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

Outtake 1

Stairs

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

*Bai Qian’s first year at Kunlun*

It took Bai Qian three attempts to make a perfect hair bun on the top of her head. Then, realizing that it was too perfect and too tight that she was starting to get a headache, she loosened the hair tie a little and swept her fingers across her forehead a few times to get some of those baby hairs out of place.

There, her reflection in the mirror pleased her this time. No reason to look like an uptight priest just because she had to live on a mountain from now on.

Closing the bedroom’s door behind her, she began to stroll along the student corridor toward the kitchen. As a new disciple of the mountain, she was supposed to complete some tasks before starting with her classes. The first task: looking over the regulation book and the textbooks she’d be working on in class - done. High God Moyuan had given her two days for this task, which, as Bai Qian had proved, had been more than she’d needed. After a quick breakfast by herself, Bai Qian went to the grand hall to await her mentor’s next instructions.

To be frank, Bai Qian had been a little disappointed the first time she’d seen the man everybody called ‘the God of War’. She’d expected a scarred face, a giant figure, eyes like lava, and maybe a double-bladed halberd at his side. But this God of War… To put it simply, she had prepared to fight against fire, yet had landed on ice.

Everything about him was unreadable, every word that came out of him gave away no emotions.

The only thing she had to go on was Zheyan’s assurance that High God Moyuan was a wise and respectable man whose vast knowledge could guide her to become a great immortal. And honestly, that was all she wanted. What she had personally observed in him, though, was that he was one of those people who possessed the ability to get a room quiet by simply raising an eyebrow.

As Bai Qian had expected, she found the God of War sitting on the dais in the grand hall reading, looking as serene as when she had bowed to him and called him Shifu a few days ago.

“Shifu,” Bai Qian announced her presence, bowing.

He acknowledged her with a nod, putting his book down, eyes dark yet kind, seemingly pleased that she was on time.

“I’m here to receive my next assignment.”

“Of course,” picking up the book on top of a stack to his left, the God of War told her. “I would like you to read this book.”

Bai Qian took one look at it and grinned widely at the familiarity of the title. “I’ve read it.”

His arm retracted calmly. “The whole book?”

“Yes. My fa — I mean Zheyan! Zheyan let me borrow it from his collection a few years ago.”

“Excellent. Please tell me the three most important qualities expected from a scholar of Immortality.”

She didn’t even need to think about it. “Patience, mindfulness, appreciation.”

Her mentor nodded. Bai Qian felt herself blushing at the small smile he gave her.

You’re a boy, she reminded herself and pressed her lips together. Boys don’t giggle or blush.

“Explain to me mindfulness in the fewest words possible,” he said again.

“Unjudgemental awareness,” she answered right away.

“It seems you’ve exceeded my expectations.”

Once again, Bai Qian couldn’t stop herself from smiling.

“Before you move on to join your Seniors in class,” he continued. “There is a little mission I would like you to complete.”

Excitement rumbled in her stomach, Bai Qian’s head went up and down.

“How much time do you think you need to make a trip from this hall to the base of the mountain, on foot?”

Although confused at this random question, Bai Qian looked behind her, did the calculation quickly in her head, and replied eagerly. “Three days.”

It took Bai Qian several seconds to realize she had not addressed him properly just then, but he didn’t seem too bothered.

“I will give you five days. Take a walk down the mountain, and up again.”

A walk?

“Five days is much more time than I need, Shifu.”

“If you make it back before the fifth day,” he responded gently. “Feel free to repeat the journey as you like, familiarize yourself with the path and absorb the view.”

Ahhh
, it dawned on Bai Qian. he wanted to see how many trips up and down she could make in five days. Frankly speaking, the way down wasn’t that hard to know by heart, it was mostly rocks and trees, she shouldn’t need that much time to familiarize herself with it. There was, however, a little problem...

“Take that with you,” Moyuan gestured to a small bag sitting next to the stack of books, as if reading her mind. “There is food inside. Your meals will be sent from the kitchen into that bag magically for the next five days.”

What a thoughtful mentor, Bai Qian grinned in relief. She’d half expected to be told to live on air and morning dew for five days.

“Be aware of your surroundings,” he reminded her. “There is no competition here, just an exercise.”

“Yes.”

Of course there was competition, Bai Qian thought as she spotted Zilan, the Sixteenth disciple who was only sixteenth because he’d arrived at Kunlun two minutes before her, walking in to receive his own assignment. If she could show the High God that she was faster and stronger than this student from who-knows-where, maybe she’d be made Sixteenth afterwards.

“You may go,” the God of War said. “Report back to me the morning after you return.”

Not wasting another second, Bai Qian grabbed the food bag, turned around, and bolted, not bothering to glance at Zilan.


***


Reaching the top of the stairs, she took a second, inhaling a lungful of Divine Energy. So early in the morning - fog was snaking all around and the first set of stairs looked like a mysterious path to some unknown adventure she’d read about in a book.

Nodding to herself confidently, Bai Qian raced down. Cold winds swept past her face, more of the Divine air rushing in and out of her lungs. Down and down she went, minutes, hours passed, but her feet remained tireless.

He’s rather soft for a War God - a random thought suddenly popped up in her head as Bai Qian didn’t have that much to think about on her way. And his voice is sort of… warm. Even if he looked like ice on the outside.

Two days and a half - Bai Qian found herself on the top once more, heart pounding, legs desperately in need of a rest. But after a quick, and surprisingly delicious, lunch sent to her through the enchanted bag, she plunged down those steps again.



***


No class in the hall until the day after tomorrow, Bai Qian checked her schedule as she put on her white robe. Although her legs were still sore and her eyes quite bleary, she was rather excited to get out of her room. She couldn’t wait to let the God of War know of her journey down the mountain, couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when he knew how fast she’d been. Maybe he would start teaching her advanced spells right away, maybe he would take her along on one of his trips to tame wild magic beasts.

Her head was buzzing with exhilaration as Bai Qian made for their Shifu’s study. It seemed, though, that Zilan had been there first. The Sixteenth Senior was looking extremely proud of himself as he emerged from the room.

“Finished your assignment?” he threw his chin at her, smiling curiously.

Bai shrugged. “Yes.”

Yes, Sixteenth Senior,” he taunted as he walked by, leaving Bai Qian scowling to herself. She still couldn’t believe she had been made that guy’s Junior.

Stepping into the room, she bowed. “Shifu.”

“Siyin,” he greeted her with an even voice.

“I completed the task last night. I went down and up the mountain twice.”

“Twice?” he repeated, not sounding as impressed as she’d thought.

Bai Qian nodded.

“You must be exhausted. I said it was not a competition.”

She was so lucky to have a mentor like him - letting her have the Kunlun fan, always paying attention to her state of health. Who would have thought underneath that icy expressionless face was such a caring nature?

“Does this mean I’m done with the assignment, Shifu?”

“Not yet,” he replied, his unreadable eyes suddenly becoming even more so. “I have a question for you.”

Blinking curiously, she found herself leaning a bit forward. “Yes?”

“How many steps do the staircases from the top to the base of Mount Kunlun have in total?”

Bai Qian felt rooted to the spot, flabbergasted. She wasn’t even sure she understood the question.

Opposite of her, the God of War’s brows slightly raised, as though telling her it shouldn’t take this long.

How many were there? Ten thousand, a hundred thousands? Gods! How could she know? She was racing up and down those stairs twice as fast as she normally would any stairs. Was she supposed to know everything on the way? The number of rocks, trees, and birds that flew by too?

“You don’t know?” The soft, gentle voice was like a hammer banging on her head.

But there was no other answer she could give. “I… I don’t know.”

The calm silence of this man heightened her embarrassment to the utmost.

“Go back and rest, Seventeenth,” he said.


***


But Bai Qian did not rest. If the God of War thought she was one of those lazy immortals with lax standards for herself, then he was wrong. She’d made a careless mistake, had misunderstood the point of the assignment, and she would fix it in the shortest time possible.

The number of steps? Bai Qian let out a long breath as she stood at the top of the stairs once more. The next second, despite the fatigue that was tensing her every muscle, she was heading down, determined to make this trip without breaks, keeping in mind everything which belonged to the mountain that she passed by.

It rained that night on her way back up. Bai Qian was more tired than ever - she had done three days’ worth of climbing stairs in less than one. Sweat was now rolling down her temples and her hair was a mess.

“Do you want some food, Seventeenth?” one of her Seniors said from the long table in the hall around which a group of them were all sitting for what looked like a late meal.

“No, Senior,” Bai Qian waved, not sure which Senior she was talking to, taking in large gulps of air as she headed toward the Student Corridor. “I -- I need to write down some notes for… for tomorrow.”

“He’s pretty hardworking,” said someone when her back was turned.

“Why did Shifu make him run down there again?”

“I don’t know, maybe he failed. Zilan completed his assignment yesterday.”

Hot blood went up in Bai Qian’s head. Fail?


***


The next morning, Bai Qian didn’t bother with breakfast. From the second she opened her eyes, there was only one thing in her head - letting the God of War know she was far from a lazy student.

It was too early to find anyone and ask them where he was, all of her Seniors must still be either eating breakfast or preparing themselves for a new day. But luckily, Bai Qian found her mentor in his study, just as yesterday, reading and drinking leisurely from his teacup. She was starting to suspect he never slept.

With his permission, she stepped inside.

“Shifu,” she bowed and began right away. “I realized that I might have been careless in my trip down the mountain.”

“Ahh.” The High God placed his book down, letting her know she had his attention.

“So I just made another one yesterday, without magic.”

“In one day?”

Something appeared suddenly in those eyes - something like concern. But Bai Qian was far from caring about his state of mind. “Yes, in one night,” she took a deep breath and whatever was in her head came out of her mouth. “I have the answer to your question. There are one hundred and fifty flights of stairs from this hall to the gate at the base, twenty watchtowers, each positioned at every seven flights, and a total of 130,973 steps.”

There was no sign of him being impressed with her report. Had she gone wrong again somewhere? Was this not the patience and appreciation he expected her to display toward this mountain?

“Have I passed your test, Shifu? Is there anything you’d like to ask me about the path down the mountain.”

After another long look at her, he pronounced, “Did you encounter any of your Seniors on your trip?”

Bai Qian thought for a second - she had seen them, they had been doing their own assignments of the day, but she’d been racing down and up again so fast and trying to commit all the information to her memory that all she’d seen of her Seniors were snowy figures sweeping back and forth.

“Yes --” she began. “I -- er -- I saw some of them.”

“What was Changshan doing when you saw him?”

Who’s Changshan? Great Heavens, was she supposed to remember everything every person was doing at any given time too?

Just as yesterday, she uttered those embarrassing words, “I don’t know, Shifu.”

A few seconds of silence, then, a calm, infuriating smile appeared on his face. But instead of telling her the answer to the question, he said, as though able to see through her cluelessness as to which one of her Seniors was which, “Changshan is the Senior who cooks for all of you and brought your uniform to your room when you first arrived.”

Bai Qian’s face burned - he made it sound like she was an ungrateful and ignorant child. Still, she was confused as to what all of that had to do with her test. Was this unreadable mentor of hers going to let her in class at all if she failed this test?

“Go back and rest,” he said. “We will continue this discussion tomorrow morning.”

“What am I supposed to do to prepare for tomorrow's class, Shifu?” she uttered.

“Think about what I just said.”

But… what did you just say, exactly, High God?

Although, Bai Qian knew better than to spill that question out. She only stared at his composed figure as he slowly picked up his book again. The next second, he was absorbed in the text and paid her no more heed.

Bai Qian turned around and started toward the exit, her head swirling, angry, confused, and hating this God of War twice as much as she had yesterday.


**


Arriving at the Student Corridor, Bai Qian headed straight toward her First Senior’s room.

“Siyin!” He greeted her with a wide smile.

“Senior Diefeng,” Bai Qian bowed. He and Zilan were the only ones whose names she remembered for now. “Are you busy? I need your help with something.”

“Not at all, come in,” he gestured inside.

Diefeng’s room had an awful lot of books and documents, most of them seemed to be about politics and current affairs across the realms. A copy of that book the God of War had asked her to read was also present in one of the stacks. However, despite the large volume of texts, notebooks, and writing utensils, his room was neatly arranged and… Bai Qian glanced at every corner, without a speck of dust.

“I like to keep up with whatever’s going on out there,” he smiled again, spotting her looking at the documents. “What do you need?”

“Well,” Bai Qian cleared her throat, feeling more embarrassed by the second. “I just realized that I don’t know all of your names…”

“Ahh,” he nodded, hands on his hips.

“Can you help me learn their names and what they do at Kunlun? Shifu seems to think I need to know all about you before I could join you in class.”

“Of course I can help,” Diefeng said energetically and reached for his already ink dipped pen on his desk and a piece of paper. “Here, write everything down.”

Her First Senior was a walking information book of Kunlun, Bai Qian realized as she took in every word he said about the mountain and the people living on it. There was nothing he didn’t have an answer to. He knew every one of his Juniors as well as an older brother knew his younger siblings.

“Don’t be afraid of Shifu too much,” he said at one point after Bai Qian had remarked that she feared she had displeased the God of War. “He’s not as strict as he looks, but he does require you to discipline yourself.”

That’s exactly what I did. Bai Qian almost couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes. But either the God of War liked to pick on her or they each had a very different definition of discipline. What did paying attention to other people’s daily chores have to do with discipline at all?


***


To Bai Qian’s surprise, the God of War was in the grand hall before any of them the next morning, standing in front of his dais with his eyes glued to ancient-looking scroll.

“Shifu,” she bowed to him.

He looked up.

“I apologize for my ignorance of my Seniors yesterday. As a newly admitted student, I understand it’s my responsibility to learn who everyone on this mountain is as we will be with each other for a long time to come.”

“I am glad to hear it,” he responded.

Are you really, Shifu? Bai Qian was quite sure now that this god always said one thing and meant another. Nothing had turned out the way she’d expected with him.

“I have learned all of my Seniors’ names and their duties at Kunlun. Do you have any questions for me, Shifu?”

As usual, he remained silent for a few seconds, maybe to think of an extremely small detail he expected her not to know. But Bai Qian was quite confident this time, she had memorized everything down to each of her Seniors’ favorite food.

“How was breakfast?” the High God said finally.

Bai Qian squinted. “It was -- er -- great, Shifu...”

“Indeed?” he glanced down briefly then back up at her. “What did you have?”

What!

She had sat together with her Seniors at breakfast this morning, but in her hurry to be the first one in class and her attempt to review everything she’d learnt about them, she had gobbled down whatever was in her bowl and on her tray earlier without glancing down at it once. There was something like... bread, and maybe… some soup.

But that hateful calm face was telling her in clear terms he was not going to take ‘maybe’ for an answer.

If she made up something, would he know?

And what did her breakfast have to do with anything! Did he just want to humiliate her by asking questions he knew she had no answers to? But… how could he have known she wouldn’t remember what she’d had for breakfast?

Bai Qian stared and stared. The High God tilted his head as he waited.

But very quickly, approaching voices from the outside told Bai Qian her time was up.

“The steamed buns were so delicious, Second Senior,” Zilan’s voice reached them first. “How did you make those?”

“Chef’s secret,” came the Second Senior’s reply.

“And that vegetable stew! If all vegetarian foods were like this, I’d never crave meat again.”

Waves of laughter raised.

“Don’t ever try to cook, you lot,” another Senior said. “Senior Changshan’s food will just put yours to shame.”

“Shush,” Senior Diefeng raised his voice and the others instantly faded. “Shifu’s here. Sit down, sit down.”

“Please take a seat,” the High God told Bai Qian softly.

I hate this man.

Bai Qian refused to let any of her indignance show even though she could feel those piercing eyes seeing right through her. She put on a look she believed was flawlessly obedient. “Yes, Shifu.”

Old Phoenix, what have you gotten me into?

Next, she settled down at the seat a Senior pointed her to, opened her notes and, following her Seniors’ example, began to grind some ink for herself, not sparing the owner of that warm voice overhead another look.

Until, several minutes into the lecture, a question she knew the answer to was posed by that voice to the class. Bai Qian couldn’t resist raising her hand to speak then.

Chapter 13, Part 8