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

Chapter 4 - A Spiky Hairpin

Part 4

written by LalaLoop
edited by kakashi
consulting by Bunny

The Demon forces, the text read, with aid from magical beasts and troops from unidentified clans, slaughtered more than 75,000 Celestial soldiers during the war.

“Unidentified clans...” Bai Qian murmured and read on.

Although weakened and without a weapon at the dawn of the last battle, the Demon Queen was able to command the Demon armies until the close, where an interruption occured. After which the Celestials gained advantage over…

Bai Qian grunted in frustration - once again, she could find no details on Luoji during this war.

The rest of the text listed many numbers and locations, though none of them were very helpful. Ever since she’d come back from her trip to the Crafters’ forest, Bai Qian had been actively looking for records of the Demon Queen, anything that could provide some information about her involvement with the Dark Immortal Luoji - this was not something she could plainly ask Moyuan or Zheyan about.

But the only thing she had seen over and over in these texts was how brutal the Demons had been during that war. Untamed beasts, criminals from other clans, experts in dark magic - means that the Nine Heavens and Qingqiu would never consider. Though why the Demon Queen had made use of immortals from other clans was a mystery to Bai Qian, hadn’t the Demons always been proud of their lineage and found it beneath themselves to cooperate with different clans in anything at all?

She rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath - perhaps she would be able to think better after a break. Having glued herself to these texts all morning, she had almost forgotten about the time. Bai Qian rolled up the scroll and sighed, quietly collecting all the texts lying on her desk, and walked over to the caretaker of Taichen library, who was in the process of rearranging an already perfect-looking shelf.

She tiptoed and cleared her throat to get his attention.

“High Goddess,” the man’s brows knit together.

“I was wondering,” Bai Qian said. “May I keep these for one day? There’s this particular --”

“I am sorry, High Goddess,” he croaked, “these scrolls are to stay inside Taichen library.”

“Oh,” Bai Qian nodded. She knew she was pushing her luck. It was with extreme unwillingness that he had brought these scrolls about the first Demon War out for her, but not before she’d had to present both her Qingqiu pendant and the Kunlun pendant in order for the caretaker to believe she was not someone who’d take documents out of the library without permission or spill food on them. “They are very valuable and are frequently revisited by Lord Donghua,” he had said. “I would lose my job if there is so much as one drop of ink on any of them.”

Handing the scrolls to the man, Bai Qian reluctantly walked out of the library and started to head for the Nine Heavens’ gate. It seemed only the people who had been directly involved in the Demon war would have the information she was looking for, she thought.

As Bai Qian reached the outer gate of Taichen Palace and was mentally coming up with different kinds of bribes she could bring to Zheyan so that he would tell her a thing or two, she was forced to stop when Lady Lexu, Yehua’s mother, and her maids were walking by.

There was a brief silence.

“Lady Lexu,” Bai Qian curtsied.

“High Goddess,” said the ever proper and virtuous-looking woman, her head slightly bending.

“I hope you are in good health.”

“I am in excellent health, thank you. And you and your family, High Goddess?”

“We’re all well,” the awkwardness of this encounter was suffocating her. More than ever, she wished Yehua was here. “And -- what about A-li? How’s his study?”

“Very good, the Skylord pays him all the attention he needs and he receives instructions from the best teachers we could find.”

“I don’t see him coming to Kunlun as often anymore. My Seniors have been asking about him.”

“Ahh, the boy loves to go there,” said Lexu. And for once, Bai Qian could sense emotion in her voice. It seemed that Lexu would be pleased as long as her grandson was happy, and that being at Kunlun was something that made him so. “But I believe you know the Skylord has certain rules about where A-li should spend his time.”

“I thought that power lay with Yehua,” Bai Qian blurted out. She could not stand the thought of that incompetent and tyrannical man having an influence on A-li. Or any child, for that matter.

“So it does, but the Crown Prince respects his grandfather’s wishes even if they go against his own sometimes.”

To this, Bai Qian had nothing else to say. She bid Yehua’s mother good day and continued her walk to the main gate, not exactly regretting having to end that conversation. She didn’t believe she could have carried on being so proper and collected any longer. Especially after that bit of news about A-li. Living so far away with absolutely no control over A-li’s welfare, Bai Qian could only care for the boy by visiting and hope that Yehua would stand his ground if the Skylord ever had the intention of turning the little boy into a future heir to the throne by locking him in a room with books and boring tutors.

What would have happened to them all if Susu had not left? The thought sprung from her head, causing her feet to make a turn instead of going straight to the gate. Would she have died a mortal death and come back here to reunite with A-li and Yehua in bliss? Possibly not, she scoffed. A trial would always be a trial. If Susu’s heart had not been broken, fate would have come up with some other hardship for her to endure.

Soon she arrived at a misty and quiet area.

A zigzagged pathway.

A set of stairs.

Several more sets of stairs.

Zhuxian Terrace.

Bai Qian cast a look around and slowly made her way up the last steps. It was as if all the grey clouds in the whole sky intentionally flocked to this place. Cold, gloomy, and deadly quiet, Zhuxian was pretty much an avoided area in the Nine Heavens.

The ground below her feet grew less smooth with every step she took; and there came a point where Bai Qian no longer felt she was inside the Nine Heavens but instead strolling on top of a rocky mountain. Reaching the top after what seemed to be an endless walk, Bai Qian cast a spell to conjure a shield in front of her. It appeared fragile and perishable. She advanced to the cliff side and peered down into the abyss that had led to the fall of many immortals. Dark clouds formed a maelstrom-like hole, inside which was a bottomless pit of darkness with red sparks of fire ready to flare up and consume any being or thing that touched its surface. Anyone sentenced to Zhuxian Terrace had only one choice - to scatter, body and soul. There was no written document on how this place had come into existence. The most detailed description she could find only mentioned that there were layers of destructive magic that would strip down the fallen immortal’s powers, shatter his essence, rip his soul into pieces before the fire burned them.

There was a twitter. Bai Qian turned to see the sprite had unattached himself from her hair bun and was now hovering close to the shield surface. He peered down at the hole and stared up at her with huge eyes.

“Zhuxian Terrace,” she responded to his bewildered look. And whether it was because the sprite had heard this name before or the mere sinister air was making him nervous, Bai Qian was not sure, but he moved away immediately and returned to the back of her hair.

So this was where it had happened, she frowned. This was where her ascension had taken place, though altered by these powerful currents of magic and red flames. Perhaps the powers she should have gained as a High Goddess, which would usually come in forms of hazes from the sky after a trial, had been vanquished before they could reach her body.

How desperate had Susu been, Bai Qian wondered, to jump down this abyss? Because simply being close to it now made her tremble.

She stepped back and shivered, taking a deep breath. Perhaps she should not even be ten feet within its perimeter. Just one gust of wind and she might be swept down...

“QIANQIAN!”

Bai Qian jumped and almost screamed. She wheeled in the direction her name had just been yelled out from.

Yehua was standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking furious.

What’s the matter with… her head whipped back and forth between the dark hole and him.

Gasp!

Bai Qian slapped her palm against her forehead and started to rush down the stairs while Yehua began to make his way up two steps at a time.

“What are you doing?” he grabbed her shoulders when they met at the middle of the stairs. “What -- do you think you’re doing!”

“I’m sorry,” she said right away.

“Sorry? For what…” he closed his eyes for a brief moment in wild disbelief. “What were you doing up there?”

“I was… I met your...” No, she reminded herself, telling Yehua about her meeting with Lady Lexu would only make him uncomfortable. “I was thinking about Su…” No! Nothing about Susu, either.

What?” Yehua pressed on.

“I wanted to see…” she turned away from his intense glare, mind spinning. “I saw something in a book about flames and currents of magic inside Zhuxian Terrace so I wanted to take a look.”

“Why?” he uttered in bewilderment.

“I was -- curious.”

Bai Qian tried to smile, unsure if that sounded convincing enough.

“It’s Zhuxian Terrace,” Yehua emphasized, still staring at her as though she was going mad. “It doesn’t matter what’s down there. Whatever magic there is guarantees to send you to the Nothingness in two seconds, isn’t that enough?”

“Right,” she quickly nodded. “Right, it is.”

He took a deep breath and looked past her shoulders.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Bai Qian said again. “I wasn’t trying to do anything stupid, honestly.”

Yehua shook his head and was quiet for a long minute.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he said at last. “Of course you have no reason to do anything stupid.”

“Yehua --”

“Next time you wish to come close to this place for -- research purposes or whatever it is, at least take someone with you. Else, how would I answer to your family if you took a fall?”

“I’ll remember to take someone with me,” she said. Then, realizing the crease between his brows, she added, “not that I’ll come here again in the near future.”

He simply nodded, though still looking suspicious, and turned away, leaving her feeling twice as guilty as before.

“Hang on --” she said. “what are you doing here?”

Yehua looked uncomfortable. Several times he seemed to be on the verge of saying something but resolutely held himself back. Bai Qian then decided to look away - perhaps it was a question she should not have asked.

“Are you leaving the Nine Heavens?”

“Yes, I was, actually.”

“I’m heading to Kunlun for an audience with High God Moyuan,” he said. “Do you care to join me?”

“Kunlun?”

“Yes, it’s about the training of Celestial armies.”

“Yes, I’m going there,” Bai Qian nodded enthusiastically. Truth be told, she would have said yes even if she was not going to Kunlun. She would say anything to make him forget what he had just seen.

Yehua did not say much on the rest of the way to Kunlun. Although, Bai Qian suspected this could also have to do with the fact that he was about to speak with Moyuan. She used to wear the exact same expression every time she’d had to pay a visit to Moyuan’s study back in her school days. Moyuan’s superior knowledge in almost everything naturally warranted respect, but at the same time, intimidation in anyone who sought his advice.


---


As they entered the grand hall, Bai Qian noticed someone sitting at one of the low tables, head buried in several scrolls, seemingly asleep.

She exchanged a look with Yehua and they walked closer to the figure in silence. The person was indeed sleeping, around her station were several open scrolls and books.

“Princess Zhuowei?” Bai Qian’s eyes narrowed and she snorted - this princess was something else. She herself had fallen asleep during lectures before but certainly not in the grand hall of Kunlun where anyone would notice. But then it instantly dawned on Bai Qian that perhaps this was no joking matter as Pojing’s words about his sister's tendency to overwork herself rang in her ears.

“Princess,” Bai Qian whispered, tapping on her shoulder. “Princess, are you all right?”

She looked up at Yehua, who got down on one knee and did as she had done. “Princess of Xunzhua,” he said.

The princess let out a soft groan, her eyelids fluttering.

“High God…” she murmured, but then let out a faint gasp as she looked upon Yehua. “You’re not High God Moyuan… oh…” she shook her head. “I’m sorry… Celestial Crown Prince... I’ve met you before...”

“Are you not well, Princess?” asked Bai Qian.

“A little,” Zhuowei grabbed the side of her head, her face flushing red. “I’m not sure what happened… I was fine a minute ago.”

“How are you feeling? Does any of your old injuries hurt?”

“No… but my head hurts.”

“Let’s get you back to your room,” Bai Qian decided and clutched the princess’ arm. “Can you walk?”

Zhuowei made an effort to rise but instantly dropped back down, shutting her eyes tightly. “I’m a little dizzy…”

Yehua bended down. “Let me help you,” he said in a reassuring voice. The princess looked taken aback. But as if realizing that there was no way she could make it back to her room on her own, she did not argue and instead reached up to Yehua’s shoulder as he lifted her from the ground.

“My scrolls...” her feeble voice suddenly uttered. “I’m still reading those…”

“I’ll get them for you,” said Bai Qian. At this time, Zhuowei’s eyes began to droop. The reluctance a moment ago had yet to leave her face, though it seemed like she was completely drained of energy to have any kind of reaction to being held by a someone she’d only met twice. The next thing they knew, her head dropped against Yehua’s shoulder and she drifted back into the state they had found her in earlier.

“She’s burning up,” said Yehua.

“I’ll go and get Shifu,” said Bai Qian, collecting the scrolls as fast as she could.


---


“It is the residue of the spell the Demons used on her,” said Moyuan, who was residing at Zhuowei’s bedside.

The atmosphere in the room lightened up a bit. Next to Bai Qian, Pojing exhaled in relief. Though one glance at those eyes and Bai Qian could tell he was probably thinking about ripping out the Spinner’s guts the next time they crossed paths. Yehua, on the other hand, had remained quiet for the most part.

“High God Zheyan has warned against this,” Moyuan continued, glancing at Pojing. “Both the princess and my Sixteenth Disciple have been subjected to powerful Demonic spells. It’s bound to happen a few more times before she completely recovers. A fever here and there, nightmares, sudden fatigue. In some cases, the victims of these spells are forced to relive terrible events of their past in their sleep.”

“How long will it take for these aftereffects to cease, High God?” asked the king.

“According to High God Zheyan, a month or so. She must rest properly and meditate on a daily basis to rebalance her powers.”

“I’ll make sure to remind her,” Pojing sighed.

On her bed, Zhuowei suddenly twisted to one side, claiming everyone’s attention. Her hand gripping the side of the bed tightly and she grimaced as though in pain, her nails grating against the stony surface.

“What’s the matter?” Pojing asked, stepping closer to his sister.

“Possibly a dream,” Moyuan replied and raised his hand a few inches above Zhuowei’s temple.

The magic issuing from his palm caused the princess’ grip to eventually slacken. She was still wincing yet her whole body was starting to look less tense. Her hand unexpectedly left the bedside and grabbed hold of Moyuan’s wrist, her small voice mumbling something unintelligible.

Undistracted, hand stable, Moyuan went on with his spell.

Bai Qian couldn’t help but think back to the little incident at High Goddess Yaoguang’s water dungeon, her face growing hot. Was this what she had looked like to her Seniors back then?

After several seconds, the princess still hung on to Moyuan’s wrist stubbornly. Bai Qian could not tell whether she was trying to push him away or using his hand as some sort of anchor to fight off the unpleasant dream she seemed to be having.

“Zhuowei,” whispered an anxious Pojing, who seemed to be as confused as Bai Qian was and rather afraid that his sister might hinder the spell being performed. But Moyuan simply gestured for him to leave her be. A few more seconds passed by and when nothing happened except that the princess was clutching his hand still more firmly, Bai Qian started to feel a sudden urge to find something else to look at.

Fragrance burner, her mind snapped. Bai Qian glanced around the room and spotted one on the low table behind Pojing immediately. She walked over - next to the lotus bud shaped fragrance burner was a small metal container. Bai Qian opened it and was glad to find there were some herbs inside - the same combination of herbs Zheyan had made for her Sixteenth Senior. Carefully she filled the tray inside the burner with some of those dried herbs and closed the lid.

“She will need --” Moyuan’s voice came from the bedside, but stopped as he realized what Bai Qian was doing. “Precisely,” he said to her, slightly astonished.

“What is that for, Qianqian?” asked Yehua.

“Zheyan made this mixture of herbs,” she said and lighted the candle underneath the little tray. “It’ll help her sleep better.”

“Ah, Yehua,” said Moyuan, standing up. “You are here about the training of the Celestial troops.”

“And our battle plans, yes,” Yehua nodded.

Moyuan gestured toward the door. Yehua gave her a brief yet quite perplexed look - which Bai Qian suspected had to do with her attempt to ‘examine Zhuxian Terrace’ earlier on - then followed his brother out.

Pojing, who had settled at the bedside where Moyuan had been, let out a deep sigh as soon as the brothers disappeared from sight.

“I will have to go back to Xunzhua in the next few days,” he said, laying back against the wall and folding his arms. “I don’t feel comfortable leaving her here at all.”

“She’ll be all right,” said Bai Qian. “High God Zheyan already said it’s only a matter of time before she recovers. He’s gotten rid of all traces of dark magic in her.”

“Those blasted Demons,” Pojing ground out. “I swear the next time I see that Spinner or whatever he calls himself, he’ll get more than just a few scars.”

“Do you think Zhuowei could have told the Demons anything about Xunzhua’s military affairs when she was under their spell?” Bai Qian walked toward the bed. “Given the role she plays in your kingdom’s defenses.”

“She might have, and she knows it too. This is why I have to go back as soon as I can to work with my generals. We’re always prepared for cases where military secrets are stolen, of course. But I need to make sure the potency of our protective shield has not been altered. If the Demons figure out a way to infiltrate and get their hands on our weapon inventory, all hell will break loose.”

Bai Qian nodded in agreement - Xunzhua’s armies were not as large as the Nine Heavens’. Just like at Qingqiu and the Eastern Forest, what protected this clan was the effectiveness of their shield and their loyal and proficient defenders.

“I’ll keep an eye on Zhuowei while she’s here,” said Bai Qian.

“Would you?” the King gave her a strange look.

“Yes. I’m going to leave for a short trip to the mortal realm, but I’ll still be here after that, I’ll look after her. I mean --” she chuckled, “I don’t think she needs it. People heal very quickly at Kunlun and this is the safest place I know. But if it puts your mind at ease to go back to Xunzhua, the Ghost Princess and I can keep Zhuowei company.”

“That would make me worry less, thank you,” he said, sounding so sincere that Bai Qian could not stop herself from laughing.

“What’s funny?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” she said. “Your lack of sarcasm today scares me is all.”

“You know,” Pojing’s voice was now clear of any trace of gratefulness Bai Qian had just heard a moment ago. “If you’re still considering that Celestial Crown Princess position, I say it’s still available.”

“What… What are you talking about!”

“Would you keep it down, please,” he jerked his head at the sleeping Zhuowei.

“What -- do you mean?” she hissed.

“I mean I can see why the Crown Prince chose you in the first place and why he hesitates to find your replacement. In these chaotic times, in fact, at any time at all, mutual affection in a union is a luxury, the next best thing is having a companion who understands you and can share your vision of the world. Once found, that individual can be hard to let go of.”

“And how do you know what the Crown Prince looks for in a companion?”

“Despite your lack of experience, it’s obvious you’re able to see what’s important most of the time and are willing to offer help where help is needed to achieve the best result. I won’t pretend those are not admirable qualities; and I’m sure the Crown Prince has seen them. After all, I see them.”

Bai Qian frowned - was that a compliment?

“Don’t look at me like that,” he scoffed. “It’s not like I’m making you an offer, Queen of Qingqiu.”

“I have no reason to consider such an offer even if you were,” she gave back.

“Actually, I can think of a few, but let’s start with — I’m not 70,000 years younger than you.”

Bai Qian grabbed the spare pillow that had been lying at the foot of Zhuowei’s bed, aimed it at his face and threw with all she had. Then, not giving a care if the pillow had actually hit him or not, she wheeled around and stormed out of the room.

Chapter 5