Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 11, Part 4 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 11 - The Master of Penglai

Part 4

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi

consulting by Bunny

“Here,” Zhuowei handed Bai Qian a tightly closed pouch, inside which was the item she had asked the princess to make. “I did what I could to create the energy around it. I hope you’ll never have to use it, but if you and Yanzhi do run into Demons again --” the princess sighed. “You’re right, it might be able to save your lives.”

“Thank you,” Bai Qian said.

“When are you going, exactly?” Zhuowei asked, plopping down on her bed, which had books on every corner, while Bai Qian made herself comfortable on the cushioned chair and Yanzhi stood looking out the window.

“First thing tomorrow,” Bai Qian replied.

“My brother said you should bring someone along.”

“It isn’t necessary, we can get to Penglai without any trouble, right, Yanzhi?”

The Ghost Princess nodded, smiling. “Also, if we do get ambushed, one more person wouldn’t make a difference.”

“I think you’ll be all right,” Zhuowei shrugged. “But my brother, you know, he always worries.”

“I never really associated Po -- well, your brother, with worry,” said Bai Qian truthfully. “He seems more carefree than anyone I’ve ever met. I imagine he’s the kind of brother who’d trick you into eating live cockroaches when you were younger and throw you out there and won’t let you back in the house until you’re all muddy and wet from fighting with other children.”

“Not at all,” Zhuowei smiled. “Maybe he was a little like that before, but after Father died, he changed.” She sighed and looked blankly at the front. “I changed.”

“You should appreciate him then,” Yanzhi said with a hint of bitterness. “I wish I still had that privilege.”

“Oh, I do,” said Zhuowei. “Sometimes, though, he drives me…”

Just then, Zhuowei’s sentence was cut off by a high-pitched scream from somewhere outside.

“Arghhhhh! Father! Fatherrrrr!”

“Prince A-li?” Yanzhi’s brows pulled together. The three of them got up, sprinted towards the balcony of Zhuowei’s room and peered down the gardens below.

“FATHERRR! NOOOO!”

It was indeed A-li. For some reason, the boy was running and screaming as though something was trying to eat him alive.

“A-li!” Yehua had also appeared from the other side of the garden. “What is it?”

Not wasting a moment, Bai Qian lifted herself into the air, flew past the railings and zoomed down onto the grass.

“What’s going on?” she asked. But A-li refused to let go of Yehua.

“I don’t know,” he said. “A-li, what is it?”

“Leo -- leopard…” the boy sobbed. “Giant leopard… tried to eat me...”

“What!” Zhuowei, who had also arrived with Yanzhi, exclaimed. “That’s not possible, Little Prince, there are no...”

Her explanation was interrupted when Pojing appeared from around the corner, walking towards them with an utterly bemused expression.

“Oh, that’s nice --” Zhuowei put her hands on her hips. “Did you do this, Brother?”

“Listen,” he held up his hands. “Queen of Qingqiu, you told me he loved animals.”

It turned out that Pojing had transformed, sneaked up behind A-li and roared at the boy for a joke.

“Not the kind of animals that are big enough to swallow him!” Bai Qian said in disbelief.

“He did that to me all the time when I was little!” Zhuowei said accusingly.

Yehua simply sighed and gently patted A-li on the back. “It’s all right, he was only joking. Look --” he tried to get the boy to look at Pojing, but A-li squirmed and held on tighter.

“He’s not like this normally,” Yehua explained in a low voice. “But ever since the Nine Heavens --”

“Right,” Pojing sucked air through his teeth. “I forgot.”

“I’ll take him back to his room,” Yehua said and turned around with A-li in his arms.

“Just when we were talking about how kind you are, you just had to do this?” Bai Qian crossed her arms.

“I didn’t know,” Pojing retorted. “But anyway, that was good practice. He won’t be so easily scared the next time he meets a Demon.”

Zhuowei rolled her eyes. “I’m going to get ready for the gathering tonight. When you see A-li again, Brother, you should offer him a ride around the palace in your true form to make up for this.”



***


Climbing down from the Kirin that had flown her to the building near Xunzhua’s borders, where the gathering would take place, Bai Qian took a moment to fix her hair and robe that had become a bit untidy because of strong winds. Then, following the direction of the Xunzhua’s guards, she found her way to the hall, where a number of people had already gathered to wait for the meeting to begin.

Chatters and exchanges of pleasantries could be heard as she approached the door.

“Bai Qian of Qingqiu,” she told one of the men who was guarding the door.

“Ahh, of course,” he bowed and motioned for her to proceed into the hall. “This way, Queen of Qingqiu.”

As she stepped over the threshold, whispers of the name ‘Qingqiu’ rippled around. The man ushered her through the central walkway and to one of the seats nearest to the front, right opposite of Yanzhi, then quickly went back to his post.

Bai Qian exchanged a smile with the Ghost Princess then cast a quick look to survey the room, recognizing some of the faces among the crowd on both sides as she did so. The leader of the Tree Spirit Tribe - a kind-looking old man that reminded her of Yue-lao. The Queen of the Bird Clan - whose true form was said to be an egret. She sat with a cup of tea in her long, slender fingers, not speaking to anyone. Her robe was snow white with a feathery collar.

Dieyong, the Crown Prince of the Crystal Palace was also present. Having hoped to see her Senior Diefeng instead, Bai Qian’s heart sank in disappointment; however, she was glad to see that the Western Sea had at least answered Xunzhua’s summon. Next to Yanzhi, Bai Qian noticed with a start, was the son of Lord Puhua, whom she was told had left the Nine Heavens several years ago to continue his studies elsewhere. It became clear to her now that there were not only kings and queens present, but also a number of scholars from schools of immortality across the realms.

Settling into her seat, Bai Qian exchanged bows with the people on her left and right. Several more vacant chairs were filled after another minute.

“How are your parents these days, Queen of Qingqiu?” asked a woman from two seats away who was wearing a simple grey robe with black stripes across her sash.

“Very well,” said Bai Qian. “Where are you from?”

“Fangzhang [*],” the woman said. “My greetings. I believe you were once a disciple of Kunlun?”

“Yes,” Bai Qian nodded, smiling. No one from Penglai, she noticed.

Before she could touch her teacup, however, loud and astonished whispers broke among the guests. Yehua had appeared at the doorway and was slowly making his way up.

Pleasant faces suddenly turned hostile. Furrowed brows, clenched jaws, and vicious looks followed him as he walked to his seat. Some looked puzzled, as though not sure they were in the right place, some, including the Tree Spirit King, wore a more tolerant expression, some others seemed ready to pull their weapons and strike him on the spot.

“The king and the princess are here,” a guard’s voice announced before any of them could carry out their obvious desire to attack Yehua, and the hall quieted.

Pojing entered with a silver sceptre in his hand. Both he and his sister were wearing long embroidered robes and a quite detached expression on their faces as they approached the front. The two people who had joked around the gardens with A-li in the afternoon were nowhere to be seen. Self-consciously, Bai Qian straightened her back a bit more. From her seat, she saw the Egret Queen raise her brows and throw Pojing a particularly disapproving look. They all rose and bowed to the king and princess, some did disgruntledly with their fiery eyes still fixed on Yehua.

“We all know why we are here,” Pojing began when he and Zhuowei had taken their seats. “Recent changes in the Nine Heavens have left me no choice but to summon you to this court.”

They all remained silent as he continued. “An immortal of unknown origin sits on the Dragon Throne. The star lords have yet to confirm whether he belongs in the Dragon Clan or not, he might have natural claim to the throne, he might not. But we cannot deny that he has taken this position by force. Some of you were there that day. All of you who are aware that very few kingdoms across the realms exist without some relations to the Nine Heavens; so, it is critical that we discuss this matter among ourselves and decide how to respond to this immortal.”

“What is he doing here?” spoke a man from among the rows of guests as soon as Pojing finished, one with a particularly murderous look, gesturing at Yehua without restraint.

“Everyone in this hall is a guest of Xunzhua,” Pojing answered with a hint of warning in his voice.

The Egret Queen’s musical voice raised; she sounded far from pleased. “We were not aware that the -- former -- Crown Prince of the Nine Heavens would be joining us, King of Xunzhua. I came here to discuss the future of the eight realms, not to witness more hypocrisy from Haode’s bloodline.”

A deafening silence cast down upon the hall like a giant blanket. Some people did not bother hiding how much they agreed with the queen even though they were as shocked as the rest at her boldness. Yehua, however, remained unruffled, as though he had prepared to hear worse.

“The Celestial Crown Prince is not the subject we wish to address tonight,” Zhuowei said.

“He is Crown Prince no longer,” the Egret Queen corrected the princess, and murmurs of agreement swept across the room.

Prince Dieyong spoke, “then I take it you fully support the immortal who has claimed the Nine Heavens by force and murdered the former Skylord?”

“And why not?” the man who had first addressed Yehua taunted. “If the Crown Prince was not able to protect the position he’d been given, why not give it to someone else? He’s lost fair and square, hasn’t he.”
“Fair and square?” Bai Qian was astonished. “You call infiltration and the massacre of hundreds of Celestial soldiers fair?”

“Has this Luoji performed mind spells on any of his followers?” the man responded to her. “I do not believe so. Haode and his grandson failed to earn the loyalty of their people, isn’t that the real reason why their security collapsed in the first place?”

“So you’d rather have a treacherous man who thinks himself above the law and doesn’t shy away from dark magic be the Master of the highest court in the eight realms?”

“I thought Qingqiu liked to stay out of conflict. What happened to that oath?”

“Staying out of conflict doesn’t mean we don’t have our view on these matters,” Bai Qian said.

“How much do you really know about the realms, young Queen?” he jeered. “Are you really basing your opinion on your knowledge of these affairs or some personal sentiments towards the man you were once engaged to.”

“My former engagement to the Crown Prince has nothing to do with my stand on the matter now,” said Bai Qian, beyond caring who this idiot was. Young? He was probably the same age as her!

“Prince Dinghai (定海),” Lord Puhua’s son suddenly raised his voice. “We are here to discuss matters of the realms, leave the Queen of Qingqiu’s marriage engagement for another day!”

“And what exactly is your stand on the matter, Queen of Qingqiu?” the so called Prince Dinghai continued. “Are you saying you are ready to take the Crown Prince’s side if there is to be a war? Some people would say you need to lead more than one battle in your life to make decisions like this.”

“And some might say experience on the battlefield doesn’t always correlate with the ability to sort out priorities. Clearly,” she lifted her face at him. “They are right.”

The prince’s face went red in an instant. He brushed his robe aside and stepped back to his seat. Bai Qian breathed out in disbelief - perhaps they all had the right to speak of the Nine Heavens this way, but the injustice she felt for Yehua, who’d been striving to make as many changes as he could during his grandfather’s reign, made her face burn with anger.

However, no sooner had that prince settled back down than another one stood up with an onslaught towards Yehua.

“You too called for a gathering not too long ago, Celestial Prince, do you remember? What did you say to us -- ahh, yes -- ‘be on your guard against the Demons and raise awareness among your people’. The Demons? Would you like to guess who has just overthrown Haode? Would you like to know who have just caused chaos in the Nine Heavens? Turned Celestial soldiers!”

“A great number of Demons are among Luoji’s supporters, that’s the truth,” Yanzhi spoke up.

“Whatever you say, Princess,” the Egret Queen lifted her chin. “The point is -- the Dragon Prince could not even defend his own home. I’d like to know what he can do without his grandfather’s walking him every step of the way.”

“That is enough!” the Tree Spirit King rose, his considerate demeanor setting him apart. “You have been on the throne for more than 90,000 years, how old is he? Are we going to put the blame on someone who has not even given the chance to lead?”

“Why shouldn’t we?” the queen’s lips curved. “I would love to talk to Haode but seeing that he is no longer here to take responsibility for his failure, what choice do we have but to turn to the person he had always assured us would bring the eight realms a glorious future, the person we all had to bow to.”

“And you are wrong, Tree King,” said someone behind the Egret Queen. “He’s been given plenty of chances. What did he do with his last one? I would ask a Merman, only there are none left!”

“When Lord Donghua resigned from his duty, the Nine Heavens were a united structure that function with reason and integrity, the Demon Realm was kept under control,” another raging voice began. “After just a few hundred years, the realms were divided, smaller clans were forced to submit to the Demon Steward when the Nine Heavens refused to step in to protect their independence. Someone raises an opinion and they think they are being conspired against. Now, nearly half of your men had been working for an outsider right under your rose, what kind of leadership do you call that!”

“We are not here to dissect the past, there are more pressing matters at hand!” Yanzhi had now stood up from her seat.

“Mistakes are bound to repeat themselves if we do not make a point to learn what caused them, Ghost Princess. I see that this is something your generation often likes to forget.”

“Why are we talking about who the Nine Heavens have wronged now?” Lord Puhua’s son called out. “Aren’t we here to consult with the King of Xunzhua about what actions to take if this man who is in charge of the Celestial armies calls upon us?”

“Exactly,” another exasperated voice agreed. “I have not come from thousands of miles away to listen to these endless talks about the old Nine Heavens that serve no purpose!”

“Well then, answer me, why is Haode’s grandson’s presence necessary in this gathering? Is Xunzhua committing to aid him in reclaiming his throne? Is that what you’ve invited us all here to hear?”

Pojing gave an impatient answer, which only heightened the uproar even more. Now the voices that flew back and forth were so loud and furious that Bai Qian had a hard time to tell who was speaking. She exchanged a hopeless look with Yanzhi and they both shook their heads at the crowd of upset faces and savage speech.

From their seats, Pojing and Yehua sprang up almost at the same moment, the former lifted his sceptre then slammed it onto the marble ground. The sound echoed across the hall, causing the arguing and threats to subside, at which time, Yehua had made his way to the centre; all eyes whipped in his direction with utmost curiosity. The Tree Spirit King motioned for the people who had gotten out of their seats to settle back down. Some did so rather grudgingly.

Yehua waited with his head held high and his fists tight by his side. When the last whispers among the crowds on both sides had died and it was so quiet that Bai Qian thought she could hear the sound of the feathers on the Egret Queen’s white robe rustling against one another, Yehua began.

“All of you are right,” he said. “We have made countless mistakes in the past. Mistakes I can no longer make amends for.”

Someone scoffed loudly from one of the back rows, but he went on nonetheless.

“However you would like to think of me, as the Celestial Crown Prince, your -- Crown Prince, I assume full responsibility for the incident in the Nine Heavens that has claimed the lives of my soldiers,” his voice slightly cracked, “my brothers. If you must blame someone, let it be me and not my grandfather nor anyone here who has spoken for me.”

All of them were now staring at him without blinking. No one bothered about their tea or wine anymore. The anger on most faces had reduced to a somewhat less threatening expression.

“I do not ask for your help, nor will I ask for your allegiance before I have earned it. I hear your fury, and I understand your suspicion. I deserve no less.”

Yehua took a moment. Some people looked savagely satisfied, as though this was all they’d wanted to hear. Some others took their glares off of him and waited patiently.

“If you believe that this immortal who sits on the Dragon Throne can lead you to a more promising future, I will not attempt to convince you otherwise. The only thing I wish for you to consider is the safety of your own kingdoms. Some of you have stated that the immortal Luoji’s history and intentions are of little consequence to you, I will not speak against him. But I hope that your decisions are made and your opinions are formed according to your good judgement and not your disappointment towards me.”

The silence in the hall had now reached another level. Even Prince Dinghai’s attention seemed to have been claimed completely.

“As for what we should do in the face of the eight realms’ uncertain future, if you still care to hear what I have to say, it is simply this.” Yehua cast a long look around; a sudden gleam of pride and fearlessness shone in his eyes. “I stand before you now as a man with no Dragon Robe, no armies, and no Celestial Crown. But never have I wanted to defend you against the dark forces more than at this moment, never have I wished to bring peace to the realms more.

“But I can only do so -- if you allow me to.”

Turning to the front, he went on. “King of Xunzhua, thank you for all the help and understanding you have bestowed.”

He raised his arms and bowed to Pojing.

“To all who are present,” he turned to face all of them once more. “Please accept my apology.” Yehua gave another long, deep bow.

And it felt like forever before someone in the hall spoke again.


***


Bai Qian was still standing on the balcony after the last guest had left the hall to either depart or be shown to their quarters, looking down at the well lit gardens below, a small piece of sweet cake she had taken from her table in her hand. They had not found much of a solution, they had also not agreed on what to do if Luoji took any actions that went against the eight realms’ wish for peace. But it seemed, she admitted with relief, several of the people who had come today were willing to consider taking a stand if it came to it. But would they stand a chance against him was what she was worried about. Besides the Celestials’ armies and the Demon soldiers that the Dark Immortal had under his control, what else should they be prepared for? Clearly, triumph over the Nine Heavens was not Luoji’s ultimate goal, he wanted more; and this was what Moyuan was trying to prevent.

At this point she had no idea how Moyuan had been the God of War for so long without going insane. He must love what he did then, Bai Qian shook her head with a sigh. She had only been dealing with war talks and dark magic for less than two months, yet she felt she could use a two hundred years break when this was all over.

At least Xunzhua’s food was excellent, Bai Qian shrugged and put the rest of the cake into her mouth. And at least she was lucky enough to be inside one of the safest places in the eight realms.

Safe…? She shifted her gaze to the moon. Reason aside, the safest place to her was where Moyuan happened to be, even now. If she told her friends that, would they think she was crazy?

“Queen of Qingqiu,” said Pojing’s voice behind her suddenly.

Bai Qian turned around and greeted him with a smile. He was no longer wearing the long robe nor holding the king’s sceptre.

“I think he handled it well, don’t you?” Pojing gestured back at the hall room.

“I think so,” Bai Qian agreed. “They certainly won’t be calling him a coward anymore.”

Pojing came to stand next to her and rested his hands on the balcony.

“At least I hope they won’t,” she added with a frown.

“What are you still doing here?” he asked.

“Oh -- just planning out my trip tomorrow - things I need to ask about. I hope the Master of Penglai is there and not out somewhere travelling.”

“Well, don’t get killed out there,” Pojing joked. “You and the Ghost Princess.”

“We won’t,” Bai Qian huffed. “Don’t jinx us!”

When she was about to ask him what he was doing back here while all of his guests had left, he said. “I have something for you.”

For her? Surprised, Bai Qian turned to face him. From his chest pocket, Pojing took out something that looked like small a bracelet with an oval pendant.

“What is it?” she took the item. It was nothing extravagant, only a simple woven string and pendant made of wood, which, Bai Qian noticed at closer range, bore some carvings on one side. Squinting, then turning it upside down, it became clear to her that it was an outline of a four-legged animal.

“What is it?” she asked.

“A talisman,” Pojing folded his arms, smiling his half smile. “Keeps away bad dreams.”

“Oh --” she grinned, slightly flushing. “Nalan told you?”

“He tends to tell me everything he comes across.”

“Thank you,” she lifted the bracelet higher to take a closer look. The animal looked rather adorable in her opinion.

“It’s a…” Bai Qian stared at it for a bit then took her best guess. “Donkey?”

“Cat.”

“Right --”

“‘Donkey’, really --” he rolled his eyes.

It was something in between the two, Bai Qian decided in her head, the outline wasn’t too detailed. Though cat did sound more reasonable since this was Xunzhua, after all.

Clearing his throat, Pojing continued. “Nalan also told me what happened at the Arctic Land.”

“The Arctic Land?” she lowered her hand. What could he mean? A lot had happened that day, though the things that stood out most clearly in her mind was Sujin, the icy cold and an angry Kirin.

“He said that -- er -- I probably would have frozen to death in the Arctic Prison if you hadn’t come.”

“I had a lot of help, Pojing,” Bai Qian shook her head, ashamed to be given so much credit. “And to tell you the truth, I was scared out of my wits.”

“So would I have been,” he responded.

“You?” she scrunched up her nose. “Scared?”

“All right, probably not as much as you were,” he shrugged and dropped his head in a soft laugh. “But the point is -- you saved our lives.”

Bai Qian was momentarily taken aback. Was he sick? She couldn’t help but wonder, her lips curved in a suspicious smile. Why did he sound so gentle and courteous all of a sudden? Had he ingested some strange potion?

“These things --” she glanced down at her feet and back again. “These things sound a lot more glorious than they really are when you hear them from someone else.”

“That’s true,” Pojing said. “But even so, you did get us out of there, and you were there with me in the mortal realm.”

Suddenly it dawned on Bai Qian. And even though her astonishment did not vanish right away, she was glad, and a bit amused, to finally understand why this conversation was taking place.

She tilted her head and feigned a suspicious look. “Are you trying to be nice to me?”

“I can be nice,” he scoffed. “Not everything I say is a joke or an insult, Queen of Qingqiu.”

“I forgot,” Bai Qian chuckled. “You’re a king.”

“Are you going to put that on?” he asked.

“Oh — of course —” she lifted the bracelet up again. “There’s no knot here though, so I might have to —”

Taking a step towards her, Pojing held out his hand. After a moment of confusion, she dropped the bracelet into his palm. His other hand came up to take hers.

“Thank you,” he said, meeting her eyes, then looped the string around her wrist and tied a knot.

“So are we even now?” she joked.

“I don’t know,” he briefly glanced into the distance then back at her. “I stopped keeping track since we were in the mortal realm.”

“Let’s just say that we are,” Bai Qian suggested.

“But don’t tell anyone from my council about this,” he narrowed his eyes at her, slightly lifting her hand. “Unless you want them to start sending betrothal gifts to Qingqiu.”

“Right,” Bai Qian laughed as he let go.

Pojing folded his arms and they were both silent for a long minute. If a few months ago someone had told Bai Qian she would become friends with the ‘scoundrel’ who had challenged her and tried his best to insult Qingqiu during the gathering at the Nine Heavens, she would have asked them to go get their head checked.

“Don’t ever let me hold a knife to your face again,” she shook her head, chuckling. “I accidentally left a cut on my Senior’s chin that time, I just didn’t tell you about it.”

“You know,” he held up a finger. “I kind of guessed that.”

Another round of laughter filled the space between them.

“Goodnight,” Pojing told her before turning around and heading back inside.

Chapter 11, Part 5
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[*] Fangzhang (方丈): an island where immortals live according to Chinese mythology.