“Bai Qian,” Mo Yuan whispered again. He’d been trying to wake her for several minutes.
But a silent Bai Qian never stirred. Even her tails, which Mo Yuan had believed to always be in some sort of motion, lay unmoving around the legs of her chair.
A different tactic perhaps.
Leaning over her, Mo Yuan placed his mouth close to where a delicate curve of ear peeked through lightly tousled locks of rich brown hair. “Qian Qian,” he said softly.
The rhythmic rise and fall of Bai Qian’s chest continued. She was in a profound slumber with her head resting on her hand on the table. The God of War was reluctant, unwilling, to try and rouse her by more forceful means.
Mo Yuan straightened. He’d never faced a situation like this before… alone in his chamber with a beautiful goddess asleep at his table.
Use his magic to whisk her away to the bed in her guest chamber? That would be inappropriate, using his powers upon her while she slept.
Take her in his arms and carry her there instead?
Mo Yuan studied Bai Qian’s face. Her features appeared softer to him by the firelight; cheeks warmly blushed by its flame revealed a creamy texture to her skin. Her lips, velvet-like in the glow, were slightly parted with her soft, steady breaths of sleep.
Mo Yuan stepped back abruptly and cleared his throat. Perhaps it would be best to fetch the Phoenix to come and take Bai Qian to her chamber. But then Zhe Yan had made it explicitly clear that he needed to remain by the orchid all through the night to observe it.
The silver moon orchid.
It had always been a novel flower in Kunlun’s gardens. No matter the time of day or night, it always cast its silver glow. The flower had supposedly been his mother’s favourite, according to what his father said to him once. But otherwise, Mo Yuan knew nothing else of it nor had cared to know at the time.
It was during one of the rare visits Mo Yuan paid his father after having left to establish the temple on Kunlun, that the First Immortal had inquired after the gardens there; something his father had never done before. Heavenly Father was waxing nostalgic that particular day when he told Mo Yuan to always care well for all the flowers on Kunlun since they had been his mother’s. Mo Yuan had no memories of his mother. She’d died when he was an infant. All he knew was a belief that had there ever been affection shown him as a child, it had vanished the day Heavenly Mother did.
His father had continued on, stating he regretted not having taken the time before to tell Mo Yuan about his mother’s flowers and what they had meant to her, telling him her favourite had been the silver moon orchid.
‘The time for regrets is long passed, Father,’ Mo Yuan remembered thinking.
His father had fallen silent afterwards, lost in his thoughts. And a younger, brash Mo Yuan, who had been anxious to leave all along, seized the opportunity to take his leave. Heavenly Father told Mo Yuan he would tell him about his mother’s favourite flower the next time Mo Yuan came to visit. But Mo Yuan never got to hear of it. His father passed into the Realm of Nothingness 3 days later.
He wondered now what his father would have told him if he’d had the chance —if I’d given him one. That the orchid had been written into a children’s tale as the Phoenix said, something Mo Yuan gathered from what little he’d been told of his mother would likely have delighted her to know? Perhaps he should ask the Phoenix where the story was in the Great Library so he could read it for himself.
Mo Yuan’s expression hardened. Do I truly wish to know? It will only make me harbour more resentment, won’t it? To discover something else he kept me in the dark about?
The time for regrets is long passed…
With a shake of his head, Mo Yuan pulled his thoughts back to the present. He needed to focus on the predicament he now faced.
Leave Bai Qian there to sleep the night? Come morning, she would certainly be stiff and sore. And hearth fire or no hearth fire, Mo Yuan had observed enough about her to know she would get cold as the night progressed. Her cloak and boots would not suffice. She needed to be tucked in a bed.
Mo Yuan glanced over at his.
Walking over to it, Mo Yuan pulled off his blanket. He only had the one, for cold never concerned him. Returning to Bai Qian’s side, Mo Yuan gently draped it across her back and over her shoulders.
Maybe he should leave her here. That would be the easiest course of action. She was safe where she was, regardless of how uncomfortable it would prove to be for her. Of course, his sleeping here while she was would be totally inappropriate and out of the question. Yes, he could go get something to eat and then settle down for the night in one of the study halls or another of the vacant chambers.
But Mo Yuan’s hand hovered over the latch of his door.
What would happen if Bai Qian woke to find herself alone in his chamber? Then what? Wasn’t leaving her here alone and unaware just as wrong?
Mo Yuan made his decision.
His robes swished around his legs as he turned about brusquely and crouched down beside Bai Qian once again. As gently as he could, Mo Yuan pulled her to his chest. Reaching down, he scooped the underside of her unresisting tails with his arm. Mo Yuan had no difficulty spreading their thick, lush lengths across her lap before gathering Bai Qian, blanket, tails and all, into his arms as he stood up.
With a jerk of his chin, Mo Yuan magically collected Bai Qian’s bag. His gaze fell upon her silk band which was still on the table. Leave it there? He eyed the burning logs of the fire, tempted. No. With a resigned sigh, Mo Yuan magically collected the silk band as well.
And as his chamber door closed behind them, the peach blossom heart of the golden pearl dragon flashed as it caught the flare of the hearth fire flames created by the draft.
The rich scent of peach blossoms enveloped Mo Yuan as he carried Bai Qian in his arms. He was reminded of the soft weight of her tail draped on his shoulder, only it was her head there now. Nine fluffy ends of fox tails dangling off her middle bounced against his legs with every step.
He only made it halfway down the first corridor when Bai Qian stirred in his embrace. Mo Yuan came to a halt. What kind of interesting moment would that make… her waking up to find herself wrapped in his blanket and being carried in his arms? Would she string him up with the end of a tail as she had Yao Guang? But it turned out Mo Yuan needn’t worry. In fact, he really should have known better by now. All the still sleeping Bai Qian did was curl her torso more towards him… to nuzzle her soft cheek against the side of his neck.
It took the junior apprentice on duty to light the night torches rounding the corner before them for Mo Yuan to recover his wits and start walking again. The open-mouthed junior stood frozen, staring at them. Apparently the sight of the Grandmaster carrying a beautiful sleeping woman in his arms was not what the boy had been expecting to see.
Without breaking his stride, Mo Yuan nodded curtly as he walked past the boy, the Grandmaster looking for all intents and purposes as if this were nothing out of the ordinary. Only once he rounded the same corner did Mo Yuan pause to take a deep, steadying breath. Bai Qian’s sweet scent flooded his senses.
Mo Yuan’s eyes drifted closed at the faint stirring deep within him this caused… only to snap open after a moment.
He quickened his pace. Bai Qian’s guest chamber was very close. The faster he could get her there and leave her for the night, perhaps the better for all concerned.
Mo Yuan’s steps faltered again.
“Bai Qian?” he whispered, hesitant. He could have sworn he just heard her voice. He kept his gaze fixed ahead in case he’d have to set her down quickly. “Bai Qian? Are you awake?” No response. Mo Yuan shook his head. It had been a very long day and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t tired as well. It could have been the wind.
He only took a few steps more before she did it again, for now he was certain, it was Bai Qian. Mo Yuan tilted his head closer to hers, ignoring for now how that caused her cheek to press even more firmly against the side of his neck.
No… She couldn’t be.
Yes… she is. Mo Yuan’s eyes grew wide.
Bai Qian was humming in her sleep. He could feel the vibrations at the base of his throat.
What sounded like random tones soon coalesced into what Mo Yuan’s musical ear discerned to be a song. But before he could begin to follow the melody, Bai Qian fell silent once more.
No, Bai Qian, don’t stop. I wish to hear it.
He waited several minutes, standing there in the middle of a corridor with her in his arms. When she didn’t resume, a disappointed Mo Yuan steeled his shoulders and briskly walked the rest of the way to her chamber.
Laying Bai Qian gently upon the bed, Mo Yuan brought forth her bag and silk band, both of which he placed on the side table.
With a sense of relief, he made his way to the door to leave but stopped instead. Bai Qian had started humming again. Curiosity getting the better of him, Mo Yuan quickly went back and sat on the edge of the bed. Purposely closing his eyes this time, Mo Yuan concentrated.
Though it was being voiced, the melody was rounded, both unhurried and fast. Mo Yuan recognized a familiar rise and fall of cadences within it; the differences in yin and nao evident.
How extraordinary… Bai Qian hummed a song meant for the strings of a guqin.
Mo Yuan’s brow furrowed as he opened his eyes. Hadn’t the Fox King told him Bai Qian didn’t play, that she only helped tune the instruments? Could this have been a song of her father’s then? Yet the moment he thought the question, Mo Yuan knew the answer. After all, he’d heard her perform in person at a festival long, long ago.
The rhythms and timing of the song Bai Qian hummed bore the distinct signature of the renowned musician who had to have composed it… Queen Ying Yue, Bai Qian’s mother.
The song hummed through Mo Yuan’s mind. The feel of its notes made his fingertips tingle. And for the first time in many long years, music coursed through Mo Yuan, carrying with it a certain harmony of vision, and perspective.
Listening to Bai Qian’s song in the silence, Mo Yuan found himself listening to his intuition as well.
At what point had he realized that there was no malice or ill intent in Bai Qian? How she left herself open and vulnerable, her carefree facial expressions, the sad way she thought of herself… These were all sincere reflections of her genuine self. There was no subterfuge involved. This was not someone with ties to Qing Cang.
Just Bai Qian was a nine-tailed fox goddess who liked to smile, to laugh with her best friend, drink wine with the God of War and touch his beard; who went out of her way to please a young child by bringing a gift to him.
And the way the Phoenix cared for her, said something about the woman as well.
What had his Fourth Disciple Zhong Yi’s message meant to convey then? If not the Blind Fox directly herself, perhaps something —or someone– around her? Mo Yuan was more determined than ever to pay a visit to Qing Qiu, with her.
When Bai Qian fell silent once more, Mo Yuan rose from the bed. He was no longer tired. He felt quite energized instead.
Sleep well, Qian Qian. Thank you for your gift today… and your gift tonight.
Though he knew it made no difference to her, Mo Yuan waved his hand to snuff out the candles in the chamber. With a soft smile and eager spark in his eyes, Mo Yuan closed the chamber door quietly behind him as he left.
He played a few preliminary notes at first. Running the song from start to finish again in his mind, Mo Yuan focused on its purity of emotion and elegance of form.
With a calming breath, he slid his finger the length of the jue, the third string, then plucked the wen, the sixth. Within moments, music emerged from beneath his fingertips as Mo Yuan succumbed to a sense of peace, of being unrushed, feeling as if he were strolling in the moonlight. For the first time in so long, Mo Yuan smiled as he played his guqin, Bai Qian’s song becoming a transcendent melody flowing through him.
“Sixteenth Brother! Do you hear that?!” Da Bao had been filling his baskets with seeds to refill the bird feeders on the mountain in the morning. Straightening his massive shoulders, he lumbered over to the window to stretch his neck out and listen.
Zi Lan, who’d already sprung up from the bench in the stockroom where they were, crossed his arms over his chest with a smile. “Yes, Eleventh Brother, I most certainly do. As does the whole mountain, no doubt.”
“Shifu is playing his guqin again after so many years. I wonder what finally inspired him?” Da Bao asked.
“Or who?” Zi Lan said with a smile as Da Bao glanced back at him. The Giant blushed as he lumbered back to his baskets, with a faint smile of his own nonetheless.
The Grey Wolf nodded. “Her tree sprite told me Zhe Yan took her to Kunlun to look for a flower.” The wolf scratched behind an ear.
The Phoenix. Diao Wu stared off into the darkness between the trees. He knew of Zhe Yan, the phoenix god of the so called Peach Tree Grove. Though Diao Wu could roam the night woods of Qing Qiu, he avoided the Peach Grove. The Phoenix’s energy in the trees made him feel ill —or used to… Perhaps now would be a good time to test and see if that were still the case. With his powers stronger than they’d ever been, chances were the Phoenix’s magic wouldn’t affect him as badly anymore.
And what if it no longer affected him at all?
A phoenix’s essence would make quite the addition to his collection of works.
“You will report to me nightly now,” Diao Wu told the wolf.
“Nightly?” The surly sounding wolf appeared glum. “Someone may take notice that I come into the forest every night.”
With a sharp yelp, the wolf was slammed backwards against a tree. Pinned there now by invisible spikes that sent excruciating pain through his body, the wolf helplessly snarled and gnashed his teeth.
“You are lucky to be dealing with me, dog, and not Qing Cang.” The black wizard approached slowly to stare down into the beast’s contorted face. “The Demon Emperor would have likely ripped your throat out for that last remark.”
Diao Wu turned away, clasping his hands casually behind his back.
“You will look for any pattern to their travel. Find out when Bai Qian and Zhe Yan will be on Kunlun and when they will be here. And do make sure no one notices what you’re doing. If someone does, it is up to you to take care of it without bringing attention to yourself, lest you need me to pay more attention to you instead.”
“I will be back tomorrow,” the Shaman said in parting.
But even after Diao Wu walked off into the night, the wolf remained pinned to the tree. It was only after an hour that the spell released and the wolf crumbled to the ground, shaking and growling.
At the very outer edge of the Peach Grove, Diao Wu reached out and placed his palm on the trunk of one of the peach trees.
Nothing happened. No ill effects at all.
A new plan formed in Diao Wu’s mind. He would persuade Qing Cang that along with the fox there would be another whose sacrifice would be of great use to them. Kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Diao Wu’s eyes turned pitch black.
I look forward to meeting you, Phoenix of the Peach Grove.
And with that, Diao Wu vanished in a black mist.
The peach tree Diao Wu had touched began to shudder violently, its vibrant blossoms and leaves turning to ash. The tree’s peaches blackened and fell away to disintegrate upon the ground. The remaining tree trunk and its branches thinned and thinned to finally vanish along with the grey ash that was carried off by the night wind.
⇛ Next part: 16(第十六章) A Blanket of Sunlight
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