Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 10, Part 6 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 10 - Devices and Trials

Part 6

written by LalaLoop

editing by kakashi
consulting by Bunny

Deciding that he had granted the wooden board and the fractured lines of black and white stones enough of his attention, Moyuan closed his eyes for a long moment then opened them again, directing his gaze to the figure that had fallen asleep on her side of the table, opposite of him.

She had simply said she was not tired when he’d suggested that she should go back to rest. She had sat there in silence with him since the end of the game, had not asked any questions she suspected he was not at liberty to answer.

She had not cried.

He reached forward, brushing away a fallen leaf that had landed on her hair some time during the night.

Only half an inch of candle was left burning on its holder. But it no longer mattered, dawn was upon them.

Moyuan rose from his seat and quietly moved to stand under the edge of the pavilion.

A sudden sound reached his ears. It was the faintest of sounds, but he had no trouble distinguishing it from the chorus of the morning birds. Moyuan looked to his left. The wood sprite hovered only two feet away. It too was gazing upon the first streaks of gold across the sky.

“Where are you from, Little Sprite?” he asked quietly.

The creature, seemingly having noticed that its mistress was still deep in sleep, only gave a small silvery sound. It twirled a few times in the air then steadied itself again, blinking repeatedly, as if expecting him to extract an answer from its movements.

“It doesn’t matter,” he smiled at it and went back to viewing the gradual rising of the sun.

The sprite fluttered closer to him, the mischievous grin it had worn the first time it’d appeared at Kunlun was nowhere to be seen, confusion now dominated its expression. Was this creature also aware of the danger their worlds were exposed to, or had its mood simply been dampened by his own expression that was barely veiling his inner thoughts?

A small chirrup came from the sprite as the creature tilted its head, its eyes becoming wider in wonderment.

“Look after her,” he said to it.

***

With a thud, Bai Qian felt her feet touch a soft surface. The air around her felt different, a good, familiar kind of different. They had reached the immortal realm. Green mountains, groups of trees here and there, and visible sky islands among the scarce clouds were what surrounded them. There was also a burbling river only a few yards away. She turned to Pojing.

“That didn’t hurt your arm, did it?” she asked him. “The cloud-jumping.”

“A little,” he said, “but it doesn’t matter.”

“Let’s rest for a bit before we cloud-jump again,” Bai Qian decided, gesturing at the river.

They both settled down on a large log of wood at the river bank. Pojing, eager to move again, did not look too pleased about having to rest once every two cloud-jumps. But the pain his healing bones frequently gave him made sure he could not go any faster, no matter how eager, which was a fortunate thing. Bai Qian didn’t think her reason alone could have hindered Pojing. As a result of his injury and his rage regarding Sufeng, there was now such renewed vitality and an unstoppable desire to weild a weapon again in him. She could see all of those things clearly in his eyes even though he had not said a word on the matter, the passion of which had spread to her and was now making her itch for some training too.

They all needed to be ready. For what, though, Bai Qian was still unsure. What exactly was Luoji planning to do next now that he had the throne and absolute power over the eight realms?

Trying to get into that mad immortal’s mind gave her a headache.

Perhaps she should think about things that were closer to earth, what Moyuan might be doing now, for instance? She had not asked Moyuan what kind of danger he was facing, what kind of risk he had taken, and why… just why he’d had to do that to Zheyan. But would he have told her anything more than what he’d already revealed if she’d asked?

Bai Qian sighed, trying to think as Moyuan wasn’t that enjoyable a job either.

“You know --” Pojing said suddenly. “There is something really peculiar about that mortal woman.”

Bai Qian’s heart skipped a beat. The Demon Queen?

“What do you mean?” she picked up some small pebbles and started fiddling with them, keeping her eyes fixed on the river.

“I can’t explain. Something about her appearance. She looked…” his brows came together.

“Familiar?” Bai Qian said, trying to sound natural.

“No, not quite.”

It came to Bai Qian when Pojing was still thinking. Of course, what else could it be? she gave a scoff. How typical.

“What?” she threw Pojing a look of disdain. “Beautiful and charming?”

“Well -- yes, she is both of those,” he nodded blankly, still contemplating. “But the word I’m looking for is -- hmm…”

“Enchanting? Irresistible?” she said in disgust, throwing small rocks at the surface of water forcefully, causing big ripples to form. “You men and your weakness for beauty. Of course you think that, even though you’ve only sat at the same table with her once. I didn’t expect any better from you.”

Recalling how Moyuan had looked at that woman when she’d brought him back to the cottage, the remnants of her rage that day flared up again. Of course this cat of a king would be charmed by that woman too. What man wouldn’t be? Exasperation was up to her ears. Beautiful, graceful, whatever else that woman was… She’d heard enough.

It would have been better if she could contradict some of those things, but she simply couldn’t - all the things she admired about her mother and had always striven to be.

“Are you jealous?” Pojing’s voice suddenly interrupted her storm of thoughts. His casual tone was like a smack across her face.

Bai Qian whipped back to look at him, eyes wide, tongue-tied.

“I’m confused,” he went on. “Do you not want me to praise another woman?” There was no smirk on his lips this time, but there was certainly curiosity and amusement all over his face, hidden beneath that voice, Bai Qian could feel it.

The tips of her ears burned. This king and his bluntness… How could she reason herself out of this now? She couldn’t explain herself with the truth and also could not brush her extreme reaction to his simple comment about that woman aside. She wanted to dig a hole and bury herself in it.

“Look, Queen of Qingqiu,” he said. “If you want me for yourself, all you have to do is say so, and we’ll talk about it. I’m not the Celestial Crown Prince or a Kunlun scholar, don’t throw a fit at me and expect me to understand what you're thinking.”

“Wha… I… want…” Bai Qian’s mouth dropped and she began to stammer. “I want… y-you…”

“Was that a confession or a question?” he said with deliberate slowness, as though trying to calm a confused child.

“You have some nerve, King of Xunzhua! How -- dare --”

He’s injured, she chanted in her head and took a deep breath, you can’t hit an injured person...

“Stop talking nonsense!” she said.

“So no, then,” he chuckled, his amber eyes twinkled. “You can say that too. I’m not going to lock myself in a cave and brood because of it if it’s my feelings you’re worried about.”

“I’m. Not,” she said through her teeth.

“Good,” he broke into laughter.

Bai Qian shot another scathing side look at him, jerked her chin up and scooted a feet away.

Pojing suddenly took on a less provoking tone. “I thought Qingqiu people are very direct in these matters. Why are you always so cautious?”

Now she seriously didn’t know what to say. She was not like the rest of her family in this aspect at all. Or perhaps this was Moyuan’s fault? Yes, she had spent 20,000 thousand years of her life under his mentorship, after all. It was his fault.

“As I was saying —” Pojing said. “I felt there was something unearthly about that woman.”

Bai Qian’s heart jolted again. She herself had thought so too even before knowing it was the Demon Queen. Of course someone else could also notice that.

“What do you mean unearthly?” she asked anyway.

“It’s the way she speaks, and how she looked at us. It was like she knew something we didn’t.”

“Well,” Bai Qian looked away. “There are many kinds of people in the mortal realm. Some of them are just… more… er… astute, I guess.”

“I suppose so,” he agreed. “You know, she might just be an immortal on trial. There are always several of those in the mortal realm.”

“What is Xunzhua like?” said Bai Qian quickly. She could not let this conversation about the Demon Queen go on any further. That would mean she would have to keep telling him lies, and she found it extremely uncomfortable.

“What -- exactly do you want to know about?” Pojing said, slightly astonished. “The weather?”

“Just the general things - the people, the food. How big is your library?”

“It’s big,” one of his brows lifted and he began to laugh again. “Don’t worry, there’ll be enough books to entertain you while you’re there.”

They spent another incense time at the riverbank before deciding to start moving again. Pojing had not made any more comments about the Demon Queen. As she stood up from the wood log and got ready to cloud-jump, Bai Qian prayed that she had not misplaced her trust, that she wasn’t wrong about this woman. She absolutely did not want to hear some time in the future that the person whose identity she was protecting today was helping Luoji in any way.

***

With another two cloud-jumps they landed again, but this time somewhere completely not as Bai Qian had expected. It was a mountain top with heavy winds, floating clouds all around but no sign of houses or people.

This place looked like it was close to the Nine Heavens, Bai Qian frowned, Xunzhua could not be here. It was as if they were standing on the edge of a small island and instead of water around, there were clouds.

“Is this the right place?” She stared around. “Did I make a mistake?”

“No, you didn’t,” Pojing said, pointing to the front. “We’re nearing Xunzhua. Our protective shield lies fifty miles ahead.”

“Oh,” Bai Qian took a large gulp of fresh air. “So — what do we do now? How does border security work here?”

“You are with the King,” he smirked at her, his face brimming with the confidence of a ruler who knew every rock and tree of his own land. “There’s no need to go through border security.”

Reaching into his chest pocket, Pojing drew out something that looked like a small, flat, pendant, only it was not made out of jade. He proceeded to cast a simple spell. The item sprang upright and lifted itself several feet above their heads.

A deep, rumbling sound leapt from the pendant and quickly spread, surrounding them, not too strong but all enveloping.

Two minutes passed by. There was still nothing but winds and passing puffs of smoke around them.

“It shouldn’t take long,” said Pojing.

“What shouldn’t take --” she began slowly. But before Bai Qian could finish her question, Pojing took her wrist and prompted her away from the edge. She heard the sound of multiple flapping wings and felt even stronger currents of winds hitting her on the face.

Five large Kirins rose from the sea of clouds and soared towards them, each one carrying on its back an armored rider.

“Halt!” commanded one of the riders. All five beasts formed a horizontal line and landed in unison. Next thing, the men all jumped off their mounts and came rushing towards where Bai Qian stood, all of them tall and sturdy, all of them looking explicably overjoyed.

“My King!” they bent down in deep bows, “forgive our tardiness. We were not expecting you.”

At this time, Bai Qian noticed that the Kirins had also dipped their heads.

Pojing gestured for his men to be at ease. “Do not alert the Council yet.”

“As you wish,” one of the men, who wore more pendants on his belt than the others, responded, then turned to one of his companions. “Inform the Princess, send for the Head Physician.”

The one who had received the order quickly bowed, then leapt back onto his mount and the pair of them disappeared into the clouds again.

“This is the Queen of Qingqiu,” Pojing said. “She will accompany me into Xunzhua.”

The four remaining men turned to Bai Qian, their eyes bore apparent suspicion as they bowed.

“How would you like to proceed, My King?” the head rider went on.

“Cloud-jumping,” said Pojing. “Get us to the Guest Hall.”


***


Standing in a grand courtyard that seemed to be the highest location of Xunzhua’s royal palace, Bai Qian was met with several more pairs of searching eyes that belonged to the soldiers that had poured out to greet Pojing. They stared at her openly, as though they were ready to pounce on her if she did so much as touch their king’s sleeve. They made her feel self-conscious, made her want to look in a mirror and see whether her hair was still all right after all that continuous cloud-jumping. Feeling quite uncertain in this foreign land, Bai Qian kept close to her friend as they walked towards the entrance to the building and returned the questioning looks that followed her with what she believed was an aloof expression.

In all honesty, Bai Qian could not remember being in a place where she had to constantly remind herself to be on her proper behaviour before. She had never caused any ruckus anywhere, but the Nine Heavens, Qingqiu, and Kunlun, were all places where there were people who would dote on her and likely forgive any mistakes she might make. And she had not gone to any other royal palaces in the realms without one of her brothers accompanying her.

Here was a kingdom Yehua was not the ruler of, Moyuan had no influence upon, and Qingqiu had never established a relationship with.

As they stepped inside, the herd of soldiers no longer followed them, only the head rider of the Kirins.

“They’re not as unfriendly as they look,” said Pojing.

They were now walking through a long corridor that seemed to have no end. Once in a while, Bai Qian felt as though there were raindrops on her head.

“They look very protective of you,” Bai Qian remarked. “It seems like you are well loved by your people.”

“You can say that,” he laughed. “So yes, try your best not to pull a weapon on me here no matter how tempted you feel, unless we’re on the training ground.”

“That’s going to be hard,” she joked back.

At long last, they reached the end of the walkway. It was then, Bai Qian noticed, that the Xunzhua rider stopped directing suspicious glances at her.

“Are they…” Bai Qian jolted and inched towards Pojing. “Are they real?”

Two large cheetahs were sitting on either side of the entrance that led to the Guest Hall, as still as statues with mesmerizing eyes in almost the same color as Pojing’s.

“They are,” said the Xunzhua man. “But do not worry, Queen of Qingqiu, they are perfectly harmless.”

As he explained, the two creatures dipped their heads in a deep bow.

So it was true, Bai Qian recalled what she’d read in a document somewhere about how Xunzhua placed magical beasts at various entrances to their palace. Not only could these beasts sniff out Dark Objects, they also knew their Master’s scent well, which explained why it looked like their greeting gesture was directed only at Pojing, and not at her.

Smart creatures, thought Bai Qian, maybe Yehua should think about training some dragons and letting them guard the gate to his palace. These animals were not easily bribed, they could certainly help keep out a lot of unwanted visitors, people who always tried to bring tea fused with love potion into his room, for example...

But before Bai Qian could entertain the thought any further, a figure leapt out from behind the open doors and darted at Pojing, throwing her arms around his neck.

“Brother!”

“Princess!” exclaimed the Xunzhua man. “His Majesty’s arm…”

“Oh…” Zhuowei briefly detached herself from Pojing and glanced down at his splinted arm. “I’m sorry!”

“It’s fine,” he said, laughing and turning his body sideways so that she could hug him without touching his right arm.

“Oh God…” she breathed out. “You don’t know how worried I’ve been. I kept thinking about Father and… and…” the rest of her words turned into inaudible whispers and Bai Qian did not have any idea what she was saying anymore.

It took a long minute for the princess to finally let go of Pojing. She burst into laughter upon a closer look at him. “You need a shave. You look terrible.”

“Well --” Pojing chortled. “We haven’t exactly been attending banquets. How has everything been without me here? Has there been any trouble?”

“No trouble, but there is a mountain of documents from other tribes waiting for you, and the Elders want a court meeting as soon as possible.”

“Excellent,” said Pojing, who looked like he’d rather head to the training ground immediately than do any of those things.

“Queen of Qingqiu,” Zhuowei turned to Bai Qian, as though she’d only realized the latter was there, laughing awkwardly. “I’m so sorry — our physician will be here in a second.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Bai Qian giggled. “I’m fine.”

“So where have you been?” Zhuowei took the place between her brother and Bai Qian, gripping his left arm as the four of them proceeded into the hall.

It was a grand room with minimal decoration and very simple architecture, equipped with large chairs and cushions that were arranged along the walls.

“It’s a long story,” said Pojing. “But we did spent some time in the mortal realm. Has anyone else arrived here, Zhuowei?”

“The Celestial Crown Prince and his son are here, his general too, and Princess Yanzhi, and also —”

“My King!” Nalan burst through the door, his amiable face overwhelmed with joy. He bolted towards them and bent his body in a rushed bow. “Thank the Gods you are alive, I was going to kill myself -- well, I probably wouldn’t have to. The Princess would kill me herself...”

“Oh, Nalan, that is an exaggeration!” Zhuowei protested.

“Of course I’m alive,” Pojing scowled. “Have you been jinxing me, Nalan?”

“I’ve been imagining the worst,” Nalan grimaced. Turning to Bai Qian, he gave another bow. “Queen of Qingqiu.”

“Nalan,” Bai Qian nodded and asked right away, “is Master Gejing here?”

“He is, Queen of Qingqiu. Although, he’s still unconscious, our physician has been tending to him since we arrived. We hope he would wake up in the next day or two.”

“Bai Qian!”

They turned around at the door again. Both Yanzhi and Yehua had arrived. Yehua said nothing as they strode over. He simply looked at her with overflowing gladness and relief. He himself looked a bit tired, and somehow older.

“You’re not hurt, are you?” the Ghost Princess, even though generally less loquacious than most of them, started to shower Bai Qian with questions. “What happened? Nalan told us you were put in the Arctic Prison! Was it true that you set a Kirin free and escaped?”

Blushing at all these questions that made her sound like a heroine, Bai Qian forced a smile. Still lingering in her mind was the image of Sujin being blasted down the dark cliff as they struggled to fly away. “We -- did, but with some help.”

Yanzhi gasped. “Brilliant.”

“I’m not sure what that says about us,” Yehua finally spoke, he too was smiling. “But I am glad to hear you have managed to escape the most secure prison in the eight realms.”

A joke? Yehua? He really had changed. But it wasn’t only him, Bai Qian admitted. She somehow felt all of them had changed a little after that night at the Nine Heavens.

She smiled back at him. “Where’s A-li?”

“Sleeping,” Yehua said. “He is fine, still terribly scared, but well.”

Yehua’s eyes slowly moved to Pojing, lingering on his broken arm; and for half a minute he seemed to be hesitating to say a greeting.

“Go ahead and thank me,” Pojing broke the uneasy silence between them.

Yehua, who had obviously not expected this request, was unable to suppress a chuckle.

“Thank you, King of Xunzhua,” he said.

It was now Pojing who had to take a minute to form a response, which was a quick nod of his head. He had obviously thought Yehua would just throw a joke back at him.

So all of them were here, Bai Qian looked around her in utmost relief, all of them were safe. She had a million things to tell them. But before she could decide what exactly she could reveal and what should be kept secret, she would need to speak with the man who had first told her that Moyuan was gathering the Demon Queen’s soul.

Chapter 11, Part 1