22(第二十二章) Flickers of Gold

Mo Yuan had been greatly enjoying the hubbub of the Mushroom Market.

Its crisscrossing pathways lined haphazardly with crooked tables and wobbly benches, the rickety stands, the off-kilter racks bumping up alongside perfectly erected stalls and shelves; all this clashing of display existed in perfect neighbourly harmony, resembling so much the lively, boisterous people he observed throughout. 

The Mushroom Market as a reflection of its people revealed to Mo Yuan above all else that life here was most extraordinary for its charming ordinariness.

The inhabitants of Qing Qiu were a wonderfully diverse group of woodland spirits, fairies, and sprites. The people here went about their daily lives tending to their homes, their families, their children, their friends. It was a life unspoiled by wars; without battles, without demons… A peaceful, bucolic existence.

Mo Yuan couldn’t recall Qing Qiu ever being discussed at war councils. Bluntly put, Qing Qiu was of no strategic military value –it’s greatest strength and protection, in his opinion. The fact the Fox King had passed on the title of ruler to his daughter had not created any particular stir in the political machinations of the Heavens as Qing Qiu had no allegiance to them.

At first, it appeared as if the whole market were abuzz with excitement at the sight of a dragon accompanying their “Gu Gu”. In truth, it was only upon their immediate approach and in their immediate wake that wide-eyed looks and questions arose. Otherwise, Mo Yuan remarked that the people quickly fell back to their business at hand and no longer paid them much mind once they were past. It never took long for a vendor to start calling out their wares and prices once again and for shoppers to inquire and ask about them.

How refreshing this place was for Simply Mo Yuan. Throngs of people chatting and walking about, children laughing and bumping into his legs. Some vendors even called out their wares to him directly as they did anyone else who passed. “Sir, the finest coral hairpins this side of the east sea, sir…  These are the last of the loquats, sir, only 2 copper coins for a basket!”

A complete absence of fanfare. Such a marked difference from Mo Yuan’s recent visit to the Ninth Sky. He was pleased that his assumption about the kind of reception he’d get –or rather not get– in Qing Qiu ended up being right. Life as God of War and Master of Kunlun did not usually allow for such commonplace life moments such as this. The practical, unpretentious inhabitants of this land were a reminder to Mo Yuan that what he did as God of War was not just protect the high heavenly domains, but that he also protected the loyal and beekeeper-smitten tree sprites, the vendors of hair pins and loquats, the most colourful of phoenixes, the small young rabbits…

… and of course, the gasping nine-tailed fox goddesses shocked by his words to just such a little one now.

What else did you expect me to say, Qian Qian? If your little friend refers to me as Gu Gu’s dragon, who am I to refute her? Unless you happen to know any other dragons I’m not aware of? Who else would be Gu Gu’s dragon?

“Did you like your hosipitility gift?” Jia asked him eagerly now. “I helped Gu Gu with it!”

“I liked the gift very much, Jia.” Mo Yuan leaned in a little and in a conspiratorial whisper added, “I especially liked the special touch.” He knew full well that Bai Qian could hear his every word. “I kept it a secret from your Gu Gu though like you did. I hope that was alright?” Jia nodded excitedly, thrilled to be sharing this secret with him. 

Bai Qian stood there a little rigidly, not saying a word. And Mo Yuan realized just how fond Bai Qian must be of this little rabbit girl, as he’d have expected her temper to have flared out by now, not at Jia of course, but at him.

There came a collective gasp from the folk around them when Jia clasped Mo Yuan’s head in her hands. She pulled his face right up to hers to squint into his eyes.

“Jia?” Bai Qian reacted to the gasps with a hesitant hand half-raised towards where she knew the girl stood. “What happened?”

“It’s alright, Qian Qian,” Mo Yuan assured her, making sure not to break eye contact with the little rabbit as he spoke. “Jia just wants to check something with me.”

Not even his strictest tutor when he’d been a boy had ever scrutinized Mo Yuan as critically as he was being scrutinized now. The seconds seemed to stretch into forever before the girl’s tiny twitching nose crinkled most severely. With a dismayed shake of her head, Jia huffed in annoyance. “He’s a big doofus.”

Mo Yuan’s mouth fell open slightly before he rallied himself. “Me?!”

“No, no, no,” Jia replied in that exasperated tone all children in the universe use when dealing with clueless grown-ups. “You’re Gu Gu’s dragon.” She patted his cheeks. “Delun’s the big doofus.”


“Delun’s my big brother. He says that dragons are always angry and dangerous and that they don’t cuddle and they just blow things up with water or fire.” The little girl sniffled loudly. “You don’t look like you’re always angry and dangerous to me.”

“No, I’m not always angry,” Mo Yuan answered.

He dropped his voice again. “And dragons most definitely do cuddle, Jia,” Mo Yuan confided with utmost solemnity. From the corner of his eye, he saw Bai Qian’s hands clench.

Jia smiled most warmly at him now. He’d passed the test.

The little girl released the God of War’s face. “If you’re doing your shopping today with Gu Gu, make sure you go see Ya Tou, the monkey spirit. She brought in some fresh bunches of bananas this morning,” Jia instructed.

Mo Yuan let out a rich belly laugh as he rose to his feet. Oh how refreshing this place was indeed!

“Good morning, Gu Gu,” came a woman’s voice off to their left. “It’s so nice to see you on this beautiful day.”


Air rushed back into Bai Qian’s lungs as she let go of the breath she’d been holding. Fenfang… thank you.

“Fenfang, good morning to you.” Heaving a genuine sigh of relief, Bai Qian approached the fairy’s mushroom stall. Mo Yuan and Jia’s footsteps accompanied her. There was an expectant silence. “Yes, hmm, may I introduce High God Mo Yuan, Grandmaster of Kunlun Mountain. Grandmaster, this is Fenfang, the Mushroom Fairy of Qing Qiu and proprietress of the market.”

Bai Qian heard the fairy hmph ever so softly under her breath. Leave it to Fenfang to be utterly unimpressed by the presence of the Dragon God of War in the middle of her market. The Mushroom Fairy was the most down-to-earth spirit who ever lived. Bai Qian was convinced if Pangu himself were ever to appear with his axe swinging, Fenfang wouldn’t react other than ask if he preferred the jituigu mushrooms or the yiner mushrooms to take along with him. Nothing, but nothing, ever fazed the Mushroom Fairy.

Mo Yuan gave a respectful bow to the head fairy who regarded him with a very no-nonsense posture and steady gaze.

“Greetings to you, Grandmaster Mo Yuan. Welcome. Please do let me know if there is anything you see at the market which we may be able to supply to Kunlun. We have some great selections of fresh produce you won’t find on any mountain, all at a special rate to you, of course, seeing as you are on such good terms with our Gu Gu.”

Mo Yuan gave the fairy an appreciative look. Like the Phoenix, the Mushroom Fairy let her facial expressions speak when her words couldn’t. Mo Yuan understood very well what the fairy’s gaze was saying to him. Take care when it comes to our Gu Gu… or else. Did Bai Qian know how well-loved she was by her people? It heartened him to know this. But there was still more to visit here and he was far from done investigating.

“My Second Disciple is responsible for supplies and stocks on Kunlun,” Mo Yuan replied to Fenfang with a nod of acknowledgement. The gleam in the fairy’s glassy black eyes told him she understood that he’d gotten her message. 

“Why don’t I discuss it with Chang Shan when I get back?” Mo Yuan continued. “I’m sure he would enjoy coming here to speak with you directly. My Sixteenth as well, has mentioned…”

“Gu Gu, I like your dragon.”

While Mo Yuan was speaking to the Mushroom Fairy, Jia had pulled Bai Qian aside.

“Jia, he’s really not my… ” Bai Qian sighed. Let it go, Qian. She knew the girl only meant well and didn’t understand the implication of her words.

“Gu Gu, he has really nice eyes too.” Bai Qian shocked herself when she whispered back, “Oh? Really? What do they resem– uh, what do they remind you of, Jia?”

“Hmm…” There was a light scritch-scritch sound as the little rabbit must have been scratching her head. “Hmm… his eyes remind me of… they remind me of… Warm butter! Yes! Oh, but with lots of sparkles!”

Bai Qian had to smother a giggle behind her hand.


Delun’s familiar running steps came up from behind. “Jia!!! Did you hear, did you hear?! Apparently there’s a dragon here today and he’s–“

Bai Qian needn’t guess what must have just happened for Delun’s sentence to cut short in a gulp.

“You must be Jia’s brother, Delun.”

There was a long pause.

“Y-y-yes sir.”

“Delun! He’s Gu Gu’s dragon! He’s a grand master dragon and really, really nice.”

There was another gulp.

“Hello, Delun.” Mo Yuan’s footsteps moved forward. “It is a pleasure to meet Jia’s elder brother.”

The rabbit boy eyed Mo Yuan with both astonishment and fear, his glance shifting Mo Yuan’s extended and his face several times. With one final gulp, the boy slowly reached out and clasped Mo Yuan’s hand, who shook his firmly. After a startled moment, the boy broke into the widest smile ever as he stepped back.

“I shook hands with a dragon… I shook hands with the God of War,” Delun murmured, staring at his palm. “I’m never washing this again.”

“Mother won’t let you eat dinner if you don’t wash up!” Jia chided him.

“I’m never eating dinner again…” Delun answered in a fog. But then the rabbit boy’s head snapped back up. “Jia! We’re supposed to be helping Mother weed the garden right now!”

“Best not keep your mother waiting,” Mo Yuan said.

“Off you two go. Hurry along now,” Bai Qian told them in turn.

Delun gawked at his hand then at Mo Yuan for a moment more before taking his sister’s arm. But Jia shrugged off her brother’s grasp to hop over closer to Mo Yuan. 

Gesturing furiously for him to lower his head, Mo Yuan leaned in close to the little rabbit once again. This time, Jia cupped her mouth tightly up against his ear with her hands and thumped her foot loudly on the ground. Mo Yuan saw the corner of Bai Qian’s mouth rise. No doubt the beloved Queen’s exceptional hearing was a well-known fact in Qing Qiu, Mo Yuan surmised wryly.

“Grand Master Dragon Mo Yuan,” Jia whispered most low, “could you please cuddle a little with Gu Gu while you’re here? Then she won’t be so lonely anymore. She doesn’t think that we know it but we all do.” And without waiting for an answer, the young girl spun round and sprinted off with her brother.

Mo Yuan remained as he was for a long time, watching the children disappear in the crowd.

“Qian Qian!”

The Phoenix and Migu were approaching from the opposite direction.

“Qian Qian, I hope you don’t mind,” Zhe Yan said, shuffling some baskets around in his hands as he walked up to her. “I took the liberty of assuming you’d want to prepare some of your famous fish soup for dinner so I picked up all the vegetables that I prefer in it.”

Migu chuckled. “We’re just missing the fish, Gu Gu,” the tree sprite confirmed.

Fenfang, who’d been standing quietly by all this time witnessing everything, now chuckled as well. “Oh, the Grey Wolf will be happy to see you come directly to him for once, Gu Gu. Normally he has to call out to you to give you free samples of his fish, no?”

“Indeed, indeed,” Zhe Yan chimed in, chuckling too. He turned to Mo Yuan. “Our resident fishmonger has fishy eyes for Qian Qian. Ha!”

“Let’s hurry along now ourselves, shall we?” Bai Qian hissed through gritted teeth. “See you next time, Fenfang.”

When the group arrived at the fish stall however, there was no one there. The stove wasn’t fired nor were any of the dishes or cooking implements out. The Wild Boar spirit who sold pots of hot spring mud for baths and the Deer spirit who sold roses for snacks nearby looked over at them. “The Wolf isn’t here today,” the Boar grunted.

And now it was Bai Qian who chuckled. “Well, that’s a first!”

“Oh? Why do you say that?” Mo Yuan asked as his gaze lingered over the unoccupied fish stall.

“The Grey Wolf is always here. Or at least, it would seem whenever I am.” Bai Qian shrugged and resumed walking. “It’s alright. We certainly have more than enough fish preserved back at the Den. The soup won’t taste quite the same as if made with fresh but I’ll make it work.”

“Let’s stop by my place quickly first, Qian Qian,” Zhe Yan said as he continued along with her and Migu down the pathway.

Mo Yuan stood alone a moment longer facing the fish stall. Dragon eyes flashed with more than just a flicker of gold before he turned to join up with his hosts.


Zhe Yan insisted they stop by his home first so that he may fetch some of his peach wine for dinner. Once out of the market, Migu excused himself to head to the Den straightaway to bring the vegetables back and start getting things set up.

The Peach Tree Grove was in full bloom, even in autumn. The lush green leaves and beautiful pink shades of its blossoms reminded an admiring Mo Yuan that this magical wood was forever in flower with peaches available all year long. Walking through its fragrant air, he was awash in the memory of Bai Qian’s scent as he’d carried her sleeping in his arms.

Could you please cuddle a little with Gu Gu while you’re here?

It did not escape Mo Yuan’s notice how Bai Qian walked with ease here without the use of her tails, sidestepping every tree, rock, or exposed root before they even came to it. She evidently knew the entire layout of the grove by heart. Mo Yuan suspected the Phoenix had had a large part to play in that by making sure nothing ever changed. Was that also why the Phoenix walked ahead of them, whistling to himself? So he could double check there were no unsuspected obstacles? Mo Yuan had no doubt.

Zhe Yan’s home turned out to be a quaint, rustic cottage in the middle of the grove –not at all what Mo Yuan had expected to see given the flamboyant, jovial god’s personality. Had it to do with living in such close proximity and having such close ties to Qing Qiu? Perhaps… That the Phoenix could command a place of high rank amongst the Celestials yet chose to live a simple life here spoke much of his true character, at least to Mo Yuan.

Climbing the wooden steps to his porch, Zhe Yan whirled about to face him and Bai Qian. “I’ll just be a quick moment! Why don’t you two sit here nicely, together. I’ll be right back!”

Unusually silent, Bai Qian sat down on the porch bench without a word.  Was something weighing on her mind?  Mo Yuan chose to lean back on the railing instead, crossing a booted calf over his shin to leave her to her thoughts as he waited quietly along with her… simply enjoying the presence of her company.


It was as they approached Zhe Yan’s cottage that Bai Qian realized there was a problem.  

As was her habit, she’d been tracking the sunlight that fell upon her from between the branches overhead while she walked; doing her best to ignore that which shone beside her at the same time. It was later in the day than she’d first thought which presented a complication she needed to address with her dinner co-host. She did not wish to appear rude to their guest, but she needed a word alone with Zhe Yan.

“Mo Yuan, would you please excuse me a moment? I need a quick word with Zhe Yan about dinner.”

“Of course,” Mo Yuan replied. Bai Qian rose and hurried inside the cottage.

“Zhe Yan?” She zigzagged her way easily through the scattered book stacks, past the tea table, and around the candle stands. “Zhe Yan, we have a problem.” Bai Qian heard him emerge from his back storeroom with a clinking of ceramic jugs.

Why hadn’t it occurred to her before now? She could only blame it on having been so distracted with everything else that had been going on today. “Zhe Yan, as much as you seem keen on our hosting Mo Yuan for dinner at the Den, what about the silver orchid back on Kunlun? You said you had to be there to observe it during the night. It gets darker earlier now, how can we possibly host him for dinner? It’s getting close to sunset now!”

“No worries, Qian Qian! No worries! Did you think your best friend would leave you in a lurch?”

Zhe Yan came to stop before her and she heard him put the jugs down.

Listening to her friend’s robes rustle oddly, she frowned when there came a sharp snap. “Ouch! That stings!”

“Huh? What stings? What did you do, Zhe Yan?”

The Phoenix’s hand took hold of one of hers and turned it up. He placed something light yet slippery on her palm.

“Be very careful with that, Qian Qian. It’s fragile… just like its owner.”

With her other hand, Bai Qian gently touched whatever it was with her fingertips.

“A feather? Zhe Yan… is… is this one of yours?” 

“More precious than gold, Qian Qian, more precious than gold dragons even.” Zhe Yan’s soft laugh changed to a sigh. “Not many get to hold a phoenix feather. Well, not as many as I’d like…”

Zhe Yan scooped up the jugs. “The peach blossom I gave you before, Qian Qian, was enough for me to find you when on Kunlun together. However, if you have one of my phoenix feathers, I’ll be able to reach out to you no matter where you are.”

Baffled, Bai Qian shook her head. “Reach out to me? Why would you need to reach out to– ” A sudden sinking feeling came over her.

“Mo Yuan!” A surprisingly spry Zhe Yan had dashed to the door and out of foxtail reach. “How do you find my Peach Grove so far?” His footsteps walked out onto the porch. “Here, take these would you?” 

Bai Qian quickly tucked away Zhe Yan’s feather and rushed out to join the men. Zhe Yan’s wine jugs were clinking together again as he no doubt was handing them over to Mo Yuan. 

Zhe Yan, don’t you dare!!  Was it possible for one’s heart to sink and race at the same time?

“With your permission, Mo Yuan,” Zhe Yan started, pausing to yawn most dramatically. “I’ve changed my mind. Since I was up all night, I think it best if I head back to Kunlun now and catch up on some sleep there for what little time remains before nightfall. That way you two can have an unrushed dinner here and make your way back to Kunlun afterwards. Should anything occur between then, I can easily alert Bai Qian through a feather I just gave her.”

Mo Yuan gave the grinning Phoenix a look. “My disciples have standing orders to allow you access onto temple grounds,” he answered. “Howe–“

“Brilliant!! See you later, Qian Qian! Bye!” and the Phoenix vanished faster than the last jianbing on a breakfast platter.

Mo Yuan closed his mouth. He’d been about to say that he didn’t wish to put Bai Qian out in this manner. And truly he did not. He watched now as Bai Qian’s cheeks blushed a lovely hue that matched the delicate blossom petals that were floating down from above. There were several that clung lightly to her soft tresses.

Then she won’t be so lonely anymore. She doesn’t think that we know it but we all do.

Bai Qian stood there in silence for quite some time before she drew in a deep breath. “If I asked you to bring me to Kunlun right now and hold him down so that I could pluck every feather off of him one by one, would you be willing?”

Mo Yuan laughed. “Qian Qian, if you’d rather, we can just return to Kunlun now as well. We could always do lunch tomorrow instead?”

“We have yet to finalize our deal, do we not?” Bai Qian caught him off-guard with this unexpected remark as she suddenly made her way down the porch steps.

“Yes, that’s true,” Mo Yuan followed with quick steps. Where was she going with this?

Bai Qian crossed her arms tightly over her chest as she headed for the trees. “Zhe Yan and you basically conspired to get your way today and after all that you’re suggesting to me now that we continue on tomorrow? Leaving it up to me to change the plans makes me appear a rude host, does it not? No, no way.” Why was Mo Yuan relieved to glimpse Bai Qian’s temper again? “We will have dinner at the Den tonight and then call it even. No further need to deliberate any treatise as you called it. Final offer, Mo Yuan. Deal?”

Part of any effective battle strategy was knowing when to call a retreat in order to be able to battle another day. Fine, Qian Qian. Have it your way… for now.

“Deal,” Mo Yuan said to which Bai Qian smiled, leading the way back to the Fox Den.


Pangu, 盤古, Chinese mythological creator of the universe

⇛ Next part: 23(第二十三章) A Flame in the Night

⇚ Previous part: 21(第二十一章) Gu Gu’s Dragon

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