Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 12, Part 8 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 12 - Detour

Part 8

written by LalaLoop
edited by kakashi
consulting by Bunny

A sunny spring morning, a pot of tea flavored with lemongrass, and the little sprite’s occasional chirping outside the window.

Sitting at the bamboo table in their safehouse’s kitchen, Bai Qian believed Moyuan was as ready to speak to her as she was to spill out her thousands of questions.

“I know you have understood a great deal by now,” Moyuan took the seat opposite of her, gripping the teapot’s handle before she could and beginning to pour some of the pleasantly fragrant liquid into each of their cups. “Ask me what you want to know and I’ll tell you.”

“I spoke to Master Yifeng of Penglai,” said Bai Qian. “He didn’t know much more than I did about Luoji, but what he told me made me think of what you might be doing.”

Moyuan tapped his fingers on the bamboo surface a few times. “What did Yifeng tell you?”

“He said in theory there are devices you can build to harness powers from the universe and strengthen your own. That’s what he saw Luoji read about once as a child and he suspects that at some point after leaving school, Luoji has attempted that magic. Is this what you’ve been hunting all this time, Shifu, a device that Luoij depends on?”

“Yes,” Moyuan said without hesitation, as though a terrible burden had been lifted off his shoulders. “Only, there isn’t just one device, but three.”

“Three?”

“Three devices, each hidden on one of the countless sky islands across the universe, each of them protected by lethal enchantments and magical beasts.”

The slash on his arm, Bai Qian recalled, that must be from one of those beasts.

“Luoji’s secret to invincibility lies with these devices,” Moyuan continued. “Because of them, his powers are as resolute as the universe itself.”

Bai Qian swallowed. One can’t destroy the universe, one can’t destroy Luoji. “Have you found any of those things?”

“I have detected the presence of one. The problem is - not only did Luoji build unimaginable defenses around his devices, he has also taken the trouble to throw many fake ones out there into the Void.”

“Then, how are you going to examine them and know how to destroy them?”

“I know enough about these devices to examine them from afar, without having to penetrate the shields around them. Unfortunately, the process takes time and energy, especially because Luoji absorbs energies directly from these devices, he can sense what goes on around them. We do so much as cast a spell out of place and he will know.”

Moyuan had come to Zheyan’s cottage once, all worn out and with a fever. She had not thought to question him then.

“You -- you are sure that Luoji still doesn’t know you’re after his devices?”

“I have been leaving false trails for his spies to follow, specifically leading them towards the Demons’ territories. They all think my running back and forth has to do with Shaowan.”

If these cursed things were so difficult to find, she mused, then Moyuan could not be dealing with more than one of them at once.

“Is --” she said, “is Lord Donghua also looking for a device?”

“Yes, he is also being followed, though not as intensely as I am.”

Good for Fengjiu, then. At least that little fox was safe with Donghua and Siming.

“Well then --” Bai Qian went on. “Then is there someone else looking for the third one?”

After some confusing silence, Moyuan said. “The Fox Empress.”

What?” All this time? Bai Qian could not believe her ears. “My mother knows? She knows all along?”

“Not all along,” said Moyuan patiently. “Just recently. Luoji’s forces are growing and Lord Donghua and I agreed that the sooner we hold the winning card in our hands the better. So we asked for your parents’ assistance. Your father wanted to be the one to go on the hunt but since the Fox Empress is an established astrologer [*], she is more familiar with the Void and it will likely take her less time to locate the sky island in question.”

“So -- you mean -- my parents know about Zheyan?”

“They know now.”

Bai Qian didn’t bother asking what her parents’ reaction to this news had been. She was struggling enough to handle her own emotions. So she went on with what had been bogling her mind all this time.

“Shifu, what role does the Demon Queen play in all of this?”

“Shaowan?” something like hurt, regret, flickered in his eyes. Bai Qian was too used to it to make any comment. Not that she would know what to say anyway.

“Yes,” she said. “You and Zheyan risked so much to get that feather to help her return. What can she do to help?”

Instead of an answer, Moyuan nodded, interlocking his fingers and observing her more intently. “You are thinking like Luoji. Think again.”

What was there to think about? She frowned in impatience. Moyuan, on the other hand, seemed rather certain that he didn’t need to give her any more explanations.

“You --” she began with the facts. “You traded Zheyan’s Feather for…”

But as soon as the words left her mouth, the answer struck Bai Qian hard on the head. How dense she had been.

“It isn’t her,” she murmured. “It’s the Feather. You only needed the Feather.”

The way both Zheyan and Moyuan had stared at that thing that night - it was not because they’d seen a chance to resurrect their friend, but a solution. Something they must have at all costs.

With a nod, Moyuan held out his hand. A second later, shimmering like a flame an inch above his palm was the phoenix’ feather that Zheyan had died for.

“You still have it,” Bai Qian breathed. “It was not for her.”

“No.”

“What does this Feather do?”

“Luoji stole this right before the last battle of the Demon War, it was Shaowan’s greatest source of power, storing an enormous amount of her cultivation within. Had she fought with this Feather’s aid in the last battle, we would have lost.”

“It was created with Forbidden Magic,” Bai Qian stated disapprovingly from what she had learned and what Yanzhi had theorized about. “The cultivation in there wasn’t gained through proper trials. And separating cultivation from your body after you’ve acquired it by cheating isn’t something you’re allowed to do.”

“Yes, and it is what Shaowan is paying the price for,” he said, putting the fire-like feather away. Bai Qian wasn’t sure if he even cared to contain the sentimentality in his voice or not, but it was there, more clear than ever. “This Feather, however, can still be used by someone else without consequences. It contains immense destructive energy that, if applied to a weapon, could yield unmatched power, enough to destroy Luoji after we have taken care of his devices.”

“Does she know you have it?” asked Bai Qian suspiciously.

“She does.”

“And — she knows what you’re going to use it for?”

Moyuan nodded.

Was he telling the truth or just defending that woman? Bai Qian frowned. How could someone have gone from wanting to kill her best friends on the battlefield to cooperating with them so easily?

But just then something else came to her mind.

“Why can’t we make this weapon now so you or Lord Donghua can challenge Luoji right away? Why bother looking for those devices if you already have what's capable of destroying him?”

“Because as long as one of these devices still functions, Luoji has the option of dividing his own soul into pieces and escape his fate that way. He did it last time. Then, he could easily inhabit another immortal body, relocate the devices and continue using them. Furthermore, with his powers now it would be a miracle if we could get close to him, let alone wound him.”

“So if these devices stop working, that would weaken him enough for us to actually get within ten feet of him without being beaten?”

“Precisely,” Moyuan gave her an assuring smile. “Weakened, startled. He would no longer be the invulnerable Dark Immortal. Perhaps still unmatched in combat, but no longer beyond the laws of the realms. Without those devices, he would become just like us, and Shaowan’s Feather, but nothing less, would be able to contain him.”

“Why nothing less?”

“It is complicated. Even for me. Shaowan belongs to the Demon Tribe; her magic, her immortal essence, is full of mysteries that even their own scholars can’t explain. And while I don’t fully understand all the reasons why this Feather is so powerful, I’ve grasped the magnitude of its strength, its abilities. I know we can make use of it in this case.”

Bai Qian nodded - it was a difficult plan to execute, but not impossible.

“As of now,” Moyuan went on. “We are uncertain when and where Luoji will want his next battle to be, but this is what will happen - the moment he senses disturbance around any of his devices, he will cloud-jump to these locations and no doubt unleash his army to cause chaos among us. When that time comes, I need every single one of you prepared. The others and I will have to do what it takes to destroy these devices, and it is up to you to detain him and his troops to give us enough time.”

“But…” Bai Qian pondered over those instructions. “That means all three of you will have to have studied those devices and be ready to destroy them around the same time. You can’t just burn one when you’re still not sure how much longer it’ll take Lord Donghua or my mother to do the same.”

“Precisely,” Moyuan admitted with a deep frown. “That is the mission.”

“Is Zhuowei going to make this phoenix-powered weapon with the Feather?” asked Bai Qian.

“Yes, she and I discussed the subject of rare powers of the Demon Clan in depth during her time at Kunlun. I will let her have this Feather; with a little imagination, she should be able to produce such a weapon.”

Bai Qian had used to wonder why Moyuan had agreed to mentor the Princess of Xunzhua without much contemplation. Perhaps right when they’d been sitting in that meeting together, he had already predicted Luoji’s return and had drawn out a detailed plan of who would be doing what if the worst happened.

“Luoji doesn’t have any idea what the Demon Queen’s Feather is capable of?” Bai Qian asked, finding it difficult to believe.

“No, otherwise he wouldn’t have let me have it even if it amused him so much.”

“But he stole it back then. Why did he steal it if he didn’t know what it did?”

“The same reason why he tried to get his hands on Zheyan’s Feather,” Moyuan explained. “He wanted the powers. You remember what I told you about Luoji’s knowledge the last time we were here, don’t you?”

“His knowledge is flawed.” Of course she remembered. She remembered every word he had said to her and had been mulling over them a million times during their time apart. “Luoji set out to learn only what he believed to be important.”

“Yes, despite his grand abilities, Luoji has a very shallow understanding of the most essential rules that govern this universe. He sought Shaowan’s Feather because of its powers, but then he must have found it impossible to make use of an item of such destructive nature. Therefore he deemed it useless and opted for Zheyan’s Feather. He wanted the raw and pure energies from a highly cultivated phoenix that had never been tainted by Dark Magic, which could help eliminate the marks Dark Magic has left on him.”

“So he decided to use the Demon Queen’s Feather to engage in a game with you instead?”

“Instead of keeping it for some other uses, yes. Luoji wanted to see a Celestial’s reputation shattered, a God of War fall from grace, and that took precedence. No doubt he will make this personal victory known to the whole world soon, when he feels certain of it.”

The eight realms believing the God of War had taken the Demons’ side and was in love with their queen? Bai Qian wasn’t so sure she wanted to see it happen. The woman who had sheltered her in the mortal realm she had no problem with, but the Demon Queen… The truth would come out once this was over, but even so, there would always be a stain on Moyuan’s reputation unless the Demon Queen herself could change the opinion the war had caused people to form about her.

“But keep in mind,” Moyuan went on, seemingly oblivious to her thoughts this time. “Even without these devices, Luoji is still one of the strongest warriors in the eight realms, perhaps the strongest one. I may be a God of War but Luoji is a conqueror, he possesses the savagery and ruthlessness needed to bring down kingdoms and realms. Taking the Nine Heavens - that was only the beginning of what can be.”

Unable to hold back a sigh, Bai Qian sat back, deciding to take a brief minute before asking her next questions.

She had thought they were safe inside Xunzhua, or at least Pojing had made her feel safe. But facing the facts now, she understood that none of them were safe and a war was only around the corner.

“I take it your music wouldn’t do Luoji much harm, then?” she said with an eye roll.

“No, unfortunately,” Moyuan chuckled. “Let us not forget about his army.”

“His army?” That’s right. Bai Qian leaned toward the table. “You -- you have found something about Luoji’s army? From what source did you get your information, Shifu? Pojing has also sent his spies across the realms but we haven’t found anything useful.”

“One of your Seniors along with a Penglai’s disciple appointed by their Master have found Luoji’s main army base and are currently residing within their ranks. They had started with this task before the Nine Heavens fell. Only, back then, we did not expect Luoji to have already infiltrated the Celestial Court.”

“What? How… Which one of my Seniors?”

Not Zilan. The thought of her thin and not that much of a spy Sixteenth Senior staying among the likes of Sufeng frightened her terribly.

“Tenth,” said Moyuan, to her relief. Her shapeshifting Senior. “A few days ago, I believe, he and the Penglai’s disciple found one of Yehua’s generals attempting to break inside the hidden base and have been guiding him to safety. If I am correct, Yehua should have received word from this general by now, perhaps not any useful information yet, but some news.”

“So where are these troops, Shifu?” Bai Qian straightened her back and began again.

“A massive army that is also hidden on a sky island in the Void. Their intense security makes it impossible for your Senior and his companion to sabotage the troops from the inside. What they can do is report to me Luoji’s activities every time he visits this sky island and his plans of attack so we can ready ourselves.”

“How big is this army?” she asked worriedly. “Do we have a number?”

“From what your Tenth Senior has told me - more than five times the size of Shaowan’s army during the Demon War,” Moyuan said; and her stomach sank. The Demon Queen’s army had been said in every book to be the largest and fiercest one in the history of the eight realms. Not anymore, it seemed. And her fear about the individuals that made up this army was confirmed as Moyuan continued. “A half of them are monsters and immortals who have succumbed to Dark Magic completely. Their mission, once they’re released, would be solely to destroy. Which is why you will need help from other clans across the realms, as much help as you can gather. I hope the King of Xunzhua has taken the steps to claim his allies?”

“Yes, he has,” she nodded.

“Good,” a look of sincere relief spread on Moyuan’s face.

“The difficult thing is,” Bai Qian said. “Luoji hasn't done anything to any kingdom or tribe, he doesn’t even care that Yehua is alive, and he’s still winning more loyalty everyday. The clans who have always been dissatisfied with Haode don’t care if Luoji’s a half-mortal or a dark immortal or not, they want this change. They’re saying that lesser beings are treated better with Luoji on the throne.”

“They will soon enough see Luoji’s true face,” said Moyuan firmly. “Luoji has many goals in his life but I am sure none of them is to become a just ruler. But of course,” he sighed, “a lot depends on Yehua.”

Train. Recruit. Take any help they could get - yes, starting tomorrow. No… now.

“But what does Luoji need that hairpin for?” she went on. Her throat felt dry but she was too keen on hearing another answer to care about the tea. “What does this thing do?”

Moyuan took a long minute. Then, with a much heavy sigh, he said. “Luoji wants to bring his mother back to the realms.” .

“His mother?” It sounded almost like a ridiculous joke to Bai Qian. Was Luoji insane? “His mortal mother who’s been dead ages and ages before the Demon War?”

“Luoji has accomplished almost all the things he set out to do. He is master of the highest court in the eight realms, he has conquered death, he is literally the strongest immortal among us. This - sharing the glory of his accomplishments with his mother is the only thing he has yet to achieve.”

“But why would he want to do this? It isn’t like anyone took his mother’s life. She died of illness!”

“But who caused her to be ill and weak?” explained Moyuan.

The Celestials...

“They might not have killed her with their own hands, but her death is the result of the brutal treatment she received in the Nine Heavens.” There was such hesitance in Moyuan’s voice, almost as if he didn’t want to blame his own clan that was now led by his twin, yet also could not defend them. “Besides, Luoji always has a savage need to attempt the impossible and prove himself.”

Brutal treatment from those people, Bai Qian was no stranger to this. While those memories didn’t affect her anymore, she still remembered the injustice, the ruthlessness, the stupidity of what they called Celestial Laws.

“How do you know such a thing about Luoji?” asked Bai Qian. “I don’t think he could have slipped out about this to anyone from Penglai, could he?”

“Shaowan,” said Moyuan simply.

Bai Qian’s eyes widened - not an entirely unexpected answer, but that name gave her an uneasy feeling every time it was mentioned for a reason she could not explain.

“Donghua and I have learned useful things about him from Penglai and many other sources, but Shaowan is the only one who got close enough to Luoji while he was amassing powers during the Demon War, the only one who has seen his deepest desires, by exchanging talks of her own ambitions, of course.”

A Dark Immortal and a Demon Queen who’d sought to win a war against the strongest Gods of the eight realms at all costs - Bai Qian couldn’t imagine what their conversations could have been like. Forbidden magic, plans to move this mountain and suck dry that ocean?

“Luoji wants his mortal mother back,” Moyuan went on. “But the universe demands a balance, you know this. You have to pay a price to bring a soul back from the dead - your own soul; the soul of another willing being; or, in this case, the souls of thousands of innocents.”

“Thousands of other souls…? Because his mother was a mortal?”

“Yes, and also because he wants to give her an immortal soul.”

Boundlessly ambitious. Bai Qian shook her head.

“That is what he had been doing before the Demon War - capturing others’ souls and offering them as sacrifice in order to reach that balance, to ask for his mother’s soul and body from the Nothingness. But he soon found it was an impossible task to resurrect a mortal whose flesh, blood, and bones had returned to the earth. According to Shaowan, Luoji was always ready to pay whatever price asked - another reason why he never stopped wanting to be more powerful.”

Somewhere deep beneath Bai Qian’s disgust and fear, there was a ripple of sympathy which caused her thoughts to slip out.

“If the price was his own soul, would Luoji do it?”

“I don’t know, Seventeenth,” Moyuan admitted. “Perhaps he would, but not before he has exploited all the other options.”

Which, for now, means the hairpin.

“Why did the Demon Queen make that device in the first place?” she asked. “What did she intend to do with it?”

“She wanted to undo the damage Dark Magic had done to her essence,” Moyuan responded.

“By using another Dark Device?”

“It is safe to say that at the time, Shaowan was not exactly the most logical person, nor was she at her calmest. The magic she and Luoji studied together, what they created together had turned her more rash and violent than she already was. She sought out sorcerers from the farthest corners of the world, offered them the most valuable treasures from the Demon Tribe. In return, they showed her how to make this device.”

“How does -- how does this device work? What happens when you use it?”

Taking in a swift breath, Moyuan began. “It bends to the will of the one who possesses the power to employ it and grants them whatever they desire. The device, once activated, opens a portal to a world - a dark and vast space beyond our understanding - into which the beings of the eight realms are pulled. Not only walking creatures, but also lands, oceans, magical shields.”

“As sacrifices?” Bai Qian whispered.

“To maintain the balance that would be disturbed in order for that desire to be satisfied, yes.”

“Is there a limit to how much of the realms would be sucked into the dark portal?”

“As much as it needs. No, I do not know how much would have to be sacrificed to resurrect a mortal soul that has belonged to the Nothingness for so long.”

“What’s on the other side of this portal?” Bai Qian knew it was a stupid question the moment it hung in the air, but a part of her still hoped Moyuan would have the answer.

He simply shook his head. “No one has entered this place and came back to tell the tale, I’m afraid. Punishment, eternal enslavement, or simply death - which would be the most merciful. But I can’t be sure.”

Shifu,” her mouth fell slightly ajar. “How could you leave something like that lying about in your study?”

“My study?”

“Yes, I walked into your study, after that trip to Qingcang’s cave, and saw it along with some of your notes from -- possibly when you were A-li’s age.”

“Ahh,” smiled Moyuan. “This device only works when all the protective enchantments have been broken down and with the right spell. At the time, it was but an ordinary hairpin. While Luoji knows the spell and is powerful enough to cast them, he won’t be able to penetrate Shaowan’s enchantments anytime soon.”

“I see… Does it mean that these enhancements also prevents us from destroying it?

“That is true.”

Something hit her. “Then -- why don’t we take the hairpin to the Demon Queen and ask her to break them for us? She created them, her touch should be able to remove these spells if you lend her some powers.”

“Unfortunately not,” Moyuan said grimly. “To do that, for her ‘touch’ to take any effects, she must also have her immortal essence, which she doesn’t.”

Oh. Bai Qian closed her eyes for a second in utmost disappointment. She’s mortal.

“You think Zhuowei can do this?” she asked.

“Xunzhua is our best option, nowhere else in the eight realms utilize advanced magic as efficiently as they do. I have attempted every single spell I know of to remove these enchantments but couldn’t. Most importantly, the Princess of Xunzhua has the time I could not spare to study this device. And from what I have seen of the hairpin she created for you, Luoji is still far from catching up with her.”

“I shouldn’t have brought that fake thing with me,” Bai Qian rested her elbows on the table and grabbed her head. “Because it was too like the real one, Luoji thought I really had it and then I had to give it to him to get out of there. Now… now if he finds out it’s just a replica, he’s going to wage war with Xunzhua right away. And Pojing will have to…” she breathed out, frustrated with herself. “And A-li, oh god…”

She had thought she was being careful. Too careful, it seemed. That thing had saved her life, but now they were all walking on a thin line.

If he finds out,” said Moyuan, empathy in his voice. “But consider this, if I were Luoji and discovered that I was holding a fake device in my hand, I would first assume that Shaowan had placed many fakes ones across the realms in order to protect the real one, which is exactly what Luoji himself did to keep others away from his own devices. He wouldn’t waste time and resources to launch an attack against the strongest protective shield in the eight realms.”

That… made sense, Bai Qian nodded, feeling a little better.

“So,” he smiled again. “There is no need for us to worry about the King of Xunzhua yet.”

“Well,” she let out a breath relief. “Let’s hope Zhuowei can break that hairpin in half soon so we can have one less thing to worry about.”

“Indeed.”

“But --” Bai Qian recalled. “How are you and Lord Donghua and the -- the people who have been in on this keeping in touch?”

Moyuan hesitated. “If I tell you, will you promise not to hold a grudge?”

“Hold a grudge? What do you mean?” She breathed out in impatience. “Oh, Shifu -- just answer me. I already know you are the most noble God in the whole world and everything you do serves the eight realms. Heaven helps me for choosing you. But I’m not going to hold anything against you now, I promise!”

After a few contemplative seconds, Moyuan said, “Siming and Bifang deliver our messages.”

Bifang?” Bai Qian exclaimed in shock, anger rising. “So that’s why he disappeared after that night. That bird -- that traitor -- so he’s been working with you all this time… Oh, I’m going to roast him when he comes back…”

“You promised, Seventeenth,” he chuckled at her. “In fact, if you are angry, be angry at me, I am used to it. Don’t blame the people who are just helping me.”

“Whatever you say,” Bai Qian folded her arms. “I am going to pluck all his feathers and roast him for dinner.”

Was that everything she needed to know? Bai Qian thought for a second. Not quite…

“Did you mean for me to meet Master Gejing in the city that day?” she stated her question, eager to know how much he had planned, and from how long ago had everything been planned.

“No, I didn’t.”

“But you -- did tell him to lead me on about you and the Demon Queen if I ever asked him any questions.”

“Seventeenth --”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said quickly, sighing. “You needed my -- our -- reaction to Zheyan’s death, and Luoji would only believe it if it was real. I would have done the same to you if it was necessary.”

“Really?” Moyuan asked with a suppressed smile.

“Yes.” Would she have? Perhaps she was only trying to make herself look braver than she really was.

“I believe you,” Moyuan said with a raise of his brows. “You gave an impressive demonstration on that sky island, after all.”

“Right, I did.” She joked on. “In fact, to help you, I’ll do what I have to in order to keep everything the way it is.”

“Like what?” he asked curiously.

“I don’t know. Like -- telling everyone I’m engaged to some other man and let the news spread, for example. That should make sure Luoji believes I have nothing to do with you anymore and that Qingqiu is seeking alliance elsewhere.”

“I see. And what ‘other man’ do you have in mind?”

“I have a lot of choices,” she shrugged. “I won’t tell you, of course. These things work best if they come as surprises.”

“Hmm,” Moyuan brought his teacup to his lips. “I don’t believe we are quite that desperate yet.”

“It’s funny, you know --” she scoffed, looking bitterly out the window. “All this time, I racked my brain to figure this out. But if I’d been a little less rational, if I’d just listened to what my gut told me, stayed with you a little longer when I came back to Kunlun that night, I would’ve figured everything out a lot faster.”

“Perhaps,” he responded gently. “But if you weren’t in the habit of using your brain, Luoji would have uncovered everything by now too.”

“Right,” she laughed under her breath, abashed.

“I always knew you would eventually learn everything,” said Moyuan. “I was just hoping to slow you down a bit.”

“You’re a terrible teacher, Shifu.”

With a chuckle, Moyuan shifted his gaze toward the window.

“But not a bad strategist,” she added.

“Is that so?” he looked back at her, smiling. “Well, you are not so bad yourself.”

Laughing, Bai Qian finally picked up her tea and took a sip, another question about to slip out of her mouth, but she held it back.

“What is it?” Moyuan said almost instantly.

“I was going to ask if I could come with you to look for these devices. But that’s stupid, of course, I’m much more needed where my friends are. And I can’t be seen working with you.”

“Unfortunately,” Moyuan sighed. “And yes, you are a fighter. Every fighter, every sword, bow, and arrow is going to be needed.”

They both drank the rest of her tea in silence.

Bai Qian understood herself well enough to know that she wouldn’t be content going with Moyuan into the Void knowing she could be more useful elsewhere. Into the Void would mean following Moyuan’s instructions, dealing with things she had very little clue about. But at Xunzhua… at Xunzhua with her friends was where she could be her best, do her best, and ultimately help Moyuan much more. But for a moment, she wished that just being with him was enough, wished she could be that carefree little fox Fengjiu who would live and die along with Lord Donghua no matter what anyone had to say. Then, she wouldn’t have to think about how much time they’d have left here.

Chapter 12, Part 9
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Endnotes:

[*] as said in the drama.