Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 8, Part 8 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 8 - Divided

Part 8

written by LalaLoop
edited by kakashi
consulting by Bunny

Yanzhi lowered her arm to break the magic she had been pouring into the butterfly hairpin and took a deep breath.

Bai Qian sighed - she and her friends had taken turns to examine this device. They had realized that while it appeared to be a perfectly ordinary child’s hair ornament, there was some strong enchantment protecting it from any external interferences. And that was about all they had found out about it. There was no carvings, or messages in invisible ink on it, nothing that could give them any useful information.

Not wanting to face with questions they had no answers to, they decided to keep this from Bai Zhen for now and had not asked him to give it a try yet. Bai Qian’s fourth brother’s immortal powers were a bit stronger than any of theirs and his spells carried more effect. Though judging by the device’s unaffected state after so many spells had been cast at it, they weren’t sure if more magical strength was the solution to the problem.

More than a hundred times Bai Qian had had it laid in front of her face, her eyes glued to the jade butterfly, unblinking, searching for any carvings they might have overlooked. What she got in the end though was a pair of watery eyes, stinging from being forced open for too long. They had even tried throwing the device into fire and dipping it in different potions to break the enchantment. Nothing worked. The thing remained annoyingly unscathed. And they all understood that the harder this spell was to break, the more it meant that they were right - this device held great significance. That was what made it so frustrating.

“There must be -- a way to do it,” said Yanzhi, not sounding like she believed that there was a way at all, burying her face in her hands.

“The only thing we haven’t tried is Crimson Hellfire,” said Bai Qian. “Not that we can, because Qilin still has that -- thing around his neck and he’s the only one who can produce Hellfire.”

Unless they got lucky and caught one of those Ghost Assassins who could breath Hellfire, Bai Qian thought, it was hopeless.

“How about we snap it in half?” Pojing suggested.

Yanzhi shot a stunned look at him. Yehua seemed to have a similar reaction, though he was less expressive about it.

Pojing shrugged. “Better to have it broken than found by Luoji.”

“We need to keep it intact to find out why it’s so important to Luoji,” Bai Qian chanted in a dull voice, massaging the outer corners of her eyes. “And I don’t think you can break this in half, I read in a book once that if you exert destructive force on objects like this, the enchantment will react —”

“You read too much, Queen of Qingqiu,” Pojing said and downed the content of the goblet he’d been holding. “Why did I ever think you could advise my sister to study less?”

Bai Qian rolled her eyes at him while Yanzhi sank down into a chair. They found themselves staring at the butterfly hairpin again.

“Why don’t we take it to Xunzhua,” Pojing said, sounding a lot more serious this time.

At this, Yehua, who had remained quiet all along, lifted his head.

“Xunzhua?” Yanzhi repeated.

Pojing nodded. “I can’t guarantee we can find a solution but I know that my sister did some extensive research about these things, it was part of her training. She’s studied the proper spells and she has the equipment. We can ask her to take a look at it. You’re right, Queen,” he gestured at Bai Qian. “If we keep doing this, the device might explode on someone. I’ve seen it happen before - devices destroying themselves when in the hands of those who are not designated to use them.”

For a while, no one said anything. They had not exactly sat down to talk about what to do after they’d have rescued A-li. Forming an army, contacting scattered Celestials Soldiers, a war against Luoji - most of these decisions lay with Yehua, who, unfortunately, had not been on speaking terms with Pojing for the last two days.

From what Bai Qian could tell, Pojing’s suggestion was more than just an invitation for them to come to Xunzhua; it was a proposition directed at Yehua.

Qingqiu had been able to hold its shield against Luoji but was too close to the Nine Heavens and in truth, was not a suitable place to use as a military base. Foxes lived in small groups, scattered around the eight realms, and had always kept to themselves, passed down their magical skills to each other so that they could defend their lands. Raising armies and making weapons were two of the things they did not care to do.

Lord Donghua was nowhere to be found; The Ghost Realm possessed a strong energy that was opposing to most of theirs; and the Demons were certainly not an option. Their most logical choice was Xunzhua - a kingdom with proficient shield magic and an ally of the former Nine Heavens.

Bai Qian knew that Pojing might be hot-tempered and harsh with his judgment toward the Celestials, but as a king, he certainly understood the situation they were in - if they were to have a chance against Luoji, Yehua must assume his role in this war, and with all of them behind him. The Nine Heavens might have been subpar at their job and made many damaging decisions ever since Lord Donghua had stepped down from the throne, but the realms had always been looking to them for leadership, there was no denying that. Yehua, the youngest High Immortal of their generation, a crown prince whose reputation of skills and benevolence had reached every clan, large and small - only his name would be able to unite people of the eight realms and generate loyalty.

Whether Yehua could overlook their differences though and accept Pojing’s offer was another question. Bai Qian sneaked a nervous glance at the Celestial Crown Prince, whose face was temporarily expressionless. He and Pojing had not tried to punch each other in the face in the last two days and had focused on the plan to rescue A-li instead, and to Bai Qian that was already a great improvement. She did not dare to hope for any agreement between them at the moment. Their tolerance for each other was often hanging by a thread.

Another extremely uncomfortable minute passed by where the only sound to be heard was the sprite’s fluttering wings from the far corner, near the food and wine. When Yehua finally took a step forward, the faint sound of his boots on the stone ground felt like a puncture in the air. The mutual intimidation was still dominating the atmosphere between them, but it seemed neither Yehua or Pojing intended to act on any spiteful sentiment their last fight had left.

“I am grateful for your help, King of Xunzhua,” said Yehua. “So will the entire Celestial Clan be.”

Pojing, who was obviously not used to Celestials’ properness and polished speech, responded with a curt movement of his head.

“Well,” he cleared his throat, “the point is, let’s try not to turn our backs on allies.”

***

Xunzhua, Bai Qian thought with much anticipation as she walked out of Qingqiu Cave alongside Yanzhi. After their discussion, Yehua had returned to tend to his wounded soldiers who were staying at Qingqiu while Pojing had left to write to his sister.

Xunzhua was not as far away from here as the Eastern Forest, but it was not a simple walk to the woods either. No doubt after they would have brought A-li out of the Celestial Palace, they must go right away. This would be no short trip and it might be some time before she could come back here.

Injury could happen to any of them on the way, Bai Qian pondered. She did not hope that it would but to not prepare for it was rather foolish. She was not a physician, but what she could do was...

“Looks like I’ll have to have a word with Qilin and Wunian before we go,” said Yanzhi, interrupting Bai Qian’s thoughts. “And with my Elders, too.”

Bai Qian nodded in agreement. She also had a place in mind to visit. Parting with Yanzhi, and not without letting her know where she would be, Bai Qian headed straight in the direction of the Peach Blossom Garden.

She did not need a pointer to find the garden, she’d been going there almost everyday in her life. What she needed was, perhaps, courage.

Bai Qian had been avoiding the place out of fear. She was afraid to be told again by the vacant garden that Zheyan had left them. She was afraid she would not be able to stop herself from calling Zheyan’s name as always when she had arrived there, afraid of the silence that would follow.

Adamant at first, yet her determination faded with every step she took closer to the garden. But somehow Bai Qian felt she must gather whatever was left of her courage to enter the garden even if it killed her. It was where she had spent a large part of her life, she was not going to go on a long trip without bidding it farewell.

With a few cloud-jumps, Bai Qian landed on the soft grass near the lake.

The air around astounded her. A cold silence surrounded the garden, seeping into her bones. The little sprite flew out from the back of her hair and started to circle a nearby tree.

Bai Qian lifted her chin - the blossoms were still in full bloom, yet they were not the same as before. She walked to the closest tree, gently brushing her fingertips across the soft petals. The color had become dull, almost white, the enchanting fragrance was no longer around; the last traces of it were still lingering in the air, but so feeble that Bai Qian could tell they would soon disappear completely.

The garden, though with its shield still standing and grass still green, was lifeless. And grey. Like the dark cloud that surrounded her world.

For thousands of years, this had been Zheyan’s home. He had planted these ancient trees himself. His immortal essence had become a part of these blossoms’ beauty and liveliness. Without him, they would live on, but only as soulless shells of what had used to be a wonder to behold, what had been capable of bestowing upon anyone who had the good fortune of being here a sense of eternal bliss and peace.

During one of their talks long ago, he had mentioned this to her and her brother. Bai Qian had been listening with half her attention on the fish jumping up and down the lake surface and the delicious food Zheyan had made them, simply because she’d never believed that Zheyan would leave this garden in her lifetime. How many other things had he told her that she’d disregarded because she’d taken him for granted? Just as she had everything else.

Reaching the small cottage, Bai Qian placed her hand on the door’s wooden handle and pushed it open, her heart speeding up for a moment. But the emptiness of the room fell upon her head like rocks.

A tea tray was laid on the table near the window, a small plate containing some almond cookies right next to it. Who had put them there? Her fourth brother? Bai Zhen had gone to this place right after hearing of Zheyan’s death, she knew that. Bai Qian forced her eyes away from those things that were glaring at her, like a painful reminder of how different her life had been just a few days ago.

Slowly she made her way toward the potion corner and opened one of the cabinets. There were vials of all shapes and sizes lining up on the shelves. Having spent a lot of time watching Zheyan brew his potions, she had a fairly good idea of which vial contained what. Bai Qian took a few of what she recognized as Healing Potions and dropped them in her sack. They would need this potion at one point or another in the future with what they were planning to do.

Chirp, the little sprite started to point at all the liquids with bright colors, eyes widened with curiosity.

“Not those,” Bai Qian said with a smile, “we don’t need them.”

Chirp, it called her again and zoomed down on a fruit basket on the countertop. Bai Qian chuckled, picked out a small berry and dangled it at the sprite’s face. Ignoring her attempt to irritate it, the sprite grabbed the fruit and twirled happily.

“Wait for me outside, Little Sprite,” Bai Qian said quietly as she watched it gnawing down on the berry as though that fruit was all it needed to be content. The sprite fluttered its wings and flew through the back window.

Bai Qian walked back to the front and began to scan over the bamboo shelves. Books… These were the ones she hadn’t finished and had been discussing with Zheyan and her brother the last time they had sat here. Bai Qian quickly grabbed them and held them tightly in one arm. Perhaps she would continue reading them, perhaps not, but she had to keep close what Zheyan had thought was important.

She looked around the house again.

And again.

There was nothing left for her to do here.

Bai Qian drew towards the wooden wall and stood with her back against it, staring blankly into space.

Zheyan was gone.

With no power left to fight against the surging tide of grief that had reached her throat, she collapsed to the ground, arms wrapping around her knees and tears bursting forth.

Now that she was here, she did not want to leave this house.

The pillars of the sky could fall, The Dark Immortal could vanquish the whole world for all she cared. She only wanted to hide here for the rest of her life and wait for Zheyan to come striding through that door again with Peach Blossoms Wine jars in his hands.

She only wanted... her… Zheyan…


Without him, she was lost. She did not know what to do, how to deal with this terrible pain that was tearing her soul into pieces.

Bai Qian cried like she never had before, tears drenching her robe and her whole body trembled. A desperate scream struggled to burst through her throat but no sound came out. The grief that she had imprisoned away so that she could think about what to do was ripping through her guts, escaping with her every sob and leaving her hollow.

A faint sound, almost musical, rose from somewhere. Bai Qian lifted her head with a sigh and fell silent for several minutes.

There was no sound, she told herself. She had imagined it. Or rather, it had come from within her - the song that the Azure Phoenix would sing every time it soared into the sky. A reminder.



***


Closing the cottage door behind her, Bai Qian stepped down the stairs, weary yet somehow more alert than before. She looked toward Qingqiu’s direction and began to walk slowly away. The little sprite greeted her with cheerful twittering and started to fly along her side.

Though as Bai Qian glanced briefly down at the grass carpet when she passed by the tall tree near the lake she’d used to rest on, something that she had not seen on her way in caught her eyes.

Feather…

She stooped down and grabbed the blue feather that was hidden among the grass, glistened with tiny dewdrops. It was in a magnificent shade of blue though with a tiny burned patch near the tip.

The Old Phoenix had been in his true form here.

Bai Qian glanced around and immediately caught sight of another feather, she lunged forward and snatched it into her hand. When she realized that there were at least seven or eight others lying nearby, Bai Qian threw the ones on her hand into her sack and quickly collected as many as she could find. Each of them was in a slightly different shade, all of them a little burned towards the edge.

Bai Qian didn’t know what good could come from this or what she was hoping to do, but her head, for a moment, could do nothing but will her hands to gather these blue items.

Little Sprite found one under a far tree himself and dropped it into her sack.

“Thanks,” she said, still scanning the ground for more.

When Bai Qian was sure there wasn’t any left, she sprang up, peering into the sack for a moment, puzzled, curious. But when her head started to spin, she stopped thinking. Tears fell from her eyes again as she drew the small sack shut.

Stepping out of the inner shield, however, Bai Qian saw that someone was standing by the small bridge that connected Zheyan’s garden with the outside world, arms folded and back facing her. By now, Bai Qian was already familiar with this person’s stature and did not need to think twice to know it was Pojing.

Though the moment she reached up to her face in an attempt to wipe away her tears, he turned around, squinting in obvious confusion.

“Sorry,” the words came out of her impulsively.

“For what?” his brows pulled deeper together, as though she had just told a joke he could not understand. “Crying?”

“I didn’t know anyone was here, so —”

Pojing scoffed in a way that reminded her of how Lord Donghua always reacted toward the Nine Heavens’ over-complicated rules in meetings.

“Don’t be such a Celestial about it. I don’t care about a bit of tears,” Pojing said and stepped closer. “I always tell my sister that it’s what you do after you’re done crying that matters.”

Before Bai Qian could respond her face was taken into his hands. The roughness of his thumbs brushed up and down on her cheeks, with a bit too much force that it felt as though he was trying to remove stubborn dirt marks from her face, not tears.

When he let go of her, the force those hands unknowingly exerted caused her head to be thrown slightly backward.

There was a pleasant smell, like grass after a rainstorm, coming from him that was so different from the sweet fragrance of the peach blossoms, almost like a call for her to rejoin reality, rejoin her friends.

“You were waiting for me,” Bai Qian said. “Is something the matter?”

“Nalan is back,” Pojing’s eyes glinted with excitement. “We have some planning to do.”

Chapter 9, Part 1