Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 9, Part 3 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 9 - Butterflies On The Meadow

Part 3

written by LalaLoop
consulting by Bunny
edited by kakashi

“Don’t get seen,” Bai Qian whispered to Little Sprite and watched as it quietly flew through the prison bars, hid itself behind the wall for a moment, then disappeared through the door that led to the corridor outside.

She didn’t know what good sending the sprite out again would do. They were locked deep inside the Arctic Prisons, it wasn’t like there were any keys around to steal. The sprite, too, was worn out. Even the Divine Energy flowing through its body was not enough to protect it from the prickling cold and gloom that were enveloping this entire place.

Had it always been this way? Bai Qian wondered. She’d never visited the Arctic Lands before when Haode had been the Skylord.

A feeble sound came from the far corner - a man had been sharing their prison cell for the last three days. He lay curled up against the rigid wall, back facing them, and seemed to be sleeping.

Nalan was pacing around, muttering things - improbable escape ideas.

They’d been trapped in this freezing place for three days, or so she guessed. Every inch of these walls were enchanted to subdue any kind of magic and there was no window, no crack she could look through to get an inkling of what was going on outside the cell. Perhaps they were in a cave, or a dungeon, or deep underground, Bai Qian wasn’t too sure. She’d been blindfolded along with the rest of her companions on the way here. Pojing had been placed somewhere else and they had no idea where. Sufeng had made it clear that this was only a temporary home. They were having to wait here for Luoji, who would decide what to do and where to send them afterwards.

Tears of fright burned her eyes when she thought of the fate that awaited them.

All her life she had been swallowing all the books she could reach, practicing magic and sword-fighting, looking up to the mentor she’d so respected and admired and yearning for the day she could challenge other High Gods on Mount Cangwu, and be a protector of the realms. When she’d been unsatisfied with herself and wished she could encounter something more than just daily duties of a queen, something extraordinary with which she could prove herself, she’d thought she was ready. But it wasn’t true, she was not ready at all. Perhaps she’d never been ready for anything. There’d always been someone for her to rely on.

When she was sick, Zheyan’s competent hands would heal her in seconds. Whenever she plunged into danger, her brothers and parents, wherever they were, would be there to make sure she was safe. And whenever she was scared, all she had to do was run to him.

Now, she was trapped inside a frozen hell, her friend possibly on the verge of death, a dark immortal on his way to make things worse for them.

She had depended on Moyuan so much that without his guidance, his strong arms around her all of a sudden, she felt no different from a drowning person.

The cold was seeping into her bones, paralyzing her nerves little by little and sucking dry all her will. Bai Qian gave occasional glances at the man in the corner and wished she was the one unconscious. She even wished Luoji would come and kill them quickly so that she wouldn’t have to spend another moment in fear. Anything was better than sitting in captivity, hoping for something that would probably never happen.

Not a few minutes later, she heard the sprite’s familiar twittering as it shot through the bars. Bai Qian opened her hands and let it curl up in her palms, its tiny figure trembling.

“Did you find Pojing?” Bai Qian asked. But the sprite shook its head and closed its eyes, its brows pinched together deeply. Nalan, possible from both disappointment and frustration, let out a loud sigh; though Bai Qian was sure he had not done so on purpose.

“Nalan,” she said; and he twisted in her direction. “I know -- a part of this is my fault. Pojing has duties to his kingdom. I should’ve tried to stop him from coming along --”

“No, Queen of Qingqiu,” the Xunzhua soldier said earnestly. “I don’t blame you. Truly. If our king wants to do something, no one is able to stop him.”

“If the worst happens and -- we’re taken to Luoji,” Bai Qian swallowed, feeling suffocated by the fright and anxiousness. “I’ll try to make a deal with him. I’ll do anything so that he’ll let you and your king go. I promise -- I won’t let Pojing die.”

Nalan took a deep breath, dipping his head solemnly. “Our king -- would be glad to know --”

A rusting noise in the corner made them both jump and turn their heads. It was that man. He groaned, his body made a sudden jerking motion and he broke into a coughing fit. Bai Qian stepped back and along with Nalan, eyed the man nervously.

“He hasn’t moved once since we came,” Nalan whispered.

“I know --”

“I wonder what’s wrong with him…”

“Never mind what’s wrong with him,” Bai Qian said anxiously. “We’re in a prison, he could be a murderer…”

It took a long while for the coughing to yield. The man’s hand moved to grab one side of his head and he let out a raspy grunt.

“Wretched Demons...” he suddenly muttered, and that voice hit her like a hammer on the head.

Master Gejing? Bai Qian bit down on her lip.

“Master Gejing!”

She dashed towards the man, got down on her knees, seized his shoulder and turned him over. She gasped - it was indeed Gejing. But this was not at all the cheerful and nonchalant shopkeeper she had met in the mortal realm. He was disheveled, gaunt, as white as marble with deep dark lines around his eyes and throbbing veins on his forehead.

“You…,” his tired eyes narrowed as he gathered his strength to rise. “Are you an illusion... a Shapeshifter Luoji put here to investigate me…?”

“No,” Bai Qian said. “I am Bai Qian. We met in the mortal realm, Master Gejing, on the Lantern Festival’s day.”

Nalan approached them. “Queen of Qingqiu?”

“He’s a friend of mine,” she explained. “High God Moyuan’s Junior at Kunlun.”

“Bai Qian of Qingqiu…,” Gejing said. “But… how did you end up in the Arctic Land?”

“Luoji’s people put me and my friends here --”

“What…,” he exclaimed and tried to get up, grasping Bai Qian’s arm. “Then you must leave, you must run away from here...”

“I’m trying to,” Bai Qian said. “But this is the Arctic Prison --”

Gejing sat back, leaning against the cold wall and closed his eyes for a second, brows deeply furrowed, as though trying to force himself to remember something.

“Master Gejing,” Bai Qian said. “How long have you been here?”

“Weeks…,” he exhaled. “Could have been months... I’ve lost track of time.”

“Did Luoji’s followers get to you after all? Did they lock you up because you refused to tell them about resurrection magic?”

Gejing slowly shook his head. “The Dark Immortal sought knowledge that I… no longer have…”

“No -- longer?” Bai Qian frowned. “I don’t understand.”

But it seemed Gejing did not have any strength left to form another word and was starting to drift back to sleep, so Bai Qian restrained herself from asking any more questions. He might just be talking nonsense, she thought. She was going insane herself from being locked in here; it was no wonder why Gejing looked so drained and haggard. Though what she wanted to know was whether Moyuan knew his Junior had been captured by Luoji. Questions exploded in her head and her desire to break out of this wretched place was more fierce than ever.

Bai Qian searched every nook and crevice of her brain to find anything Yehua might have mentioned about this prison during their endless talks about the Nine Heavens and their system.

“Bai Qian of Qingqiu…,” Gejing suddenly said, his voice was so small it was almost inaudible. “Do you know where High God Moyuan is?”

“No --” Bai Qian uttered. “I’m -- er -- I’m afraid I don’t.”

A peculiar expression appeared on the man’s face; it was almost as if he was glad about her answer. But as Gejing started to ask another question, his voice cracked and his hand flew to clutch his chest.

“Master Gejing,” Bai Qian tried to sound assuring. “We’ll find a way to get out of here. We’ll take you with us --”

“Don’t bother about me,” he said weakly. “Save yourself first...”

“He’s been here for a while,” whispered a sudden voice from the other side of the door, making all of them jolt. “I don’t think he knows what he’s saying anymore.”

The sprite shrieked and slammed itself into Bai Qian’s hair. She stood up, hurried closer to the bars to meet the owner of that familiar voice. The person’s face was illuminated by a feeble source of light coming from a far corner of the quarter.

“Sujin?” Bai Qian said under breath.

Sujin didn’t respond right away. She looked thrilled but anguished at the same time, as though still undecided about how she should feel and what emotion she should display, her hand holding a small bundle of dirty rags.

“What are you doing here?” asked Bai Qian, her whole body tensed with dislike towards the woman.

“I’ve been here since that day you sent me back to Yehua from the Eastern Forest,” answered Sujin’s malignant voice.

“Did Yehua put you here?”

“No,” she scoffed. “He didn’t care enough to do anything. But Lexu made me choose - make myself useful here and pay my due or be sent to the mortal realm for punishment trials --”

“You know the Skylord is dead, don’t you?” Bai Qian cut her off. She didn’t have the mind to listen to this woman’s rambling any longer while her own fate was slipping away from her hands.

“Oh, I know. I know it’s not as before anymore,” Sujin said with a vengeful smile and gestured around. “This place is well guarded, you see, but I just had to sneak in to see the great goddess of Qingqiu.”

Hot blood rushed to Bai Qian’s head. So that was it, then. She should have known that some people could never change no matter how many chances they were given.

“Well, I’m sorry your happiness depends on where I spend my time,” she lifted her chin. “If you’re done checking whether we’re enjoying our stay or not, you can leave, and tell whoever runs this place that we’re trying to escape too.”

Sujin threw at them one of her exasperating lady-like smiles she’d been trained to wear on her face at a young age. “You can’t break out of this place.”

“Thank you for the useless information.”

A quiet minute passed by and Sujin’s voice bore some significant changes as she spoke.

“Where’s Yehua?”

“I don’t know,” Bai Qian said curtly.

“My uncles -- have surrendered to the Dark Immortal.”

“What?” Bai Qian turned. No matter how insufferable this woman was, she had her attention now.

“What’s left of my tribe now side with him.”

Sujin swallowed and for a moment, looking furious with herself as she unwrapped the bundle of cloth she’d been holding. Bai Qian’s mouth fell ajar when she realized that inside was the silk fan.

“Sufeng had this kept inside the highest tower; I had to use my uncle’s pendant to get in the room,” Sujin said, slipping the fan through the bars.

Bai Qian stood speechless. She didn't quite understand what was going on, what this gesture meant. Was this woman giving her back her weapon? Was she offering help? And… why? Bai Qian shuddered, feeling goosebumps all over her arms.

But Sujin’s hand did not retract; she held the fan firmly, though at the same time spreading her loathing stare to the other two people behind Bai Qian.

Cautiously Bai Qian reached toward her weapon, keeping an eye on Sujin in case this was all a trap. Perhaps the fan was bewitched to explode on them all... But no such thing happened; the fan lay obediently in her grip, its powers slightly humming within the metal ribs upon recognizing the familiarity of its mistress’ touch.

“Why?” Bai Qian asked, appalled.

Sujin glared at her with the same jealousy and malice as before, but there was also something else - an emotion that Sujin herself still seemed to be struggling to process.

“I despise you, Bai Qian,” she hissed, hate manifested itself through the red veins in her eyes. “For the life of me I could never understand why Yehua devoted himself to you so when I’m the one who’s spent my whole childhood with him, who’s always there for him. Answer me, what does he see in you - a talentless, pitiful creature who is nothing without her wealthy and powerful family?”

“Don’t talk to the Queen of Qingqiu like that!” Nalan stepped closer to the bars. But Sujin ignored him.

“I love Yehua more, that’s all there is to it,” she stated, looking madly proud of herself.

Bai Qian did not respond. With a slim chance of getting out of this prison in view, practicality returned to her - if Sujin could tell her where Pojing was, she didn’t mind being insulted for a bit longer.

“And because I do --” Sujin went on, the intense hate in her eyes suddenly lessened -- “I know that Yehua needs as much help as he can get this time.”

She reached into her sleeve pocket and took out something that looked like a pendant. It was neither jade nor bronze but instead in a color as black as coal. Sujin held it to the door near where a keyhole would usually be. There was a small crack and as Sujin grabbed the door and pulled, it flung open.

Bai Qian remained quiet for another long while. Sujin had been nothing but deceiving and manevolent since the day they’d met. But if there was one thing she could always trust to be true, it was this woman’s obsession with Yehua. Her doing everything it took so that Yehua would give her a smile, would acknowledge her affection, was something Bai Qian could believe.

“The King of Xunzhua was taken here along with us,” asked Bai Qian quietly. “Do you know where he is?”

“I know where he’s kept,” said Sujin. “It’s not far from this cell. But it might be a problem to get him out of there unseen.”

“What about Lady Lexu and the princes, have you seen them?”

“No,” Sujin said, eyes moving away from Bai Qian, as though she could not bear the thought of them talking to each other normally. “I don’t think they’re here. Hurry and bring whoever you want, I know the shortcut to get to your friend, but we have to be quick.”

Bai Qian turned back to Nalan, who was still looking at the open door with huge eyes.

“Help Master Gejing up, Nalan,” Bai Qian said.

What?” the soldier grimaced. “Queen of Qingqiu, this woman --”

“She’s our chance to get out of here,” Bai Qian whispered as they both hovered over Gejing. “If we get caught, we won’t be any worse off than we are now. Sufeng knows who we are, they won’t dare do anything to us until Luoji gets here.”

Nalan nodded, rather reluctantly, but he did as told.

Gejing was indeed drained of energy but he was still somewhat awake. On his tired feet and with Nalan’s guiding he made slow steps toward the exit.

Stepping out of the cell, Bai Qian felt a large portion of energy returning to her body. It was still freezing cold all around but her powers were much less suppressed. Quietly they made their way along the corridor and up some stairs. The place was enormous with twisting, interconnected passageways and according to Sujin, this was only one wing of the prison.

“Why are there so few guards around here?” Bai Qian asked.

“I told you,” said Sujin. “This prison is impenetrable and the prisoners are incapacitated inside their cells. There’s no risk of infiltration or prisoner escaping so there’s no need to have a guard at every corner. It’s the outer circle where the most guards are placed.”

This explanation did not differ from what Bai Qian had heard. The only known breakout from the Arctic Prisons had been done by Sufeng with both internal and external aid.

Suddenly, they all stopped cold - some distant footsteps could be heard from where they stood. Not a few moments later, while they were still trying to decide whether they should hide or keep moving, a prison guard leapt out from a corner.

Bai Qian raised her fan. Panic flashed across his face, shock and fear followed.

“Don’t do any magic!” Sujin squatted her arm aside. “they’ve put many enchantments on these pathways. One little spell and they’ll swarm this place in no time!”

“Prisoners in the corridor!” the man shouted. He lifted his own hand, as if preparing to cast a spell. “PRISONERS ESCA…”

Bai Qian advanced and struck down hard on the back of his neck. The man’s yelling was extinguished as he fell flat on the floor.

“I hope no one heard him,” Nalan said hopelessly.

“Let’s go,” Bai Qian urged them on. There was no time to stop and consider anything now.


***


Up another steep set of stairs they went. With Gejing alongside them, they could not go as fast as they hoped to. Every other minute, they encountered a lone guard walking up and down a pathway or standing in a corner and, unable to use any spells to deal with them, Bai Qian had to rely on the strength and speed of her arms every time. On top of everything, the cold did not get any less brutal as they neared Pojing’s cell; her entire body trembled under the many layers of her clothes despite all the walking they had done.

“How much further?” Nalan asked.

“Not much,” said Sujin. “They put him in an isolated quarter with more potent enchantments and protections.”

“What kind of protection --”

But no sooner had the Xunzhua Soldier finished asking than they arrived at a large corner and the sight that hit their eyes nearly made Bai Qian and Nalan topple backward.

An enormous Kirin was standing guard right in front of them, a large metal chain around its neck, the other end of which was attached securely to the cave wall. So this was why they hardly needed any guard around here, Bai Qian held her breath as she stared up at the beast.

The Kirin, however, looked rather distracted, as though it had not realized that there were three tiny figures at its feet, completely within its grasp. Almost its entire body was covered in thick armor. Where there was no covering, there were long and deep slashes on the creature's skin; several of its scales were fractured and its mane was quite tattered, puffs of vapor coming out of its nostrils.

The Kirin’s fiery eyes found them at last and its mouth stretched wide, as though getting ready to swallow them. Sujin shot her arm upward. A sort of warm, yellowish light radiated from the pendant she was holding, reflecting against the Kirin’s large eyes. It drew back, scrunching its face and growling softly, sweeping its huge steeled hoofs back and forth on the ground.

Sujin brought their attention to the barred archway just behind the Kirin and continued, “that’s one door that leads directly to the outside. Your friend’s cell is at the end of this corridor. We’ll come back this way once we’ve gotten him out. I’ll use the pendant to unlock that gate.”

“Wouldn’t they be able to tell if someone opens an exit to the outside?” asked Bai Qian in a low voice.

“They get notified, but if we open the door quietly and with a pendant, they won’t suspect anything. And I figured by the time they notice anything unusual, we should be far enough to cloud-jump.”

So many things could go wrong with this plan, Bai Qian thought, but it seemed it was the only plan they had. On the way to where Pojing was kept, they ran past some other doors that led to more cells, inside which Bai Qian was sure were either powerful and dangerous immortals who had committed high crimes against the Nine Heavens or people who’d stood up to Luoji. Perhaps Yehua’s mother was in one of those cells? It was not a surprise to Bai Qian that Sujin had no idea where Lady Lexu was kept, she believed Luoji was too cunning to let anyone know where he had put someone whose existence could influence Yehua’s decisions in this war.


***


The cell which held Pojing was far more complicated in its structure than the one Bai Qian had just escaped. It was considerably bigger and the thick iron bars stood adjacent to each other, the distances between them so small that Bai Qian doubted even the thickness of one finger could get through. Peering through the cracks she recognized the King of Xunzhua’s figure on the floor, her stomach contracted as the sight of his shackled wrists and ankles.

“Unlock it!” Nalan gritted his teeth.

The door snapped open after Sujin’s quick procedure with the pendant.

“Pojing!” Bai Qian rushed inside and yanked at the chains that bound him, her blood boiling to see him being treated like some beast in a cage. His skin was almost as cold as the ice on the ground. He was breathing, but only barely. Besides the wounds that Sufeng’s claws had left, his chest, neck and arms now bore many others.

“Pojing!” She shook on his shoulder, though careful not to do anything to his right arm.

“Your Majesty!” Nalan, who had left Gejing leaning against the bars, called out. “Your Majesty, wake up!”

Bai Qian slipped her hand under his neck and lifted him from the ground. “Pojing, wake up!”

But Pojing lay still. His head hopelessly dropped against her shoulder.

Nalan took the chain that was attached to one of the shackles on Pojing’s wrist in his hands and tried to pull the rings apart. The metal made a loud noise that bounced against the cell’s walls, but the thick iron remained unscathed.

“Can that pendant unbind prisoners?” Bai Qian asked Sujin desperately, but the latter only shook her head.

Quickly, Bai Qian grabbed the shackle with both hands while Nalan tugged on the chain. Still, that did not yield a better result.

“It won’t budge!” she snapped and stopped to take a breath. “We’ll have to break it with magic.”

“But the alarm!” Sujin whimpered.

“We don’t have a choice! And the exit is not far anyway, we can get there in no time.”

In truth, Bai Qian thought she had an idea - perhaps it was not sensible enough to be called an idea, but it was probably their only chance out of here. But however they were going to escape, they still needed to unbind Pojing first.

She pointed her fan at one of the shackles and summoned magic. Within these walls, she had to try much harder to do the simple spell that cost almost no effort in the outside world.

CLANG, the chain broke open.

Clang, clang, clang. The other three fell apart following her spells.

A loud screech issued in the distance somewhere above their heads. Then another exploded from the other side of the corridor. Soon, those loud, grating noises surrounded them and footsteps could be heard from all directions.

If I see Yehua again, Bai Qian mumbled to herself, I’ll kill him for building this security system!

She and Nalan heaved Pojing to his feet at once, he grimaced and groaned in agony but they had no choice but to hurry him along. His broken arm had obviously not been tended to and the fierce cold was hindering his healing energy.

“Let's get back to the archway,” Bai Qian said. And although she felt extremely uncomfortable to ask Sujin to do anything, Bai Qian had to admit they needed her help since Nalan could not possibly drag two men along with him all the way to where the Kirin was. “Sujin, you help Master Gejing.”

Sujin quietly walked over to support the exhausted and still dazed man as they all hurried out of the cell.

“They’re here!” a guard bellowed as soon as they showed their faces in the corridor. “THEY’RE HERE!”

Only two seconds later, an advancing crowd blocked their way and they were forced to stop. All of the men were heavily armed; many of them looked like they belonged in a cell rather than out here.

“Stay where you are!” one of them yelled.

Bai Qian removed Pojing’s arm that had been resting around her shoulders for support and gently eased him to Nalan’s side.

“Sujin!” a voice among the men roared. “What are you doing, you imbecile!”

It was no doubt one of Sujin’s family members from her tribe. Bai Qian stepped in front of her friends and raised her fan as the crowd they faced gradually became thicker.

“Choosing the right side,” she said when Sujin remained silent at the question. “As you should be.”

While the man’s face began twitching in anger, she struck into the air with all the strength she had, sending waves of magic into the crowd and advancing with the other three closely behind. Several guards toppled over though a good number of them had withstood her spell and were shooting their own at her. Her powers were still unstable due to her being within this atmosphere but she was strong enough to get her friends to the gate.

One ray of light flew passed her face and left a burning cut on her cheek, but she simply swept her sleeve over the blood and kept on fighting. She didn’t know which one of them had chained Pojing, but she would make sure any one who came close got a fair share of the pain her fan was able to inflict.

Before more guards could join the fight, they had reached the Kirin-guarded gate.

Bai Qian slashed and sent her strongest spell towards the chain around the creature’s neck. The metal’s surface cracked. She struck again, harder, and this time it broke completely.

“What are you doing!” Sujin shrieked.

“Get on the Kirin!” she shouted to Nalan. “Get Pojing and Master Gejing on its back!”

A jet of light hit her on the chest and Bai Qian fell over. Grunting in pain she stumbled back up to conjure a shield which blocked another attack. Nalan along with Sujin did as they were told while Bai Qian continued to fight off the guards to give them the time they needed, her entire body wearing out after every strike.

Infuriated by the disturbance, the Kirin stomped its gigantic feet, thrashed its long, armored tail into the walls and crashing down the rocks and ice around the locked gate.

“Queen of Qingqiu, get on here!” Nalan’s voice boomed. “Give me your hand!”

Bai Qian wheeled around, aimed at the Kirin’s hindquarters and shot a spell at it. The beast let out a deafening roar and rose on its two rear legs, its horned head slamming against the ceiling. She bolted toward Nalan, grasped his hand and hoisted herself onto the Kirin’s back while it stretched its powerful wings.

“CALM IT DOWN!” More yelling broke out among the men.

“Get a sleeping potion!”

“Alert them on the other side! Don’t let it escape!”

“Aim at them! Not the beast, fools! Them!”

Sujin held her pendant towards the iron gate, but it was not necessary anymore because as the Kirin emitted a second enraged bellow, it blasted the archway apart, then hurled through the crumbling opening and took off in the air.

“Hang on tight!” Bai Qian told them all. “As soon as we’re out of the protective shield, we can cloud-jump.”

But their trouble was not over. The Kirin was furious and in no way a friend of theirs; and most importantly, it looked as if this Kirin had not flown in a long time. It kept tumbling up and down in the air in a gawky manner and seemed to be wanting to shake them off.

This prison structure was set right on the edge of a cliff and below them right now was a dark abyss that Bai Qian did not dare wonder what was down there. A long narrow bridge connected this wing of the prison to the other side, both of which were positioned inside what looked like an enormous ice cave; and since the alarm had gone off, guards from both wings were now pouring to the bridge and starting to shoot spells up at them.

“Arghh!” Sujin shrieked and Bai Qian turned just in time to see she’d been hit; a magically conjured rope had fastened itself around one of her legs and the caster of the spell was yanking her down by the other end.

Bai Qian dove forward and grabbed hold of her wrist just as she was about to fall off the Kirin’s back. “Hang on --” she grimaced and pulled.

Dozens more light rays kept bolting up at the Kirin and Nalan was having to defend them all with his shield spells, which kept crumbling under the continuous attacks.

Smash! Something made of glass hit the Kirin on its neck. White smoke arose from nowhere and surrounded its head for a brief second. The beast suddenly tottered in the air and growled, lifting its front legs and striking randomly, as though fighting with an invisible enemy.

Sleeping potion, Bai Qian took a guess. The Kirin had inhaled a bit of that smoke and the potion was taking effect. If they would not get out of here soon, the Kirin would be captured back and possible killed, along with their hope to escape. Several more glass jars went flying up at the beast, most of which Nalan managed to deflect. Bai Qian grunted, looked back at Sujin and pulled again - she needed to get back on the Kirin and help Nalan.

Sujin suddenly broke into a bitter laugh, her eyes turning wild. “If I were up there, Bai Qian, and you were here --” she said to Bai Qian between ragged breaths, glaring at her with those same eyes, with more hate and envy than ever, as though this would be her last chance to make that hatred known. “I would let you die.”

Another jet of light shot up and hit Sujin on the side, the momentum of which causing her hand to slip out of Bai Qian’s. Her scream echoed across the valley as she fell and her figure was engulfed by the darkness below.

“Queen of Qingqiu!” Bai Qian heard Nalan cry. He grabbed her by the back of her robe and dragged her back onto the Kirin.

Before Bai Qian could process what had happened, the creature gave a violent shake. She delved toward Pojing and wrapped one arm around his shoulders to keep him safely in place. With her other hand, she made a wide arc above their head, creating a shield large enough to deflect all the incoming attacks. The Kirin launched forward and out of the cave’s main entrance, into the free air outside. Bai Qian soon sensed the end of the protective magic around the Arctic Prisons. Behind them, however, dozens of flying creatures had been sent on the chase.

“We have to cloud-jump now!” Nalan shouted. “They’re after us. And this thing can’t be steered!”

“You do it,” said Bai Qian. She was simply too worn out and afraid she would mishandle the magic and take them to the wrong place.

But before she and Nalan could get ahold of one another, the Kirin shook again, this time throwing them all off its back.

“NO —” Bai Qian heard Nalan’s voice thunder above her as she and Pojing plunged down cold layers of clouds.

Still clasping him tightly, Bai Qian squeezed her eyes shut and tried to envision her destination for cloud-jumping. The air that was rushing in and out of her lungs continuously boggled her mind but she gathered enough concentration and powers to cloud-jump at last. Mortal Realm, she decided. It wouldn't matter where they landed. A day in the mortal realm was equivalent to less than a minute in their world, which would give them more than enough time to find a way to return regardless of what happened following their landing.

Half a second before she vanished, however, Bai Qian felt something like hands grasping her shoulders. She sprang open her eyes. A face flashed in front of her - his face, though distorted and blurry. She gasped and was nearly suffocated by the amount of air that rushed through her throat. Was she hallucinating? But it was too late for questions, her magic had taken flight and she and Pojing were sucked through space. Everything went dark afterwards.

THUD. The ground was not too hard. Bai Qian moved her hand up and down and realized she had landed on grass. The midday sun was shining directly above her and the air was warm - warmer than the place she’d last been in at least. There was no ice cave, no flying beasts or jailers attacking them.

“Pojing…”

She rolled to her side, coughing, glanced around and found him lying not far away. Vision blurry, arms and legs fatigued, Bai Qian gathered her last bit of strength and crawled toward him. “Pojing… don’t be dead…”

She reached to his neck and breathed out in relief when she felt his pulse. That was all she needed to know. Bai Qian let herself collapse next to him, unable to fight the fatigue anymore.

Was it Moyuan she had seen?

Perhaps she was dying… Bai Qian felt her consciousness drifting away. Yes, that must be why she had seen him.

Chapter 9, Part 4