Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 9, Part 1 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)


Chapter 9 - Butterflies On The Meadow


Part 1

written by LalaLoop
consulting by Bunny
edited by kakashi

From what Nalan had gathered, Bai Qian understood that Luoji had taken off somewhere on urgent business. Having run back and forth, exploring every corner of the Nine Heavens, Nalan and Jiayun had come to the conclusion that they had absolutely no chance to get A-li out while Luoji was present. And because he could be expected back any time, they would have to grasp this opportunity, when he had just left, and rescue the boy as quickly as possible.

“The plan is to get into Prince A-li’s palace and out without alerting any of the guards,” said Nalan, the Xunzhua soldier with a lean physique and a surprisingly bright personality for a spy. Just like his king, Nalan could move about with unusually high speed and made almost no sound when he walked or during combat.

Combat, however, was one of Nalan’s limitations, which was why their initial plan to have only him and Jiayun sneak A-li out of the palace had been scratched. If they were to be discovered, perhaps A-li, whom Luoji had instructed to be kept safe, could avoid being slaughtered, but Nalan and Jiayun in his current condition most likely could not. And such an incident would only put those Celestial Soldiers more on their guard.

“How are we going to get in there, Nalan?” Pojing asked the question they were all thinking.

Nalan did not respond to him but instead reached into his chest pocket, drew out a badly wrapped package and handed it to Bai Qian. “Queen of Qingqiu, this belongs to one of Prince A-li’s maids, Nainai.”

Bai Qian undid the layers of paper and saw a small bronze pendant inside.

“General Jiayun said you are familiar with this maid’s appearance,” said Nalan. “His plan to get into the Nine Heavens is by this pendant.”

Bai Qian’s eyes narrowed. “You want me to -- transform into Nainai when we get there.”

“Yes, Nainai has been walking in and out of the eastern gate during the last few days so that the guards would grow accustomed to her face. They tend to ask less questions if they’ve seen you many times. Since you are a Fox Immortal, Queen of Qingqiu, you are able to perform the shapeshifting spell. You can divert those guards’ attention while we walk through the gate inside our invisible shields.”

Pojing nodded approvingly. “Not bad.”

“But -- I’ve never done this spell before,” Bai Qian gulped. “The magic is highly complicated.”

It was true, the last time her appearance had been altered, it was by Zheyan’s magic. To take the form of another person and maintain it required mastering of this spell - something that only foxes who trained as spies or wished to apply for a post in the army would care to do.

“It’s the only way we can get the guards to open the gate to us, I’m afraid,” said Nalan. “I mean — of course we can render them unconscious, but to have the gate unguarded would look suspicious to bypassers. The point is to go in unnoticed. Can you try to do the spell, Queen of Qingqiu?”

“Would it bring you any harm, Qianqian,” asked Yehua, “if the spell is not done properly?”

“Er --” Bai Qian stammered. The truth was, she had not read that much about this spell. The only thing she could remember from her father’s talks a long time ago was that the magic would drain one’s energy fast. But then, they did not have a lot of time to contemplate. “I think I can try,” she decided.

Nalan dipped his head at her and continued. “Luoji allowed Prince A-li to be taken care of by the maid of his choice, I don’t know why but it’s working in our advantage. General Jiayun is with the prince and is prepared to meet us when we arrive at the prince’s palace.”

“No matter if we can get A-li out of there without anyone noticing or not, head straight for Xunzhua afterward,” Bai Qian suggested, “Coming back here or anywhere close to Qingqiu would be too risky because of our alliance with the former Nine Heavens, there might be ambushes along the way.”

“True,” Pojing nodded. “Let's go in separate groups, if we can. And — Princess Yanzhi,” he turned to his side. “You have the device, be very careful.”

“I know,” Yanzhi replied. A heavy silence once again fell briefly upon their heads at the prospect of having to break into what was now the Dark Immortal’s domain.

“What has Luoji been doing all this time?” asked Yehua suddenly.

“I’m not sure, Celestial Crown Prince,” Nalan said. “He keeps to himself all the time, the only two people who might have an idea about his plans are the Spinner and perhaps… well…” he glanced around uncomfortably. “The prisoner from the Arctic Lands. Many tribe leaders have come to the Nine Heavens to pledge their allegiance, out of — fear or the hope for a better reign, I’m not so sure...”

“What about my mother?” Yehua went on to ask. “Have you seen her?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t,” Nalan frowned. “I saw Lady Lexu with Prince A-li once, but only once. After that, General Jiayun and I looked everywhere but couldn’t find her or… any of the princes for that matter.”

The line between Yehua’s brows deepened, he let out a painfully hopeless sigh that seemed to have been suppressed for a long time.

“I… er…” Nalan looked around at them all. “I don’t think Luoji has hurt them...”

But the uncertainty in his voice did not lift anyone’s mood. Yanzhi quickly changed the subject. “Is there anything else we need before heading to the Nine Heavens?”

“Hmm,” Nalan pondered, “I almost forgot - a basket of fruits, Ghost Princess.”


***


“Nainai’s been telling the guards at the eastern gate that her trips are mainly to get the little prince the fruits he wants from the Heavenly Gardens, Queen of Qingqiu,” Nalan said as he explained to Bai Qian why she’d have to bring a fruit basket along when she would approach the gate. “We will tell them the same thing this time.”

“Wouldn’t the guards be able to tell these fruits are not really from the Heavenly Gardens?” asked Bai Qian.

“I don’t believe so, My Queen, as long as your disguise is convincing. You see, The Nine Heaven’s entry security has always been insufficient --” Nalan suddenly gasped, snapped his mouth shut, eyes darting in Yehua’s direction.

Yehua, on the other hand, simply looked into the distance, as though those words had never reached his ears.

“What I mean is that -- er -- these guards are extremely sharp, but they’re not prepared for all scenarios, who is anyway? They won’t notice, Queen of Qingqiu,” The Xunzhua soldier glanced nervously at Pojing, who remained silent, shaking his head slightly from side to side.

“Right,” Bai Qian nodded, privately feeling the whole thing would be much easier if they just waited for Luoji to come back and asked Nalan to slip some poison into his breakfast.

Reaching the end of Qingqiu’s territory, Nalan decided it was time for Bai Qian to transform. Four pairs of curious eyes were on her as Bai Qian began to picture Nainai’s face in her mind and muttered the incantation - it was not that difficult since Nainai’s was one of the few friendly faces in the Nine Heavens she actually looked forward to seeing every time she visited A-li.

There was a violent yank in her stomach and Bai Qian began to feel as if someone was holding her by the head and feet and stretching her body, pulling it apart. The sensation was over almost immediately but her whole body remained awfully tense. Hot, prickling pain radiated from her core a few seconds afterward and spread over her arms and legs. Her insides felt as though they were being twisted and her head was heavy.

The advanced magic that came extremely easy to trained shapeshifters felt like torture to her. Bai Qian grabbed her head when a sudden sharp pain shot from the pit of her stomach straight to her skull.

“Qianqian,” Yehua’s voice whispered above her.

Bai Qian looked down and was pleased to see that she’d also managed to transform her robe into that of a Celestial Maid, though it was still lavender in color. She turned up at her friends, head whirling. She was seeing two of each. “How do I look?”

“Like -- Nainai,” Yehua said with a smile and gave a small wave of his hand. Instantly her robes became a shade of coral.


***


Under their invisible shields, the four of them entered the Nine Heavens’ grounds. From the outside, the place looked exactly the same as before. No one would have thought that everything from the Dragon Throne to Taichen Palace, to the Lightning Tower, had changed. Perhaps to walk in Lord Donghua’s library and ask for a scroll would result in death now.

Bai Qian, feeling suffocated by the transformation and weaker by the second, had to travel in the same shield as Yanzhi, who showered her with reminders and instructions along the way so that she would not give them away. Though all Bai Qian could think about was that she would collapse very soon if they could not get this over with fast.

Her vision began to blur very quickly on the way and by the time they got to the eastern gate, it felt as though she was looking at everything through a veil of fog. Getting out of Yanzhi’s shield, Bai Qian continued toward the wary looking guards at the gate. She straightened her back, took a deep breath and presented the pendant to them.

“You’re the boy’s maid,” said one of the guards.

“Yes,” said Bai Qian weakly. They did not allow her to walk through right away. The man’s eyes suddenly narrowed at her. Puzzled, Bai Qian lifted her chin and stared back.

“Something wrong?” He croaked.

“No,” Bai Qian frowned.

However, it dawned on her instantly that her habitual display of defiance towards Celestial Guards was betraying her disguise. Most maids did not go through a day without being questioned about one thing or another and none of them would dare pull a face while answering those questions.

“A-l -- I mean —” she dropped her head a little. “His Highness asked for these fruits.”

“We know, we know,” said the other guard as he peered into her basket. “Nasty fruits. Tasteless. It’s strange that a kid his age would want to eat these. Don’t most of them like sweets?”

“The little prince likes these fruits,” she said, feeling an urge to kick him in the stomach. “I am only complying with his wishes.”

Incompetents, Bai Qian thought while watching them exchange looks with each other. The truth was, angry and distressed thoughts were the only things in her head at the moment. The magic was indeed sucking away all her powers and clouded her ability to think.

One of the guards lazily raised his arm to cast a spell at the basket. However, his hand dropped half way. Bai Qian looked at his face to see his eyes had become glazed, soulless, his mouth half opened. The other guard was showing the same oddity in his behavior and they both quickly returned to their posts, looking straight into the distance, as though they’d forgotten about her and the fruits.

One by one her friends showed themselves.

“That should do it,” said Yehua, who had obviously just cast the spell on those guards. He turned to Bai Qian. “You and the Ghost Princess wait for us here. Don’t do anything risky.”

“Like I have a choice,” Bai Qian muttered, coughing lightly.

Quietly, the three men hurried forward, took a turn and disappeared behind a building. Bai Qian and Yanzhi quickly hid themselves behind one of the pillars on the curb. Bai Qian lost the disguise and took several deep breaths to stabilize her energy, occasionally twisting her head to check on the guards.

“This is terrible!” she winced, punching either side of her head. “How do they do it -- what?” Bai Qian frowned when she realized that Yanzhi was staring at her through narrowed eyes.

“You never told me what happened when you went back to Kunlun that day.”

Bai Qian quietly grunted, she’d always known she’d have to face with some questioning from this astute friend of hers sooner or later. “Nothing -- happened, Yanzhi.”

“Obviously. But why did you go back in the first place?”

Bai Qian sighed.

“Are you thinking that we’ve overlooked something?” Yanzhi pressed on. “Is that why you went back?

“Yes,” Bai Qian admitted. “Yes, I thought -- I still think there’s something we haven’t to consider even though we saw with our own eyes…” she stopped, unable to go on.

“High God Moyuan... killing someone…”

“Yes… it’s…” Bai Qian lowered her voice as Yanzhi stood closer to her. “I don’t know what I saw anymore. I don't know what I’ve found at Kunlun when I came back that night, either. It’s all a mess.”

“That was…” Yanzhi folded her arms. “Reckless of you. What if —”

“What if it was a trap — I know. Pojing already gave me a full lecture and plenty of glaring. But didn’t I leave the device with you that day? I’m not that foolish.”

Yanzhi shook her head again, giving Bai Qian disapproving looks one after another. Though her voice because less stern as she spoke. “Do you think we were right to take the device from Kunlun?”

“We are,” said Bai Qian, and this time she was certain. “We need to find out its secret. I’ve given it a lot of thought since that night. Both Yehua and Pojing have said High God Moyuan was not fighting them with his full strength, which means he had considered the possibility of the device being lost before and must have some plan to deal with such a mishap.”

“Hmm,” Yanzhi frowned deeply.

“When we met him on the mountain, he’d just come back from somewhere. If the device was crucial to gathering the Demon Queen’s soul, like you said,” Bai Qian went on, “he would not have left it at Kunlun knowing that I still had access to the mountain and Little Sprite could simply fly through the shield of the meditation room to get anything. It was more about keeping the device in a place Luoji could not reach.”

“The King of Xunzhua said the device might contain dark magic that can kill anyone who meddles with it,” Yanzhi pondered.

Bai Qian shook her head. “If it contained sinister magic that might kill us, High God Moyuan would never have let us take it in the first place. He would have risked everything to retrieve it. It might be triggered to destroy itself before we could learn anything about it though, so -- taking it to Zhuowei is exactly what we should do.”

Yanzhi slowly began after a while, “are you suggesting that the God of War -- despite what he did at Zhuxian Terrace -- he still cares about our safety? Your safety?”

“Oh,” Bai Qian scoffed, “that I can’t be so sure. Not wanting me dead is not the same thing as -- caring. If he cared, he’d be here.”

Bai Qian immediately felt angered by her own words, but it was too late - she had said them. That intense feeling of confusion and hatred and yearning and all the other terrible things rose up inside her again

“You’re contradicting yourself,” Yanzhi said.

“I’m being cautious. Listen,” Bai Qian said in impatience. “We have the device, if you all agree with what I think let’s get it to Zhuowei and we’ll figure out what to do from there. Don’t attempt to -- measure the depth of the God of War’s heart, that’s the first step to getting things wrong.”

Is it? The stubborn voice in her head argued. Or is knowing where his heart lies crucial to getting everything right?

But they already knew the answer to this, did they not? How many times did she have to hear from him that he’d chosen the Demon Queen to believe it?

Yanzhi opened her mouth to argue, but someone suddenly burst passed the two statue-like guards and ran to them.

Jiayun!” Bai Qian stood up straight.

“Queen of Qingqiu,” said the Xunzhua man. “Ghost Princess.”

“What happened? Why are you here?”

“I created a diversion in Taichen Palace so they could get into the little prince’s room,” he said, all out of breath, and pointed to his right. “They’ll likely come out through the northern gate to avoid meeting the soldiers that are investigating at Taichen Palace.”

“You don’t know if they’ve gotten to Prince A-li or not?” asked Yanzhi.

“No, Princess, but they should have by now.”

Bai Qian nodded. She exchanged a look with Yanzhi as they both hurried alongside Jiayun. It would take them several minutes to get to the northern gate. If everything went well they could bring A-li out by cloud-jumping without anyone noticing.

But Yehua must not be discovered while they were still behind the Nine Heavens’ gates. They were all prepared for a clash with the Luoji’s soldiers but none of them hoped it would happen. Her father had reminded them several times that many of Luoji’s servants were high gods and goddesses - fallen ones who had once been immortals of great cultivation. All their powers were now directed to serving Luoji and vanquishing anyone in his way.

Her father had said…

A horrible thought struck her hard on the head. Bai Qian stopped in her tracks.

“Jiayun --” she called and at the same time motioned for Yanzhi to stop walking.

“Yes, Queen of Qingqiu,” Jiayun turned around, dipping his head.

Bai Qian slowly approached the man, staring into his eyes, thinking hard.

“I just remembered something --”

“Yes?”

“Do you -- do you think Luoji knows about A-li’s secret hideout?” she said.

A blank look swept across his face. “The -- secret hideout?”

“Yes,” Bai Qian held her breath, quietly bringing her arm behind her back and summoning her silk fan. “The place that you and Tianshu always accompany A-li and Yehua to every year on A-li’s birthday?”

“Oh --” the man nodded, his eyes moving away from her. “Absolutely not, I don’t believe Luoji knows. It’s very well protected.”

“I see,” Bai Qian took another step toward him and lowered her voice. “But you remember where it is, don’t you? You know what realm this place is in?”

“His Highness the Crown Prince -- ” he said with deliberate slowness. A gleam flashed through his eyes and Bai Qian could see his right hand balling into a tight fist -- “er... he had it built deep inside a forest with Divine Energy to keep out dark forces.”

At half an arm’s length’s distance, Bai Qian squinted at the obvious dishonesty in his eyes.

“No, he didn’t,” she said.

The man’s hand moved at the same time as hers, but Bai Qian was faster. She whipped out her fan and slammed with enough force to knock him off his feet. Yanzhi swiftly advanced, struck a second blow to throw him back onto the ground just as he was trying to rise, and conjured a rope which coiled around the man’s body and prevented him from pulling out his weapon.

“Shapeshifter,” said Bai Qian in disgust. “Both Jiayun and Tianshu knew exactly where that cottage is.”

Coughing and panting, the man began to twist and turn on the ground. His hair grew longer, arms and legs shortening, robes changing colors. In the next few seconds, Jiayun’s face was replaced by that of a woman - a beautiful woman, for that matter - a long fox tail appearing from underneath her outer robe, though barely moving.

“Oh god…” Yanzhi whispered in horror and looked toward the entrance. “Have we been tricked? Did Luoji know we would come here today?”

“Get out of here, Yanzhi,” Bai Qian said right away.

Seeing awareness yet much reluctance in Yanzhi’s eyes, Bai Qian continued impatiently. “If any of us get caught here today, it can’t be the one with the device; we can’t let Luoji know we have it. Get it to Zhuowei!”

“But…”

“Yanzhi, the device is important, we can’t risk it. We all agreed to this plan. You said so yourself all the way here!”

With a frustrated grunt, Yanzhi summoned her sword. “Be careful,” she said, then whipped around and hopped on the sword, vanishing into the high clouds.

Bai Qian threw another contemptuous look at the unconscious fox woman and ran back to the gate they had abandoned. Bolting through the unguarded entrance, she headed for A-li’s palace, hiding herself behind walls and pillars along the way every time a shadow of a soldier passed by.

Though the closer she got to the palace, the more soldiers there were and then came a time when she had no choice but to throw herself out in the open and fight any man who attempted to thwart her so that she could get to A-li faster. Panic was pulsing in her temples at the realization that they’d walked into a trap. But one thing was for certain - Luoji was not here. If he was, it would not have taken this long for all of them to be caught and chunked into a prison cell.

Someone else was in charge and that person knew enough of their plan to send out one of their men to separate her and Yanzhi from the rest.


***


The gate to A-li’s palace came into view. There were sounds of metal clashing, of punching and kicking inside.

Bai Qian lifted herself and jumped over the wall just in time to see Yehua blast a spell toward the group of soldiers who were closing in on them. His magic exploded, sending the men flying into walls and rendered most of them unconscious. The ones who had not been caught sprang on their feet and scattered away.

“It won’t be long till they come back,” Pojing’s voice said.

“Qianqian!” A-li cried.

Bai Qian flew toward them. The boy was trembling in Jiayun’s arms, the real Jiayun. A-li was not hurt, thank the gods, only frightened. His face was pale with fear and sobs spilled out of him uncontrollably despite Jiayun’s effort to calm him down. His eyes lit up when she was in front of them, though he still held on to Jiayun for life.

“Why are you here? Where’s the Ghost Princess?” Yehua asked her. “Please tell me she’s not captured.”

“No, I told her to leave. What happened?” said Bai Qian angrily. “How could the soldiers have come so quickly?”

“One of them raised the alarm, Queen of Qingqiu --” said Nalan -- “The guards here always stay alert —”

“No time to explain,” Pojing said. “Let’s get out of here before more come. I don’t fancy dueling any of Luoji high god servants, either.”

“It’s not like you to shy away from a fight, Your Majesty,” the Xunzhua soldier chuckled.

“Not the time for jokes, Nalan.”

Let’s go!” said Bai Qian, drowning Nalan’s mutter of apology. All of them dashed out through the gate and headed for the nearest exit. If their presence had been anticipated then it did not matter which Nine Heaven’s gate they fled to - all of them would be swarming with guards by now.


***


No, this was definitely not how they had planned it, Bai Qian thought hopelessly as she and her friends fought their way through the increasing crowd of soldiers. They had sat down and talked about every possibility of things going wrong and what to do to prevent the worst from happening - being discovered and making a ruckus in the Nine Heavens, which was exactly the situation they had arrived at.

Many more soldiers were pressing in on them, weak and rather unskilled but the sheer number of them was about enough to make this escape impossible. Against any of their wishes, they arrived at the grand courtyard - the last place in the Nine Heavens anyone who wished to break in and leave in silence should be - surrounded by a forest of armed men.

Yehua was the first one to stop fighting when it was clear there was no point; the rest of them gave up one by one and the closing crowd of soldiers eventually stopped sending in more people but instead started tightening the circle around them.

The whole courtyard fell silent briefly with A-li sobbing the only thing to be heard.

A few moments later footsteps echoed on the ground. The soldiers quickly moved to either side, leaving a wide path on which a man was approaching them.

It was a familiar figure that made Bai Qian’s skin crawl; four long scars ran parallel on one side of his face.

“Daring,” the Spinner looked at Yehua. “And idiotic. Did you have to bring this many people on a mission to rescue one child?”

Pojing scowled at the irritating voice, his jaw clenching just like every time his patience ran short.

“Of course,” the Spinner looked up at the sky, tapping his long finger on his mouth, “to bring less people would also put you at risk in case you are found and need to fight your way out, so — yes, I see what you did there.”

Yehua remained silent at the jaunting and amidst the crowd’s rumble of laughter, Bai Qian could hear him mutter something to Jiayun.

“Ahh,” the Spinner chortled at Bai Qian. “We’ve met before, haven’t we. And --” his head twisted toward Pojing, a wicked smile stretched his mouth. “You. I swear -- you are going to pay this time.”

“A-li,” Bai Qian heard Yehua whisper. “Whatever happens, do -- not -- let go of Jiayun.”

A-li whimpered and wrapped both arms around Jiayun’s neck.

“What are you doing?” asked Pojing.

“When the shield is broken,” Yehua said, “get yourselves out!”

“How are you going to break their shield?” asked Bai Qian nervously, keeping her eyes on the Spinner.

Yehua gave no answer this time, but as Bai Qian caught sight of his hands she saw no need to ask more - silver sparks were swirling around his closing fists, a strong energy radiating from his body.

“Listen, Grandson of Haode,” the Spinner continued, unaware of the conversation that had taken place. “You have no permission to be here. But since you’ve broken in, I’m afraid I can’t allow you to leave.”

“I am the master of the Nine Heavens.” Yehua took a large step forward, his voice not so loud yet it turned every head in the courtyard. “I do not need your permission.”

An earsplitting roar exploded and where Yehua had stood an enormous black dragon appeared. It soared up and crashed its giant body with what looked like all the power it possessed into the shield that had become visible in response to the disruption in the atmosphere. Finally realizing what was happening, all around them the men started to send spells at the dragon but none of them could do anything to thwart him.

A crack appeared on the shield’s surface. With another roar, torrents of fire shot out from the dragon’s mouth, burning the edge of the fracture and widened it.

Jiayun zoomed upward and disappeared through the hole along with the black dragon. Knowing they only had seconds, Bai Qian rose into the air and headed for the opening.

But as soon as she was an inch away from escaping the shield, someone grabbed the scruff of her neck and with tremendous force threw her back down. Her back hit the ground with a loud thud and she grimaced in pain. Dozens of spells flew up at the same time at the hole the black dragon had made to create a temporary veil of magic right beneath it.

Shaking her head, Bai Qian scrambled up and looked to her side - Pojing and Nalan were also stuck behind and the former was cursing under his breath.

A-li has gotten away, she thought with a glimmer of happiness. Her own situation though did not look too optimistic. Yehua’s Celestial power had been their last hope to break out of this place. Pojing gave her an ominous look as they were both on their feet.

“Where are your Shieldstones?” Bai Qian hissed.

“Those things don’t grow on trees, Queen, I only brought one.”

But they both fell silent when they noticed the presence of another man standing next to the Spinner. No doubt he was the one who had pulled her back since there was such a satisfied look on his face at the moment. Bai Qian’s eyes narrowed - she had seen him briefly during the last battle in this courtyard. One quick glance at this man gave her the impression he had not eaten well for a long time. He had a square, edgy face, with eyes more glaring than those of a hawk that had spotted its prey.

The man took a long look at Pojing, speechless and puzzled. Then a twisted smile broke on his lips as his eyes gleamed with a savage delight.

“I swear --” he said, scanning Pojing from head to toe again. “You look just like your father.”

“You know me?” Pojing said, sounding half offended.

The man smiled again, his voice took on a soft tone that chilled the air. “I’ve known you since you were still an infant, Your Majesty.”

Sufeng… Bai Qian felt shivers spiraling down her spine. They were standing in front of the most dangerous prisoner of the Arctic Prisons.

The men around them widened the circle, as if they knew a battle was inevitable and were eager for it.

“What are doing so far away from home?” asked Sufeng, as though to a child.

“That’s none of your business,” said Pojing.

Sufeng clicked his tongue. In contrast to the Spinner’s jesting tone, this man’s voice bore such murderous intentions that made the hair on Bai Qian’s neck stand up. Somehow she felt they would have a better chance running from Luoji than from this man - someone who looked as though he was born to destroy and kill.

“I advise you to surrender quietly,” said Sufeng, bringing his right hand up and flexing his fingers.

Pojing breathed in, his eyes flaring. “Get out of my way.”

“I thought so. I only hope you are a better fighter than your father was.”

Bai Qian heard a familiar clang and she saw the man’s arms and hands equipped with the same claws Pojing often used. Both she and Nalan reached forward to drag Pojing back. Perhaps she could buy a few more minutes to come up with a plan. But quicker than any of them could react Sufeng had charged; Pojing bolted ahead to meet with the attack.

“Your Majesty!” Nalan’s voice rang and he ran after Pojing.

A massive collision resounded in the air. All three men fell aside. Nalan was immediately rendered unconscious while Sufeng and Pojing sank their claws into the ground to break their fall.

A few seconds of this fight was enough to tell Bai Qian what the outcome was going to be. The two men’s movements and techniques were almost identical; their weapons were equally fatal. The only difference was that Sufeng was well prepared, older, and much more ruthless. A chief commander of the Celestial armies and four generals had failed to keep him under control.

Not wasting anymore time to think, Bai Qian zoomed toward the struggle.

Though before she could take as many as three steps, the Spinner’s tall figure landed right on Bai Qian’s track, nearly making her fall on her back.

“Don’t ruin their fun,” he feigned a look of empathy while summoning his own sword.

“Move!” Bai Qian shook her fan open.

Before another useless word could come out of the Spinner’s mouth, she flew forward, not holding back with her strikes.

This man had been able to defeat her, Yanzhi, and Zilan in the mortal forest that day. But today was different - she was not trapped in a shield with Demons’ magic. Over-confident as he was, the Spinner did not forget to throw in an insult every time either of them cast a spell; but he was forced to take this duel more seriously upon realizing the magnitude of her spells.

Thrilled that the endless hours she’d spent on sword-practice with Yanzhi had proved to be useful, Bai Qian set upon her opponent with her full strength.

Sufeng’s laugh boomed from the other side. “I had led Xunzhua’s armies into countless battles before you were born, boy. I even saved your father’s life, did he ever tell you that?”

He and Pojing were absorbed in their own battle, slashing at each other viciously like two beasts fighting over a prey. But no matter how strong each of Pojing’s attacks was, it was becoming clear with every passing second that he was not gaining any advantage over Sufeng.

This was a fight Pojing could not win, Bai Qian panicked, her hand gripping the fan so tight it hurt.

She had seen him on the field before, he’d been without mercy toward his enemy during the battle in the Demons’ lair in that forest, but only because there was no other choice. Despite his formidability Pojing was not a killer, would never set out to hurt anyone for the fun of it. Sufeng, however, seemed to be driven by a cruelty so fierce that he was not simply trying to contain, but crush his opponent to satisfy his savagery.

If only this idiot would stop stalling her, Bai Qian lunged at the Spinner in fury. She struck and shot spells at him with the strongest forces she could muster. If she could not get to Pojing soon, he might die.

Every time a crash echoed, Bai Qian trembled and looked to the other battling pair to see Pojing either being thrown to the side or on his back, blocking a deadly attack.

“Even if you managed to hurt me a little, dear,” the Spinner leered at her, “you still won’t be able to escape this place today. So why don’t we calm down about it --”

THWAK, she struck him hard on the side of his neck. His jaunting voice was extinguished, his sword dropped with a loud clang, his eyes bulging for a few seconds and he looked at her with pure disdain as he weakly blocked her next strike, one hand still wrapping around his neck.

Nerves, Bai Qian squinted, she needed to act fast. As a young student she had seen Moyuan immobilize wild beasts and demons with only the tips of his fingers by hitting them at various pressure points; she had pestered him to teach her the technique, which she still had not mastered due to its difficulty. None of her Seniors had ever completely immobilized anyone as a matter of fact. Against a weakened and dazed opponent however…

Bai Qian zoomed at the Spinner and jabbed him twice on two different spots on the back of his neck. His arms dropped to his sides, both seemingly paralyzed, his expression stunned as she swung her leg at his chest and threw him on his back.

“Sufeng!” The Spinner screeched just when Bai Qian advanced with her sword pointing at his chest.

“STOP!” Sufeng’s voice thundered above them all.

Bai Qian looked up to see Pojing had collapsed to the ground, injured all over. He was struggling to rise while Sufeng stood victorious and minimally affected.

“Drop your weapon,” said Sufeng.

Bai Qian glared into the man’s bloodthirsty face, mind whirling. What could they do now? They were as good as dead if Luoji was told they’d broken in. Even if she refused to let go of her fan now, what good would it do? The only thing worth trying now was… Bai Qian gulped… betting on the Spinner.

“You don’t want him dead, do you?” Bai Qian said and thrust her sword closer to the Spinner’s throat, trying hard to hide the terror that was coursing through her. “What would Luoji say if he comes back here and finds one of his best servants dead?”

As if seeing through her fear, Sufeng did not look discouraged in the least. Amused was what he appeared to be.

“Ahh... your friend knows how to play,” he hissed at Pojing, then at Bai Qian he threw a vicious grin. “But do you have what it takes to play this game?”

Before Bai Qian could do so much as form her next thought, Sufeng seized Pojing by the collar and dragged him upward, sprang his other arm at him and sank five sharp claws into his left abdomen. Muffled sounds of anguish escaped from Pojing as blood poured out, drenching the fabric around his belt. Bai Qian went cold with horror, her sword hand lost all feelings.

Sufeng cackled with laughter, “how does it feel to have your own weapon used against you, My King?”

He fastened his grip on Pojing’s robe and thrashed him onto the stone ground once more; and in front of all staring eyes, Sufeng slammed a foot on his right arm.

A loud, nasty crack ruptured in the air, followed by a piercing roar; and the next second Pojing was limp on the ground, choking and gasping for breath, his fractured arm trembling by his side.

“Now, put that sword down,” Sufeng turned to her again. “Or he’s going to get a lot worse than this.”

Eyes wide with shock and repugnance toward Sufeng, Bai Qian let her sword fall; her throat felt like it was strangling itself.

With a laugh that echoed across the courtyard, Sufeng hooked his claws into Pojing’s robe, lifted and threw him into one of the stone dragons that stood at the bottom of the stairs leading to the grand hall. Ropes materialized from thin air and fastened themselves around Pojing.

The wicked grin was maintained on Sufeng’s face as he approached her. “Always be prepared to execute your threat,” he said. “And be prepared to do it fast.”

Bai Qian too felt herself being bound but all she could see was the blood on her friend’s motionless body.

Chapter 9, Part 2