Fanfiction 2: Moyuan and Bai Qian - Chapter 16 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 16 - Broken Zither

written by LalaLoop
edited by kakashi

Bai Qian had no idea why she had ended up at the entrance of Yanhua cave. It was Moyuan she was wanting to see, not an empty rock bed he used to sleep on. Somehow, during her thread of thoughts, her feet had taken her here. After all, she had been used to coming here everyday for the last 70,000 years.

Having expected the cave to be empty, Bai Qian almost gasped to find someone was there already.

“Zheyan,” she could not help exclaiming. The Old Phoenix was sitting on one of the rocky surfaces, in his hand a jar of wine. A pearl jar.

Bai Qian rarely saw this look on Zheyan - godly, distant. Though this time, she thought she could understand what had rendered this expression. Moyuan had been deep in sleep for 70,000 years. 70,000 years they had hung on to the hope of him coming back. And each of them had once or twice been shaken by the fear of him becoming nothing but a dream. Long ago, when she would walk in here everyday with a batch of flowers from Qingqiu’s forest, the idea of him once again speaking to them, walking around Kunlun, had seemed like a distant illusion.

There had been days when she had told herself to abandon the impossible task. But the next morning, she would still walk through that cave entrance, hoping to see him sitting up when she would appear at the threshold, returning her greeting, yet knowing his still lying figure would sting her heart again and again.

“You’re back,” Zheyan greeted her with the same old cunning smile then returned to his wine jar.

Bai Qian said nothing, waiting for Zheyan to ask why she was here of all places. But the question never came. He simply continued staring into the distance with pensive eyes. Bai Qian walked over and joined him. Before Moyuan had returned, they both had sat like this countless of times, talking about the future, about how they should never give up hope. Even though ‘hope’ had seemed more like a lie to comfort each other at times.

Realizing that Bai Qian was staring at him, Zheyan turned to face her, breaking into not so cheerful a chuckle.

“I’m sorry if I’ve dampened your spirit,” he said, winking at her and taking sips from his wine jar.

“No, of course not,” Bai Qian shook her head. “I know how you feel. Sometimes… it still doesn’t seem real.”

“I have lost two of my best friends to wars. One of them is, fortunately, back. But yes, sometimes it seems --,” a sharp look flashed across his eyes, “-- too good to be true.”

Bai Qian remained silent. Zheyan reached down to his side and presented her with an corked pearl jar.

“Care for some?”

“Shifu said this kind is really concentrated.”

“Ah, yes,” he retreated his hand and turned back to the collection on the ground. “That’s a pity.”

“And he’s also not here,” she said, snatching up the jar with a mischievous smile. Zheyan chuckled as she opened the jar with a pop and took a tiny sip. Just like the first time Bai Qian had tasted it - the stinging vapor shot up her nose immediately.

“How long will Shifu be in meditation?” asked Bai Qian, trying not to sound too desperate.

“As long as it takes for him to restore his powers,” replied Zheyan. “Now,” he added, realizing the look on Bai Qian’s face. “It’s not like you can’t pull him out of that room anytime you need to. From what I've heard, Zilan just did so for you. It isn’t some intense healing meditation, just meditation. In fact,” he signed deeply. “I will begin meditation as well. So will Donghua.”

“You?” Bai Qian peered at him. “Is something wrong?”

“Wrong?” he raised his brows, “No. But as you can see, we've utilized too much of our healing powers this time for the Crown Prince and the God of War. More than we would have liked to.”

Bai Qian stared at him for several seconds. Zheyan and Donghua were the two people she always expected to be there. One was forever optimistic and dependable, and the other, being born from a rock, invincible and had never known defeat. The idea of them both suddenly going into meditation at once made her feel rather unsettled.

“I know I often give you and Zhenzhen the impression that I am never tired. But I need my rest sometimes. It’s no matter.”

Bai Qian blinked uncomfortably at his assurance and forced a smile.

“What will you do in the meantime?” he continued. “Things can become immensely dull without me, after all.”

“Training, of course,” answered Bai Qian instantly, laughing.

“When did you become so extensively diligent?” asked Zheyan with a look of sincere curiosity. “At the Eastern Forest too. Everytime I see you, you are either with a sword or blasting magic back and forth with your Seniors and the Ghost Princess. Why the sudden obsession with training?”

“Because I need it,” she admitted. “A lot of it. I might have ascended but I don’t feel very much like a High Goddess. I have merely scratched the surface of my newly found powers.”

“Hmm,” he leaned back, giving her an examining look. “Your aura is that of a High Goddess.”

“Like Si Ming said,” she took another sip of the stinging wine. “Immortals who choose to keep the memories of their trials, who shoulder the painful memories and overcome them can gain more cultivation and eventually powers. Yehua has done so with his mortal trial, so has Lord Donghua with all of his trials before the most recent one, and my brothers and virtually everyone who has ascended. Not only was I unable to do that, I have also been burned by the magic of Zhuxian Terrace. As much of a blessing that might have been, the collision with ascension forces has meddled with my powers. Should someone like Yanzhi ascend properly, she would no doubt be twice as powerful as I am.”

“But how are you feeling?” he asked, the concerned physician’s look returning to his face.

“I feel fine. It’s whenever I attempt to access the powers I should have as a High Goddess, performing an advanced spell for instance, that I start to experience instability.”

“Well,” Zheyan nodded. “Zhuxian terrace is so-called for a reason. Very few have survived its destructive magic and remained sane enough to recount their experience. It’s a mystery to most. I am only glad you haven’t been burnt too badly.” He chuckled and suggested sarcastically, “so was I wrong then to comply to your wish and gave you the Oblivion Potion?”

“No,” Bai Qian shook her head, laughing. “And don’t be sorry, either. To tell you the truth, I feel quite motivated. I’ve always taken everything for granted. It should make a lovely change to have to work for something for once. I will just have to train harder than my Seniors now, which is exactly what I’ll be doing while Shifu and you are in meditation. I want to be able to duel Shifu when he is done...”

Just as Bai Qian had expected, Zheyan choked on his wine and burst out in laughter, his eyes bulging. She gave a massive eye roll and looked up at the rocky ceiling, waiting for him to stop laughing.

“You want to duel the God of War?” said Zheyan at last, gaping at her as if she'd just expressed the wish to learn baking.

“Xiaowu, not only is Moyuan a High God as well as a prodigy in advanced magical arts, he also specializes in combat. The only one who will ever be able to match his power in a duel Donghua. Now, your father, who’s got extreme speed and a talent for unpredictable attacks, can perhaps fight a few rounds, but victory is debatable.”

Still oblivious to Bai Qian’s look of daggers, Zheyan went on in a proud tone.

“Of course, if you study mind-reading and become able to apply it in combat to anticipate Moyuan’s next move, that would give you a split-second advantage. But again, only Lord Donghua has been able to master such profound duelling techniques. You and immortals of your generation...”

Zheyan ceased when he noticed Bai Qian’s slit-like eyes. She hadn’t asked him to launch into a speech about Moyuan’s abilities that she already knew. She merely meant the statement as a way to keep herself prompted.

“Of course,” Zheyan held up his hands in apology, “it’s the thought that counts.”

“Thank you for the boost of confidence, Old Phoenix,” she said acidly. “And just so you know...” but Bai Qian snapped her mouth shut. The records had stated that the Demon Overlord had also proved to match the God of War in power and duelling techniques with no indication that she had been a mind-reader. But considering how Zheyan was still unsettled about his friend’s return from Nothingness, she believed it best to avoid mentioning his other friend who had burned to ashes.

“I have no doubt you will get there one day,” Zheyan continued, emptying the wine jar with one last gulp. “You are young and bubbling with ambitions.”

“Is that a compliment?” she asked with a suspicious smile.

“It is,” Zheyan patted her on the back. “Well,” he thought for a while, “Moyuan was the one who said the last part. I just happen to agree with him.”

“Shifu said that?” asked Bai Qian, rather bristling. “When?”’

“After he was told that you’d left for the Eastern Forest.”

“Ahh,” she scoffed. “So it wasn’t exactly a compliment.”

“I personally believe those are excellent qualities,” he winked at her. “But I suppose it was difficult to perceive them in a positive light for someone who went to visit you first thing when he came out of meditation and found that you were gone.”

A fraction of guilt started to surge up inside Bai Qian, which she quickly masked with a faint laugh. Unexpectedly, the Old Phoenix joined in wholeheartedly a second after. Bai Qian suspected this was because he had more or less enjoyed the sight of an irritated God of War. Their laughter echoed across the cave.

Bai Qian suddenly looked up at Zheyan as they fell silent again. A hint of the earlier gloominess returned to the old face, reminding Bai Qian why she had found herself in this cave.

“Dear Old Phoenix,” said Bai Qian to her family’s friend with a deep sigh. “What would we all do without you?”

He responded with an equally gentle smile and stood up.

“Shall I walk you to Kunlun? It’s on the way.”

Bai Qian was glad she had brought her cloak for the temperature was starting to drop. The last ray of sunlight disappeared behind the trees as the stepped into Kunlun’s territory. She absentmindedly followed Zheyan’s footsteps, nodding at the comments he made about how mischievous a little fox she had been back then, and that nothing seemed to have changed after 90,000 years, only the mischief came with more knowledge and planning now.

“Here we are,” said Zheyan, gesturing at Kunlun’s gate when they had arrived. “I believe you can find your way in alone this time.”
Bai Qian smiled and went on after giving Zheyan a slight bend of her head. Of course she had never forgotten the first time she walked through this gate. Full of wonder, anticipation, anxious to meet the realms’ most powerful god, eager to enter the best school of the realms.

Looking over her shoulder, the last trace of the Old Phoenix disappeared among the woods.

Kunlun was in stony silence.

Slowly Bai Qian made her way up to the stairs. The grand hall was empty and unlit. Walking past the library, Bai Qian could hear Yanzhi and Zilan’s soft voices talking to a baby and Qilin’s familiar laughter. For a moment, she considered going in and asking Zilan if Moyuan was in the meditation room or somewhere else in the mountain, but she decided not to disturb them and kept walking.

Proceeding to the lotus pond, she stopped to soak in the peaceful quiet of the night. She picked up a piece of grass and swirled it in the water a few times. After being lost in time for a while and trying to figure out why the pond was looking rather sad, she nearly laughed out loud at herself. Of course - Yehua was no longer here. It felt almost strange to stand here and look at the water surface without the Golden Lotus. An ancient memory. The peaceful, precious days they would never find again.

Looking to the side, she noticed the entrance to the meditation room was unsealed. The inside seemed dark and there was no sign of an occupant. Bai Qian took a second and had a guess; and the answer came to her more quickly than she’d expected. Where else in Kunlun could he be?

And she was not wrong for the sound of his zither was becoming clearer as she approached his study. The nearer she got, the slower her pace seemed to become. At last, she stepped through the door as quietly as she could after spending a good minute imagining how he would react to her presence, and stopped by the wooden bookshelf. A collectible vase now occupied the space where the small tea set used to be.

Bai Qian moved her eyes to the dais in the center of the room, careful not to make any sound.

Behind the zither of gods sat the man within whom lay an unfathomable heart - a heart capable of great love and brutality at the same time. The great love without any selfish desire that put him above them all. The brutal truth of his ability to let go even of her. After all, he had been once more than ready to do so, to make the ‘noble’ sacrifice for her happiness.

It was unclear if Moyuan had detected her presence. But she was glad he did not address her immediately, for she would like a chance observe him from a distance.

War, loss, sacrifice, trials, he had been through them all. Her mother’s concern was not unfounded - who was to say she was not merely a fluttering moment during Moyuan’s impossibly long life as a god? A moment that was not enough to make him fall, make him lose reason, make him grieve. It would leave a scar, yes. But scars was what he was most used to.

His fingers were gliding over the instrument, his brows deeply furrowed. His face was paler than the last time she had seen him. But even so, Moyuan did not fail to give the impression of great strength and power. But that was not, or no longer, the reason why she had decided she belonged at Kunlun, belonged by his side.

The music abruptly stopped as though a string had broken. Moyuan lifted his face and stared into the distance. Without a word, Bai Qian strode passed him and toward the opened window. She leaned against the wall, looking outside at the graphite sky that was glittering with stars. Steadily the melody resumed. She felt the cold wind of the early evening brushing over her cheeks, running through her hair.

Perhaps there had been a time when he had thought they’d never have the chance to sit together like this again. For a long moment, she let herself delve into the music, let the sound of every note fill her with the sorrow the ancient tune had to offer. The more she listened, the more misery those simple and short notes seemed to reveal.

Simply excels at manipulation… the safety of the realms is always his first priority. Almost everything else is dispensable… How could they? To utter such cruel judgments that threatened to tarnish the things he had said that she cherished, while none of them had known him like she had. ‘I know you by heart’, she mentally replayed the phrase that had more or less been engraved in her mind. Indeed it sounded completely different and inescapably frightening if combined with her mother’s account of him. Bai Qian squeezed her eyes shut, wishing she could have explained to them why they were terribly wrong.

It was suddenly quiet. The tune had ceased. Bai Qian turned around to see Moyuan’s gaze was set on her, the zither no longer in front of him.

She stood up straight and looked back. Why such sadness in his eyes? She frowned. Sadness that made Bai Qian consider for a moment asking him to go back to being emotionless and detached as usual. Because just the look of it was making her feel as though she was falling down a bottomless pit.

Her throat tightened.

Had he not always known exactly when she had made her decision? Had he not always been too confident, too sure of her heart to worry?

Yet now he was looking at her with such obvious longing that she was starting to doubt her own interpretation of his expression. Why did it suddenly look like he had risked more than she had all along? The look in his eyes was almost like that of a helpless general watching his last fortress being breached, a chess player who had risked playing the last valuable piece and was now hanging on hope. Hope - Bai Qian could not help commenting in her head - not something a strategist would normally rely upon for victory. In fact, contrary to how it had been during their conversation on the bridge that time, he now seemed to be the one unshielded, the one whose mind was not closed and willing to be read. If only she had asked Lord Donghua to teach her exactly how.

Bai Qian took one step closer to the dais.

Give me a reason, she gazed back at him without blinking. Give me a reason and I'll never leave again.

In utmost silence, she saw his shoulders move up.


Like the sound of a breaking jade pendant, the shattering of glass, the deep voice pierced through her, the sound of her name laying bare the vulnerable state of the speaker. If she hadn’t been looking directly at him, she might not have believed that it was the stoic and indifferent God of War who had spoken. Bai Qian’s lips slightly broke apart, her eyes still glued upon him. Good enough a reason, she could feel herself smiling.

Though for a long while, she remained where she was, still. The habit of falling into a daze when immediate response was required had never quite left her. Only when she saw Moyuan attempting to stand did she start walking over to the wooden dais. Above all, Bai Qian always kept in mind that Zheyan could become quite scary if his patients were overtired. She quietly put her hand in his that he was holding out and slowly dropped down before him like she had many times before.

Moyuan opened his other hand and a familiar item materialized - her Kunlun fan that she had thrown away out of anger that day at the Eastern Forest.

Bai Qian’s hand faintly trembled as she touched the fan. The object seemed to be reminding her of the irony of it all - she had come to Kunlun 90,000 years ago, had left it and gone on a journey of her own only to find herself in the exact same place in the end. Age and time had done nothing to change her heart’s deepest desire. And this - unbidden tears started to well in her eyes - this was what he had spent time collecting pieces of his soul back for: a chance to make known the unchanged wish.

The bridge. The buried thought. The anguish masked by laughter.

Taking the fan into her hand, Bai Qian looked up at the man she had once worshipped as the most invincible god in the whole world. The worship was undeniably still there within her, but quite overshadowed now by what she had come to know about him. Ruthless, pragmatic, unyielding like Xuanyuan itself - maybe, but she had chosen him, chosen to place her trust in him. Entirely. Completely.

There was a sudden movement of his brows - a response from her seemed necessary.

Though it was as if her list of things to say had been left behind somewhere when she’d decided to come closer to him. As soon as she opened her mouth to speak, all words vanished from her mind within a heartbeat.

“Shifu,” she said the first thing, or rather, the only thing that retained in her head.

Her voice was so small that she wasn’t too sure he had heard or understood it at all. But Bai Qian supposed he must have, for a glimmer of optimism was starting to make its way into his eyes. Whether Moyuan was penetrating her mind, she could not tell. She simply met his gaze without flinching and was too absorbed with the fact that his rather pale face suddenly seemed brightened to care about the rest.

Still holding her hand tightly, Moyuan stood from the dais, in the process pulling Bai Qian to her feet.

He reached to the front of her robe and briefly stopped in response to her questioning look. Bai Qian suddenly remembered that she was still wearing her travelling cloak. The drizzle on her way here had made it quite damp on the surface. She found herself looking at the ground, feeling color rising to her cheeks as he untied the knot and removed her cloak. She must not look her best right now. Maybe she might have earlier in the day, but with all the cloud-jumping from the Nine Heavens, the windy weather on the way here, she would not say now was the best time to appear before Qingqiu citizens.

Bai Qian quietly looked back up after she’d had enough of the ground and observed Moyuan as he went on to run his hands through her hair to brush off the water drops and untangle the stubborn strands, hoping he would not remind her of the remarks she had made about him during their stay at the Eastern Forest.

“You are right,” he spoke suddenly, making her jolt. “Maybe there have been times when I sat back and studied the situation, treated it like a battle I set out to win.” The gentle hand moved to where her heart scar was - the thread that connected them, so vague and fragile that it had felt as though disappearing at times, yet it remained the strongest connection of all. “Everything I do seems like a calculated move toward a goal. Perhaps it even seemed like I was the one who held the key to ‘victory’.”

“But know this,” his deep voice carried on with the seemingly unwieldy speech. “I will never subsume genuine devotion - yours or my own - into a game of winning and losing.” He paused. Pain briefly flickered through his face. “Neither will I sacrifice the former for the latter.”

Bai Qian felt her face reddening more. It seemed Moyuan was well aware that many people, she included, had accused him of this. Had she been that obvious? Bai Qian put her fingers against her lips, trying to remember if she had ever made those accusations when he was there. Behind his back, she might have, out of frustration and anger, but never...

“And,” he reached forward, removing her hand from her face, gently trailing along her cheek and stopping at her chin. He leaned down and pressed his forehead against hers.

“And if you ever suppose that I find it all easy to bear,” whispered the no longer steady voice. “Then you suppose wrong.”

They subsided into silence once again, this time with nothing standing in between. Nothing but the ultimate truth.

The full weight of the grief of every day she had spent without him for the last 70,000 years suddenly gushed up within her at once. The battle of Ruoshui River, his lifeless body in the golden armor, years and years of telling herself he would wake up tomorrow. Then, as though under the effect of a summoning spell, she flung her arms around him, holding on as if another Bell of Donghuang had exploded above, as if Qingcang was about to extinguish the world the next second.

Upon her ear was the sound of life, life beating within his chest.

“Shifu,” she said again, tightening her arms behind his back, her voice almost inaudible. In fact, Bai Qian felt the urge to keep repeating the word until he would tell her to stop. And she doubted even the news of an attack from the Ghost realm could make her want to let go now.

For a long time they stood there. For a long time she nestled within the arms that she had no idea had long built a sturdy wall around her.

Some movement outside the window suddenly caught her eyes. The first snow of winter has started to fall from the sky. The room was becoming cold. She wanted to ask him to let go; she wanted to walk over and shut the window. But how amazingly difficult just walking a few feet away seemed at the moment. The stubborn little voice in her head muttered its order, telling her to stay still. If it got too cold, surely… surely he would close that window himself.

Nothing seemed to matter much now except for the deep voice that was whispering ‘Seventeenth’ above her.

A small gust of wind blew through the open window, putting out several candles on the tall branched holder. In the corner of the room stood the familiar vase she usually put flowers in. The flowers had wilted for the most part, fallen petals lingering on the wooden stand. A tear made its way down her cheek.

Chapter 16.5