Fanfiction: Ink in Water - Chapter 16 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 16. To hide the sky with one hand

written by Bunny
consulting/editing: Le, LalaLoop, LigayaCroft, kakashi

Kunlun Mountain — Year 400,300 (Present time)
A stray moth detached itself from the darkness and flittered restlessly around the only burning lantern in the room. Attracted to the glow, it took itself in through the open bottom of the sphere and rose, circling closer to the top of the lantern, where the light was stronger. Each time it came too close to the flame, the sound of its wings fluttering would grow shrill, like a cry of pain. In his static, barely awakened state, Moyuan watched its struggle as though it were his own.

It was still night. Morning slinking up from behind.

He wanted to get up, but couldn’t find the energy to move.

Beyond the window, the first streaks of sunlight were puncturing the clouds, diluting the inky blackness, and spreading its colors across the eastern sky. He wondered, how long had he slept for this time? An hour? A day? A year? Every muscle was aching from prolonged immobility, and a debilitating torment that was nameless, featureless, heavy like a boulder, pressing down on him.

Letting his head fall back against the platform once more, he laid there, opening and closing his eyelids. Staring at the paint cracks in the ceiling. Were they always this pale and faded?

Have I always been this incompetent?

So much for a God of War. He could hardly lift himself out of bed.

The air was chilled as it blew in through the gaps in the window frame. Sparse flecks of dew spattered the pane as the oriole outside rustled amongst the tree branches. The dim patch of sunlight that slanted across the wall was now slowly widening, spreading like a stain. The more it intensified, so did his malaise. He filled his lungs with the cold air, then drained them, letting his hands run gently back and forth over the covers beneath. The rhythmical movement soothed him. As though anchoring him to the bed, to the four walls around him, to the life he had once again returned to. A reminder that even if he was breaking up inside, even if he didn’t know for how much longer he would remain, that all around him, things were solid and real.

When the moth’s buzzing grew more erratic across the room, his eyes returned to it.

By now, the lantern’s light has been drowned out by the arrival of dawn, and the moth’s vain attempts to force its way through the well-oiled paper was becoming more desperate. Every once in a while, when its wings would beat too fervently, its white silt would litter the dark floors beneath. Nevertheless, it kept on trying, as if it would never tire. Never stop.

Wanting to escape one moment. Willingly circling closer to its death in the next.

At what point does it decide that it’s had enough?


“Seventeenth? Hello? Anybody home?”

Bai Qian stared at her Sixteenth Senior’s face.

“Hey, so… I’ve been wanting to tell you that I’ve decided to leave Kunlun Mountain and join the Demon Clan...” he said, waving a hand inches from of her face. “Also, Shifu is actually my real father. I thought you should know.”

She gave no response. His words were drifting like a slippery string into one ear, and out the other.

“SEVENTEENTH!” he bellowed.

She blinked, snapping out of her daze, and seized his moving wrist in midair. “Sixteenth Senior!”

“What?!” Zilan looked alarmed. “Shifu’s not really my father you know… I was just trying to get your attention!”


“Never mind…” He cleared his throat. “What were you doing just now? Did you actually manage to fall asleep while standing up?”

Looking around, Bai Qian saw that her feet had been planted on the front steps of the school. In one hand, her fingers were wrapped tight around a broomstick. “Ah... I was…”

“Don’t tell me you’ve decided to come out here to catch up on the chores you never used to do...” Zilan put on baffled look and snapped his palm over her forehead. “Are you feeling alright, Seventeenth? You’re scaring me…”

Bai Qian made a frown and swatted his arm away. “Very funny, Sixteenth Senior.”

But it was true. This was far from normal.

“Can’t sleep?” Zilan asked. “I heard you tossing and turning all night.”

Her head gave a slight nod. Admittedly, after another wakeful night, she had taken herself outside for some fresh air and, somehow, had ended up sweeping the stone steps. The large parasol tree that hovered like a second rooftop over the front entrance had laid down a thick mess of fallen leaves from the constant rainfall over the past few days. The initial intent had been to do something productive, but as it turned out, Bai Qian had been standing on the same step, barely moving her broom back and forth for over an hour.

“Did I keep you up, Sixteenth Senior?” She felt a little bad. He was also up much earlier than usual. With the few extra guests that had been staying on the mountain with them, she and Zilan had been sharing a chamber. And lately, sleep was something they all seemed to be fighting for.

“It’s not your fault…” He shot her a look of exaggerated despair and groaned, “It’d be really great if Shifu could just wake up and let us all get some shut-eye already!”

A simper tugged at the corners of her mouth. Bai Qian couldn’t help but laugh, yet it was a hollow sound that came out of her. At the mention of Moyuan, her stomach had started to churn, her brain screamed with worry. It had been three days. He had unexpectedly collapsed in the halls of Kunlun three days prior and not woken up. And in spite of all the years she had already spent doing this very thing, waiting for him to wake up, these three whole days had passed excruciatingly slower than any other week, month or year could ever compare.

“Shifu…” She dropped her eyes and set the broomstick against the stone ledge. “I better go see—”

“Ah-ah-ah, wait!” Zilan pulled her arm back as she started to walk away. “You realize, if Shifu was awake right now, we’d already know it, right?”

He sighed tiredly, while turning her around to face him. “Listen to me, Seventeenth… you are going to be the next one to keel over if you keep this up!” Holding her by the shoulders, he firmly guided her down to sit with him on the steps. From the front of his robe, he pulled out a wrapped cloth and opened it up.

“Here,” he held out a steaming mantou. “Eat.”

Bai Qian stared at his hand, not sure if she wanted to give in.

“It’s your favorite. Second Senior made them. Don’t tell me you’re not hungry! I haven’t even seen you eat a proper meal for the past three days, and no matter how high ranking of a goddess you’ve become, I know your appetite couldn’t have changed that much...”

The corners of her lips lifted slightly.

“Seventeenth… I know how worried you are...”

Her smile dropped.

“But Shifu will be fin—” Zilan’s words fizzled off abruptly, as though unable to finish. She watched the dread show on his face. It made her stomach ball up in a knot.

“Sixteenth Senior…”

Zilan clicked his tongue abruptly, as he shoved the mantou in his hands forcefully into hers. “Anyway, just eat!”

She curled her fingers around the warm morsel and looked at the ground. “Sixteenth Senior... what... do you think has happened to Shifu?”

Her Senior didn’t say anything. Maybe she was hoping he’d reply with something comforting, or pull a joke out of nowhere like he always did, but he did nothing of the sort. And this whole time, they had yet to even breach the subject; it was as though it was something forbidden to talk about. Wasn’t it bad enough that they weren’t getting any answers from Zheyan?

While the two of them sat on the stone steps in silence, light began to rise in the distance. The mountain ranges appeared inexpressibly grand in their dark blue outline beneath the orange sky. The sun glowed; a perfect beaming circle, flickering between the clouds as it made its way up like a large flame in cloudy wine. She couldn’t take her eyes off of it, even though it hurt to look. The sight was breathtaking. On Kunlun Mountain, sunrises were always such, but in the past, she had always taken them for granted and never bothered to watch. Now, the sight was making her whole body ache—longing for something she couldn’t quite define.

“What if… Shifu... doesn’t...” Her tongue felt numb, cramped in her mouth.

Unable to finish her own sentence, Bai Qian brought the mantou up to take a bite. But stopped, as soon as she heard her Sixteenth Senior over to the side of her coughing up a storm, spitting out the bite he had just taken himself.

“Sixteenth Senior! Are you alright?!” She tried to pat his back to soothe him.

His coughs soon subsided. “Is Second Senior trying to kill us? What is this thing?!” Zilan curled his arm and chucked the mantou in his hand off the cliffside.

Is it really that bad? She looked at her own quizzically for a while before the person beside her took it away and did the same thing he’d done to his. “Forget it, Seventeenth. You’ll chip your tooth on that thing! I’ll find you something better to eat later… I suspect our Second Senior must be in the same state as we are right now. I’ve never had anything he’s made that was so bad…”

A few seconds after her mantou had left his hand, a howl of pain came piercing through the air.

“Your Excellency!” A few shrill voices cried out. “Are you alright?!”

Alerted by the sound, the two figures still seated on the steps whipped their heads around. Bai Qian couldn’t see anyone in the vicinity, but the voices seemed to be coming from the direction that Zilan had thrown their uneaten mantous.

“WHO?! WHO THREW THIS?!” The shrillness grew a few octaves higher.

A moment later, a group of immortals dressed extravagantly in shades of pastels and gold appeared a few yards away. Celestials? Bai Qian’s eyes widened. How?

When they spotted Bai Qian and her senior, they came storming over.

“Sixteenth Senior,” Bai Qian nudged him with her elbow and whispered. “I thought we sealed off the gates to the mountain already… the day Shifu collapsed… how come there are still visitors…?”

“YOU TWO—” The man with the shrill voice pointed a finger at them accusingly. “How dare you throw things at his Majesty?!”

Bai Qian looked at the person he was referring to—the most gaudily-dressed individual standing in the middle, who had a big red bump on the top of his forehead. It took her a moment to recognize him.

“G-Golden Pansy?” Bai Qian mumbled. Realizing what she had just said out loud, she coughed loudly and stood straight up.

“Tianjun.” She lowered her head formally.

What on earth is the Heavenly Lord doing here?! Truthfully, seeing him had her a little shaken up. It had been so many years since their last encounter. That time, she had still barely been a first-year disciple, the same year he had paid Moyuan a visit regarding the Shen Demon… the memory of which had climbed to the forefront of her mind as of the past few days.

Bai Qian was well aware that with her recent engagement to the Crown Prince, she and this man were overdue for a proper meeting and reintroduction, but during the few times she had been in the Nine Heavens recently, she had never bothered to seek an audience with him. Face to face at the moment, the Heavenly Lord was now looking at her with such an intense expression, she was a little worried. Did he even recognize her? Their last interaction hadn’t been exactly cordial. Without knowing who he was at the time, she had yelled at him in a hall full of people… And now, as fate would have it, they would soon be family.

“Su S—” Tianjun started to say something, but another Celestial in the group had swiftly stepped beside him and interjected. “Ah! Father, this is the High Goddess Bai Qian, Queen of Qing Qiu, I don’t think you two have met…”

She recognized him as Yehua’s uncle, Lian Song, the Third Prince of the Celestial Tribe. They had run into each other a handful of times during her recent visits to the Nine Heavens. And beside him was the First Prince, Yang Cou, Yehua’s father.

“Bai Qian... of Qing Qiu?” Tianjun repeated.

“She is also High God Moyuan’s Seventeenth disciple...” Lian Song leaned in. Covering his mouth with his fan, he said something else in a low voice to his father who continued to stare at Bai Qian in a daze. His eyes were narrowing and widening. The situation overall was starting to unnerve her. And it seemed her Sixteenth Senior could tell, because he soon came to her rescue.

“Tianjun,” Zilan took a step forward and dipped his head low. “Please,” he gestured his hand toward the main hall. “Let us serve you some tea inside.”


“You’re finally awake,” said a voice that suspended the ringing in his ears.

Moyuan lifted his eyes from the candlelight and moved them over to the doorway.

Zheyan was leaning against the wooden frame with his arms crossed, looking in with a deep frown on his face. It was not an expression that he often saw his dear friend make. The sight of it was a perfect mirror of the fatigue Moyuan felt in his own body as he tried to sit himself up on the edge of the bed.

“How are you feeling?”

Which words would fit the lie best? Fine? Great? Good as new?

“How long... have I slept for?” He opted to deflect.

“Enough days.”

The word days gave him some measure of relief. Moyuan gathered his unbound hair and drew it behind him. Trying to gather the rest of himself was not as straightforward a task.

“I suspect I don’t need to tell you what’s wrong with you...” Zheyan took himself in quietly, slowly making his way across the room, his gaze casted to the ground. “You’ve known since your first moment back, haven’t you?”

It took some effort just to get his head to nod. No words, no hint of irony. Moyuan simply did not wish to engage. His eyebrows creased together sharply as he stared out at the slit of glaring sunlight shining in from the window; the movement of which alerted him to the throbbing pain that existed just behind his eyelids. He had been expending energy to force them open, but all they wanted to do was shut again.

“How on earth did you come back like this, Moyuan?”

I wish to know the same. Moyuan shook his head, tuning out the question. He brought his fingers up to grip the side of his head and pressed them to his temples. “Please, Zheyan… Not now…”

“Oh. I’m sorry. Is this not a convenient time for you?” His friend had reached the bedside, making no effort to hide his annoyance. “You might cease to exist any day now, but perhaps, I should schedule another time for us to discuss it.”

These biting words, Moyuan knew they were well deserved.

“You should know, in all my years, you are the first case of this. I have not seen anything like it.” Zheyan let out a long and aggravated breath. He brought his hands down to loosen up the front of the other’s robe and pointed to the area just below the collarbone.

“I know.” Moyuan did not bother to look.

“You knew? And still, you chose not to make any mention of it earlier?”

The dark tendril-like stain etched on the skin of his chest, he had stared at it long enough since he was back in this body. When he had first noticed it, it was the size of his thumb, and had now grown to surpass the outline of his fist. The black lines spreading out from the center of it crisscrossed one another, resembling cracks in a pane of glass. The kind that still held together, despite its imminent shatter.

“You’re incomplete.”

He knew that too. But to hear the word on someone else’s lips, vibrating in the air, like a hammer blow. It became more real.

“A scattered soul that has not been fully gathered, cannot awaken. And yet, here you are.”


“Pssst.” Zilan nudged. “Why does the Heavenly Lord keep looking at you like that?”

Bai Qian couldn’t figure it out herself. Since they had met outside and made their way inside, Tianjun had had his eyes glued to her like she had just stolen money from him.

“Did you somehow already offend your future grandfather-in-law, Seventeenth?! You really haven’t changed at all, have you?”

She turned to glare at her Sixteenth Senior. What she really wanted to do just now was elbow him in the ribs to shut him up, but had to reel her arm back. She couldn’t do anything out of line, not with the pair of hawk-eyes still stalking her from across the room.

“Speaking of which, when is the Crown Prince getting back?”


“Don’t look so confused! I’m asking you about your soon-to-be husband, you know… the man whom you’re going to marry soon...”

Bai Qian nodded her head dazedly. Of course she knew this.

“He should be back soon right? How long has he been on that mortal trial of his?”

How long? How long has it been? Bai Qian had not thought much about it. She had not been keeping track of time at all. Regarding Yehua, his whereabouts, and their impending engagement—those were all things she had not spared any thought to as of late. It was something that made her feel guilty.

The last time they had seen each other, the meeting had ended sourly. Yehua had arrived at the Western Sea Palace asking for her. It was right after she had left the Nine Heavens in a hurry upon hearing the news of her Master’s revival. She had requested the Soul Gathering Lamp from him; the outcome of which had her pinned up against a wall, with him questioning her about something to do with Moyuan that she simply was not able to make neither heads nor tails out of. The only thing she knew for certain was that Yehua had been terribly angry with her. And that night, before she had any chance to clarify what the reasons were, he had already left the Western Sea without so much as a word. Leaving only the thing she had requested behind by her chamber door.

Bai Qian would only come to find out later from Zilan that Yehua had gone to Mount Yingzhou to battle the Four Beasts and retrieve the Divine Fungal Grass. Something he had done for Moyuan’s sake, for her sake. And subsequently he was sentenced to a mortal trial immediately following his return to the Nine Heavens as punishment.

“Seventeenth! Snap out of it!” Zilan’s voice was right beside her ear, making her jolt. “Don’t just start daydreaming the moment you hear mention of the Crown Prince.”

“I was not!”

“Take it easy, alright? You’re going to have all of eternity to fawn over him!”

“Shhhh!” she hissed. Bai Qian was wishing she could sew Zilan’s lips shut with a look of contempt. Couldn’t he see that across the room, a certain Celestial’s eyebrows were furrowed together, scrutinizing them?

“Tianjun… Please have some tea.” Their Second Senior repeated. He was currently knelt down beside the Celestial Leader, holding out a tray in his hands. It seemed he had been trying to get the Heavenly Lord’s attention for several tries now, and this time, Tianjun finally lifted his eyes from Bai Qian.

His gaze was snapped right over to their First Senior, Die Feng, who was sitting up at the front of the room, looking very much like he was dripping sweat under his robes. Bai Qian was starting to feel sorry for him. With the rest of her seniors present, she had taken the easy way out and passed on the duty of tending to their special guests to someone else, retreating to the back row of seats to sit with Zilan.

“Where is Moyuan?” Tianjun asked, and began to look around the room impatiently. “Has he been alerted of my presence?”

Die Feng darted his eyes nervously. Bai Qian felt her own chest cramp up. For a prolonged minute, all they did was stew in that uncomfortable silence.

“Is someone going to answer me?” Tianjun raised his voice.

The room rustled with an occasional shuffling and a cough or two. But nothing more.

“Did the lot of you forget how to speak when spoken to?!” The Heavenly Lord threw his cup of tea down on the table, causing the bodies around him to flinch.

“Your Majesty…” Die Feng started. “Our Shifu… he’s… at the moment… he’s...”

Her First Senior was scrambling. They had all been instructed by High God Zheyan to not utter a word to anyone about their Master’s condition. And for that reason, they had sent all visitors away, announcing that Moyuan needed his rest, but they could hardly use the same excuse to send the Ruler of the Nine Heavens away now.

“What is it? Has he gone missing?” Tianjun roared again. “There’s sixteen of you on this mountain and you can’t manage to keep track of the whereabouts of one person?!”

Bai Qian clenched and unclenched her fist a few times, suddenly reminded of the reason why her initial meeting with the man had gone south. Watching her seniors’ faces blanch with fear, Bai Qian simply could not stand it any longer. She was about to sound off when another voice beat her to it.

“This early in the morning… Whose dog is barking up a storm, disturbing my sleep?”


All heads swivelled to the far corner of the hall.

Bai Qian took one look at that white-clad figure that had just slithered out of one of the inner hallways, and shuddered. Xiao Yu stood there with his mouth wide open, yawning, arms outstretched. He started to stride in with one eye open and one eye still shut. They all watched with frozen faces as he walked himself straight up to the dais where their Master usually took his seat, and plopped himself down as though the thing had his name etched on it.

Bai Qian saw that her First Senior’s eyes looked like they were about to fall out. He was probably writhing with the need to say something, but didn’t dare. Nobody dared. For the past three days since he’d arrived on Kunlun Mountain, all of her seniors had cowered like a herd of little lambs whenever this person came around.

After taking his time to brush out his robe, Xiao Yu finally threw his long gray hair over his shoulder and looked down at the crowd before him like he had just noticed them.

“What? What are you all staring up here at me for?” His green eyes glowed quizzically.

“Go on! One of you sounded so enthusiastic earlier… I just came out here to listen.” But before anyone could get a word in, Xiao Yu had already happily churned out more of his own. “So what are we doing here anyway? Did something happen? Is it somebody’s birthday?”

Bai Qian gripped her forehead in her hands.

“Ehhh?!” Xiao Yu tilted his head, looking sideways at the Heavenly Lord. “It’s you!” He shook his finger. “You’re Hua-Hua’s replacement! I’ve been wanting to take a good look at you...”

Tianjun, whose face had been twitching this whole time, started to darken.

“Impudent!” One of his aids, the man with the obnoxiously shrill voice spoke up. “Who are you to address his Majesty that way?!”

“Oh, me?” Xiao Yu pointed an index finger at his own nose, before letting out a hearty laugh that raised the hairs on every neck in the room. “Heh, heh… Wouldn’t you like to know?” He continued to cackle as though he had just heard the funniest joke. Unfortunately, he was the only one amused. “No matter! Even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me… How about this? If you must call me something, you can just call me Great-Ancestor.”

There was a surge of killing intent in the room radiating from a certain person dressed in too much gold. Everyone else was pretending like they hadn’t heard a single thing. It was simply too outrageous.

“I will ask all of you... one last time…” Tianjun’s face had scrunched up like a rag. His eyes scanned around the row of seats occupied by Bai Qian and her disciple brothers, mouth cranking out words between his teeth. “WHERE IS MOYUAN?!”

“HEY!” Xiao Yu barked back. He drew one foot up and slammed it onto the platform, cocking his chin and narrowing his eyes disapprovingly at Tianjun. “Keep your voice down! Yuan-Yuan’s sleeping… Don’t you know he just woke up from the dead not that long ago?! He’s a fragile right now! You wanna talk, you talk to me!”

Bai Qian was certain, at the rate this person was going at, the Heavenly Lord was going to cough up a mouthful of blood any second now. His face had turned green. His fists were balled up. There were veins popping out of the side of his forehead.

“This… High God… If I may...” Lian Song, who seemed to have noticed that his Father’s thread of reason was about to snap, finally chimed in. He kept his voice low and cordial. His demeanor was in marked contrast from the person beside him who was still breathing fire. Seeing them side by side, Bai Qian was starting to realize just who Yehua might have taken after when it came to his temperament; it was certainly not his grandfather. “With all due respect, we have all come here today on behalf of the rest of the Nine Heavens to seek an audience with the God of War and welcome him back. But in addition to that, there are some pressing matters which must be discussed that pertains to the welfare of the Eight Realms. This cannot wait.”

“Of course!” Xiao Yu scoffed. “Your God of War is finally alive again, of course you bunch want to put him straight to work!” He waved his hand dismissively as though shooing away a couple of flies. “Nope. No way. Not letting you see him today.”

“YOU—” Tianjun sprang from his seat with such force, he had spilled his tea and knocked the cup off of the table. His face was black with rage, eyes staring white, looking like he needed to be physically restrained from slaughtering everything he saw. “HOW DARE YOU?!”

“Seventeenth, you better go get High God Zheyan,” Zilan urged. “Now!”

Before he could finish, Bai Qian had already clambered onto her feet.


“The soul is made up of the Yin and the Yang. The Yang aspect of the soul is made of the three Hun (魂), and the Yin aspect of the soul is made up of the seven Po (魄)...”

Another nod. An involuntary glance out the window.

“... All are made of qi. Hun is responsible for all formless consciousness, the parts of the soul that are able to leave the physical body after death. Meanwhile, Po is responsible for all tangible consciousness, the solid parts of a person, that are attached to the body…”

Moyuan looked down at the steam rising from his medicine bowl as his friend continued to rattle off.

“When you sacrificed your soul to the Bell of Donghua, both your Hun and Po were shattered into countless fragments. Without all of the fragments that make up each part, the two halves simply cannot exist. On top of this, the Yin aspect cannot exist without the Yang aspect.” Zheyan wet his lips with a sip of tea before persisting, his tone changing sharply. “If I were you, I would pay a little more attention.”

Pulling his eyes up, Moyuan tried to focus on that moving mouth; the words flowing out of them, barely audible. His mind was so full of some other thought.

“You must be wondering, why on earth am I lecturing you about a concept that you know like the back of your hand?”

Was he supposed to nod to this? Moyuan wasn’t sure. He kept staring straight ahead, wondering just how many times a certain disciple of his had felt this way in the past when he went on at length about things she took no interest in.

“Because I’m not so sure you do know these things. If you did, perhaps you would be showing a little more concern for the severity of your predicament.”

The words were harsh, but they weren’t wrong.

Moyuan slid his fingers against the inside of his palm; they had gotten clammy. There was a thin layer of sweat coating his skin. The pain behind his eyes had faded to a dull ache. The air stood pregnant with the smell of stagnant herbs, wafting up from the row of untouched bowls of medicine lining his desk. More coming from the very bowl before him as it steadily grew colder. The weight on his chest had been making it difficult to breathe. And it was far more than this arid room, this stale air. The weight had descended on him the day he returned. The day he realized he had made yet another miscalculation in his long life, one that was already littered with so many of them.

“Moyuan—” Zheyan paused to make sure his sole audience member was listening, his face strained with irritation. “The part of you that is missing, it might have been that you were unable to gather that last fragment, and instead, you picked up something else along the way. Or something might have attached itself to you with intent. In any case, currently, there is… something… of unknown origin, filling in the cracks. It has allowed you to come back, and is currently sustaining you. I have tried to probe at it, to identify it, who it belongs to, what type of matter it is, but the very nature of it is completely beyond my grasp. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard of.”

Moyuan nodded again.

“Do you understand what I’m saying here?”


Zheyan shook his head, giving a heavy sigh. “What I do know… is that you will be unable to go on if whatever this is continues to be a part of you. Nor can you exist without it. It isn’t trying to kill you, exactly, but it isn’t trying to save you either. This mark—” he again, pointed to the area beneath Moyuan’s open collar. “—is a sign of your soul decaying within you as we speak. And once it is gone this time, there will be no gathering it back.”

“I know.”

“You know?” Zheyan’s voice softened. It took Moyuan a moment to determine why. He was expecting something much more caustic. Then, he realized, it was because they had finally arrived at this point in the conversation. “You knew, and yet, you never brought it to my attention… Do you think I don’t know what you’re thinking?”

The point where they talked about his inevitable demise.

“Zheyan…” Moyuan cleared his throat.

“You fool.” Zheyan let out a trying laugh. “Did you really think that you could try and hide the sky with one hand [1]? That you might be able to disappear again one day, and no one would notice?”

“I…” It was hard to admit that these were his real intentions. And that the other side had seen through them so easily. But there was also no way to deny them. “Have you considered that perhaps, I shouldn’t have—”

“If you’re about to say what I think you’re about to say, don’t bother. Let me say it for you.” Those eyes staring straight at him, did not carry any amount of jest. “You shouldn’t have come back.”


“You were never meant to come back.”

Save for the sound of the flame still crackling in the far corner.

“The gathering of a fragmented soul is already, in itself, an unimaginable endeavour—but the preservation of a body, a vessel the Po can continue to attach itself to and facilitate the rejoining of the Hun, has never been accomplished to this extent. It was because there was someone who never allowed herself to give up on you. It didn’t matter that it was 70,000 years, Xiao Wu would have continued to pour her blood into you for another 70,000 years if she had to!” His voice raised to a vehement shouting. “And the person who told her to wait, wasn’t that you?”

One hand gripping the wooden armrest, Moyuan dug his fingers into it, trying to cling onto his equilibrium that was slipping shoddily like sand beneath an ocean wave.

“Yes, you retaliated against fate… but so did she.”

His eyes wandered back to the same moth, still circling the light. Unabating.

“Do you really think that if you just slipped away, all will be well?”

Finally, the moth took its fall into the candle at the center of the lantern. He heard the subdued hiss of the flame, snuffing out its life. His eyes found its small gray body as it dropped to the ground like a stone to writhe, limbs trembling slightly, and then was still.

“The consequences you will both have to face. Don’t think for a moment that retreating to your death will somehow nullify them.”


Zheyan could be anywhere at the moment, but Bai Qian still chose to head down this corridor to look for him. The racket from the main hall was fading behind her. It was now mid-afternoon. Sun beating down, sneaking in through whatever crevices vulnerable to it. The bright white light bouncing off of the walls and tiles. Heat simmering.

Her feet tried to move faster, nearly running.

Nostalgia hitting her with every step. It seemed so out of the blue. Like falling headfirst into a dream. The familiarity of her movements, body darting across sunlight. Something about the sunlight... How many times had she used to run down this hallway in those years of her youth, fighting sunlight in her eyes, seeking him? Always knowing she would find him. The days of never having to fear that he would not be there. Never having to imagine her life without him—the person who used to be her point of reference in this vast existence, this unpredictable and frightening world.

And now. What about now?

Her thoughts were interrupted by the shouting voice coming from the door left ajar down the hallway.


A moment later he appeared from the other side of the doorway, face puce with frustration. She watched as he closed the door behind him with force and stared at the ground for a moment before noticing her.

“Xiao Wu.”

She had stopped dead in her tracks. Breaths ragged.

“My Shifu… he… is he… awake?”

Zheyan nodded, looking no less crossed by the mention of Moyuan. Bai Qian rushed forward, barely able to control her eagerness. She looped around him, fingers reaching for the door handle to take herself into her Master’s chamber, but her wrist was held back as she passed.

“Your Shifu… needs his rest.”

“I want to see him.”

The Old Phoenix had a foreboding look in his eyes, something heavy and unspoken, unlike anything she was used to seeing from him. For a moment, it seemed as though he was hellbent on preventing her from going into that chamber. As if he was restraining her from walking herself to her doom. And Bai Qian immediately wanted to ask what was wrong, but before she could make another sound, he had sighed and already unhooked his fingers, opening the door for her.

The burst of light from the chamber was like a flood. Scorching her eyes.

“Go on then. As you wish.”

Chapter 17

End Notes:
[1] 一手遮天 Literally: to block out the sky with one hand. Meaning: to hide the truth from the masses.