Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 7, Part 5 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 7 - Zhuxian’s Fire

Part 5

written by Lala Loop
consulting by Bunny
edited by kakashi

Behind Bai Qian, the little sprite was shrieking desperately, pulling her back by the scruff of her neck. But its inconsequential strength did nothing to stop her.

A pair of hands caught her around the chest and with considerable strength dragged her backward. Gathering all the powers she could muster, Bai Qian wrenched herself loose and dove toward the cliff without slowing down.

“Zheyan!”

There had to be a mistake… this must be an illusion… Zheyan must be somewhere under that ledge, waiting for her to come and help him climb up. She knew it. She would get him back. She would get him back even if she had to jump down there herself. Once he was back here, she would make him explain what had happened.

“Zheyan!” she stared down into the darkness. “ZHEYAN!”

Why was there no answer? Zheyan would never abandon her. Even if he was busy, or had received a summon from the most important person in all the realms, if she needed him, he would drop everything and be in front of his cottage with his Peach Blossom Wine, with the answers to all the questions she had.

“Zheyan…”

Why was he not answering her? Why would he not say something when he knew she was waiting, when she had been yelling his name all this while?

Bai Qian heard a loud screeching sound and something feathery crashed straight into her, knocking her away from the edge. She staggered up, drew out the silk fan though at the same time recognized the person.

“Bifang!”

“Xiaowu…”

“Bifang, Zheyan…”

“I know, I saw... We have to get out of here.”

“He didn’t…,” she choked, tears streaming down from her eyes. She grasped her head with both hands. “It’s Zheyan… it’s Zheyan… he couldn’t have…”

“Let’s go. We have to go.”

“No!”

“Bai Qian, we have to leave! Now!” shouted Yanzhi as she and Bifang both seized Bai Qian’s arms and pulled her away from the cliff.

“No, let me go! You don’t understand!” she wrenched herself away. If she had to fight them to stay, she would. If she went away now, who would be here to help Zheyan when he came back… Zheyan could not die, he was one of the most powerful gods in the eight realms. He had just been here, talking to her, telling her to be careful. Bifang and Yanzhi knew nothing...

“He’s gone, Bai Qian!” said Yanzhi, her voice too was trembling. “And so will we be if you keep standing here!”

“He’s not…”

But a part of her understood that it was pointless to argue with her friends, that Zheyan would not reappear just because she believed he would. Zhuxian Terrace would not make an exception just because it was Zheyan when it had taken the lives of more powerful beings before.

“Xiaowu, Luoji has taken the Nine Heavens, we have to leave!”

Bai Qian glared around while her confounded brain struggled to decide what to do next. Luoji was nowhere to be seen, and neither was Moyuan.

“Yehua… A-li…”

“What!” Bifang shouted, his hands still clutching her arm.

“We can’t leave them here,” said Bai Qian.

“No! There’s no time --” Bifang protested. But she shook his hand off and bolted ahead. She could not bear another loss today.

“If we can’t find them then we’ll have to go before they seal the place!” yelled Yanzhi’s voice from behind as she ran after Bai Qian, who was closely followed by Bifang.

It was not only the sky above Zhuxian Terrace that was covered in dark clouds anymore but the entire Nine Heavens, a darkness that almost resembled nighttime.

Bai Qian kept running. A-li would not be at Xiwu Palace right now, nor at his own palace. Either his guards would have taken him into hiding or he himself would have run out to see what was going on. She knew that in extreme situations such as this the guards would escort A-li out of the Nine Heavens through one of the secret passages only known to the royal family,leading directly to safe grounds. But if the Nine Heavens had been infiltrated then there was a chance that those passages had been found and blocked. Bai Qian’s whole body trembled at the thought of what could happen to the boy.

If he was taken hostage somewhere then the question was where? Trying to find a person in this ruckus, in this place of countless buildings, was no different than digging the bottom of the ocean for a sewing needle.

It was not too long until the invaders rounded on them, some were in Celestial armors. With her powers unsuppressed, Bai Qian was able to keep most of them at bay. Turned or not, mere Celestial soldiers were never a match for her in a magic duel. But when more and more fighters of Luoji poured into the area, Bai Qian started to panic. A few dozens perhaps they could handle, but not a hundred at once.

Ignoring Bifang’s insistence on leaving, Bai Qian fought her way toward the front. Her arms were getting weary, panic was gyrating in her stomach like a whirlwind; but she kept going. She had to get to the front. She had to find Yehua and A-li.

Someone bellowed, making them all glance around in confusion.

A roar thundered above their heads and something landed right in between them and their opponents, knocking them all off their feet. Scrambling up, Bai Qian backed away in shock when she realized that standing only five feet from her was a monstrous leopard. Gasps and shrieks exploded all around her. The creature wheeled its body around to glare at her and her friends while Bai Qian raised her fan and prepared to strike. Its snarling sharp fangs and the growling sound coming from its throat told her it was prepared to rip off her head and swallow her whole any second. Qingcang’s Golden Lion would have only stood to this creature’s nose at the very best. But she was not as frightened as she should be. She doubted anything could frighten her now.

Though the moment Bai Qian took a second look at the beast’s ferocious face above the deadly fangs, her arm suspended in midair.

She knew those eyes, not by their color, but by spirit.

“Pojing…”

Around them, the invaders began to advance, their attention had shifted to Pojing instead and they began to moved cautiously toward him with much maliciousness on their faces.

Shuffling its fur, the leopard turned around again, bending his head and legs. As the men closed in, he leapt forward with another deafening roar, landing in the center of the pack of men who were closing in with their weapons, scattering them to all sides. Faster than an arrow, his paw reached out to grab one of them and hurled him to the other side of the yard. Powers issuing from his hooked claws blasted away anyone who came too close. Jets of magic sent at him barely hit their target. The next minute, before Bai Qian or her friends had time to offer help, countless black figures were lying flat on the ground. Some others who were approaching wheeled around and scattered.

As the leopard strode back in their direction, the rosettes and fangs vanished along with everything else and he was the King of Xunzhua again when he reached them.

“What’s the matter with you?” he asked, eyeing the tears that would not stop flowing from Bai Qian’s eyes. “What happened?”

“I thought you went back to Xunzhua,” she said instead of answering.

“I did. But I knew something was wrong when I received news about the attack on the Northern Sea,” he said to Bai Qian and her friends. “Let’s go. If we get separated, cloud-jump two hundred miles to the East of Qingqiu, that’s where my men are waiting for me.”

Luoji’s men flooded the place from every corner. Celestial soldiers fought, but failed, to keep them out of certain areas. The gate to Taicheng Palace was raided like everywhere else.

As Bai Qian and her friends moved further toward the court, the sky rumbled and thunder suddenly broke out, earsplitting thunder that sounded as if they could tear apart the sky and everything under it. Bai Qian knew that Lord Puhua of the Lightning Tower was the only man in the eight realms who could and was allowed to conjure thunder of this magnitude and not without good reason.

What was it? A summon? Had Puhua been working for Luoji too, or had his lightning rod been confiscated? If so, then he…

She could not think anymore. Anyone in the Nine Heavens could lose their life today and there was no way she could know who it would be.

Eventually they arrived at the place people seemed to be flocking to.

A large crowd had gathered in front of the Celestial court, all dumbstruck and speechless. The four of them pushed their way to the front. The scene in the space between the Celestials soldiers and the Dark Immortal’s followers made them halt in shock.

Luoji stood with Lord Puhua’s lightning rod in his grip. His other hand, seemingly with very little effort, was pushing down on Yehua’s shoulder, keeping him on his knees. Yehua looked very much drained of energy. He was bleeding all over and blood was dripping from the corner of his mouth. He was struggling yet his whole body appeared powerless against the force that was exerted upon him.

Paying no heed to the people who had just arrived, Luoji’s face maintained a satisfied expression and a small smile while he glanced around.

“Take a good look at your Crown Prince - defender of the Celestials. Is this what you all have settled for? A boy whose mediocre skills have been boasted about by his conceited grandfather, defeated by my mere servants.”

A silver streak suddenly came out of nowhere and hit Luoji in the chest, causing his hand on Yehua to spring up in defense. Yehua dropped to the ground. Though the moment he tried to get up again, a robe materialized from thin air and fastened itself around him. He grunted in agony and struggled to escape the bond but to no avail. People stared around, looking for the source of the silver magic.

A thrust of air swept over their heads and another man appeared at the center with his sword at the ready.

“Donghua,” Luoji hissed. “A little late, aren't’ we.”

Without another word they both moved at the same moment. Chang’he Sword and the lightning rod collided, exuding a wave that sent everyone present stumbling back. Sizzles of fire erupted from where the two weapons met. Every blow they exchanged afterward carried such weight that it felt as though the ground could split open, the city of palaces could crumple any moment.

But the flicker of hope in Bai Qian faded quickly when it started to look like Luoji was gaining advantage. While Donghua’s force grew weaker with every move, the Dark Immortal did not seem to be affected one bit. If not to say that he’d been playing all along while Donghua put everything he had into each attack.

Sneering and throwing out insulting remarks the whole time, Luoji countered every blow from Donghua skillfully. Until at last, a loud explosion erupted when two jets of light met in midair and Donghua was blasted a distance away almost immediately and landed on his back.

A sob came out of Bai Qian involuntarily, fear tightening her throat. Never… never once in her life, had she imagined Donghua like this.

He hoisted himself up on one elbow and clutched his chest in pain. Blood spilling from his mouth painted the ground red as he lost consciousness completely and collapsed.

“Donghua!” cried a familiar voice.

From among the mass of people, a shadow of pink bolted forward and dropped down next to Donghua’s body; and Bai Qian was terrified to see that hovering above Donghua now, right in front of Luoji, was Fengjiu. She sprinted ahead without thinking. But someone else had flown to her niece’s side before her. While Pojing pulled her back into him, she saw how Si Ming seized both Donghua and Fengjiu by their arms, summoned Chang’he Sword, and they all vaporized with a puff of smoke.

“There goes your last protector,” declared Luoji, without any intention to pursue.

Fear spread around like a poison gas they could do nothing to stop. Not a single person dared to breath, not after they had seen with their own eyes the defeat of someone they’d all thought undefeatable. At this time, another group of Celestials joined the crowd on their side, all of them exhausted, all of them panicking yet not daring to utter a single sound. The Skylord’s battered appearance was among them, his eyes flaring up in anger when he saw Yehua lying on the ground.

Looking above their heads, Luoji spoke softly.

“Master of the Nine Heavens, come forward.”

The Skylord, who had had his arms outspread to keep the rest of his people behind him, took a step toward Luoji’s direction. Bai Qian noticed that the three princes and Lady Lexu were nowhere to be seen.

“I will give you one chance to yield,” said Luoji.

The Skylord responded with a kind of silence that contained nothing but hopelessness. None of the soldiers around him had a better reaction. Shock, fear, and exhaustion were the only things Bai Qian could see on their faces. They had lost this battle. With all that they had done, they had lost.

“As you can see, Haode,” Luoji continued, “my people have not drawn blood today. Not yet. They have merely been containing those who attempted to fight. In fact, the only one who took someone’s life today is not one of my people. So, let me explain to you how this will proceed. You can yield and hand me the Jade Seal in peace and I might consider not killing your family and those who have resisted me today. Or, you can refuse and I will, first, kill your grandson to give you an incentive. Then, I will slaughter your people one by one, staring with your sons, until you beg me to stop, at which time, your only two choices will be: yield the throne to me and die a less humiliating death than if you would not step aside, or let me walk over your dead body and claim it.”

Silence once again drowned them all. Was this it? Was there nothing else to be done?

The Skylord slowly brought his arm forward and spread his fingers. A golden box appeared on top of his hand.

Following a summoning spell, the box flew into Luoji’s open palm. Slowly, he turned to face his supporters, who made admiring sounds and threw sneers at the Nine Heavens’ people.

There was a flash of light and a sharp sound of metal. The Skylord charged ahead, aiming his sword at his opponent’s head. But just when the sword was an inch from touching Luoji, Bai Qian saw those merciless eyes narrow. Whatever magic he cast made the blade freeze where it was. A rumble of anger broke among his supporters.

Luoji swatted the sword aside and with another slash through the air, the Skylord’s golden headpiece was severed from his hair and fell to the ground, making a loud clanging sound upon the impact. He threw the defeated man a look of contempt, raised his hand and swiped again. The sword flew out of the Skylord’s hand, soared up into the dark sky then bolted back, plunging itself through Haode’s chest.

The piercing cries from Yehua punctured through the silence as the Skylord’s body hit the ground. Luoji raised the lightning rod and a jet of light was shot upward through the clouds. Flashes of thunder started to erupt and filled the space with their raging roars.

Black shadows shot down from above, which turned out to be more of Luoji’s servants. Together, some of them performed a kind of spell that gradually created an opaque veil around the area. The others broke into fights against the Celestials. There was no telling which man was from which side now that they were blasting magic from all directions. Some attempted to stop Luoji from entering the Celestial Court and paid with their lives before they could do so much as come close to him. Some others cloud-jumped, several of whom were unsuccessful and were immediately caught back in the struggle.

“They’re sealing the place…” said Pojing. “We have to hurry!”

Screams and grunts and the sound of weapons clashing into each other filled Bai Qian’s ears and rang in her head. But there was no time to stop and help anyone anymore. They fought through the crowd toward Yehua’s lying figure. On their way, Bai Qian caught a glimpse of a man among the people who had been summoned who was battling a massive group of soldiers. The way he cast magic and moved about with lightning speed, striking with his bare hands, he looked almost like Pojing from a distance.

Reaching Yehua, Bai Qian extended her arm and caught his hand and as soon as Yanzhi and Bifang joined them, Pojing’s magic pulled them soaring upward.

Something crashed into them hard as they cloud-jumped from the Nine Heavens, tearing Yehua’s hand away from hers. As the magic took her hurtling through space, she saw black shadows whizzing around, heard distorted screams from all directions. But the next second, everything faded and the cold air was the only thing she could feel.

“We’re here,” said Pojing’s voice right after Bai Qian’s back hit something hard. She shook her head and took a quick look around - the forest looked familiar. They were indeed at a riverbank a few hundred miles away from Qingqiu. A second later there was another thud in the distance.

“That must be them,” said Pojing as they both jumped to their feet.

Loud arguing voices reached her ears from a few yards away and Bai Qian squinted to see four figures approaching.

“Where’s Bifang…” asked Bai Qian. “Did we lose Bifang?”

“We can’t have,” Pojing said. “He was there when I took off. I’m sure we didn’t leave him behind.”

“Did he get lost along the way? A lot of people cloud-jumped at the same time. Maybe someone hit him...”

“Crown Prince, you can’t!” said Yanzhi’s voice, cutting off their conversation.

A sort of reply came from Yehua. Bai Qian could not make out what he had said, only that it seemed to agitate Yanzhi even more.

“This is insane! Please, you can’t!” said one of the men.

“Nalan,” Pojing called out. “What’s the matter?”

“My King!” said one of the Xunzhua men, gesturing at Yehua. “He wants to…”

“Yehua, what are you doing?” said Bai Qian, sliding in front of him to stop him from going any further.

“I have to go back,” he said to her, voice dry and out of breath. “A-li is still in there.”

“Are you out of your Celestial mind, Crown Prince?” Pojing said. “They’re going to kill you if you go back!”

“I don’t have a choice.”

“Hey!” Pojing sprang his arm aside, blocking Yehua’s path. There was always dislike in his eyes whenever it concerned Yehua. However, dislike, despite still being there, was much dominated by sympathy at the moment. “This is not a joke; the Nine Heavens have fallen. Or did you not see what happened at all?”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” said Yanzhi. “Crown Prince, you can’t go anywhere near the Celestial Palace now. You saw what happened to Lord Donghua, you’ll be dead before you can rescue anyone.”

Taking a deep inhale, Yehua ignored Yanzhi’s warning and glared at Pojing, his face bearing the same dislike.

“I did see what happened, King of Xunzhua. My grandfather — is dead. I thank you for saving my life, but do not tell me what to do, my life is not your concern from this moment on.”

There was an instance of silence and Pojing went on. “The second you touch the Nine Heavens’ ground, they’re going to know. Those people will have you locked up and tortured at the very least. You can-not go back.”

“And are you going to stop me?”

When Pojing did not reply, Yehua lunged forward. With difficulty, Bai Qian managed to hold him still with both her hands on his arms.

“Yehua!”.

“Let -- go -- of me, Qianqian...” he breathed, staring down at her.

“Pojing’s right, Yehua,” she said, almost automatically. It was puzzling even to herself that she could tell madness from reason at this moment. “The Nine Heavens have been taken. You can’t just barge through the front gate.”

“What do you suppose we do, figure out a plan?” his furious eyes were upon her. “I’m not a fool, I know the Nine Heavens are taken. Every other tribe ruler is probably fleeing back to their own land and raising their shields after what they’ve just seen. My brother is not back from his mission yet. There is no help to be had.”

‘Not back’? Bai Qian could feel tears coming up to her throat. He doesn’t know then...
“Of course, that is what you always do, isn’t it - planning,” he continued forcefully. “It must be so foreign to you why I think there is no time for a plan now, why the only plan we can carry out this time is taking a risk.”

“Are you… you saw what happened!” she shouted, removing her hands from his arms though not stepping back. “You saw what Luoji can do! Every corner of that place is swarmed with his people; you don’t know which one of your men is working for which side, including Tianshu and Jiayun. What good will it do A-li if you’re captured and killed!”

“All right…,” he nodded. “What would you do, Qianqian? Sit here and wait for someone to come save you?”

“I’m not telling you to wait, all I’m asking is that we at least talk it through first. And if any of us is going to go and save A-li, it’s not going to be you. You’re heavily injured, you can easily collapse on the way, every spell you cast can attract attention. And what if they’re setting a trap and waiting for you to come back?”

“If you think I’m just going to sit here and meditate while you all decide A-li’s fate with your strategizing…”

“Well, you going back there alone is not an option, it’s suicide.”

“Even if I get killed, I’ll at least get him out of there first!”

“No, you can’t! You always think everything will solve itself if you risk your life but it doesn’t work that way!”

“It may be the only way this time,” the tremor in his voice intensified. “One minute we waste arguing is one minute A-li has to spend in danger and fear! He is the only thing I have, the only thing that ever belonged to me, can’t you understand that? I cannot let anything happen to him,” his voice broke even though it was no less adamant than before. “Of course, why would I expect you to understand at all. You’re not…,” he stopped short, looking as though he was having to swallow something bitter.

“What?” she murmured.

“You’re not his mother.”

“No, I’m not! Glad we’ve straightened that out!”

They were standing so close now that she could feel the heat of fury radiating from his body while her own anger was rising to her throat and about to explode one way or another.

“Can someone explain to me what’s going on?” Pojing quickly stuck a hand in between them and raised his voice. “Who’s A-li?”

“The Crown Prince’ son,” said Yanzhi while Bai Qian and Yehua kept glaring viciously at one another. “He’s still stuck inside the Nine Heavens -- it seems…”

Yehua abandoned the conversation with a frustrated sigh. Though before he could take a single step, Bai Qian saw Pojing raise his hand and in a blur of a movement, struck Yehua on the back of his neck. There was a small gasp. Yehua stumbled and collapsed on the spot while Bai Qian quickly caught his body into her arms as they both sank to the ground.

With a shake of his head at the unconscious Crown Prince, Pojing turned to one of the Xunzhua men.

“Nalan, do you think you can make a trip to the Celestial Palace and see where the Crown Prince’s son is?”

“I will try,” said the soldier cautiously. “But if they are holding him captive then I can’t promise I’ll be able to get him out.”

“Well, do your best. You have one of the Shield Stones the princess made, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“If you have to use it to get the child out of there then do it. Be back here the soonest you can with at least some news or there’ll be hell to pay for what I just did,” he jerked his head at Yehua.

Nalan bowed and rushed ahead, at a distance he cloud-jumped.

“You,” Pojing turned to the other soldier. “Go back to Xunzhua at once and inform the princess of what has happened.”

He too left after a series of questions about whether his king would be all right without his assistance.

“The men who travel along with me are well trained for missions like this,” Pojing said. “They can get in and out of a place more easily than any of us.”

Bai Qian did not say anything. She did not find Pojing’s men’s skills interesting at all. None of it mattered.

“Bai Qian…” Yanzhi gave her a look of concern when they had left Yehua to lie in the tent Nalan had set up before they’d come. “Should we… should we tell him?” she gestured at Pojing.

“We’ll have to,” Bai Qian said shortly and turned away from the Ghost Princess and left to be alone at the riverbank, not knowing why she did not want anyone to know about Zheyan yet. Perhaps she was still clinging on to the hope that it was not true at all.

A thrust of wind swept by and caused some ripples on the surface of water. Bai Qian’s heart jumped foolishly, hoping for a silver jet of light to shoot up from the bottom of the river and that Zheyan would appear again like a certain dragon had done at the battle of Ruoshui River not too long ago. But of course he did not. The water became still again very quickly.

There was a small tug on her hair and from the corner of her eyes Bai Qian saw some fluttering wings next to her face - the little sprite was prompting her to talk. Its normally energetic chirps sounded almost like sobs at the moment. After a while, it gave up and flew away.

When Yehua woke up, she would have to tell him.

The pain was ripping through her, burning every part of her more intensely than she believed Zhuxian’s fires ever could. Bai Qian stiffened her back. She could not let Pojing see any unusual behaviour from her. Not now. She could not bear to be questioned.

She knew the moment Zheyan’s body was caught in flame that there was no hope. The fires of Zhuxian were strong enough to kill a living High God, let alone fragments of a burned soul.

The why and how of it did not matter anymore. She needed no explanation. It had happened before her eyes. Why? She had known the reason all along and refused to believe it. Even now she refused to believe it. Perhaps it was her fault for always seeing him as an embodiment of goodness, so much that even when the facts had been presented in front of her, she’d argued against them. Her fault for holding out the hope that he would not go that far for anyone, for finding excuses for him, for thinking that he was within her grasp while in reality, he had gone far out of her reach a long time ago. Maybe the question was - had she ever known him at all? An involuntary sound escaped from her throat when the memories of the time they’d spent together hit her.

The seething anger within her struggled, not knowing how to make itself known and she had not the slightest idea what kind of expression her face was showing, what her hammering heart was trying to tell her. Nothing made sense.

Her conversation with Yanzhi just before Zheyan had walked in, the view around them now, the cold wind, even the grass she stood on, felt almost dreamlike. No, perhaps this was reality. The lines of tears running down her face and the pain that was spreading across every inch of her unstoppably, she could feel. It must be real. What she had been living in was a dream, not this.

Bai Qian slowly detached the white handkerchief from her wrist, lay it open on her palm and pressed her fingers against the silver embroidery. The white of snow. Untainted, innocent - the dream she held dear. What was between them that she treasured.

She took the fabric by its corners with both hands; then tightening her grip, she tore it in half.

Chapter 8, Part 1