Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 7, Part 3 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)


Chapter 7 - Zhuxian’s Fire

Part 3

written by Lala Loop
consulting by Bunny
editing by kakashi

Four…

The night’s clean air was making it easier for Moyuan to utilize the spell to detect immortal essence; and so far the spell had revealed four immortals, more or less, on their swords behind him. Mounting firmly on Xuanyuan, Moyuan looked ahead with his arms behind his back, paying no heed to the masked figures that had been pursuing him from a distance for many hours. He was used to being followed by now. No matter what master these people served, they seemed to be charged with the task of reporting back his activities. Not that any of them had succeeded in their mission. He had been wondering why so few of them had found him today. Though strangely, there was an immortal presence among them that was neither demonic or of the Demon clan. That immortal, too, had been keeping up speed with the other ones all this while.

He was now hundreds of miles away from the Celestial Lands and entering an uninhabited territory, specifically a thin woodland with no trace of Divine Energy nor magical beasts of any kind. It was time to lose these spies and continue his journey unfollowed, he decided and in an abrupt move, descended from the air.

As soon as his feet touched the ground, Moyuan took a brisk look around, then turned and raised his arm.

It was then that a face among the masked immortals who had followed him down hit his eyes. He retracted his fingers to stop the spell that was about to issue from his palm. Quickly he levitated himself and landed in front of the familiar figure, blocked the curses coming at them and proceeded to blast his targets away into the darkness.

Twisting around, Moyuan glared at his sixteenth disciple who was straightening himself. He too was dressed in black.

Zilan?

“Shifu… I can explain. I wasn’t following you. Well… maybe I was, but I didn’t plan on doing it --”

“Zilan, I do not want to hear any explanation from you.”

“It’s just that... I went to the Ghost Realm to visit Princess Yanzhi and Wunian. And when I left I was going to go straight back but I spotted some suspicious activities and dark powers around on my way. That’s when I saw Xuanyuan Sword and that flock of spies,” he gestured at the unconscious men in the distance. “Which was completely a coincidence. I was afraid that you might be in danger so I had to follow them.”

Neither of them said anything for a second. The audacity of this disciple of his had rendered Moyuan uncertain as to what action should be taken in response.

“So --” Zilan glanced around, not looking in the least anxious, as though the fact that he was here was nothing out of the ordinary. “Why are we here, Shifu? What’s the plan?”

Moyuan looked upon his disciple’s eager expression in disbelief and hopelessness. “There is no plan, not one that I can share with you. I want you to return to Kunlun this instance, Zilan. You and I will have a talk when I get back.”

There was a brief silence as Zilan looked extremely conflicted.

“No… I… I can’t --”

“What did you say to me?” Moyuan asked quietly though with enough austerity in his voice to cause fear to slowly creep onto Zilan’s face. He had always been lenient toward his disciples. In all the years being their Master, punishments were scarce. In fact, most punishments had been given to them by Diefeng, not him. But that did not mean he could tolerate stubbornness or disobedience where it was not warranted.

“I can’t leave...” said Zilan, moving an inch backward.

“And why is that?”

“Because…”

A small rustling noise sounded somewhere from the darkness behind Zilan. More spies… Moyuan’s eyes strayed from his disciple’s struggling expression to the shadows that were lurking behind the trees nearby. He raised his hand and summoned his powers.

“No no no, Shifu!” Zilan gasped. “Let me explain!”

Moyuan strode forward, grabbed Zilan by the shoulder and in one movement forced him aside. With his other hand, he sliced the air, sending a wave of force forward, throwing the approaching black figures to the ground.

Still bewildered, Zilan whipped around, registering the scene before them and exhaling at the realization that he was not being punished. Silence dominated the space as their eyes met again.

Moyuan needed no explanation. He understood why his sixteenth disciple had decided to follow him here and that it would take more than just a simple order to make him go back to Kunlun. Still, he believed an explanation should be presented. More indulgent toward Zilan than to the rest of his disciples he might be, but he could not give way to this kind of inconsiderate behavior by remaining silent. At the very least, he needed to make sure this disciple of his understood the danger he had put himself in by flying among a group of spies of unknown origin.

He lifted his head. “You were saying?”

“Oh -- right,” Zilan nodded. “Er… I was saying that… it’s not really my fault that I ended up here. But now that I am here, I might as well come along with you, don’t you think, Shifu --”

Moyuan’s eyes narrowed a fraction more, making his disciple fall quiet almost instantly. Zilan lowered his head and whatever internal ambivalence he had was beginning to exhibit on his face.

“The truth is,” he began again with a sigh. “I know I should have gone to the Crystal Palace to join my Seniors, but then -- when I remembered that Senior Changshan was going to be away for a while, I thought it’d be better if I stayed. Also, I’ve been thinking about what you said to me a while ago about… the Ghost Princess... well, you said a lot of things, but what I often recall you saying is that --” he took a deep breath and let the next words spill as if afraid he would lose the courage to do so should he wait a second longer -- “that I should never turn away from someone whose presence can put my mind at ease, or turn them away --”

Moyuan felt his brows constrict even though he was making a point to conceal his thoughts. He knew where this explanation was heading now. And that… what Zilan was alluding to, was not something he needed to be reminded of.

“I remember everything I said to you that day, Zilan. And none of the things I said suggest that you should disobey me and put yourself in danger like you just did.”

Zilan, who seemed to be holding himself back from asking about his Junior, said, “I want to help you, Shifu, with whatever you’re doing.”

“No,” Moyuan said flatly. “Thank you, but I am afraid I cannot allow you to be involved in what I am doing.”

Why, Shifu?” Zilan responded with frustration he did not bother to hide anymore. “Everyone else is doing their part to prepare for this war. All my Seniors --”

“All your Seniors are doing what I have instructed them to do, as you should be.”

“But that’s the problem, all of them are doing what you asked, Shifu, all of them are away. There’s no one to be at Kunlun when you come back, there’s no one helping you.”

Moyuan slightly shook his head in helplessness. There were many, too many things his disciple was not aware of, none of which he could explain at the moment.

“I don’t think you understand the severity of the situation, why I need you to be at the Western Sea with Diefeng.”

“No, I do,” Zilan insisted. “If you’d just listen to me for a moment, Shifu. Isn’t this one of those times when we figure out where our loyalty lies? Yes, we’re all on the same side, but my Seniors are together, the children are at the Eastern Forest, and Seventeenth…” he paused, turning briefly away, as if knowing he was stepping over the line, but then continued nonetheless. “I know that you want Seventeenth safe, I suppose you may even want me to be with her right now instead of here. But the thing is, Seventeenth has friends. She has the Crown Prince and Yanzhi and many other people around her. So you see -- none of them need me.”

Yehua and many other people… Moyuan repeated internally while waiting for his disciple to finish the explanation he already knew the end of. Of course, both she and Yehua were walking a safe road, at least safer than the one he was on. And perhaps that was all he needed to know.

“It is because I know how serious the situation is that I’m staying,” continued Zilan, his voice still trembling slightly but much more determined. “I’m not saying that you need me, of course. It’s not my place to make assumptions. But you always tell us that it’s not a good thing to isolate yourself because that makes you an easy target. And I know… that you’re powerful enough to be an exception to that theory but even so, you can’t always manage on your own.”

“Zilan,” Moyuan sighed. “Do not think that I am ungrateful to you for offering your help, but I cannot accept it, for reasons I’m sure you’re aware of even without my mentioning them.”

“Shifu, you can’t -- you don’t... get to do this...”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Maybe you believe that your sacrifice to the Bell of Donghua only affected Seventeenth, but it affected all of us! None of us would want to see you in danger again, Shifu. Why do you always insist on keeping us safe at the expense of your own well being? I’d rather be like Ninth Senior than...” Zilan’s voice trailed off. Silence returned between them, disconsolate and out drawn.

The long buried image of Lingyu’s death once again flash through Moyuan’s mind. Some images remained vivid no matter how much time passed. This was precisely the reason why he wished to keep them all out of potential danger while he still had the power to do so. It had nothing to do with his teachings, or sense, or a plan, but was something that was simply engraved in every fiber of his being.

“The point is --” continued Zilan slowly. “I know we’re heading toward a difficult time with everything going on regarding the Demons and the Dark Immortal, and I want to be useful. You’re taking on a task more important than border security or training the Celestial troops, I know it. I don’t need to know every detail of your plan if there is a plan, but I don’t believe any plan revolving around a war can be carried out by just one person.” He said again in earnest, “I want to help.”

Moyuan found it absurd that he was even considering Zilan’s words. Though he could not deny that not all of those words were unreasonable. Perhaps it was wrong of him to believe that turning his disciples away would keep them safe while there was no assurance that it would be the case. It was uncertain that following his orders completely would serve them well in the end even if it would minimize the chance of them getting hurt in theory. After all, Lingyu had done what he’d been instructed to do and nothing more; and still Moyuan had been unable to protect him. There was no telling if letting Zilan stay or making him leave would lead to a better result. But the one thing Moyuan had grasped in the palm of his hand was each of his disciples’ temperaments - taking Zilan along was at least better than letting him wander, trying to find an opportunity to aid his Master, which was what Zilan would absolutely do. Loyalty, courage - he had not the power to stop them, stop Zilan from executing these qualities even if he had all his disciples sealed deep inside Kunlun Mountain.

“I am heading toward the Demon Realm’s borders,” Moyuan said with another sigh.

For a moment, Zilan’s expression froze, as if he could not register the simple words Moyuan had spoken.

“So…” he stuttered. “I can…”

“If you are going to stay, Zilan, then I need you to remember this - your safety has priority. You said you understand the seriousness of what lies ahead and I hope that is true. So, you never act without consulting me. If I ask you to not engage, you will stay out. If I ask you to leave me and save yourself, you will do it. Can you promise to comply to these terms, preferably without raising your voice to me like you have been doing?”

Embarrassment and hesitance showed themselves on his face, but Zilan nodded. “Right. You have my word, Shifu.”

Stepping closer to his disciple with his arms behind his back, Moyuan lowered his voice, maintaining an expression that gave away no sentiment. “Give me one reason why I should trust your words when you have just outright disobeyed me.”

“What…? No, no… that’s different. I had to this time --”

“Then let this time be the last.”

Moyuan turned and began to walk forward while Zilan was still taking the time to process the conclusion of their talk. After a minute, quickening footsteps caught up with his and soon his disciple’s figure appeared next to him again as they both headed in the direction of his destination.


***


The King of Xunzhua crossed his arms and rolled his eyes, looking blankly at the front while the Elders and officials of his court carried out their argument.

Their discussion on border security had led a few members of his Council to raise the question of whether that was something to pour all manpower into at this time, which gave way to a series of pointless suggestions from some Elders about what was best for Xunzhua that were far off the point; and before Pojing knew it, the discussion had turned into a debate. On one side, some Elders were clear that the selection of a queen for Xunzhua was a matter of top priority that apparently needed to be done as soon as today. On the other, his generals and advisors could not care less about whether there was an heir to the throne or not and would like to get back to discussing the border shields.

Traditions. Duty to the bloodline. Pojing had had an earful of those things. While he appreciated the tribe’s Elders effort to maintain Xunzhua’s traditions, he did not know how much more of these talks he could take. Some of these Elders had served during his father’s time, which made their opinions generally valuable to him, wise and insightful even. But a lot of those opinions were rather antiquated. They always had ways to steer every discussion towards either his or his sister’s marriage. As if they feared no one would want him in a few years. As if he would die tomorrow and leave the throne vacant. Even if he chose a bride today then what would be next? A harem? There was no pleasing these people who were too obsessed with how things had been done that they could not look to the future.

Not to mention that he had far more important things to worry about. Those bloody Celestials in the Nine Heavens, for instance. Pojing cursed internally. How useless were they to have let Sufeng escape? What kind of generals could not hold against a prisoner who had been immobilized under layers of ice for decades? And what kind of emperor sent those generals on a mission as important as that?

“That’s enough,” Pojing rose from the throne, glaring at the arguing crowd. The angry monster in his chest was purring, waiting for someone to say the word ‘marriage’ or ‘queen’ once more, so that it could release its full wrath onto that person. Unfortunately, no one did. The debate subsided almost instantly.

“I want more men at the borders,” he picked up their discussion as if the subject of marriage had never been brought up, his voice echoing across the hall. “Our shields have never failed us but we need more manpower behind those shields to maintain their integrity, making sure they’re not being compromised. There are certain kinds of dark magic that could go undetected and penetrate a shield little by little. It’d be too late by the time it’s discovered.”

Most of the Council muttered in agreement.

“Everyone who travels beyond the shields,” his voice intensified, “doesn’t matter if you’re a maid, a merchant, a first rank advisor, or a chief commander, will submit to the same security protocols at the borders upon reentry. These rules will not be lifted until Sufeng is caught. No --” he held up a hand. “Until the threats of war ceased and the Dark Immortal is contained, then I will consider lessening these procedures.”

“When would you like the selection process to be done, my King?” asked one of the Elders. “The choosing of soldiers who will join the borders’ forces?”

“As soon as possible,” declared a voice from the other side of the hall.

All members of the Council stood and along with the guards and maids standing alongside the wall, they bowed to the newcomer.

“Princess.”

Pojing smiled broadly in relief as Zhuowei walked in. Despite knowing that his sister had magical methods to protect herself and that travelling with her was a highly trained soldier, he had been unsettled during the last few days. The memory of her being abducted and taken to a Demons’ lair had left quite an impression on him.

“It is a pleasure to have you back, Princess,” said the Elder who had posed the question earlier, sounding reluctant as he went on. “You are aware that there are internal affairs that also required your and our King’s attention and manpower, are you not?”

Zhuowei nodded at everyone and took her seat among the Council. From there, she continued as if she’d been here all along and had not just gotten back from a long journey. “Like what?”

Pojing waited for a reply. If this Elder dared mention some ceremony that needed to be prepared for or a royal marriage again, he was going to lose it.

Though, at Zhuowei’s challenging tone, the Elder dipped his head respectfully and said no more.

“Nothing’s more important than heightening our security at the borders,” Zhuowei continued. “We can’t delay these actions and pretend that we’ll be completely safe behind our shields should war break out between the Celestials and Demons; I’m sure the King has mentioned this today. All kingdoms who rely on a strong system of shields to survive are doing this - Qingqiu, for instance.”

A rumble of agreement swept across the room.

“Even though our troops consist of well selected soldiers,” Pojing picked up, “our numbers are much smaller than neighboring kingdoms and miniscule compared to the Demons’ should they all unify. No, no --” he glanced at the few prideful-looking Elders who were about to protest and gestured for them to hold their tongue, “that is the truth. So, carry out my orders concerning our shields immediately.”

With that, Pojing dismissed the meeting. While some Elders clearly did not take well the outcome of their discussion, most of the Council bowed out of the hall with approval on their faces.

“I swear…” Pojing hissed when the last advisor had disappeared through the exit. Though his sister stopped him from saying the rest of his curse.

“Calm down, Brother!” she laughed. “You know, it’s a good thing I’m the one who’s handling our tribe’s weapon-making and not you given your awful temper. I really hope whoever becomes your queen in the future can deal with it.”

“Don’t start,” he pointed at her.

“But I agree. Some of the Elders are a bit reluctant to face reality, aren’t they,” Zhuowei said. “They’re just too absorbed in the idea that Xunzhua is impenetrable and are forgetting about the work that has to be put in for it to remain that way.”

“True,” sighed Pojing, pouring himself a much needed glass of wine and sat back down. “If they do not change their ways, I’m afraid I will clash with them in the future for one reason or another.”

A group of maids rushed into the hall, carrying trays of food and drinks, which they placed down on the high table next to Zhuowei.

“I say you pick someone from a prestigious tribe to be your queen as soon as possible and the Elders will leave us alone to do whatever we want,” said Zhuowei as she started to pick out the food she liked.

“I’m not that desperate,” he responded with a scoff. “Speaking of which, have you given any more thought to the marriage proposals we received before the incident with the Demons?”

“I have, actually.”

“And?”

“Reject them all for me, please,” she said without looking up.

“I thought so,” Pojing mumbled. “But I’m curious - what are these suitors not doing right?”

“Nothing,” she shrugged. “I just don’t want to leave Xunzhua yet. Why, are you in a hurry to marry me off?”

“No. But I would like to know your preferences so that I can cross off anyone who does not meet your bizzarre standards immediately upon their proposal instead of having to wait to bring the matter to you.”

“My standards are not bizzarre. But since you asked, I’d like someone who can at least appreciate my work.”

“I’m sure they all appreciate your work,” he said, slightly bemused. “That’s why they proposed alliance by marriage between our tribes in the first place.”

“I said appreciate ‘my work’, not the results of my work. But even if I had someone in mind and he asked for my hand now, I would still have to reject him. There’s too much I want to do before I start worrying about that. Finding someone to pass all of my knowledge and researches to, for example. Someone with the same passion, whom I can trust. Also, I think I’ll be more open to proposals when I actually want to get married; now they all sound like pointless lectures to me. When I wish to be married, Brother,” she drained a glass of water, “I won’t bother you with the selection. I’ll choose my own future husband.”

“All right,” Pojing jeered. “But you’d better not bring home an uptight Celestial from the Nine Heavens or I’ll disown you.”

“Not all Celestials are uptight.” she frowned.

“All the ones I’ve met are. And trust me, their obsession with rules and ceremony is not the worst of the problems.”

Before Zhuowei could protest more, hastening footsteps were heard approaching the hall and not a few seconds later, a soldier Pojing recognized as one of his generals’ trusted subordinates strode in with a scroll clutched in his hand, looking anxious - an expression Pojing was used to seeing lately. Disturbing news concerning the Demon Tribe had been received at an increasing rate.

“My King. Princess,” the soldier bowed. “We have news from the Northern Sea. There has been an attack on the palace yesterday.”

“A Demon attack?” Pojing asked.

“It was unclear whether it was the work of the Demon Tribe but there were Demons among the attackers. They aimed to assassinate the Northern Sea King Sangji and his family but the attempt was thwarted in time. Though many were injured and killed during the attack.”

Pojing said nothing for a while - why did the Demons or the Dark Immortal’s people keep attacking random places when it was the Nine Heavens they wanted to go to war with? Why draw attention to themselves like this?

“The Celestial Crown Prince calls for a gathering in three days,” the soldier went on. “Will you be attending, my King?”

“That’s not possible. I have too many things to discuss with my generals. I will choose someone from the court to go in my stead.”

Sangji - a member of the Celestial royal family, the Crown Prince’s uncle. Pojing exchanged a look with his sister when the soldier had left them. Then, not wanting to burden her with more talk of attacks around the realms, he stood up and walked toward the exit.

Reaching the balcony, he took off his outer robe, unbuttoned his collar and shook it loose. The position of this hall allowed him the ease to observe the land he was the ruler of. Not all, but a large portion of it was visible to his eyes from here.

What could the Demons or Luoji gain from this assassination if it had been successful? He wondered, looking down upon the vast green below. Zhongyin might be a rash fool who depended entirely on luck and the guidance of the late Demon Queen’s supporters to keep himself out of trouble, but even he knew better than to attack Sangji for no reason. If it was the Dark Immortal, then why?

Grunting, Pojing leaned closer to the railings. The Nine Heavens had a close-minded and gutless man for a ruler and a Crown Prince who had thought it was a good idea to vanquish an entire tribe from the realms, who had made fewer contributions to peace than his sister, a weapon inventor. Yet those were the two people all the realms had to look to for leadership in these troubling times. Xunzhua might be one of a few immortal kingdoms that were independent of their influence but most others were not.

His duty was first to his people and he could not deny that the Dark Immortal was a threat to his people even if Xunzhua was not his primary target. This was an enemy whose magnitude of powers they had no idea about. An ancient God who’d existed at the same time with Lord Donghua and the Demon Queen, older than even the Kunlun’s High God, someone who had fought against all four of the most powerful Gods in existence and almost won. Would the shields at Xunzhua’s borders be able to keep him out entirely?

 Chapter 7, Part 4