Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 9, Part 6 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 9 - Butterflies On The Meadow

Part 6

written by LalaLoop
edited by kakashi
consulting by Bunny

“I think you’re ill, Jie-jie,” Bai Qian said, after forcing Wanming, who insisted that she could walk to town, to sit down on the large bamboo chair and feeling her forehead. “You might have caught a cold the other day when you went out --”

“I’m not sick,” Wanming denied.

Bai Qian handed her a warm cup of water. “Yes, you are, it’s that time of morta -- I mean -- that time of year when everyone gets sick. Mid-autumn.”

“It’s not possible,” Wanming repeated and tried to stand. “I can’t be sick. I haven’t been sick in --”

“All right, maybe you’re not sick,” said Bai Qian so that Wanming would quit trying to prove her wrong. “But you look tired to me. Why don’t you let me take care of the cooking today? I’ll go to town to get some rice and vegetables. I’m not any better than you at cooking but I’m sure I can handle a simple meal.”

Wanming’s face suddenly became forbidding, her eyes filled with intense hatred and her voice turned bitter. “I hate this. I hate being so useless and dependent.”

“Useless?” Bai Qian chortled. “I’m sure it’s just a cold, Jie-jie. You’ll get better in no time. Everyone gets colds!”

“I used to never be affected by such — trifles.”

Wanming sucked air through her teeth, looking as though repulsed by something. Taken aback, but also rather amused, Bai Qian did not say anything for a while - she had finally met someone who hated being sick more than she did.

A long moment later, the woman let out a frustrated sigh as her expression softened. “Maybe you’re right,” she pointed toward the kitchen. “I drew a map with directions to town a while ago, it’s somewhere near the storage area. Take it in case you get lost in the woods.”

Bai Qian nodded. “You get some rest, Jie-jie.”

“Don’t buy too much food,” she coughed.

“I won’t,” Bai Qian started to head out but quickly turned back. “And you -- don’t try to cook anything while I’m gone.”

“Of course not. Because you’re a much better cook,” Wanming said with a smirk. “I’ll wait for you to come back.”

Rolling her eyes, Bai Qian turned the corner towards Pojing’s room.

She sighed upon his motionless figure then cautiously made a circular motion with her hand. A faint, translucent layer of shield appeared and enveloped the entire corner of Pojing’s bed. Her magic was still weak, but she reckoned it was enough to protect her friend from any unexpected mishaps that could happen in this realm.

“There,” she said to the sprite, who had come out of its hiding place. “Even if Jie-jie burns down the house, he’ll be safe. Stay here and guard him. No -- you’re not coming, stay! I’ll be back.”

The sprite sprang up its arms and did some strange motions in the air.

“What?” Bai Qian squinted at it. Again, the little creature began striking into thin air with hooked fingers, snapping its teeth and making snarling noises. At the end of the performance it put on a dramatic face, pointed at Pojing and gawked at her with large, hopeful eyes.

Bai Qian sighed - the sprite had been showing her what it thought was a believable act of Pojing’s true form.

“He’s not going to hurt you with his claws, don’t be ridiculous!”

Ignoring the sprite’s squeaking, Bai Qian headed for the kitchen, found the map Wanming had told her about after some rummaging, then hurried out of the door. On her way out, she cast her spell once more, creating a shield layer around the cottage.

***

Mantou, nuts, tea, onions, carrots. Bai Qian stuffed the big sack she had brought along with the purchased goods as she went through the little town. It was much smaller than the one she’d last been to. Although, the street was all the same packed and bustling with activities. Soon, her arms were full even though there were still many things on her list to buy. She and Pojing were going to leave that cottage soon and the least she could do was stocking Wanming’s storage with enough food for a few days to repay her kindness.

As Bai Qian walked along the street, picking out what she wanted, the first few vendors she purchased from greeted her with exceptional friendliness. After a while, however, they were not as agreeable anymore; and truth be told, Bai Qian did not exactly blame them.

Immortals usually exchanged their gold and silver for mortal coins beforehand whenever they wished to travel to this realm. In her case, that had not been possible. She had brought along a pouch full of coins before leaving Qingqiu, but had spent them all and was now giving the confused and suspicious vendors the emerald pearls Migu had fished out of Qingqiu lake for her a while ago as payment for their goods. Each of the pearls was worth a fortune in this realm and Bai Qian was not getting any change back.

Using one of those pearls, Bai Qian purchased a horse - the only thing that came close to being worth as much as a pearl - so that she would not have to carry everything back by herself.

The last thing she spent a tiny, broken piece of pearl on was a woven sack full of berries for the sprite.

Plip -- plop. Raindrops were landing on her robe. Bai Qian looked up at the now grey sky when she was halfway back.

She glanced around and caught sight of an abandoned pavilion not too far away. Bai Qian quickly led the horse to take shelter under the wooden roof. There were some leaks, she noticed, but it was not much of a problem.

Bai Qian tied the horse’s reins to the railing, then settled on a dusty bench that was missing a chunk of wood on one end and waited for the rain to stop. She was not in a hurry to go back now that she was out in an open atmosphere, surrounded by fresh air and pleasant sounds of nature even though it was raining.

KRASSSH! Thunder boomed in the distance, followed by flashes across the sky.

Hmm, Bai Qian sighed, there went her peace and quiet.

She opened the small sack she had been carrying all this while and took out the copper mirror. Bai Qian had tried to reach Yehua many times but with very little result. Did this mean that he had reached Xunzhua after all and the shield around their kingdom was overpowering the mirror’s magic? Shaking her head, Bai Qian went through her items again, this time taking hold of one of the blue feathers she’d found in Zheyan’s garden.

She stared at the thing that had once been part of something magnificent.

How could Moyuan have known to go to Zhuxian Terrace the night Luoji had come back? She ran her fingers along the burned edge of the feather.

Zheyan’s ice cold hand and uncharacteristically grave expression flashed through her memory. Had he known what was going to take place beforehand? Was that why, during their final seconds together, he’d told her to be safe, told her what she needed to know about Luoji?

Bai Qian bit down on her lip as a teardrop fell from her eye, her brows pulling deeply together. In her grief and rage, she had only seen what was obvious.

The Celestial eruption that night and the peach blossoms’ lifelessness had made it clear - Zheyan was no longer among them. That much was obvious. But something unfathomable had been on her mind for a while - why was it necessary that Moyuan must be the one to take Zheyan’s feather?

With his magic, Luoji could have overpowered them both and easily seized that feather himself. Perhaps he just found joy in watching his opponent struggle in the trap he’d carefully laid out, and loved the thrill of witnessing the epitome of virtue of the eight realms crumble.

Perhaps it had never been important, never been necessary to Luoji that Zheyan must lose his power feather that night, at that exact place, by Moyuan’s hand. But if so, then… to whom was it necessary?

And Lord Donghua, Bai Qian found it hard to believe that Zheyan would not include Donghua in his plan to face Luoji if there had been one. She also thought it was absurd now that Donghua, a Supreme Immortal who’d strategized so many battles in his lifetime, who was aware of his own weakened powers, would choose to fight head on with an opponent whom they’d established was stronger than any of them and only getting stronger. Why was it that Donghua had been defending the Nine Heavens that night as if he’d actually had a chance of winning, as if he’d had no clue how dangerous Luoji was? Wouldn’t launching an attack from afar to give the Celestials present a chance to flee have been a better plan?

Bai Qian took a deep breath, twirling the little feather in her hand. No, there was something else to it, she decided, there must be.

The rain had almost ceased, but the thunder still went on.

Another series of thunder boomed in the distance behind her, this time ear-splittingly loud and frightening even for her. Bai Qian stood up anyway, took the horse’s reins and started to head in Wanming’s cottage’s direction, hoping that she had heard the end of the vicious thunderstorm.

But as it became quieter, Bai Qian felt something different around where she stood. It was as if the last thunderbolt had brought with it a change in the atmosphere. She suddenly sensed someone’s eyes on her back. Holding her breath, she ceased to walk and slowly turned around, heart speeding up for no reason.

Not too far away from her, near a large oak tree, was the familiar outline of a man.

Shifu?

Her mouth fell ajar. He was here, only a few strides away. But how? Was this an illusion? Had he really been looking for them? She had not caused any magic that could travel more than a mile from the mortal cottage in the past few days, how did he find them?

The man began to walk towards her. For a moment, she could not react more than stand still with her eyes wide open.

Unless…

Bai Qian felt a snap in her head; she summoned her fan and waited. The second the man was at arm’s length, she flung her weapon upward and pointed it at his chest, glaring into his eyes to find proof of deception. But she found none - either this was really him or a powerful Shapeshifter who had studied Moyuan’s every movement, gesture, and expression. A desperate cry rang from deep within her for all her senses seemed to recognize and accept that this was him, but she was not going to take any chances, not in these times.

“What weapon did I use to tear the veil of fire at the entrance to Qingcang’s cave?” Bai Qian said.

The man’s brows slightly convulsed. There was a carefully restrained emotion on his face as his eyes swept over the fan she was holding. He did not respond but simply moved his gaze back to her.

“Answer the question,” she demanded. “How do I know you’re not a pawn Luoji sent here to spy on us?”

Still, there was no indication that he was going to speak.

Bai Qian exhaled - she knew it was too good to be true. Her heart sank in utmost disappointment and a rush of violence rose in her.

“Should not take this long,” she murmured. Aiming at the man’s chest she put one foot forward, swept her fan up, hitting him with a force that bore the ferocious hatred she had been harboring for the Dark Immortal’s servants ever since Zheyan’s death, magnified by their treatment of Pojing in the Arctic Prisons. They had dared try to fool her and Yanzhi once, now they even dared to impersonate him… Whoever this Demon was, she would make sure he took the consequences. She’d had enough of their trickery and cruelty.

Her magic hurled him zooming backwards a considerable distance. When he stumbled on his feet, Bai Qian stormed ahead and struck again, this time slamming him into the old oak tree, before he had the chance to recover.

“All right,” she grabbed a handful of his collar and pinned him against the tree trunk. “Who sent you?”

Once again, he gave no answer and only looked back at her with those infuriatingly undisturbed eyes. Who was this useless spy? Bai Qian wondered as her patience ran low. What spying tactic was this?

“Who -- sent you here?”

Disgruntled, she flicked the silk fan, turning it into sword form, and held it at the base of his throat.

Tell me, or I’ll --”

The man’s hand swiftly came up to grasp her wrist. The familiarity of his touch silenced the rest of her threat.

“A Ghost fang crafted by Qingcang himself,” he said softly. “And it was not a veil of fire. It was an invisible veil of mist.”

Bai Qian froze. It was as though her eyes had forgotten how to blink and her tongue had lost its ability to deliver words. She released his robe, lowered her sword-arm and stared at him, breathless, flabbergasted.

He inhaled deeply and let out a soft grunt, hand moving to his chest where she had hit him. “Good question.”

Bai Qian’s mind had become the very definition of hollowness. She could not fathom what had just happened, could not form a response to his remark. She was not even sure what her eyes were seeing. There was a ringing sound in her head that blocked out all other sounds.

“You’ve gotten much stronger,” he said with a weak smile, but the words were like buzzing sounds of bees that meant nothing to her. Her breathing quickened, a bit of the lost wits coming back to her. Hot blood rose to her head and her ears felt as though smoke was coming out of them.

“Do you like to humiliate me?” she managed to say at last.

Moyuan took a step towards her.

“Do you like to watch me -- make a fool of myself? Is that what you want?”

“Seventeenth, I was only joking,” he said quietly. “You did not hurt me.”

Bai Qian simply could not believe her ears. She pressed her lips and glared at him, hands shaking with anger. Was this any joking matter? Was this the time for a joke like this? Did he feel the need to remind her that her powers were inferior to his? How… why… Her brain swirled in hysteria, incapable of processing anything but a desire to comprehend how anyone would think that this was funny.

But before any of those questions could leave her mouth, he reached forward with a suddenness that threw her off guard.

“No… let me…” she struggled as his arms went around her waist and shoulders.

“You’re safe,” she heard him whisper - that same deep, coaxing voice she was too familiar with. Though at the moment, it was far from pleasant to her ears.

“Let me go...” Mustering her strength, Bai Qian pushed against his chest to free herself from his tightening embrace. “Let -- me…”

It was as if Moyuan had not heard her. He pressed her closer into him with a determination no less resolute than her own to escape his grasp.

“Let go of me --”

“Seventeenth --”

“Let…” her voice broke when her own arms and will started to weaken. “No... I’ve had enough!”

Tears streamed down Bai Qian’s face, the strain she had been living under finally overwhelming her. Her resistance failed and the next second, his heartbeat was against her ear. The warmth and vitality he had always possessed seemed to be flowing into her and Bai Qian wanted to damn herself to hell for giving up fighting. She let her tears fall, her fear spill, her desperate yearning for him take over.

Why he was embracing her so she couldn’t tell. She’d seen what he’d done. She knew whom he’d chosen. Why did it feel as though he was afraid she would run from him? Weren’t there other places he had to be, other people he had to speak to?

But she could not answer any of those questions, her head was no longer functioning properly. All she seemed to know now was the amount of time she’d had to pass without him and that she did not want to budge an inch even if a sky island fell on their heads.

Her hands clenched into his robes, like a drowning person holding on to the first floating object she could find. He was saying something but she responded by shaking her head and pressing her face deeper into his chest. After a while, Moyuan gave up on whatever he was trying to tell her and simply clutched her to him. His hand occasionally brushed over her hair; and she let him, let herself have what she’d been deprived of all this time. Whatever consequences this might yield, she would deal with them later. The strength she had somehow found to stay away from him had a limit; and it seemed she had reached that limit.

Splatt, a crack of thunder made Bai Qian jolt. The arms around her fastened as she lifted her head at the grey sky. She blinked repeatedly as her eyes adjusted to the patch of blue sky the dispersing clouds left.

Splatt, splatt, came another series of bolts. Was this oak tree in danger of being hit by lightning? Bai Qian wondered. Maybe she was not so fearless as to want to stand here forever after all.

Her eyes met Moyuan’s and he was looking back at her with bewildering tenderness, something she never thought could exist between them anymore after that night at Kunlun Mountain. His thumb came to brush over the cut on her face that a Demon guard’s spell had left.

Her swaying mind gradually calmed, bringing with it an awful feeling of abashment. Bai Qian remembered clearly what they had said to each other the last time they’d met; and she was sure Moyuan had not forgotten a single word either. His arms loosened a little though he did not let go completely.

Bai Qian inched away and dropped her head, unable to look at him anymore, the heat on her face aggravating. How could she go back and face anyone now? She stared at the folds on his collar, shifting uncomfortably in his enclosed arms and cursing at herself. On top of everything, his refusal to let go was baffling her.

“What are you -- doing?” she asked, her voice came out so quiet she was not sure he could hear her at all, hands still gripping the side of his robe. The question sounded as odd as she thought it would but there was no other way to convey her confusion. “Erm -- here…,” she quickly added, otherwise she might as well start asking herself what she had done.

“I am glad you are safe,” he said simply.

“Why does it matter that I’m safe?” she frowned, drawing a bit away.

“I used to be a mentor to you, is it out of the ordinary that I worry about your safety?”

“No -- not out of the ordinary, just unexpected, given how you left us at the Nine Heavens the day Luoji wreaked havoc.”

His shoulders slightly went up as he took in a swift breath, his eyes fleetingly full of some strange agony that made her regret what she had said. But it was the truth, Bai Qian reasoned, how else could she have addressed this matter if not directly? Surely he understood more than her how bewildering this whole thing was.

“Are you in this realm alone?” he asked.

“I’m with Pojing.”

“I see. I assume the King of Xunzhua is unable to travel? Is that why you are still here?”

Bai Qian nodded. “He was injured in the Nine Heavens and he hasn’t been able to heal himself before we got here. His healing powers are working, but just barely.”

“Where is Yehua?”

“I can’t tell you,” Bai Qian replied, even though the concern on his face was apparent.

With a sigh, Moyuan took a more practical tone, “take me to the King of Xunzhua, I can take a look at his injuries.”

Bai Qian stared, speechless and astounded that he expected her to accept his help as though nothing had changed between them at all.

“This is only about helping someone in need,” he went on. “I have no other motives.”

“Did you forget that I was at Zhuxian Terrace that night?” Bai Qian asked.

He sighed and looked away from her eyes for a brief moment. “I know you find it hard to trust me, but if the King of Xunzhua is injured, unconscious, and cannot travel, then you must let me see him at once. You know the consequences that await those who linger in the mortal realm with ulterior motives, don’t you?”

“I’m strong enough to get us both out of here even if Pojing is unconscious.”

“I know you are,” he said. “But why squander your energy like that while you are also recovering?”

Bai Qian knew he was speaking sense, but she could not help feeling as though she would be committing a wrong if she were to accept his help.

“Tell me why you did that to Zheyan” she said, with very little hope for an answer.

“I cannot,” said Moyuan curtly.

“So there is something. You just won’t tell me what it is.”

Under her constant interrogation, the usual intolerable calmness and stubbornness crept back onto his face.

“Let us leave matters of the immortal realm aside for a moment,” said Moyuan. “I merely want to give you a hand in healing your friend. You know I have no reason to harm him.”

There was a brief silence. “I’m not sure what I know anymore,” she said.

Moyuan’s expression became rather defeated and he fell quiet. Bai Qian did not understand any of this. Although, despite her suspicions, she could not find any reason why Moyuan would want to make Pojing’s injuries worse than they already were. And Pojing getting better was the most important thing to her now. The sooner they could get out of this realm, the better. She let out a sigh and began reluctantly.

“I’m staying at a mortal woman’s cottage. She’s been helping us.”

***

Neither of them said anything on the way back. Once in a while Bai Qian lifted her head at him, barely hiding her questioning look. Had that deep cut on his arm she’d seen healed? What had he been doing all this while? Why was he not asking her about the hairpin? She must find another chance to get the answers she needed from him. He might have taken away her Kunlun pendant and dealt with her with astonishing coldness that night, but now she was sure there must be more to it than what her eyes had witnessed. There must be an explanation...

Put aside matters of the immortal realm, he had said. But how could she, when Zheyan was not to be found at the Peach Blossom Garden anymore?

The sun had reappeared and was bathing the forest in midday light. The pleasant smell of grass after rainfall rushed into Bai Qian’s nose, giving her an unexpected sense of delight and propelled her feet faster onward.

As they reached the cottage, Bai Qian noticed Wanming’s figure standing under the small pavilion, her back facing them. What was she doing out of bed? Bai Qian shook her head and walked ahead of Moyuan. The shield she’d put up was still present. With a quick wave of her arm she got rid of it and took large strides towards the cottage.

“Is that you, Xiaowu?” Wanming said. “What took you so long?”

There was an abrupt sound behind Bai Qian. For some reason, Moyuan had ceased to follow her.

Wanming turned around. Bai Qian smiled at her. But she did not smile back.

The mortal woman’s face suddenly became so different, as though she was not the same woman who had accompanied Bai Qian for the last few days. Her lips opened a fraction and she seemed to be taken by some sort of trance.

“Jie-jie,” Bai Qian said.

But still she did not answer, her gaze fixed at the front, fixed on…

Bai Qian turned back at Moyuan. He too was bearing a look of someone whose soul had been sucked clear out of his body, his eyes setting on the mortal woman in a manner that Bai Qian could not comprehend. No, as a matter of fact… she could. It was the same look she’d given him the day he woke up inside Yanhua cave. There was no mistake about it. But… why?

Suddenly he reached for her hand and prompted her closer to him, as if suspecting they were standing in front of an enemy.

None of them spoke a word and it did not look like they intended to speak any time soon. What was the problem? Bai Qian frowned. She cleared her throat and breathed in, getting ready to say something. However, before she could, Wanming took a few steps towards them.

“Well,” she smiled, her elegant face slightly tilted to one side. “The spell to separate dissolved crystals from water didn’t work, did it.”

Chapter 10, Part 1