Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 11, Part 1 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 11 - The Master of Penglai

Part 1

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

Shaowan opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling for a long while.

She had hoped to dream about something other than pitch black when she’d gone to bed last night, but her dream once again consisted of nothing but the darkness of a bottomless pit into which she kept falling, and falling without knowing when she would hit the bottom, and what would become of her when she did.

When she had first come back, she would constantly dream of ice and fire, and the pain through which she had been put in order to step foot into the eight realms again. At the time, like a newborn bird who had just crawled out from its egg, she had only known to strive for survival. Who had brought her back? Had she been allowed to return for a purpose? She had no answer to these questions.

After several years, the memories of the war came back to her, one by one, haunting her sleep. The raging screams of her soldiers, the clanging of swords on shields, the blood on their armors. The faces of the people who had once trusted her - Zheyan, Donghua, Shifu… and Moyuan, his eyes, the feel of his strong yet hopeless grip around her wrist before he had let her fall into the pit of fire. And the furious flames that had consumed her.

But now… It had been so long that these memories did not frighten her as much as they used to. She had a faint idea of how long she had been like this. She remembered how many times she had fallen fatally ill in this realm but did not die, how many people she’d met had passed on. But she feared nothing anymore. Even her dreams had become dull.

This string of days she was living was the bottomless pit she could not escape even in dreams.

Shaowan sat upright and opened the window right next to her bed.

She remembered every house, every cottage she had been to, the number of steps it took to walk to every room, the number of bricks and bamboo sticks that made those walls, the length and width of each door and window.

Had her heart found peace or had it simply died?

No, she was aware of the delicious food she’d tasted lately, the pleasant conversations she’d had with others, her rage at the mention of Yingchen. Her heart was alive. But it had grown weary from harboring hope for so long.

Shaowan slowly opened the bedroom door and stepped out.

“Oh!”

She had bumped into something that stood right in front of her room. Her hands shot forward to grab it quickly before it could fall over.

Tea? Shaowan frowned as she balanced herself and placed the thing back down. It was a high stool, on top of which lay a tea tray. Who in the heavens…

She was about to curse out loud when Moyuan appeared from behind the corner, looking as though he thought she was about to faint.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Who put this tray here?” she complained. “I nearly knocked it over.”

“It wasn’t me,” said Moyuan as he walked over, perhaps wanting to help her solve this mystery.

But it was not exactly a mystery - Shaowan caught sight of a white piece of paper that had been placed carefully under the teapot and it dawned on her right away. She pulled the paper out and shook it open.

It was the map - her loosely drawn map of shops and the main roads that ran within the city. However, she noticed that there was a small addition. Next to one of the buildings that were represented by rectangular shapes at the end of the central street was a new square, an arrow pointing to it with a note that read ‘new sweet shop’.

“What is it?” Moyuan asked again in that priest-like tone of his.

“It’s a map I drew of the city and the road from this cottage,” Shaowan laughed pleasantly and handed him the piece of paper. “I gave it to Xiaowu a few days ago so she wouldn’t get lost in the woods.”

A sudden, tiny smile broke on the Celestial’s lips as he looked at the map, but his face went back to being expressionless momentarily.

“The tea is cold,” she pressed the back of her hand against the ceramic pot.

“They left several hours ago,” Moyuan responded. “I did not want to wake you.”

“Can you warm this tea for me?”


***


Shaowan was still having a hard time adjusting her eyes to that beard the Celestial had grown. She wondered if it was his idea of an impressive appearance as a War God. As if that permanent crease between his brows did not make him look ancient already.

But no matter how much time had passed, how much had happened between them, how much his appearance changed, she was always able to see that boy who sat in the classroom with an anklet at a corner of his desk in him, the boy who was confused, yet too well mannered to decline when she’d asked to share his desk.

Shaowan quietly walked to the kitchen counter and waited for Moyuan to decide when the tea was ready.

Since the day of their unexpected reunion, every look he’d given her was full of guilt, a deep pain that hurt him to speak of, hurt her to think of. But she needed to look at him once in a while now to know that she was indeed alive, that she had not gone mad from living this way for too long.

“It is good tea,” said Moyuan as he finally removed the teapot from the iron warmer. “Only it is a little too bitter.”

“Too bitter?” she chuckled. “I thought the more bitter the tea, the more you love it.”

“I meant for you,” he said, handing her a small cup of the liquid.

Shaowan scoffed. “I doubt it matters.”

She took a tiny sip of tea while Moyuan poured himself some.

Dozens of decades had passed by and that hair bun of his was still all the same irritatingly tidy, she noticed. He tended to frown a little more than usual these days though, that was, the kind of ‘usual’ that she’d known before the war. She was not sure what kind of expression he usually wore now. Who knew what had happened during her absence. Sky islands must have shifted, many lands must have become part of the ocean - a man’s way of life could not be exactly the same after so many years.

At this thought, she lit up a little - she wanted to know what he had been up to besides his work and tasteless music. Did Kunlun have a Mistress yet? Was he still staring at the sunset everyday from the mountain and pretending like it was an enjoyable thing to be doing alone?

Perhaps he would not answer her questions and start to lecture her about tea, but she decided to go on anyway - ruffling his feathers had always been her favorite thing to do.

“So -- Celestial,” Shaowan began.

He made a small sound behind his teacup and nodded.

She went on, “I was wondering about something. I think I can kind of tell already, but I'll give you the chance to tell me.”

“Hmm,” his brows lifted a little.

“You don’t have to. But, I mean -- if you don’t…”

“What is it, Shaowan?” the curious smile on his lips became more obvious.

“Please tell me you’ve found someone,” she leaned closer to the counter.

He hesitated. What was the problem? It was such a simple question. Either he had finally met someone who could tolerate him or he had not. Or was there something too complicated to explain? Yes, Celestials were all about complications. The way they made their tea said it all. But… hmm, what was it that she’d just seen on that face, just half a second before it had disappeared?

“Well, have you?” she pressed on.

“Why does it matter?” Moyuan asked her back in a very patient tone. Though Shaowan knew he wasn't interested in knowing why it mattered. It was one of his usual ways of avoiding a question. So he had not found anyone then?

“Have you at least done something more than playing chess with someone or torturing them with your -- slow zither music?”

“Shaowan,” Moyuan’s facade of indifference started to look as though it was going to drop. Good.

“Well,” she sipped some more tea, feeling pleased with herself. “I think I got my answer already. But I am shocked. You mean to tell me that after all this time, ever since we parted ways, that rock bed of yours is still just yours alone?”

Again, he was silent. Priest, Shaowan rolled her eyes.

“What do you do in your spare time in that mountain these days then?” she asked.

“Like you said - chess,” he answered. “Books, reports and battle plans.”

“Goodness,” Shaowan blinked. “You are irresistible, Moyuan.”

The Celestial gave a soft chuckle.

“Good luck finding someone who can put up with you,” she jeered.

“What if I could find such a person?” Moyuan asked with a slight lift of his chin.

“If you could, I would first seek out this woman’s family to express my consolation, then I suppose I would congratulate you.”

This time, it was him who looked quite pleased. That confident, was he? Shaowan laughed as she got some more tea for herself. She was very tempted to tell him that if he hadn’t found someone by now then he probably never would, but before she was done having her inner debate about whether she should, she saw Moyuan bring his cup down.

A suddenly melancholy sprang from where the little cup met with the cold counter surface and filled the space between them. Shaowan said nothing. She had used to be stronger, used to notice less. But now, every movement, every subtle change the air carried made her wonder.

“Shaowan,” Moyuan said, with a voice tender yet much too serious for her to not look up from her cup.

“I will have to leave. You know why.”

“I know.”

“But before I go, is there anything about the immortal realms you would like me to tell you?”

Shaowan fell quiet. There were millions of things she craved to know - her people, her palace, her brother, Luoji… Her whole being burned with a desire to fly back to her realm, back to the throne room she had abandoned and stand among her court again. Why had the Gods given her back her memories if they would not allow her to step back into her world? She had sought out mortal cultivators, sought their help to get in touch with her kind, but it had all been in vain. Any kind of tampering, any attempt to cheat or learn what Fate had in mind for her and the time she would have to spend here would lengthen, she had started to understand that.

The recollection of what she’d once had was a source of torment. At times, she’d wished she could die, die for some cause, noble or foolish, or just simply… die, and be done with it. Anything was better than being kept here, trapped in a powerless body. She had even tried to end her own life. Nothing worked. What she achieved every time was only more pain.

What did the Universe want with her? To teach her patience?

Bitterness rose to her throat. Patience was something she could never learn, the lack of which had brought her to her own doom. She had wanted… powers. Powers to defeat the people she had once called friends in the Demon War. She had not believed that her harnessing cultivation and immortal powers using Dark Magic could have brought such consequences for herself if she was careful enough, she had laughed at anyone who would cite the rules in front of her. She’d wanted to get ahead of everyone, wanted to be the strongest, the fastest. And now…

Now, she was spending eternity in an endless circle while the world moved on.

But it was her heart that had changed then, what right had she now to condemn anyone, anything, for changing?

“No,” she decided. “Do not tell me anything at this time. The less I am involved with the immortal realms, the better it is for my trial.”

“I understand,” Moyuan said.

“I need to do this. Properly. I don’t know what it will cost me in the end, but I will finish my trial.”

Moyuan nodded and smiled, a smile she knew was meant to lift her spirit. “I cannot do much to help given your circumstances,” he said. “But if there is anything you need -- anything you want that does not involve breaking the rules of trials, you will tell me?”

What could she want? Shaowan thought as a crushing agony spread from her heart to every part of her body.

She would have wanted time to stop the night before the last battle, stop when she and her friends were carefree disciples of Kunlun.

When the four of them were playing on that meadow.

“Shaowan,” he called her name again, in his voice more sadness than she could bear to hear. “I am sorry.”