Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 13, Part 1 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 13 - A Debt Repaid

Part 1

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

It was night when Bai Qian and Yehua arrived at Xunzhua. They had been discussing everything they could think of about Luoji on the way; yet, there was still another million subjects waiting to be dissected. And truth be told, she was glad - glad to have this many things to keep herself occupied with, otherwise she would start worrying herself to insanity about the three people who were hunting Luoji’s devices in the Void.

“Has Zhuowei figured out the hairpin yet?” Bai Qian asked as she and Yehua made their way into Xunzhua’s palace.

“Not yet,” Yehua replied. “But a few days ago, she said she wasn’t’ far from breaking the protective enchantments.”

“I trust her,” Bai Qian stated. “She made a device that fooled Luoji, after all.”

“Yes. Master Gejing has offered to help too.”

“He is well enough now?”

Yehua nodded.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Bai Qian beamed. More help - that was what they needed.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs that led to the guest quarters, however, a guard was making his way down and, for some reason, looked rather relieved to see Bai Qian.

“Celestial Crown Prince, ” he bowed. “Queen of Qingqiu, am glad to see you here. I was just looking for you, in fact.”

“Yes?” she said. “Is something the matter?”

“I was told to inform you whenever you are back that you have guests waiting for you.”

“Oh,” Bai Qian frowned, taken aback. “Who are they?”

“Migu of Qingqiu, I believe, and someone else whose name I have not been told.”

“Migu...” What could that Tree Spirit be here for? Had her brother sent him? Had something happened at Qingqiu? “Please take me to them,” she asked the guard.

“I will go see A-li now,” Yehua said with a smile. “Join us for dinner if you can.”

Bai Qian nodded and wasted no time in following the Xunzhua man to what seemed to be a different guest wing.

“Gu-gu!” The Tree Spirit jumped over to greet her as soon as they appeared at his doorstep, looking as well as ever and - as most Qingqiu people - not caring much about bowing.

There wasn’t anything wrong at home then.

“What’s going on, Migu?” Bai Qian asked right away as the guard excused himself, giving Migu a quick scan. “Why did you have to travel all the way here? You didn’t get attacked on the way, did you?”

“No, Gu-gu,” the Tree Spirit grinned.

“Is anything the matter at Qingqiu?”

“No, I actually just came because of her,” he gestured at the corner of the room.

Bai Qian’s blood went cold the second she set her eyes on the figure that was lying unconscious on the bed.

“She…” Words failed her. “Why… how…”

That face. That… The Demon Queen… Was this some sort of joke? Bai Qian’s eyes bulged and her whole body went stiff. What was going on? Did Moyuan know? No, he couldn’t, he’d been in the Void most of the time recently. How could this woman be here? Why… WHAT?

Her brain froze.

“High God Bai Zhen and I found her half unconscious at Qingqiu’s gate,” Migu went on, and Bai Qian whipped toward him. “She kept saying she needed to see you about something really important. But she collapsed before we could ask her anything else, so we took her in. When she woke up, she started asking to talk to you again, and…” he grimaced, looking intensely confused. “She called you ‘Xiaowu’, Gu-gu. I mean -- Who calls you Xiaowu except your family?”

Bai Qian remained speechless, wanting to ask if anyone at Qingqiu had recognized this woman. But from Migu’s clueless expression, it looked as if no one had; so her numb legs began to feel again as she listened to him go on.

“She must be an immortal of really low rank or something because it seemed like she’d used all her energy just to get to Qingqiu,” said Migu. “Our physician said she’s like a mortal. Or maybe she is a mortal? But then… what would a mortal travel that far, at the risk of their own life, for?”

“She said she needed to talk?” Bai Qian found her voice at last.

“Yes, also --” Migu fumbled into the woven sack of herbs and dried food he always carried around and pulled out a piece of white paper. “She showed me and High God Bai Zhen this when we didn’t believe she’s actually met you, because, you know -- how many people have actually met someone from Qingqiu?”

Bai Qian knew what that piece of paper was before she took it from Migu’s hand - the map of the mortal city on which she had drawn a little shape of a building and made some notations.

“It’s your handwriting, Gu-gu,” said Migu.

Bai Qian strode toward the bed, and once again she was at a loss for words. The mortal woman she had met in the mortal realm - beautiful, lively, who loved to joke and try new food - was now looking as though she had seen the worst of days recently. She was thin, haggard, the purple under her eyes was evidence of some suffering that was more than physical. And… Bai Qian’s eyes slid to the woman’s hands, neck, wherever her skin was exposed - injuries, old and new.

There were ways - most of which forbidden - for mortals to travel to the immortal realms. The only method that wouldn’t break any rules or bring any consequences would be to acquire cultivation through lawful magical practices. But regardless of the method, the journey itself demanded tremendous energy, which was why most mortals collapsed before they could reach a land beyond their own. Some would recover if they received immediate care, but most died from either improper cloud-jumping, accidents while crossing dangerous territories, or exposure to strong and foreign energies that their feeble physical forms couldn’t adapt to fast enough.

What could the Demon Queen want to see her about? What made her break the rules of trials and contact the immortal world?

“So -- who is this, Gu-gu?” Migu said urgently.

Bai Qian brushed aside the question. “Did she say what she wanted to see me for?”

“When we insisted on hearing her reason, she just repeated that it was urgent and asked us for directions. We didn’t say anything about Xunzhua, but… both High God Bai Zhen and I thought she looked like she was dying already, and she seemed harmless, so he asked me to take her here.”

“I see…” Yes, she must be harmless to be able to walk through Xunzhua’s security enchantments.

“Gu-gu, did you happen to save this woman’s life or something? Maybe she wants to repay the debt before she dies --”

Bai Qian stared at the Tree Spirit hopelessly - that wasn’t a bad theory and she could understand why it was the first one people would assume, but reality was nothing like that at all.

“Ah!” he exclaimed before Bai Qian could answer. “High God Bai Zhen also thought you’d appreciate it if I came and tell you in person not to worry. We have everything under control at home.”

“Of course,” but another fear hit Bai Qian before she could appreciate anything. “When did you arrive?”

“Just this morning, Gu-gu.”

“Has -- has anyone been to see you?”

The Tree Spirit’s face lit up and he said casually, “Yes, their king.”

Their king?” Bai Qian’s jaw dropped and she shot up. “How could you not mention this? He saw you? Saw --”

“Yes, Gu-gu,” Migu scratched his head, eyeing her like she was mad. “But nothing happened! I didn’t say anything out of line that could disgrace Qingqiu. A physician and one of their elders came here to heal her,” he pointed at the bed again. “She was in a terrible condition when we arrived, completely passed out. Then, their king just came to ask me how Qingqiu is faring, he said anyone from Qingqiu is always welcome here.”

“That’s it?” Bai Qian’s eyes narrowed.

“Yes,” Migu’s head bobbed.

“Who else saw you when you first came?”

“You mean… the soldiers at the borders, Gu-gu?”

But Pojing must have recognized this to be the mortal woman they’d met - her heart sank - and he wouldn’t have come to the guest wing just to ask Migu about Qingqiu; as a king, he would’ve asked his own guard to invite Migu to his court for a talk. Could it be that someone here was familiar with the Demon Queen’s appearance and had informed him? But who, the elder who came with the physician? Not that many people should know what the Demon Queen looked like - she had been dead for millennia and it wasn’t like her portrait could be found in any history book. Even during her own time, her face had only been familiar among tribe leaders and immortals of high ranks. The rest of the realms had only known of her power, her terror, the spreading strength of her armies.

But in any case, it certainly sounded like Pojing knew something...

“Migu,” Bai Qian said. “I’m going to see someone. Tell me whenever that woman wakes up.”

“But who is she?” he grabbed her arm.

“I’ll tell you when I get back, Migu.”

“Wait, Gu-gu, I still have a lot to tell you!” he ran after her to the door.

“I know,” Bai Qian said impatiently as she hurried out. “But this is important. Just wait for me for a bit.”


***


Not bothering to take off her cloak, Bai Qian raced to the first Xunzhua guard she saw and asked him where she could find their king.

“He should be in his study at this time, Queen of Qingqiu,” the man replied and offered to take her there.

Bai Qian was walking so fast that her companion threw several confused looks at her as they made their way up the stairs, along the long Royal Corridor. She said nothing in response to those looks since all of her mind capacity was dedicated to coming up with the best explanation that would make Pojing, first - not blow up at her for lying, and second - fully understand their situation with Luoji. Once she achieved the first task, the second one shouldn’t be too hard...

A familiar face greeted Bai Qian when she reached the King of Xunzhua’s study.

“Nalan.”

“Queen of Qingqiu.” He bowed.

“I need to speak with your king,” stated Bai Qian before the guard had to. “He’s in there, isn’t he?”

The soldier waited until the other man had retreated, then gave a brief, wary look toward the open door and lowered his voice. “I should tell you, Queen of Qingqiu, that our king has had to deal with something unpleasant today, perhaps you want to wait until tomorrow?”

Bai Qian’s fingers fingers dug into her palms - she’d expected as much. The look on Nalan’s face told her Pojing had definitely made his disapproval - and maybe even anger - known. But tomorrow? No, she wouldn’t be able to eat or sleep until she’d explained everything clearly to him.

“Well -- this is very important, can you ask him if he could spare a minute?” she asked quietly. Nalan didn’t nod or smile, he opened his mouth as if wanting to advise her against it once more, but then decided not to.

“Let me inform him,” he said and quickly disappeared into the room.

Before Bai Qian could do some more serious thinking about what she was going to say, the soldier had returned with the same cautious expression. He gestured to the room and dipped his head.

Pojing would understand - Bai Qian reasoned with her rising nervousness as she walked in - he may be quick tempered but once she explained the plan to him, there was no reason why he wouldn’t see that she’d only hidden the Demon Queen’s identity from him because it was the best solution at the time. It shouldn’t be much of a problem…

He was working - she took notice. Piles of carefully arranged documents and scrolls were set atop his large desk. A few guards stood at the corners. A table full of food that was still untouched.

But the second Pojing’s amber eyes moved from the document he was reading to her, Bai Qian knew she had a giant problem at hand.

“You can leave us,” he said to the guards present. They obeyed, briefly bowing as they exited.

He put the document aside but didn’t stand up or bother to say any sort of greeting to her, no smirks, no jokes; his surveying eyes narrowed as she approached his desk; and even from a distance, Bai Qian thought she could hear, could feel the monstrous leopard in him snarling.

When she was close enough for the conversation to begin, he waved his arm upward - the study’s door shut itself and a thin layer of shield appeared to cover it from top to bottom.

“I assume this isn’t something you’d want my whole palace to know about.”

“No.” Guilt surged up inside Bai Qian. But before she could say anything else, the question was shot at her.

“Is that woman the Demon Queen?”

There was enough disgust in Pojing’s voice that told her he was struggling not to call the woman something worse.

“Yes, she is,” Bai Qian said. “It’s a long story, I was going to tell you --”

“I would love to hear that story. But answer me this first - did you know who she was when we were in the mortal realm?”

That didn’t sound much like a question.

“I did know --”

“I see,” he rested his elbows on his knees. For someone who rarely hid his emotions, it was a miracle that he had not started shouting already.

“Pojing --”

“I brought you into my borders,” he cut her off with a cold look. “I have never questioned you about the God of War or asked you to clarify what has been said between you and him when he suddenly appeared in that mortal cottage.” A slight shake of his head. “But now I see that I should have.”

“I --”

“Why did you lie to me about that woman?”

“I didn’t lie —”

“No, you only withheld the truth and watched as I fraternized with the leader of the Demons.”

“Pojing, I had my reason for not wanting to tell you the truth when we were in the mortal realm.”

“I’m all ears.”

The reason... How should she word it? In all the time they’d known each other, Pojing had barely bothered to hide the fact that he believed Yehua to have the worst judgement, and her, a sheltered daughter of a wealthy family who didn’t fight for anyone but themselves, who lacked compassion for the rest of the world. But they had gone through hell and back together, that should count for something; he wouldn’t think she was selfish or insensible for not telling him the truth until now, would he? He’d understand that whatever she’d done, it was for the best, wouldn’t he?

But first… Bai Qian decided, there was something more important than her explanation - making sure Pojing knew it was crucial to keep the Demon Queen’s existence between them only.

“How did you -- how did you recognize her?”

“I didn’t,” he said. “My Head Elder did. In fact, I don’t think anyone here or in the eight realms knows what that woman looks like anymore given how long she’s been dead, unless they have lived through the war and seen with their own eyes the cruelty she was capable of.”

His fists clenched.

“She’s a mortal,” Bai Qian reminded him. “She has no powers.”

“We know that.”

“She’s defenseless and her return to the realms should be kept a secret, we can’t let this news reach Luoji or Zhongyin.”

“I know all of that. Just like anyone with a shred of common sense, I don’t want the Demons to get words that their leader is back from the dead. They might just start believing that the Nothingness opens once every other week for them to visit. What I’m asking is why you didn’t tell me any of this earlier.”

Bai Qian took a deep breath, too many things rushing to her head at once and she couldn’t decide which to tell him first. “You were injured and I thought you might react like — like this, if I told you that was the Demon Queen.”

“Yes, I would have,” his tone stung. “Because anyone in their right might would. Have you forgotten who the Demon Queen was and all the blood she and her tribe had drawn in the War!”

“I know. But she helped us,” Bai Qian knew her reasoning wasn’t helping the case, but she had to start somewhere. “She didn’t seem like the evil witch everyone makes her out to be at all. She knew we were immortals, she knew we could have harmed her, but she still helped us.”

“Gods…” Pojing scoffed, head shaking in disbelief. “Are you really so naive as to believe that anyone who’s good to you for a few days is a good person?” he snarled. “That is the logic of a spoiled child, not someone who's responsible for an entire kingdom.”

Spoiled child...? The words echoed loudly in Bai Qian ears. Whatever guilt she’d been feeling fled in an instant, replaced by a fuming rage that turned her face red.

“What do you think she could have done?” she flared up. “Poisoned our food? Well that didn’t happen, did it!”

“No, it didn’t,” Pojing rose from his seat, his own anger no longer contained. “But did it ever occur to you that she could have drawn powers from your immortal essence while you were asleep with dark devices that leave no trace of magic? Have you read from any of your books that Demons have ways of sucking life out of us that even the best scholars in the eight realms are still racking their brains to figure out? And open your eyes, Queen of Qingqiu,” he emphasized. “She is among us now. What trick did she use to get to our realm, have you asked yourself that? Just because someone offers you shelter and puts on an act of friendliness you decide to forget the essential rules regarding the Demons we all live by?”

Forgotten? Of course she hadn’t forgotten, her head had nearly cracked open from trying to decide what she should think about that woman. Bai Qian’s throat went dry even before she raised her voice to respond.

“But I told you! She has no powers, she’s a mortal. There was no way she could have done any of those things. And do you see her walking around your palace? Her body hasn’t handled the journey well and she might die! Obviously, coming here just to see me wouldn’t have been her first choice if it hadn’t been for something important.”

“Well, isn’t that the pattern with the Demons?” His eyes flashed, no sign of sympathy in them. “They attempt something insane, not caring whom it might affect, then they get punished but still learn nothing afterward. And yes, I know she is as powerless as a mortal. She passed through all of our enchanted gates and our physician has confirmed that she bears no danger. But we didn’t know that for sure in the mortal realm, did we?”

“High God Moyuan assured me she wasn’t doing anything sinister,” Bai Qian said. “And I was sure of it too, I didn’t detect any dark magic around her house.”

“Did he assure you that? The same High God Moyuan who brought her back from the dead? One minute you tell me he killed your friend Zheyan, the next, you say it’s alright to be under the same roof as him, now the Demon Queen shows up at my door saying that you’ve been acquainted with her all along. So don’t expect me to trust anything you say you are sure of.”

“I was trying to make the best choice in the mortal realm!” Bai Qian shouted.

“Really?” he strode past his desk toward her. “Because to me the best choice would have been to get out of there as soon as you learned of that woman’s identity. I would rather lose my arm while cloud-jumping than be at the mercy of a Demon if she had plotted against us, which, according to the little information you had at the time, was a possibility!”

“And you wonder why I didn’t talk to you,” Bai Qian shook her head. “This is why. You were unconscious and healing, I didn’t want to risk weakening you more. I met High God Moyuan there and I had to do what I could to get some answers. When I knew who that woman was, I wanted to leave but he offered to fix your broken arm, which was all I wanted at the time!” her voice broke, and for a fleeting second, something stirred in his glaring eyes too. “Then I thought about what happened at Zhuxian Terrace - I knew we’d done the right thing by taking that device here, but there were so many things that still didn’t make any sense. I wanted to stay and learn more about the Demon Queen because that might just help us. I couldn’t talk to you because I knew you’d explode the minute you heard her name.”

A sentiment flashed across his face - not one, but many, all too fast for her to grasp. But in the end, it was a look of offense that lingered.

“You knew I’d explode… Yes, that is the problem - you think you have the right to make these decisions alone, you think you’re the only one with a brain. You didn’t have the decency to at least let me know I was sitting at the same table with the killer the whole world condemn; and what’s worse is you still think you were doing me a favor!”

“Pojing!” Bai Qian glared at him in disbelief. “Killer or not, she helped us when we were battered and unconscious in the woods, she took us away before Luoji’s servants found us. We owe her a debt!”

“I know that, Queen of Qingqiu. Why else do you think that woman is still alive?”

“What is the matter with you?” Bai Qian’s eyes grew wider. “None of us like the Demons, but don’t act like anyone who’s from the Demon Tribe naturally deserves death.”

“Don’t tell me what to think about that wretched tribe,” he growled, taking a few steps closer, close enough that Bai Qian had to look up at him.

There was something in Pojing’s anger she couldn’t understand, a hate for the Demons that was deeper and more personal than any of theirs. Why? Because they’d kidnapped his sister? But before she could ask any question aloud, he stormed on.

“I don’t understand these mind games between you and the God of War, and I don’t care to understand, but do not play them with me. I have no interest nor patience to engage in this kind of nonsense —”

“No patience, yes, I can see that —”

“— Because the world is already chaotic enough when people do communicate!”

“Communicate?” she snapped back at him. “I’m trying to but you don’t sound like you want to listen. All you care about is that I didn’t report to you every single thing, and because my reason isn’t what you want to hear, you call me a spoiled child. You think I wanted to lie? You think I enjoyed putting on an act in front of you? But you were weak and injured, I didn’t want you to panic and then use magic to cloud-jump us away in that condition!”

“You are such a caring friend, aren’t you,” he said. But more biting than frost, those words didn’t sound like gratitude at all. “Has it ever crossed your mind that I care as much about you? That I would have listened if you’d been truthful about it even if I hate the Demons enough to want to rip every single one of their guts out? You plan and think and you’re always afraid someone’s going to point out your mistakes --”

“I’m not afraid of anyone --”

“You said you wanted to make the best choice, you thought that responsibility was on you, but did you ever stop to consider that I would have done the same for you if you’d let me!”

They were less than an arm's length apart.

“Then why are you not trying to be a little more understanding now?” she murmured.

“Because now I know that my trust has been misplaced.”

It was more painful than a slap in the face - the disappointment in his eyes. Tears were swelling in her own. Anything, she could take anything but disappointment.

“The Demon Queen didn’t do us any harm in the mortal realm,” she said flatly, arms tensing from the effort of maintaining the little composure she had left. “Nothing happened. Get that fact straight before you throw your judgements around.”

“Nothing happened because we were lucky,” his reply was hurled back at her. “So that’s no justification for your lack of sense!”

He stormed past her and out of the study. After a minute, Bai Qian heard a loud slam of a door in the distance and two lines of tears ran down her face.


***


Brute.

Bai Qian slammed her own door once she was back in her old room and threw her traveling cloak on the floor with all her strength. She would have kicked the corner stand and smashed the flower vase too if she hadn’t remembered that this was not her home.

Afraid that people would point out her mistakes? Her? Afraid? What gave him the right… What did he even know about her?

Maybe more than she would like him to…

Hot tears continued to stream down her cheeks.

Suddenly, a knock on the other side of the door cut off her raging thoughts and her blood went up in fury.

“WHAT?”

A gentle voice replied. “It’s Yehua.”

Chapter 13, Part 2