Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 6, Part 3 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 6 - The Realm of Trials

Part 3

written by LalaLoop
consulting by Bunny
editing by kakashi

“I do hope the Princess of Xunzhua will recover soon,” said Yehua as he and the God of War took their seats in the latter’s study.

“She will,” Moyuan assured him. “High God Zheyan has removed the last trace of the Demonic spells they used on her. Do not worry.”

Worry? Did he? Yehua poured himself some tea. His attention, with no particular inclination toward either disapproval or admiration, had been drawn more to the fact that this princess was more afraid of not being able to finish reading a scroll than passing out with a fever.

“Let us press on,” suggested Moyuan. “I have read —”

“Before we begin with the battle plans,” Yehua said quickly. “There is something I’d like to discuss with you, High God.”

Moyuan placed down his tea and nodded. “Of course.”

Aware of Moyuan’s former relation to the person whom he was going to discuss, Yehua took a moment to choose his words carefully. Kunlun had once sheltered this woman, he could not speak of her as if with his Celestial Council. Not until he knew more.

“Several of our Celestial Spies have returned from the Demon clan,” Yehua began. “Beside other things, they also report whispers — rumors among the Demons’ court that the immortal Luoji was once — involved — with late Demon Overlord.”

Upon the mention of the Demon Woman, Yehua noticed his brother’s face lift a fraction.

“I wonder if you are familiar with this information.”

“Indeed I am,” came an impassive and unexpectedly cold reply that caused Yehua to believe he was delving into a displeasing subject.

“Would you be able to tell me what kind of involvement that was?” he continued nonetheless.

“I see,” said Moyuan. “But is this a matter of importance?”

“It might be, High God,” replied Yehua, slightly bemused. “The Demons, given their long history of rebellion against the Nine Heavens, will no doubt consider supporting Luoji. From what I have learnt from our spies, I suspect they are looking into forbidden methods to —” he took a shallow breath, the thought of it disturbs him greatly — “to resurrect their Overlord, especially now that the news of your return has spread to the eight realms, and I would like to know if there is a chance Luoji will lend a hand in this. I’m not implying that they will succeed, of course. This act violates all the sacred laws of the realms and bears dire consequences. But still, I do not put it passed the Demons.”

“Your concern is legitimate,” said Moyuan kindly. “Have you spoken to anyone else about this?”

“Lord Donghua, High God. He informed me during a meeting that the Demon Queen had employed Luoji’s intellect during the Demon War.”

“That is correct,” said Moyuan.

“Although, what I wish to know is whether this cooperation stemmed from something other than a common goal during the war? Did they share any belief or harbor any desire for domination beyond the Nine Heavens. I believe the more we know, the better we can prepare to face Luoji.”

There was a fleeting look, a strange look that held many emotions at once on the God of War’s normally undisturbed face, one of which was guilt. But it was so quick to cease that Yehua could not decide whether what he’d just seen was only in his imagination.

“The Demon Queen, like you said, employed the immortal Luoji’s intellect and resources during the war,” said Moyuan. “She wanted to win at all costs and earn her tribe recognition. She did share some of his ideas but, thanks to the timely end of their alliance, did not have the chance to incorporate any of them.”

“What kind of idea, High God? Any of which we should look into?”

“Enhancement of magical powers. Luoji wished to rule the Nine Heavens; the Demon Overlord, at this time, was naturally very interested in defeating Lord Donghua, who was the Chief Commander of the Celestial troops.”

“Both Lord Donghua and you,” said Yehua, nodding. “Because — you were also a Commander.”

“Correct. For a while, both the Dark Immortal and the Demon Overlord strived to look for Magics that could strengthen their powers and grant them more cultivation.”

“It doesn’t look like the Demon Queen succeeded with that, according to the records.”

“No,” Moyuan said quietly. “She was not successful. Beyond this, Yehua, I’m afraid there is nothing else I can share that can prove more useful to you than the information you yourself have acquired.”

Yehua took a moment to study his brother’s face that had returned to its impassive state.

“But you do — know more,” he said cautiously.

“Nothing that can contribute to your investigation, I’m afraid. And —” he took a brief pause — “I must remind you, Yehua, that nothing is more important now than to strengthen your armies. It matters very little to us whether the Demons are looking to bring their queen back to life or not. But if they are, then all the more reason we should worry less about that and more about our own defenses.”

Yehua remained silent for a while, feeling rather conflicted. He could not pretend he was not slightly offended by this properly said yet blunt statement that implied he had forgotten his priorities. Because of course he had not. Not only Moyuan’s reminder but also his refusal to verbalize disapproval of the Demons’ dangerous scheme concerning resurrection was evoking in Yehua a defiant urge to insist upon more information on the current subject. Was his brother hesitant to recognize the wrongness of this act just because this had to do with someone who’d used to be his friend?

However, after much contemplation, Yehua decided that this was indeed not an urgent matter, nor was it a good reason for him to begin an argument. When he spoke though, his voice didn’t seem to have fully agreed with his decision, for it bore a bit of displeasure he could not conceal.

“I do not believe that the matters of our own armies are less important than whatever the Demons are doing, High God.”

“I agree,” said his brother, who had seemingly seen through his ambivalence, very calmly and with a smile that diffused the remaining uneasiness brought about by the subject.

Yehua’s study was in complete silence. The only sounds that rustled through the air were that of his own brush and Jiayun’s occasional comments on which scroll required more attention than the others from his own desk. Which was why Yehua’s thoughts immediately ceased when a small sound from his assistant disrupted the silence.

Clearing his throat apologetically, Jiayun approached his desk and handed him the scroll with a bow.

“This urgent message seems to need immediate response, Your Highness.”

Puzzled, Yehua opened the scroll. Though one look at the handwriting put a smile on his face instantly. Jiayun was now chuckling quietly by his side.

The ‘urgent’ message was from none other than his son, A-li.

Dear Father Lord,

I would appreshiate it very much if you could redeews the number of guards who follow me whenever I leave my palace. I promise to be rusponsubol for my own savtee and fight off Demons who want to attack me if I ever meet any.

Yehua was unable to contain a light laugh at the structurally complicated and therefore miswritten characters in the message. No doubt A-li had come in here and placed this scroll among the ones from the Celestial Court without anyone noticing. His son had been unhappy lately with the increased security in the Nine Heavens, the direct result of which was having men in heavy armors accompanying him almost everywhere.

“What do you think, Jiayun?” said Yehua, eyes still on the handwriting. “You’re a member of the Court.”

Jiayun cleared his throat again in a solemn manner and spoke, voice resembling a leader in a peace talk.

“The request is not unreasonable, Your Highness. However, the little prince’s safety is a priority.”

Still chuckling to himself, Yehua picked up his brush, swept it once across the inkstone surface and began to write at the bottom of the scroll.

Prince A-li,

I am incredibly impressed that you have constructed this message on your own. However, having brought this matter to the Celestial Council, I regret to inform you that I must decline your request, which will be reconsidered once you have passed your first Celestial Examination of magic and defensive techniques in combat with a score above average.

Your Father Lord

He then acquired the Celestial seal and pushed it down onto the scroll, leaving a red square mark next to his name.

“Deliver it,” he said and handed the reply to Jiayun.

“Yes, Your Highness,” the Celestial soldier smiled and quietly exited the room.

Yehua set down the brush and flexed his fingers. A-li’s blissful oblivion of the eight realms’ distressing affairs had lifted the weight in his heart - a reminder that perhaps he should take a minute or two to rest before burying himself in reports and documents again.

Though, as understanding as Yehua was to his son’s displeasure with the new system, he had no choice but to contribute to the displeasure. Increasing the number of guards for A-li’s protection was inevitable after the last incident with the poisoned wine. The idea had in fact been suggested by his brother, the God of War. Not only that, he had more than once urged Yehua to intensify the shield magic surrounding the Nine Heavens and subject military generals of all ranks to re-evaluation of weapon and investigation of their recent activities. Both advices were being carried out despite the Skylord’s constant insistence that they were unnecessary.

After his last discussion about military training with the God of War, Yehua was less worried about whether he and his generals had been doing enough. It seemed they were on the right tracks concerning training and battle plans.

Still one thing bothered Yehua until today - their brief exchange about the Demon Queen.

There was no doubt that the mention of this woman had disrupted the serenity his brother naturally possessed, even if he had not let it affect his ability to carry on with the conversation afterward.

It was like the falling of a leave on an autumn lake. A single leave. Light, tender, yet it had created ripples on the once still water surface.

Yehua had concluded that he had not stepped out of line with his questions. He had simply stumbled on a subject that unfortunately happened to be one the God of War would rather avoid.

According to the Celestial soldiers Yehua had sent to the Demon Realm, rumors about them were plenty. And rumors had it that their Queen had once been in a complicated relationship with the God of War. Yehua had never paid attention to that bit of information. Not until now. His brother’s insistence on silence regarding the Demon Woman and that brief but indicative look had commanded his attention, even though he was not certain whether it was a matter worth pondering over.

Complicated, he reflected, what kind of complication?

Could it have been…

No, Yehua dismissed the idea immediately. The mind behind those dark eyes could be unfathomable, his understanding of his brother’s character might be imperfect, but Yehua had been around long enough to understand a thing or two; and the one thing he could decide without a shred of doubt right this moment was that there could have been no such attachment between the God of War and the late Demon Queen.

Yehua’s eyes wandered toward the smoking tea cauldron at one end of his desk, lingering on the dancing flame underneath.

Similar to everyone else who was born after the first Demon War, Yehua did not know the Demon Queen personally. His knowledge of her was procured through his own research and recently, his spies. But from what little he knew to construct his mental image of this woman, Yehua was more than certain that she and his brother were as different in character as fire and water. Both might have been put on this universe to coexist. But one inch too close and one would devour the other.

Close friends or a source of intrigue and fastination to each other they might have been. But mutual attraction was out of the question. And it was as plain as day that they had gone to war against each other, a devastating war that had taken the lives of many from both tribes.

Yehua could not imagine two people less likely to choose one another as the object of affection, let alone believe some kind of intense amorousness had led the God of War to display the sort of expression he had seen that day.

What was it, then?

What had rendered such agitation from his brother, even if it had been exhibited in a diminutive, almost imperceivable, amount? The Demon Queen had been an irreplaceable friend, pershaps? A friend the God of War had valued above all friends? It was almost as if his brother had been expressing a willingness to take all the blame about the war and this woman’s death upon himself if needed. As if it pained him to speak ill of her even if she had committed many wrongs.

Yehua stretched out his fingers, directing magic to the center of his hand. A few seconds later a small peach blossom petal appeared in the middle of his palm.

Might Bai Qian know anything about the Demon Queen and her involvement with Luoji or this ‘complicated relationship’?

Many times Yehua had wanted to come to Qingqiu and speak to Bai Qian like he had before their engagement was cancelled. But he could not bring himself to. His heart was no longer in tumult, his mind no longer clouded by a persistent desire to pursue her. Yet, being too close to her had proved more difficult than he’d thought.

If only he was free of their past the way she was.

Bai Qian was normally comfortable around him. So comfortable that at times he could not decide whether she was only putting on an act for his sake. The topics of their exchanges lately, though, did not stray far from the safety of the realms or the weather. Did she ever want to tell him more about how she was getting on, ever want to stay longer each visit to the Nine Heavens, but was hindered by the clarity of his emotion? Knowing Bai Qian, she would sooner forbid herself to see him than risk having him relive those memories by appearing in front of him too much. He himself could not think of a better solution than to accept hers and act accordingly however much her absence affected him.

Agonizing, unbearable at times their separation had been, but he had learnt to reason with his grief and argue his yearning to silence in the hope that one day they would be able to be in each other’s company again, free of any sentiment left by her trial.

With a quiet sigh, Yehua rose from his seat and slowly made his way toward the sitting platform.

In Bai Qian’s absence during the last few days, he had often contrived to recall their past conversations. If his memory was correct, there were no instances where she proved to know more than him in the subject of the Demon Queen. They might share the same vision of this woman since their sources of information were somewhat similar. But beyond her magical achievements, abilities, records on the war, and the fact that the woman had spent her childhood at Kunlun, they both knew very little else.

“Your Highness,” a panicky voice reached Yehua’s ears just when he was about to sit down. “Your Highness!”

He straightened his back and quickened his steps to the center of the room. In rushed a guard of Xiwu Palace.

“What is it?” said Yehua quietly, though he was astonished by this man’s barging in his study without waiting for permission.

“Your Highness, Commander Wenzhen (文真) brings urgent news from the Arctic region!”

Arctic region? Yehua frowned. Had an escape taken place? As far as he knew, the shield that surrounded the Arctic Prisons had been enhanced by Lord Donghua and the number of guards had been more than doubled. Unless...

Yehua balled his fist, praying to Father Immortal the news was not what he thought it was.

Three days ago his grandfather had ordered a group of highly trained warriors, including this Commander Wenzhen, to accompany Tianshu to the Arctic Land on a mission to relocate a certain prisoner - one who had pledged his absolute loyalty to the Dark Arts and been charged with more crimes than any of the others.

For no less than 190,000 years this man had been locked underneath the deepest layers of the Arctic Prisons, immobilized and restrained by multiple magical seals. Until three days ago, when the Celestial Council had led them to decide it was time to move him to a more secure cell. It was on a mountain that laid several thousand miles away which employed Xunzhua’s shield magic.

Three days it had been since the order had been issued, to say that he had been without worry during those three days was not true. But Yehua had not expected there to be any complications his magically skillful and experienced generals could not solve. Failure was unthinkable. Though the look on the guard’s face now told him the unthinkable had happened.

Though no sooner had Yehua responded than Wenzhen himself stumbled through the door in a most disheveled and exhausted state.

“What happened to you, Commander?” Yehua asked, eyes scanning the man’s battered robe and the multiple scars on his face.

“Your Highness,” a tremor sneaked its way into Wenzhen’s normally calm voice. His expression was that of a man ready to face his death. “I regret to report that the mission was unsuccessful. He… Sufeng (速风) has escaped.”

Having prepared himself for this news did not stop a mixture of anger and helplessness from rising to his throat. For a short moment Yehua was at loss for words.

“How?” he pressed out. “How could this have happened? Sufeng was immobilized for decades. You, Commander, and the other four generals we appointed to this task are inferior to few in the Nine Heavens. How were you not able to contain one man who has been magically inactivated and spent his days confined in a prison cell the light of day could not reach for this long?”

“Someone must have leaked the information of the move. I believe he received help from inside the prison, Your Highness. The immobilization spell had been lifted before we escorted him out of his former cell. And…”

A look of shame filled the Commander’s face, his brows pulling together painfully.

“Go on,” said Yehua, almost breathlessly.

“The strength of his spells were formidable and unpredictable. We were taken by surprise as soon as we reached the end of the Arctic Lands’ shield despite being well prepared for an escape attempt. After that, he was carried away by a Demon Phoenix who came to his aid.”

“Have you ordered a search among the Arctic Land’s guards for the traitor who’s supposedly aided him?”

“Yes, Your Highness, I have. I gather it could either be a Shapeshifter or one of our own men who has been persuaded into Sufeng’s cause.”

“Did anyone pursue the prisoner?”

“A few of us managed to do so but our speed was no match for the phoenix.”

Remaining composed yet struggling to recollect his calmness internally, Yehua asked, “Where is Tianshu?”

“General Tianshu was heavily injured during the fight. The Medicine King is tending to him.”

Strangling silence befell them and enveloped the room for a long minute. Then, with difficult yet great determination in his voice, Wenzhang spoke.

“Your Highness, I am willing to accept any punishment on behalf of the other generals. Please do not --”

“Please go tend your injuries, Commander,” Yehua said flatly.

“Your Highness…”

“At once. Leave this matter to me.”

Hesitant for a moment, Wenzhen then bowed deeply and left the room as quickly as his exhausted feet could carry him.

There is a reason why the immortal Sufeng has been locked inside the deepest cell of the Arctic Lands, Yehua recollected as he cast a spell on his resting brush, which levitated and positioned itself above a blank scroll on his desk. There is also a specific reason why the Council has decided to take the risk and move him to a better guarded prison.

What made the matter worse was that this immortal had once been a citizen of Xunzhua, an official of their court before being disowned by the late King for committing numerous crimes that significantly damaged Xunzhua’s relation with other clans. No doubt this man would attempt to return to his clan for one reason or another, none of which could be friendly or contributing to peace. A man who has been familiar with this clan’s shield magic… Yehua’s fist tightened. Even if his knowledge was outdated, his capabilities were evident.

Much faster than the speed of a person’s hand, the brush made stroke after stroke on the wooden slats, inscribing a brief message by Yehua’s direction, issuing a warning to the King of Xunzhua about the prisoner’s unexpected escape.

The message was finished in less than a minute; and with another flick of his wrist, the scroll sealed itself and flew into his grip. The kind of mistake his generals had just made could put the Celestial Court under severe judgement from Xunzhua, but Yehua decided there was no time to consider politics under these circumstances. He would rather face judgement now than pay the price if Sufeng successfully infiltrated this clan. An unlikely scenario. But so had an escape from the Arctic Prisons been deemed.

“Guard,” Yehua called out, and was instantly responded to by one of his men standing guard outside the study.

“Your Highness,” the man bowed.

“Take this to a Celestial Messenger.” Yehua handed him the scroll. “Tell him it is of great urgency.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

Flinging a black overcoat around himself, Yehua left Xiwu Palace moments after the guard had exited, heading for Taichen Palace.