Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 12, Part 3 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)


Chapter 12 - Detour

Part 3

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

Bai Qian turned around, shivers scuttling down her spine and her stomach writhing in both fear and hatred. The little sprite was as quiet and motionless as a twig on the back of her hair.

A male figure sat on a boulder no more than twenty feet away, one fist hoisting his face up and the other resting on his knee, his dark robe worn casually without a sash or any pendants, his raven black hair hanging loose. No weapons, no armor.

“I hadn’t thought you would be on this very island tonight, but here we are,” he said.

Bai Qian’s senses had recognized who it was, had registered what she should be doing in response, but another part of her, a less intrinsic part, realized that he had just addressed her directly and any attempt to flee would be futile.

That did not mean she shouldn’t try, thought Bai Qian as she whipped around instantly and lunged upward. But just as she’d expected, an invisible force pushed her back down just as she was two feet up, nearly making her fall on her back.

“If you are in no hurry,” the Dark Immortal said, rising, his voice stealing all the air around. “I would like a word with you.”

What in the name of Pangu could he have to talk to her about? Though the question simply refused to come out of her mouth. Instead, she stared at him, unable to think fast enough. She was far away from any realms, and standing in front of her was the man who had defeated Lord Donghua in less than three minutes not too long ago. There was no one around to help, no Kirin that could carry her away.

Was she going to die here today?

“A charming location,” he cast an indifferent look around. “I have passed by it several times before, have even visited it, hidden among those trees so they wouldn’t find me. Of course, I have seen him here too, the Phoenix.”

Phoenix? The taunt rang in Bai Qian’s ears, causing multiple emotions to rise up to her head at once, one of them she could process - it was a deep loathing that made her face twist in disgust. Don’t…

Don’t talk about Zheyan with your demon tongue, you are not allowed...

“Is that why you are here?” his question drawled on, his face frighteningly unfathomable. “Because he was important to you?”

Bai Qian made an immense effort to steady herself, but her hands were trembling more violently than ever, her jaw clenched so tightly that her whole face started to hurt. She didn’t have the slightest idea what the purpose of his words was, but they were seeping under her skin like some kind of poison.

“I suppose all immortals meet with their ends sooner or later,” he looked beyond her, for a second speaking as though he was the only one there. “Well, not all, but most. The universe demands a balance, only those who possess the will and power to conquer this law -- live, forever.”

Her face contorted.

“Not everyone --” his lips tugged upward into a blank, yet infuriating smile --” is me.”

Maybe Bai Qian should have kept her mouth shut, should have concentrated on a plan to save herself. But instead, she threw her own biting remark at him. “Zheyan was ten times what you are.”

She was suddenly unafraid, suddenly very much ready to tear this immortal apart with her bare hands.

“Was he?” the man showed no sign of offense. “We’ll never know now, will we.”

At once, the last shred of the ability to think clearly slipped from Bai Qian’s head. And truth be told, she no longer cared. It was as if her brain had forgotten that she could be killed in less than one second if she did so much as move her foot forward. All that she had learnt about this immortal vanished from her mind like a puff of smoke at the end of a cloud-jump. Dangerous, murderous, manipulative? Those things meant nothing to her now. She only saw the man whose eyes had gleamed, who had laughed as Zheyan’s body perished as though it was a play.

Gripping her fan, Bai Qian sliced the air, firing forward her strongest force.

He did not move out of the way. He did not block her attack. Her spell came right at him but then simply bounced off of his chest and the remnants of her magic vanished into thin air, leaving him unscathed.

Bewildered, Bai Qian took a second to regain the strength she had just squandered. And as she did so the man made no move of his own. What game was this? Mustering her powers, Bai Qian conjured the same spell and hurled it in his direction. And again, it did him no damage. Unshielded, unmoving, he kept on gazing at her.

The surge of violence was rushing through her more intensely and she didn’t care how he responded or what he wanted anymore, the only thing she knew how to do now was an absolute desire to kill him. If he was going to take it without fighting back, it was not her problem. If she was going to die here today, she would make sure to at least die making him bleed.

Scorching hatred propelled her feet forward and she attacked again, channeling so much energy through her fan that, like a student who learned to wield a weapon for the first time, her sword arm shook with pain. Not wasting any time, she lifted her arm again and hurled another series of spells at him. But once more, the result of her effort vanished without much consequence.

He stood with stillness that was laced with a frightening yet exquisite power.

“You are skilled,” he said quietly. “But too -- kind, it seems. Strike me like you mean it. That is the only way you can hope to hurt me.”

Mean it? Bai Qian gritted her teeth. She had meant everything she’d thrown out. Mean it… her chest tightened with an anger so intense it almost suffocated her.

She dropped her fan and stumbled forward, entirely without fear - fear was not a concept she could process anymore. Two feet in front of him, she pulled back her fist and with all the brute strength she processed, struck the man across the face. The impact was painful, or at least for her hand it was. Him, he simply turned his head and looked back at her with that same curious expression, as though asking her if that was supposed to hurt.

She swallowed hard, grabbed his collar and swung her fist at him again, and again, expecting to see blood coming out of his nose each time her hand slammed against the unmoved face. But one time after another she couldn’t cause even a single furrow of his brows. Stumbling a few times yet he showed no signs of pain and his eyes remained inquisitive after each blow as he let her go on without a word.

The next thing Bai Qian knew she was gasping for air and unable to tell whether she was gripping his robe to aim her next attack or to anchor herself against her own exhaustion. Her fingers had gone numb - she could have broken her own bones without knowing it.

What was going on? Bai Qian grunted and stared. Who was this person she was facing? She knew, but at the same time was completely clueless. It was a power she could not break, could not understand - not only physical strength but a mightiness she was defenseless against. Something mysterious, lethal, yet she could not not stop throwing herself at it even though she knew it was hopeless.

But she didn’t believe he had not been hurt. She had attacked with more powers today than during the Ghost War, than any fight she’d gotten into before. It must have hurt… Bai Qian took another deep breath, furious beyond words. She lifted her right foot, swirled, and with all her body weight kicked him in the chest. He stumbled back, but seemingly out of an effort to go along with her unavailing assault and humor them both than out of real pain.

Utterly maddened, she yanked the little dagger from her boot and lunged towards him again.

This time, however, the moment her weapon was two inches from plunging into his neck, he raised his own hand in a quick moment and clamped his fingers around her wrist, holding her back with such force that cause tears to leak out of her eyes from pain. And it was not only her hand that was overpowered but the energy from her whole body seemed to be sucked clean.

An icy surge of air came swirling around where their hands interjected and the next second...

Crack! The blade on her dagger shattered into pieces.

And so did her last ounce of strength.

She was weakened to the bone and without a coherent idea of what was going on anymore. One push, one small strike, one little spell and she could collapse and die, that much she knew. If worse came to worst, this was not a bad place to die - here, where she’d spent many of the happiest days of her childhood.

And she might just see Zheyan again…

Bai Qian let go of the bladeless handle, somehow hypnotized by the dark depths of those eyes that were set upon her.

Gasp.

His hands came to grasp her shoulders, gently enough that while startled she didn’t pull back. His head tilted and he observed her with a less provoking expression than before. The scar that ran between his eyes caught hers and she stared at it without restraint, not caring whether this would lead her to her own death or not.

As if aware where her attention was being placed, the muscles of his brows twitched.

Bai Qian gasped, her entire body was petrified and she held her breath as she felt his hand slowly draw close to her eyes. She had expected those fingers to be cold and rough. But they were not. They were quite the opposite.

“The Celestials have left scars on us both, haven’t they,” he said, with a voice completely different from that which she had heard on Zhuxian Terrace.

Bai Qian could react no more than continue to stare at him with her lips ajar. How did he know these things about her?

“I am sorry for your loss,” were his next words. And staring went on to be the only thing she was capable of doing now. She didn’t understand a single thing that was happening.

His hands slid down her arms, as though he wanted to embrace her. She was scared. But then, she was not. She felt both fear and safety at the same time. How could someone so deadly feel so… warm, so understanding? Her head must have stopped functioning because nothing made sense anymore.

“What do you want with me?”

“It is not what I want with you,” he answered. “It is what I want for us both.”

“What?” Bai Qian muttered.

“Bai Qian,” he said her name, with such intimacy that sent heat spiraling across her chest, flaring underneath her face. “Tell me, do you want to see him again?”

What was he talking about?

“Who?” she managed to ask, but rather feebly.

“Zheyan,” he whispered, drawing her limp body a little closer. “Do you want to see him again?”

“What…”

“I know that you do. That is why you sought the device.”

“The… device?” she said muddly. How did he know about… What did he mean?

“Yes, I know that you would break any rules for him. And you are not wrong, absolutely not. I would do it too. There is no boundaries I would not cross for those I love.”

What was he talking about? What rules? She’d never wanted to break any…

But no sooner could Bai Qian finish her thoughts than tears started to chase each other down her cheeks once again. With desperation her bare emotions were being forced to surface by some mysterious command she could not fight against.

“I know,” his coaxing voice said to her again and he placed his hand on the side of her head. “I understand.”

She could hear no malice from that voice, could feel no deceit from that hand, only a boundless power she wanted to hide behind. It didn’t look like he was going to hurt her, it didn’t feel that way at all. Had anyone ever told her that they understood how she felt about Zheyan’s death before? Not yet. Not like this.

“Cry,” he told her. “Cry all you need.”

And cry she did. Grief strangled her throat - grief that had never dissolved, had only been prevented from emerging by other priorities. She thought of the burned feathers, of the last time Zheyan had walked out to meet her from his cottage. Then suddenly, she was much closer to the Dark Immortal than she understood why. His hand, persistent yet tender, eased her head toward his shoulder. Right and wrong slipped in and out of her head and in the end she couldn’t think, couldn’t help but falter against his support.

“Only when your tears have run their course can you be free to see what can be done,” his voice caressed her.

“What…,” she sobbed. “What are you... talking about? What can be done?”

“Tell me,” his voice continued to envelop her like a velvet blanket. “If there was a chance to bring Zheyan back among the realms, you would take it, wouldn’t you?”

The answer she gave him was one that she had buried deep in her heart, one that she now let free like every emotion she had shown tonight. “Yes --”

Yes, she would go to the end of the eight realms, would jump into any pit of fire or give all her heart blood away if it meant Zheyan could come back.

“I can help you.”

“H-help me…?”

“The item you possess,” he said. “It is capable of achieving what you so desperately want.”

“What item?” Bai Qian asked, like an impulse, even though she had started to understand what he meant. She had been doing nothing but search for answers all this while, solving hopeless riddles. She was more tired than she’d admitted to herself. But he… he could give her answers. Answers to anything.

His voice lowered to a softest whisper. “The hairpin.”

Bai Qian’s arms jolted, her heart sped up and her brain was suddenly full, overflowed, so many things rushing back and forth so fast they obscured her vision for a second. She lifted her head and stared up at him.

“You know what I speak of,” he said.

Yes, she knew. But why would he offer to...

“You know where it is.”

“I… I don’t...”

“Listen to me,” his shoulders moved up and down as he took in a deep breath. Those eyes bored into hers - mystifying, dominant - she could not look away. “I can make this wish of yours come true.”

“What?” she murmured.

“Even with this device you have acquired, the rules of life and death of this universe are unbreakable, but I, I am capable of conquering these rules. I have done it myself. Only I -- can help you.”

He thinks that…

“You have the key in your hands, but only I have the power to use it.”

“Why…” Bai Qian looked away for a moment, her body tensing. “Why would you… help me?”

“Because I am hoping that you would also help me,” he replied. Until now she could not see a single trace of lie on this face. So much sincerity, so much that even when the doubts and fear she had left behind were starting to return, she still wanted to listen on.

“What can I do to help you?” Bai Qian’s voice was a lot steadier than a minute ago.

“You see, there are things you would go to the end of this world to achieve, people you love enough to break universal laws for. Am I right?”

She said nothing this time.

“All you have to do,” that voice, it was more mesmerizing than anything had the ability to be, “is tell me where the device is.”

A rush of cold pierced through Bai Qian.

He wanted the device.

With that cold, clarity, at least a large part of it, returned to her.

He wanted the device from her - that was what this had been about.

She did not have the device with her. Thank the heavens she did not. Thank the heavens she had been prepared.

But if she had it... Bai Qian’s thoughts wandered again, it was as though she couldn’t help but actually consider his offer despite how the voice of reason in her had deemed it wrong. She wasn’t committing any wrong if she only thought about the possibility, was she?

If the device… was here. She would...


“Bai Qian,” her name was breathed again.

No, she would not.

At that very moment, something came at them - a force of energy so formidable Bai Qian only had enough time to register a silver flash of light before being blasted to the ground.

“What is…” she scrambled up, dust had gotten into her eyes, her ears ringing from the impact. The Dark Immortal was nowhere to be seen. But before she could make an effort to stand, another pair of hands seized her shoulders.

“Seventeenth!”

His voice.

Bai Qian stared like a soulless person. He was right in front of her. Moyuan. Had she been knocked unconscious? Was this a dream?

But it wasn’t - his hands were gripping her so tightly that it hurt. Setting her eyes on him, the rest of Bai Qian’s sanity came back to her with a rush. Where she was, the Dark Immortal, everything she had somehow forgotten for the last several minutes. With sanity came her sense of priority and her first instinct was to let Moyuan know that the hairpin Luoji wanted was still safe inside Xunzhua’s shield.

“Zhuowei --” she said in haste and from her sleeve pocket revealed enough of the hairpin for him to see.

His brows pulled together for a second as he briefly touched the butterfly’s jade wings. A hint of relief manifested on his face.

He took hold of her wrist. “Let’s leave…”

But no sooner could he finish his sentence than another, a stronger force than last time, was hurled at her and once again Bai Qian was laying flat on the ground.

All kinds of noises started to rise from all directions. Bai Qian brushed her hair out of the way, sprang to her feet and summoned the fan she had dropped earlier.

Out of nowhere it flew toward her. However, two inches from touching her fingers, it bounced, unable to get any closer. A layer of shield flickered around where she stood as the weapon struggled to break inside on her command.

But the fan wasn’t her concern anymore when Bai Qian realized with terror there was a deadly fight going on outside of the shield. She froze, holding her breath and pressed closer to the shield surface.

The Dark Immortal, looking both amused and irritated, raised his arm and struck down, releasing a thrust of fire that bolted towards Moyuan with the speed of flames being shot from the mouth of a dragon. The latter conjured a shield just in time to not get burned into ash, but the magnitude of the attack left him stumbling.

“What are you doing here, Moyuan?” said Luoji, storming forward. “I admit I am fascinated by your devotion to your beloved Demon Queen, but I have my limits. You cannot keep getting in my way like this.”

Moyuan instantly summoned Xuanyuan Sword and with a circular motion of his other arm, conjured several other swords in midair. Another spell from him and they came flying at Luoji, attempting to stab him from all directions. But this did not make Bai Qian any less scared. In fact, Moyuan’s utilizing this lethal methods only affirmed that the danger they faced was fatal, magnifying the terror that was already gnawing at her from the inside.

And Luoji still had not even summoned his own weapon.

There was, however, something uncharacteristically aggressive about Moyuan’s attacks that puzzled her greatly.

Taking advantage of the brief second Luoji was kept occupied by the mindless swords, Moyuan advanced, levitated himself, and crashed down, blasting him into the trees behind them, many of which came tumbling down because of the impact.

But Luoji recovered much quicker than Bai Qian had expected. As swift as a panther and not in the least injured, he returned to the fight, his amusement alleviated, but so was, it seemed, his enthusiasm to crush his opponent.

“I gave you Shaowan’s Feather,” he taunted in between his attacks. “You can’t possibly expect me to let you have this device too. No no, there is a limit to my generosity.”

I see… Bai Qian filled her lungs with air. Yes, Luoji still had it in his head that the God of War was emotionally compromised because of the Demon Queen. This was the impression Moyuan needed to keep up.

She gasped from inside her shield when a jet of light hit Moyuan square on the chest. Regaining his balance, he had just enough time to shield himself from another torrent of fire.

They were equals in technique and speed, what decided the outcome of this duel was strength. And strength… Donghua’s battered figure in the Nine Heavens invaded her mind again. She reminded herself over and over that Moyuan was the God of War, if he could not bring down an opponent then at the very least he should be able to protect himself from injuries. But that did not look to be the case.

Luoji was much stronger, more than she’d thought possible, and more brutal, more eager to inflict pain. Just like the rest of his followers.

Bai Qian gripped the fabric of her dress and and tried to think. No doubt Luoji would release her from this shield once he’d defeated the God of War, no doubt he would not be so patient, or… whatever he had been with her before Moyuan had come, when he asked for the device again. She could not fight and she could not simply run away. She needed a plan...

The duel had now gotten to a point where Moyuan was having to do everything he could to retaliate, while Luoji was still entertaining himself by throwing out different kinds of spell and savoring the result of his vigorous powers.

Resourceful, cunning, unyielding - whatever the God of War could conjure, he responded to in one split second. There was no spells he couldn’t deflect, no attacks he couldn’t counter.

All of a sudden, at the same time, two jets of spell were shot up and collided in midair with a loud bang, one fiery and one silver, creating a massive thread of glaring light between the two men. They both held their grounds and directed their magic to consume the other’s. Bit by bit, with the unimaginable magnitude of Luoji’s powers, the fiery light pushed itself forward until at last it dominated more than two thirds of the thread.

Moyuan retracted his arm and broke the connection, then catapulting himself forward he swung a kick at Luoji from the side which managed to send him plowing across the ground, crushing into the trees and rocks that stood in the way, sending torrents of debris in the air.

But Bai Qian, panic-stricken where she stood, saw that the blow had not done any more to weaken Luoji than her earlier punches had. It had, however, seemed to have angered him. The Dark Immortal bounded off the ground at once, emitting a furious energy that, upon contact, threw Moyuan back a distance and on his back. Then, like a tornado he hurled forward with a series of strikes and kicks he seemed to have been holding back out of generosity all this time, savagely and continuously, not giving his opponent one second to react.

How in the name of heavens had she gotten away alive with punching him earlier? Bai Qian bit down on her lip, trembling from head to toe as she watched Moyuan taking the Dark Immortal’s onslaught without a single chance to even raise his arms to defend himself.

At last, being hit with a spell too strong, too fast for him to block, he collapsed on his back, his chest heaving up and down in ragged breaths.

But that didn’t seem to satisfy Luoji.

As though wanting to emphasize his victory, he strode towards Moyuan, with one hand lifted him up by the neck and thrashed him down once again.

Bai Qian’s hands flew to her mouth as she stared at the God of War’s unmoving figure and the smashed ground in the vicinity. From the distance she could not see any blood on him, but she didn’t doubt that there was.

“I admire your skills, Moyuan,” the Dark Immortal sneered. “Truly, I do. But you have picked the wrong time to use them against me. I am in no mood to be tested.”

Bai Qian had known it was coming, that he would address her next, but that did not stop her heart from almost leaping out of her chest when he turned around at her, did not stop her hands from becoming so cold they almost lost all feelings.

With a flick of his hand, the shield around her vanished. Bai Qian grabbed hold of her fan immediately even though she wasn’t sure how it could help her now.

There was no trace of the man that had stood in front of her earlier, only the merciless Dark Immortal who had come for the item he believed she had.

“As I was saying,” he told her, more urgently, the warmth had vanished from his voice, so completely that Bai Qian wondered whether she’d only imagined it. “I need you to give me the device.”

“I don’t…”

“The hairpin with the jade butterfly, give it to me,” he repeated.

She stalled. A sort of plan manifested in her mind, but she needed some time to think it over, to calculate the chance of success. Or not… maybe what she needed most right now was luck. And Bai Qian didn’t think she would get any more luck today; she was quite sure she had used up all of her allotted luck earlier, when she was throwing punches at him like a mad person.

“Give me the device.”

“I don’t have it,” Bai Qian said, anxious to hear how he would respond.

“You know who I am, such lies do not hold before me,” his eyes flared. “You have it with you. I sensed its presence. Only this device can emit such energies.”

He is not that familiar with the energy around the real hairpin, Bai Qian concluded, at least not as much as Moyuan, who was able to tell it was not the real one the second his hand came close to it. Good, this was the luck she could use.

“Give it to me,” he said again.

“You said you could bring Zheyan back with it,” said Bai Qian, to buy herself some more time.

“Under different circumstances, I would be honored to continue our earlier discussion. But now, I’m afraid you will have to give it to me first,” he said casually, making clear that the idea he had whispered in her ear with such passion earlier was now at the bottom of his list of priorities.

Impulsively Bai Qian took half a step back.

“Give the device to me,” he said, still sounding calm but the features of his face slightly contorted.

“Or what?” she blurted. “You’ll kill me? There’ll be no removing a Concealing Spell once the caster has died.”

“You must be one of those disciples Moyuan is proud of,” his lips curled. “Yes, I know that. And I will not touch you. Let me give you a different incentive.”

Before Bai Qian could react, he slashed an arm upward. Long, thick ropes that looked like they had been dipped in lava materialized and fastened themselves around Moyuan; one slithered around his neck and yanked him up from the ground, onto his knees. He made no sounds, but the look on his face was enough to tell her how worn out he was.

“The device or your mentor’s life,” said Luoji.

She couldn’t give it to him right away. He would know - Bai Qian thought frantically. He could not tell that the energy around it had been created with the most advanced magic in weaponry to imitate the original, but that did not mean he would not see through her plot if she were to give the hairpin to him as though she didn’t need it, as though reviving Zheyan wasn’t more important than saving Moyuan’s life. He might even be reading her mind now.

Play along - it was their only chance to escape. She had no choice but to play along. Would he kill Moyuan? Would he…

“I am normally very patient,” the Dark Immortal continued, a hint of irritation apparent in his voice. “But I’m afraid your Shifu has exhausted this quality of mine with his meddling. Now, I will say it again, give me the device or watch him die.”

He lifted a hand threateningly. Bai Qian didn’t know what he would do if she refused. She didn’t want to know. But then… it was bound to happen.

“He killed Zheyan,” she swallowed and threw her best scathing look at Moyuan. “You think I don’t want to watch him suffer?”

Luoji nodded. “I sympathize with you completely.”

His hand that was hovering above Moyuan snapped into a fist. At once, the fire ropes tightened with a jolt, whatever power they had seemed to be burning through his skin. He crumbled, struggling against what must be some terrible agony, bloodshot veins bulging on the side of his neck, his forehead.

Bai Qian’s stomach writhed, her head screamed in terror and it took her every ounce of the strength she had left to prevent those screams from leaving her mouth.

But before she knew it, Luoji had stopped.

“But I do wonder,” his deep voice ricocheted through her. “Would you really let me kill him, the man to whom you owe your achievements, whom you bowed to on your first day at Kunlun as your Shifu?”

He flexed his fingers. Bai Qian let out the breath she didn’t know she had been holding, terrified.

“A sacred, unbreakable bond,” His eyes glowed and his smile grew with a deadliness that filled every inch of his face. “But if you are willing to break it, then you are better than I thought. Shall we find out?”

“He…” her voice trembled. She just needed to say something, she needed to detain him, even if only for a few seconds, so that Moyuan could recover. “He killed Zheyan… for that woman.”

“He has,” said Luoji. “He chose to sacrifice a life to revive another. Would you do the same? Would you let him die so that you can run from me with this hairpin that might bring your Zheyan back?”

Bai Qian was somehow still miraculously able to keep her tears from falling, but a small sob made it out of her throat.

“Ahh, do not look to me for advice,” Luoji laughed under his breath. But for one fleeting second, Bai Qian thought she saw something stir in those eyes. “I am not particularly someone who encourages moral high grounds. The only thing I can offer you is some pressure.”

Once more, the fire ropes constricted. It was pain, some violent, merciless pain that made one of the strongest men she knew struggle for breath, trapped him in an agonizing state where there was absolutely no escape. His body writhed, twisting madly against the bonds, more blood trickling down from the crack of his lips. And knowing Moyuan, what she saw was probably only a small part of the actual pain he felt.

Stop… Bai Qian choked, forcing her eyes to open wide. She was ready to to beg Luoji, to kneel before him, anything to make him stop.

“You seem unconvinced,” Luoji commented as he briefly brought his arm back to his side. “Let me explain to you how this works - though I hardly see the need, you do not seem to lack intelligence - his healing power has failed, you take too long to think and these ropes will burn his every inch of flesh, every bone, every single shred of his immortal essence. Test me, and you will see.”

Was that true? Bai Qian grimaced. Or was it only a threat? He had won against Moyuan in a duel, that much was clear, but kill him? This, however, was not something she wanted to watch Luoji try. Her courage was crumbling, she could not endure this much longer.

But there was no other way. She needed to make sure Luoji continued to believe what he had seen on Zhuxian Terrace or both she and Moyuan could face something worse than death, and everything, every sacrifice that had been made to get this far would be in vain.

She despised the God of War who had killed Zheyan for a Demon Woman. And she must show it, show that hatred, that reluctance to trade the hairpin for his life.

Bai Qian glared down at Moyuan with her lips compressed and her jaw clenched. Liar, cold-blooded, unfeeling, she chanted in her head, willing adverse emotions to display believably on her face.

“Are we done thinking?” Luoji pressed on.

“If you could be so ruthless as to kill someone I am bound to respect and be loyal to,” Bai Qian gulped down her nausea. “How could you expect me to believe that you would help me bring Zheyan back?”

“Good question,” he said, motioned at Moyuan with his head. “It is him who interrupted our conversation, isn’t it. So, if he survives this, you can direct that question to him.”

Not waiting for her reply, Luoji pulled his fingers inward again. On the ground, the vicious ropes repeated their crushing torture, overpowering Moyuan completely so that he could barely move, could do nothing but surrender to the killing forces. The muffled sounds that came from him stabbed into her chest, like the dagger that had pierced her heart all over again.

“Hmm,” Luoji growled.

The lava-like substance that had been flaring along the ropes all this time suddenly flared up and started to spread…

“Stop…no…,” Bai Qian clasped her head. “Stop! STOP!”

Luoji ceased his torture and gave her a ruthlessly amused look. This was the Dark Immortal she had seen on Zhuxian Terrace.

Shaking all over, Bai Qian reached into her sleeve pocket and pulled the little pouch out. The dark eyes that had been watching her glinted as she cleared the Concealing Charm and held the hairpin that had materialized in her grip.

He extended his arm. Taking the cue, Bai Qian sent the hairpin floating forward. When it was halfway to him, Luoji flicked his wrist and with some spell Bai Qian couldn’t care less about now, commanded the item to halt. Then, without warning, he fired at it what looked like both flames and thunderbolts.

She jumped and stared at the hairpin as it struggled against those destructive forces. But then… to her immense relief, it remained undamaged, still floating in midair, after the fire and lightning had vanished.

With a triumphant smirk and a lazy motion of his arm, Luoji called the item forth.

“A hard choice, I know,” he said to her, scanning the hairpin in his palm. “But you impress me - letting him suffer for this long.” Scoffing, he directed another look at Moyuan. “Well, I supposed he has reached the limits with us both.”

Bai Qian didn’t have the heart to let those remarks enter her head anymore, all she could process was the terrible state of Moyuan, how he literally looked like dying now. But against everything, she maintained what she believed a loathing expression towards him, hoping that from another’s eyes, it still looked as if she despised him for Zheyan’s death.

“What shall I do with you now?” Luoji hovered above Moyuan’s defeated figure. “Was the Feather not enough for you? I have warned you over and over to stay out of my way.”

He made a hopeless motion with his head and his brows suddenly constricted, almost causing Bai Qian to think he was going to make some more lava ropes. But he went on without anymore violence, at least not yet.

“You are much stronger than your younger brother, I will admit that, but both of you seem to possess the same arrogance. Did you think that someone not from Fuxi’s bloodline could not defeat you?”

Through the veils of unshed tears in her eyes, Bai Qian caught Moyuan’s intense gaze that was firmly fixed on her. His whole body might have been exhausted but the glint in those eyes remained fierce. She knew him well enough to understand that look - he was thinking.

Obviously, she could not hope to depend on her powers to get them both out of here, it would take a miracle to escape this time with Moyuan still lying battered on the ground. What did he need?

Time? She frowned. Distract Luoji? But what could she do?

In a flash, Zheyan’s words that day rushed into her head. Pretending to be unaffected, prone to manipulation. Then, she thought again, more frantically, her brain whirling.

Mortal mother, yes. Just like...

“Why didn’t you lock him up?” Bai Qian raised her voice above Luoji’s taunting.

Luoji turned, his piercing eyes pinned her to the spot. “What?”

“A-li. Why didn’t you lock him up?”

“And how does this concern you?” his voice was much colder than before, in a way that suggested a nerve had been touched. Bai Qian believed if she continued, it would soon be her who contorted in pain on the ground. But she couldn’t not release the arrow once the bowstring had been pulled back.

“You had no problem killing all those Celestial soldiers in the Nine Heavens that day,” she said, catching a glimpse of Moyuan’s arm shakily lifting from the ground. “Why bother showing mercy to the son of a Crown Prince whom you were going to kill anyway if he didn’t escape that day?”

He took a threatening step toward her.

“You seem to know the answer,” he snarled. “Why don’t you tell me?”

“You couldn’t help it, could you,” Bai Qian went on. “Couldn’t help but notice how -- alike you and the boy are, how he has what you could have had, what you wished for your whole life.”

His jaw clenched and there was a deep, almost inaudible growl coming from him that suggested he could rip her apart any second.

“But it’s all about the choices,” she said in spite of fear. “And you know that, don’t you? You know you had many chances to choose differently, but you didn’t.”

He swept closer to her, still not saying anything, but the murderous glint in his eyes were response enough.

“Because just one small different choice and your life could have been turned around. You want that chance now, don’t you? And A-li reminded you that you’ve wasted all the chances you were given. Is that why you kept him around? Because he is what you could have been?”

Bai Qian gulped, glaring back at him defiantly even though fear had almost consumed her completely.

“Isn’t that right,” she lifted her head. “Yuan’er?”

For a moment, Bai Qian truly thought she was going to be swallowed alive. But just as Luoji looked like he was about to reach for her neck, there was a loud snap that made him wheel around.

The next second, Moyuan bolted on his feet and made a wide slashing motion with his arm. Taking that as a hint and while Luoji was not looking, Bai Qian instantly cast a shield around herself and leapt out of the way. And just in time too. Something massive, more enormous than a whole Celestial Court, was summoned down and crashed into the ground in front of her, causing a storm of dust and rocks to erupt. It felt as though the whole island was being shaken.

Had Luoji been hit? But Bai Qian didn’t intend to stick around to find out. As fast as she could, she flew in Moyuan’s direction. He looked exhausted, limp on his feet, but was making his way toward her nonetheless. The moment they were close enough she threw her arms around his neck.

“Three hundred miles West...” he breathed. “Cloud-jump...”

What West? They were in the middle of the Void, beyond the main realms’ atmosphere.

As if sensing her confusion, Moyuan added quickly, “straight to your left —”

Bai Qian cloud-jumped. Half a second before they took off, she caught sight of the Dark Immortal smashing his way out of the enormous body of rock that had momentarily imprisoned him.

They landed. Another island? One of the main realms? But before Bai Qian could have a look around, Moyuan’s arms fastened around her waist and they were sucked through space once more. It was him who had initiated another cloud-jump.

After what felt like half a minute of being hurled around within a portal of biting cold air, Bai Qian felt a heavy thud and her eyes sprang open.

She was lying on top of him with her arms still firmly around his neck.