Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 13, Part 6 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 13 - A Debt Repaid

Part 6

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

Bai Qian scanned through the replies she had received from Yanzhi and the piles of scrolls the Ghost Princess had sent along as they all sat in Zhuowei’s study, having a quick lunch before they each returned to their duties. Having compared the notes she’d gathered with those from Zhuowei and Master Gejing, Bai Qian believed they could come to an agreement that the Celestial-made item the Demon Queen had told them about wasn’t just a myth. Master Gejing himself admitted that while preparing for his High Immortal examination at Kunlun, he’d had to do an awfully large amount of research and had come across similar information during one of his trips to the Demon Realm. But then, he, like most people, had deduced it to be an old tale for children.

“Why is this Demon Queen helping us?” Pojing voiced what all of them seemed to be thinking.

Bai Qian helped herself to some biscuits and contemplated her answer. “She wants to do what she can to help High God Moyuan.”

“Yes, but why? Doesn’t anyone find this sudden change in her direction suspicious? She spent all her life before the Demon War opposing the Celestials and causing chaos.”

“I can’t vouch for her character,” Bai Qian said. “Not entirely. But given her situation, helping High God Moyuan is helping herself. Of course she doesn’t want the Demon Clan to be in Luoji’s hands, not when all he cares about is making use of their troops. She’s certainly not helping Luoji.”

“The point is,” Zhuowei said. “What she told us about this item doesn’t seem to be a lie.”

Bai Qian cleared her throat. “Many of the accounts I’ve come across seem to have been written by people who relied more on their imagination than facts. They made up tales based on tales they’d heard. The stories surrounding this item have been told in hundreds of versions, each one with more deviations than the last. But there’s one thing that remains consistent - the item’s location.”

Her friends were quiet as she went on.

“Some call it the Land of Terror, the Land of Fire, the Boundless Dark, but they’re all referring to the Demon Realm, or -- the one the writers imagined based on what they were raised to believe. And they say this item is an unlikely treasure of that land, something that shouldn’t be there and is waiting to be claimed.”

“Hmm,” Pojing leaned back on his chair.

“A Celestial item in the Demon land,” Yehua said. “That sounds fitting.”

“What puzzles me,” Bai Qian said. “Is some of the details regarding the protection.”

“This whole thing is puzzling,” Pojing pointed out. “But what have you found?”

“That you have to be -- er -- ‘worthy’ to be able to approach this item.” Bai Qian cringed.

“What kind of ‘worthy’?” Yehua frowned. “As in you have to be the purest of hearts - as the mortals usually say?”

“Purest of hearts, wisest of minds, bravest of kings - all kinds of beautifully written myths. None of them are true, of course. No one can be any of those things, or I should say that an effective approach to prove that someone is the kindest, smartest, or bravest of all doesn’t exist.”

“That’s right,” Zhuowei nodded. “Worthy is a relative term.”

“It might be something close to that,” Bai Qian tapped her fingers on the desk’s wooden surface.

Zhuowei said. “Maybe you have to be an enlightened god of ultimate cultivation, for example, someone who’s devoted all their life to nothing but protecting others, who wouldn’t take the item for dishonorable purposes. Along that line?”

“Like Lord Donghua?” Yehua suggested.

“Yes, exactly. Like him,” Bai Qian agreed. “But then -- Lord Donghua is capable of Demon magic, and he was rather ruthless in his quest to secure the Celestial Tribe control of the eight realms, so I’m not sure he qualifies.”

“The God of War then?” Zhuowei shrugged.

“The God of War is interested in weapons,” Yehua pondered. “He loves to push the limits with his creations. Does having ambitions other than to protect the world disqualify you?”

“Perspective,” Bai Qian responded. “I don’t believe you have to have a dull life to be worthy, but others might think differently. Regarding the item, I think it’s mostly about your magical power and combat skills in this case.”

“Yes, that sounds more realistic,” Pojing said. “But whatever it is, we don’t have the luxury of time to go look for a suitable candidate.”

“Of course not,” Bai Qian said grimly.

“Will we go on this search?” Yehua asked, looking between her and Zhuowei.

“I believe the information we’ve found is valid,” stated the princess.

“So do I,” Bai Qian agreed. “But I can’t say I’m thrilled to step into the Demon Realm.”

“I’ve been there once,” Yehua informed them. “For political reasons. It is very much out of control. There are many Demon Lords and Ladies who are supposedly Zhongyin’s inferior in rank, but they rule their own lands and pay him no heed, each amassing power and wealth as they please. Civil tension is high, and since the unified laws set by the Demon Queen have long been forgotten, each state has no regard for the others’ safety and honor. Not to mention the turmoil those who have turned to Luoji have caused.”

“We --” Bai Qian took a brief pause. “Well -- I, that is. Suppose I go on this search, someone will have to come along with me, besides the Demon Queen. Getting in and out of the Demon Realm unnoticed is not a problem, but I can’t be responsible for this item and protecting a powerless mortal at the same time.”

“Bring Nalan,” Pojing suggested.

“No, not Nalan,” Bai Qian said. “He wouldn’t have time for a trip like this with all the work he’s doing for you. Besides, Nalan is an excellent spymaster, but I’ll need someone with magical strength. Don’t forget that this is a powerful object and I might need help handling it if I find it.”

“She’s right,” Zhuowei said. “We don’t need a High God, but definitely someone stronger than Nalan.”

“I can ask for one of my brothers’ help --”

“No need,” Yehua spoke. “I can accompany you.”

“You?” Bai Qian frowned. “But what about A-li?”

As she glanced around to see how the other people took this suggestion, Bai Qian thought she’d seen a small, almost unnoticeable change in the princess’ expression.

“You are not implying that there’s a chance we won’t make it back here, are you?” Yehua looked rather amused.

“Of course not,” Bai Qian said. “I just mean that A-li is too used to seeing you everyday. Without you --”

The poor boy would be among strangers... She glanced briefly at Pojing and Zhuowei.

“Don’t look at me,” Pojing said humorously. “I’ve never taken care of a child before. But doesn’t your son get along with the Tree Spirit from Qingqiu well, Celestial Crown Prince?”

“He does,” Yehua replied. “And don’t worry, Qianqian, A-li knows there are days I can’t be with him.”

“All right, if you’re sure,” Bai Qian shrugged, grinning. “I won’t object to having a companion who could make a hole in the Nine Heavens’ protective shield.”

“It’s settled then.” Yehua smiled back.

“Seems like I’ll be missing all the fun,” Pojing commented.

Bai Qian grimaced. “You call travelling to the currently most chaotic realm of all eight fun?”

“I wouldn’t mind clashing with some Demons,” he said casually. “I need to test out Zhuowei’s new design of the gauntlets and I always have to go easy on my own men.”

“Oh, the new gauntlets,” Bai Qian exclaimed and turned to the princess, who was looking more contemplative than usual. As if there was some part of the plan they’d just discussed she didn’t approve of. “They’re brilliant, Zhuowei, so quick to answer their owner’s summon, and the carvings on them are beautiful.”

The princess giggled. As always, the subject of weapons took her mind off of whatever was troubling her. “Thank you. I can’t take all the credit, though. My scholars had a lot to do with the designs on them.”

And while they were on the subject of weapons… Bai Qian was about to bring up the Phoenix Feather when Zhuowei promptly moved on with a much more serious tone.

“Speaking of weapons, you’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve made considerable progress with the Phoenix Feather. I’ll be able to create a weapon with it soon enough.”

They all exchanged looks of admiration.

“Does any of you want to volunteer to wield that weapon though?” The princess’ mischievous smile grew. “Someone’s got to.”

Yehua said nothing. And Pojing looked as though he would sooner chew broken glass than be associated with a weapon of Demon Power.

“It will depend on the situation at the time, I suppose,” Bai Qian said. “Who has a free hand, who has the best advantage over Luoji, who --” War. Battles. They would get hurt, be worn out. “Who has the most strength at that particular moment.”

“That’s true,” nodded Zhuowei. “Although, there’s also the matter of compatibility. Do you know what creates the most balanced kind of power in this universe, in all senses? Besides Moonstone, that is.”

It didn’t look like any of them did. Even Pojing, who knew a lot more about weapons than Bai Qian and Yehua, drew a blank in his expression.

“What is it?” Bai Qian asked.

“The union of a dragon and a phoenix,” replied the princess with a shrug.

That statement brought the whole room to a new level of bewilderment. An uninvited image of the Demon woman and Moyuan suddenly crashed into Bai Qian’s mind and refused to leave. It was an effort not to grimace. She didn’t know whether she should ask for clarification. Yehua slightly cleared his throat and averted his eyes, indicating he was thinking exactly what she was, but refrained from expressing his confusion.

“Union?” Pojing repeated, half laughing.

“Yes,” the princess blinked, obviously unsure what she had said wrong.

“What does that have to do with weapon making?” Pojing went on.

“A lot.”

None of them said anything this time.

“What’s the…,” a streak of pink appeared on the princess’ face and her eyes went wide with awareness, she slammed her palm against her forehead, staring at them hopelessly. “No, not like that! Gods, you can’t think that I implied… Celestial Crown Prince!” she whipped toward Yehua, who maintained his expressionless facade expertly. “Is that what you’re thinking?”

“Yes, I’m pretty sure he is,” Pojing scoffed a laugh. “You said ‘union’, I’m not sure what you expected us to think.”

“No, of course not! How could you people’s minds venture that far already?”

“Well…” Bai Qian pushed the stupid image from her head. “What is it, then?”

The princess rolled her eyes. “Yes, union - together. But not in that way. I was referring to the energy that can be created when a dragon and a phoenix’ powers are unified.”

“Well, be clear about the information you give next time, would you?” Pojing snorted. “We’re not your scholars.”

Intrigued - and relieved - Bai Qian pressed on, “What is it about dragon and phoenix’ power?”

Zhuowei took a deep breath and began again. “From the beginning of time, dragons and phoenixes have opposing energies, but in a way that one complements the other. Together, they’re able to create the perfect harmony that produces balance - that’s the concept. It doesn’t matter if they’re just sitting on the same bench or joining their magic, a combination of dragon and phoenix, in its essence, is a more superior kind of balance to any other energy in the eight realms. What I was wanting to say before you all amazed me with your imagination,” she narrowed her eyes at them, “is simply that I believe the Celestial Crown Prince could make more out of this Feather-powered weapon than any of us if he wields it, due to the fact that his own immortal power has a natural affinity to phoenixes’.”

“I see,” Yehua said, his brows pulling together.

“Wouldn’t the God of War be a more ideal candidate according to that?” Pojing asked. “Since his cultivation more or less equals that of the Demon Queen.”

“Maybe, but Xuanyuan Sword has already proved to be a perfect fit for him,” Zhuowei said. “In theory, a weapon that’s formed an allegiance toward its master is always better for him than a random one. Also, we already know that he might not be able to join us at the right time.”

“Yes,” Yehua nodded, though still looking uneasy. “If that’s the case then of course I won’t object to wielding this weapon you’re going to make. Like you said, one of us will have to.”

Bai Qian suddenly wished Lord Donghua was available for this. That silver-haired god who was born from a rock would surely be able and willing to pick up any weapon without feeling so conflicted about its origin. Yehua… he was still too much opposed to the Demon Realm to rest easy about this. And Bai Qian couldn’t blame him, even she was cringing just thinking about how that Feather had been created - all kinds of forbidden magic must have been used. Not to mention the number of people who had died as a result of this Demon Queen’s search for power.

Or maybe Lord Donghua would be available, she allowed herself to hope, when the time came.

“Of course,” Zhuowei went on. “There’s also the complication of you being a Celestial dragon and the Feather coming from a Demon phoenix. But in general, you should have the best advantage if you use this weapon, Crown Prince.”

Again, Yehua nodded in silence, a forced smile on his lips.

“And,” Zhuowei’s eyes gleamed. “I will need the Ghost Princess to send Qilin here as soon as possible.”

“The Kirin boy?” Bai Qian blinked. “Why?”

From her pile of neatly arranged notes and documents, the princess pulled out a grey scroll. “My scholars and I have found a way to remove that torc the Demons put on his neck, thanks to this scroll High God Moyuan sent me.”

Yehua’s expression brightened. Bai Qian herself couldn’t deny she found this to be extremely good news. Not only because the poor Kirin boy had been mercilessly restrained by that torc for so long, but his fire…

“Qilin’s Crimson Hellfire could be of excellent use as we’re wanting to destroy the hairpin,” Zhuowei finished that thought for her.

“He’s the only one left of the Ghost Clan who could produce this kind of fire and control it efficiently,” Bai Qian said eagerly. “Ghost Lord Lijing couldn’t. Not even Yanzhi can. Maybe some of the Ghost Assassins can, but no one knows where any of them are anymore.”

“Exactly,” Zhuowei smiled triumphantly. “Hellfire itself might not be enough, but combined with the proper enchantments we can conjure here, it will be strengthened.”

“So that’s what that scroll was,” Pojing remarked. “I’ve been wondering about the secrecy of whoever sent you that.”

Bai Qian stared at the scroll as her friends carried on with the discussion, not knowing what to think except perhaps she had forgotten to tell Moyuan how grateful she was for everything he’d done for them all this time.

“I will go see A-li now,” Yehua said, slowly rising from his seat. “We’ll plan for the trip to the Demon Realm as soon as we can.”

“I’ll let you know when the weapon is finished, Celestial Crown Prince,” Zhuowei beamed in excitement, gathering whatever she needed from the desk into her arms.

“Thank you, Princess.”

Bai Qian turned toward the large window in silence as she listened to their footsteps fading away, eyes locked upon the floating clouds and mind starting to wander to one past conversation to the next she’d had with other people, to the scroll that had been on the desk a moment ago; and she only knew that not all of them had left when Pojing’s voice sounded.

“If you purposely stayed behind to talk to me, Queen of Qingqiu,” he said, and she whipped back to see the usual smirk on his face. “Feel free to do so anytime now.”

“Oh,” she stood up. “I thought everyone was gone.”

“It’s remarkable how you are the most practical person I’ve ever met but also the most intense daydreamer. Reading on the roof, not knowing when someone is sitting right behind you.”

“You make no sound when you move,” she shrugged. “I just assumed you left with them.”

“Ahh,” he laughed. “That’s true.”

Before Bai Qian could think of a polite excuse to leave, he reached for the wine decanter, refilled her goblet, then his, and rose from his seat.

“Something on your mind?” He handed her the drink.

“The usual things we all think about these days.”

She didn’t want to tell him or anyone that she had spoken to the Demon Queen just this morning, had mustered all the courage and hope she could find in herself to ask questions about phoenixes and… whether there was still a chance for Zheyan.

She had known what the answer could very well be, had prepared for it. But still it had struck her in the most brutal way. “I am sorry. Do not hold out hope,” was all the Demon Queen had said. Bai Qian remembered that woman striding to her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. She remembered walking back to her own room afterward, crying to herself with the sound of the sprite’s fluttering wings above her head. Then, she’d headed out to the training field and practiced with her fan until her arms and legs were exhausted, until a Xunzhua guard came to remind her of the meeting to be held with their king and her friends.

“Have you and the Celestial Crown Prince made any progress with Zhongyin?” she asked, since she and Zhuowei had mostly spent their time researching the mysterious item for the last several days.

“The troops he owns are nothing compared to the rest of the Demon Realm,” Pojing answered. “Who might very well be standing with Luoji. But considering the size of Luoji’s army, I’d be a fool not to accept any help we could get.”

“What about Zhongyin himself? Has his foul mood improved?”

“Not so much. That must have been some defeat he suffered at your hand, he can’t seem to leave it behind. When did this happen?”

“Before the Nine Heavens fell. I… er… ran into him.”

“He seems to be a nice little Demon whenever his sister is around though,” Pojing swirled his goblet. “He’ll do anything as long as she gives the order.”

“That’s a relief,” Bai Qian said, taking a small gulp of the berry wine. “You haven’t been provoking him, have you?”

“It’s tempting.” He tipped his head. “But have some faith in me, I can exercise good politics when it’s necessary.”

She threw him a skeptical look. Although, Bai Qian quietly admitted, Zhongyin didn’t really need provocation to become a foul-mouthed Demon.

“On another note,” Pojing continued with a change of tone. “You know how you can’t help loving my ability to be so quiet and speedy when I move around that it almost feels like I’m invisible sometimes?”

Bai Qian rolled her eyes and drawled, “What is your point?”

“Let me see the bracelet.”

“What?” she squinted.

“The bracelet I gave you before you went to Penglai.”

Confused, Bai Qian held up her hand and cautiously pulled the little bracelet with the cat pendant out from under her sleeve. Pojing placed his goblet down and took her wrist.

“My point is, since I can’t come with you on this menacing trip, I will give you a bit of that wicked brilliant power,” his lip tugged up. “You never know what you’ll get into in the Demon Realm, it might come in handy.”

Bai Qian gawked. “Give me your power?”

He nodded.

She looked down at her hand. “Using this bracelet as a container?”

He nodded again. “It’s a Xunzhua item, this pendant was made from the wood of one of our most ancient trees. A perfect vessel for this purpose.”

“Hmm.” She hadn’t thought much about this wooden pendant except that it was adorable looking.

“Unless you have any objection.”

“You mean I can be as light on my feet and move as fast as you when I activate this power?”

“Speed, yes, but not the other innate abilities of our tribe’s people. The only way you could have those is if one of us transferred them directly into your veins.”

Something that, if wrongly executed, could bring dire consequences to both the receiver and the giver. What Pojing was offering, though, was much easier to carry out. And having a bit of the leopard king’s power to carry along in case of an emergency… Bai Qian bit down on her lip in excitement, notes from books and lectures she’d heard about power transfering racing through her head. It wasn’t just Pojing’s strengths that she admired, but those which his people exhibited - their agility and stealth, their navigation power, their excellent eyesight in the dark...

“Is it -- er...” she cleared her throat. “It won’t cause you any trouble, will it? It won’t tire you out too much?”

He burst into laughter. “Judging by that thrilled look on your face, I’d say you wouldn’t care if it did. But no, not at all. I’m only putting a diminutive amount into this bracelet, about one half to one minute’s worth of power. There won’t be any complications.”

But there was a complication that wasn’t about his power - Bai Qian hesitated. Something told her she should ask him why - that teasing voice of the Demon Queen everytime she mentioned Pojing. He might just laugh at her for asking, but clarity was better than assumptions.

“But is it necessary?” she said. “Taking your power - I mean, it’s not the same as borrowing a sword or an arrow.”

“If you’re trying to say that this will put you in my debt,” he responded promptly. “Then no, it won’t. You’re doing us a service and it’s only right that I lend a hand to minimize your chance of getting killed in the process, otherwise, what kind of ally would I be?”

Bai Qian huffed a laugh. “You really know how to maintain an alliance.”

“Yes, I do.” His eyes twinkled.

“Go on, then,” she said gleefully.

Without delay, Pojing opened his free hand, placing his palm on top of the pendant. A wave of warmth radiated from where the wood and his skin made contact, circling her wrist. After what felt like several full minutes, the flow of magic ceased.

When Pojing removed his hand, the carved lines that made up the little cat now bore the color of amber, just like his eyes.

“There,” he let go, loosing a long breath. “In case of mortal danger, being one half a second faster might save your life.”

Bai Qian didn’t respond - she knew what had prompted him to say that. She observed him for a long second, making sure he was still well. For people who weren’t physicians like themselves, giving away magic felt like losing blood.

“But remember,” Pojing said, sounding as well as ever. “It isn’t much, and this power isn’t yours, so --”

“Only use it when necessary because it’ll wear out as I do,” she held up her arm and admired the pendant, smiling. “Its effectiveness depends on my own strength and how well I can adjust to its foreign qualities.”

“That’s right,” he jerked his chin at her and picked up his wine again. “Insufferable know-it-all.”

“Thank you,” Bai Qian grinned, too excited to contradict him.

Though just when Pojing was about to say something else, hasty footsteps reached their ears. And two seconds later...

“My King.” Nalan had arrived at the threshold.

“Not now,” Pojing said without glancing at the soldier. “I’m busy.”

“This is urgent, My King!” Nalan marched into the room nonetheless and stood in front of them, insistent on relaying whatever news he was bringing.

Pojing let out a sigh and said to her, “I should think about taking away some of his privileges, he doesn’t seem far from giving me orders.”

“No, no,” Nalan put up his hands in earnest as Bai Qian giggled behind her goblet. “I am perfectly serious. This cannot wait.”

“What is it?” Pojing drawled.

“The Celestial General Jiayun has just returned. He is currently in the Guest Hall and is ready to report.”

Bai Qian almost leapt up in gladness. Jiayun - safe and back with reports for them. Her day had finally gotten better.

Chapter 13, Part 7