Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 13, Part 5 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 13 - A Debt Repaid

Part 5

written by LalaLoop
Edited by kakashi
consulting by Bunny

Zhongyin’s arrival at Xunzhua palace was about as elegant as Bai Qian had thought it would be. Nalan’s spies had found him in no more than a fortnight. He’d put up quite a fight, as Nalan told them while they waited for him to be escorted from the border to the Guest Hall, now that he had recovered from the struggle. But startled and with only a few guards at his side, Zhongyin had stood no chance against Xunzhua’s spies, each of whom was as quick as a cat in the night with endless tricks up their sleeves.

“What did they do to his guards?” Pojing asked Nalan, who had instructed his group of spies on this mission.

“They gave them some Oblivion Pills, My King,” the spymaster replied. “Then modified their memories so that they’ll believe they are travelling somewhere far away when they wake and continue their journey without trying to contact the other guards in the Demon Court. The effect will wear off but definitely not soon.”

“How effective are Zhongyin’s magical abilities?” Yehua’s voice was rather curious.

“From my past experience with him, weaker than I imagine for someone who trained among Demons, Celestial Crown Prince,” Nalan said with furrowed brows.

Arguing voices sounded outside the hall and not more than five seconds later, Zhongyin appeared at the doorstep, looking bewildered and highly offended, escorted by several guards whose company he obviously detested. His robes were battered and dirty. Bai Qian suspected he’d refused to accept Xunzhua’s hospitality - Pojing’s border guards were the most civilized people she’d ever met and there was no way they hadn’t offered Zhongyin some clean clothes to change into.

Unpleasant memories of her visit to the Crafters’ forest warmed Bai Qian’s forehead as Zhongyin approached; although, the satisfaction of defeating him in swordfighting made up a bit for the embarrassment she’d faced.

It seemed Zhongyin too recalled what had happened between them in that maze because the moment he saw her, his face was purple with anger.

“YOU,” he leapt in her direction. “I’m going to kill --”

The guards dragged him back by the shoulders, but Zhongyin seemed hellbent on getting revenge.

“This is Xunzhua, Demon Steward,” Nalan spoke on behalf of his king. “We apologize for bringing you here against your will, but there was no other way —”

“I don’t care where this is!” Zhongyin thrashed against the strong grips on his arms, eyes not leaving Bai Qian. “She will pay for ruining my plan!”

“What plan?” Bai Qian shrugged.

Again, Zhongyin lunged, but was seized back instantly.

“What plan did she ruin?” Pojing asked. And the question seemed to heighten the shame that was rippling through Zhongyin, because his purple face was now several shades darker.

Bai Qian explained in response to Yehua and Pojing’s confusion. “We had a duel a while ago, I guess the Demon Steward is still bitter about his defeat.”

“Shut your mouth!” Zhongyin hissed. “You nameless --”

“It’s the Queen of Qingqiu to you,” she cut him off. What was with this fuss? Was losing a duel that difficult a thing to deal with? “You knew the rules before going into that game. I won fair and square, so what exactly --”

“A game?” he hissed. “Yes, of course it was a game to you. What more can I expect from a creature of Qingqiu - pampered and self-absorbed you all are.”

“We have things to discuss with you, Demon Steward,” Pojing interrupted. “Like my lieutenant has said - we apologize for this inconvenience. And I would appreciate it if you could stop threatening to assault my friend so that we could explain to you what is going on.”

“The fact that you sent those clawed creatures to my realm and dragged me here against my will explains enough, savages —”

Pojing’s eyes flared, it seemed this was the end of the courtesy he thought Zhongyin deserved. “If you got abducted in your home then you shouldn’t be blaming my spies, blame your insufficient security instead.”

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Zhongyin bellowed. “WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO WITH ANY OF --”

His mouth hung open as he noticed Yehua.

“What are you -- what is he doing here?” He looked back and forth between the rest of the people in the room. “What’s going on?”

Pojing waved. His soldiers let go of the bewildered Zhongyin and retreated.

With a wild, satisfying sneer at Yehua, Zhongyin spat, “Alive, are you? I thought you’d jumped down a cliff somewhere and ended your pitiful life after your foolish grandfather attacked Luoji from behind like a coward and ended up with a sword in his chest. I thought you would’ve chosen death over being a laughingstock to the eight realms.”

Yehua didn’t deign to respond, on his face the flawless indifferent look he had probably mastered since he’d been a toddler.

“What, out of things to say, Dragon Prince? And where’s your hypocrite of a brother? Is he in a cave somewhere warming someone’s bed while his white robed disciples preach the eight realms of his impeccable virtues --”

“Hold your tongue,” Bai Qian warned, blood pounding in her temples. “Or you’ll regret it.”

“Don’t speak to me, you filthy little --” A string of curses fired from Zhongyin’s mouth. Starting with Bai Qian, then Qingqiu, the Celestials, Xunzhua, Kunlun - he showered them all with foul names and vulgar insults.

Nalan’s eyes went wide. Bai Qian felt like her ears were burning. Yehua took a threatening step forward, but Pojing was faster.

Within a second he was in front of Zhongyin, his right arm gauntleted with a sharp clang, unsheathed metal claws hooked into the Demon Steward’s collar, almost lifting the latter off of the ground.

“Consider yourself lucky we are offering you a peaceful discussion. After what you and your tribe have done to my family, to the eight realms, you should be grateful to be standing here with your limbs intact.”

Zhongyin still hadn’t given up. “I will make sure that selfish, abhorrent shrew gets what she deserves. I will return every strike and kick she has given me, as for the rest of you --”

“I doubt you’ll be able to get that close to her with your pitiful skills,” Pojing’s grip on his robe tightened. “But if you dare attempt anything of the sort in my presence, you will lose your damned hand before you can touch her. If you deem yourself fit to slander the fallen Celestials and everyone else who is taking a stand in this war, then let me remind you that you have been bowing to a Celestial, letting him exploit your tribe and hold your leash like a pet all this time, and not even a pet he favors. So - you throw another insult at anyone standing in my hall or their family again and I will have you ground to dust and sent back to the Demon Realm in an urn.”

That seemed to have covered everything she and Yehua were wanting to say. Maniac, Bai Qian slightly shook her head at the wide-eyed Zhongyin. Just because he lost a duel? It was a miracle to her how he hadn’t gotten on Luoji’s nerve and been thrown into an Arctic Prison cell yet.

There were some movements at the doorstep and a tall, calm woman figure caught Bai Qian’s eyes. Good, their little trouble with Zhongyin was about to be resolved.

Bai Qian walked over, put a hand on Pojing’s arm and prompted him to let go, which he did after having noticed the new arrival. Stunned and unsettled, Zhongyin sucked in a breath and perhaps got ready to say something reckless again when the Demon Queen finally announced her presence.

“Zhongyin.”

Her voice petrified him. After what seemed like one whole minute, he turned around and stared at the woman. Neither of them spoke a word, Bai Qian suspected Zhongyin had lost the ability to.

“It is me, Zhongyin,” said the Demon Queen again.

“Is this a trick?” he whipped back at them, eyes bulging.

“No,” answered his sister.

“Is…” he pointed, stuttering, his hatred given into other bursting emotions he seemed unable to control. “Are you all trying to trick me… This… this isn’t funny --”

No one answered. Bai Qian debated telling him that it was indeed a trick just so he could snap out of that trance faster.

Zhongyin looked as if he wasn’t breathing, probably wasn’t even thinking about defending himself against what he called ‘a trick’ as the Demon Queen slowly walked toward him.

“I met you in the mortal realm,” she said. “My foster parents locked you in a storage room for stealing. I sneaked in and gave you four persimmons because I thought you were hungry.”

Zhongyin breathed through his mouth, fists shaking. “I was.”

The Demon Queen stepped closer to her sworn brother. “What have the years done to you?”


***


Even with the Demon Queen’s presence, Zhongyin wasn’t any more likeable than when he’d first arrived. His sister’s return and what she had been doing all this time were the only things he was interested in; everything that came after - he reacted to them with less patience and consideration than A-li showed daily.

“The Demon Realm will stay out of this war,” he announced even before the Demon Queen suggested the idea of alliance, looking ready to drag his sister back to their realm.

“Really? Then why didn’t you stay out from the beginning? That would have saved us all a lot of trouble,” Bai Qian didn’t bother forcing herself to sound polite anymore. This was another one of those pointless arguments she’d like to end as soon as possible.

But Zhongyin seemed to at least understand that swearing and lashing out would only make his already battered condition worse. His side glances at Pojing were frequent and indicative of how shaken he still was, how shocked he had been at a weapon that could assemble in a blink of an eye, giving him no time to react more than standing like a trembling prey before the person wielding it.

“I will not leave Xunzhua,” said the Demon Queen at Zhongyin’s request for them to return to their home instantly. “Not yet. There are things I need to discuss with you so you need to stay too, Zhongyin.”

“We can discuss them on the way back,” he insisted, throwing hateful looks in Bai Qian and Yehua’s direction.

“No. We will stay here.”

“Jie-jie!” Zhongyin’s face twisted.

“If you still think of me as your older sister then listen to what I have to say. We do not have time to lose, Zhongyin. Please stop with your constant protest over such trivial matters and consider why we had to bring you here.”

Zhongyin breathed out, clearly reminded of the manner in which Nalan’s spies had brought him to Xunzhua, though he didn’t dare express that anger fully in front of his decidedly more powerful looking sister.

“Fine,” he gritted his teeth. “But I am not staying in this palace. I am not accepting any favors from --”

“Then stay with the border guards,” Pojing said dully. “And take a ride to the palace and go through our palace entry security everytime the Demon Queen needs to talk to you if that feels more convenient.”

“I will take lodging as far from that --” he shot a scathing look at Bai Qian, clearly about to call her something terrible again but stopped himself just in time. “I want nothing to do with her.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Bai Qian gave back. “Because you ended up with a severed weapon and several bruises the last time you came near me. But this isn’t about you or me or your little duel defeat, so mull on that later while you tidy yourself up a bit.”

Bai Qian could have sworn she saw a tiny smile on Yehua’s face - he too seemed to be losing his patience by the second with this foolish stubbornness before their eyes.

“You --” Zhongyin bared his teeth and looked ready to lunge over, but either it was because he recalled how badly he’d been defeated in that duel or that Pojing’s threat earlier was still fresh in his mind, he reined himself back.

In the end, after several more clashes and indirect insults from both sides, Zhongyin settled with Pojing’s final suggestion that both he and the Demon Queen could occupy the guest rooms farthest away from the main palaces.

It was then that Bai Qian was sure they were just dealing with a harmless brute, anyone with an ounce of wit would have put his grudge aside and at least attempted to take a walk around Xunzhua palace to acquaint themselves with the kingdom that had produced several of the most powerful weapons in the eight realms. If he hadn’t heard of their shield magic then at least he must know they had been the Nine Heavens’ most important weapon supplier for ages.

And a harmless brute, she or any of her friends could handle with one eye closed. Why the Demon Queen had trusted him so much as to make him her successor instead of the other more capable Demon Lords and Ladies was the real mystery here. But then… to think of it, this Demon Queen hadn’t made that many good decisions, either.


***



It was a good thing that Bai Qian found the Demon Queen alone in her room when she went later for a talk. She was growing rather tired of Zhongyin’s determination to stay ignorant and his complete lack of maturity.

“I don’t know how you’re ever going to get Zhongyin to cooperate,” she said to the Demon Queen. “Or to listen.”

“I will,” the woman said with great confidence, gesturing casually for Bai Qian to sit anywhere she liked. “Once I explain everything to him.”

“I’m here to remind you that anything that concerns High God Moyuan should be left out of your explanation.”

“I know.”

Bai Qian settled at the tea table in the center and reached for the teapot. Nalan had probably arranged his men in this guest wing by now. No conversations held here would escape Pojing’s attention.

“What exactly is the matter with Zhongyin?” She asked, careful not to display too much of the distaste she felt toward the Demon Steward. “I’ve met angry people before but none so committed to being angry as him.”

“Zhongyin has been searching like mad for a way to bring me back,” said the Demon Queen. “Ever since he heard of Moyuan’s return, he was determined to do it. All those unsuccessful journeys have left their marks on him.”

“Why is he able to wield Demon magic if he’s not a Demon?” Bai Qian curiously.

“Ahh, he first acquired his magic from one of those Taoist schools in the mortal realm, enough that he was able to travel to the immortal world by himself. When I found him again later on, I taught him the magic of our clan.”

Bai Qian thought about their unproductive discussion earlier and said with a sigh, “It’s going to be hard to work together if fights break out everytime your brother sets eyes on me and my friends. Can’t you keep him under control?”

A chuckle. “Can’t you keep your murderous husband under control?”

“Husb… What!” Bai Qian choked on her tea. “The King of Xunzhua is not my husband!”

“Still?” The Demon Queen joined her at the table. “I’m not familiar with Qingqiu’s customs or the way people do things in Xunzhua. What has to happen in order for two people to be called husband and wife?”

“Well -- lots of discussions between two families, betrothal gifts, dinners -- but, wait… No!” Bai Qian set her cup down. “We’re not married! What are you --”

“You’re not married yet or you are not getting married at all?”

“Jie-jie, how many times…” Bai Qian breathed in. “No, not at all. We’re friends. We’re always going to be friends.”

“Oh,” the woman broke into soft laughter. “Well, if you’re sure. It’s a pity, I thought you two would have made a marvelous pair of king and queen.”

“Yes, well… thank you, I -- guess,” she took a sip of tea. “If you mean that the King of Xunzhua is a great ruler then I agree.”

A curious smile. “You’re rather secretive. I can tell that being that priest Moyuan’s disciple for so long has sharpened your skill to consider everything you do beforehand and hide everything you feel.”

“Er --” Bai Qian looked away for a second, wanting to spill out who she and Moyuan were to each other to avoid any more misunderstanding. But on second thoughts, this woman wasn’t that much of a close friend to her. Although Bai Qian missed the conversations between them when they’d just been Xiaowu and Jie-jie; and was particularly relieved to see the Demon Queen a bit less gloomy, sharing too much had never been her hobby. Unless it was with Yanzhi or her Sixteenth Senior - the people who knew her too well.

But speaking of Moyuan…

Bai Qian cleared her throat. “I came here to ask you a few things.”

“Yes?” replied the woman as she poured herself some tea.

“I have been able to gather some information from many sources about the item you told us about.”

“And?”

“The details regarding its existence are valid; and given its abilities, we don’t want it to be found by Luoji.”

“Are you going to retrieve it then?”

“We need some more time to decide. But… What I need to speak with you about is,” she took a brief pause. “You said you wanted to do this -- to help us, for High God Moyuan.”

“Yes.”

“Can you tell me why?”

“I owe him a greater debt than I understood, and now that I do, I will do anything within my ability to repay him.”

“What debt is it?”

A flicker of pain swept across that face. But Bai Qian held her gaze, insisting on an answer. Honesty was what she wanted to see. The pain she’d just seen perhaps had answered her question, but she needed words, a real answer.

“He forgave me,” the Demon Queen said. “He forgave me when I could not even look at my own reflection. I do not regret what I have done; everything that happened made me who I am. But I do regret the hurt I have unknowingly caused others, especially my friends. Many things -- I wish I’d understood sooner.”

Wanming (晚明)- it dawned on Bai Qian.

“Time is running out, and I want to help him.”

“At the expense of your own life? Because remember, Jie-jie, I keep telling you that things won’t end well if you insist on staying in the immortal realms.”

“We don’t know what is going to happen when, which is why I do not want to waste time.”

“Are you also doing this to regain control of the Demon Realm?” Bai Qian asked evenly.

A long silence fell between them.

“If I said no,” she answered. “Would you believe me?”

“No.”

“I didn’t think you would. And I am not saying that the idea of being Demon Overlord again is absent from my mind completely. But my wish to help Moyuan is why I am here.”

“He told me he trusts you,” Bai Qian said. “Not the powerful Demon Queen who could defeat hundreds on the battlefield, but you - the little girl who came and spoke to him on her first day of class at Kunlun, who would stand up for her friends no matter what clan they were from.”

The Demon Queen’s expression remained composed, her shoulders square, her lips slightly lifting into a smile - elegant and resolute - perhaps to distract Bai Qian from her eyes, where the impact her statement had made could be seen most clearly.

Pain and sorrow circulated in the air despite the calm front Bai Qian was looking at.

Slowly, Bai Qian stood up from the seat, and the second she turned to walk from the room, she knew that silent tear which had been so gracefully held back was making its way down the woman’s fearless face. The proof of honesty she had come here to find.

Chapter 13, Part 6