Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 14, Part 8 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 14 - The Tide Turning

Part 8

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

The courtyard was quiet. The guests had all left.

Smoke rose from their teacups as they sat opposite of one another, going on with another game. Moyuan lifted his own cup, tasted the liquid once and put it back down. It could be too bitter, or too plain, he would not know.

She was safe and far away from here, in the good hands of her friends.

But his worry did not seem to accept this reasoning. He was far from calm. He would not know calm again until he saw her with his own eyes.

“Well, that was entertaining,” spoke Luoji, placing a stone down.

“What was?” Moyuan asked. “The crowd’s terrified silence when you played the benevolent host or the impossible challenge you put a weakened immortal through?”

“The girl, mostly.”

“You will leave her alone from now on.” As Moyuan spoke, a murderous intent rippled inside him. Eyes, nose, jaw, neck, chest -- he scanned his dangerous opponent. If only this were a sword duel.

“Do not play the noble admirer who protects and yearns from afar, Moyuan, it bores me. Besides, I believe her time here with me has been far more beneficial for her than your mentorship.”

“Interpret this however you want, but leave her out of the game.”

“Such an impressive act she has put up,” Luoji went on “Well, not all of it was an act, but I was entertained nonetheless. How she strived to help you carry out your well-crafted plan, but perhaps she has also realized that she’s helped me much more.”

“Helped you, has she? Do you care to elaborate?”

“Gladly,” was the reply. “Those who admire you from a distance insist that you deserve the most elegant and virtuous of Celestial women who would stand behind you like a supportive partner. The ones who pride themselves in knowing you believe that only Shaowan could bring joy and excitement to your -- as they would say -- dull life. And you were convincing, Moyuan, very convincing all this time in your role as the God of War who threw his virtue and reason to the wind for a woman who supposedly gave your life meaning -- I must say, that is the eight realms’ favorite interpretation of you, what your enemies long to see happen.”

“Excellent,” responded Moyuan monotonously.

“Perhaps for a while, I too had such assumptions. But the girl -- she filled that vacancy in my knowledge of you the moment she sat down opposite of me, she confirmed a theory I had almost neglected.”

“And what is that?”

“Really, Moyuan, there is no point in stating the obvious, it kills the suspense.”

Moyuan lifted his tea cup again, slowly draining the content, not taking his eyes off his opponent.

“And you are certain about your conclusions this time?”

“I know myself,” replied Luoji. “Therefore, I know you.”

“Not bad, given the time you have spent pondering over the matter,” said Moyuan. “Anything else?”

Luoji’s head swayed. “The God of War abandoned his principles for a Demon Woman -- the eight realms would say -- yet sat calmly for a chess game while his beloved disciple was inches from death. Perhaps after a while, when they recall this day, they will understand that remaining calm and accepting my invitation was the most dangerous risk you took because it exposed your mind to me more than any other choice would, more than if you had seized your disciple and cloud-jumped away in rage, or if you had attacked me directly. You knew the risk, and you took it.”

He sighed and reached into his wooden bowl for another stone. “Enough said. I will not insult your intelligence by stating exactly how valuable she is to you. Not that it matters to her because her interest clearly lies elsewhere.”

Amusing
, Moyuan thought to himself. Quite amusing that even Luoji hadn’t realized the lie they had been fed. Too convincing an act, perhaps, so convincing that he himself could not reason with his own confusion.

“I confess I was a little bored and rather -- disappointed that you would lose your reason so easily that night at Zhuxian Terrace,” said Luoji. “But now that we close the chapter of you being a passionate Demon Lover, tell me, did you think I had not anticipated this and taken precautions?”

“Of course not,” Moyuan replied. “Because then, I would be the one utterly disappointed.”

Laughter escaped Luoji as though he could not control himself -- satisfied laughter.

“Good,” he said. “Very good. How dull it would be if you became a stone on the board instead of a player. Now, it is your turn to tell me what you have done to that Feather Zheyan died for?”

Rage coiled inside him to hear his friend’s name spoken so casually. Moyuan said. “I am astonished you have not figured this out already.”

“Let me try. A secret weapon you believe could end me? You have been secretly directing your allies to rally their forces and prepare for the inevitable war?”

Moyuan remained quiet as he made his next move on the board.

“Can you, Moyuan?” the question went on. “End me?”

“Obviously, I believe I can, you do not. I prefer to leave the details for you to unfold.”

“You are right,” he nodded, sighing. “You are right. But perhaps it is not me you seek to destroy, but my plan.”

“You are attempting the impossible, and letting the world pay the price for your folly is not what I intend to do.”

“You cannot help it, can you? You see a challenge and you throw yourself in like a moth to a flame.” Luoji said, his face overflowing with a strange confidence. “It would grieve me to kill you, Moyuan; but standing in my way will only lead to your destruction, as I have proved many times before. This war, I will allow you to take part in as a gift of my appreciation for your skills, but anything beyond that, I advise you to steer clear from.”

“And you should know that I tend to simply ignore advice of that kind.”

“Good,” he said. “Then I suppose the question should be -- are you prepared to lose as much as you hope to gain?”

“I always am.”

“Perfect. Because you do not know what advantage I have over you.”

Likewise, Moyuan placed the last stone on the board. This game, too, had come to a draw.

***

“Shifu!” Zilan’s voice raised instantly when Moyuan landed on the stranded, grey sky island where they had agreed to meet.

Made up of simply rocks and debris, the location held no sign of life. Not a single source of water was to be seen in the vicinity and the leafless trees were perhaps living their last days.

“Have you been seen?” he asked his disciple.

“No, Shifu. I made absolutely sure.” Zilan looked over his shoulders, brows furrowed. “Is that banquet over, Shifu? What did Luoji want? Did you have to fight him again?”

“No. And yes, the banquet is over.”

“So --”

“Luoji did what he’d always wanted to do. I was prepared for it, little harm was done.”

Zilan’s face was stricken. “Does Luoji know that we’re circling his devices in the Void, Shifu?”

“Not yet. But he has understood several things I’d rather hoped to conceal for a bit longer.”

“What -- what things?”

“The deception we carried out all along,” Moyuan said. “There isn’t time for the details now. I need you to contact Bifang and repeat to him what I have told you, make sure the message reaches Lord Donghua in the shortest time possible. Can you do that, Zilan?”

“Of course --”

“I need to visit somewhere first and will join you afterwards.”

“Where, Shifu?”

“It will not take long.”

As he took a step away, Zilan strode ahead and blatantly blocked his path.

“Yes -- but... where?”

Taken aback, it took Moyuan a few seconds to respond. “What is the matter?”

Perhaps understanding that he was stepping out of line, Zilan’s expression became tense. He shrugged, “I just… These are dangerous times, you said so yourself, Shifu. I think you should tell me where you’re going so in case anything happens to you, I’d know what to tell Lord Donghua. I mean -- a lot depends on you staying alive...”

Moyuan sighed, yet unable to deny his appreciation.

“Where I am going isn’t dangerous.”

“There’ll be no assassins or wild beasts waiting for you?” Zilan asked on.

“No.”

“I see. Is this… er… is this one of those places I shouldn’t know about for my own safety?”

“It is Xunzhua, Zilan.”

“Oh,” his disciple’s face relaxed. “Well, that’s one of the safest places in all the main realms. How long will your visit be, Shifu?”

Again, Moyuan’s puzzlement towards his disciple’s growing boldness made him unable to generate a reply fast enough.

“I’m sorry,” Zilan said quickly. “I know very few enemies can harm you on the way, but you said you’re going back to the Void afterwards so I just want to know when I should expect you.”

“A few hours,” said Moyuan.”I will only spend a few hours at Xunzhua.”

“All right -- that should...”

“Anything else?” he asked gently.

“No, Shifu.” As always, an optimistic smile appeared on Zilan’s face. “I’ll be on my way now.”

Striding away, his sixteenth disciple vanished, and at the same time brought the cheerfulness and the optimism away.

Alone on the sky island, Moyuan was left with nothing but the sentiments he had harbored and concealed since the beginning of the first chess game.

Failure. It was not the tea, but failure that had left the bitter taste in his mouth. As a God of War of the eight realms, a scholar of Kunlun, failure was his friend -- a friend he knew he would continue to learn from until the day he joined the Nothingness. But failure had never felt this unbearable before.

The blood on her today, his powerlessness before Luoji -- it was as though the universe was once again reminding him that he was bound to fail at defending those who were closest to him. True, they had always defended themselves. Shaowan, Yehua, Lingyu, and now… her.

Luoji could have done worse, could have drawn more blood from her, and still he would have been powerless.

“Even the best defender does not possess boundless power,” his father had told him long ago. “Trust in your ability, but remember that attempting to handle everything yourself is never the answer -- even if it makes you look quite noble in the eyes of some.”

“But maybe I can handle everything myself, Father,” he had responded, punching the air. “You see, Zheyan plans to become a great physician, he’ll always be there to heal me whenever I come out of peril danger. Problem solved, I will fight and fight to protect everyone in the eight realms without fear.”

“Now, now,” his father had ceased the walk and told him with utter seriousness and a smile too wise for him to understand at the time. “Rushing into fights and risking one’s life does not make one a God of War. War is strategy, and a strategist must know how to include others in his plans.”

Include others…

Moyuan kept his gaze in the distance. Today was the result of including her in his plan. And he knew with dread that today might just repeat itself in the future. This was not his war, but theirs. Fighting was her choice, not his, just as everything that concerned her life would be.

The scene in the courtyard once again flashed in his mind like a brutal reminder. Surging alongside his hopelessness was an anger he could not rationalize.

Moyuan flung his arm sideway and slashed down. The ground shook and cracked, trees uprooted, rocks shattered and debris showered the area.

In front of him now was a scene grimmer than it had been a minute before.

Chapter 15, Part 1