2(第二章) The Heartwood of Kunlun

He slipped the piece of paper he’d been holding under a book.


The draft created by the heavy door swinging inwards made the candlelight flicker across the walls.


Mo Yuan’s second-in-command, Die Feng, stood in the doorway holding a number of scrolls in his gloved hands. The man’s breath condensed in wisps about his head as he waited now for permission to approach.

The brisk predawn morning on Kunlun Mountain held a strong hint of the oncoming winter in the chill of its air. At this hour, Mo Yuan still had his hair down, wearing but a simple wool tunic under a thick fur cloak as he sat crosslegged at his study table with a steaming pot of tea beside him. The Grandmaster of Kunlun always went over the daily training schedules in his private chamber at this time of day before getting dressed.

“You may approach,” he said to Die Feng. 

Booted steps crossed the stone floor as Die Feng advanced with his long, steady strides, his own fur cloak covering a dark leather training uniform. The earliest riser amongst his men, Die Feng was responsible for organizing the temple school’s training sessions as well as supervising the weapons courtyard during the senior apprentices’ lessons.  As First Disciple, he was responsible as well for bringing Mo Yuan any reports or messages requiring the God of War’s attention. 

Mo Yuan eyed the scrolls with a slight frown before drawing in a deep breath to slowly release it.

As God of War of the Immortal Realm, Mo Yuan was constantly being called upon to join councils, attend meetings, participate in ceremonies, present at lectures… Luckily, Die Feng was most adept at sorting through the neverending barrage of correspondence, only bringing that which he knew truly required his shifu’s attention.

Mo Yuan’s brow arched as he glimpsed the corner of Die Feng’s mouth quirk just before the man reached the dais. His First was no doubt amused by his reaction.

“Would it be fruitless to hope the Realm would run out of bamboo slats and scrolls could no longer be sent?” Mo Yuan asked from behind the rim of his tea cup as he took a sip.

“I couldn’t say, Shifu,” a once again stern-faced Die Feng replied, speaking in the usual tone of deference he always did when addressing him. One day, Mo Yuan vowed, he would get his First to laugh in his presence.

Die Feng piled the scrolls on the side of the table. “There is another missive from Tianjun requesting an update on our search for Qing Cang.”

Ignoring the scrolls, Mo Yuan calmly took another sip of tea.

“Heaven’s ruler will simply have to wait,” Mo Yuan said, raising his eyes at Die Feng who now bore a hesitant look.

“What is it, Die Feng?”

“Shifu.” Die Feng met Mo Yuan’s gaze. Steeling his shoulders as if coming to some sort of decision on the spot, the disciple reached under his cloak and pulled out a rolled parchment. “I know you dismissed the first one, but I believe you may wish to reconsider. It’s a visitation request from the Ten Mile Peach Grove again.”

The Phoenix, Zhe Yan. 

Not long ago, the Phoenix had sent a request for permission to visit Kunlun Mountain’s sacred gardens. Having just put down the demon attack near the Chang Sea, a frustrated and tired Mo Yuan had had no time to spare for the Phoenix whom he’d met once and recalled as a rather flamboyant, overly-talkative being. In other words… the complete opposite of Mo Yuan himself. He’d had Die Feng send a reply that the Disciples and Grandmaster of Kunlun were otherwise occupied and could not spare the time.

If his First considered the Phoenix’s new message worth bringing to his attention, there must be something unusual about it this time. Putting down his tea cup, Mo Yuan extended his hand.

Die Feng stepped forward to give Mo Yuan the parchment then stood back with head bowed to wait.

Unrolling the parchment released a fragrance of peach wine which wafted about Mo Yuan as he read the Phoenix’s message.

It took the sound of Die Feng clearing his throat for Mo Yuan to catch himself staring off into the distance, lost in his thoughts.  How long had the silence stretched on while the open parchment lay in his lap?  

His First snapped to attention when Mo Yuan crisply rolled the parchment up and extended it back to him.

“Before your training rounds this morning, Die Feng, I would like you to send a response to the Ten Mile Peach Grove. Tell the Phoenix that I will receive him and Qing Qiu’s queen at their earliest convenience.”

“Yes, Shifu.”

“Inform me once they arrive.”

“Yes, Shifu.”

“You are dismissed.”

Die Feng gave a crisp bow then retreated, the walls rippling with candlelight once more as the door closed behind the First Disciple with a resounding thud.

Setting a privacy barrier, Mo Yuan rose from the table, his eyes drawn to an object attached to a nearby wall. Approaching it on silent footsteps,  something more than candlelight flickered gold in the God of War’s eyes as he focused on the long wooden instrument hanging there.

He couldn’t recall the last time he’d played it; the last time he’d tried to find the music inside himself, the music he hadn’t heard in so long.

Staring at the exquisite guqin, Mo Yuan’s thoughts wandered back to the day when he’d acquired it.


“Please help yourself to some tea while you wait, or perhaps you’d prefer some peach wine instead? It’s made with peaches from the Phoenix God Zhe Yan’s grove nearby.”

Mo Yuan gave a passing glance to the wine jug on the stone table before reaching for the gourd of the tea pot beside it and pouring himself a cup. The Phoenix God’s Peach Tree Grove was known for its exceptional fruit, but Mo Yuan rarely drank spirits and certainly not during the day.

With cup of tea in hand, Mo Yuan continued to listen as the Fox moved about behind a beaded curtain, putting the final touches on the guqin Mo Yuan had commissioned him to make.

Few knew in the Four Seas and Eight Lands that the Fox King Bai Zhi was also a master craftsman of musical instruments –the guqin being his specialty piece. Foxes having such magical hearing, his instruments were renowned amongst elite musicians for their depth of resonance and their crisp, precise notes.

What the Fox King was known for was being a recluse ever since the passing of his wife. It was said the Fox Queen Ying Yue had died giving birth to their only child, a daughter. Rumour was that the daughter’s “ailmenthad somehow caused the mother’s death. Nonsense, of course, but rumours were often cruel. And gossip, like wildfire, spread faster when left unchecked. Nonetheless, the “Blind Fox as his daughter Bai Qian was known, was rarely heard of as well; a recluse much like her father.  

The few times that Mo Yuan had been to the Fox Den to consult with Bai Zhi about the guqin’s design, he had never seen the Fox King’s daughter, nor sensed her presence nearby. He suspected Bai Qian purposely headed out whenever she knew he would be there.

“I never imagined I would so easily be able to convince Zhe Yan to give me a core section of trunk from one of his trees,” Bai Zhi stated from behind the curtain. “He never cuts any of them.  But when I said I would use some of the peach wood to make a guqin for Qian Qian in addition to yours, he agreed.  Qian Qian adores the Peach Grove and her birthday is coming up.”

“Given who her mother was, your daughter must be an exceptional musician,” Mo Yuan said.

The strings of beads clattered as Bai Zhi emerged with a long wrapped bundle in his arms.

Sorrow tinged the Fox King’s voice as he placed the bundle on the table before Mo Yuan. “Qian Qian enjoys listening but she refuses to play. A guqin I would make for her would be strictly ornamental. Though I can always hope. Her mother, as you must know, was a gifted musician.”

Bai Ying Yue’s gift for playing the guqin had been renowned throughout all the Immortal Realm, the late Fox Queen having often been invited to perform at banquets and festivals. “I had the pleasure of attending one of your wife’s performances at a Peach Festival in the Ninth Sky one time. Truly an exceptional musician, she was,” Mo Yuan said.

The Fox King gave him a sad smile. “She was indeed my beautiful vixen.”

Bai Zhi glanced towards the Fox Den’s cavernous entryway.

“Hmm, Qian Qian was supposed to have been here this time. She’s the one who helps me do a final tuning of strings on any new guqin. Her hearing is exceptionally acute –much, much better than mine.” Bai Zhi sighed. “That girl must have lost track of time again and is lazing about somewhere in the Peach Grove.”

Mo Yuan kept politely silent.

“Please”–Bai Zhi extended his hand–“don’t wait, Grandmaster.” He gestured for Mo Yuan to unwrap the bundle.

Mo Yuan pulled open the cloth.

Magnificent. The guqin made from the core, the heartwood, of a peach tree was exquisitely constructed; the light lacquered finish only serving to enhance the rich, warm reddish-brown colour of the wood.

Mo Yuan marvelled at the guqin frame’s design. A feature which made this particular guqin unique in all the Realm were its strings; seven silk strings made from the finest strands of dragon hair, Mo Yuan’s very own… combed, twisted, and spun to create the long filaments required. 

This was something Bai Zhi had proposed early on when they’d first discussed the design. It had been the Fox King’s idea to use hairs from the Gold Dragon to customize the guqin exclusively for Mo Yuan. The result were strings that would never break, as dragon hair, like dragon scale, was virtually indestructible.

Another unique feature were the harmonic markers laid out above the first string.  Made from luminous pearls found only in the lake waters of Qing Qiu, each pearl inset perfectly contrasted the colour of the wood.

Mo Yuan gave a faint smile at the scent of the aromatic wood that wafted up to him when he ran his fingers along the frame and lightly brushed the strings.

“If it’s all the same to you, Lord Bai, I prefer to tune the guqin myself.  There’s no need to trouble your daughter.”

Standing up, Mo Yuan reached into his satchel. The small crystal bottle he retrieved was filled with an amber liquid. “I have brought the payment of desert rose oil that you requested, Lord Bai. But how can this possibly measure in value to such a fine masterpiece as this. Please allow me to pay you by some other means.”

Bai Zhi took the bottle from Mo Yuan.

“No, Grandmaster, this is all I want and will accept. This rare scented oil is near impossible to come by anywhere near Qing Qiu. My beloved Ying Yue loved desert rose. It was her favourite scent.”

“It is the anniversary of her death soon…” Of course, Mo Yuan thought, he mentioned his daughter’s birthday, “…and I wish to use this as an offering to her,” Bai Zhi finished.

Mo Yuan clasped his hands forward and bowed to the Fox King, the guqin maker of Qing Qiu. “Thank you for this precious gift, Lord Bai.”

The Fox King fixed Mo Yuan with another sad but knowing smile. “I hope the God of War may find some measure of peace and solace from something precious from Qing Qiu.”


The bottom edge of his fur cloak brushed along the stone floor as Mo Yuan turned back to the dais. Leaning down, he retrieved the slip of paper he’d put under a book when Die Feng had first knocked.

It was a secret message from his fourth disciple, a man fluent in a dozen realm dialects and expert in concealment and disguise. Mo Yuan had sent him into the Demon Lands months ago to try and discover any information about the whereabouts of the Demon Emperor Qing Cang or of his plans. It had been weeks since Mo Yuan had last received any word from Zhong Yi.

The slip he held had arrived directly to him by use of a high magic spell rather than the usual channels. The use of such magic would have greatly risked revealing his Fourth’s true identity which meant it could only have concerned something of extreme urgency.

The message was only two words scrawled in a panicked hand, yet two words that ensured there was no way the Grandmaster of Kunlun and God of War would refuse the Phoenix’s request this time.

Before incinerating the paper with a light brush of power, Mo Yuan glanced at the words one last time.

Blind Fox


师傅 (Shifu) master

古琴 (guqin) the Chinese seven-stringed zither

忠義 (Zhong Yi) loyal to all

*The Four Seas and Eight Lands is another name for the Immortal Realm

⇛ Next part: 3(第三章) In the Darkness Bound

⇚ Previous part: 1(第一章) The Mushroom Market

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