Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 14, Part 2 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 14 - The Tide Turning

Part 2

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

Standing by herself in the empty Celestial Courtroom, Bai Qian found herself so frightened that she wanted to scream.

The Demon Queen was dead. She herself had been brought to the Nine Heavens, the Crystal Palace had fallen, Yehua was still somewhere beneath volumes of water as far as she knew, and she could not reach him through the copper mirror. Things could not get any worse.

Was Luoji going to kill her? Would he take revenge on the punches and kicks he’d received from her last time?

It was a lot of punches and kicks, Bai Qian swallowed, hand gripping the silk fan so tight that her lower arm was starting to hurt. Or worse, would Luoji make her play some life-and-death game as he’d done with Moyuan? Had he figured out that the butterfly hairpin was a fake?

No… none of that could be possible, Bai Qian reasoned against her growing fear. If Luoji had wanted to kill her or publicly torture her, he would have done so at the Crystal Palace. If he had known about the hairpin, Luoji would have been furious, would have looked at her with completely different eyes. But that wasn’t the case at all. Besides, exerting violence on someone with inferior powers was not Luoji’s way of doing things, that was something he would consider uninteresting and would generally leave to his subordinates.

But then… what could he possibly want with her?

“Stay quiet while we’re here, Little Sprite,” Bai Qian said. “There’s no one we can trust here and heavens -- literally -- only the heavens know what Luoji’s going to do.”

There was no response, not even the usual tug on her hair. Was the little thing so scared he couldn’t even talk?

“Little Sprite?” Bai Qian whispered.

Still, it was absolutely quiet. She reached to the back of her hair and brushed her finger over the bun. “Hey.”

The creature was not there.

Bai Qian’s hand flew to her mouth, the worst scenarios started to race across her head. Had he drowned? Had he been left behind at the Crystal Palace? Was he somewhere… in this room?

Where are you? She glanced up and down, right and left, casting spells to detect the immortal essence around. Please be here, she pleaded. Without him, she would be completely alone in this place.

There was a sudden sound of some magic being performed, Bai Qian gasped and her eyes darted toward the entrance.

“What are you looking for?” The Dark Immortal was surveying her with eyes so piercing they gave her head pain; and Bai Qian knew for a fact he wasn’t attacking her mind this time. Forcing her expression to neutralize, Bai Qian straightened her back and held her head high.

“There is no way out in case you are wondering,” he stepped in, not a single indication on his body that he’d just been to a bloody battle.

As the man walked closer, Bai Qian couldn’t help but recall their last encounter. The shoulders she’d rested her head on, the face she’d struck so many times, that voice. The memories were making it impossible for her to draw breath, more so when she knew for a fact that day could easily repeat itself now that she was once again standing in front of his boundless power.

“Why am I here?” she said, her own voice echoing in the empty room.

He gave a lazy wave. Bai Qian glanced at the center of the hall, a low table and two cushions had materialized.

“Would you care for a game of chess?”

A sudden chill spiralled down her back - this man sounded scarily like Moyuan. But judging by that question, he certainly wasn’t intending to kill her.

“What if I refused?” she responded.

“Then I would ask if you’d like to join me for tea.”

Bai Qian frowned in confusion and nearly let out a scoff.

“Conversing with me is inescapable,” he clarified, in the silkiest voice. “So choose the activity of your preference and we will begin.”

“Well -- I don’t want to talk.”

The man took another step closer, head tilting. “If I tell you the world ends tomorrow, will you talk to me then?”

What he was looking for in her, Bai Qian didn’t know; and she honestly would prefer him to just lock her up or throw her to the man-eating Kirins in the Arctic Prison; neither of those things could be worse than being on the receiving end of that unreadable stare

She maintained a clear voice. “You say it like it’s possible.”

“Because it is. Come now, Bai Qian, you have seen enough to understand that the universe’s future lies in my hand.”

“Why? Because you have a girl hairpin with you?”

He chuckled. That smile on his face could have once been good-looking, she couldn’t tell. All she saw was the look of a beast who had taken a sudden interest in the prey he was about to swallow.

“You are deliciously innocent,” he remarked. “If you want to know what that device does and whether I have used it, ask. Not that I will answer you, but do not make a fool of yourself by attempting to provoke me into revealing information. You are much too young to play this game with me. So, what will it be - chess or tea?”

Knowing that neither choice was better than the other, Bai Qian said, “Chess,” at least this was a battle she had some control over. “And I want jasmine petals in my tea.”

Again, he chuckled and gestured for her to walk towards the low table.


***


What exactly did this man want? Bai Qian thought as a servant laid out their tea on the table. How did he even know she could play chess? Maybe the tea was not a good idea, after all. It might contain some potion that would make her spill out all the plans they’d made at Xunzhua.

“You think I have altered this tea to my advantage,” said Luoji, making her look at him.

Silently, the frightened-looking servant retreated. Luoji picked up his cup and took the first sip.

“Not the tea, obviously,” Bai Qian replied. “But possibly my cup.”

“I do not need the aid of potions or spells to acquire information from someone, that is a rather uncreative method,” he gestured at her cup. “Are you not going to see if the jasmine petals are to your liking?”

Cold sweat breaking out on the back of her neck, Bai Qian lifted the cup, courage shrinking. She lowered her hand. “Frightening your opponent before a game is also uncreative. Wouldn’t you want all my attention on the chessboard and not spent worrying about the possibility of being poisoned?”

“Ahh,” with a curious smile, Luoji held his cup toward her. “I concur.”

Not hesitating, Bai Qian dumped the untouched content of her cup into his and poured herself some new tea from the warm pot.

Under his penetrating gaze, she lifted the cup to her lips again, but let only a few drops down her throat.

“Shall we move on with the game then?” He motioned with his head at the board and the stones of two colors - white and gold - in marble containers in front of each of them.

The silence of the courtroom and the suspense were killing her so Bai Qian decided without asking that she would make the first move. Luoji did not object as she placed the first white stone on the board.

“Play like you would play with Donghua,” he demanded. Then, smirking at her silence, he went on. “Yes, I know how often you and Donghua played, and I know how well you play.”

He’d spoken to the stewards at Taichen Palace then. Who else had he asked questions about her? And… what had he done to the people he’d interrogated?

Bai Qian decided to remain silent, it was the only way she could protect herself.

“What is your relationship with the God of War?” he asked.

Steeling herself, she said curtly, “I want to drive a sword through his chest, that’s our relationship.”

“You had a chance to do that on the sky island, why did you let it pass?”

“Because I wanted to repay my debt as a disciple of Kunlun. Now that I’m free of that debt, I hope he burns in hell.”

“Understandable,” Luoji nodded. “Was your last attempt to distract me on that island meant to repay that debt or to save yourself?”

Bai Qian frowned in response.

“Obviously, you could not escape on your own had I wanted to capture you,” he explained slowly, as if to someone who spoke a different language. “Therefore, you needed Moyuan, was that why you helped him?”

“Why else would I have done it?” she shrugged, making a move on the board, realizing that he had left a vulnerable gold stone unprotected.

“A gesture that perhaps stemmed from something other than respect and gratitude.”

“Thank you, I’m thoroughly disgusted now.” Bai Qian grimaced and captured the gold stone Luoji obviously had no intention of relocating, hoping her expression was convincing enough.

“I believe you,” he said. “We all know you and the King of Xunzhua are quite intimate.”

Intimate? Bai Qian suppressed her confusion. Where did they get that from? Nevertheless, it was working in her favor.

“If you’re thinking about using me to hurt him --”

“Of course not,” he cut her off gently. “That would be an uneven battle, and I detest those. No, my dear, your King of Xunzhua is quite safe for now.”

Looking down at the board, Bai Qian realized that once again he was giving her a chance to capture a stone of his.

“What are you doing?” she gestured at the game.

“Accommodating,” he said simply. “It would not be so interesting if I won and ended the game so quickly, would it?”

Despite her fear, Bai Qian felt her ears burn at that comment which clearly meant to say her chess skills were inferior to his.

“Nevertheless,” he said. “The fact that you noticed tells me perhaps I should give you some challenge.”

She gave no answer this time and went back to the chessboard, seizing that exposed gold stone.

A few silent minutes went by. No more questions. Luoji was indeed adjusting his moves and - Bai Qian noticed - was laying out his stones so that every time he won a stone from her, she would win one from him. And while doing so, he still managed to present challenges for her everywhere on the board.

An invitation for her to talk.

Bai Qian mustered her courage and spoke cooly. “What happened to my Senior Diefeng?”

“The Sea Dragon Prince? I hope he is alive somewhere and is planning to avenge his kingdom. I would be disappointed otherwise.”

“What is next now that you have the Four Seas at your command?”

“The rest of the world,” he said.

“But not too soon, right? Why attack now when the whole world is frightened and unprepared? That would be... ‘uncreative’.”

“You think you know me.” He looked neither angry nor offended.

“Isn’t that why you haven’t killed me yet? So you can figure out how much I can guess about you?”

With a dangerous smile, Luoji changed the subject. “What do you know about the Demon Queen?”

“Other than the fact that she died before I was born and was the reason Zheyan died?”

“Yes, other than that.”

“Why do I have to talk about her?” Bai Qian said.

He moved a gold stone to a new square without looking at the board. “Because I observe a great contrast between you and her.”

Bai Qian responded by placing a new stone on the jade surface with a clang.

“Shaowan was not like you at all,” he continued. “For her, sitting opposite an enemy and having a civilized conversation would be out of the question.”

“It’s only civilized because you threatened to kill me otherwise.”

“Correction - I threatened to kill you if you would not join me. I never asked you to attempt to read my thoughts while playing this game as you are doing this moment.”

Bai Qian’s heart nearly jumped out of her chest, she wondered whether he could sense just how frightened she was.

“If Shaowan were on that sky island,” Luoji twirled a gold stone between his fingers. “She would either battle her way out or die trying. Thanks to the massive amount of magical energy she was born with, Shaowan was always able to resolve everything with power.”

That, the woman had told Bai Qian herself. But once again, Bai Qian put on her best ignorant and curious expression, “I thought the Demon Queen was elected Queen more because of her achievements.”

“That, and her inborn power too. From the moment she stepped into this world, Shaowan has been marked by the universe as Queen of the Demons. She was lost in other realms for a long while as a child and was nearly convinced onto another path. But of course, she learned to awake and strengthen the power that lay dormant within her blood and conformed to her tribe. Within a short time, she proved her immense capacities to the Demons; you should have seen Shaowan at the dawn of the Demon War - her passion, uncontained; and her Phoenix Fire, flawless terror. The Demons would not have accepted anyone less than that.”

Bai Qian made an effort to display hatred on her face. “That woman was as strong as an all-consuming fire when she was alive, the whole world already acknowledged that.”

“Power, yes,” he responded. “But strength, I am not so certain.”

“You’re saying she wasn’t strong enough compared to you?”

“I am saying magical power and cultivation have very little to do with strength. The strongest person I have known was a mortal without a shred of magic in her veins.”

His mother? Though rather eager to hear more, Bai Qian remained quiet.

“You contain your curiosity well,” Luoji remarked, once again confirming the fact that she needed to do better with keeping up the act.

“Satisfying my curiosity is not my priority at the moment,” she replied.

“Then what is your priority?”

Bai Qian moved a stone. “Figuring out why I’m not dead yet.”

“Curious, yet cautious and patient. Again, very unlike the Demon Queen.”

“I know I’m not like the Demon Queen. I haven’t betrayed any of my friends yet and I don’t take pleasure in killing Celestials. Why do you feel the need to point out how unlike her I am?”

He let out an amused laugh and observed her more intently. Something was tickling her throat, and it felt like the courtroom was getting hotter by the second. She picked up the teacup and drank from it a little.

“Moyuan and I crossed paths a few times in the past, you know. And those few times were enough for each of us to realize how alike we are.”

“You and the God of War,” Bai Qian raised her brows. “Alike?”

“More than he likes to admit.”

“Well -- I guess after what he did at Zhuxian Terrace, I can safely assume that he’s a lot like you than any of us could imagine. But -- what does that have to do with anything?”

“We share the same interests,” he went on leisurely. “The same ambitions - although, while he is hindered by his dull principles, I am not.”

Bai Qian listened with growing dread. She was starting to think that whatever this was, it was not a compliment to Moyuan or good news to her.

“Our fascination holds toward the same subjects, the same kinds of weapons, and many other things.” He moved a chess piece with deliberate slowness. “Which is why, until today, it still puzzles me a great deal that he would run after Shaowan.”

“Guilt and desire?” Bai Qian said. “Not that they can excuse his collapsed morality.”

“Indeed. But do you know what puzzles me even more?”

Bai Qian swallowed, not sure she wanted to hear the answer. “What?”

“That what I find so irresistibly interesting this time does not appeal to him.”

The man leaned an inch close to the table, his eyes like two sharp blades that were twisting deep into her mind. “Or perhaps it does?”

Was he talking about…

As a triumphant smile formed on his lips, Bai Qian knew she had taken a wrong step. She had been herself, and too much. She shouldn’t have agreed to sit and talk, she shouldn’t have been so calm and accommodating, she should have protested and thrown punches and kicks at him until he locked her up.

“Tell me, Bai Qian,” he spoke, in the same voice that had whispered into her ear when they’d been on the sky island. “Did Moyuan ever find your tendency to rationalize your troubles fascinating, ever find thrill in understanding your true emotions underneath the logic and the calmness? You, who appears so approachable yet is as inaccessible as a closed book. Did he ever look upon you like a puzzle he would be willing to spend all his life solving, a challenge he keeps coming back to despite how much it is capable of wounding him?”

“I don’t understand,” she managed to say, managed to remain confused-looking.

But her head started spinning furiously; her throat and her stomach were burning. Was Luoji performing a non-verbal attack on her again? She had to shake her head to clear her vision.

“Hmm,” Luoji suddenly began to examine his tea, seemingly finding something wrong with it.

His eyes shot to her and he made a sudden gesture with his hand, Bai Qian’s teacup shattered in her trembling fingers, the liquid spilt over half of the chessboard. His face, for the first time, displayed a tiny hint of confusion.

It was then Bai Qian understood. There was something in the tea, something that was making her…

She felt her body stumble forward, her head hit the jade and her ears picked up some enraged shouting in the distance before everything went dark.

Chapter 14, Part 3