Ch 12: Making Plans

Crouched behind a large log, Bai Qian waited patiently at the southern edge of peach trees. Her hiding spot provided her the best view of the quaint village located just on the outskirts of the forest. The warm and inviting glow of candlelight illuminating the windows of the different homes beckoned her to move closer but she remained motionless except for the very tips of her long fluffy tails. They twitched with concentration as Bai Qian watched for the last signs of activity in the small settlement to die down so she could sneak her way in under the safe cover of darkness.     

A familiar ache of longing throbbed in her chest as she wondered about the families living within the simple thatched roof dwellings. Every time she noticed the faint light from a window blink out of sight, Bai Qian imagined parents tucking their children into bed with soft words and a loving hug. The parents would then seek the privacy of their own room to spend quiet time with each other. She remembered these things from evenings in the Fox Den when she had been a girl. Would any of the village children sneak out to explore after their parents had settled down for the night as she often had? 

The question stirred up many bittersweet memories. What would her life be like if she had grown up surrounded by her family? At one time she had been able to picture something different for herself but it had now become impossible for her to imagine.    

Bai Qian pushed away the sad thoughts; she couldn’t afford to allow herself to get distracted by wayward dreams that could never be. She needed to focus on finding something to better defend herself with. It was the only thing that mattered right now. The fox spoke up, insisting there was no need to have a weapon to defend against the dragon; he wouldn’t hurt them. Bai Qian ignored her.

She waited until long after the last glow of candlelight had been extinguished from view before stepping out from behind the log, her paws quiet against the soft earth. She strained her sensitive ears, listening for anything out of the ordinary that might be muffled by the loud chorus of crickets and cicadas singing in the night. She heard nothing unusual. Her whiskers and muzzle twitched as she scented the air. All was as it should be.

Silent as an apparition, Bai Qian crept into the village. 

Unsure where the best place would be to find a weapon, she scented the air around her as she slipped in between the stone houses. If she were in Baihu village, where would she go to purchase a weapon? The ache in her chest returned with thoughts of Qing Qiu but she didn’t allow it to distract her away from the question. Her father had been good friends with the blacksmith and had often stopped by the forge for a friendly chat when he visited Baihu. She remembered there being a lot of interesting tools and the occasional weapon within the sweltering and smoky room. 

Did this village have a blacksmith? The village was pretty small but these were the Phoenix King’s people; fire played a big part in their lives, even for those who couldn’t wield it magically like the Phoenix God and his family. If the village did have a blacksmith and she could locate his forge, she might be able to find something she could use as a weapon. She sniffed the air, searching for the telltale smell of burning coals, ash, and molten iron or steel; the mix of scents that should lead her to a blacksmith’s forge.

Bai Qian winced when her right front paw stepped on a rock lying in the dirt. The wound on that paw had been the deepest and had not healed fully yet even after shifting several times. It began to throb dully but Bai Qian did not let the pain stop her, a new limp in her gait as she continued her search of the village. 

The enticing smell of smoked venison teased her nose and her stomach clenched with hunger. The white fox jumped with excitement inside Bai Qian and urged her to follow the gamey scent to its source. But Bai Qian kept moving forward with determination in her heart; there was no time to spare to go and grab a few strips of the spiced meat for a midnight snack. She wouldn’t allow anything to distract her from achieving her goal tonight. Her safe life in the peach tree forest depended on it.

Disappointment welled up inside Bai Qian when she reached the end of the earthen road leading through the small houses and shops without finding a blacksmith. She sat with a weary sigh, her tails fanning out behind her, and held up her front paw to ease the pressure on her injured pad. It had been a long stressful day. Now what should she do? It would take too long to search every yard for a discarded weapon. She needed to find something tonight. The morning would likely bring the vexing man back to her forest.

Resigning herself to the fact she had no other good options, Bai Qian stood and prepared to start searching the yard closest to her. Maybe she would get lucky and find something useful in one of the first few places she looked. 

A shift in the night air currents carried the scent of recent smoke and burning coals to Bai Qian, stopping her in her tracks. Her ears perked up with hope and she followed the smell to a pair of stone structures that had been built in an area removed from the village proper. The blacksmith’s home and forge. She had found it! 

Ensuring the area remained quiet first, Bai Qian hurried to the open building housing the forge, her excitement making her oblivious to the pain in her paw. The burning scent of molten metal surrounded her as she stepped inside the dark room, her vision adjusting quickly to the diminished amount of moonlight reaching the interior. Her eyes skimmed over the large anvil placed next to the cold forge, ignoring the hammer, chisel, and pair of tongs resting next to it. She crept further inside, wondering where to find a weapon among all the domestic tools she could see. The people of this village were not soldiers.                 

She managed to find a broadsword resting on a table in the far corner but upon closer inspection she thought it too large for her to handle safely. She had no idea how to use a sword, had never even held one before. She needed something smaller but would take the sword if she found nothing else. Then a twinge of guilt hit her when she realized taking the sword would be different from her other raids of this village. She would be stealing something of value instead of scavenging something discarded. She couldn’t allow herself to do such a thing, no matter how desperate she felt.

Feeling discouraged, Bai Qian slowly padded over to a pile of scrap metal waiting in another corner of the room to be melted down. She sniffed the area and a small spark of hope rekindled when she caught the smell of leather mixed in with the strong metal scent. She used her muzzle to nudge aside the rusty head of an axe and, flattening her ears against her head to protect them from sharp edges, nosed her way under a metal rod, finding braided leather wrapped around the hilt of a small dagger. 

It was perfect, small enough for her to use and clearly no longer wanted by its owner.

Bai Qian grabbed the hilt with her sharp teeth and tugged hard, wiggling the dagger back and forth to work it out from under the metal heaped on top of it. She fell back onto her haunches when she finally managed to dislodge the blade from where it had been wedged in tightly, yipping with triumph at her find before remembering where she was. She crouched down, preparing to hide if needed, and listened to see if her careless noise had woken the blacksmith or any of his family. The sound of the night remained undisturbed and Bai Qian relaxed, picking up the dagger with her mouth and darting back out into the open.         

Limping when the pain in her paw made itself known again, Bai Qian hurried to reach the other end of the village and the forest beyond. A sense of relief overcame her as she stepped back into the cover of the peach trees and left the village behind. The extra cushion provided by the layer of fallen leaves and petals felt soothing under her injured paw and she picked up her pace. Bai Qian angled her path through the trees in the direction of her den but she couldn’t go home quite yet. She had one more place she needed to go before she could call the night a success. 

Using the thoughts she shared with her fox to locate the closest trap left behind by the man invading her forest, Bai Qian stopped several feet away from one, eyeing it warily. She checked her surroundings for any intruders, setting the dagger down before shifting into her human form. She tucked the dagger into a safe place in her dress and secured her long tangled hair into a messy ponytail before standing. The toes of her bare feet sank slightly into the soft leaves and soil as she moved closer to the trap placed to catch her, her steps cautious.

Bai Qian couldn’t deny the usefulness of her fox’s decision to follow the dragon when she was able to see what the fox had seen while watching the man set one of his traps. She crouched down and studied the spot of bared soil. She never would have seen it if her fox hadn’t told her it was there and she could detect no obvious energy field around it; the man was a smart and dangerous opponent to have.      

Reaching out with her hand open, Bai Qian lowered it close to the ground, feeling for the wisps of cultivation the man had left behind. She yanked her hand away when his power vibrated against it, rubbing her palm back and forth against her dress. Her skin tingled with the warmth of his magic; it felt strange to her. But the sensation wasn’t unpleasant and the urge to reach out and experience that intriguing warm tingle on her palm once again gripped her.   

Bai Qian stood and stepped back quickly, removing herself from the temptation. Had he altered his cultivation in some way so she would enjoy it in order to lure her closer to it? Did dragons have that ability? The idea disturbed her and she moved further away, her thoughts confused and more wary than ever because of her unexpected reaction to his cultivation tickling along her skin. 

She studied the area from afar now, working to assess the situation without allowing herself to be drawn closer to his power. Those small wisps of energy carried a great deal of strength, much more than a normal immortal should possess. That much Bai Qian knew with certainty. 

Her parents had taught Bai Qian and her brothers how to differentiate between the cultivation of a high immortal and that of a god, reminding them of the differences before attending any formal gathering where they might encounter gods or goddesses unfamiliar to their family. An unknown god should be recognized and always shown the proper amount of deference and respect because to offend a few of the gods was to risk serious repercussions. Not all gods were as easy-going as her father and King Zhao Hui had been. So Bai Qian thought she knew what the strength contained within those alluring strands of energy meant.    

The vexing man invading her forest was no mere dragon; he was a Dragon God. 

Dread settled in the pit of Bai Qian’s stomach as her mind raced. How did one scare away a Dragon God? Her heart sank as she knew of only one answer to the question. It wasn’t possible to scare a Dragon God, especially one who walked around with a furious expression all the time. Just looking at him terrified her. Bai Qian couldn’t imagine trying to openly confront him. Her fox spoke up, reminding Bai Qian the dragon had not looked angry the last time she had seen him. They should try and talk to him.

Bai Qian pushed her fox’s arguments aside; the change in his appearance didn’t mean it would be a good idea to approach him. She refused to fall for the obvious trick to lure her out into the open. 

Pulling out the dagger she had found, Bai Qian ran her thumb over one side of the blade. It still carried a keen edge but needed to be sharpened further before it would be a real threat, something she needed to figure out how to do fast. She turned it in her hand. What had been a great find only moments earlier now seemed very pitiful when confronting the true nature of her enemy. 

The children of Qing Qiu had often entertained themselves with stories of the Heavens and the Dragon Gods living there. Bai Qian had often joined in when her friends shared the dragon tales they knew, always seeking something new and interesting to listen to. She remembered parts of those stories now, her apprehension rising at the reminder of the rumored strength of the dragons. 

After achieving the strength of a god, a dragon’s scales were said to be impenetrable to even the sharpest of steel blades. Only weapons crafted from the talons or fangs of another dragon were strong enough to penetrate a Dragon God’s scales. Possession of such weapons was expressly forbidden by the Heavens and they were impossible to find if they even existed at all. Were the stories true or merely wild exaggerations? Bai Qian had shared them with her father and he had never indicated they were anything other than the truth. 

It didn’t matter. Bai Qian reminded herself she wouldn’t be able to fight the dragon when in beast form even without his protective scales. The great black dragon her fox had shown her was much bigger and stronger than both of them. The dagger would only be useful when he was in human form and his power as a Dragon God didn’t change the vulnerability of his human skin. Would she be able to use it against him effectively? 

Bai Qian shied away from the thought of doing critical harm; she didn’t have it in her to seriously injure anyone. Nor did she have the skills needed to do so. But even if she had been trained to fight with a dagger her goal would remain the same. The weapon would serve as something sharp she could use to break his hold on her should he grab onto her. It would give her a chance to get away from him. 

She tucked the dagger away again and shifted, the small form of a white nine-tailed fox replacing that of a slender woman. Bai Qian’s thoughts continued to churn with ideas as she made her way back to her den. She couldn’t scare the intrusive man away; that fact was very clear after feeling the extent of his cultivation up close. Her paw tingled pleasantly with the remembered warmth of it against her skin. 

Bai Qian shivered with the memory and the white fox asked to go back so they could feel the effect it had on her fur. Bai Qian growled softly at herself and her fox. She needed to get rid of the vexing dragon; he was threatening the little she had left. If she couldn’t scare him away, she needed to figure out a way to convince him finding her wasn’t worth the time and effort he was putting into it.


Ye Hua lay in bed, staring up at the play of midnight light on the gilded ceiling of his chamber. He couldn’t sleep, not while Bai Qian’s fear of him weighed heavily on his mind. Had he chased her out of the forest altogether? The worry he may have done so wouldn’t leave his thoughts and made it impossible for him to relax. The continued emptiness left behind by the black dragon’s retreat wasn’t helping either. 

So much had changed since he had awakened, excited to start his day, none of it for the better. Nothing about the search for Bai Qian was turning out the way he had originally expected it to. Closing his eyes with a discouraged sigh, Ye Hua tried to turn off his thoughts, determined to find sleep. 

A light caress of calming warmth brushed against his bare chest. It felt like gentle fingers trailing over his skin. 

The black dragon stirred with a growl. Ye Hua bolted up into a sitting position, his unbound hair sweeping against the lean muscles of his torso when he looked around for the source of the touch. The room was empty. 

He remained motionless, scarcely breathing for a moment, waiting to see if the soothing touch would happen a second time …hoping to feel it again. His dragon waited expectantly with him for several minutes. 

They felt nothing more.

His dragon retreated back into silence and Ye Hua laid back down, disappointed and more awake than ever. He rubbed his chest where he had felt the soft caress absentmindedly, confused for a moment until he considered his dragon’s response. He knew of only one person capable of rousing the black dragon from his stillness right now. Bai Qian. She hadn’t triggered one of his snares; the touch had been much too subtle. She must have brushed against it. Somehow, his dragon had known the soft touch came from her.    

A soft smile spread over Ye Hua’s lips as he closed his eyes. Bai Qian hadn’t run away, not completely. 


Even with the midday sun shining brightly outside, flickering torches were the sole source of light in the Demon King’s study. Located in the northernmost reaches of demon territory, the Demon Palace was more of a fortress built into the side of a snow-covered mountain towering high above a frozen plain. Very little natural sunlight reached the interior of the stone palace, its vast network of gloomy rooms and shadowed passageways remaining cold and damp at all times, and Weisheng’s study was located in the deepest recesses of the dank, unwelcoming structure.      

Weisheng sat at his father’s old desk, the polished oak surface scarred and blackened from the many explosions of his father’s short temper over the years. Demon fire could burn ice cold or fiery hot, not quite reaching the extreme temperatures of the scorching fire wielded by the dragons and phoenixes but no less destructive. And the bitterly cold sweep of demon cultivation could freeze objects in an instant. The combination of fire and ice was a force to be reckoned with even for those dragons powerful enough to create and control bolts of lightning.   

With green eyes narrowed angrily, Weisheng read over the most recent update from the men he had sent to negotiate an alliance with one of the remote tribes living beyond the West Sea. Once again, his attempt to gain some influence beyond his own lands had failed. He crushed the paper in his hand, igniting it and burning it to ashes. He then opened his fist and disintegrated the burnt particles as they poured from his palm. 

That damn dragon ruling the Heavens continued to thwart his every plan. It infuriated him to no end. He grew tired of always playing nice with the dragons but he had no other choice until he found a better, more powerful position to negotiate from. Who else could he approach? Who would be willing to take the risk of one day going up against the dragons?

A timid knock on the door interrupted him before he could come up with an answer.

“Enter,” he growled at the door, glaring at the shaking form of a young servant bowing an apology for the interruption.

His scowl darkened when the scared boy remained silent and trembling. “What do you want?” he barked impatiently, wondering where his personal attendant was.  “If you’re just going to stand there like an imbecile and waste my time then leave. Now.”  

“I’m s…sor..sorry, King Weisheng,” the boy stammered. He held out a bamboo scroll and small leather pouch without looking up. “This urgent missive and gift arrived for you just now. I was told to bring them to you.”

Weisheng reached out a hand. The sealed scroll disappeared from the boy’s hand and appeared in his own, the leather pouch levitating across the room to settle on top of his desk. “Leave.”  

He stared at the scroll in his grip, annoyed to find it marked with the seal of the Celestial Military. He heated the wax seal over a lit candle, enjoying the sight of the red waxen dragon imprint slowly melting away. Frowning darkly again, Weisheng opened the scroll and read the messy handwriting of a general he had never even heard of, fully expecting the missive to announce that one more unreasonable restriction had been placed upon him. His cold eyes sparked with excitement when he found the words shared something positive instead. But could he trust the words of this unknown General Jinjing?

Setting the scroll aside, Weisheng emptied the contents of the leather pouch onto the desk. His expression gleamed with curiosity when a small, glowing object landed on his desk and bounced to a stop in front of him. He picked it up and studied it; lit up from the magic contained within, one surface was round and smooth and the other sanded flat. He could feel the rough lines of an engraved image on the sanded surface when he rubbed it with his thumb, looking closer to better discern what had been carved there. It took him a few seconds to figure it out. 

The gift was a luminescent pearl from the lake of Qing Qiu bearing the nine-tailed fox image of the Fox King’s seal. Was it genuine? Only a select few craftsmen who had lived in Qing Qiu possessed the skills to work with the delicate pearls without harming them. None of those men had survived the massacre. It had to be from a time when Bai Zhi still lived.

Could it be a trick sent from the dragons to test his commitment to the treaty between the demons and the Heavens? Weisheng didn’t think it likely the Heavens would part with any of the precious artifacts that had survived the sacking of Qing Qiu and the Fox Den. Heavenly Father guarded Qing Qiu closely and had always been very clear about what would happen should anyone disturb the land under his protection. General Jinjing had risked much by sending the luminescent pearl to Weisheng, lending credence to his words.      

Weisheng grinned. According to the General’s missive, the Fox Princess had been found. This was the best news he had received in years.

With a simple wave of his hand, a grey clay jar appeared on the desk and Weisheng pulled the heavy container toward him. He remembered his father’s uncontrollable rage that long ago night when it was revealed that not only had Bai Qian not been in the Fox Den, she had also not been found hiding among the villagers when Qing Qiu had been destroyed by his father’s soldiers. She had escaped his father’s wrath and had managed to ruin his father’s wish to exact revenge on Bai Zhi and his entire family. Nobody living in Qing Qiu should have survived that night and, yet, a small weak girl had. 

Weisheng knew his father had wanted to go and find her, to finish eliminating the entire Bai family from existence. But he had never gotten the chance because the swift and savage attack from the dragons and their allies had come right on the heels of the massacre. There had been no time and the Fox Princess had become unfinished business. Weisheng would have happily carried out the last kill for his father but had been unable to do so because it would have meant venturing off of demon lands and drawing unwanted attention from the dragons.  

A dull thud reverberated through the room when Weisheng removed the top of the clay jar and set it down on the surface of the table. He looked inside. The heart still appeared pristine and perfect; it looked like it had been carved out of Bai Zhi’s chest hours ago instead of the fifty thousand years that had passed since it had beat its last. No demon magic could touch it. The heart preserved itself and showed no signs of decay. 

The limitless amount of magic within the heart astounded all who studied it. That immense power had been wasted on a man who valued peace and harmony over strength and domination. Weisheng could think of many great things he could accomplish if he could only get his hands on the fox magic it contained. But, so far, all his attempts to extract the magic from Bai Zhi’s heart had ended in failure. It seemed it wasn’t possible for one possessing dark magic to use the light magic of the foxes. 

But Weisheng would bet everything he owned that Bai Zhi’s daughter could extract the magic for him. And now he may have finally found a way to get his hands on her. Yes …this was very good news indeed. He grabbed a blank scroll to respond to General Jinjing.


Ye Hua arrived on Kunlun Mountain no closer to a plan to coax Bai Qian out of hiding than he had been the day before. His father had suggested he ask Zhe Yan to take over the search and be the one to approach her alone the next time she was spotted. She would be less scared of someone she had known in the past, especially since Zhe Yan had once been her brother’s friend.

Under normal circumstances, Ye Hua would have readily agreed to the change. He couldn’t deny it was a sound plan. But the black dragon’s attitude when it came to Bai Qian was anything but normal. Ye Hua didn’t need input from his beast to know the black dragon would never allow another to approach Bai Qian without him being present to protect her, even a close friend like Zhe Yan. And while Ye Hua had always been confident in his ability to control his dragon up to this point, he no longer felt certain that was true when talking about Bai Qian. 

So Ye Hua had declined to follow his father’s advice and Heavenly Father had accepted Ye Hua’s decision without debate. Whether this easy acceptance was because his father sensed more about the situation with Ye Hua’s dragon than he revealed or simply because he liked to allow his sons room to make their own decisions remained unclear to Ye Hua. Whatever the reason, immense relief he had not been expecting had filled him when he realized his father wasn’t going to insist he step aside.

Maybe a part of him also felt an intimate connection to the scared and lonely woman who had lost her way out there in the peach trees. She needed help and the desire to be the one person who could give that to her had taken root inside him.

With an uneasy frown, Ye Hua shoved the thought aside. His dragon’s strange behavior had begun to influence him. He would do whatever he could to help anyone suffering through similar circumstances to Bai Qian’s. And he wanted to help his father right the wrongs of the past and help Qing Qiu recover its previous place among the immortal realms. That was always what the search for Bai Qian had been about.

The sharp clang of clashing swords rang out from the distance in an otherwise quiet afternoon, catching Ye Hua’s attention as he approached Kunlun Temple. The sword had always been his weapon of choice and he enjoyed listening to the unique sound of a well-forged steel blade striking against another. He followed the noise of swordplay around the side of the temple to a sandy practice area set up within the forest on Kunlun. There he found Mo Yuan watching two of his disciples square off against each other in a round of sparring. 

After returning his brother’s small nod of greeting, Ye Hua stood off to the side away from the spot where the rest of Mo Yuan’s disciples were gathered to watch the practice bout. He hoped the sound of battle and Mo Yuan’s presence would entice the black dragon to come out from his retreat to investigate but all remained still inside Ye Hua. His dragon remained annoyed with him and uninterested. The black dragon had even let sunrise come and go without scolding Ye Hua for failing to return to the peach tree forest this morning. How could he resolve this unusual situation with his dragon?   

In an attempt to forget his confused thoughts, Ye Hua studied the sword technique the disciples were using. He knew it well; it was a simple style but a highly effective one. He still used it often despite having learned more advanced fighting techniques. It appeared Mo Yuan’s disciples also knew it well. The young men’s steps and stances were on point but their apprehensive expressions told Ye Hua they were not accustomed to using sharp blades instead of dull practice ones, something all students of the sword must learn to adjust to. 

Ye Hua watched several bouts, losing himself in the familiar rhythm of steel against steel, before his mind wandered back to the gentle feel of Bai Qian brushing up against his cultivation, something he had been trying to avoid dwelling on. It had lasted for only a brief second or two, had disappeared almost before he realized he felt it, but he could still easily imagine her soft touch trailing along his chest. Even now, just thinking about it brought the remembered warmth of her caress to his skin. Had she touched his snare on purpose? Her skill at avoiding them up until last night made him think she had done it intentionally. But why had she….

A cry of pain halted Ye Hua’s train of thought, returning his attention to his present surroundings. The smell of blood now filled the air. Ye Hua looked up to find one of Mo Yuan’s disciples clutching his side with a grimace, his ivory robes turning crimson. Ye Hua stayed out of the way, not wanting to interfere, watching thoughtfully as Mo Yuan and the other disciples all gathered around the injured man to make sure the wound wasn’t too serious. The sight of the concern on everybody’s face struck Ye Hua as being significant, kindling the first early sparks of an idea.

After healing his disciple and then discussing how the strike could have been blocked to avoid injury, Mo Yuan called an end to the sparring sessions and dismissed his students. The disciples bowed their respect to Mo Yuan and Ye Hua before scattering to enjoy some downtime before starting their evening chores.       

Ye Hua didn’t miss the pleased expression on Mo Yuan’s face as his brother approached him. 

“I can’t remember the last time you wore that old shabby robe. I barely recognize you.”

“Very funny, Da Ge.”

“It looks good on you.” 

There were glints of gold swirling within Mo Yuan’s eyes now as he moved closer; the golden dragon was looking for his brother but couldn’t sense the black dragon’s presence. Ye Hua groaned inwardly as Mo Yuan frowned at him with concern. First his father had noticed, now his brother. Nothing escaped the notice of his family. He had managed to avoid his mother finding out; she would have hovered all around him with worry until she had found a way to fix it. That was the biggest problem with having a close-knit family; it became almost impossible to hide certain things from them.

“Are you alright, Ye Hua?”

“I’m fine.” The words came out sharper than he had intended and Ye Hua started walking to try and avoid further questioning, knowing very well Mo Yuan wouldn’t leave it alone without some sort of explanation. Ye Hua could hear Mo Yuan’s hurried footsteps as he caught up with him.

“Yes, you certainly sound like you’re doing just fine,” Mo Yuan pointed out dryly, falling into step beside Ye Hua. Ye Hua could feel his brother glancing his way, something he tried to ignore. 

“You really aren’t going to tell me what’s going on?”

Ye Hua stopped with an aggravated sigh. “My dragon is avoiding me.”

“Your dragon is avoiding you?” Mo Yuan arched a brow in surprise when Ye Hua nodded. “How exactly does that work?”

“You don’t know?” 

Mo Yuan shook his head. “I can’t say that I do. I don’t typically do things to anger my dragon.”

Ye Hua glared at his brother. Mo Yuan laughed before giving Ye Hua’s shoulder a hard pat in apology.

“I didn’t mean that the way it sounded, Ye Hua. Maybe I can help.” Mo Yuan’s eyes glinted with gold again. “Perhaps if my dragon challenges him your dragon will come out of hiding.”

Ye Hua briefly considered the idea before deciding against it. The black dragon’s volatile and possessive mood of late didn’t seem like it should be trifled with. He had no way of knowing just how seriously his dragon would respond to a challenge from his brother, especially if he somehow mistook it for a challenge over Bai Qian. 

Ye Hua shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Da Ge. Not right now.”

Mo Yuan frowned. “What happened, Ye Hua?”

With another sigh, Ye Hua started walking again. He could feel Mo Yuan studying him from his place next to him. “It’s a long story and I didn’t come here to talk about my dragon.”

Relieved when Mo Yuan didn’t continue pressing him on the subject, Ye Hua followed his brother to a three-tiered pond built behind Kunlun Temple in a quiet alcove. Clear water trickled down over each stone edge to fill the pool beneath it, the small waterfalls creating a soothing bubbling sound around the pond. Ye Hua didn’t see any fish or plants in the swirling pools of water but he knew it would soon be filled with bright lotus flowers and multicolored carp; Mo Yuan had promised to build a lotus pond on Kunlun Mountain for their mother to enjoy when she visited. 

“The water has been purified by the divine energy of the mountain,” Mo Yuan spoke up, breaking the comfortable silence that had descended over them. “The blessed lotus plants Father gave me should do well here when I transplant them from the Heavens.” 

“Mother will make sure of it. She’ll move in with you, Da Ge, if the plants start wilting so she can take care of them night and day.” 

Mo Yuan laughed. “She will. And then you know Father won’t be far behind.”

Ye Hua grinned as he imagined the chaos on Kunlun Mountain if their parents temporarily moved into Mo Yuan’s temple. All his brother’s peace and quiet would be ruined. “You’d best hurry and brush up on your gardening skills.” 

“Hmm…I’ll just recruit my little brother to help me out,” Mo Yuan declared, ignoring Ye Hua’s growl of irritation at his words. “You always understood Mother’s gardening lessons better than I did.” He paused. “And I believe you now owe me.” 

“Owe you?” Ye Hua scoffed. “For what?”

Mo Yuan narrowed his eyes. “For not kicking you out of my study the last time you barged in…without knocking. When I was in the middle of doing something important.” Mo Yuan shook his head in exasperation. “How quickly you forget certain things when it’s convenient for you.” 

Ye Hua’s expression sobered at the reminder of his reason for seeking out his brother’s advice in the first place. He stared back over the water instead of responding, mind racing with all he still needed to share with Mo Yuan. 

“I saw her, Da Ge.” Ye Hua had not intended to say anything just yet but the crucial words slipped out anyway, not waiting for him to fully gather his thoughts. Not that it mattered; even with all the time in the world to think about how to say it beforehand, Ye Hua knew Mo Yuan wouldn’t believe him at first.    

There was an extended tense silence as Mo Yuan processed the statement. Ye Hua fought off the urge to fidget as his brother remained quiet.

“You saw her?” Ye Hua could hear the disbelief in his brother’s tone when Mo Yuan finally responded. “You saw who? Bai Qian?”

“Yes,” Ye Hua answered with a sigh. “Who else would I be talking about?”

“You saw Bai Qian?”

“Yes.” Ye Hua couldn’t quite keep his growing impatience with Mo Yuan’s continued skepticism out of his voice. 

“You mean you saw another flash of white in the shadows that you think is Bai Qian?”

“No, Da Ge. I saw a small white fox with nine tails. I turned around and there she was…she was beautiful. I could scarcely breathe when I saw her.” Ye Hua frowned. That was not what he had been planning to say, not at all. He hurried to continue, hoping Mo Yuan was still too stunned by the news to pay close attention to his slip. “She was just sitting there, watching me. Then she ran.”  

Ye Hua summoned the tuft of silky white fur he had found. “She left this behind.” He held the fur out to show his brother.

“It doesn’t carry the scent of rabbit,” he added, anticipating what Mo Yuan’s argument would be. 

Ye Hua reluctantly handed it over when Mo Yuan reached for the fur, having to fight the unreasonable urge to snatch it back out of his brother’s hand. It was just a small clump of fur. Ye Hua didn’t understand why the sight of it clasped between his brother’s fingers bothered him so much but it did. He was only able to relax once the fur was back in his possession. He tucked it back into its safe spot in his robes. The tuft must be extra important to him because it was the only tangible proof he had that he had seen Bai Qian. 

“You’re sure the fox had nine tails?”

“She had a lot more than one or two,” Ye Hua snapped with unexpected annoyance. “How many times do I have to say it, Da Ge, for you to believe me?”

“Sorry,” Mo Yuan apologized, his tone rueful. “I believe you. I’m just shocked. I never expected you to actually find her. What happened?” 

Ye Hua briefly recounted the encounter in the peach tree forest with Mo Yuan in more detail, feeling calmer the further he got into the story. Ye Hua knew his brother wasn’t asking unreasonable questions. Why was his mood so irritable today? After everything that had happened with Bai Qian running and then his dragon going silent, Ye Hua just felt off. But he shouldn’t take it out on his brother. Luckily for him, Mo Yuan rarely let such things bother him these days. Ye Hua still valued his brother’s opinion and wanted his input.

“I’m not sure what happened, Da Ge. One second Bai Qian seemed fine with me approaching her. And then, suddenly, she seemed terrified of me and ran. Something changed in a matter of seconds.”

“She’s smart to be wary of a new visitor to the forest,” Mo Yuan pointed out. “She has no idea whether you are friend or foe. And I doubt she has many good ways to defend herself out there.”

“She was wary in the beginning. It was something else entirely when she ran; pure terror poured off her. I gave chase before I had time to think better of it. It was a mistake to run after her.”

“She may have left the forest altogether once she lost you,” Mo Yuan remarked thoughtfully. 

“Maybe.” Ye Hua chose not to tell his brother about the caress he had felt last night, preferring to keep that moment to himself. He, once again, imagined he could feel the warm touch running over his chest and frowned at the wayward direction of his thoughts. “But I have a feeling she’s still there. If Bai Qian didn’t leave the forest, I need a different way to approach her so I can avoid scaring her again, and I think I may have finally thought of a solution. Your disciples helped me figure it out.”

“They did?” Mo Yuan watched his brother closely when he nodded, not really paying attention to Ye Hua’s response like he should have been. Ye Hua seemed certain Bai Qian was still in the forest but made no attempt to explain. 

Mo Yuan frowned thoughtfully and turned back to look at his pond. Why did he have the nagging feeling Ye Hua may not be telling him everything? And why did Ye Hua seem so reluctant to discuss the situation with the black dragon? He couldn’t feel his brother’s dragon at all. It worried Mo Yuan and it disturbed the calm of his own dragon.   

His brother had the right to keep his secrets, of course. Mo Yuan had a secret he had yet to tell Ye Hua about after all. But it was very unusual for Ye Hua. Typically, his brother was very open about most things with him. 

Mo Yuan wondered about the change and whether the distance between Kunlun Mountain and the Heavens had become far greater than he had first imagined. Seeing Ye Hua dressed in robes from the Mortal Realm after wearing only black for so long relieved Mo Yuan, reassured him the brother he had grown up with was still there. But it also reminded Mo Yuan of a time when he and Ye Hua had been practically inseparable, a time that had been left behind in the past.    

“Women are nurturing by nature, right? They really like taking care of things?”

Ye Hua’s strange questions pulled Mo Yuan back to the current conversation. “Some of them do, I guess,” Mo Yuan responded, wondering just how much of Ye Hua’s words he had missed while distracted by his own thoughts. He had absolutely no idea what his brother was talking about. 

“That’s what makes my plan so perfect. That and the fact it will make me look completely harmless.”

“What plan?” Mo Yuan couldn’t keep the confusion out of his voice. 

Ye Hua sighed. “Did you not hear anything I just said, Da Ge?”


Ye Hua flashed him an extra mean glare, which Mo Yuan gracefully accepted as his due, before launching into a second explanation of his “perfect plan”. Mo Yuan listened in astonishment, growing more and more dumbfounded as Ye Hua continued. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He considered Ye Hua to be intelligent, often capable of noticing the tiniest details that most others missed when he concentrated, and possessing a good mind for strategy. So why did his twin seem to come up with the craziest ideas sometimes? It made no sense.

“Well, Da Ge? What do you think?”

Mo Yuan had no idea how to respond. Was Ye Hua serious? That had to be one of the most ridiculous things he had ever heard. 

“Ye Hua, about this perfect plan of yours…”

⇛ Next part: Ch 13: Ye Hua’s Perfect Plan

⇚ Previous part: Ch 11: A Son’s Comfort

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