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

Chapter 13 - A Debt Repaid

Part 2

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

“I didn’t know a single thing about this,” Bai Qian uttered, her feet felt rooted to the floor. “He never told me.”

All the time they had spent together, talking about Demons and Dark Magic and similar things, Pojing had never let slip this story [*]. She’d always known he hated the Demon Clan, but assumed it was merely a general hate like the rest of theirs, intensified a fraction by Zhuowei’s incident with the Spinner.

“I didn’t know anything, either,” Yehua said. “And I wouldn’t have known if the princess hadn’t told me.”

“She must trust you a lot,” Bai Qian furrowed her brows. “To tell you something this personal.”

“We’ve -- talked a few times since I came here,” he said, rather quickly. “But as I was saying, Qianqian, that is what I know. And --” he shook his head in bewilderment. “How did the Demon Queen get to our realm? I thought she was on trial. Does she want even more punishment?”

“I don’t know,” Bai Qian replied. “She’s still unconscious. But we’ll know when she wakes up.”

“Yes, anyone would have been shocked to see her here, let alone someone whose father had been so brutally impaired by that woman.”

“When have you become the King of Xunzhua’s spokesperson?” Bai Qian mumbled.

“I’m not,” he chuckled. “I am only -- stating the facts.”

“Well, I’m not going to apologize, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”

“Qianqian --”

“Yehua, he called me a ‘spoiled child’,” she raged.

What?” Yehua tilted his head in astonishment, then shook his head and said in a whisper. “That is unacceptable.”

“Yes! And untrue.”

“Well -- regardless of whether it is true or not, he should not have said that. You saved his life.”

“What do you mean ‘regardless of whether it’s true or not’?” Bai Qian’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t think I’m spoiled, do you?”

“I --” Yehua looked away for a moment. “I never -- really paid attention to that. I wouldn’t say so. No. Bossy, maybe...”

“What?”

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, confusion etched on his face. “I learned from your Second Senior that you see ‘bossy’ as a compliment.”

Bai Qian rolled her eyes. Yes, that indeed sounded like her Senior Changshan.

“The point is,” Yehua went on. “Now that you know everything, I trust you can find a way to resolve this.”

Bai Qian sighed, guilt once again rose in her, drowning whatever anger she had almost completely. She hadn’t been wrong, at least not entirely wrong in her decision to keep the Demon Queen’s return a secret from Pojing. But maybe it wasn’t about right or wrong this time, or whether she should apologize, but about how much he had helped them all, how thoughtful he’d been toward her where it’d concerned Moyuan when she’d been lost and confused, despite how Moyuan could have well been a Demon supporter. It was about how she now must let him know that his understanding wasn’t unappreciated.


***


The next morning, Bai Qian woke up at the crack of dawn. She put on the proper attire and raced to the training field, not bothering about breakfast. Just as she’d expected, Nalan was already out on the field, checking on the weapons they were to practice with.

“Queen of Qingqiu,” he greeted her.

Bai Qian nodded and glanced around. “Where’s the king?” During her brief time at Xunzhua, she’d noticed that Pojing never failed to show up here at this hour to either train with Nalan or give his sister lessons.

“He has gone hunting, Queen of Qingqiu,” said the Xunzhua spy.

“Oh,” disappointment pooled in her stomach. “Why are you not with him?”

“He said he would like to hunt alone. I am supposed to train the princess today.”

“Alone? Isn’t that a little dangerous?”

“For the hunted beasts, Queen of Qingqiu?” Nalan grinned.

It took Bai Qian a good minute to realize it was a joke; she forced a chuckle. “No, I mean -- Demon Assassins could be anywhere, you don’t want your king to be taken captive or…”

“I will convey your concern to the king --”

“You don’t have to.” Bai Qian said right away. Her having to seek him out after such a fight was already bad enough, the last thing she wanted to see was that smug expression of his when he heard that she was actually worried about his safety.

“As you wish,” Nalan dipped his head. “And no, the king doesn’t intend to go beyond the territories that are protected by Xunzhua. There should not be any danger.”

“Oh, please don’t mind me,” Bai Qian gestured for him to continue with his examination of bows and arrows as she went on to ask, “you mean… he -- er -- he didn’t take even one guard with him?”

“No,” Nalan shook his head, smiling. Worry and confusion seemed to be painted all over her face because he continued promptly. “Our king is an established hunter and he is well equipped with the princess’ most recently created weapons. I wouldn’t stress over it, Queen of Qingqiu.”

It still sounded rather risky to her, especially now that she knew what had happened to his father during a hunting trip…

Bai Qian had recently read in a history text that at Xunzhua, it was vital for the people to learn to survive the most brutal environments from a young age, and to survive without aid from others. This tradition traced back to the Beasts this clan had once been. Even now when their magic had surpassed most kingdoms’ in the eight realms and brute strength wasn’t necessarily the most important criterion anymore, a king or queen was still expected to be a master of all the essential skills when in their true form without magic. And Bai Qian guessed one of those skills was the ability to hunt alone and come back in one piece.

“Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“I would say around noon,” said Nalan. “There isn’t any meeting to be hold today so he might be gone for longer. Would you like me to tell him you were looking for him?”

Bai Qian wasn’t sure how much Nalan knew of her and Pojing’s quarrel, his face gave away nothing. Understandable, she sighed, reminding herself that she was talking to a spymaster. If Pojing had asked him to keep his comments under wraps, then it was only expected that she couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

“Yes,” she said, trying to sound business-like. “There’s something rather important I’d like to discuss with him as soon as possible.”

“I’ll make sure the king gets the message.”


***


Bai Qian wasn’t sure if Nalan hadn’t found the chance to see his king yet or if the latter had made a point not to respond, but she didn’t hear back from him all day.

The remainder of Bai Qian’s time was, therefore, devoted to looking after the Demon Queen and wondering why exactly she had decided to abandon her trial.

The woman was still very much unconscious, but by Xunzhua’s Head Physician's hand, she was starting to show signs of improvement. Her skin was still as sickly pale and her injuries were healing very slowly, but at least she wasn’t looking like the dead anymore.

“She’s kind of… beautiful,” Migu commented with a tilted head as Bai Qian sat still on her bedside, racking her head to think of the reason why the Demon Queen would want to see her. “Don’t you think, Gu-gu?”

Bai Qian nodded with a frown. Beautiful, charming, out of this world - none of these things would have been a problem if this woman’s existence wasn’t supposed to be a secret. Mortal or not, unconscious or not, she simply… drew attention.

“What are you doing, Migu?” Bai Qian’s attention shifted to the Tree Spirit when she suddenly realized he was conjuring some tree twigs in mid air and snapping them into the same size with his magic.

“Oh, I’m making chopsticks, Gu-gu.”

“Chopsticks?” She walked over.

“Apparently, they don’t have any here,” said Migu brightly. “I thought the little prince might like these. He didn’t ask for any but I met him yesterday during lunch and he seemed a little uncomfortable using the -- whatever they call it here — to eat his rice.”

Bai Qian picked up a chopstick that had been magically polished by Migu. She’d realized this too, but perhaps all of them had been too occupied to be bothered by the absence of their preferred eating utensils here.

Before heading to dinner that evening, Bai Qian wrote a short letter, requesting an audience with the king, and handed it to one of his attendants. A stupid thing to have to do between friends - she shook her head. But they needed to talk as soon as possible, not only about the Demon Queen’s unexpected appearance, but also Luoji and his armies. All of them also needed to sit down for a discussion, for heavens’ sake!


***


Still, her very polite message wasn’t responded to the next morning. At the end of the training session, she was about to walk straight to Nalan and tell him to convey back to his king that they were in the middle of a war and such behavior from the head of a kingdom was completely unkingly, but stopped herself just in time.

As A-li ran off to play with Migu, Yehua came up to her and with a low voice began to ask.

“Have you spoken to --”

“No,” Bai Qian blurted, not caring that Nalan was only a few feet away. “People don’t get second chances here, it seems. One mistake and we just have to disappear from his life forever.”

They walked to the library afterwards so that Yehua could pick out more books for A-li.

“I do not want him to abandon his studies just because the grown-ups around him are dealing with a war,” he said. “Once he neglects his reading habit, it will be hard to reestablish it.”

“You’re right,” Bai Qian agreed.

“Since you are so fond of reading yourself, perhaps you should give me recommendations once in awhile. You had the freedom to choose what to read growing up, I didn’t; I always struggle to find books that are educational but don’t bore A-li to sleep. ”

“I can give recommendations?”

“Of course you can.”

“I mean -- I thought about it,” she admitted. “I just didn’t want to look intrusive because A-li is…”

“I understand. But A-li looks up to you, you know that. He’d read what you think is good. There is no reason for you to keep out of his life.”

“You don’t… mind?” Bai Qian asked in a low voice.

“No.”

It wasn’t entirely truthful - she noticed and kept quiet as they walked on. But it had become easier between them, much easier.

“Well, I have a mile-long list,” she said.

“Good.” Yehua smiled.

Stepping into the library, they both halted at the sight of Zhuowei at one of the working areas, stacks of books occupying most of her table.

Did Zhuowei know about her and Pojing’s fight last night? Bai Qian looked at Yehua. He responded with a slight, grim nod.

The princess looked up and made no effort to hide the fact that she knew very well what had happened. But she gave them a gesture of greeting anyway as they approached.

Bai Qian debated whether she should go ahead and tell the princess how sorry she was for keeping the truth from them all this while. But thankfully, just like her brother, Zhuowei wasn’t the kind who concealed her feelings unless she stood in the Throne Room, so Bai Qian didn’t have to debate for too long before she spoke bluntly.

“You shouldn’t have lied to my brother, you know.”

A cold blow. But it was all right, she prefered open criticism to a silent treatment anyway.

“I’m sorry,” Bai Qian sighed, she meant it. Then, propriety prompted her to continue courteously. “In fact, if I’ve outstayed my welcome, my guests and I will --”

“Oh no no,” the princess protested, to Bai Qian’s surprise. “You have to stay. Don’t you still need to talk to my brother? You can’t poke a leopard in the eye and leave us to deal with the consequences.”

“Er --”

“Please stay and explain everything to him. Otherwise, one of us would have to do it, and we don’t want to be on the other end of his temper, do we, Celestial Crown Prince?”

Yehua said nothing, a small hint of agreement in his eyes. Bai Qian had expected to be asked to stay, but she hadn’t been prepared to hear such a blunt request. And Zhuowei didn’t sound like she was joking in the least - it was more or less a demand for Bai Qian to take responsibility. Sometimes, the informality and straightforwardness of the people here still shocked her.

“So --” she promptly changed the subject. “About that Feather.”

Not waiting for any questions to be asked, the excited princess launched into speech about the item - what she’d found and done to analyze it, how its mysterious energy could be put to use - as Bai Qian and Yehua took their seats.

“It’s brilliant,” Zhuowei said. “I don’t believe I’ve ever held in my hand a more fascinating object. It’s powerful and frightening, but -- so, so fascinating. The only thing that could rival its potential that I know to exist is perhaps Moonstone.”

“Moonstone?” Yehua frowned.

“Yes, it looks like white jade, made directly from the essence of the moon, which, unfortunately --” she chuckled, pointing upward, “can only be done by the Man himself, according to the little information I could gather about it.”

The Moon, mysteriously, was beyond the Nine Heavens’ control, as Bai Qian knew it. It was said to be one of the sky islands in the Void that maintained the Balance and was one of the few lucky places Luoji still hadn’t invaded yet. Holding secrets, answers that could alter Fate, its rules were simple - no visitors unless invited by Yuelao himself, no interference with the other realms and neighboring sky islands. That was how it had been since the Beginning.

“Is the Feather being kept safe?” Bai Qian went back to the less mysterious matter.

“Of course. As of now, no one is allowed to go near it except me and my closest assistants, and even they haven’t been told where this thing came from.”

“Can they be trusted to never discuss this information outside of your Invention Room?” Yehua asked.

“They know the consequences if they betray that most crucial rule. Furthermore, we selected our scholars well.”

It was a risk they’d have to take, Bai Qian thought and exchanged a look with Yehua. With Moyuan in the Void and Zhuowei being the only person skilled enough, reliable enough to handle these items, they had no choice but to trust her to know what to do with the Feather.


***


The last sun rays and the purple clouds yielded to the first stars of the night as Bai Qian looked out her window, dipping her pen in ink, preparing to write a letter to her Brother Bai Zhen to let him know she would come back home soon to discuss with him in person their situation.

What a prick… She shot a spiteful glance toward where she guessed was the direction of Pojing’s room. Who did he think he was?

As if they didn’t have enough problems to deal with already.

Spoiled, naive, lack of sense - Bai Qian couldn’t stop replaying those comments in her head. Were they right? They had struck her hard, that much was true.

She’d wanted to stay in the mortal realm to learn more about the Demon Queen, at least that was the reason she’d given herself. But stronger than the need for information, she’d done it because she couldn’t stay away from Moyuan. She had wanted to trust him even before she’d found the proof of his innocence.

But the risk wasn’t the problem, her secrecy was. They had witnessed the Nine Heavens fall together, had rescued A-li together, had escaped the Arctic Land together. Despite their differences, Pojing had shaken hands with Yehua and offered them all whatever help they needed. Trustworthy, dependable - the friend they had gained during this war, the friend she risked losing by not granting him the honesty he deserved sooner.

To avoid her, however... Bai Qian reached for her goblet of water, took a large gulp then slammed it back down, anger flaring again. What was he, three-hundred years old? Would it kill him to come out and talk to her?

Grudgingly holding the sealed letter in her hand, Bai Qian headed for the Messenger Tower to have it sent.

Afterwards, determined to have some peace and quiet to read and think, Bai Qian locked her bedroom door, grabbed a book, a goblet of grape juice, and walked out the balcony. Then with one swift jump, she landed on the roof. The little sprite twittered out from her hairpin and inhaled several lungfuls of air as it swirled around.

No distraction, only the night sky and passing breezes. She opened her book.

Her trip to Penglai and the knowledge she had gathered from Master Yifeng had given Bai Qian an uncompromising desire to read everything she could get her hands on about phoenixes and their mysterious powers, even though she knew no amount of reading could bring Zheyan back. But if she kept reading, maybe she’d come across a way to give the Peach Blossom Forest life again, to give those now pale petals back their colors. Because if there was one thing she could always find from Zheyan, it was hope. His blooming peach blossom trees had always stood as a symbol of that hope, that optimism; and now… it was her task to rebuild it, rebuild the wonder she hadn’t fully appreciated until it was gone.

“Can you get me some more of this?” she handed the sprite her drained goblet after a while. “Please?”

It blew a raspberry but grabbed the goblet and zoomed away nonetheless.

Bai Qian temporarily put her book aside and moved her gaze to the glittering stars. Her mother was probably the safest one of the three since Luoji didn’t know of her involvement in the hunt for the devices, as for the other two…

“Be safe,” Moyuan had said to her before they’d parted. She hadn’t told him how those words had gutted her - the very words Zheyan had uttered to her minutes before his death.

She’d wanted to respond to Moyuan that he was the one who should try to be safe. Roaming in the Void with spies lurking around, constantly exhausting his magical powers, betting on the Dark Immortal’s interest to buy time, while the Dark Immortal himself had all the time in the world to do whatever he pleased, to gain more powers, to build more weapons…

She’d made Moyuan promise that he wouldn’t die several times, but more than anyone she knew it was a promise he couldn’t keep. It was something she’d accepted the day she’d chosen him. But maybe she should have specified that she wouldn’t appreciate being made a widow, especially not before she’d received any betrothal gifts from him. But words had failed her during that moment. She’d only been able to cling to the comfort of his arms, clinging to the little time they’d had left.

The sprite returned with her goblet of juice. Half a goblet, to be exact. The other half had probably been spilled along the way.

“Thanks,” she shrugged, then took a long curious look at the creature. “Why did you even follow me, Little Sprite?”

It chirped in response.

“Did you just want to leave your forest and see the world?”

The small shoulders gave a shrug.

“Well, I’m sorry you’re caught in all of this. The world… usually isn’t this chaotic.”

It was then that some strange noise below reached her ears. Bai Qian peered down.

“Is someone calling me?”

She clasped the book to her side, jumped down the roof and strode back inside. There was indeed knocking on her door - violent knocking, for that matter. Panicking voices sounded on the other side, one of which belonged to Nalan.

“You can behead me, My King, but I have to say that this is your fault. You called her spoiled…”

“Yes, I will have your head for eavesdropping later. Just get that door open!”

“I didn’t eavesdrop, you told the princess and she...”

“Get out of the way --”

Bai Qian raced to the door. What were they doing?

She reached for the handle but was too late as a force from the other side slammed against it. Casting a shield, she leapt out of the way as the door came crashing down. At the threshold stood a terrified looking Nalan, his king bearing a similar expression.

The Xunzhua spy breathed out. “Queen of Qingqiu?”

Yes?” Bai Qian removed her shield and gaped at them, unsure what was going on herself, the Little Sprite hovering above them twittering in annoyance.

“What is --” Pojing stuttered. “What is wrong with you? Why didn’t you say something if you’ve been in here all this time!”

Though confused, Bai Qian stared back at his anger and deliberately held her silence.

Nalan said quickly, “Queen of Qingqiu, we were knocking and calling you for a while. We thought you --” he pointed to the floor. “We thought something happened in here...”

Bai Qian looked down and immediately understood the reason why her bedroom door was now a fractured mess. Juice had been spilled on the floor and was running a purple line from the corner table’s foot past the door’s threshold.

They must have thought she was sick and had passed out or something along that line.

She turned to Nalan, then briefly at his king, clearing her throat. “Erm… sorry, he --” she gestured at the little sprite, who was grinning from ear to ear, flipping himself in the air and showing no sign of remorse. “He must have spilled it a few minutes ago. I was reading on the roof so I didn’t hear you knock.”

“Oh,” Nalan nodded.

“I’m sorry,” she said again to the soldier. “You were looking for me?”

“Oh, I wasn’t. I was only following His Majesty because —”

A quiet glare from Pojing caused him to stop, but Nalan didn’t seem to be frightened in the least; he looked rather relieved.

“So what can I do for you?”

The soldier grinned. “We were wondering if you’d like to have dinner.”

“Nalan,” Pojing snapped.

“But… she asked --”

“Yes, thank you. You can leave now.”

With a quick bow to both of them, Nalan obeyed, looking over his shoulder a few times as he left the scene, as though afraid they were going to fight again and make the poor door worse than it already was.

“What are you doing here?” asked Bai Qian as soon as they were alone.

As the shock on Pojing’s face from the spilled juice ordeal subsided, he shrugged. “Giving you a second chance.”

Prick.

“If the door was still intact, I’d slam it in your face.”

He crossed his arms. “That’s the Queen of Qingqiu I adore.”

He was really asking to be beaten, wasn’t he? Trying to make her lose control, wasn’t he? Bai Qian reigned in her urge to throw her shoe at him and lifted her chin.

“If you want information, talk to Yehua, he knows everything I know. I will have to go get someone to fix my door now, thanks to you.”

“Sorry,” he raised his arm to the doorframe before she could walk out, dropping the hateful expression. “I’m here to talk.”

Chapter 13, Part 3
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[*] For Pojing’s father’s backstory, visit chapter 12 part 6.