Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 19 Part 2 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)


Chapter 19 - The Dragon’s Scale

Part 2

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi  

consulting by Bunny

Bai Qian closed her eyes for a second as the gentle cold on top of Mount Cangwu brushed over her cheeks. A tiny drop of crystal landed on the tip of her boot — the first snow had begun to fall.

The Celestials had taken him away.

To the Sea of Innocence, they had said. Yehua had yet to announce the loss of his brother to his people, but Bai Qian knew even he had stopped hoping for a miracle.

Moyuan was gone, he had placed his last stone on the chessboard and gone, just as Zheyan had.

His study was empty. So was the Peach Blossom Forest, so was her fourth brother’s book cave, where he would lounge and sip his favorite wine while scanning over scrolls and documents. Her world just a few days ago felt like it belonged to a dream, a dream she wanted to go back to by sleeping every hour of the day .

Bai Qian suddenly reached over to clutch her right wrist.

Some things were still the same. She brought her hand up.

The little cat on her bracelet still shone a bit – some Xunzhua power still resided inside. Like a reminder.

Perhaps it was time she let her friends know she was all right, that was the least she could do.

Celestial soldiers had found her on Cangwu that day, Yehua had told her. They’d brought her straight back to Qingqiu afterwards and she hadn’t seen or spoken to any of her friends since. During those first days of unconsciousness, she had seen glimpses of the Dark Immortal in her dreams – her sword buried in his chest and his eyes glued to the sunrise.

Why did it feel like he was more at peace at that moment than she could ever be from now on?

Chirp!”

The little sprite suddenly zoomed out and did a few flips in midair.

“What is it?” Bai Qian chuckled.

It didn’t give any response but instead flew away and jumped behind a rock with a series of nervous tweets. Bemused, Bai Qian glanced around and found the answer right away.

A waft of a familiar scent entered her nose the same time she spotted an impossibly tall figure not too far away, in between two boulders at the cliff’s edge, who also seemed to have been deep in thought. But perhaps the sprite’s little twittering had brought his attention to her as it had brought hers to him.

Bai Qian took quiet steps towards the man – here was someone she wouldn’t wish to offend under any circumstance.

Tall and graceful, emerald robe, hair that was almost brown in the morning sun.

What was the Crafters’ Eldest doing on Mount Cangwu?

Bai Qian did not forget how he had stayed on the side during the war despite death and despair being brought upon them. But the closer she was to him, the longer those eyes were on her, the more loudly the voice in her head reminded her not to say anything out of line.

“Eldest,” Bai Qian dipped her head.

“Is Ironfeather to your liking?” his voice raised, the tiny jewel on one of the wooden tips in the center of his woven crown twinkled.

Opening her palm, Bai Qian summoned the fan. She hadn’t looked at it for the last several days. Powerful and promising it might be, but right now the sight of it brought her more pain than joy.

“I – still have a lot of questions about it,” she spoke her mind.

The man lifted his chin. “Of course you do.”

“This is a Moonstone?” she lifted the fan up so he could see the white core.

“Yes.”

“I learned that Moonstones make the most miraculous weapons that – can think, and hold certain standards towards their wielders.”

Again, he nodded. “Yes.”

Bai Qian felt a small jolt in her stomach – the fan hadn’t submitted to her entirely that day. Instead, the power within the metal slats had been almost too much for her to direct.

“Did this fan come to me on its own or did you tell it where to go?” she asked.

“Both,” the Eldest said simply. “The weapon wanted to test the hand of a potential mistress, and it had my permission to do so.”

A test?

She then concluded, heart sinking a little. “It isn’t mine, then. Not completely.”

“For now, it is,” he replied. “But whether you can extract its absolute loyalty is another matter.”

She turned the fan over a few times, taking in every detail, every edge and corner, feeling the coolness of the metal against her fingers. Then, with an enormous effort, she held it towards the Eldest with both hands.

“Thank you.”

“Ahh,” he looked at her as if having predicted this somehow. “Are you certain?”

Was she? Bai Qian swallowed. She had been the mistress of a Moonstone weapon for only ten days, she couldn’t truthfully say she was thrilled to lose it even if she didn’t have enough courage to wield it for the time being. But keeping it?

If this was the fan’s test then Bai Qian believed the test was far from over. She wasn’t sure what the test was at this point, she could only thrive to do what she believed was right. This victory over the Dark Immortal was not hers. Sacrifice? She wasn’t the only one to have lost something in this war. Who was to say she was more worthy of this weapon than any of the fallen soldiers by that riverbank, or more worthy than any woman who’d had to watch their loved ones ride out of the city to face death that day.

“I am sure,” she answered the Eldest.

He tilted his head, “is Ironfeather not what you came to my land to acquire? Boundless possibilities are within your reach with this weapon as your companion; why return it?”

“The fan has lent me a hand in this war, but I don’t think it came to stay. I think –” she frowned, contemplating her words. “It’s just here to show me what I missed the first time.”

“And what is that?”

“That I… we could have found a way without it, and we would have.”

The Eldest didn’t look offended like a craftsman whose work was rejected would. In fact, Bai Qian wasn’t sure what he was feeling at all. Slowly he wrapped his fingers around the closed fan. For a fleeting second before leaving her hand, Bai Qian felt it vibrate. Like a gesture of farewell.

“Its allegiance might have changed the next time you encounter it,” he said.

She thought of what had happened in the Glass Tower, of what had to be given up in exchange for this power. “I’m sure whoever the fan serves – will be worthy of it.”

The Eldest drew the fan to his side and with a flick of his wrist, it disappeared. Then, the man who had called her a liar and a child smiled. “The world changes, Bai Qian of Qingqiu. We who must thrive within this neverending circle of eternity are bound to forget ourselves at one time or another. I do hope the next time we meet, Ironfeather will still fly to your hand as it has done.”

Bai Qian took a few seconds, then nodded.

“Eldest,” she spoke before thinking. “You said the fan was in your service before it came to me?”

“Yes?” His brow lifted.

“Did you craft this fan yourself?”

“No. It was created within my land, but not by me.”

“Then how did you become its master –”

The Eldest’s eyes went from approving to ice-cold in one instant. Bai Qian cleared her throat and her face went slightly hot – once again, her curiosity had gotten the better of her. Of course he wasn’t going to answer that question.

But she was now sure that he hadn’t always been this indifferent to life and death.

“I will leave you here,” he said, rather abruptly. “I am afraid my presence would soon cause displeasure otherwise.”

Displeasure? Bai Qian had no idea what he was talking about. If he meant that he had been making her nervous and holding her breath like before a scholarly exam, then…

“That is true,” a woman’s voice cut in and footsteps approached them.

The Eldest remained unmoved as the Demon Queen’s figure became clearer from behind a large, tall rock. She was dressed in all black, her hair half pulled up with a simple bun and the tail of her long cloak sweeping the ground behind her. Mortal, immortal, or one inch from death, reluctance was the one thing the Demon Queen never had. She took large strides towards them.

There was a long, heavy silence before the Eldest broke the tension – or perhaps intensified it – by addressing the only thing he seemed to be interested in. “How has your weapon performed, High Goddess?”

“Do you really care?” The Demon Queen spoke in a calm but deadly tone. And it seemed like the Eldest did not care – he asked no more questions and held her scathing look with calm leisure.

Bai Qian wanted to ask the Demon Queen what she was doing on Mount Cangwu, but other thoughts were dominating her mind at the moment – for instance, she particularly recalled that conversation in the mortal cottage when the Eldest had been called a ‘bastard’ by this Queen.

“You may leave now,” the woman said. “The world does not benefit from your condescending lectures. Leave, close your border and stay hidden in your forest like you have done all along.”

“We all make the choices we believe best preserve the land we rule,” he responded. “Do we not, High Goddess.”

Although she did not lose control, The Demon Queen’s face was a reflection of loath and anger. Bai Qian debated telling the confident-looking Eldest that perhaps some people didn’t appreciate being on the receiving end of his surveying gaze. But she had a feeling he already knew – knew and was prolonging that gaze on purpose.

“The only choice you have ever made is to cower inside your treehouse,” the woman said with a forceful step forward. “Right or wrong, at least I was not a weakling who has no regards for anything except his own prosperity. True, others clutch their shields to battle while you stay put, we make mistakes while you thrive and take no interest in the world you benefit from.”

“The result of which is my expertise in artefacts and weapons,” said the Eldest simply. “Perhaps I can be of assistance if you experience difficulty commanding your whip. It has been a long time since you last wielded it, after all.”

The Demon Queen took in a deep breath and uttered in disgust. “For once in your life, you are right – your presence repulses me.”

With an airy blink of his eyes, the Eldest looked entirely unruffled. “And I assure you, the sentiment is mutual.”

Bai Qian almost gasped out loud. After another few seconds of silence, he slightly raised a hand. A sudden gust of wind, a strong whirl of magic, and he was gone, leaving behind several sparks of emerald drifting in midair.

“What a hypocritical egoist,” said the Demon Queen with disgust, glaring in a random direction. It took her a while to notice Bai Qian again; and when she did, the heavy silence returned.

Bai Qian wanted to ask what exactly had happened between the two of them but thought better of it.

“What are you doing on Mount Cangwu?” she said instead.

“Just reminiscing my first duel here,” the woman replied, her tone less harsh.

Bai Qian averted her eyes. Perhaps decades or centuries later, she would also come here to recount with pleasure that moment the Dark Immortal had been on the other end of her blade. Now, that image haunted her dreams almost as often as the look in Moyuan’s eyes the last time they had been open.

Turning back to the Demon Queen, she frowned. “Are we friends or enemies?”

“For now, you are Xiaowu,” said Shaowan. “And I have no objection to being the mortal you met in the human world. But once we get off this mountain, I will be the Demon Queen, and you an ally of the Celestials. That – I’m afraid is more complicated than ‘friends or enemies’.”

Bai Qian nodded, privately appreciating the frankness in that response.

“I know what Moyuan did,” the Demon Queen continued.

Bai Qian let out a bitter chuckle. “I still wonder what we have gained.”

“Here and Now – that is what we have gained. What Moyuan gave his life for.”

“Still,” Bai Qian blinked away a tear. “Was it worth it?”

There was only silence this time.

It was worth it, Bai Qian knew. But it would be a long time before she could accept this fact.

Taking a minute to recall how the Demon Queen had suddenly appeared on the battlefield that night, Bai Qian asked, “what happened after you went into the fire?”

For the first time, there was reluctance on the woman’s face, along with what looked like fear.

“You see, I…” She took a few steps towards the edge of the cliff. “I cannot discuss it.”

“But you’re back,” Bai Qian said, silently admitting that perhaps her question had been too personal. “That’s what matters to the Demon Tribe and the Eight Realms.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Yehua would want to know more about your tribe’s civil affairs very soon.”

This time, a smile full of pride broke on the woman’s face. “Tell the young prince he has my respect, but he shouldn’t expect us to open our door to Celestial ambassadors anytime soon.”

“We knew any Demon Lord or Lady would say that,” Bai Qian said.

Combining forces during the war was one thing, but it was another to demand submission from the Demon Tribe, especially now that their leader was back. And while Yehua had earned back trust from a number of kingdoms, he still had a long road ahead in reuniting the eight realms.

And perhaps the Demon Queen herself would soon find herself under attack from all directions as many Demon Lords and Ladies had risen during her absence.

“Demon Queen,” Bai Qian said and swiftly pulled out her handkerchief as soon as she recalled who this woman had been to Moyuan. “I was hoping you could take a look at something.”

For the last few days, her curiosity had been heightened to the utmost about this fish scale pattern on the fabric and the mirror. She knew it didn’t matter but still, she couldn’t take her mind off of it. And the Demon Queen didn’t seem to object to her request.

“This has been cropping up everywhere, and now it’s here too,” Bai Qian held the handkerchief towards the Demon Queen and pointed at the edges. “Does it mean anything to you?”

After a long look at the silver embroidery, the woman’s features gave way to a deep frown.

“This must be Moyuan’s.”

“Yes, it is,” said Bai Qian truthfully, glad to hear another person confirm Moyuan’s connection to the pattern, yet puzzled that the Demon Queen had not mentioned the mirror in the cave yet. Hadn’t they all stood there together that day?

“I saw the same pattern on an anklet,” she continued. “Something Moyuan was given by his mother before her death. He used to keep it with him all the time when he was a child.”

An anklet. From Nuwa?

It dawned on Bai Qian. It was on that anklet inside Qingcang’s cave that she had seen the same pattern. But why was it there?

Her heart sped up for no particular reason. So… whatever this pattern was, it had to do with his parents.

“But… have you not seen it anywhere else?” Bai Qian asked.

“No, only on the anklet,” was the reply.

How could that be? Bai Qian’s brows pinched together. The carvings had been there, right in front of their faces. Perhaps because this woman had been mortal at the time? Mortal and dying so her vision had been limited?

Bai Qian glued her eyes into the white fabric. There were Celestial writings on that stone next to the golden fire, she recalled.

“Did Shifu ever tell you what this pattern means?”

“No,” the Demon Queen repeated. “There are some things Moyuan kept between himself and his two other friends. But why does it matter?”

Bai Qian’s mind raced back to that cave. In there, she had thought the carvings around the mirror looked like fish scales. Not fish scales – she held the fabric up with both hands and pulled on its sides to get a better view of the details.

“Dragon…” She whispered to herself.

Dragon scales!

Fish -- honestly
. Bai Qian shook her head at her own perception. How stupid and… bizzarre. Just like when she’d thought the cat on her bracelet was a donkey.

“What was that?” The woman’s voice raised in concern.

Something… something was starting to make sense. It was something they, in their grief, had overlooked.

“Are you unwell?” the Demon Queen asked again.

Impatiently, Bai Qian went on. “Have you ever seen Fuxi’s true form?”

“I haven’t,” said the Demon Queen. “Not many have.”

Of course, Bai Qian thought. If she had seen Fuxi’s true form, she would’ve reacted differently to the pattern.

“It is said that Father Immortal’s dragon form emitted a golden light so bright that only a selected few immortals of certain power could look directly at it without blinding themselves. Unfortunately, I have never been one of them --” Shaowan took a pause. “Why are you asking me these things?”

Bai Qian ignored the question. “Who has seen it? Has anyone we know seen it?”

“Donghua might have.”

It was like an answer to a century-long prayer. Bai Qian clutched the handkerchief to her side, staring blankly at the ground.

“I just thought of something,” she uttered.

“Yes, I know you have, Xiaowu,” the Demon Queen frowned. “What is it?”

“I need a book,” Bai Qian uttered, feeling nauseous and out of breath all of a sudden. Her hands had gone cold and her head was spinning.

She couldn’t tell anyone yet – not yet. She should not get her own hopes up too high, either. First, she must go to a library, she needed information.

“Are you going to tell me what it is?”

“Yes, I will,” Bai Qian looked to the clouds. “But not now, because I’m not sure. I need to talk to someone first. Jie-jie,” she went on without thinking. “Don’t tell anyone about this, I will explain when I come back.”

She sprinted for the cliff’s edge and cloud-jumped.


***


Landing on Kunlun’s territory, Bai Qian flew like a mad person towards the school. She rushed past the guests, ignored her Seniors’ voices and did not bother taking off her travelling cloak as she rushed down the stairs to the right section of the library.

Magical creatures. Magical creatures.

“Seventeenth, are you all right?” Senior Changshan’s head popped out from behind a shelf.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she gasped for air.

“What happened to you?” he strode over, a stack of books in his arm. “Did you run from Qingqiu to here without magic?”

“Where’s Shifu?” she blurted out, then quickly corrected herself. “Oh – they took him away – of course. I’m sorry, Senior, I can’t talk now, I have to get something quick.”

“What? From this library?”

“A book – well, as many books as I can find about dragons.”

Changshan squinted, “but what for?” Then he shook his head in concern. “Seventeenth, you’ve been without sleep for many days, you should rest more. Don’t try anything stupid now, you’re worrying me. if you want to eat something, I can…”

“No, Senior, I’m fine!” She insisted. “I just need the books about dragons, all of them. I have a theory and I need to see if I’m right, right away! So… if you can help me with that, please, I’ll tell you when I find what I need…”

“All right, all right,” Changshan nodded repeatedly, placing down the stack in his arm. “I’ll help you get the books.”

The two of them took down more than two hundred books that had to do with dragons from the shelves; and as Changshan looked for more, Bai Qian started scanning over the mountain of books in front of her.

Perhaps a Celestial scholar who studied magical beasts could answer her questions right away, but she needed more than the words of one person.

The books have the answer -- it was a mindset she was used to; and so far, it had gotten her through many things.

Her fingers ran over the text of Dragons of the Primordial Universe in a chapter she had selected.

A dragon’s unique scale pattern is the product of its immortal essence, the text read.

“Good,” she put it aside and grabbed another book. Changshan was still adding books and scrolls to the huge pile on the desk.

No dragon bears the same scale pattern as another, wrote Creatures of the Unknown.

Placing that book on top of the other, Bai Qian dived into another one.

A dragon’s scales are the reflection of its power and cultivation.

And another one.

For millennia, dragon scales have been hunted for the purpose of weapon making. Many acquire them by forming trust with these deadly creatures; others utilize force and – foreseeably – suffer high-degree burns or suffocation by water before their goal is achieved.

“Good to know that,” Bai Qian moved on.

The diversity of patterns in dragon scales – a wonder of the universe – can be assumed to be similar to snowflakes. No single dragon shares the same scale pattern with another, even if some appear so at first glance.

One book after another, Bai Qian kept on reading. At one point, she heard Changshan inform her that he had brought the last of the dragon books down and that there were other things he needed to tend to.

Twenty, thirty, forty, eighty, a hundred.

Bai Qian decided to stop when the candles on the branched holder had all nearly burned out. The books all told her the same thing.

Every dragon possessed its own exclusive scale pattern.

She pulled the handkerchief out and laid it flat on her desk.

That meant the pattern on this fabric and around the mirror depicted the same dragon, if her memory served her well. And there was only one dragon that could be.

The one whose magic could reach into one’s mind and strip one’s soul bare -- that mirror. The one whose magic created the mysterious fire that took life and gave life.

What else was that magic capable of?

Her heart began to pound vigorously inside her ribcage again. She mustn’t hope too much. She must be prepared to hear her theory refuted.

Leaving the books behind, Bai Qian snuffed out the candles with magic and headed straight for the Nine Heavens.


***


Taichen Palace was the most affected building of all in the whole Nine Heavens during the Dark Immortal’s short reign. With its enormous library and large collections of artefacts, the place had been frequented by Luoji’s crew of dark magic pursuers. Books had been stolen, some had been destroyed for one reason or another. As Bai Qian had been told, Lord Donghua had directed his remaining scholars to restore the library to its former state as soon as possible. For the time being, perhaps against the silver-haired god’s wish, the place was more crowded than usual; and he, according to Fengjiu, spent most of his time being a consultant of the future Skylord.

Though Bai Qian certainly hoped she could find him in his palace today as she arrived.

“Si-ming!” She greeted the Star Lord, one of the few people who had been maintaining a cheerful spirit, in a haste. “Is Lord Donghua here?”

“He is, Queen of QIngqiu,” the man bowed as she strode towards her. “Just in the sitting room, but I’m afraid he isn’t avai –“

“Thank you,” she said and dashed away despite questions being thrown after her.

Donghua was indeed where he was said to be -- alone at his low desk with a scroll in his hand and certainly not in the mood to be disturbed, by the look of it.

“Lord Donghua,” Bai Qian bowed and addressed him nonetheless.

He lowered his book and gave her a nod of acknowledgement. “What brings you here, High Goddess?”

“I’m sorry to disrupt you like this,” she said, trying hard to control her ragged breathing. “But I think I found something important, and I need your opinion on it.”

“Of course,” he sat up a little straighter.

“I was told that you are one of a few people who have seen Father Immortal’s dragon form.”

“Well, yes, may I ask why –"

“Lord Donghua,” she walked over, knelt down and held the handkerchief to him with both hands. “How close did you get? Did you see his scales? Did they look like this?”

He took a long look at the fabric and this time straightened his back completely, his brows slightly raised. “Yes, I know this belonged to Moyuan, and I know it is the pattern of Father Immortal’s dragon scales that is embroidered on it. Why do you ask?”

“Then…” Bai Qian looked down and let out a long breath. It was as if something had struck her on the chest, she found it difficult to form the words.

“What is it?”

She looked at him again, gathered every ounce of courage she had and said what was on her mind. “You said there isn’t anything else we can do for the God of War, the physicians also gave up.”

Donghua listened to her in contemplating silence.

“But..” she swallowed. “I think there’s something we haven’t tried. I know I shouldn’t hold out hope and I’m prepared for disappointment, but this is worth it.”

He placed his legs on the floor and slowly rose. Bai Qian herself also stood up, clutching the handkerchief tightly in her shaking hands.

“I understand your grief, High Goddess,” he said. “But you must not deny the fact that Moyuan is no longer breathing. The last of his immortal energy has left him.”

“I know,” a tear escaped from her eye, but Bai Qian remained adamant. “But you said yourself that his immortal soul was intact when he died, unlike last time when it was shattered by the Bell of Donghuang.”

“I see,” Donghua uttered, indicating that he was open for more discussion of this matter which had been pronounced final by so many. “Go on.”

“There is an item in the Demon Land,” she began. “it’s rumored to be of unimaginable power. The Demon Queen, Yehua and I went to look for it, we were hoping to produce another weapon to fight Luoji, but we were too late. Someone had taken it before we came. I don’t know what that item looks like, but we’ve seen the kinds of magic that surrounded it.” She took a brief pause, recalling what she had felt in front of the mirror and how that golden fire had brought the Demon Queen back to life. “I have reason to believe that this item, wherever it is, and the place that protected it were created by –”

“Lord Donghua.”

Bai Qian whipped around, Yehua was taking hasty strides towards them in his usual black robe. A silver mask now concealed the right half of his face, Bai Qian’s stomach did a painful twist as she was reminded again of the injuries that lay underneath that covering. They will heal, she told herself. It may take time... a long time, but they would heal.

Although, there was something about his expression right now that worried and puzzled her even more. Yehua glanced between her and Donghua.

“Crown Prince,” Donghua said.

“Lord Donghua,” Yehua’s voice, Bai Qian thought, sounded strangely like her own at the moment. “There is something I need to discuss –”

He stopped and turned to her, as though he had been waiting to spill the next words.

“I told you that cave felt familiar. I know why now.”

Chapter 19, Part 3