Dressed in her winter cloak, Bai Qian stomped lightly with her feet. She was unused to wearing boots in ankle-deep snow. The large, thick mittens she hated but Zhe Yan had nagged her to wear made a muffled sound as she kept clapping them together.
They had yet to be greeted by anyone at the gate.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
Mo Yuan could still be away. They should head back to the Fox Den and wait until he came there for her to surprise him.
Why was she so nervous? She and Zhe Yan had arrived this way often enough. She’d never been nervous about it before. Is that what she was? Nervous?
Or was she scared?
‘He is in love with you, Qian Qian.’
Bai Qian kept her tails low to the ground, gingerly sweeping them over the snow. Zhe Yan was right. The cold, soft powder did feel good against their sensitive tips –as long as she didn’t let them trail in it too long.
Zhe Yan lightly held her elbow. Though he’d acknowledged that she could walk unaided, he still hadn’t given her the all clear for walking alone outdoors. Having her fox tails out in her human form always altered her centre of balance and if one were to cramp or give her pain she could lose her footing.
Regardless, Zhe Yan ordered her not to tuck away her fox tails for at least another week, insisting they would heal more quickly if left out in the open air.
He’d made her shift into her fox form often the last few days to ensure all was well. His fussy multitude of questions had raised her hackles at times…
Did her whiskers feel crooked? Was her muzzle itchy? Her ears sore? Flanks strained? Haunches stiff? Claws–
“Ah-ah-ah,” Zhe Yan had warned, no doubt wagging his finger when she’d raised a foreleg and extended her claws at that last one with a growl. If she had to answer one more question about how some body part of hers was feeling, she was going to take a swipe at him.
But it hadn’t escaped Bai Qian’s notice that Zhe Yan never questioned her about how her heart felt. She realized that her best friend was leaving that to her to bring up if she chose —which she hadn’t.
Of course Zhe Yan, being Zhe Yan, hadn’t taken long to get around to the all important question she’d heard him mention while she slept.
“Did you see me as a phoenix in flight, Qian Qian? How did I look? Majestic? Epic? Sexy as anything?”
Luckily she knew he’d be asking and had prepared her reply with careful thought.
“You resembled a belly laugh.”
“I resembled a WHAT?!”
“A belly laugh, Zhe Yan. What I saw tickled me with delight and made me want to laugh with joy.”
With the middle of a tail, she’d sought out Zhe Yan’s shoulder to brush upwards to find his face. Orienting herself thus, she leaned up to the side and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “Thank you, Zhe Yan… for saving my life. For everything you’ve done.”
“Hmph,” came a miffed Phoenix’s huff, “…a belly laugh.” Then before she knew it, she’d been engulfed in a bear hug.
“If anyone asks in the future, do your best friend a favour and embellish a little, will you? I don’t know, maybe say I resembled a sizzling, dashing streak of smoking hot feathers?”
“You mean lie.”
“Embellish, Qian Qian, embellish.”
A light gust sprinkled her face with the cool tingle of snowflakes. They’d waited long enough. No one was coming to meet them at the gate.
“Qian Qian, do you feel strong enough to pulse out your essence? I think you should announce our presence here, especially since I made a point of masking our arrival this time.”
“You WHAT?!” Now it was Bai Qian’s turn to be miffed. That’s why no one had come to the gate!
“Of course I’m strong enough to–” she bit down on her lip.
Zhe Yan tsked and moved to stand before her.
“Qian Qian, I’ve never known you to be this nervous. What are you worried about? That the Dragon will be annoyed you dropped by unexpectedly? Trust me, that will so not be the case.”
He sighed when she didn’t respond.
“All this time, I have never asked you directly how you feel towards him because…”
Whatever Zhe Yan had been about to say, he let go with another sigh.
“Do you want to be here, Qian Qian? I can take us back to the Den if you want. No one will be the wiser.”
Bai Qian stood silent for a long while, listening to the soft hush of the falling snow.
‘Please wake up. Please come back to me.’
Taking a deep breath, she steeled her shoulders and pulsed waves of her essence up the mountainside.
Only seconds passed before a ripple of force blew over them.
And the thunder of a dragon’s heart echoed in her ears.
Oh, how the sun shone upon her face suddenly, easing and setting her soul alight. Mo Yuan’s complete and utter attention was focused on her as he stood directly before them.
At a loss what to do given her rush of feelings, Bai Qian clasped the side of her cloak and curtsied most formally.
“Qing Qiu’s Queen Bai Qian humbly greets High God Mo Yuan and respectfully asks permission of the Grandmaster of Kunlun to walk through his gardens.”
Mo Yuan had yet to say a word, captivated as he was by the stunning vision of beauty before him.
Wisps of Bai Qian’s rich brown hair floated and curled in the breeze where they’d slipped out the edges of her hood, framing bright chestnut eyes which reflected the crystal sparkles of snowflakes swirling lightly around her. She looked just like a snow-covered peach blossom given her rosy complexion and the soft dusting of snowflakes on the hood and shoulders of her winter cloak.
Reaching to tuck a thin strand of hair behind her ear, he gently pulled forward her hood which had fallen back a little.
Mo Yuan’s heart sang at the sight of Bai Qian’s shy smile and her tails fluffed out and billowing softly behind her. She looked well again and a tiny nod from the Phoenix when he quickly glanced his question at him assured Mo Yuan it was so.
Then Zhe Yan’s gaze directed his to her elbow, which the Phoenix now released. Taking his cue, Mo Yuan took hold of it now.
“The Grandmaster cordially welcomes her Highness to Kunlun and grants his permission. But only if he may accompany her?”
Chestnut eyes brightened even more as she nodded. With a wave of his hand, Mo Yuan summoned his thick leather and fur cloak about him.
“Right, well, I’m just going to go home now. Preen my feathers. Maybe try and lay an egg or two…
…annnd I’m talking to myself again.”
Clasping his hands behind his back, Zhe Yan smiled wistfully as he watched Bai Qian and Mo Yuan enter together through the gates of Kunlun, their forms melting into the gently falling snow as they took the mountain path to the summit.
Once they were out of sight, Zhe Yan’s smile widened into a cheeky grin. And the magnificent, epic, and sexy as anything Phoenix god burst out into a joyous belly laugh… then into a sizzling, dashing streak of smoking hot orange and blue flamed feathers as he fire-jumped back to the Peach Grove.
Fox tails whisked sharply back and forth at times across the snow as Mo Yuan quietly recounted his part in the horrifying ordeal they’d undergone.
He told Bai Qian all that had occurred from the moment he’d awoken to her humming to when he’d come to retrieve her after killing Qing Cang. She’d asked him to tell her everything though Mo Yuan suspected she knew he was downplaying some of the gorier details.
As they walked, Bai Qian leaned against his side, Mo Yuan leading her slowly along snowy paths that he tamped down with his magic so she could walk more easily.
She spoke now of the deep anger she’d felt when she first learned of the curse that had been placed upon her; anger not for herself but for her mother.
Bai Qian’s father had revealed to her the truth about her birth, that her mother had stabbed herself in the heart with a dagger, sacrificing herself so that her child may live.
“I’m so sorry, Qian Qian,” Mo Yuan whispered.
She inhaled a deep breath and blew it out softly before continuing.
Had her mother truly realized at the end that something evil had been done to her and her unborn child, she wondered. Zhe Yan had suggested her mother may have, given what the midwife of Donghai had told him. One day, Bai Qian intended to visit the Coral Cove and speak with the woman herself.
Knowing now that the Shaman’s black curse would have killed Queen Ying Yue regardless take away from her selfless act of love for her baby, Mo Yuan asked her.
Bai Qian’s answer was most emphatic. The fact her mother must have loved her so unconditionally as to be willing to give up her life made Bai Qian feel her mother’s love all the more inside of her she told him. And she would cherish it forever in her heart.
He envied Bai Qian at that moment. While it could never make up for her mother’s absence in her life, to be so assured of her mother’s love was a source of comfort that would remain with Bai Qian all her days.
Mo Yuan proceeded to explain where he’d been the last week and why, describing the terrible living conditions that he’d witnessed of the people living in the Demon Lands. For people they were, despite their former Overlord and his Shaman.
Bai Qian said she would speak to her father about Qing Qiu offering what supplies they could to help.
It had not been his intention, but Mo Yuan was pleased nonetheless to draw a smile from Bai Qian as he spoke now of his subsequent meetings with Tianjun back at the Celestial Palace. That magical fox hearing of hers was something he would do well to keep in mind as she must have become amused at some hint of exasperation in his voice.
Bai Qian had never met the Heavenly Ruler she told him. But her father had most openly shared his impressions of Tianjun with her. Mo Yuan could only imagine what Bai Zhi must have said. It was no secret that the Fox King had never had much patience with the machinations of Celestial politics.
Would Mo Yuan believe she had never been to the Ninth Sky? As a child, she had always imagined the place to be filled with all manner of rapturous sounds, divine scents, ambrosial tastes, and glorious textures. It was Bai Qian who drew a smile from Mo Yuan now.
Wait, did she just do that on purpose? Her mischievous grin seemed to suggest so.
Bai Qian sighed, saying she guessed that should she ever wish to visit the Ninth Sky, she would have to ask either her father or Zhe Yan to take her.
Mo Yuan’s smile grew wider at the obvious ploy.
No, Qian Qian. For you, I think I can manage to spend time there.
The thought of introducing her to his favourite hiding spots within the Palace from when he was a boy came to mind. And for the very first time, thinking of those places did not stir old feelings of resentment.
When Bai Qian rubbed her cheek on his shoulder, Mo Yuan opened that side of his cloak and bundled her with it, raising his body temperature to keep her warm as she nestled under his arm.
“Qian Qian, is it true what the Phoenix kept insisting? That you could hear what was going on around you as your body healed?”
“It was like drifting between dreams at first. But gradually I became more aware and could hear and listen to you all speaking to me, yes.” She paused. “I could also feel your head nudge against mine when you would, mmm, steal a nap?” She laughed at this last part.
“Is the God of War even allowed to nap?” Bai Qian teased.
Mo Yuan grinned. Could she tell by his voice? “With so sweet-scented and inviting a pillow? I am a practical man, Qian Qian. Taking one’s rest when and where one can, with a bunk mate who doesn’t snore, is a warrior’s prerogative.”
“A warrior who knows of flowers, that is,” she whispered.
He brought them to a halt.
Pulling her round gently to face him, he lightly traced her eyebrows, nose, and cheeks with his fingertips, before tucking more wisps of her hair back under her hood.
“I know foxes, like most flowers, don’t care for the cold but the mountain air suits you, Qian Qian,” he said quietly.
The pad of his thumb now brushed along her lips.
“You had me worried. Your cheeks may be rosy from the cold, but I missed seeing you blush.”
Then, as he’d been desperately wanting to do since the moment he laid eyes on Bai Qian at the gate, Mo Yuan kissed her with all the tenderness he could never express with just his words.
A rush of heat spread through her face. Her entire body tingled right to the tips of her tails as Mo Yuan’s warm lips gently caressed and enveloped hers. Bai Qian’s world of sound and scent and feel and taste narrowed to just him.
It was with a ragged exhale of breath that Mo Yuan cupped her face and slowly drew his lips away to press his forehead upon hers.
And the thunder of a dragon’s heart echoed in her ears once more.
“Come, Qian Qian.” Mo Yuan’s voice was slightly hoarse. He bundled her against his side under his cloak again. “Let’s keep walking.”
Warmed both inside and out beneath Mo Yuan’s cloak, Bai Qian considered removing her mittens –until his hand slid down inside one and his fingers entwined with hers.
Maybe the dreaded mittens weren’t so awful after all.
The feeling of Mo Yuan’s long, slender fingers made her recall something she’d wished to say.
“I listened to you play the guqin for me while I slept. The songs were most beautiful, Mo Yuan. Thank you.”
“Perhaps because I was playing your guqin, Qian Qian. Your father gave me permission.”
She felt Mo Yuan slowly shake his head.
“Qian Qian, Zhe Yan explained to me how Diao Wu used your mother’s guqin song to set the curse. Yet you can still say that you find the melodies of the guqin beautiful.”
The sweet notes of her mother’s song played in her mind. Bai Qian felt no fear nor apprehension. Only peace.
“If I allow the curse to taint what for my mother was an expression of life,” she explained, “then I dishonour her memory and her musical legacy. Diao Wu and Qing Cang were the curse, not the music my mother loved and that was a loving part of her… and now of me.”
Her hand was squeezed inside the mitten.
“Ever since I met you, Qian Qian,” Mo Yuan said, “I’ve been thinking of new compositions. It’s as if music is flowing inside me where it hasn’t for so long. And I know it’s because of you.”
They continued on in comfortable silence at first, their footsteps muted in the snow. But as the silence drew on, Bai Qian sensed that something was weighing on Mo Yuan’s mind. His breathing was too focused and his fingers slightly tense.
“A loquat for your thoughts?” she said, using the ancient expression which earned her a chuckle before he fell silent again. Whatever it was must have truly weighed on his mind.
“About the curse,” he finally spoke. “I… I wish to ask you… I wish to know…”
“What I saw with my eyes while in the temple?”
“You needn’t tell me, Qian Qian, if it upsets you.”
Zhe Yan and her father had asked this of her too. The question did not upset her. In their place, she would wish to know as well.
“I don’t know exactly what my eyes were seeing in the inner sanctum. I can’t remember. Zhe Yan thinks it was my mind’s way of protecting itself afterwards, by wiping the memory clean away. You spoke before of rotting skeletal figures, green vapour, an altar… I recall nothing of that nor would I have any sense of it if I did. What I do remember were impressions of turbulent, raucous notes and shrill sounds, foul tastes and smells and touches all jumbled together.”
When Mo Yuan did not respond, she suspected, like a certain Phoenix she knew, that a certain Dragon had a particular question in mind.
“But once you saved me from the sanct–“
“You were the one to lead us out, Qian Qian,” Mo Yuan interrupted. “I merely helped hold you upright.”
“Once you saved me from the sanctum,” she insisted, “because had you not entered to get me I would have collapsed there and died. And once you saved me from the destruction of the temple by carrying me out in your arms then your talons. And once you saved me and all the people of the Realm by confronting and destroying the Demon Emperor Qing Cang. Once you merely did all that, Mo Yuan, I… I know I saw you when you came back to my side after shielding me behind a most powerful barrier of your essence; a barrier that showed me what brilliant forces moving water and lightning were.”
She was the one to bring them to a stop now, ducking out from under Mo Yuan’s cloak to face him directly.
“When you held my face, Mo Yuan, so that I may look into the sky, I saw Zhe Yan’s colours and I will forever know fire and sky. And when I saw your face at the very last, I will forever know your smile.”
Mo Yuan’s breath hitched. “You did see my face.” He sounded suddenly hesitant. No. He sounded…shy.
“Mm-hmm.” Bai Qian smiled. “Though I think I prefer the feel of your beard rather than how it looked.”
Mo Yuan laughed as she’d intended him to. Clasping her free hand with his, he pulled off its mitten and rubbed her knuckles across his chin, earning him a girlish giggle.
Then he held her hand in place, his warm breaths blowing softly across her fingers as his laughter quieted.
“I am sorry, Qian Qian.”
“Sorry? Why? For what?”
“I find it difficult to reconcile… to not feel it cruel and unfair that you remain blind.”
“But I’m not blind, Mo Yuan.”
Thoughts she hadn’t realized she harboured came to the fore.
“Yes, in the literal sense of the word, it’s true I cannot see with my eyes. But I can see otherwise… through my hands, my ears, my taste buds, my nose, and as I’ve come to learn; greatest of all my heart.”
Mo Yuan’s breath across her fingers grew warmer.
“I am not blind if I consider my life is rich with detail I would never be aware of otherwise. I didn’t used to think this way. Blind Fox was a name I’d grown accustomed to hearing within the Realm. But if I’ve gained anything from what we just went through, it’s an understanding, and an acceptance, that while I have no sense of sight, my life is vivid and coloured with insight instead.”
What would her life have been like had she not been born blind?
Would she still have sought out and become best friends with Zhe Yan?
Would she have learned the song of the sword and how to fight?
How many of the woodland spirits’ lives had she been able to save the day of the attack simply because she knew how to fight and defend?
Would Jia be alive if she hadn’t been able to pursue the wolf through the forest as fast as she had, knowing in advance where every rock, root, and ridge was, which led to Mo Yuan and Zhe Yan following her to them all the faster?
She would likely never have met him had Zhe Yan not heard of a silver moon orchid that could possibly help his ‘blind’ friend; the flower that bloomed in the darkness according to the poem her father read.
Was she that flower? It didn’t matter in the end, Bai Qian realized. For her heart and her soul were now indeed carried by a dragon.
Mo Yuan, who’d been holding her hand this whole time, said not a word as she slowly pulled his towards her chest.
But his breathing quickened and his body gave a jolt when she slipped his hand through the opening of her cloak and the front folds of her gown to settle on the skin over her heart.
“I am not blind, Mo Yuan, if I consider that otherwise I may never have known you and may never have known what truly falling in love is.”
And as Mo Yuan had done with her back at his chambers when she’d questioned his intentions after the attack, Bai Qian exposed the raw essence of her soul to him so he may know the truth of her words and the truth of her feelings.
“I love you, Mo Yuan.”
His hand withdrew quickly and he embraced her in his arms.
“As I love you, Bai Qian,” Mo Yuan whispered against her mouth, his lips softly taking hers.
⇛ Next part: 42(第四十二章) In the Full Light of Day
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