Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 7, Part 1 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 7 - Zhuxian’s Fire

Part 1

written by Lala Loop
consulting by Bunny
editing by kakashi

“You!” Shaowan’s voice boomed from the other side of the corridor. “Moyuan!”

Moyuan had known it was coming. That was the reason he had decided to quietly leave the dueling field and go back to his room and prepare for the celebration. On the one hand, Moyuan had an understanding why his name was being bellowed like this. But on the other, he still did not see what the fuss was about. He had not done anything wrong, had he? And they had won, hadn’t they?


Kunlun had been playing host to a series of contests between their school and Penglai. This time, their task was to write a strategy plan that would enable their group to get through several obstacles and magical formations to obtain a jade pendant in the middle of the field before the opposing group. When it had been time for Shaowan to disarm the Penglai disciple they’d agreed to let her handle, before Moyuan could think twice, he had thrown a protective shield around her and done it for her instead, leaving Donghua to fight against the two disciples the two of them had been dueling before. Moyuan knew it was risky, but it was not like he’d left Donghua to a group of stronger and older disciples. All of them were the same age of 3,000 more or less with fairly the same number of years in school. Maybe… if he had let Shaowan go and get the jade instead of also doing it with Donghua right after he’d taken her job, she would not be so angry?

But Moyuan did not have much time to think about his actions now because Shaowan was only ten steps away from him, followed closely by Donghua and Zheyan, both looking nervous. Anger was making her cheeks look like two large tomatoes.

“Why did you do that?” she bit down on her lip, glaring at him with her hands on her hips. “That was supposed to be my turn on the field!”

Moyuan did not want to say outright that he was trying to protect her from an opponent that was a head taller than her because he knew a statement of that sort would probably do him more harm than good in this situation - Shaowan always wanted to be one to protect them and hated it whenever any of them suggested the opposite. Besides, that was not the only reason why he had stopped her from dueling.

“I…”

“You wanted to win!” she shouted, now purple in the face. “That’s all that mattered to you, you didn’t trust me!”

“Shaowan…” Donghua tapped on her shoulders.

“I have been practicing everyday for the last two months for this! I could have done it!”

“No, you couldn’t!” Moyuan yelled back impulsively.

“Yes, I could! I don’t need your protection! We talked about this, each of us had a specific task and none of us was supposed to lose focus. What’s the point of having a plan if you’re going to throw it out the last minute anyway?”

“Look…” he turned away from her fiery eyes for a second. “You were two seconds too late with your whip. If I hadn’t helped, he would have disarmed you before your whip could reach his staff.”

“What… I was aiming for his feet at that time, not his staff! I knew what I was doing. Do you think you can ever survive for just an incense without being a know-it-all!”

Moyuan did not respond. Maybe she was right but he was not going to admit it. Zheyan, who had taken on the role of the advisor during the contest, was standing on the side, quiet with an I-told-you-so look on his face.

“Forget it, Shaowan,” said Donghua. “We won.”

But Shaowan did not look like she would forget about this anytime soon. Or… would she? Moyuan kept his silence and watched as the anger on her face became something very confusing to read. He squinted - she did not look as murderous as a second ago anymore but instead was staring at him as though she was about to burst into tears and hug him. Moyuan bent slightly backward and looked at his other two friends. Strangely they both seemed to be staring at something behind him.

“Shifu --” said Zheyan and Donghua.

Moyuan took in a deep breath, his ears picking up the sound of his father’s footsteps approaching. Now it was clear, it was Fuxi’s presence that had made Shaowan hold back her urge to punch him in the face.

“Shifu!” Shaowan cried when Fuxi had arrived beside them all. Her cheeks went even redder and she sounded on the verge of tears. “He…”

“I understand.”

“I practiced…” she sobbed. “I could have done it…”

“I know you could, Shaowan,” he said calmly. “You have all done well, please join your classmates and Penglai’s disciples in the hall for the celebration. I need to have a word with Moyuan if you don’t mind.”

Shaowan brushed her hand across her nose, threw Moyuan a look of daggers then turned around and walked down the corridor, stomping her feet all the way, Donghua and Zheyan struggling to keep up with her.

“In my study, Moyuan,” said his father. Moyuan’s heart sank at the request; and it stayed sunk at the pit of his stomach all the way to Fuxi’s study.

He knew his father, like most of the judges, had been able to interpret their strategy plan when they’d been on the field and understood that something was wrong when he’d pushed Shaowan aside. But Moyuan had not thought he would receive a lecture for this. They were the winners of this round after all.

“Congratulations on your victory,” said Fuxi as he sat down on his platform and motioned for Moyuan to do the same. “That was a well written plan.”

“Thank you, Father,” he murmured, keeping his head down. Moyuan could tell he was not just saying this as a way to begin the lecture. His father always took notice of his achievements, even when he did not express it in words. But that did not change the fact that Moyuan
was going to be lectured.

“But I confess I wonder the same thing Shaowan does,” said Fuxi. “Why did you make that last adjustment that startled all your friends when your original plan would have worked just fine?”

“I…” Moyuan sighed, looking up to see a pair of patient and understanding eyes. “I just didn’t want her to get hurt,” he said desperately.

“Of course, of course,” Fuxi nodded, his finger interlocked. “That is why you cast a spell around her. But is that the only reason that drove you to act that way?”

“I…” Moyuan knew it was no use lying to his father, who probably already knew the answer to this question. “I wanted to make sure that… we won…”

“Ahh,” his father nodded again, still patient and calm in his tone. “That, you did.”

Moyuan said nothing else. He knew what his father meant. He was sure the look on his face had given away the fact that he was not feeling much like a victor at the moment.

“A great leader is not one that excels at everything, Moyuan,” Fuxi began. “A good commander, a strategist, is not necessary the best swordsman. He is one who knows his comrades, their strengths and weaknesses, knows the right task to assign them and let them contribute to success. I let you be the leader of your group this time so that you could learn this quality, not so you could bring everything onto yourself, be it from fear of losing or faith in your own abilities.”

“But…”

“You have denied Shaowan the chance to do something she is good at because you wanted to win. But how do you know you would not have won if you had let her do it?”

“Because…” Moyuan uttered the word like an instinct only to realize that he had no answer to give.

“Did you not trust her enough to let her handle this part of the contest?”

“No!” he shook his head. “Of course I did…”

“But?”

His father waited. And when Moyuan said nothing he continued promptly.

“Shaowan has always been excellent at long-range combat, hasn’t she?”

“Yes.”

“You have seen her use a whip to disarm her opponents in examinations before, that is why you put her in charge of this particular duel - because this one opponent wields his staff masterfully but is too dependent on it; so the best way to contain him was to disarm him fast. Your plan was for Shaowan to keep him busy and make way for you and Donghua to approach the jade, am I right?”

“Yes.”

The more Moyuan listened to his father stating these facts, the more stupid he felt. These were things that he himself had been thinking while making that strategy plan.

“You wanted to win,” continued Fuxi. “You also wanted to protect Shaowan because her opponent was fierce, which explains why you chose to shield her instead of letting her help Donghua while you fought the staff wielder, I understand this. But you must remember that you cannot attempt everything at once, Moyuan; and you certainly cannot let your judgement be clouded by a miniscule moment of unfounded emotion. Do you understand?”

“Do you mean I should ignore what I feel in these situations, Father?” Moyuan frowned. “You told me before that sometimes I just have to follow my instincts.”

“So I did. And no, you should never ignore how you feel. But
knowing when to follow your instincts and when to stop and examine your emotion before you act on it is crucial.”

To Moyuan’s deepened frown, his father continued with a smile. “Sounds quite impossible, does it not. But it is precisely the point of being a leader, even if it’s only for a minor school contest of little consequence. Not only did you make Shaowan look incompetent in front of no less than a hundred people today, you also made sure to lessen your group’s chance to win. Because what if you had gotten hurt? What if Donghua could not have handled the two opponents you left him with?

“Wanting to protect your friends is admirable and, as I always say, a priority. But sometimes you just have to trust they can protect themselves so that you would not lose your grasp on the ultimate goal. Attempting to handle everything by yourself, no matter how brilliant you might be, will eventually lead to mistake after mistake, or in your case --” his father’s eyes twinkled -- “a friend’s wrath that will no doubt last until next month.”

“But…” Moyuan swallowed. “You can do everything at once and protect everyone you love, father.”

“The truth is far from your assumption, Moyuan. And I have failed more than once to protect what I love.”

The sadness in his father’s voice told Moyuan this was a subject he should not delve into. And truth be told, he did not want to say anything else. His father had given him a lot to think about. He was the one who’d made that plan, the one who’d always reminded his friends to stick to it and trust each other. But he was also the one who had showed his friends today that he did not trust them enough.

“Now,” Fuxi stood up, shuffling his robes, and gestured at the door. “Go and make peace with your friends.”

“What? But
she…” Moyuan began to protest - whatever his mistake was, he was not going to tell Shaowan he was sorry. Mostly because he knew it would not work. But his father held up a hand to silence him, his voice much sterner than it had been.

“I am not asking you to go and apologize. But I do need you to acknowledge your mistake by being considerate toward your friends for the rest of the celebration today, especially Shaowan. She worked hard to be chosen as one of the contestants and she did not want to win any less than you.”

Moyuan winced - his father may think that being considerate was a good plan right now, but he believed staying well out of Shaowan’s way for the next fortnight would be a better, and much safer, plan.



***


Complete silence filled Moyuan’s study following what he had just said to his second disciple.

Confusion and astonishment alternated on Changshan’s face. Moyuan knew his order sounded strange even for someone who rarely questioned his decisions like Changshan. But recent occurences had convinced him this decision could not be delayed. Sufeng was no longer contained. The Western Sea faced constant threats from the Demon Tribe, which was getting bolder by the day. Donghua and Zheyan’s effort to track down Luoji’s essence had been in vain and they remained in the dark concerning his activities, which presented a threat they must all be prepared for - he could strike any moment, at any realm. The sooner Moyuan knew Kunlun’s young disciples were well protected, the sooner he could concentrate on his responsibilities. Silent he remained while his disciple processed the order.

“But --” Changshan finally spoke. “Isn’t Kunlun one of the safest place in the eight realms, Shifu? Why take the trouble to take the children to the Eastern Forest while our magical shields can protect them just fine?”

“You do not understand, Changshan,” said Moyuan patiently. “For the next -- few months, I will be constantly absent from Kunlun for work. Having protective shields is one thing but if the children remain here, then we need to provide them with a secure and peaceful environment for their study. With all of your Juniors gone back to their home tribes and to the Western Sea to aid Diefeng, I am afraid you alone cannot be responsible for the children’s safety if Kunlun is attacked.”

“But who would be so foolish as to attack Kunlun in broad daylight, Shifu?”

“We are associated with the Nine Heavens. If Demon spies and Luoji’s followers are looking to steal our battle plans, Kunlun is the first place they would come look even if we keep nothing here. That, and of course it has always been their life-long wish to infiltrate this place. Our shields would likely be able to keep them out, of course, but I do not want the children - especially the younger ones - to be startled or their education interrupted by attempts to break in.”

“I see...” Changshan’s frown did not lift, though he seemed to have grasped the situation.

“I have written to the Fox Emperor and Empress,” Moyuan continued. “Take the road to High God Bai Yi’s manor, they will meet you there and accompany you for the rest of the way to the Eastern Forest.”

“What will happen after that, Shifu? Should I come back here?”

“No, I want you to stay there.” Moyuan held up a hand. His disciple’s face scrunched up in bewilderment.

“What…? But what about Kunlun?”

“I can manage Kunlun on my own. For the time being, I need you to watch over the children and make sure they continue their studies promptly. Also, they need someone from Kunlun to keep them company, Changshan. After all, the Eastern Forest is too far away from here and it is not their home.”

Changshan said nothing, but his brows furrowed even more deeply.

“This is only for a short time,” Moyuan said. “Once your Juniors have come back and if we receive more promising news about the Demons, I will send for you. No matter how well I can manage this mountain, you undeniably do a better job.”

Changshan’s head shook then lowered in embarrassment.

“I just thought that you might need someone here in case you get injured on one of your trips, Shifu.” He gasped, “not that I think you will! But it can happen….” his eyes suddenly lit up. “I keep forgetting… it’s not like we’ll all be gone. Of course Seventeenth will be here, won’t she?”

Moyuan said nothing for a moment, his eyes moving from Changshan to the cup of tea in his hand. “Yes, she has her responsibilities at Qingqiu of course, but she’ll be close,” he looked back up.

Changshan nodded, looking slightly more satisfied.

“How is Zilan?” asked Moyuan.

“He told me he needs more rest, Shifu, before he can go to the Western Sea. He wouldn’t be of help to anyone in that state.”

“No, I am not expecting him to work, of course” said Moyuan. “But was Zilan not up and about just a day ago?”

“Oh… yes, he was,” Changshan’s forehead scrunched as he directed his eyes to the ceiling. “But I suppose he had a bit of a -- relapse. You said it was likely, didn’t you, Shifu, to feel tired or get a fever once in a while for some time after healing in this case? Since -- he was hit with heavy curses.”

“Is he having a fever now?”

“No, I wouldn’t say it’s a fever,” said Changshan quickly. “But he definitely needs rest.”

“I see,” Moyuan nodded. “Let him rest then. Gather the children in the grand hall, I will speak to them in a minute.”

Changshan bowed and quietly headed for the door.

A need for more rest or a silent protest to his orders for them to leave Kunlun? Moyuan wondered in hopelessness as Changshan disappeared behind the threshold. Or perhaps it was both. Having spent a good many years with his disciples, Moyuan was not foreign to each of their personalities. While Changshan and Diefeng tended to be more concerned with Kunlun on a larger scope and would do what was best for the school, his sixteenth disciple had always relied on impulse to decide where he was needed. It would be a much harder task to convince Zilan to leave, but he would have to make him understand sooner or later.

If only he could seal them all behind a shield until all of this was over.

Moyuan rose from his dais, taking the cup of tea with him. His steady but aimless footsteps took him toward the window. The sunny sky bore a complete contrast to the somber atmosphere brought about by continuously bad news concerning the Demons. The glorious sunlight was sprinkled with hints of danger and the darkness to come - the confrontation with Luoji they could not avoid, whether it was in days, months, or years. He was already out there, laying his stones on the chess board, thus so must they.

With a sigh, Moyuan slightly swirled the tea cup in his hand. As someone who had seen countless battles in his life, he would go so far as to say that the course of a war could change over something as simple as a zither note or a cup of tea. The bitter, earthy taste that was subtle yet more powerful than most people believed, that never failed to offer him a sense of peace and prolong his mindfulness. But at the moment, it was failing.

He brought the cup to his lips and tasted the liquid again.

There was a part of her that was brutally honest. A part of her that was not afraid to hurt him with the truth. Perhaps he had been too used to it, too used to having her beside him that now he could not remember what it had been like without it.

Be it her appreciation toward the most unexpected things, the sound of her footsteps on the ground at the safehouse, the small crease between her brows whenever her eyes were glued to a scroll, or the loose strand of hair that refused to stay behind her ear. He had grown accustomed to those things as much as he had to her unfailing truthfulness toward him when the truth was needed, too accustomed that their absence now was drawing an ache in him, forming a patch of cloud in the clarity of his mind.

Nothing, grand or small, was forever. Not joy, not sorrow. Being a Keeper of Peace and Balance, Moyuan was no stranger to this notion.

Balance.

He had never been one to ignore sentiments, never been one to ignore an untreated wound and hope it would go away. No, he knew more than anyone that facing a difficulty was the only way to resolve it, and learn from it. Only then could one understand oneself and find the balance needed to face the world.

This was something he had successfully achieved and maintained - being the keeper of his own balance.

But was that still true?

He had confronted the sentiment that was causing his turmoil without much success. The choices were clear, so were their consequences, yet the part of him that was straying away from the right choice was becoming stronger with every day that passed.

He had once been prepared to let her go. Not too long ago, the prospect of losing her was pain, but not unbearable pain. It was a kind of pain he had not needed to hide from, a war he had been ready to fight knowing that even if it ended in failure on his part, it could only make him stronger. But he had not had the chance to face that pain. She had come to him.

He had allowed himself the luxury of having her, allowed her to become part of his balance without knowing it. When she had left him, she had taken it with her, leaving him with as much stableness as someone walking on a thin line above a deadly abyss with all the weight in one hand had. Yet, he had not fallen. But he had certainly stumbled. Days, several days had passed since the last time they had been in each other’s company yet he was now still on that line without advancing an inch.

Faith in her? He had plenty. But faith alone was not good enough a reason to let her go, when it should be.

Chapter 7, Part 2