Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 10, Part 2 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 10 - Devices and Trials

Part 2

written by LalaLoop
edited by kakashi
consulting by Bunny

Another blinding flash of light swept across the Celestial Grand Hall. Another batch of soldiers lay motionless on the ground, the light had left their eyes completely. The remaining ones trembled at the sight yet they could do nothing but keep on watching their comrades being slaughtered by an unstoppable wrath, their eyes constantly darting towards the exit.

“My Lord! Please let us explain…” a man among the crowd stuttered. “We were taken by surprise... the Kirin escaped...”

“Taken by surprise?” The Dark Immortal snarled. “By your own prisoners? Did you not assure me that the Arctic Prison was unbreakable? Has it not been known among the realms to be the most secure place that was ever built?”

“But they… they had help, My Lord…”

A jet of light shot forward and the man fell on his back, blood gushing out from a deep gash across his neck. The other kneeling men scattered, terrified.

The Dark Immortal raised his arm towards his servants again, his faced consumed with fury. Which ones of them were dispensable? He breathed out, letting his anger be mingled with the thrill of seeing the helpless creatures before him. All of them were. Useless, weak, subservient, awaiting punishment, just as he had used to be countless of times in this hall. But no more.

These imbecile guards of the Arctic Lands, their frightened faces begged for torture. And death. He stepped closer to them, flexing his fingers.

“M -- Master!” Sufeng cried, projecting himself forward on his knees. “Please, let me go find them… I swear…”

“You hold your tongue, Sufeng,” the Dark Immortal drawled, his head slowly moving in circular motion. Anger was coursing through his every vein, impelling his true form to take over and trample on them all, burn them all.

“You have lost Gejing,” he hissed. “You have been defeated by three children, all of whom were weakened and bound inside the Arctic Prison. How can you live with yourself?”

“Master, I…”

“What?” Luoji drew close to his trembling servant. “You know very well how valuable Gejing is, do you not?”

“Yes, Master, I do…”

“Yet you threw them in the same cell with him.”

“I didn’t know they were acquainted with him...”

Luoji broke into a derisive laugh that filled the entire hall. “Who is going to answer the questions I have now, you?”

“Master, I will find him,” Sufeng pleaded. “Let me compensate for my mistake… I will not fail you again.”

Luoji took a long look at one of his best lieutenants; his eye twitched. “You disgust me, Sufeng.”

From the frightened crowd, a small voice emerged.

“Master… I… I have something to say.”

Luoji gave no response. He knew which one of his servants that voice belonged to. Not dispensable, this one, yet not entirely reliable, either.

“Master,” The Fox Woman said again and crept up, keeping her head down, shaking from head to toe. “It’s about that night the child was taken from here.”

Luoji said nothing still. Understanding the invitation to continue, the Fox Woman began.

“The two girls who came to the Nine Heavens along with the Dragon Prince, when I was bound on the ground… I heard them talk about... a device.”

He turned towards the speaker. “What kind of device?”

“I don’t know…”

Luoji’s brows raised. The remaining blood drained from the Fox’s face, but she continued nonetheless.

“You see, Master… I did not hear everything they said. But they… when they thought I was unconscious, they talked about how important it was and that they needed to get it out of the Nine Heavens right away. They said they needed to keep it from...”

The Fox Woman swallowed and took in a much needed breath.

“From what?”

“From… you, Master.”

“What?” Luoji bent down. Now… here was something worth his attention.

“They said… well… they said they could not let you know they have it.”

“Are you saying they have this device with them?”

“Yes, that's what it sounded like. I figured it could be a number of things, but they did mention your name...”

Luoji stood up straight again and cut off her sentence.

“Two girls, you said?”

“Yes.”

“Who were they?”

“The Spinner told me they were the Queen of Qingqiu and the Ghost Princess.”

Two girls, Luoji thought back to the night the Blue Phoenix had died instantly. Flashes of memories materialized in his mind. There had also been two girls there.

“Describe them,” he ordered.

“The Ghost Princess was wearing all black. She had fair skin and hazel eyes. The other one, that the Spinner told me was the Queen of Qingqiu, I’ve seen her walking in and out of Qingqiu before… her hair was put up like that of a commoner that night, like it always is. She’s the shorter one of the two. And of course… she kind of looks like her mother, the previous Queen, not completely, but there is some resemblance… ”

The one who had run and screamed after Zheyan, who had looked as though she’d wanted to jump down the black hole herself, Luoji started pacing slowly across the hall. He had not paid much attention to her then. All he had seen was a young face red with terror and despair.

“Which one of them had the device they spoke of at the time?” he asked.

“The Ghost Princess, Master, I think so. Her name is Yanzhi. The other girl told her to leave right after my disguise failed.”

Curious. Whatever the item was, they must be taking it to Xunzhua for certain, the safest place of which a friend of theirs was leader, for Qingqiu and Ziming Palace were too close to the Nine Heavens. And Xunzhua… Xunzhua was impenetrable.

“Master…” the Fox Woman uttered.

The Dark Immortal silenced her with yet another look as he picked up his thought.

His own search for the wooden hairpin had not been successful. The Demon Woman had taken care to hide it well before her death. Given their relationship with her prior to the Demon War, Yingchen or Moyuan could not have been trusted with this item. Zhongyin could not have been her choice, either. No, this item was still somewhere in the wild, hidden and protected by the most potent enchantment Shaowan had cast that only a few known forces in the eight realms could deactivate.

Was it possible that it had fallen into the hands of Qingcang’s daughter and Bai Zhi’s daughter who both did not know what it was? No, they must know something. Why else would they have felt the need to take it to keep it from him? Qingcang had spent half of his life searching for this kind of artifact, it was inevitable that his daughter should know a thing or two. What could this Ghost Princess know about this device was the question.

Perhaps… A smile broke across Luoji’s face, Bai Zhi’s daughter. Having to witness the Phoenix’s death must have been too much for such a young heart, he sneered. Zheyan had been a friend of the Fox Clan for millennia. Young and reckless. Of course she would want to get her hands on a device of this sort. Understandable, quite understandable.

A rush of thrill swept through the Dark Immortal. Perhaps he was closer to his goal than he had thought. This might be what he’d been looking for. It might not be. Only by interrogating her would he be able to tell.

“Spinner,” he said quietly.

“Master!” the other man crawled towards him, dipping his head.

“Learn what you can about those two. A little talk with one of them might be necessary very soon.”

“Yes, Master.”

“Summon the spies I have sent after Moyuan. It is time they gave me another report.”

“Yes --”

“Sufeng,” he continued airily.

“Y -- yes...”

“Find Gejing.”

“Yes.”

To his servants’ great relief that they reckoned he did not notice, the Dark Immortal swept towards the exit and down the stairs.

It was time he paid a visit to the other locations. He needed to see with his own eyes they had not been disturbed.

No one could have the means to discover what he was burying. The only person with this ability, Luoji scoffed, was unfortunately absorbed in another matter. Yet, it would be too high a price to pay should someone got too close to these locations.

In truth, he would dearly love to see whether the God of War could uncover this secret. If he did, however, he would have to be killed. And it would be such a pity to kill the only being in the eight realms who had been able to entertain him for so long, so thoroughly. Donghua was not a poor candidate; but there was no thrill in breaking a rigid rock with no weaknesses, something the God of War had plenty of.

Facing someone who took the ‘right side’ with an uncompromising facade, yet possessed the same darkness, the same willingness to take risks, to place bets as he himself did - this, to him, was a game worth playing.


***


“I think we’ve arrived, Your Highness,” said Jiayun.

Yehua let out a breath of relief and patted his son, whom he’d been carrying for what must have been more than two hours, on the back. They had been travelling on foot for too long a time for a child of A-li’s age. His summoning Celestial powers that night to break the protective shield had yielded consequences more severe than he’d thought. They were unable to cloud-jump consecutively, and had to travel with frequent breaks so that A-li could rest.

A-li did not seem to have recovered from having to live among the Dark Immortal’s followers, and was clinging to him more tentaciously than usual. He and Jiayun had been taking turns walking with the boy in their arms. It was just now, when Jiayun informed him they had reached their destination, when the vague outline of the Kingdom of Xunzhua was coming into view, that Yehua realized how exhausted he was.

The green grass, the cool breeze and the pleasant air were doing nothing to alleviate the gradually burning sensation in his core. Trees were scarce and the sun was at its highest. He felt an irresistible urge to transform, dive into a river, then fly to a mountaintop and sleep for several days.

“Little Prince,” Jiayun patted A-li on his shoulder. “We’ve arrived. You can come down now.”

Reluctantly, A-li slipped down from Yehua’s arms, rubbing his eyes.

Without warning, without any sounds, two men in armor materialized a distance in front of them, unsmiling yet courteous looking. For a moment, they appeared to be bemused, but quickly resumed their ceremonious facade.

Yehua bent down, took his son’s hand in his own and whispered. “They are soldiers who protect Xunzhua’s borders.”

A-li made a whimpering sound.

“Celestial Crown Prince,” one of the approaching men said. “We have been expecting you.”

Yehua nodded.

“We were instructed to wait for you here. However, by order of our Princess, we must ask you and your companions to present your Celestial pendants and your weapons. We mean no offense, but given the current climate, I am sure you understand. We cannot risk letting a Shapeshifter into Xunzhua.”

A ripple of indignation stirred within him, but Yehua nodded nonetheless and summoned his sword as well as his jade pendant, gesturing for Jiayun to do the same. With a slow and wide wave of his arm, one of the two Xunzhua men gathered the two pendants and swords towards him. Next, something that resembled a current of water appeared, enveloping the items.

“Does our little prince have something for identification?” asked the other man with a smile.

Sniffing, A-li quickly took out his own pendant from his chest pocket and held it towards the men. The small pendant too flew to join the other ones inside the sphere of enchantment.

“Thank you,” said the man who had been examining the items with a pleased expression after a while. He waved again. The jade pendants and swords floated back to their owners. “Please come with us.”

“Is the Queen of Qingqiu here?” Yehua spoke impatiently.

But the Xunzhua men simply dipped their heads. “Please follow us back to the palace first, Celestial Crown Prince. We are not allowed to discuss these matters at the borders.”

Next, one of them drew from behind their back a large blowhorn, held the item towards the sky and made a stroking movement against its side. A deep, rumbling sound issued from the larger end, reverberating around them.

Only a minute later, the figures of two winged Kirin appeared from among the clouds. With one sharp dive at the same time, they landed behind their caller. The creatures were armed, saddled, and each large enough to carry ten men.

“Little Prince,” one of the Xunzhua men smiled at A-li. “Shall we get you on first?”

Knowing that his terrified son would no sooner let a stranger touch him than walk into a lightning trial, Yehua wrapped his arms around him then carefully lifted him up onto one of the Kirin’s back. A few seconds later they were all securely mounted on the creatures. With a cry of order from one of the men, the two Kirin flapped their giant wings and soared into the sky.

The moment the grand palace of Xunzhua appeared below them, a shape of a protective shield became visible and a small section flickered open. Upon the Xunzhua men’s commands, the two Kirins flew through the open space and towards the royal palace. Just when A-li was beginning to get used to the height and pointed out how small the city bellowed looked, the Kirins dived. Then, with a heavy thud, they landed side by side on a large courtyard positioned at the top of the palace structure. Dismounting, they were immediately greeted with searching eyes and eager expressions from the guards that encircled the area.

“This way, Celestial Crown Prince,” one of the men gestured at the entrance to the building ahead of them while his comrade quietly excused himself.

It was a corridor that awaited them behind the doors. A corridor that looked long... unusually long. Twenty steps in, Yehua realized the purpose of it. It was another measure for security. Almost undetectable yet undoubtedly strong spells were being cast upon them as they walked; how, and by whom, he could not see. This method was not applied anywhere in the Nine Heavens or the Arctic Prisons - he took notes despite the state of his health - and perhaps it should. Silently they strode past mirrors standing on either side of the corridor, archways that seemed unguarded yet left a slight tingling sensation on his skin as he stepped through them. And lastly…

“Arghh!” A-li yelled and grabbed hold of his arm.

A pair of armored and unchained cheetahs were positioned on either side of an opened door in front of them, standing so still that they resembled statues from a distance.

“Don’t be afraid, Little Prince,” laughed the Xunzhua soldier. “Watch.”

The two creatures bent their front legs and dipped their heads in a deep bow.

“They’re here to greet us,” the man continued, then he himself stooped down to pat one of the beasts on the head. “They are our friends.”

A-li seemed unconvinced still. Though, perhaps out of curiosity, the boy took a step away from Yehua and closer to the cheetah that was being petted.

From Bai Qian’s constant referencing to the books she’d read and his own extensive reading, Yehua had learned that these immortal beasts were known for their ability to detect imposters who carried Dark Objects by their sense of smell. These two in particular, no doubt, had undergone training and a long duration of cultivation in order to acquire the magical skills needed for this task. The look in their eyes was almost human. How would they have reacted should they have suspicions? Yehua wondered.

Moving past the cheetahs, they finally stepped into an empty hall.

“Father --” A-li called in a whisper. Yehua bent down. “I don’t think they were that scary, the big cats. Can I go back out and play with them after we’re done here?”

He chuckled and patted his son’s cheek. “We shall have to ask for their permission, but yes, I suppose you can.”

The other guard who had left earlier entered the hall through another door with two more people next to him. Again, Yehua breathed out in great relief to see that the Ghost Princess was safe, which meant the device was secure. Walking besides to her was the Princess of Xunzhua, her thick dark hair was half put up and spreading over her shoulders as it had the last time he’d seen her.

She smiled at him. A sudden gladness that had nothing to do with his appreciation for the safety they had arrived at stirred within him, but only to be immediately followed by a tide of guilt he could not explain.

“Princess,” the man who had been guiding them bent his head as they arrived.

“Princess of Xunzhua,” Jiayun followed suit and gave a deep bow. “Ghost Princess.”

“Princess,” Yehua said. “May I trouble you to find a physician for my son? He has been kept prisoner by the Dark Immortal for too many days and we must know if he’s been subjected to any demonic magic.”

Zhuowei turned to her men and spoke in her slight accent. “Get our physician here, and arrange accommodation for our guests.”

One of them bowed again and quickly left the courtroom.

“Princess, where…” Jiayun began, but the Ghost Princess spoke first.

“Bai Qian and the King of Xunzhua aren’t with you?” she asked urgently.

A cold dread seized Yehua’s head.

“They’re not back?” he murmured.

“No,” said Zhuowei grimly.

“I will have to…”

“Your Highness!” Jiayun darted over. However, the hands that caught Yehua’s shoulders were not his.

“No no -- no --” Zhuowei said, detaining him with surprising strength, her eyes demanding his attention. “You -- are not going anywhere, Celestial Crown Prince, not in this condition!”

He looked back at her, startled for a moment, before a sudden dizziness darkened his vision. He did not remember her being this strong before, or perhaps he was just too tired to resist at the moment. The Princess slowly lowered her hands.

“You need a physician too,” she continued. “And a lot of rest, it seems.”

The Ghost Princess stepped towards them. “I’ve only gotten here yesterday myself, Crown Prince. Don’t assume the worst yet. It’s possible they’ve taken a longer route.”

Yehua closed his eyes for a moment. Not assume the worst? The King of Xunzhua was undeniably a capable warrior, but his capability was proportional with his temper and rashness, and brute strength was simply not the way to deal with Luoji and his powerful servants. How could he not assume the worst? It was true that Bai Qian was always able to think in the face of fire and quick to improvise, but no amount of thinking could save her if she was surrounded by much stronger and ruthless immortals who were prepared to kill anyone in their master’s way.

“Jiayun,” Yehua turned to his general. “Did you see them escape from the shield that day?”

“I don’t know, Your Highness,” Jiayun sighed. “I cloud-jumped the second the shield was broken.”

The remaining Xunzhua man abruptly cleared his throat, bearing the same worried expression as his Princess. “Perhaps it is time we sent someone to look for His Majesty, Princess. Nalan is capable but anything can happen with Sufeng on the loose.”

“You’re right,” said Zhuowei. “He’s been gone for longer before but we shouldn’t always -- assume --” her voice suddenly cracked and she and the soldier exchanged a long look.

“Leave it to me, Princess.”

And he too bowed out of the hall.

“Princess,” Yehua said. “The device —”

“Safe in my study,” she answered with some frustration in her voice, sighing. “And — unreactive to all the tests I’ve run on it so far.”

The physician they had sent for quickly arrived and, with some convincing, managed to lead A-li to a corner of the hall with a low table and large cushions where he began to examine the boy with tracing spells to detect Dark Magic.

Yehua glanced around at the silent group of people in the hall - not the kind of silence that offered him peace. They had expectations. They, along with many other kings and queens across the realms, would need to hear him, the once future leader of the eight realms, explain why he had failed them, failed his own people. Just a few minutes ago, the most important thing to him had been getting to this kingdom as soon as possible and get his son the care he needed. Now that he had arrived and was watching A-li being seen to, his head was once again heavy with plans, memories, anger, and an inexplicable wish to see his brother again despite all things.

For a while, he had dared to believe that he had someone to rely on, to go to for guidance. He had dared let himself be proud of having the God of War for an older brother. And even though Yehua had never once addressed him like a younger brother should, he had allowed himself to think of this person as a home he could always run back to.

What had caused this sudden and frightening change in the God of War he’d once known? The Demon Woman? Love? Gathering her soul against the will of the universe, Yehua could understand. He himself had made multiple reckless decisions to pursue an emotional goal. But abandoning all the values that Kunlun stood for and turning his back on even Bai Qian?

The preposterousness of this reality was numbing his mind. Only by seeing this person again could he decide what to think of all that had happened.

Chapter 10, Part 3