Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 10, Part 4 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)


Chapter 10 - Devices and Trials

Part 4

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

Bai Qian found herself staring at Moyuan’s back as she kept watch over two small bubbling pots of medicine while he was busying himself with what she and the Demon Queen both hoped would be a more edible dinner than what they’d been making themselves before his arrival to this cottage.

One thing stood clear to her now - what she had seen on Kunlun Mountain was not the truth at all, and her suspicions had been confirmed. She was not wrong about him. That dreadful fight between them, the things he’d said to her, was a measure to further protect what he’d been hiding. Whether Moyuan had broken magical laws for the Demon Woman, she was still unsure, but she knew now there was some plan he could not reveal either to her or Yehua; only, Lord Donghua must know about it.

Still, it scared her to admit that even now she did not have a single concrete piece of proof to support what she’d concluded about him, only guesses based on what her eyes perceived, what Zheyan had told her before his death… and a feeling she wanted to trust.

Being in this cottage with two more people present, their conversation in the woods earlier felt like ages ago to her. Even though she was the one who had knowingly pushed his limits, had challenged him in every way she could, thinking that she had been prepared for anything he might do or say, he had startled her. Her face went awfully hot at the memory.

It was odd, bewildering, that she felt as if she did not know this man at all after so many years.

Believing that she had made the right choice, but a part of her wished very much that she had not torn herself from him.

Focus! Bai Qian punched her own cheek and went back to stirring the liquid inside the pot. It had turned a dark shade of brown and from the scent alone Bai Qian could tell that this was not something she’d like for dessert.

“Erm…” she cleared her throat, suddenly realizing that she didn’t know how to address him. ‘Shifu’ would sound as though she had forgiven him, which she absolutely had not. High God Moyuan? No, perhaps not. Not after…

Bai Qian cleared her throat again and stared down at the pot. Maybe she didn’t need him to look at it after all? “Er… hmm…,” she prodded at the liquid with a wooden spoon.

“Yes?” said Moyuan’s voice. Her head shot up to see he had turned around at her.

Gingerly she gestured at the medicine. “I need you to look at this before I take it to Pojing, just to be sure it’s all right.”

Moyuan nodded, came over to the counter and quietly inspected the concoction.

He had not said much to her on their way back from town; and in all honesty, Bai Qian was glad that he hadn’t. In her anger, she had also said things that were not true at all. She’d never found Zhuowei’s presence at Kunlun to be bothersome despite the long hours the princess had spent with Moyuan. Or… had she been bothered all this time but just brushed it aside in an effort to be courteous to a guest? Bai Qian rolled her eyes as her face reddened even more.

Petty, she stopped interrogating herself and directed her attention to his figure that was hovering above the medicine. After all that he’d done - disappearing for days on end without a word to her, never telling her anything - he gave himself the right to speak of her playing some chess games with someone as if it was a crime. The nerve of him, Bai Qian shook her head in silence and huffed.

Although beneath her indignation, Bai Qian could not help but be rather amused. Now she knew what Taoist Masters really did when everyone thought they were peacefully meditating - collecting what their eyes observed and saving the information for whenever they needed to use it in an argument. One day, she would confront him about this and see how he explained himself.

“It’s done,” Moyuan said and lifted the pot from the iron warmer.

Bai Qian quickly brought a bowl over so that he could drain the liquid from the pot.

“What about this one?” she pointed at the other simmering pot, inside which was an herbal brew for the Demon Queen.

“I’ll take care of it,” Moyuan said. “Be sure to tell your friend not to drink too fast, it is rather bitter.”

The back door was pushed open as Bai Qian was about to leave the kitchen and the Demon Queen stepped inside. Unwilling to stay in the house despite Moyuan’s constant reminders that she was still unwell, she had been out for a walk since afternoon.

“It looks like it’s going to rain,” she said. “I’m glad you went to town and got all the food we need early. Do you need help, Moyuan?”

“No,” he said courteously, lifting a lid from its pot to check on the stew inside. “But thank you.”

“You’re just afraid I’ll ruin the food, aren’t you?” the Demon Queen laughed. “It’s fine, I want to have something good to eat anyway so I won’t help.”

“Here,” she swept past Bai Qian and positioned herself right in front of Moyuan, then took hold of one of his sleeves and began to fold it upward. “You wouldn’t want any food to get on your Celestial Sleeves.” She moved on to the other one, throwing him one of her mischievous smirks.

The sight prickled Bai Qian’s eyes for a moment - this woman was acting as though he was her husband. Well, he was certainly not her own husband, Bai Qian told herself, then picked up Pojing’s medicine and turned around with a huff and with her nose in the air. And perhaps the Demons thought about these things differently. Perhaps she needed to read more books about Demon culture...

Right, like that’s going to happen, Bai Qian kicked at a small pebble that was lying on her way. It bounced against the bedroom’s bamboo door then dropped back to the ground with a clatter.


***


When Bai Qian stepped inside, Pojing had already sat himself up and was gazing out the open window. The little sprite seemed to have warmed up to him during their stay here - it was no longer making faces and was even eating its berries on the window pane. Or perhaps this was simply because the creature knew there was no way Pojing could lift himself out of bed at the moment and therefore unable to scare it with his metal claws.

“Your medicine,” Bai Qian said and seated herself.

“Do I have to?” Pojing asked with a forced smile.

“If you want to get better, yes.”

He reached towards the bowl in an uncharacteristically obedient fashion, as though his mind was elsewhere.

“It’s still hot,” Bai Qian said. “And bitter.”

Pojing grimaced once he had tasted the liquid, but quickly he downed the content without any complaints.

Odd, Bai Qian noted, no joke on how Sufeng hadn’t killed him but this medicine might? Or how they had escaped the grand prison the Celestials were so proud of? What was wrong with him?

“Put up a shield, Queen of Qingqiu,” he suddenly said in a low voice. “I need to talk to you.”

Slightly surprised Bai Qian did as he wished, raising a small shield around the corner, and took the bowl off his hand.

“You said the God of War healed me,” he began, his brows rushing together.

“Yes,” she nodded.

“Why is he helping us?”

It would take too long to explain everything to Pojing now so Bai Qian resorted to telling her friend the most believable conclusion she had arrived at after all the thinking she had done. “He -- doesn’t want any of us to die -- obviously.”

“What side is he on?”

Bai Qian threw a quick glance at the bedroom door and lowered her voice even more. “About that, I think I’ve understood something.”

“What -- do you mean?”

“I can’t tell you yet because I’m not certain if I’m right, and it’s too complicated to explain. But once I’ve talked to the right people, I might be able to understand what exactly happened at Zhuxian Terrace.”

His face showed some interest along with concern. “But -- who are the right people?”

“When we were at the Arctic Prison, Nalan and I met someone Luoji had been torturing for some -- knowledge he needed. This man knows something about Luoji and High God Moyuan occasionally consulted him before. We got separated when Nalan and I couldn’t cloud-jump together. He seemed all worn out and confused but if Nalan has gotten this man back to safety, I’ll talk to him when we get back. And after that -- I’ll know what to do. At least -- I hope so.”

Pojing let out a deep sigh and glanced at his broken arm in frustration. The helplessness he displayed was like a hit on Bai Qian’s head, reminding her what was at stake and that she could not let any temperamental feelings distract her from what they all should be focusing on.

“I know it’s all very confusing,” she said. “I’m not sure if what I think is right, either, but what I used to think might be wrong, I can tell you that much. There is something about Zheyan -- and about Luoji, too, that we don’t know yet.”

“You mean besides the fact that he’s a mad and undefeatable immortal?”

Bai Qian nodded. “The device we took from Kunlun, remember? Now I believe what Yanzhi said even more that it can tell us what Luoji’s got hidden in his sleeve.”

“But what does it have to do with whether the God of War is on our side or not if he’s been breaking the rules of the eight realms to resurrect someone?”

Bai Qian did not know what to say. She could not explain to him her suspicions without telling him everything - the Demon Queen, her trial, how Moyuan had helped her, which was still a mystery.

“I don’t know,” Bai Qian stated. “But the point is -- if he’s not, we won’t be any worse off than we are now.”

“You’re right,” Pojing sighed. “I asked because I simply -- didn’t know how I should address the God of War now.”

“I don’t think he cares very much,” Bai Qian told him. “How long do you think it’ll be before you can travel?”

“Another day or two,” Pojing said. “The moment I can stand straight on a sword again, we’re leaving. I need to get back to Xunzhua as soon as possible. Other tribe leaders would want to know where Xunzhua stand in the matter and my sister can’t handle everything alone.”

Bai Qian nodded. She did not know why she had asked him that question when she herself could not fight the desire to stay here for longer.

“Listen,” Pojing suddenly said in earnest. “I’m incapable of protecting you at the moment, I literally cannot summon a shred of magic, so -- please look after yourself.”

“This is the mortal realm,” Bai Qian said reassuringly. “Nothing’s going to happen.”

“I’d say the most unimaginable things usually happen in the mortal realm because people never expect anything to happen. Keep an eye out for demons and Luoji’s underlings.”

Demon… Bai Qian could not imagine what Pojing’s reaction would be if she told him whose house they were staying at. But at his look of caution, she could not suppress a grin. “What do you think I’ve been doing for the last few days? I even sleep with my fan in hand.”

But Pojing did not seem to find that funny. He gave no reaction and simply went back to staring out the window. There was a thread of gloom in his usually sharp and bright eyes that puzzled her.

“What is it?” she voiced her concern.

“Nothing,” he said shortly. “I’m just thinking about our incident at the Nine Heavens.”

The Nine Heavens? Bai Qian thought for a while, not understanding what about the Nine Heavens could render this dejected look from him.

“What happened at the Nine Heavens?” she asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” he told her. Bai Qian could tell from his voice that Pojing was debating intensely with himself whether he should let her know what was on his mind.

“You saw what happened, didn’t you,” he continued.

“Are you talking about -- Sufeng?”

He broke into a laugh so somber that Bai Qian had to pause before she could make a point.

Having grasped his meaning, she said nothing else. Bai Qian realized now that she was no stranger to this look of his. She had seen it on Yehua’s face during their brief conversation at Qingqiu’s lake. She herself had worn it countless of times. It was the look of someone who thought himself a failure.

Pojing had lost to Sufeng that night. He’d exerted all his strength while the latter had merely been playing. He had lost to another wielder of the very weapon Xunzhua invented. They had managed to escape Sufeng and the Arctic Prison, but to anyone who had been at the Nine Heavens that night, the King of Xunzhua had been defeated by a servant of the Dark Immortal.

Bai Qian often forgot that this person whom she called friend, who would not stop provoking her and throwing jokes at her, was a king, a protector of a clan that had produced the most formidable warriors in the eight realms. Of course his people would expect their king to be the strongest of them all, the most efficient wielder of any weapon they were proud of. Much different from her, who’d had constant help from her much wiser brothers, Pojing did not have parents or older siblings to tell him what to do in times of difficulty. Bai Qian wanted to let him know that compared to her, who had probably not fulfilled any of her tribe’s expectations, and to many of the other kingdoms’ rulers who depended on the Nine Heavens, he was doing marvelously. She wanted to tell him that Sufeng was a mad man and just because he did not go around breaking people’s arms did not mean Sufeng was better than him.

But she said none of this out loud and instead only placed her hand softly on his shoulder. A look of appreciation appeared in his eyes, making her glad he was not shutting her out. Perhaps Pojing and Zhuowei had always depended on each other to govern their kingdom and face the hardship their royal lives brought since the passing of their parents. Bai Qian did not hope she could replace his sister in these times, but she would gladly try her best to be the friend he needed.

His hand came up to place on top of hers and for a moment, his fingers fastened. Bai Qian smiled - sometimes she wondered if Pojing had any idea how strong his grip was.

Some footsteps sounded close to the room. Bai Qian swiftly disabled her shield with her other hand just in time to hear a soft knock on the door.

“Xiaowu,” the Demon Queen cleared her throat and when Bai Qian turned around her lips curved into a curious smile. “Dinner.”

“Get some more sleep,” Bai Qian patted her friend’s shoulder as he let go of her hand, then got up and followed the other woman back into the kitchen.


***


The dishes that had been laid out on the dinner table were by no means extravagant, but they were absolutely delicious looking. And more than that, they made Bai Qian think of Kunlun and her Seniors. During her school years, they’d not had their meals together too frequently due to the differences in their schedules, but everytime they did, Changshan would make these dishes along with, of course, several more of his specialties.

“Here,” The Demon Queen pushed a bowl of rice over to her. “Unless you’d rather eat inside and keep your friend company.”

“No,” Bai Qian said, sitting down. “He’s -- er -- he needs to rest.”

“Are you sure?” she asked again with that same mystified look. “It’s quite all right if you want to be with him, we don’t mind.”

“Er -- yes, I’m sure,” Bai Qian chuckled, quite confused at this suggestion. “We can just save some of the food for him later.”

The mushroom soup was tasty, Bai Qian thought as she drank a spoonful, not exactly like how Changshan had made it, but very close. She directed an appreciative smile towards Moyuan, to which he responded with a slight nod.

“How old is he?”

“Hmm?” Bai Qian looked up from the food she had just placed in her bowl. It was the Demon Queen who had asked the question.

“The boy, how old is he?” she repeated.

Boy… Bai Qian nearly laughed out loud thinking of how the King of Xunzhua would react to being called a boy. But given this woman’s real age, it was no surprise that she and Pojing were being addressed as juniors by her.

“He’s about my age, I think, maybe a little older, but not much.”

“Good. He doesn’t bully you, does he?”

“No,” Bai Qian chuckled. “We argue all the time but I usually can hold my ground.”

Good,” the Demon Queen looked very pleased for some reason. “I’m glad to hear it. What part of the eight realms is he from?”

“Erm…” Bai Qian hesitated. She hoped this woman remembered that not asking too many questions about each other was the basis of their relationship now. On trial and without powers or not, she was still from the Demon Tribe, half of whom had probably pledged their loyalty to Luoji.

At Bai Qian’s suspicious look, The Demon Queen broke into an amused chuckle and went on to putting more food into her bowl of rice. “I am not trying to pry into your life, Xiaowu, I’m merely curious about this person you have chosen.”

“The person I’ve… chosen…” Bai Qian’s mind went blank for a moment and then it suddenly crashed upon her head like a shower of rocks from the sky.

“No… what… no, no, that’s not…” she stammered, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. She and Pojing? Only someone who had not seen them together when Pojing was in full health would think that. They were never able to last for two minutes without bickering about something.

“He’s — er — he’s a friend,” Bai Qian made a careless gesture with her hand.

“Really?”

“Yes,” she nodded indefinitely, glancing in Moyuan’s direction and wondering whether he too was finding this ridiculous, but it looked like he was finding his teacup more interesting than their conversation.

“If you say so,” the Demon Queen smiled, observing Bai Qian through her glinting eyes, clearly unconvinced. “But I’ll say that for a friend, he certainly sends a lot of — looks — your way.”

Bai Qian’s eyes went round and Moyuan finally moved his gaze away from his teacup. Though she could not tell whether he was annoyed or simply uninterested.

“What — what kind of look?” she asked.

“The kind that makes one wonder, of course.”

“All right —” It was then that Bai Qian could not suppress laughter anymore. The idea… she held the back of her hand over her lips to stop herself from breaking into a giggling fit, imagining the look on Pojing’s face if she told him someone actually thought they were together. “I — I don’t think so,” she shook her head.

The woman raised her brows.

“No,” Bai Qian repeated, on the verge of laughing again.

“Fine,” the Demon Queen beamed, her shoulders moving up and down slowly. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Still chuckling to herself, Bai Qian proceeded to taste the other kinds of vegetables on the table. She would bet her whole kingdom that she was the last person in the world Pojing would give any look of that kind to. That was the same as saying that Zhuowei had come to Kunlun to seduce the God of War.

“Moyuan,” the Demon Queen lowered her voice, sounding more serious this time. “did you get ahold of my weapon after all?”

“I did,” Moyuan answered.

“Where is it now? I can’t summon it, of course. I just need to know whether it is safe.”

“It is,” Moyuan assured her, although he sounded rather reluctant to address the subject. “I’ve left it at a place with the best defenses.”

“Kunlun?” the Demon Queen asked with a hopeful smile.

“No, somewhere safer.”

She thought for a while then took another guess, “you gave it to the Fox Emperor?”

“Hmm, not quite.”

“Well... where is it?”

Moyuan picked up his teacup and swirled it a few times. He was refusing to respond; but it seemed that from his silence the Demon Queen had extracted an answer.

“Oh God…” she whispered. “Please tell me you did not leave my weapon with that bastard Yingchen!”

Bai Qian’s jaw dropped to the floor. As quick as a flash of lightning she cast a shield around the kitchen, praying that Pojing had not heard anything.

“Don’t call him that, Shaowan,” said Moyuan, rubbing his temple.

“I’ll call him what I want! And — really, Moyuan? Out of all the people you could have chosen, you just had to pick Yingchen? Why? Do you just want to spite me?”

“Of course not. Why would I do anything to spite you. Your relationship with Yingchen…”

“We have no relationship!”

“Exactly,” Moyuan responded calmly. “Which is why he is the best person to safekeep something so valuable to you. No one will suspect it to be there, not even your brother.”

“Who’s Yingchen?” Bai Qian finally got a word in.

“He calls himself the Eldest of the Crafters,” said Shaowan mockingly. “Arrogant, graceless, evidently thinks himself the most beautiful creature in the realms while the truth is far from it.”

Oh… him? But the description the Demon Queen had just given did not sound like him at all. Bai Qian looked at Moyuan, hoping he would say something to clear her confusion, but he only shook his head in silence.

“Are you… sure?” Bai Qian said weakly. “I -- know some people who have been to his forest and they all say that the Eldest is very -- very -- er -- good-looking…”

“Well, I suppose beauty is subjective,” said the Demon Queen, now on the verge of losing her temper with Bai Qian too. “But whatever beauty he possesses can’t cover up the uncouthness and malice that run in his veins.”

Malice? Bai Qian was even more puzzled now. She was not sure if they were talking about the same person anymore; but she decided it was best not to keep contradicting the Demon Queen.

“Conceited,” the woman continued, whipping in Moyuan’s direction. “Presumptuous. And he reeks of wild flowers and all kinds of intolerable fragrances, did you ever notice that?”

“No, I can’t say that I have,” said Moyuan quietly.

The Demon Queen’s eyes flared up, obviously not liking something about Moyuan’s tone, her elegant face darkened with cold anger. Without powers she was, yet for an instant she looked as though she was ready to slam the God of War into a wall and would also be likely to succeed in doing so. Bai Qian gulped - now this was the Demon High Goddess she had read about…

“You dislike him because he refused to offer his help,” Moyuan sighed. “Which is something completely within his right to do.”

“He didn’t have to help me. But he did not have to humiliate me and give me a lecture on how I should run my tribe, either!”

That did sound like something the Eldest would do, Bai Qian silently agreed.

“You knew of his reputation before going to him,” said Moyuan. “This is something you should have prepared yourself for.”

“Why are you taking his side?”

“I am not, Shaowan. I am merely stating a fact. Your mentioning his forest as one of the places with efficient defenses suggests that you too have faith in his ability.”

“You are driving me insane, Moyuan, and not in a good way,” she grabbed her head and breathed in in an obvious attempt to calm herself. “How has this fool been keeping my weapon safe anyway? If he has it locked inside one of his unbreakable shields then I will have to go to his forest to get it, won’t I!”

“I have not asked Yingchen about the details concerning his protections,” said Moyuan. “But your weapon naturally only answers to you. If it does not because of the protective enchantments’ strength, I will go and retrieve it for you when the time comes.”

This assurance still did not seem to please the Demon Queen very much. She was still glaring at Moyuan with utter discontent.

“The Crafters are not sinister people, Shaowan,” Moyuan went on. “Make peace with Yingchen and anything you ask him to protect will be safe.”

Bai Qian kept quiet still. To her, neither of them were wrong, but speaking up would mean having to tell them she had seen the Eldest herself; and that was an experience she would rather not relive.

For a second, the room felt as though fire was going to erupt. However, the Demon Queen’s eyes gradually became less threatening as she poured herself some tea. “If I didn’t miss bickering with you so much, Moyuan, I would have had you on the floor by now, begging.”

Bai Qian blinked - several things came to her mind at once at this strange remark but none of them made much sense.

“Begging for what?” she asked.

“His life,” said the Demon Queen. “I was always better than him in hand-to-hand combat back in school.”

“Oh,” Bai Qian averted her eyes, glad she had asked the question.

“What is that look, Moyuan?” the Demon Queen continued with a suspicious smile. “Are you going to argue that you let me win all those duels back then because you didn’t want to hurt me?”

“You shouldn’t rule out the possibility,” Moyuan said.

“Hmm, really?” she challenged. “Why don’t you seal your powers now for a match and we’ll see exactly who hurts who.”

Bai Qian could not decide whether that was a scene she would like to see or not. She had very good reasons to not want this Demon Queen to be any closer to Moyuan than she already was, but at the same time, watching a duel between Moyuan and an equally powerful immortal was what Bai Qian had been dreaming to see all her academic life. Due to his reclusive nature, Moyuan rarely accepted any challenge from another God, let alone allowing his disciples to be audience at a duel. The one match that’d happened during her time at Kunlun was between him and High Goddess Yaoguang, during which Bai Qian had unfortunately been unconscious. Every other duel she’d seen him involved in was either to vanquish a deadly enemy or rescue someone from danger.

But Bai Qian never got to find out which one of the High Gods in front of her was stronger for at that very moment, an earsplitting sound exploded above them, so loud that she thought for a moment the earth was going to split open. The ground under their feet trembled and the whole cottage shook.

“Perhaps not tonight,” said Moyuan to the Demon Queen as he shot up from his seat, waved away Bai Qian’s shield, and strode towards the door.

Bai Qian knew that sound - it was no ordinary thunder. She ran after Moyuan and out of the cottage, her heart jumping frantically in her chest. Another series of raging thunders erupted, this time sounding like it had crushed something into pieces. Colored hues dyed a large corner of the sky, the rest of it was covered in flashing cracks.

These earth-shaking thunderbolts were something only Lord Puhua’s rod could create. What was the Dark Immortal doing now? What kingdom was he invading? Were these bolts a declaration of triumph like last time, when he was standing over the body of the late Skylord?

“Should we cast a shield around the cottage?” Bai Qian asked.

“It’s all right. It’s been happening for a while. Years,” said the Demon Queen, who had just arrived behind them. “Thunder of this magnitude, early nightfalls and strange celestial activities.”

“We have to leave,” Bai Qian whispered with a shake of her head. “As soon as possible.”

Moyuan turned to meet her, making no attempt to contradict her. In his eyes too was a fierce desire to fly back to whatever he had been doing all this time.

While Bai Qian knew that they were not wasting much immortal time by staying in this realm, the fact remained that they had the duty to return to their friends as quickly as they could. She also knew for a fact Moyuan had volumes of secrets in the vaults of his mind. He might be helping them, he might be doing something that was wholly unrelated to Luoji. But if he was not going to reveal any of those secrets to her, then she had no good reason to stay here any longer. They had no idea what Luoji was going to do next and Yehua needed all the help he could get.

Chapter 10, Part 5