Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 13, Part 4 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 13 - A Debt Repaid

Part 4

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

“Please…” Dripping mud, eyes bloodshot, armor dented and torn, the Celestial soldier pleaded.

Shaowan approached him, approached the Celestials that had fallen behind after the first battle, her own troops surrounding them, eager to see their queen demonstrate the power and ruthlessness they expected, her own arms and legs nearly giving in to the exhaustion after the endless hours of fighting. She could stop, of course. She’d had many chances to stop, either what was about to happen or this entire war.

“Spare me…” the young man begged again, his shoulders trembling, his companions wordless at the fate that awaited them. “Please --”

She knew that at this very second, Moyuan and Donghua were questioning the Demons they had captured. But they would not kill them, Moyuan only killed when he had to. That principle, the right and wrong they all had been taught by Fuxi - it screamed, yanked at her violently as she slightly raised the bloodstained sword in her hand.

The green meadow flashed before her eyes - Moyuan with his book, Zheyan slouching on the grass, Donghua laughing, teasing them all.

The morning dew. The butterflies.

“Please!” the pleading soldier’s shriek pulled her back to reality, the reality that was darker than she’d expected. But go on with it she must. She did not belong with the rest of Kunlun. This -- here -- was her destiny. She must prove that she was strong enough to shoulder this destiny. Ruthlessness was what protected her, protected her clan from the Celestials.

Shaowan pulled back her sword despite the desperate begging before her eyes. Killing the enemies on the battlefield was a simple task, but this -- slaughtering a defenseless, cornered being... Kill him -- and she would destroy not only what was left of her friends’ trust, but the last road back to them she had allowed herself to have.

“No!”

She lunged at the sound of that last plea, and as her sword plunged into his beating heart, something in her broke.

And she knew it would stay broken.

Blood spattered the ground. The lifeless body sagged at her feet, his young face bearing still the astonishment, the terror.

“Kill them all,” the ice cold order shot from her mouth toward her subordinates, despite the heating blood in her own veins.

She would never see that meadow again.

One second, the group of defeated soldiers were kneeling in front of her, the next, it was nothing but a bloodbath.


***


“Jie-jie,” Bai Qian called when she noticed the woman’s hand clenching at her side. “Jie-jie?”

Those eyes flickered open, some unknown terror rippling within them. But her face was calm nonetheless. Not waiting to be helped, the Demon Queen pulled herself up to a sitting position, taking a few deep breaths and dreamily glanced at every corner of the room she’d slept in for the last several days.

“Erm --” Bai Qian contemplated. Not that questions weren’t overflowing her mind, but she couldn’t decide whether to start with ‘why are you here?’ or ‘are you insane?’

“Xiaowu,” uttered the woman after a long minute, as though still unsure whether it was the real Bai Qian who sat in front of her.

“This is Xunzhua,” Bai Qian said, grabbing from the wooden stand the goblet of medicine that had just been brewed and was still smoking. “Your medicine. The physician has been delivering medicine and nutrition into your systems by magic, but now that you’re awake, you can drink this directly.”

The woman didn’t say a word as she took the goblet and downed its content, not even a question or a complaint about its bitterness.

“Jie -- I mean -- Dem --” Bai Qian cleared her throat. “I’ll refrain from calling you Demon Queen here, no one but my closest friends know who you are and we don’t want the news of your return to be picked up.”

“Call me what you have to,” was the response.

“Right. What are you doing here?” she began, scanning over the injuries on the woman’s arms and neck. “And what -- what happened to you?”

“I came to help.”

“Help?” Bai Qian’s brows pulled together. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate your help but… you’re in no condition to help anyone. Also, you are taking a trial. You can’t knowingly contact the immortal world, that’s the rule. You’re going to be punished for this!”

“What a sticker to rules you are,” the familiar carefree smile appeared on the Demon Queen’s face, and Bai Qian decided she no longer needed to hold back with the scolding.

“This is no joking matter, Jie-jie. Unless you have information about where and when Luoji will launch his next attack, you need to go back to the mortal realm. You’re ruining your own trial and -- how could you be so careless as to make an appearance among immortals? What if Luoji’s people find out about you?”

“Most of the eight realms don’t know what I look like.” Her voice was laced with bitterness.

But your trial,” Bai Qian emphasized.

The woman let out a cough, signs of fatigue dominating the elegant features of her face as she opened her mouth to say something - many things, it seemed. But for some reason, she simply shook her head. “I have understood that whatever I’ve gone through or will meet with in the mortal realm will never be enough to pass this trial.”

“But you can’t come here! I don’t care how confusing it is, you have to stick with it till the end if you want to get it over with. Getting in touch with immortals is absolutely not the way to get through a trial.”

With yet another ‘rules are for the Celestials’ smile, she said, “If you know what a trial is, is it still a trial? I’ve already broken more than a dozen rules by coming here, if you sent me back to the mortal world, you’d be helping me; would I still pass the trial then?”

Astonished, Bai Qian breathed in and got ready to retort.

“I don’t care anymore, Xiaowu,” the woman spoke before she could.

“I don’t understand… you don’t — care?”

“No. And you shouldn’t, either. I have something to tell you that’s much more important than a trial I know I’ll never pass.”

“Wait…” Bai Qian frowned. “How did you get here? To the immortal world?”

“I sought help from the mortal cultivators.”

Then there was absolutely no passing this trial for her now, Bai Qian concluded and gave up at last, the most essential rule had been broken.

But the woman went on without a shred of concern. “I’ve done it before but the attempts never got me far because I wanted to return to the Demon Realm. This time, I headed for Qingqiu. I didn’t have a way to contact Moyuan.”

“I’m not sure I can contact him, either,” Bai Qian admitted. “If you already know what he’s doing…”

“I do,” the woman said. “I don’t know the details, and I chose not to ask Moyuan about it. I know that the less people are aware, the better.”

“Right,” Bai Qian muttered.

“But what I came to see you about doesn’t require Moyuan’s presence.”

“Oh --”

“There is…” she took a sharp breath, not looking too well all of a sudden. “There is something that might help you in this war...”

“Are you sure you want to talk about this now? Maybe I should fetch the physician first.”

“Please listen to me, Xiaowu,” her tone became serious. “I need to tell you this now. I don’t want to fall asleep again and waste more hours, more days…”

It sounded almost like a plea.

“Moyuan told you of my association with Luoji during the Demon War, hasn’t he,” she asked, sounding neither guilty nor reluctant.

“Yes. You -- er -- had a similar goal as Luoji. You searched alongside him for ways to enhance your powers and ensure immortality.”

“No need to be polite about it,” a smile curved her lips. “Yes, I made a mistake in thinking I could keep someone like him under control.”

“So you knew what he was?”

“Yes, because I knew who I was. I was someone who would stop at nothing, not even at slaughtering the people who were my friends. I was someone who betrayed my apprenticeship at Kunlun for power, for the sake of making a statement about my clan. Anyone who agreed to help me achieve these goals couldn’t be doing so from honorable intentions, could they?”

Simple, straightforward words spoken in a voice laced with some unfathomable emotion.

“We looked for powerful artifacts together, forbidden or not, we wanted to employ them all to defeat the Celestials.” Skipping the part where Luoji had betrayed her and stolen the Feather, the Demon Queen went on. “Without his knowledge, I got close to acquiring one.”

“What is it?’ Bai Qian squinted.

But the woman didn’t answer her right away. “Luoji’s forces are growing, and it occured to me -- that we should retrieve this object, first of all… to make use of it, and secondly, to eliminate a chance for Luoji to get stronger. I suspect he also knows this item exists.”

Eyes wide, Bai Qian repeated anxiously. “What is it? What’s the item?”

“It’s buried in the Demon Realm. I can’t tell you what it is because I haven’t seen it, but I’ve been to the location myself during the Demon War and was very close to acquiring it.” A flicker of something unreadable darkened her face for a brief moment.

“What… what does this item do?” Bai Qian asked.

“I sought it because I knew it to possess the power to penetrate shields and reversely build unbreakable ones. But no doubt, it is capable of much more.”

Bai Qian didn’t need to ask what this woman had wanted the item for. “Why couldn’t you get it last time?”

“Time,” she replied shortly. “I ran out of time, and patience. There were obstacles on the way, you see. It was taking too long and I had too much on my hands to go to the end.”

“But why is this item in the Demon Realm?”

“I suppose because its creator wanted to hide it in a safe place.”

Safe? Bai Qian grimaced before she could stop herself.

“The Demon Realm is significantly larger than any other realm,” explained the woman in response. “Dangerous, yes, but our unexplored territories are endless, at least I hope that is still the case.”

“Yes, it still kind of is,” Bai Qian said, debating whether she should add ‘disorderly’ and ‘generally uncivil’.

“Good. So you see, a perfect place to conceal such a dangerous and powerful creation from the world.”

“But --” Bai Qian thought for a second. “What I meant was -- what is the nature of this object? What kind of energy does it possess? Doesn’t hiding it in the Demon Realm for so long reduce its potential?”

“I didn’t get close enough to have a look at it, or to feel the nature of its energy. But from what I had been told before going on this search, this is a Celestial made object, so well protected and deeply hidden that nothing can alter its abilities. The weak collapse at the sight of it, and in the hand of a powerful immortal, it can perform unimaginable things, even healing.”

“Celestial made?” Bai Qian picked up on what confused her the most. “What Celestial would place his creation in the middle of a realm with opposing energies all around --”

“Does Moyuan get a lot of headaches being your teacher?” The woman suddenly chuckled. “Your questions never cease.”

“Well -- he’s not really -- never mind,” Bai Qian decided with a shake of her head. “Does High God Moyuan know about this?”

“Moyuan generally doesn’t care much about hunting these items since he likes making them more. No, I haven’t told him. The last time we were together I was still determined to finish my trial. And even if I told him, he wouldn’t have the time or energy to spare for this matter, don’t you think?”

“What made you change your mind about the trial?” Bai Qian couldn’t help asking.

“Many things,” the Demon Queen said quietly. “But mainly because I realized I could not absorb whatever lesson I was being taught no matter how hard I tried, not when the immortal world -- my home -- is in chaos.”

Giving up a second chance that easily? Bai Qian’s heart clenched when Zheyan’s face before his death came to her mind. What she wouldn’t give to buy Zheyan a second chance.

Clearing her throat, she reigned in her rising emotions and went on with the problem at hand.

“You said that Luoji might know of this item?”

“He might know it and want it for himself for the war that’s coming. I know the disadvantage those who oppose him face. He has both strength and numbers, magic that enables him to bring down shields is the only thing he’s missing. I can’t do much to help, not without my powers, but I can be your guide if you wish to find this item.”

Bai Qian hesitated for a bit. “What kind of protection does this thing have?”

“I didn’t even get that close,” it sounded like a truthful answer. “But according to what the sorcerers I sought out have claimed, we should expect the kind of protection that’s similar to that on Yingzhou Island.”

Yingzhou Island, Bai Qian pondered, then perhaps they would stand a chance of getting it should they decide to go find this item. Yehua had managed to slay all the beasts on Yingzhou by himself, after all.

“I will talk to my friends about it,” she decided. “I have no idea about this item and since we are in this war together, I’m obligated to tell them whatever I learn about Luoji as well as any plan involving our stand against him.”

“Of course you are,” said the Demon Queen.

Her friends… Bai Qian cast a glance toward the door. Right...

“Jie-jie, this is Xunzhua.”

“Yes, you just told me that.”

Taking a deep breath, Bai Qian began. “My friend, the one who was with me in the mortal realm, is the King of Xunzhua.”

“Ahh, I’ve always suspected he was no ordinary immortal.”

“And he knows who you are,” Bai Qian continued promptly.

That didn’t seem to have any effect on the woman at all.

“He isn’t exactly pleased to see you.”

“Why, particularly? I don’t remember Xunzhua having any involvement in the Demon War.”

Bai Qian blinked, astonished. “You remember the late King of Xunzhua, don’t you? The one whose alliance you wanted.”

“Many things happened in the War,” said the woman. “You can’t expect me to remember every single acquaintance I made.”

Did this woman just have a bad memory or had she shed so much blood that what Pojing’s father had gotten was just a forgettable incident? A small tinge of shiver ran down Bai Qian’s back. She repeated the story Yehua had told her, choosing her words carefully and going no further than the part where Pojing’s father was escorted home - brutally injured - by the now Head Elder of Xunzhua.

Finishing, Bai Qian was quite certain that this Demon Queen just didn’t care. She took the account with a straight face and barely any guilt that Bai Qian could detect.

“I am sorry to hear it,” was her calm and emotionless response. “This will make whatever I have to say difficult for the king and princess to believe, but I will try my best.”

Out of comments, Bai Qian stood up from the bedside. She couldn’t deny that this kind of response made their accidental acquaintance a lot less difficult to deal with. They didn’t need to be friends, just allies would be good enough.

“Please rest for now,” she said. “I’ll let you know when my friends are ready to discuss this.”

At the doorstep, Bai Qian lingered and turned around. “Are you saying you don’t care if you die for breaking the rules? I don’t want to sound ominous but the longer you stay here, the more likely something is going to happen to you. No one ever escapes the consequences of the violations you just committed.”

“No,” came the reply. “I’m past caring.”

The consequences might be worse than death
, Bai Qian wanted to add. But the lifted chin and the defiant eyes on the woman’s face told her she didn’t need to.


***


The meeting began as badly as Bai Qian had predicted. Besides the fact that the Xunzhua siblings weren’t particularly thrilled to have the Demon Queen in their palace, the latter also didn’t bother to ease that tension, she simply carried on to be herself from the second she stepped through the door into the meeting room, strength and fearlessness radiating from her slender body. Her eyes met each face present, lingering on Yehua’s for a long second, as she made her way toward a chair.

There were no guards inside the room. Pojing, as usual, occupied the seat at the front, Zhuowei and Yehua sitting next to each other on one side. Lowering herself down opposite of them and next to the Demon Queen, Bai Qian stole a glance at Pojing, whose face was a mask of courteousness that temporarily hid the pure loathing and boiling rage underneath.

“I thought those eyes looked familiar,” were the words that came from the woman before anything was spoken.

Father Immortal above, was she asking to be shredded apart!

Pojing’s glare whipped to her, violence rippling across his face and his voice itself was sharper than those unsheathed claws. “Why? Because you once ripped out an eye that looked the same as mine?”

The woman smiled. Smiled. It looked like she still didn’t get the fact that she was defenseless against everyone in this room, that one flick of someone’s arm could make her fall flat on her back. Or she didn’t care.

“I meant that as a compliment,” she said. Bai Qian had to look away for a second. There was a hint of curiosity underneath Yehua’s calmness, indicating perhaps he was wanting to see how far this legendary Demon Queen could go.

“Because I respect the sheer courage you show in coming here alone,” Pojing snarled. “I will grant you a few words of honesty - you make another foolish reference to my father, and my tolerance for you ends.”

“I admire your spirit,” said the woman. “But tell me, young King, what do you think you can do to me that the Universe hasn’t already? Death? I have tried that several times myself.”

“Demon Queen,” Bai Qian said quickly before Pojing decided he didn’t care if there was one less Demon among the realms. “Please tell my friends what you’ve told me.”

With the same ease as she’d carried herself with all along, the Demon Queen recounted everything they had discussed that morning.

Bai Qian looked upon that unyielding face. Someone who had long forgotten fear - that was whom they were dealing with. Her friends were right to be cautious, the eight realms were right to be afraid of this woman. What Bai Qian had seen in the mortal realm, maybe it wasn’t an act; but she was wrong, unforgivably wrong to hope that this ancient being who had lived longer, had shed more blood than all of them here and could face her past in this manner could ever be a friend to them. There was guilt on that face, there was also sadness, but both were buried deep underneath stubbornness and pride.

Someone who had lived like a burning flame and never wasted a second regretting what she did.

Zhuowei took the information with warriness and the curiosity of an eager scholar; Pojing’s face was dominated by blunt suspicion; Yehua, as usual, remained wordless and expressionless throughout the entire exchange.

“A Celestial made item hidden inside the Demon Realm,” the princess broke the brief silence afterward. “Capable of breaking through protective shields. I’ve never heard of it before. I’ve heard legends and stories, but never a reliable account.”

“Naturally,” the woman responded. “It isn’t something you can find in a textbook. Only those who are willing to venture far enough would come across it in their path.”

“Is there anyone besides you who can confirm its existence?” Zhuowei went on.

“No one who’s alive that I know of, unfortunately.”

“Then I’m afraid we can’t cooperate with you right away.”

“And I respect you for that,” responded the Demon Queen, specifically to Bai Qian. “Do what you have to do before you make your decision, but keep in mind that the sooner we retrieve this item, the better it is for our side in this war.”

“‘Our side’?” Pojing raised his brows.

“I won’t pretend to care about what happened before. But I am not your enemy now, King and Princess of Xunzhua.”

“That’s the problem.” Pojing said. “We care very much about what happened before. So I’m afraid you will have to prove that statement if you’re looking to gain our trust.”

“Gaining your trust isn’t my goal, either. But for the sake of this war, for Moyuan,” as his name left her mouth, something stirred violently in her defiant eyes. “I can be your ally.”

“What do you have to offer as an ally, Demon Queen?” asked Yehua politely.

“If you can get in touch with my brother, I will be able to grasp the situation of the Demon armies - how many troops are loyal to him, to me, how many are beyond his control. Then, I will persuade him to stand with you.”

“You want to meet him?” Pojing frowned.

“Yes. I do not know how much of the Demon Realm answer to him, but if he’s still alive, then he must still have the support of a good number of troops and Elders.”

“Most of the Demon Realm is under Luoji’s control,” Bai Qian said evenly. “Your brother is the one who opened their door to him.”

“He did so because he believed Luoji could bring me back,” said the Demon Queen. “Once he knows everything, there is no reason why he would want to follow Luoji any longer.”

“Is that all you wished to tell us?” Pojing asked shortly.

“That is all.”

Quietly Pojing rose from his seat, his eyes sweeping across their faces as he left the room without a word. A request to continue this conversation without the Demon Queen, Bai Qian understood.

A few seconds later, Zhuowei followed her brother’s footsteps out. She too gave no comments.

Yehua said with enough courtesy to make up for the others’ outright displeasure toward the Demon Queen’s presence, “thank you for the information and for your offer. We will resume this discussion later.”

Not that this woman cared what anyone here thought about her, Bai Qian reflected as she watched Yehua exit the room.

“You have good friends at your side,” spoke the queenly voice all of a sudden. Bai Qian turned back - she saw a smile, but not one that was of happiness.


***



“Putting aside how this woman seems to have a death wish,” Pojing began with unmasked spite in his voice when the four of them had settled down around the table in the sitting room outside of Zhuowei’s study, dinner fully laid out but still untouched. “She said this item is in the Demon Realm. No one knows about it, which means we’ll have to rely on her for the item’s location. She could be planning to return to her realm and regain her powers by some forbidden magic.”

“I thought about that too,” Bai Qian said. “Which is why we’re going to gather what we can about this item. A Celestial item in the Demon Realm - if it truly exists then I don’t believe she’s the only one who knows about it.”

“Who else might?” asked Zhuowei.

“Yanzhi,” replied Bai Qian right away. “Her father got into mad chases to find these artifacts, he harbored the hope to dominate the Celestials one day too. The Ghost Elders should know a thing or two about this. And now that Yanzhi has complete control over her court, she can help us dig for the information we need.”

Yehua nodded in agreement. “Master Gejing is a scholar of Kunlun. Even if he doesn’t know about this item, he might be able to tell us whom to speak to.”

“We can’t spare the time to chase after some mythical object while there’s still too much to be done about our troops and defenses,” Pojing pointed out.

“Then let me be responsible for this,” Bai Qian suggested. “Qingqiu has no army to offer, only my brothers’ help. I will use the time I have to do the research and see if it’s worth a trip to the Demon Realm.”

“Is it really so necessary?” Pojing let out a long sigh.

“It might be,” it was Yehua who spoke with grim honesty in his voice. “From what I know about Luoji’s armies in the Void and the kind of power he possesses, anything that can help strengthen our shield against him and provide better protection for our men is worth our attention.”

It was only when Zhuowei reached for a piece of bread that they remembered about the delicious smelling dinner in front of them and began to eat.

“Are we going to contact the Demon Steward, Brother?” asked Zhuowei.

“We don’t need to contact him,” Pojing drank from his goblet. “Given Zhongyin’s combat skills and the amount of sense he possesses, Nalan can simply send out some of our spies and they’ll get him here bound and kneeling in front of us within a few days.”

Yehua’s silence was that of agreement.

“You don’t want to insult him, you know,” Bai Qian warned. “If he might be able to help us.”

“I know,” Pojing turned to her. “But do you think he’s just going to come here in peace if I send a messenger to the Demon Realm and invite him over? First of all, he would refuse any kind of invitation from us; then, it depends on how much we want him to be here. If we’re determined to make him come, we’ll have to resort to less courteous methods. So my plan is - we’ll get him here by whatever method my spies will see fit, no discussion needed. Any misunderstanding will be cleared when Zhongyin meets his dear sister, assuming that she is helping us.”

“I can’t disagree with that,” Yehua said. “Reasoning with Zhongyin is a waste of time.”

“All being said,” Pojing went on with a look of frustration. “I’m not so fond of the idea of another Demon in my land.”

“I’ll try not to get my hopes up too high,” Bai Qian confessed. “The Demons either don’t care enough to resist Luoji or want him in power because they love the taste of revenge on the Celestials. I’m not sure the number that supports Zhongyin can make a difference.”

“Are we even that desperate yet?” Pojing said with clear repulsion. “To recruit help from the Demons? Is the help we might or might not get worth the risk?”

“Seeing his long lost sister here will at least make Zhongyin cease his support for Luoji,” Yehua pondered.

“What if he can’t keep his mouth shut once he sees the powerless state of her and hops over to Luoji to ask for his help despite what she wants?”

“Zhongyin doesn’t have that kind of nerve,” Yehua said.

Moyuan trusted that Demon Queen - Bai Qian tried a bit of the fried mushrooms - he knew what she’d done and had forgiven her, would trust her again. But maybe not without caution...

“When Zhongyin gets here,” she said to her friends, “have someone monitor him at all times. We’ll let him reunite with the Demon Queen but let’s not leave them alone after that, have him followed. We need to know how he reacts to his sister’s request and what they say behind our backs. I met Zhongyin once and he didn’t strike me as a good actor, so if he shows any signs of treachery, we’ll keep him here to make sure he doesn’t run to Luoji with information about us and the Demon Queen’s return.”

Bai Qian’s face warmed as she heard that suggestion from her own mouth - to resort to spying wouldn’t be her first choice, but very few good things had ever resulted from associating with the Demons. A part of her still looked at that Demon Queen and saw the mortal woman who had bought her mooncakes, but she wouldn’t risk the safety of everyone else on a sentiment.

“You’re kind of devious,” Pojing’s eye twinkled as he leaned back, a feline smile playing on his lips.

Bai Qian shot a look of disdain she always reserved for him in his direction. “As if you wouldn’t do it yourself.”

“I would just keep the Demons out altogether, never in my entire life have I dreamt of a day when I actually have to work with them.”

“We do now,” Yehua said quietly. “Since High God Moyuan trusted the Demon Queen, we’ll give her a chance to prove her alliance, but we’ll tread carefully. So yes, I wouldn’t feel any guilt on keeping an eye on Zhongyin or keeping him hostage.”

An assistant chef came in and kindly interrupted them with a warm introduction of the kitchen’s new dessert - layered, almond filled, honey dipped cakes shaped like seashells.

“Not bad,” Zhuowei smiled, having eaten a large piece.

“What is this green topping?” Bai Qian examined the small cake on her dessert plate.

“It’s a kind of nut,” Pojing said. “It’s the same thing they put in the dish you ordered --”

A small yet painful grunt pulled Bai Qian’s attention away from the peculiar green nuts. She looked to her side - Yehua was clutching his chest, eyebrows pulled deeply together, looking as though he’d just swallowed Zheyan’s worst medicine.

Pojing glanced down at the cake then raised an eyebrow at Yehua. “I don’t think it’s that bad, you know.”

“I beg your pardon,” Yehua said, but his eyes slid to Bai Qian’s face and lingered for a long second.

Her stomach clenched as she understood what he meant.

“Excuse me,” said Yehua again as he rose and started toward the exit.

“It’s not the cake,” Bai Qian told Pojing, then she too quietly stood up from the table and left.


***


In his room, Yehua stood next to his bed, one hand on the pole at the bed’s foot for support, his breathing shallow and he gave no response as she arrived.

“Yehua.”

“This isn’t me,” he said.

She walked over and prompted him to sit down at his bedside. “How often does it happen lately?”

“Not very often,” he assured her.

Bai Qian trode to the corner table and quickly got a goblet of water. “Why is it so bad this time? Did you not fight it at all?”

“I did, at first,” Yehua took the goblet and drank, brows creasing as he swallowed. “But then, I wanted to see what it was.”

“What do you mean?”

“I found that sometimes I can reach through the bond --”

“What?” Bai Qian whispered.

“The link is fading, I can feel it. But as of now, whenever something happens and he cannot fight against pain and fatigue, I know it. And if… if I take it without fighting back, I can tell how critical his situation is.”

Bai Qian’s heart sped up. “How critical is it this time?”
“It’s…” he contemplated. “It wasn't minor, but it’s nothing I haven’t felt before.”

That was too little information for Bai Qian to decide whether she should worry more than usual.

“He knows I can do it too,” Yehua continued. “That’s why he always attempts to minimize what goes down the bond. But once in a while, he’s unable to.”

“Do you think distance matters?” Bai Qian asked.

“No,” said Yehua firmly. “This connection doesn’t allow me to fathom where he is.”

Her heart sank faster than a weight block to the bottom of a lake - she was very much hoping to at least find out whether Moyuan was close to them or not. Although… Bai Qian took another look at Yehua - this bond was meant to be temporary. It was fading. Maybe reaching into it was not such a good idea given that it had worn him out this much.

“Can you control this?” she said.

“Control?”

“Can you not let the bond affect your own powers?”

Yehua’s eyes were a reflection of astonishment. Maybe he’d thought she would ask him to reach further through the bond and tell her what was going on with Moyuan. Not that she didn’t want to. She yearned for a glimpse of Moyuan, prayed everyday that he was being safe - what she wouldn’t give for a bit of news from him. But this… this was not the right way. It might even do Moyuan harm.

“Whatever you do, Yehua, make sure you can contain what the bond does to you,” she said cooly. “Try to stop it from disrupting your immortal powers.”

“I’m still working on it,” Yehua responded. “He has mastered it a long time ago, I’m sure - effectively blocking what the connection shoves at him from me that he doesn’t want to feel.”

“Yes, because to be affected could be dangerous.”

“I imagine it might be useful at some point.”

“Only if you can shut it down at will, Yehua,” Bai Qian reasoned. “If you can’t, then it’s best to try and neutralize these impacts whenever they come at you. Just imagine, if you led your men into battle and your powers were suddenly compromised because you couldn’t push these pains that aren’t yours away, It might cost you your life.”

Yehua rubbed his temple. “You’re right. I assume that’s one reason why he doesn’t want me to feel anything that happens to him.”

Bai Qian nodded. “As long as you’re unable to resolve the pain yourself, he has to take extra care to make sure it doesn’t reach you, and it --”

“It costs him energy,” Yehua murmured.

“Yes.”

They looked at each other for a long minute, neither could deny how much they wanted to make more use of this both fortunate and unfortunate bond between him and his twin.

“What do you think just happened though?” she asked.

“I felt energy being exhausted gradually, and then -- a sudden drain.”

That could mean a number of things. She could only hope that Moyuan was working on a device and was not being attacked in the Void.

Chapter 13, Part 5