Fanfiction: The Moon Mirror (Pojing & Bai Qian Alternative Ending) - Chapter 4 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

 

Chapter 4

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi   
consulting by Bunny

“Just one more time, Qianqian, I’ll get it!” A-li grabbed her sleeve and began to swing her arm to and fro. “One more time.”

Bai Qian had been teaching the boy a simple spell to summon fire onto a wooden stick. So far, A-li had not been successful.

She sighed, smiling. “All right, one more time and then bedtime.”

“Yes!” he jumped, waving his stick.

Bai Qian stooped down and moved the candle they’d been working with closer to the edge of her desk.

“Concentrate,” she said. “This is a summoning spell. You’re not making a flame, you’re moving it from the candle to the tip of your stick. So think about the distance between the two objects, not the fact that your stick has to burn.”

A-li squeezed his eyes close. Bai Qian stood back and couldn’t help giggling at his serious expression. Suddenly his eyes sprang open, A-li breathed in deeply and shot his palm forward. Bai Qian was prepared to see the candle flame slightly sizzle again like it had the whole evening. But instead, the flame exploded, shot to the ceiling, throwing A-li off his feet.

“Garhhh!” he scrambled up as Bai Qian pulled out her fan, casting a spell to reduce the flame.

It went down and died at the candle’s wick. But just two seconds later, the whole room trembled. Bai Qian looked around in confusion as A-li grabbed her arm.

Thunder broke out from nowhere and water suddenly poured down from the ceiling.

“What in the heavens…”

“It’s raining!” A-li yelled.

Bai Qian wasn’t sure if he was scared or just excited. But she cast another spell to place a shield over her desk and pulled A-li out of the room. They ran into Yehua, who seemed to have been alerted by either the boy’s shouting or the fact that it had just literally thundered indoors.

“What happened?” Yehua strode over, giving them both a thorough scan and wiping water from A-li’s drenched face.

“It’s raining in Qianqian’s room,” A-li grinned.

Raining?” Yehua pushed open the door. Water was indeed still showering down.

A guard rounded the corner and hurried towards them.

“Queen of Qingqiu? Is everything all…”

But one look at the flooding floor told him everything he needed to know. The guard quickly raised his hands in assurance.

“Not to worry. This is just the palace’s response to potentially harmful magic.”

“Oh,” Bai Qian blinked. “Well… I accidentally caused a fire. That was a quick response.”

“We do have a reaction time of under one minute,” said the guard proudly as he walked into her room and began to contain the pouring rain.

“Fire?” Yehua repeated. “Were you… cooking in your room?”

“What… no! I was teaching A-li the summoning spell to call fire from a candle to light up a stick --”

“Summoning… fire…” Yehua pressed his fingers against the crease between his brows for a second. Then he smiled at A-li, “Let’s do that outdoors next time, hmm?”

“Yes.” The boy tiptoed.

“You should change out of these clothes.” Yehua patted his back and gestured to his room.

“Yes, father.”

“I didn’t think he’d be able to get past the ‘concentration’ part today,” Bai Qian explained when A-li had gotten out of sight. “Let alone actually reaching the fire with his magic.”

“How big of a fire was it?” Asked Yehua, half chuckling.

“It touched the ceiling.”

“Impressive. But –”

“Outdoors next time?”

“Yes.”

Yehua smiled and followed his son back.

“Your room should be in order now, Queen of Qingqiu,” the guard came back out, bowing.

“Thank you,” said Bai Qian.

Maybe that King of Xunzhua was right, she reflected on her way to her desk. Being responsible for children was the last thing she should be thinking about right now.

***

Think about it?

Bai Qian knew she should not be thinking about Pojing’s offer, that she had no reason to consider it, that if none of them got killed by Luoji, she would go back home and go on with her life. But all the same, she could not look at him now without envisioning some sort of alternative life at Xunzhua.

Curse that cat.

Having more things to think about was not what she needed.

Bai Qian stared at her ceiling for quite some time before realizing that it was well past midnight; and despite having counted to three thousand and some hundred foxes, she was far from sleepy.

She grudgingly got out of bed, threw a glance at the books she had finished reading, then flung a long coat over herself and headed out of the room.

Bai Qian encountered very few guards on her way to the library. She knew the security in these corridors did not lessen at night with a decrease of sentries; in fact, it was much tighter, but less visible.

Zhuowei was not in the library. That said something about the lateness of the hour – Bai Qian sighed, and quietly walked up the stairs at the center.

Cling.

She let out a small gasp and looked around for the source of that sound. It was upstairs too. She went all the way up and followed the railings, until – in a large space between two giant bookshelves – the back of someone came into view.

“Pojing?”

The King of Xunzhua turned to face her, his eyes fierce, the features of his face tensed, as if he had been lost in some violent memory before she came.

“I thought it was you,” his voice was grim.

It took Bai Qian a few seconds to realize what Pojing was staring at. It was a large portrait of a man wearing a Xunzhua embroidered robe, metal gauntlets with the royal crest covering his upper arms. It was the late king of Xunzhua.

“You looked lost for a while there,” said Bai Qian.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“But what happened?”

He filled his goblet and took a large gulp, briefly closing his eyes, his jaw clenched.

“The Arctic Prison forces — memories — to resurface, those long-buried and those you try to forget.”

Bai Qian gasped, taking a large stride towards him. “You told the God of War you’d had no suspicious dreams! You said you’d only seen pitch black.”

“I lied. I saw things. Nothing that Dark Magic could have conjured, of course, but I continue to see them even now.”

“Does your physician know?”

“Physician?” he was smirking now. “I don’t summon my physician every time I have a bad dream, Queen of Qingqiu.”

“But…”

“They are just dreams.”

He picked up the wine decanter positioned right next to them and filled an empty cup, handing it to Bai Qian. The liquid’s potent scent went straight to her head.

“Why are you here?”

“Er… I couldn’t sleep. I thought I’d pick up a new book.”

He nodded. “Help yourself.”

But Bai Qian wasn’t quite sure she wanted to read anymore. When Pojing looked like he was about to down another full goblet, she quickly said, “Don’t hog all the wine for yourself, I want more too.”

He scoffed, half laughing, and took only a small sip then.

“When was this painted?” Bai Qian gestured at the portrait of the late king.

“When I was two-hundred years old.”

Right before the Demon Queen burned half of the king’s face, then – Bai Qian gazed at the amber color of his eyes, imagining the countless shades they’d had to use and the indefinite number of strokes made to accomplish that color. The spirit in those eyes shone through his son.

“Even when Zhuowei and I were little,” Pojing said. “My father never hesitated to let us know what it took to sit on the throne, what it meant to be seen as a protector of this kingdom. ‘Die on the battlefield as a warrior, or die in shame’, he’d always say.”

Yet.

It was not in glory or the fire of war that this king had died. Assassins. Assassins had taken his life.

“What the eight realms have said about him is nothing compared to the condemnation he’d directed at himself moments before he died.” Slowly Pojing turned to her. “I wanted to tear that Celestial Crown Prince apart when he insulted my father that day at Qingqiu – because everything that came out of his mouth was a reminder of the humiliation we suffered at the Demons’ hands.”

Bai Qian didn’t respond, Pojing’s fury the day the Demon Queen appeared at Xunzhua replaying in her mind.

“It will take more than weapons and shields to command the respect of the eight realms,” he said. “But I will have it, no matter the cost.”

Without thinking, Bai Qian reached out, placing her hand on his arm. He tensed at her touch and they looked at each other for a long while. The vehemence in his eyes eventually faded as he chuckled.

“But we do have to survive Luoji first, don’t we.”

“Yes.” Bai Qian smiled.

“Your books?”

“I’m not in a hurry.”

More books, more restless hours alone in her room until morning? She would rather be here.

“Join me then.”

Pojing gestured at the nearest window. They both walked over and settled down at the lounging chairs. The thick velvet curtains were drawn up, allowing them a generous view of the night sky.

“So.” Pojing sat back, his eyes slightly narrowed at her. “I confess I still don’t quite understand – how are you not reliable?”

“Oh,” Bai Qian stumbled, falling quiet for a long minute.

“Is there a long story to it?”

“Yes, and I don’t want to bother anyone with it.”

“I’m very patient.”

“No, you’re not.”

“All right, I’m not. But I can put my patience to the test. After all, I am the one who suggested we put up with each other for the rest of our lives.”

Bai Qian laughed nervously, hesitating. To her, it was more than just a long story, and very few people knew about it -- what went on in Yanhua cave after the Bell of Donghuang had nearly devoured the eight realms 70,000 years ago.

“Go on,” he shrugged. “Violation of magical laws, past lovers, trials gone wrong – which is it? I’m sure nothing you did could’ve been more reckless and irresponsible than what I’ve done myself.”

“Past lovers?” Bai Qian snorted, raising her brows.

“I meant as an example.”

“Right.”

With a small laugh, Pojing turned sideways towards the window, suddenly absorbed in the silence of the night. It was strange to see someone who teased her on a daily basis -- who moved and fought and hunted with a speed that made people’s heads spin -- sit as still as a rock.

Between the flickering candles and the silver light pouring in from the window, he looked almost like a statue of a warrior, his eyes deep-set and his nose slightly crooked.

“Those things are only mistakes,” Bai Qian began. “And you can make mistakes but still be reliable.”

“Yes,” Pojing swirled the goblet in his hand. “So I’m curious as to how a sticker-to-the-rules like yourself could be unreliable. Or do we perhaps understand the word differently?”

“Do you remember the last Ghost War?”

“The War that could have been avoided easily if the Celestials had just negotiated? Yes, I remember.”

“Yes,” Bai Qian stared into the distance, not bothering to counter him. Lingyu’s bewildered face and bloody armor came to her mind. “A lot of things could have been avoided if the Celestials had negotiated. I was the seventeenth disciple of Kunlun when the Ghost War happened.”

“Are you not still?”

“I meant that back then, no one knew I was a princess of Qingqiu, Immortal Siyin was my only title. And as Siyin, I was particularly attached to the God of War.”

Pojing smirked behind his goblet. Bai Qian rolled her eyes. “Not because he favored me, but because he was what I wanted to become.”

“Ahh.”

“I looked at him and saw a direction, a future. And then, after a while, I came to understand that he’d become more than that to me.”

A rush of memories filled Bai Qian’s head – her lessons at Kunlun, the worriless days among her Seniors, her first lightning trial, a zither by the lotus pond, the warm look in his eyes when she’d woken up cold and exhausted from the torture in Yaoguang’s dungeon.

“The God of War offered us no less than a home at his mountain. We each carved our own path to walk on, but we became a family because of him.

“Needless to say I didn’t take it well when my mentor sacrificed himself. But before the God of War bound his spirit to the Bell, he said to us – ‘wait for me’ –”

“He knew he would be able to return?” Pojing asked.

“It was more of a promise to try than a plan, but I certainly believed it. Not many others did, though. When we returned to Kunlun, I snapped at anyone who tried to take him away. I searched high and low for a way to preserve his body. Ultimately, I settled for the most drastic solution, but probably the only one at the time – transferring my heartblood, a nine-tailed fox’s heartblood, into his veins. Given that he had been pronounced dead by the Celestial physicians, what I did was probably forbidden in many senses.”

Bai Qian paused, wondering how she had found the courage to do it all, the feel of a dagger’s tip against her skin still fresh in her memory. The room suddenly became even quieter.

“When it was clear that the Celestials were going to bury him despite what I said, I moved his body to Qingqiu without telling my Seniors, then I stayed hidden and never saw any of them again for 70,000 years.

“After that, I kept using my heartblood to keep his body intact, hoping that by having a body as an anchor, the shattered pieces of his soul would assemble faster. For 70,000 years, I didn’t step out of Qingqiu, I didn’t receive guests, I let my brother run our kingdom, I let every opportunity for a different life pass.”

Bai Qian rose and took a few steps towards the window. Even at this hour, light still glittered in the city below.

“I was only driven to go out and see the world again when I met Yehua. My family engaged me to him, but even then, I vowed that I would see the God of War sit on his dais, and hear him call me Seventeenth again. Nothing else mattered.”

A silence descended and stretched between them.

“Does this mean you love the God of War?” Pojing asked at last.

“That doesn’t matter.” Bai Qian turned around to him. It was the truth, though a difficult truth for her to process. “I am everything that I am today because of him, and I will gladly do what I have done for him again if I must.”

Pojing’s expression was everything she had expected from someone who heard this story for the first time, his confusion was perhaps multiplied due the fact that he had been raised differently.

“You are committed to building and protecting Xunzhua”, Bai Qian went on. “You don’t want to share your responsibilities with me. The minute Kunlun needs me, I will run back to it without hesitation. I’ve let Yehua down, and I would let you down one way or another.”

Pojing gave her a long, unreadable look.

“Don’t you agree?” She willed some humor into her voice, shrugging.

He sprang up from his chair and walked to her side. For someone who usually made his opinion clear, Pojing was letting very little of his emotion be seen now. He was looking like a king on a throne, with a carefully arranged mask she couldn’t see through.

“Your heartblood?”

Bai Qian nodded.

“How did you do it?”

“With a dagger.”

His brows convulsed. Bai Qian glanced briefly at the ceiling. “I was young and… too prideful to ask for help.”

“That sounds like you.”

Pojing stood a bit closer, bringing his hand just above her left shoulder and lingered for a second.

“For 70,000 years?” His palm pressed against her collarbone, where the tip of that long gash on her skin was.

Bai Qian couldn’t remember anyone who had come this close to her scar without getting a death threat or an assault from her in return. But she stood still now, and nodded.

His hand gently slid up her neck and to her cheek, his fierce eyes held hers.

“Kunlun has given you a strong armor. But what use is any armor if you hold yourself back from the charge?”

Something inside her jolted awake at his voice, the grip of his hand as firm as a promise.

She didn’t know what to think except that perhaps she had stared at him for too long, and that her own doubt – spoken by someone else – was much harder to face than she’d expected.

Her voice was weak, “I should go back now.”

Bai Qian turned around and headed for the stairs. As she reached the first step, her pace quickened, and the next thing she knew, she was sprinting across the corridor back to her room.

Once alone behind the closed door, Bai Qian sank down at her desk, pulled a piece of paper to the center and began writing one of those letters she never planned to send.

Shifu,

“Shifu,” she murmured, tears coming to her throat.

There was no future she could imagine that Moyuan was not a part of. But…

If I cannot see myself without you, am I nothing but your shadow?