Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 5 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 5

written by LigayaCroft
edited by kakashi & panda

Twenty-Five Mortal Months Later…

A-Li absentmindedly watched bats fly over the courtyard and to the mountains beyond, and wondered why he felt exhausted even though he had just got out of bed. The lethargy in his movements was unacceptable. He shook his head and started jumping up and down to get his blood pumping faster.

It was the middle of the unholy hour of the ox [1] but he needed to have an early head start as today was Wang Ling’s day off from the Jìyuàn.

After being turned away again last week, the Jìyuàn’s kind cook had finally taken pity on A-Li and shared a valuable piece of information: at least once a month, Wang Ling was given a day off from the Jìyuàn. On those days, she snuck out very early in the morning to travel somewhere, unknown to everyone. All insiders knew was that she always left on foot. Disguised.

“Pathetic, pathetic!” Lian Song had bemoaned a couple of mortal months ago. “You are a shame to the dragon clan and as my pupil, Zhízi. Eighteen months of courtship and she still won’t let you inside the courtyard? Why am I even staying for this?”

“Because you want to see me win, Shūshu.” He had said through gritted teeth, his mood terrible as he had just found out she had danced for the Emperor’s men yet again. Nobody else should be able to see her beauty while he was continuously shunned. If only Cheng Yu hadn’t warned him endlessly about the magickal bite back, he would have found a way to gouge those men’s eyes out. “Because we bet on three immortal days.”

Three immortal days.

Wang Ling’s reputation rested on the fact that she was unyielding, and Lian Song said it couldn’t be done in three immortal days. For his part, A-Li very rarely bet against his companions, and never bet against himself. In retrospect, A-Li realized his granduncle most probably have baited him that night Wang Ling first rebuffed him. Worse, he had completely fallen for it.

Three immortal days.

It sounded easy, except in retrospect, it’s wasn’t.

Because three immortal days equalled three mortal years.

And to chase down a mortal as difficult and captivating as Wang Ling? That took time.




A-Li had never worked this hard for anything in his immortal life. Only his competitive spirit and drive to see things through inhibited him from giving up.

For two years, he had gifted and cajoled his way all over the Jìyuàn—from Dong Nǚshì [2], the Jìyuàn’s owner, to the lowliest scullery maid. He had sent countless gifts to Wang Ling as well, and by trial and error, he now knew what she liked.

She was completely unlike any woman whose affections he had ever paid special attention to. When he initially started out, Wang Ling returned his gifts of jewels, pearls, silks, shoes and combs with strict passed-on instructions not to send any like those again. A-Li was at a loss as to the reason why. His gifts were not tacky, and he had made certain they were more lavish in quality and quantity than any she’d ever gotten. He knew this for a fact because he had paid servants to keep tabs. What stung was that he also knew she graciously received similar gifts from her other suitors. So was it just because she didn’t like him outright that she didn’t care for his presents?

However, after several weeks of sulking, he had recalled that first night they met when Wang Ling thanked Cheng Yu for the books she received. A-Li took the chance and gifted her with books, Xian paper, calligraphy brushes, an ink stone, and ink sticks. To his surprise and pleasure, those did not come back.

Her poems she often turned into songs, which she played with the pipa for her male guests at night. These poems were so coveted by poets and scholars alike that the city’s biggest bookshop owner earned a huge profit by publishing her newest poems weekly during market day to a waiting, sellout crowd. One morning, A-Li was so bored he sent Wang Ling an honest review on the latest installation. He also sent her some literary masterpieces of his own too — silly poems and prose that were mostly amateur rambles. Those did not come back either.

Although she kept rejecting A-Li’s requests for a private audience, Wang Ling still came to Lian Song’s house to play the pipa and the zither. If requested, she sang with a haunting, clear voice that almost always brought Lian Song to tears. This often drove the Old Dragon to recall stories about his younger years that Wang Ling had no idea happened so many millennia ago. She and Gun Gun got along well on the topic of teas, and Gun Gun regularly praised her impeccable palate during blind tea-tasting games. But most frequently, Wang Ling came over to privately discuss literature and current events with Cheng Yu, sustaining the old woman’s need for mental stimulation.

Meanwhile, all A-Li could do whenever she was at close proximity at the Luoyang House was to stop and stare at her. It was a behavior that Gun Gun hadn’t stopped teasing him about. For most of his lifetime, A-Li avoided looking at women in public for longer than one breath to prevent them from having ideas. Wang Ling was different from any of them though. Everything about her entranced and distracted him so, to the point there were days he felt consciously threatened and was tempted to run away.

As much as he wanted to talk to her until night changed to day and day changed back to night, Wang Ling never looked nor talked to him more often and longer than what was necessary. She was always impeccably polite and always thanked him for his gifts but nothing further than that, she always moved on swiftly after and did what she had come to do.

About five months ago, on a whim after reading a poem she had made the previous night about real beauty that had been shared to scholars all over the city, A-Li sent over a wild orchid plant that he had personally retrieved from a branch of a Chénxiāng [3] tree from the forest of Mount Junji. His Father had called it the Jūnzǐ Zhùfú [4], an ancient orchid breed blessed by the Primordial God Shennong himself for its aesthetic and medicinal properties. It didn’t have any flowers yet, and its leaves were the standard, boring, and succulent green. However, A-Li knew that come midsummer, it would give out fragrant blooms of gradient white and pink beauties that rivaled any peach blossom he had ever seen. Further, even in the mortal realm, the blooms were guaranteed to last until mid-winter. Her personal maidservant, Ge Peng, a bright-faced eighteen-year-old girl A-Li had interacted the most with from the Jìyuàn, shared that Wang Ling looked thrilled upon receiving the plant, and personally attended to it daily.

Two weeks ago, Wang Ling had sent him a shuǐmò huà [5] that she had drawn herself on Xian paper. The painting was of the plant showing the flowering stalk now heavy with buds. It came with an accompanying short poem about her happiness at seeing the buds appear and how she dreamt of finally seeing the flowers come midsummer.

It was the first drawing and written note she had ever sent him in twenty-five months. A-Li spent several hours staring at her marvelously beautiful drawing and handwriting, for it was often said that calligraphy revealed a person’s cultivation, temperament, tastes and character. On Wang Ling’s, her calligraphy betrayed a rich experience of life from the way her characters boldly covered the paper. When she unconventionally broke some strokes inside a character, but still came out beautifully whole in the end, it revealed certain stubbornness against authority that tried but failed to diminish her charm. Her curves flowed without fear, befitting a person who embraced and lived life fully despite never knowing what lay ahead. There were no hesitation strokes; an indication of her impatience, fearlessness and inherent talent.

The drawing and the poem were the closest A-Li had ever gotten to her but in the two weeks since, he had not even seen her. With the city welcoming the arrival of military officers in droves lately, Wang Ling’s schedule was so full that not even Lian Song nor Cheng Yu’s outstanding relationship with Dong Nǚshì could write them in.

Hence, this opportunity was too good to pass. They never really talked whenever they were together but A-Li wanted to see her again, and this was his chance to do it.

A-Li stretched then cast an invisibility spell over himself before he cloud jumped to wait at the courtyard fronting Wang Ling’s door.

He didn’t have to wait long. A few moments after the start of the hour of the tiger [6], her door opened and a servant girl stepped out with a bag of cloth and a parasol. There was hardly any light around the courtyard so A-Li had to work with the light from waning moonbeams filtering through the posts to see who this person was.

Upon closer inspection, he knew. It was her. He’d recognize that profile anywhere, he’d seen it too many times in his dreams. For the first time, he saw her face scrubbed clean of its usual powder and rouges, her hair tied behind her in a simple commoner’s waist-long braid.

Wang Ling moved through the shadows like a tigress. Her footfalls were silent, her every stride resolute. She exited through the servants’ gate and walked down the empty street, an easy prey for any drunkard or nefarious person who could be walking about. If she was scared, it didn’t show in her movements. Even in the dim light of breaking dawn, she looked fierce and focused.

Those eyes. They were his favorite feature of hers, tilted upwards on the outer edges, betraying an inborn sense of mischief despite her default stern appearance. He liked it even better when the edges turned softer, like they always did whenever she interacted with Cheng Yu.

A-Li satisfied himself with following her for another hour. He noted that they had already exited the city and were on their way up Biayun Mountain where farmers, woodcutters and poorer folk lived.

The sun was already up in the sky during the first half of the hour of the rabbit [7] when she suddenly stopped and said out loud, “Alright, I’ve had enough.”

A-Li looked around, wondering whom she was talking to. There were no other mortals around, just yards and yards of trees and a bubbling brook.

“Li Géxià! Show yourself!”

She saw him? A-Li looked down on his form to check if his magick was still active, and it was. So how?

She was still calling his name, running to look behind tree after tree. She looked equal parts annoyed and crazed so A-Li thought he might as well put her out of her misery.

A-Li released his spell. With all the morning cheer he could muster, he smiled and greeted her.

“Good morning, Wang Ling.”

Wang Ling turned to face him. Her eyes burned with feral intensity. Her lips curled in distaste.

A-Li’s heart unexpectedly thudded faster inside his chest. Without the veil of invisibility that gave his eyesight a dreamy quality, he was finally able to see her in crisp clarity.

Beautiful. So damn beautiful.

“You!” She mercilessly stalked towards him until her index finger landed on the middle of his chest. “You’ve been following me around for a while now. Why?”

A-Li was flabbergasted. Was his magick so weak that a mere mortal was able to see through it?

“Don’t deny it! You’ve been following me and have been staring at me for two years. Your gaze is so imprinted on me that I can find you in a crowd even with my eyes blindfolded.”

A-Li’s jaw dropped. As a courtesan, obsessed customers who stalked her every move came with the job. His eyes on her were probably not the only ones her intuition picked up. But more importantly, he was partly-amazed that she spoke more words to him today than she ever had in the past two years combined.

“Ha! You men are so predictable. You obsess, you follow me around, but in the end, when caught, you’re just like a scared dog with its tail between its legs.”

A-Li was offended at the thought that he was that bad, he had to be grouped with all those other men.

“I—I didn’t mean to be a bother to you, Wang Ling. I saw you walking out of the city and only wanted to make sure you’re safe.”

She was about to deliver another retort when birds and critters suddenly flew all over and past them in a state of flurry and panic, as if chased by something sinister. Some rodents ran over their feet, making her yelp. Wang Ling threw her arms around his neck, and her body against his, for his protection.

A-Li’s breath got stuck in his throat as Wang Ling enveloped him with her powdery floral scent. It didn’t leave his notice how soft her breasts felt pressed against his chest, how warm she was…

However, his lustful thoughts were interrupted when he heard a faint rumbling rise up deep from the bowels of the earth. He felt its vibrations grow louder and louder until finally, with a deafening crack, the earth heaved and shook with a ruthlessness that rivaled what the thirty-six heavens experienced every now and then from Zhu Xian Terrace.

A-Li took her hand and together they ran to a nearby clearing where he threw the two of them flat on the ground, his body covering hers. He then summoned a shield to protect them.

Trees swayed before some started splitting in half while others simply got uprooted. Rocks stumbled as they rolled down the incline. A terrible groaning sound accompanied the unholy shaking, as if the earth was giving birth to something.

“A-Li…” Wang Ling sobbed, using his familiar name for the first time. Even though her granduncle and Cheng Yu referred to him by his childhood nickname and even introduced him to Wang Ling as such, she had only ever called him as Li Géxià.

Wang Ling’s tear-filled eyes fixed on his, as if he, instead of closing them, was her only tether from all this madness. Her arms rigidly wrapped around his torso. Her fingers spread out so wide, as if the action could provide him protection should anything fall upon his back.

“It’s going to be over soon,” He shouted over the unholy wail of the earth splitting up. “Alright?”

A-Li never liked it whenever the thirty-six heavens shook but today, he discovered he didn’t like it more when the earth shook. A shaking of this scale— and the fear reflected in Wang Ling’s eyes— made A-Li wonder about how mortals were far more vulnerable, and the damages to their lives and properties more permanent.

The rumbling went on for a little while longer before it stopped, fading into a whisper until everything was quiet once again.

But too quiet. There were no birds singing. No insects chirping. It was as if the world was waiting with bated breath on what would happen next.

A-Li removed the invisible barrier and helped the still visibly shaken Wang Ling to stand up.

However, no sooner was she up that she gasped, “The town!” and ran.

A-Li had no choice but to run after Wang Ling, so sure was he that the mountain was still unsafe. This time she didn’t rebuff his help as they climbed and squeezed over the resultant landslips and rockslides. They held on to each other through the many aftershocks, only for her to resume running afterwards. She didn’t pay any attention to her soiled clothes, her now muddy face, her dirty hands and wet hemp shoes. A-Li couldn’t help but wonder what could bring her to such levels of desperation.

He didn’t have to wonder any longer because after cutting through a felled pine forest, they stumbled into the rough edges of what used to be a flourishing mountain village.



1. Between 1am-3am

2. (女士) Madam

3. (沉香) Agarwood

4. (君子祝福) The Blessing of Junji

5. (水墨画) ink and wash painting, an Eastern type of brush painting that uses calligraphy ink in various concentrations.

6. Between 3am-5am

7. Between 5am-7am