Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 9, Part 5 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 9 - Butterflies On The Meadow

Part 5

written by LalaLoop
edited by kakashi
consulting by Bunny

As some of her magical powers had returned, Bai Qian wasted no time in searching for immortal energies within the cottage. Though grateful for Wanming’s kindness, she could not help but be cautious after what they’d all been through. There was indeed no immortal energies of any kind around. After another few sleepless nights which she spent sitting beside Pojing and looking over her shoulders, Bai Qian concluded that nothing was going to happen and for the first time in a while, they had met with some luck.

The woman named Wanming had treated them both with great care and hospitality, not only that, she also proved to be a pleasant companion.

Within a brief time, Bai Qian found herself telling Wanming about her own abysmal cooking skills, the kind of books she liked to read and how she enjoyed a good game of chess even though she had not won a single game against the person who usually played with her. Wanming listened with great attentiveness and in turn shared with Bai Qian her own stories, the sort of people she encountered in these woods, how the vendors in town could be both insufferable but endearing acquaintances.

Next, Bai Qian discovered that Wanming was not much of a better cook than she was. When she was no longer as hungry as when she’d first woken up in this cottage, Bai Qian realized that the food she was served was either burned, undercooked, or not properly seasoned.

“Apparently, I lack subtlety,” Wanming said, laughing lightly. “That’s what my first teacher always said. And maybe he was right, I tried making basic medicine brews but could never get it right. Cooking is the same, it requires you to follow instructions closely.”

Lack subtlety? Bai Qian thought while walking back and forth in the kitchen, getting the necessary cooking tools. If she lacked subtlety then the shortcoming certainly did not show. Whatever Wanming did, be it sitting alone under the small thatched pavilion in her front yard or ruining dinner, her elegance remained all the same entrancing, which made Bai Qian feel that perhaps accidentally burning rice once in a while was not such a bad thing after all.

“Hmm,” Wanming sighed and peered into the pot in which she had been preparing a stew. “I think this is beyond help. The broth is too salty and I might have mistaken vinegar and white wine.”

Bai Qian ladled some of the substance into a small bowl and tasted it with extreme cautiousness.

It was a product of more than just mistaking vinegar and white wine, she concluded, she had no idea what she’d just put in her mouth.

“It’s bad, isn’t it,” said Wanming.

“Uhm… hmm...,” Bai Qian’s head bobbed as she looked around for some water.

“What do you say I go into town and buy something to eat instead?”

“Is it far?” asked Bai Qian, looking out the window to see the sun was beginning to set. She desperately wanted something edible but at the same time did not feel right to bother her host too much. “We can make do with what we have in the house.”

“Oh, but I don’t want that,” Wanming let out a deep sigh and prodded at the ruined stew with a pair of chopsticks. “The town is not that far away. Also, it is the Mid-Autumn Festival tonight, I want something other than plain rice, don’t you?”

Mid-Autumn Festival, yes. Bai Qian had been too occupied with worry over Pojing that she’d forgotten it was that time in the mortal realm.

“Well -- I would go with you, but --” Bai Qian gestured towards the bedroom.

“Don’t worry about it,” Wanming left her post in the kitchen and swiftly flung on her cloak, her eyes twinkled in a jesting fashion. “I know you’d want to be here in case he wakes up. I’ll be back before you know it.”

The next moment, she had disappeared behind back door.

“Little Sprite,” Bai Qian called a minute later.

Chirp. The sprite whooshed out and, before Bai Qian could say anything, zoomed over to the basket of fruit on the counter and started to feast on the ripe grapes.

Left alone, Bai Qian slowly made her way to the cottage’s bedroom. She indeed wanted to devote as many of her waking hours to Pojing as she could so that he would not have to look for her when he woke.

His heartbeat had become stable again, his face less white and once in a while, he would slightly stir. But consciousness still seemed days away. Bai Qian had decided that she would only wait for another two days. She herself had gotten much better and would be able to fly both of them back to the immortal realm on her sword. Lingering in the mortal land for too long for purposes other than visiting would yield unpredictable consequences. There were records of immortal who hoped to take advantage of the fast flow of time in this realm to accelerate healing only to come back to the immortal world ten times more ill.

Bai Qian took one of Zheyan’s books out of her sack, moved to sit at the bed’s foot and opened the book where she had left off.

Some enchantments exude energies so similar that it is at times difficult for even the most skilled immortal to determine what magic he deals with.

She turned the page. The next section went on to explain the statement in detail and named various cases where similar energies were employed in the making of shields and magical items.

But before Bai Qian could get as far as two pages, her mind started to wander again. The quiet room and Wanming’s absence caused her thoughts to stray back to what she was trying hard to avoid. She had been asking herself all this time if it had been Moyuan whom she’d seen briefly during their last moments in the Arctic Land? Was he looking for them? For her? Though as soon as her ambivalence about the matter started to turn into hope, she quickly dismissed it.

But still, somehow, looking at Pojing reminded Bai Qian of her last visit to Kunlun, the state she’d seen Moyuan in, how he’d asked her to trust him. But then, how could she know that he’d been talking to her at all? His words could have been directed at anyone. After all, he had had no idea she was there.

Chirp, came a satisfied sound from the sprite. Chirp.

Bai Qian put down her book and looked out the window, keeping her eyes on the thin woodland surrounding the cottage that was slowly fading into darkness as the last rays of sunlight disappeared.

No, it was her he’d addressed that night, she thought with mounting certainty. He had done so before.

In the mortal realm, in a mortal house not so different from this one, with the little sprite flying around just like now.

Moyuan had, in exhaustion from the fever, asked her to trust him.

Why? What was it that he’d needed her to trust him with? Why had he repeated these words at Kunlun when just hours before he’d disregarded her trust and had done so calmly, rigidly?

Was this even worth her attention? Bai Qian thought intensely. Perhaps with someone so excellent at keeping secrets and composing himself in any situation as him, his words while he thought no one was there were the ones worth her attention the most?

***

The steamed buns Wanming brought back from town were so delicious that they both finished the whole pack of four, which Bai Qian immediately regretted because there were also rice balls, dumpling soup, and all kinds of dessert. It was as if Wanming was stocking up food for the next three days in fear they might not be able to produce an edible meal.

Bai Qian glanced from one dish to another, wondering how much they cost. She would have to remember to pay Wanming properly when they would leave here, which, Bai Qian hoped, was soon. Even if they were not wasting any significant amount of immortal time, every minute that passed heightened her uneasiness.

The dinner ended in satisfaction. Bai Qian managed to trick the sprite into putting in his mouth a tiny piece of steamed bun while she was cleaning the table, which he spat out instantly. Just when he grabbed a pear from the fruit plate and was about to hurl it at her, Wanming reentered the kitchen to offer help with the cleaning. The sprite stooped down and was forced to stay among the fruits until Bai Qian finished her work.

The night air around the cottage was pleasant and the crickets’ singing, though loud, did not bother Bai Qian too much as she stepped outside.

Perfect time for finishing that section in the book, Bai Qian thought as she settled on one of the wooden stools under the pavilion and opened her book again, this time determined to get through more than two pages.

“Xiaowu.”

She whipped around, her brows instinctively narrowed. Wanming had arrived, in her hands was a large tray which held a teapot, bowls, and a round, green, and scrumptious looking cake.

Bai Qian shut her book and sat closer to the table eagerly while the woman placed the tray down.

“It’s the Moon Festival, after all,” she said, taking her seat.

“I’m sorry you’re stuck here with us instead of enjoying the festivities in town,” Bai Qian smiled, watching Wanming cut the cake into small slices.

“Oh,” the woman made a dismissive gesture. “You worry too much, Xiaowu, I said I don’t mind. And isn’t this what most people do anyway after the festival? Having tea and mooncakes with their friends?”

She held a piece of cake towards Bai Qian.

“So -- any wishes to make to the moon? ”

“Erm… no,” Bai Qian said as she took a bite of sweet bean filled cake. “I don’t have any wishes.”

“Not even one?”

“No -- well, there is one, but I know for a fact it won’t come true, so why bother?”

“Don’t most wishes never come true?” Wanming laughed.

That was not entirely wrong, Bai Qian quietly agreed.

“But I’m curious, what is it that you are wishing for?”

Bai Qian remained silent still. She half wanted to tell this woman, whom she had found an amiable friend in, what was troubling her, and half wanted to brush off the subject. But why not? She sighed. She might not see this person again the next time she descended on this realm.

The thought gave her a sudden deep sadness, but such, Bai Qian reminded herself, was a rule of the eight realms. Forming attachments with mortals would only lead to separation and heartbreak, that was what they’d been taught as children.

“I used to walk on the same path with someone,” Bai Qian said. “But we don’t see each other anymore.”

“Why?”

“He made his choice, and I made mine,” she replied, not sure if the woman understood her answer but that was all she could say.

“Then wish for a turn on the road you’re walking,” Wanming said with a gleam in her eyes. “He might just turn up somewhere unexpected.”

Bai Qian chuckled, twiddling the piece of cake in her fingers. “The thing is -- seeing him again is wrong. Wanting to see him -- is also wrong.”

“Wrong?”

“I don’t know if it’s wrong. But -- it’s definitely not right. I don’t agree with what he’s done, not at all. But I want to understand why he did it. I thought that maybe talking to him would help me understand, but that, too, is not right. ”

“I see,” she pressed her lips together. “That sounds rather serious.”

“Yes, it is,” Bai Qian forced a smile. ‘Serious’ was too mild a word to describe her sentiment towards the matter. Putting aside the unforgivable wrongness in his choice, the thought of him being with the Demon Woman had left a crushing torment in her that only intensified with each day passed.

“Is -- understanding him important to you?” Wanming went on.

Bai Qian nodded. “I always prided myself in knowing this person well. And if I’m wrong, then I want to know where I’ve gone wrong.”

“Have you considered that sometimes a choice that seems wrong must be made in order to achieve what’s right?”

“What?” Bai Qian chuckled. Well, that was something she had not considered before, certainly not as a way of resolving any kind of problem. “I’m not so sure --”

“Can you swim?”

“Yes…”

“Were you afraid of water before?”

“Yes?”

“Then how did you first learn to swim?”

“Well -- I had to jump into water --” Bai Qian paused, starting to see where this was going -- “so that my brothers could teach me.”

“See what I mean?” Wanming’s eyes beamed.

Bai Qian broke into laughter, shaking her head. “It’s not the same!”

“I’m not telling you to go out and throw yourself into something dangerous, of course. And only you know whether it’s worth the risk. Just don’t stand in the middle of a bridge for too long.”

Bai Qian finished the rest of her piece of mooncake in silence. It was odd how her view was being broadened by a mortal who had lived fewer years than she had. She suddenly did not want to leave this cottage so soon anymore.

“Do you have any family, Jie-jie?” she asked, picking up another piece of cake.

“I used to have friends that I’d spend everyday with,” said Wanming. “They were like family.”

“Where are they now?”

“On a different path from mine. Like you and your friend. Well,” she smiled. “I assume he’s a friend.”

“Well…” Bai Qian thought for a while, but then simply shrugged it off.

“As a matter of fact,” Wanming went on with an amused smile. “You remind me of one of them.”

“Really?” said Bai Qian, feeling intrigued. “How?”

“Oh, I’m not sure,” Wanming shrugged. “Maybe it’s the way you looked as if you were going to kill anyone who dared interrupt your reading earlier that reminds me of him when he was young.”

Bai Qian smiled apologetically, picking up the tea pot to refill her bowl.

“But you’ve made me curious,” Wanming’s brows rose and she pushed her sleek hair back. “Who is this fool who’s caused you to be so unhappy? It sounds like he’s the one in need of some enlightenment, not you.”

Once again, Bai Qian could not stop herself from laughing. “Maybe,” she said.

But her own laughter left a bitter taste in her mouth. Bai Qian picked up her tea, drank some, and kept the bowl hanging close to her lips so that Wanming could not see the dreadful gloom she knew was manifesting on her face.

She knew she could never condone what Moyuan was planning to do, or probably had done. But if someone offered her the same chance to bring Zheyan back, would she have had the courage to refuse it, to do what was right?

Zheyan too had lived in guilt for millennia because of his friend’s death during the Demon War, he had been glad to sacrifice his own life to bring her back, Bai Qian understood that, but it was Moyuan who’d made that decision with a clear mind. And that was beyond her ability to understand, to forgive. It had left her no choice but to see him as an enemy.

She wanted to see him. She could not stop that part of her that strove to find proof of his innocence from yearning for his presence. But if Moyuan was here, would she allow herself to even go near whom her head recognized as the man who’d killed Zheyan? Until there was an explanation, she could not dwell on any thought of him, any hope that could distract her from what she, Yehua, and Pojing needed to do. For now… For now, perhaps being away from him was the only way she could keep on loving him. Here, she did not have to think about which side to take. Here, she did not have to face the fact that he was devoting his life to someone else. Only by being apart from Moyuan could she be free to remember his gentleness, his smile, his embrace, and not what he had become because of the Demon Queen.

Wanming had stopped asking questions. But she did not leave their table. She simply sat back, occasionally sipping her tea.

Bai Qian turned her eyes up at the glittering night sky. Untouchable and isolated from the rest of the world, the moon shone gloriously from where it stood. What was Yuelao doing in his peaceful home? Was he aware of the chaos the eight realms had plunged into?

Chapter 9, Part 6