“More than anything,” he repeated. “I see. Then let us not waste any more time on idle conversation.” Stepping back and brushing his long robe out of the way, he took a more urgent tone. “The fan is kept inside one of the mazes in our land, protected by my enchantments. The rule is simple - fight your way toward it. Prove yourself competent in more than one field of magical studies. When you have found the fan, we will discuss matters beyond your abilities.”

Delighted beyond reason, Bai Qian nodded instantly.

“However,” he continued. “I will tell you that someone else is also here on a quest to acquire this fan.”

Bai Qian felt as if she’d just been dropped from the highest cloud. Competition? She frowned.

“Who is it, Eldest?”

“That is not part of the game. Just know that he will enter the maze along with you though through a different entrance. Should you come across him, treat him as you would all the obstacles along the way because I’m sure you will see no leniency from him.”

Bai Qian nodded again. This time, the Eldest slightly waved his arm. She shut her eyes tight as she felt the power of his magic arresting her body and pulling her upward.


---


Fluttering her eyelids open, Bai Qian spread her feet to stable herself and gripped her sword right away. Though she quickly realized that there were no soldiers or beasts around. At least not yet. She was outdoor, in the middle of some place that resembled a very big and well-groom garden. The midday sun was shining from above and the air was rather pleasant. Before her was a hedge that looked at least two zhang[1] in height, forming a maze that looked as harmless as everything she had seen so far. There were even chirping sounds in the distance and clusters of mushrooms growing from the ground.

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Bai Qian jumped and whirled around - it was the Crafter who had led her into the hall. He gestured at the entrance and gave her a nod.

Just then, something hit the ground with a thump a few yards away, Bai Qian turned aside and clutched her sword again.

The person stumbled up, grudgingly fixing his robe. Bai Qian’s eyes went huge with astonishment as soon as she recognized that face and she almost shouted out his name. Zhongyin!

The Demon steward, on the other hand, did not seem to have any idea who she was. He merely threw her a look of pure dislike and walked into the gap before him.

Bai Qian was not sure how good Zhongyin’s combat skills were or how knowledgeable he was in magic, though judging by the way he had just landed, she did not believe he was much of a threat.

Not wanting to hesitate anymore lest the Eldest believe she had changed her mind and pull her back to his hall, Bai Qian hurried through the entrance in front of her, then slowed down, raising her hand to perform a tracing spell. Fortunately, it was absolutely quiet inside the maze at the moment and therefore Bai Qian figured out which direction she should go to get closer to the fan in less than two minutes. Left, she strode away. The fan’s essence was so strong she could almost hear the humming of its powers.

Right, she turned. There was no one to detain her yet, no guards, no dark creatures. Right again. She could not even hear Zhongyin anywhere, either.

So the Eldest had refused the Spinner an audience but allowed Zhongyin, she pondered. That Demon must have gotten here right after she had, there was no way he could have been faster than Pojing. Though she could not think of any reason why he would want this fan in particular.

A little butterfly appeared from inside the hedge, fluttering its wings and flew passed her.

Was this some kind of a trick? She glanced up. Were the guards waiting for when she was less focused to jump down on her? Or were they all near the fan right now?

She turned. Why was it that...

AHHHHHH!

Bai Qian almost fell flat on her back.

Kirin.

Standing in front of her was an armoured Kirin, not taller than the hedge but certainly towering above her. It was slender and, in all fairness, a relatively beautiful one of its kind. Though its fuming nostrils, glaring eyes, and fiery tail told her this was a creature she should only admire when it was contained behind at least ten layers of shield.

She stared into those large, slanted eyes without blinking as to not anger it with any abrupt movement. After a minute and when her own eyes were beginning to water, as swiftly as she could, Bai Qian aimed two spells at the Kirin’s feet. Two magically conjured ropes appeared, wrapping themselves around its legs, making knots and binding all its limbs, causing the beast to drop on its side and shriek in rage.

Bai Qian spun around and shot forward like an arrow leaving its bow. It was Yanzhi who would usually consider staying and talking to these animals to ‘gain their trust’, not her. And fighting against this beast would guarantee to get her burned and injured beyond healing before she could even set eyes on the fan.

The Kirin’s thumping footsteps were upon her - it seemed it had broken free of her ropes - flames shooting at her without mercy, sweeping by her robe and leaving burned patches.

Bai Qian halted at every turn to conjure shields and veils that stuck to either sides of the path, which thankfully detained the creature and gave her the chance to lengthen the distance between them by several steps.

When she had gotten far enough and the Kirin was still digging its horn into a shield to tear the magical veil, Bai Qian slashed her hand continuously, creating a series of shields in one last attempt to block its path, hoping it would not find another way to ambush her. She then hurried away without looking back.

After a few minutes and several times hitting dead ends, Bai Qian decided to stop and catch her breath. She quickly cast the tracing spell again. There were more movements in the atmosphere this time which made it more difficult to distinguish the fan’s vibration, but she found it nonetheless.

It was then that Bai Qian heard the familiar loud thumping noises and screams coming from somewhere behind her.

Zhongyin? She shuddered. For a moment, she considered going back to make sure he hadn’t been burnt to death, but then quickly reasoned with herself that the Eldest would probably not let something like that happen in his land of Divinity. This was not a war, only a test. Zhongyin would be burnt and humiliated at the worst, not killed.

But… she glanced back, the sound of the Kirin’s hoofs and the shouting continued to issue through the hedge, what if no one gets to him in time...

He’s a Demon, a voice inside her head strongly protested, he wants the fan, your fan.

It’s a life, nonetheless, Bai Qian decided at last and turned around. She could not have something like this on her conscience.

But no sooner had she taken ten steps than the ground below her started to tremble. A violent gust of wind swept by without warning, bringing with it dust, pebbles, and twigs that, having created a shield too late, Bai Qian was unable to avoid and took many hits from. The squall itself was so strong it nearly caused her shield to crumble.

When the wind had passed and the ground had silenced, she could hear Zhongyin and the Kirin no more. Moving away from the hedge corner, Bai Qian raised her hand to perform the tracing spell. But to her bewilderment, she detected nothing.

“What’s going on…” she casted the spell one more time, which once again did not bring any positive result. Could it be that… Bai Qian flicked her wrist - it was as she had guessed. The problem did not lie with the tracing spell, her magic simply did not work anymore.

Was this part of the test? She walked on, bewildered and frightened, feeling suffocated within the unnerving silence. If anything attacked now, she’d have nothing but a sword to defend herself. But after several minutes of walking aimlessly, Bai Qian started to worry less about being ambushed. The path ahead was eternally unblocked, dreary, and lifeless. There was no Kirin, no chirping sound of birds, no butterflies or mushrooms on the ground. No movement.

It was like… like the Nothingness she had imagined.

Bai Qian dragged her feet on pointlessly and after what felt like an hour, she was quite sure she had been going in circles.

When the dullness could not get any worse and Bai Qian was so desperate that she considered kicking down the hedge, something ahead caught her eyes. Like someone who had spotted an oasis on a desert, she sprinted forward.

It was a fork, each route blocked by a magical veil. In the middle was a big boulder in front of which there was a little squirrel running back and forth, sniffing and digging its face into the ground. The sight of the animal brought joy to her heart like nothing ever had. So much joy she nearly grabbed it for a hug.

She shook her head vigorously to regain her senses and prepare for whatever it was that she would have to do next. Keen on not getting herself evaporated or burned by some strange magic, Bai Qian kept a distance from the veils and observed the divided pathway.

Below, the squirrel had jumped up to sit on top of the boulder and started to chatter.

No doubt she had to pick the right path. None of the forks she had encountered before had been blocked by misty veils like this. But what would happen if she walked into the wrong way? Though at this point, Bai Qian felt that marching into the wrong path would be better than going back to wandering around, unable to get the tracing spell to work.

The little squirrel sniffled, swirled and made all kinds of noise, jumping down and up on the boulder again.

Frustrated, Bai Qian snapped at it, “oh, be quiet!”

But then it suddenly occurred to Bai Qian as she glared at the noisy squirrel that she had seen moving flowers in this land. Perhaps this squirrel was on its way to become an immortal - she nearly laughed at the idea but it was certainly a possibility. Or perhaps it had been put in here by the Eldest to provide help, help that would be easily ignored by those who were too practical to consider the animal.

“Er...” she cleared her throat and decided to take a chance with it, though she could not help feeling incredibly stupid. “So... where does the wrong path lead to?”

The squirrel turned up at the blue sky.

I’m talking to a rodent, Bai Qian sighed. But she went on anyway.

“Outside? I’d be kicked out of the maze?”

The little thing sniggered, and she took that as a yes. Then, once again it jumped down and back up on the rock surface.

“Right… So which way is it then?” she asked, not holding out much hope for a real answer.

The squirrel gawked at her with his large, bubbly eyes, and blinked. Bai Qian waited, but it only blinked again. Sighing, she went back to searching for something unusual in the vicinity. The answer must be here somewhere. No written clues, no maps, not even a convoluted one. Which meant the solution must be simple and staring her in the face. Hidden inside the hedge? Somewhere on the ground?

“Boulder…” her eyes shot down at the rock and the squirrel, who immediately let out a series of giggles and snorts.

Boulder, she folded her arms. Yes… none of the pathways she’d walked through contained boulders or rocks this big. Invisible messages? Clues hidden inside? After some contemplation, Bai Qian decided it was best to put her theories to test and kicked hard at the boulder. The squirrel shrieked in shock, baring its teeth at her. Then, it hopped down and dashed out of sight on its little legs; its angry chittering left her feeling a bit sorry.

After a few seconds, she moved on to look behind and around the boulder. Nothing. It was just an ordinary rock. Then... she breathed out in exhaustion, if her powers had been sealed and this was not meant to be a test of magical abilities, then perhaps it was not about the rock itself, but the fact that there was a rock here.

Rock. A rock on top of which the squirrel had sat.

Rock (石) with a rodent on top… a — a smart squirrel? No, not necessarily a squirrel. An animal… a being... something on top… And it suddenly struck her like a brick in the back of her head. Just something. Right…

“Right (右)...” she murmured. Could it be that simple?

Inching closer to path on the right, Bai Qian picked up a pebble from the ground and threw it at the veil. It ricocheted and nearly hit her in the face. Was she insane to believe that a squirrel was capable of giving hints to a riddle? Well, this could not get any worse, she decided and put one foot in front of the other, holding her breath as she stepped through the mist.

And she was, thankfully, not thrown out of the maze. Exhaling and glancing around in joy, Bai Qian concentrated and cast the tracing spell immediately. And there it was again - movements in the air.

She turned and hurried in the direction she had decided would lead to the fan. Left… Right… Right… she moved with unstoppable resolution.

With one last turn, Bai Qian saw something at the end of her path. A statue, she dashed forward. No… a high dais. A high dais with some sort of a bubble on top.

That must be it, Bai Qian sped up, every fiber of her tingling with anticipation. Arriving at the dais, her steps came to screeching halt.

There it was on top of the marble surface, floating inside a protective enchantment in the shape of a sphere. Stepping closer, she noticed that this fan was slightly longer than the Kunlun fan.

Though the moment Bai Qian held out her hand, something slammed into her hard from the side, throwing her onto the grass.

Grunting and clutching her painful arm, she staggered up. Zhongyin… Bai Qian gritted her teeth as her attacker bolted toward the fan. Not wasting a moment, she sprang up and sent a force in his direction, blasting him away from the marble dais.

Her magic seemed to have hurt Zhongyin as much as his had hurt her. The Demon steward grimaced and it took him several seconds to get up on his feet again.

“Which clan are you from?” he spat.

“That’s not part of the game,” she repeated what the Eldest had said.

“I need this fan,” he said adamantly.

“So do I,” she threw back, noticing that a whip was rolled up and attached to the side of his belt.

Zhongyin raised his hand. Well prepared for this, Bai Qian raised her own.

Two spells flew from their casters in opposite directions and both were reflected instantly.

She struck again right away, harder and faster.

He was quick, Bai Qian observed, but not quick enough. Someone with duelling experience would have been more assertive in his attacks than this - speed was of the essence and waiting for the enemy to regain strength after a spell was the same as admitting defeat.

Bai Qian advanced, throwing force after force at the Demon steward, dodging the curses he managed to throw back.

At a close enough range, she hit him with full force, sending him flying a distance away and falling flat on his back. Whipping around, she started to run as fast as she could toward the fan. When she was about a yard away from the dais, however, Bai Qian grunted as something hit her again, this time across the abdomen.

She glared down and saw the thong of a whip had caught her around the waist. And before she could do anything to break the bond, Zhongyin had started to drag her backward from the other end. Then, releasing her and retracting his whip, he took the chance to dash ahead.

Fuming with rage, Bai Qian flipped herself in the air and landed in front of Zhongyin before he could reach the dais. Lifting herself a few inches she aimed at his chest and shot her foot forward, knocking him back.

Zhongyin gripped his whip tightly, stumbling up and wincing in pain.

“Get out of my way!” he bellowed, his face contorted with anger and there was some sort of desperation in his voice which made Bai Qian feel he needed this fan more than her. As if his life depended on it.

But whatever it was, it was not her business to care.

“No,” she said, jerking her face at him.

That seemed to have pushed him over his limits, Zhongyin extended his whip and struck, causing her to back off to avoid the tongue. She quickly unsheathed her sword, eyes following the thong and at the same time looking for an opportunity to strike.

Bai Qian had seen Moyuan fight against a whip before. In the cave, he had created a diversion and moved on to confiscate the whip from the distracted opponent’s hand, which seemed to be the most effective way if one wanted to end the fight early because whips were known to always put sword wielders at a great disadvantage.

In this maze, however, there was no means for such method Moyuan had utilized. Ducking and flipping to dodge Zhongyin’s attacks, Bai Qian decided it was time to take a risk, otherwise this duel would go on forever because it was simply impossible to get close and find an opening to attack Zhongyin while that whip was in his hand.

It was only an ordinary whip with no blade or anything sharp at the tip, she stopped dodging, eyes pinned to the thong as it struck down. Then, extending her arm she caught it in midair, letting the whip’s tongue fasten around her lower arm. The impact was painful and she could feel the tongue had cut into her skin. But nevertheless, she had most of the whip’s length where she wanted it. Gripping her sword, Bai Qian slashed upward, severing the thong.

Weaponless, Zhongyin bolted toward the fan again. And so did she. He reached toward the dais. Bai Qian’s leg swung up just in time to stop his hand from penetrating the protective enchantment. Instantly afterward she summoned her powers and struck with all she had, slamming Zhongyin straight into the hedge.

As he struggled to get up from the ground, she hit him with another force and strode over, pointing the blade at his chest.

“You lost,” she declared, breathing out impatiently. “Just stay there, and don’t force me to hurt you again.”

“Who are you?” he snarled. “You’re not a mere immortal. What school are you from?”

“Does it -- matter now?” she scoffed.

“Listen!” Zhongyin sudden shouted. “I need that fan!”

“And I told you,” Bai Qian shook her head at him. “I need it too.”

Injured and aching all over, yet Bai Qian could not help but feel a bit disappointed - she had expected more from a leader of such a prominent tribe and the brother of a Demon Overlord.

Before he could yell more nonsense at her, Bai Qian waved to conjure a shield around him and walked away toward her goal, ignoring his now distorted voice.

Her arm that had taken the whip’s force was ringing from pain. The blood marks on her sleeve had widened and she could feel there were some stinging scratches on her neck and face, possible left by the leaves or twigs that were flying back and forth from their first duel.

But none of those things mattered because she was now only inches from the fan.

Ironfeather.

Even better, the protective shield that used to enveloped it seemed to have disappeared.

Bai Qian cautiously reached forward, her heart pounding inside her chest. The second her palm came in contact with the cool metal, the fan slightly vibrated. She could feel its powers, the strong essence she had detected with her tracing spell, flowing within.

On either side, a small oval piece of white jade was embedded. Tightening her fingers around the handle, she drew the fan closer and flicked it open.

Slats of steel, crested with tiny jewels, held together by a core also made of white jade. Running her hand over the smooth surface, Bai Qian noticed that on every slat there were carvings of some ancient language and unfamiliar symbols. Some contained detailed depictions of certain plants and legendary beasts. Its tips were not sharp at all, but Bai Qian fully understood that such a weapon did not need the advantage found in ordinary ones.

She took a deep breath, unable to suppress a smile of great satisfaction. She’d done it at last - a weapon perfect in every way.

“It responds to your touch,” the familiar voice sounded behind her back. Bai Qian whirled around.

The Eldest had appeared out of nowhere and was now approaching her. Looking beyond him, she saw that Zhongyin was no longer near the hedge where she had left him.

After a moment, the Eldest slowly raised his hand. The fan gave a jolt and flew out of her grip into his.

“Well done,” he gave her a smile - a smile she could not call entirely sincere but it did contain an amount of truthfulness. “You have come very close to your goal.”

Of course, Bai Qian frowned. He had said when they’d been in the hall that there would be some talk if she found the fan. And somehow, this made her even more nervous than having to face a Kirin.

Bai Qian remained quiet and listened as the Eldest went on.

“I will now ask you a few questions, simply answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And —” he gestured behind her. Bai Qian turned around to see the green hedge rearranging itself to reveal an opening. “At any point should you wish to abandon your quest, there lies your way.”

Not an option, she did not come this far to give up, Bai Qian thought and nodded, holding her breath.

“You are the God of War’s disciple, yes?”

She nodded again.

“70,000 years ago, your mentor sacrificed himself in the Ghost War.”

Bai Qian gripped the side of her robe as the haunting image of Moyuan’s body falling from the sky was revived in her head.

“You threatened to annihilate the Ghost soldiers at Ruoshui River to avenge him.”

“Yes...” she said, feeling slightly abashed.

“He is important to you.”

“He is,” she said, wondering where these questions were leading and why it was suddenly about Moyuan. Though Bai Qian did not have to wonder for long because the Eldest’s next question made it all clear.

“If there comes a time when you must do the same as your mentor, would you do it? Your life for the realms?”

Child play… she thought and replied without thinking for there was only one right answer. “Yes, I would.”

“Would you put what needs to be done above everything else?”

“Yes…”

“Good,” his lips lifted a fraction and he continued in the slow and enchanting voice, “very good. Now, 70,000 years ago, the God of War’s sacrifice was the only way to stop the Bell of Donghuang from engulfing all lives, am I correct?”

“Yes.”

“Did you know what the God of War was planning to do?”

“No, I did not,” she said truthfully.

“I see,” the Eldest’s eyes closed then slowly opened as he fell into a long silence. Bai Qian’s gaze moved back and forth between his pensive expression and the fan in his hand.

“This is my last question,” he lifted his chin, pronouncing each word with great emphasis “If you had known, would you have let the God of War offer his spirit to the Bell or stopped him at all costs?”

Stopped him at all costs, Bai Qian slightly jerked back as her mind responded and she had to press her lips together to stop herself from voicing the thought. In her memory, there was nothing more horrid than watching Moyuan fly into his death. She had taken desperate measures to preserve his body and waited endlessly for him to return. And she had never believed any of those decisions to be wrong.

Moyuan would sacrifice himself a thousand times again if it meant he could keep the realms safe. He’d had to make much worse decisions in order to protect this world. But did it mean she would stand by and watch even if she was told that it was the right thing to do? Yes… no…

She would not trade Moyuan’s life for anything. There would be no realm, no world without him. If there was something she had learnt during those 70,000 years, it was that to her, he was life itself, life and hope. If she had known... if there had been even the faintest hint that an alternative existed back then, she would have taken it without question and figured out everything else later rather than let him sacrifice himself.

But that… Bai Qian stared at the fan in the Eldest’s hand… that was not the right answer. Not what should come from a queen. Either one option or the other, he had specified. She knew what should be said. She had come this close. She could not fail this test.

There was no right answer, only the most acceptable answer in theory. She slightly turned sideway and caught a glimpse of the exit from the corner of her eyes.

Would the Eldest know… was he able to tell what she was thinking? Bai Qian could feel her hands trembling as she began to speak. But she managed to stabilize her voice at last.

“I would have let him do it.”

A small chuckle escaped from the Eldest almost instantly. He brushed his long robe to the back and started to make his way toward her. At a closer range, his piercing eyes set on her face and the silence lasted for several long minutes.

“That --” the man bent down, his fragrance rushing into her nose. “Was --” he drew even closer, whispering into her ear.

“A lie.”

Bai Qian’s eyes shut at the remark that was like a lightning bolt striking her on the head, shattering all the hopes she had harbored from the day Pojing had told her of the Crafters. When she opened them a second later, the Eldest had moved back and was now looking down at her with the most satisfied smile she had seen from the first moment she’d met him. As if he had expected her to fail.

“You do not deserve this weapon,” his face lifted. “Ironfeather was forged to serve true kings and queens. You --” his slender fingers drew near her chin -- “are a child. And a liar. Go home.”

With a flick of his arm, a force of magic hurled her backward and away from him, from the fan. The entrance shut as she was thrown out of the maze and the next second she was once again standing in the forest where they’d met the first Crafters. Gasping for breath, she stared into the distance without blinking, head whirling to fathom the reality of what had occurred a moment ago.

Rays of sunlight landed on her cheeks. Tears streaming down her face.

Chapter 4, Part 1
——————

[1] 1 zhang (丈) in ancient time ≈ 16 feet