Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 7 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 7

written by LigayaCroft
edited by kakashi & panda

The late spring weather finally gave way to the early heat of what promised to be one of the warmest summers in Luoyang history. City-dwellers fanned themselves into a frenzy while drinking cold barley tea, and skipped the sun by staying indoors for longer spells of time.

Up in the Biayun Mountain town of Jiāngyuán, the relatively cooler mountain breeze and the sound of cicadas chirping noisily lent afternoons a lazy feel. Its inhabitants kept busy, however. The earth-shake had only affected their town and they had lives and homes to rebuild from scratch.

This innate resilience of mortals to move forward amazed A-Li. Like the purpose-filled life of ants, mortals strove to get things done at the soonest possible time because they had so little time in their hands.

In comparison, immortals were more complacent. His Fourth Uncle had unceasingly complained about how bad A-Li’s generation had become: easy going, lazy, possessing weak magic and even weaker Taoist practice. A-Li had never paid attention before as he’d always thought Fourth Uncle’s burning rhetoric was all but an underhanded reprimand for how he’d been living his life. However, as he observed these mortals now, and how most of them valued their limited time, A-Li couldn’t help but wonder how much better immortals would be if they did the same.

A-Li shook his head, pushing his Fourth Uncle’s admonitions and Realm business far into the deepest recesses of his mind. Ever since his companions left him to go to the Jade Palace for the Festival of the Peaches, A-Li often went up to visit Jiāngyuán’s Home of Hope. The Xues maintained the said shelter for orphaned children and old people that they had collected over the years from the outskirts of Luoyang. Right now it housed eighteen children, nine adults between the mortal ages of sixty to eighty, and required the assistance of at least three workers to help with the cooking, laundry and managing of household chores.

Finding out about Xue Jiaolong’s charity made getting into her good graces much easier for A-Li. After all, there was a lot of work to be done: the house had to be renovated, the sick and injured tended to, and Xue Yuan to keep company during times he’d reminisce about his dearly departed wife.

“I am ashamed to face my wife, Xue Mei, in the next life,” Xue Yuan once shared while they drank hot wine during an early summer storm. The old man, now reduced to a shadow of his former self as a scholar and teacher, was given to bouts of melancholy at night or whenever it rained. “My irresponsibility pushed our daughter to a different life. But what am I to do? We Xues love once but it’s for a lifetime. Losing Mei made me lose my life’s meaning. If Jia’er weren't here, I would’ve taken my life a long time ago.”

It took great control not to let dismay show on A-li’s face. Once again, love was used as an excuse. The notion was not only irresponsible but selfish. No love should be worth endangering or burdening the lives of those who were left behind. But as much as A-Li wanted the old man to indeed be ashamed of his selfish choices, the fact that Xue Jiaolong still held her father in the highest regard and how she instead looked at her circumstance as an opportunity to help other people, kept his tongue in check.

“The children adore you. And the elders think you’re a well-mannered son.” Xue Jiaolong happily shared as she washed the dishes at the Jiāngyuán house during a rare day off from the Jìyuàn.“It seems you’ve effectively charmed everyone here.”

A-Li wanted to know whom exactly she meant by every one. Did it include her? Was she impressed with how he had been showing his support for her? How he had been taking care of those who were dear to her?

Was she already starting to like him?

It had been 28 mortal moons since he set out on this mission. Granted it was just two or so immortal days but A-Li had never spent this much time in pursuit of any woman.

Then again, Time wasn’t the issue here as he had plenty of it.

Effort was.

He had to give it to himself for his persistence. After all, didn’t it all boil down to the thrill of the chase? Nonetheless, if somebody had warned him mortal affairs would be this strenuous and long winded, he wouldn’t even have begun.

But, as he observed Xue Jiaolong humming to herself while they sat outside and watched the children play in the yard, it struck him that he’d never met a more fascinating mortal such as this one.

“Here,” she said, offering him a fat slice of one of the early-season persimmons they had bought when they went to the market together earlier that morning. “It’s sweet enough. You’ll like it.”

“So you bought the persimmons for me?” He goaded her as he accepted the slice. Xue Jiaolong had been plying him with fruits and sweets ever since she found out he had a sweet tooth. It appeared she took note of his favorite fruits too - for instance, today’s haul of persimmons.

Xue Jiaolong shot him a warning look. Then she grabbed the reed bag containing the persimmons, and called out to the children to come get their snacks.

A-Li smiled to himself as he bit on the sweet fruit. With eight mortal moons left on the bet, thanks to the earth-shake, his fortune was finally changing.


There were only three individuals in the Four Seas and Eight Deserts whom A-Li found difficult, but not impossible, to beat at Yì: Mo Yuan Dàyé [1], as expected of the God of War, his Father Ye Hua, the best prodigy the Immortal world had ever had, and his Dong Hua Gēge.

However, A-Li was forced to prematurely announce his defeat after eyeing his third consecutive losing round against Xue Jiaolong. It was also pre-empted by the fact that money was already changing hands between his freshly-returned companions even while their third game was still underway.

“She should play against Mo Yuan. I wonder how long he’d hold up against her,” he casually told Lian Song who had just won the latest bet on how long it would take for the incense to change fragrances before A-Li lost his third game. His un-filial granduncle had bet at before half of the 2nd fragrance.

“Who’s Mo Yuan?” Xue Jiaolong asked as she helped Cheng Yu return the stones inside their respective wooden bowls.

“My Dàyé, Jia’er.”

“I agree it’ll be a sight to see you play against Mo Yuan,” Gun Gun added as he handed over a hot cup of tea to Xue Jiaolong. “Even when you took the defensive position, your backhand was still so brutal that Li-Gē couldn’t maintain his offense. And the way you invaded on one side and reduced his territory on the other, then orchestrated those suicidal moves one after the other— even after three rounds, Li-Gē stood no chance. You’re too cunning. And cold-hearted. Both good qualities any general should have.”

“I’ve played against generals before but I’ve yet to lose at Yì.” Xue Jiaolong smiled, daintily lifting the teacup to her bare lips. She had arrived at Lian Song and Cheng Yu’s house in her common folk attire, shocking the couple who had never seen her bare face before. “I’ve always been looking for a worthy opponent. When do you think can I meet this Mo Yuan?”

The immortals exchanged glances before Cheng Yu burst out laughing.

“Mo Yuan’s… well, he lives high up in the mountains. And he has a very temperamental wife. I suspect she’ll burn you to a crisp if she sees you even looking at her husband.”

“Burn me to a… crisp? How? That sounds really violent.”

“Don’t worry, Jia’er,” A-Li chuckled, shaking his head. “Unless you’re a member of the family, women are banned from entering their estate. Because the last time Dàyé broke the rule, well—“

“It was a disaster.” Cheng Yu finished. “Jiaolong, I know you like fire among the five elements but trust me, there’s a reason why everyone in our kingdom gives Mo Yuan’s wife a wide berth.”

Once the board had been cleared and turned over to the servants for storage, Cheng Yu invited Xue Jiaolong to the library to pore over her latest books. A-Li’s grin reflected that of Xue Jiaolong’s at the offer. Of course she was excited. She always looked forward to invitations to see Cheng Yu’s library.

“Shūshu, why were you shaking your head just now?” A-Li asked as soon as the women were out of sight.

Lian Song continued to slowly fan himself for a couple more breaths before he shut his fan closed and pointed it to A-Li.

“A-Li, it’s not yet too late. Let’s pack up and leave Luoyang. This is just two days in your many thousands of years. A month or two in the immortal realm can make you forget this place.”

Leave? Just when things couldn’t get any better between him and Xue Jiaolong?

“You will break that poor girl’s heart, is what Gēge’s trying to say,” Gun Gun expounded as he poured himself another cup. “You’ve never had a mortal before. Trust me, they’re… squishy.”

Something unpleasant snaked down A-Li’s stomach. “The three of you already have a ledger’s worth of bets about Xue Jiaolong. Why are you changing your tune now?”

Lian Song set his fan down, his shoulders heavy. He poured himself a glass of wine and downed it in one gulp.

“If my years of dealing with their kind count for something, courtesans like her often live a very lonely life afterwards. They offer their beauty and intellect, and get paid for it by the shallowest of all currencies: money. Sadly, that’s often all that they’re going to get.” Lian Song sighed. “I thought she wasn’t any different. But today, I saw her for the first time without any of her usual garnish. I saw a person, A-Li, and by your accounts, a kind-hearted one.”

During his younger years, Heavenly Emperor Ye Hua had looked up to Lian Song as an ally and his voice of reason. Even at his most outrageous, A-Li’s flamboyant granduncle was often the wisest in the room.

In the years to come, A-Li would look back to this moment with much regret.

He should have listened. But today, his personal ego and pride blocked him from acknowledging Lian Song’s wisdom.

Today, he made the only decision that made sense to him.

“You can go if you want to, Shūshu. I’m this close to the finish so I’m staying.”

“And what is the finish that we are talking about here, A-Li? You grew up sometimes reading your mother’s theatrical plays. Will it be Wed or Dead?”

A-Li probingly gazed at his granduncle, then at Gun Gun. He wondered when things had changed to make them care about the women in his life. Because it had never mattered if it was a princess, a noble or a common immortal— all the women he’d been with were inconsequential details in Cheng Yu’s ledgers that nobody looked back to after the bet was over. Maybe, it was just because of what Gun Gun said: Xue Jiaolong was A-Li’s first mortal. The novelty caused Lian Song to have cold feet.

It wouldn’t help to give way to their unfounded fears, too.

“What did they feed you during the peach banquet to make you turn all so serious? Wed or Dead? Is this part of your latest bet? Shūshu, you’re getting too far ahead of yourself. It’s just harmless fun is what we’re doing.” He chuckled, drank the last of his wine, and stood up. “Excuse me, I need to walk Jia’er home.”


The night wasn’t as dark for there was three-quarters of the moon hanging about to light their path as A-Li and Xue Jiaolong walked by the peony shrubs that lined the river bank.

It didn’t escape his notice how instead of taking the well-trodden dirt path, Xue Jiaolong chose to walk on the sides where soft grass grew — and either carved a new path for others to follow or marked a lonely one which only she undertook.

“Have you ever wished you lived a different life?” He found himself asking her.

Xue Jiaolong turned but continued walking, albeit backwards. Some of her hair had escaped the braid holding it in place, and the river breeze picked up the tendrils so that they carelessly floated before and around her. If she felt it, she didn’t mind.

She never did.

In fact, the longer he knew her after the earth-shake, the more A-Li realized there were actually two sides to her. Wang Ling, the courtesan, who exhibited control, and Xue Jiaolong, the woman, who reveled in her freedom.

The former held men in thrall with her air of mystery. The latter stared back whenever she knew he was looking, and held his gaze until they both broke down laughing.

“My father told me we have gods who wrote our destinies. Can you imagine the absurdity and the lack of fairness in that? Following that thought, it seems I had no control on who I turned out to be. I was meant to be this…” she shrugged, both palms facing upwards, “…just like you’re meant to be… all that.”

A-Li frowned. She hadn’t exactly answered his question.

“I may be deluding myself but I prefer to believe I am walking my own path, that I am writing my own destiny. That my becoming a courtesan instead of an affluent old man’s wife was because of my own choices. Some said it was reckless of me to not get married but what was I to do? Matrimony is a cage. The moment I marry, who’s going to take care of my father? But I didn’t want to feel helpless either. So when the opportunity to enter a Jiaofang [2] arose, I closed my eyes and grabbed it with both hands.”

Her left hand ran over the tops of the peony shrubs, which disturbed the leaves and caused summer fireflies to fly towards and around her. Their yellowish light cast its incandescent glow on Xue Jiaolong’s face which she laughed at while she tried to shoo the insects away.

“Even as a courtesan, I was advised to take a patron because as a woman, it was a given that I needed protection. But wasn’t it wonderful that my insistence to turn down all those nobles who wanted to keep me over the years was so that I could beat you thrice at Yì and walk with you by the riverbank tonight? So why would I wish to live a different life?”

A-Li was stunned, his mind scrambling to pick apart the words she had just spoken.

Suddenly, the sky exploded and came alive in bursts of pyrotechnic lights behind her. A-Li watched her eyes grow round before she whipped around.

“Well, isn’t that just amazing?” He heard her gasp when he finally stood beside her. Her orbs reflected the lights that set the sky on fire. “I’ve been here for years but I’ve never seen any of the summer fireworks displays before.”

A-Li thought he’d never seen anyone like her before either.

A cool breeze blew in from the river, the wind rustling through the edges of A-Li’s white robes, bringing with it her faint floral smell. It wrapped around him in invisible threads that tugged at him to turn, to take that step to be closer and closer still until he stood in front of her, silhouetted against the explosion that painted the sky in hues of red, yellow, green and blue.

His right hand lifted to cup the side of her face, something he had longed to do for quite some time, and she surprised him by leaning into it.

“Jia’er,” he said softly over the din, his gaze following where the fireworks behind him glossed red and yellow over her luminous skin.

“A-Li,” she sighed. And just as the loudest of explosions sounded off behind him, the fingers of her right hand pressed at his nape to pull his face down.

One moment he was breathing fine and the next he was on fire.

The hunter became the hunted. Xue Jiaolong proved she could also be a predator should she desire so.

She teased at him to open and when he did, she took from him without apology.



A-Li realized he was shaking when he wrapped his arms around her, his hands at her nape and the small of her back, as he pulled her closer to make their kiss deeper. In that space in time where his immortal breath fused with her mortal one, it dawned on A-Li that he now knew how a falling star felt— once proudly burning bright in its place in the sky until it was forced to fall on its knees by the undeniable pull of the ground.

His insides burned with the terrifying need to take her there and then, and he would have, if only he didn’t suddenly remember his granduncle’s words.

Wed or Dead?

His mood dimmed.

The Old Dragon should have kept his thoughts to himself.

With one last peck, and— because he couldn’t help himself from tasting her sweetness yet again— another, A-Li lifted his head. Xue Jiaolong looked equal parts confused and frustrated, but to the unspoken question in her eyes, he only gave a small smile. Then he took her hand to lead her back up to the main road and dropped her off at the Jìyuàn servants’ gate.

“Good night,” he told her as he let go of her hand.

She didn’t look too happy. But then, neither did he.

With a huff, she turned and went inside.

A-Li followed her with his gaze until he could no longer see her. Only then did he start walking back to the house, Lian Song’s words ringing over and over again in his mind.

Wed or Dead?


Or Dead.

Chapter 8


1. (大爺) Uncle, Father’s Older Brother

2. A high-end finishing school for prostitutes where girls train in music, dancing, literature, calligraphy, chess, literary drinking games, etc.