Fanfiction: The Moon Mirror (Pojing & Bai Qian Alternative Ending) - Chapter 7 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)


Chapter 7

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi  

consulting by Bunny

*This chapter takes place in place of 15 part 3 of the original story, following Bai Qian’s return to Kunlun from Xunzhua after the meeting.

BAI QIAN SAT BY THE LOTUS POND, unsure how long they both had been there. Their meeting, all that talk of war and the Dark Immortal seemed a world away. She had been overjoyed to see this mountain again, to clasp shoulders and trade jokes with her Sixteenth Senior again when they’d arrived. At one point, Moyuan had smiled, it’d looked as though things were fine and simple again. But they were not.

The night slowly trickled by, the zither wept as Moyuan’s fingers moved across its strings. Elegantly, leisurely. As though time was under his command.

It was the same song Bai Qian had heard so many times before, but now every note that was raised echoed loudly in her head, ruthlessly reminding her of a time she could not go back to.

With a great pang, she realized that this was what she had fallen in love with — this image of them accompanying each other. It had been stripped from her 70,000 ago, and she had clung on to the memory of it, had yearned for it so desperately that when it was in her reach again, she did not want to let go.

“Do not push down on the strings,” Moyuan had told her on one of those days she’d tried to mimic what she’d heard produced by his hands.

“This note is played louder than the rest, Shifu. I heard you do it so.”

“I improvised.”

“It was good. I want to do the same, down to every note.”

“Are you sure?” he’d asked. “Would you not rather construct your own version of the piece?”

“No, Shifu. I like your version.”

He’d nodded and directed one of his rare smiles at her. “Do as you wish. But aim for better all the same.”

“Better than you, Shifu?”

“If you can.”

Well, that’s strange, she had thought. Is he teasing me? Must be. Who’d bother to try and be better at music than the God of War and Music?

Perhaps that was the one lesson from him she had never cared to absorb, the melancholy sound guided Bai Qian back to the present. The same sky, the same lotus pond, the same song that was gradually coming to a stop.

“How do you do that?” she asked.

Moyuan’s head slightly tilted in confusion as the last note ended.

“Make it sound so different,” she clarified. “The last time you played this piece, it sounded like… a running river.”

“What does it sound like today?”

“Dead leaves.”

He chuckled. “I played it the same way I did last time.”

“Did you make the trills more intense?”

“No.”

“Was the pace decreased?”

“No.”

Bai Qian frowned. Something about it must have been different, it made her feel as though she was an old, burnt leaf being plucked from its branch by a brutal autumn wind.

“It’s a seven-stringed zither,” Moyuan said, running his fingers over the instrument once. “Anything it produces can be interpreted differently no matter the player’s intention.”

“What did you intend, Shifu?”

“A running river.”

He smiled at her again and quietly put the zither aside. Bai Qian too let out a small chuckle. But that ease and familiarity -- it was short-lived. When Moyuan turned back, they both fell into an indefinite silence.

Stay at Kunlun, that voice echoed in her head, the voice that had given her the strength to drive the dagger into her own heart. But that voice too, was yielding less and less power over her as each day passed.

And Moyuan -- his calmness frightened her, more than anything he could do on the battlefield. For a moment back there, in the Glass Tower, it had looked like he was angry, was impatient. But in front of her now was once again the unreachable Master of Kunlun.

“Is there anything you’d like to tell me?” Moyuan’s voice cut into the silence.

“I don’t know where to begin,” Bai Qian said truthfully.

“Then I’ll begin.” He slowly stood up, waiting for her to do the same. The arm’s length distance between them was as stubborn as ever, more so when Moyuan brought his arms behind his back, in his voice a distant tone.

“I understand your doubt. Whatever choice you make, let it be for yourself. What I want shouldn’t matter.”

Bai Qian shook her head, letting out a hopeless sigh. Of all the things he could say to her. “It’s bewildering to me, Shifu, that until now, you still think I have the ability to disregard what you want.”

“I used to be your mentor, wasn’t I?”

“Yes.”

“Shall I say, just this one thing to you, as a mentor then?”

She nodded.

“Learn to disregard what I want.”

“Why, Shifu?”

Tears came to her eyes despite Bai Qian’s best effort to match his indifference. Moyuan stepped closer, gently brushing his knuckles over her cheek as those tears fell. His voice, too, was gentle -- no -- polite.

“I have seen worlds rise and fall. I know with certainty that what I have is never eternal and I had accepted this fact long before you came to Kunlun.”

He slowly cupped her face with both hands. Bai Qian waited for the usual warmth that only Moyuan could bring, but it never came. She knew what he was doing -- a mask she had seen before. Only this time, it was too real that she was starting to doubt her own two eyes.

“This is the life I’ve chosen for myself,” Moyuan said. “Consider what I've said before you decide to enter it too.”

“If you truly want me to make this choice on my own, stop trying to sway me this way and that with your determination to be selfless again, Shifu.”

“Ahh, selfless.” He let go of her. “That is how many still perceive me, isn’t it. Why do you think I am selfless, Seventeenth?”

“You protect the eight realms—”

“No one forced me to become a protector.”

“You put the world’s safety above your own. Just because you choose to do so doesn’t mean your sacrifices are not valid.”

”I have known people who made much more significant sacrifices than I have, I’ve watched them be claimed by time as I went on. My sacrifices are no more than mere moments in our endless lives. I do not suffer from them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need to save me from grief, my joy and grief have long been spent.”

Bai Qian swallowed her frustration. This was a god whose experience and knowledge would always be superior to hers. What argument did she have against this except her own perception of him?

“I’ve been with you long enough to know you are not this indifferent.”

“And how long is that compared to the amount of time I have been alive?”

“It’s long enough.”

“You’ve always been stubborn. But I have no doubt that one day you will understand what I’m trying to explain, perhaps when you walk out of Kunlun’s gate, perhaps in another ten thousand millenia. But until then, don’t let me stand between you and what you want, that is the worst insult you can give me.”

What could she say to that? There’s nothing I want more than you? A while ago, it had been the truth. Still, it bewildered her that while a storm of emotions was ravaging her inside, he was completely at ease.

“Is this how it always is for you? You can let go of everything that easily?”

“Easy?” he said. There was, then, a fleeting tremor in his voice, so faint that Bai Qian thought she’d imagined it. “None of this is easy. But eternity makes you practice, Seventeenth, and you get better at it.”

“Tell me one thing --” Bai Qian tried to steady her own voice. “What do you want? Don’t give me a God of War’s answer, Shifu. The man I’ve waited 70,000 years for, the man who told me he would come back from the dead for me, let him speak.”

Moyuan was silent for a long second, then he held out his hands. Bai Qian reached out and his fingers closed around her hands. He was here, right in front of her, yet he had never felt more distant than now.

“I want your understanding,” he said. “Understand that I am grateful for you, nothing else matters.”

“Nothing? Whether I leave or stay doesn’t matter?”

He slowly let go, taking a step back, his voice as cold as a sharp blade.

“Solitude has never killed me. It never will.”


***


HOPE DRAWS BLOOD as effectively as a dagger.

Long after Bai Qian’s figure disappeared behind the corner, Moyuan was still rooted to his spot by the lotus pond.

“Thank you, Shifu,” she had said, her eyes swollen with fresh tears. But as she’d stepped away from him those tears hadn’t fallen.

No matter what she had understood from his words, she was not going to come back tonight. And that was what mattered. Moyuan settled back down on the stone edge of the pond, placing his zither in front of him. His hands absentmindedly moved again, left and right across the strings, raising the familiar sound that had accompanied him for as long as he could remember.

None of this was beyond his expectation. All of it he had prepared himself for.

Faster. He struck several strings at once. Notes high and low poured into the air, intertwining with the silver moonlight and the faint rippling of the pond’s water.

He had seen that look in her face when they’d arrived at Kunlun today -- the yearning for the past. He could not blame her, the past had been simple. They had been simple.

But stronger than that yearning was the hidden strength of an immortal soul who wished to fully spread her wings, to soar and dive and make her mark on the world.

He had held her in his arms that day when the bolts of her lighting trial had struck. Even then, that part of her -- that desire to break free from him, to test the limits -- had been untamable. Even if she saw him as a destination now, a time would inevitably come when that desire manifested and took charge, if it had not begun to already.

A cold fury tugged at him. Had she always held herself back because of him? Because of those 70,000 years of hiding inside Qingqiu — for him?

Faster. The zither slightly shook, as though unable to keep up with the pace his fingers demanded.

He had been wrong to hope. And even more wrong to let that hope extend to her.

Faster.

“Shifu.”

Moyuan’s jaw clenched. The string under his thumb snapped, the last note the broken wing of a bird shot from the sky.

He turned around, her face flashing before him for a moment before another’s replaced it.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, Shifu,” Zilan gasped. “I didn’t realize…”

“It’s all right,” Moyuan replied in a low voice. “Is something the matter, Zilan?”

“Erm…” his disciple hesitated. “I was just going to ask if you’d like anything to eat or some tea?”

“Thank you, Zilan. Just tea.”

His Sixteenth disciple rushed closer, examining the broken string. “Goodness, Shifu, is this a mortal zither?”

“No, I just have poor control today, that is all.”

A crease of confusion appeared between Zilan’s brows, although he remained silent.

“Don’t worry,” Moyuan said. “Some of our zithers are thousands of years old. Even immortal strings have their limits.”

Zilan was quiet still. He wanted to ask about Bai Qian, Moyuan understood. As students of Kunlun, the two of them had been inseparable. This war had also caused them to lose contact.

But Moyuan could only respond with silence. He did not know where Bai Qian had gone. Eventually, Zilan retreated. Moyuan knew his disciple well enough to sense discontent in those footsteps, but he had no explanation to offer.

Moyuan cast a spell, summoning another zither from Kunlun’s library. Holding out an arm, he caught the wooden body as it arrived at the lotus pond.

Silk, he ran his fingers slowly over the fragile and flawlessly smooth strings. This should do well enough to force control back in his hands. What else was left to be done before sunrise?

Chapter 8