21(第二十一章) Gu Gu’s Dragon

“Gu Gu!” Migu’s footsteps cascaded down the rocky steps of the Den. “I was starting to worry when you didn’t come back early like you did yesterday and…” The tree sprite’s voice trailed off.

“Migu.” Bai Qian cleared her throat. “This is High God Mo Yuan who has come to visit Qing Qiu properly today.” She mimicked Mo Yuan’s tone and words from back at breakfast. Zhe Yan chuckled.

“H-h-high God Mo Yuan?!!” Bai Qian could hear Migu’s leaves crumple and his twigs crunch as he must have bowed. “Welcome to Qing Qiu and the Fox Den, Grandmaster. Oh, uh, welcome back I mean. I didn’t get to meet you the time you came to see the Fox King.”

Mo Yuan smiled at the tree sprite who, upon first glance, appeared a youth. But like most woodland spirits, the tree sprite’s outer appearance was a poor indicator of his true age. Mo Yuan sensed that Migu was much older than he looked.

“There’s no need for such formality. I’m here by invitation of Master Zhe Yan,” Mo Yuan said, ignoring the hmph Bai Qian huffed under her breath.

“So! Where shall we go first?” Zhe Yan clapped his hands together making his sleeves flap. The Phoenix had changed his apparel from the day before using his magic. Inspired by that earlier sparrow’s plumage, Zhe Yan now wore a crisp green robe with red sash.

“Since the two of you have so far arranged things as you please,” Bai Qian pronounced, “why don’t I let you continue to decide everything else. I’m going in to change unless you’d like to decide what I’ll be wearing today as well?” She paused. “No? Well, then. I’ll be but a few moments.”

Without waiting for a reply, Bai Qian grasped the skirt of her teal dress and stomped up the steps of the Den to disappear inside.

Bai Qian hadn’t invited anyone in, which left Migu standing there feeling most awkward. But neither high god seemed to mind. It was a gorgeous and warmer-than-usual autumn day. 

“Uh,” Migu tried not to look too embarrassed, “if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go see if Gu Gu needs my help with anything.” The tree sprite sprinted up the steps two at a time in a hasty retreat.

“Qian Qian prefers to choose her clothing through touch of hand and not magic,” Zhe Yan started to say. “She’s rather set in her ways when it comes to that. Perhaps it’s my fault, or my good influence?” He laughed. “When I taught her which colours went well together, I also taught her about matching fabric textures as well. I always told her that the way something feels with a touch of magic can never compare to the feel of it against one’s skin.” Zhe Yan smirked. “Qian Qian thinks I don’t know that her favourite texture is that of feathers. Ha!”

Mo Yuan smiled faintly as he scanned the immediate surroundings, taking in the autumn colours of the forest surrounding the Fox Den. The air was definitely milder here than on Kunlun. Just as last time, he caught the scent of the blossoms of the nearby Peach Grove on the warm breeze that blew in from the west.

But even if Qing Qiu had been colder than Kunlun, Mo Yuan wouldn’t have had to dress any differently than he was. For his proper visit today, he’d chosen to wear a simple, thick linen navy tunic over dark woollen pants with a brown leather belt that matched his boots. Not wishing to be formal, he’d bound his hair in a semi-ponytail with a plain iron pin to hold it in place. For all intents and purposes, the God of War looked like any Celestial man, albeit one with the aura of a dragon, which he purposely chose not to suppress. Gauging how others reacted to him was part of how he would investigate those around Bai Qian.

The Phoenix and the Dragon stood in a companionable silence for several minutes.

“You didn’t expect her to believe you’d misplaced it, did you?” Zhe Yan was staring off at some of the distant clouds. There was no need to explain what “it” he was referring to. When Mo Yuan didn’t reply, the Phoenix turned to look at him with a slight tilt to his head. “Well?”

“I have her silk band in my pocket,” Mo Yuan admitted, still looking at the forest. “I’m debating when, or even whether, I plan to give it back to her.” Mo Yuan felt no need to prevaricate on this with the Phoenix.

“Hmm…” was all Zhe Yan said.

“Why does Bai Qian wear it?” Mo Yuan met Zhe Yan’s gaze, seizing his chance now that they were alone. “I know she doesn’t need it to protect her eyes. It’s to keep others from seeing hers.” The Phoenix gazed calmly back at him with a neutral expression, and Mo Yuan could tell Zhe Yan was weighing his next words carefully, deciding what he would reveal. The latter remained silent for a long time before finally turning to look out at the clouds again.

“When Qian Qian was a little girl,” Zhe Yan began, “she would go about her day with her face uncovered and her eyes open like anyone else. She has lovely eyes, they’re–“

“–a rich shade of chestnut brown.”

Zhe Yan’s head snapped back around to stare at Mo Yuan.

“I saw her in her fox form last night,” the Dragon said. “She looked straight towards me and I saw her eyes.”

Just what happened last night? Zhe Yan was dying to know… but not from Mo Yuan. He wanted to hear it from Bai Qian first, preferably over a few jugs of peach wine.

“So what changed?” Mo Yuan asked. “Why is Bai Qian afraid of others seeing her eyes open?”

Afraid… yes. The Dragon is quite perceptive when it comes to Bai Qian. Zhe Yan drew in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly.

“I don’t know.”

Now it was Mo Yuan’s turn to look sharply at the Phoenix. “You don’t know?”

“Not exactly.” Zhe Yan sighed as Mo Yuan continued to stare at him, obviously awaiting more of an answer. The Phoenix glanced towards the Den opening. As long as Bai Qian was in her chambers, she wouldn’t likely hear him. Then he noticed Mo Yuan flick his hand and the breeze pick up, making the trees rustle a little louder. Quite perceptive indeed, Zhe Yan thought.

“One summer,” Zhe Yan kept his voice low, just in case, “when Bai Qian was an adolescent around 27,000 years old, a troupe of performers travelling the realm arrived in Qing Qiu; tigers from the western jungles. There was a boy among them, maybe a few years older than Bai Qian. I remember being happy to see Qian Qian and that boy spending time together during the day at the market. You see, Bai Zhi kept her quite sheltered, and other than myself, the common folk and fairies and woodland spirits of Qing Qiu, there was no one of similar age for her to spend time with. 

“Bai Qian attended all the troupe’s performances in the surrounding areas that summer. She loved to listen to their plays –as you must know, tigers are wonderful singers. This boy in particular could have outsung a nightingale. Bai Qian became smitten with him, I believe. Bai Zhi knew nothing of it. Though maybe if he’d known…” Zhe Yan sighed again.

“All I do know is one night the troupe hastily broke camp and left. No, that’s not right. The troupe abandoned camp and fled Qing Qiu in the middle of the night. One of the old owl spirits who lived nearby at the time witnessed it, saying the Fox King suddenly appeared in the encampment brandishing his sword in a rage the likes of which they’d never seen before, his fox tails blazing with his ancient power. Bai Zhi threatened the troupe to leave then and there… or else. And for several weeks thereafter, Bai Qian did not visit me though her father assured me she was fine when I showed up at the Den. It was a few weeks later that she came to see me, with that damn cloth over her face… and her hands scuffed up.”

“Her hands…” Mo Yuan murmured… the faint traces of burns and scars. Bai Qian had the hands of a warrior, Mo Yuan recalled, thinking of that time he’d caught her in the garden when she’d fallen.

“She removed the band when I asked her to,” Zhe Yan continued his tale, “so I could examine her eyes. They were the same as they’d always been. She claimed that she’d been thinking of wearing a cloth over them for a while to keep the wind from irritating her. What a pathetic excuse. But when I tried to get to the bottom of it as well as what she’d been doing with her hands,” Zhe Yan’s expression hardened, “Bai Qian started to cry and told me not to ask again. She insisted that she was fine and would not discuss it with me.”

Zhe Yan’s voice took on a sad air. “All these years, I have known Bai Qian to laugh, to smile, to lose her temper, to argue; but never, ever had I seen her cry. So I dropped it, softhearted fool that I am. And it has been this way ever since. She doesn’t wear a band to sleep or when she is alone at the Den with her father or Migu, or myself, but anytime she is out where there are other people, she wears it… until today on Kunlun. But even then, she kept her eyes closed.”

Zhe Yan rubbed his brow.

“When she started wearing her silk band, all the people in Qing Qiu noticed of course, but none dared say a word, not after it became known how the tigers had fled for their lives from the fury of the King. All are used to seeing her wearing it now after so many years. It has become a matter of course. And I hate it. So I hope you have deep pockets and misplace it forever. Though if a Phoenix may ask an unusual favour of a Dragon… incinerate it. It’s something I couldn’t get away with if I did, but somehow I think that you could, Grandmaster.”

“Mo Yuan.”

“I beg your pardon?” Zhe Yan frowned a little in confusion.

“Please, if you call me Mo Yuan then I will feel free to call you Zhe Yan, which by the way Bai Qian encouraged me to do should I ever wish to see you moult on the spot.” Zhe Yan’s frown quickly gave way to a grin.

“There is indeed no need for formality between us any longer, is there…Mo Yuan…especially when it comes to Qian Qian,” a warmly smiling Zhe Yan stated, nodding in agreement.

Both men stood in companionable silence once again, lost in their respective thoughts as they waited.


Tossing her travel bag onto her bed, Bai Qian went straight to her dresser. Yanking open a drawer, she pulled out her other band of yellow spring silk and stood there clutching it with a trembling hand, ignoring the single tear she felt coursing down her cheek.

“Gu Gu?” Migu’s hesitant voice came up in her doorway.  From where she was standing, her back was to him so he couldn’t see her face.  “Gu Gu? Is everything ok?” Migu whispered. “You arrived without wearing your silk band like you usually do when outside the Den.”

Bai Qian quickly wiped her cheek with the back of her hand before turning to face her tree sprite. “Everything’s fine, Migu. It got misplaced but I have this other one. Could you please go fetch a couple of baskets from the larder now? I suspect the Grandmaster will want to visit the Mushroom Market from what he’s been told. And I need to pick up some items for a dinner.”

There was a lengthy pause followed by Migu’s footsteps receding. Bai Qian went to her clothing pole and chose a simple day dress in grey… which resembled the steel of a blade, her father had taught her.


Neither Zhe Yan nor Mo Yuan said anything when she emerged from the Den wearing a silk band again. And as she’d suspected, Mo Yuan asked to visit the Mushroom Market. 

They arrived to quite the hustle and bustle as seemingly one and all in Qing Qiu had found some shopping to do on this fine autumn morning! Not much different, truth be told, than a few days before when Bai Qian had been there with Migu to purchase candles.

Except for one difference.

“Good morning, Gu–“, “Who’s that?”… “I can’t tell.”

“Hello, Gu–“, “You don’t think, maybe…?” … “What?! No, it can’t be!”

“Welcome back, Gu–” … “Can it?”

“It would seem my new green robe is drawing quite the attention to us,” Zhe Yan commented.

Bai Qian groaned while Migu only paid half attention. The tree sprite was craning his neck to see above the crowd to the beekeeper’s stall further up ahead. “Migu,” Zhe Yan said. “I’m running low on my medicinal stock of bee venom. Help me haggle a good price for some, will you?” He grabbed the tree sprite by the arm, throwing a wink at Mo Yuan.

“Don’t mind us, Qian Qian! We’ll meet up with you later!” And with that, Zhe Yan and Migu were gone in the crowd.

Subtle… very subtle, Zhe Yan, Mo Yuan thought dryly. He himself had almost groaned along with Bai Qian just before.

“For someone who was up all night staring at a flower, Zhe Yan sure has a lot of energy this morning,” Bai Qian remarked offhandedly. Mo Yuan’s eyes narrowed.

But then he saw Bai Qian stiffen and bite down on her lip. “Mo Yuan,” she whispered furiously at him. “Please don’t react, but I’m about to be grabbed from behind by my little friend, Jia. I can hear her running down the lane towards me now.” 

Ah, the one who insisted you bring me a hospitality gift.  It took only a few seconds after for Mo Yuan to hear the light-footed running from behind heading straight for them. 

“Here she comes,” Bai Qian couldn’t help but chuckle.

But the moment Bai Qian expected those tiny arms to wrap around her legs and a voice to cry out “Gu Gu!”, there was nothing.

The fresh scent of sweet grass and cedar wood preceded the running steps that came up, not directly behind Bai Qian, but rather himself. Mo Yuan blinked when there came an insistent tugging on the back of his tunic.

Slowly he turned and looked down.

“Hello! I’m Jia! Are you Gu Gu’s dragon?”

It was a little girl, a young rabbit spirit, looking up at him with a small twitching nose and a pair of wide, bright eyes that sparkled with excitement. Silence descended all around them as every pair of ears present listened.

Kunlun’s Grandmaster and God of War of the Immortal Realm, the Great Gold Dragon of Heaven, could not help but smile back as he lowered himself to one knee so that he could speak with the child face to face.

“Hello Jia, it’s a great pleasure to meet you,” he said. The little rabbit’s eyes grew even wider at the flicker of gold he purposely flashed in his eyes for her.

“And yes, I am Gu Gu’s dragon.”

⇛ Next part: 22(第二十二章) Flickers of Gold

⇚ Previous part: 20(第二十章) A Breakfast to Remember

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