Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 15 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 15

written by LigayaCroft
edited by Panda and kakashi

“What do you mean she no longer lives in Luoyang?”

A-Li, never one given to emotional outbursts, had shouted so fearsomely the house’s head steward, Lui Shimin, sank with his forehead to the floor in terror.

A-Li turned his back to him, pressed his fingers to his temples, and allowed himself a few deep breaths to clear his head against the despair that tried to claw its way out from inside his chest.

“The word on the streets after I arrived with a new set of servants from Wuji Palace was that she left Luoyang months ago, Diànxià. I thought you already knew.”

“I…didn’t,” Where did she go? Had Xue Jiaolong fled Luoyang like Ge Peng warned him she might do? A-Li perked up. Ge Peng— the girl should know something. A-Li turned to face Lui Shimin again and commanded, “Send for Ge Peng of Pe Kang Li. Now.”

Knowing Ge Peng’s arrival might take a while, A-Li cloud jumped to the Home of Hope in Jiāngyuán. Although given the upsetting turn of events he already expected the scene, A-Li’s heart still sank when he saw with his own eyes that the house was now empty. A coating of frost formed on the roof and rafters, and some parts were already rotting off due to neglect.

“Li Géxià!”

A-Li turned to see the mother of the baby he and Xue Jiaolong had rescued during the earth-shake walk toward him with a basket of root crops on her back. Fang Shi, he finally recalled. He had only been gone barely two immortal days and yet his memory for names already bore the haziness of two mortal years.

“Fang Shi,” he greeted with a bow, the cold causing his words to form with puffs. “How’s Ling Ling lately?”

The woman had named her daughter after the little one’s savior so it was one less name A-Li had to worry remembering.

“She’s doing really well, thank you. It’s winter but thankfully she’s not getting sick. She’s with my husband now. What brings you back to Jiāngyuán?”

“I was in Luoyang and thought to stop by. What happened here?”

The smile on Fang Shi’s face dimmed as she looked past A-Li to the the house behind him.

“It was terrible. Terrible. It was two autumns ago when guards came in the middle of the night and arrested Xue Yuan. They said he was a wanted convict in Shǎnxī.”

A-Li’s nails dug hard inside inside his palms. Forcing himself to relax, he blew a breath and asked, “What about Wang Ling?”

“Oh, you didn’t know?” Her eyebrows squished together. “She— It was around the tail-end of two summers ago when we heard the news.”

A-Li’s ears perked as he counted backwards and realized that was around the time when they had parted ways.

“What news, Fang Shi?”

“She was abducted from the Jìyuàn and was never seen again.”


“Ge Xiaojie is waiting for you at the pavilion, Diànxià,” the steward respectfully announced the moment A-Li re-appeared inside the house.

A-Li paused for a moment to stare at the scenery outside his former study’s window. Barren trees. An icy cold river. Gray skies. Wasn’t it just two days ago that he was looking at the Yínhé from this very window, suffering the heat and mosquitoes of summer? Wasn’t it just two days ago that Xue Jiaolong was still within arm’s reach?

How could she be gone? How come nobody dared to look for her?

“Diànxià, it’s freezing outside. Please use this stole and coat to keep you warm.”

A-Li didn’t resist Lui Shimin’s thoughtfulness and left for the pavilion as soon as the fur and coat were carefully placed on top of his shoulders.

In truth, A-Li had no need for winter garments. How could he when frost wrapped around his heart and the longer each breath passed, the more dead he felt inside? The cold radiated from his core and it seemed his heart tried to compensate by racing so fast that a rushing sound pounded in A-Li’s ears.

Where are you, Jia’er?

Almost two mortal years had indeed passed because the woman who met him at the pavilion was no longer the fresh-faced Ge Peng from the past. She now wore silks, wigs and rouge, and had obviously taken on the mantle of being a courtesan like her former mistress was.

Ge Peng cupped her hands in front of her and bowed as soon as he entered the pavilion. “Li Géxià, welcome back to Luoyang.”

Ge Peng’s greeting stabbed at A-Li’s heart. Those were some of the very first words that he had heard from Xue Jiaolong as she greeted Lian Song on their first night in Luoyang.

The night he decided he wanted her. For a month. Several months. At least until the novelty faded.

The hard reality was, the novelty hadn’t faded. He loved her. He realized too late. And now, she was… gone.

“What happened to Wang L-Ling?” His voice didn’t come out the way he had planned it to. It cracked, just like the frosted ground he had just walked on. A-Li took a painful swallow through his dry throat and tried again. “Where did she go? Do you know?”

He signaled for Ge Peng to take a seat and he sat opposite her with a low stone table between them. Lui Shimin and several servants hovered around them, unfurling wild-goose feather-made curtains and windshield curtains to keep the cold air out. Copper censers had been lit, and it suffused the enclosed space with the scent of sandalwood and honey. Bronze kettles filled with boiling water were tucked under the quilts that servants placed over their laps, providing direct additional heat for their hands and feet.

“It was about a few days after I last saw you when about thirty men stormed into Pe Kang Li right after it closed for the night. They threw sacks of money at Dong Nǚshì, and bodily pulled Wang Ling out of her house and into a waiting palanquin.”

It was as Fang Shi shared earlier. Xue Jiaolong had indeed been forcefully abducted.

“Who were they?” A-Li demanded through gritted teeth.

Ge Peng pursed her lips and drew a sharp breath. Through teary eyes, she shook her head.

“A general? A royal? The Emperor?”

Ge Peng shook her head again. “They looked like mercenaries, Li Géxià. They came during a night of darkness, when there was no moon nor clouds in the sky. Somebody held me down after I tried to to help her.” Her eyes closed, and tears fell down the sides of her powdered face. “I couldn’t save her that night. Sometimes I can still hear her frightened screams play in my head during moonless nights.”

The world tilted in A-Li’s view as he absorbed this deluge of new information. He closed his eyes to regain equilibrium but now all he could see was this mental image of her being dragged into a palanquin. Xue Jiaolong was not one for hysterics — even in the face of a cataclysmic event such as the earth-shake — so to know she had been screaming out of fear during that time crushed him.

The pavilion suddenly felt warm. Too warm. A-Li pulled at his collar, and threw the stole off his shoulders. He signaled for a servant to lift one of the curtains to let crisp, cold air in.

“She was already free of the Jìyuàn at that time and was just finishing the training she was giving to her juniors before she left.” More tears streaked through the powder on Ge Peng’s face, squeezing at A-Li’s heart. “During her last days with me, she was mostly sad but then she would receive these letters that drove her into fits of anxiety. She wasn’t sleeping well.”


“I never knew whom they were from. She burned them as soon as she read them. She forbade me to speak of them to anyone because it might mean my death.”

Considering Xue Jiaolong’s reaction, the letters must have contained threats to her safety. She hadn’t slept well. What A-Li would give so he could turn back time to that last night they were together, to look over her shoulder and tell her everything was going to be fine.

Ge Peng pulled the long cedar wood box that was placed on the floor to her right. “Most of her items were left with me but I remember you took particular interest with the Islands in the Sky panels.” She lifted the box and presented it to A-Li over the table. “Please, Li Géxià. I think she will want you to have this.”

A-Li calmly received the box although having this piece of Xue Jiaolong made it difficult for him to form a response aside from a soft thank you. He refused a servant’s attentive yet silent request to take the box off his hands. Instead, A-Li placed the box over his lap.

Feeling its weight was equal parts comforting and debilitating.

“She also meant for you to have this.” Ge Peng also pulled out a small bamboo stick from her sleeve. “She made me come here a few days after I walked you to her house. But since she was so distraught, I no longer told her your house was empty— just that you weren’t here. I let her assume I left the message with a servant,” Ge Peng furtively wiped tears from her face with the side of her sleeve. “By the time I realized she was waiting for you to come, it was too late to confess about my deception. But I checked every day, Li Géxià. There was nobody in this house even days after her abduction. I eventually gave up. ”

A-Li received the small bamboo stick and tipped it over to reveal a sealed rolled paper inside. The rice paper had been yellowed on the edges by moisture and time but it still held up pretty well.

“Thank you, Ge Peng.” He choked back, wanting to unfurl Xue Jiaolong’s last message for him but at the same time knowing he needed the privacy to do so.

“If you find her, will you let me know, Li Géxià?”

A-Li nodded wordlessly, feeling the walls closing in. Ge Peng stood up and after doing the cursory bows, left.

Finally alone, save for the servants, A-Li asked for all the curtains to be lifted back. Even the fresh influx of fresh river breeze turned out lacking, however. Air. A-Li needed more air so he stood up and walked out of the pavilion, his leather-booted feet scrunching against the dry, frosted ground.

He walked toward the bathing dock by the river and sat down on the first step. His hand still clutched the rolled paper, curiosity wanting to see the message but guilt stopping him from doing so.

He would never fathom the terror she went through that night, and the terror she could be in right now.

To A-Li’s knowledge, lovers who abduct the objects of their affection were often up to no good.

“Jia’er, what have I done?” He whispered to her, and to no one.

There was no other way around it. Finally, he unrolled the paper, hoping to find some clue.

He didn’t expect that the mere sight of her familiar handwriting would cause hot tears to form in his eyes. It was as beautiful as he remembered it to be, as if she was writing to him out of love, and not distress.

Li Géxià, I write to you today out of desperation as I have no one else to turn to. I would like to appeal for your assistance on the basis of our former friendship and your old promise that I can call on you for help. I unfortunately find myself in a spot of trouble where my life and freedom are currently at risk. Would you save me if I asked you to? 
Your servant, 
Wang Ling

The paper crumpled in A-Li’s hand as he held it over his heart. With the pressure of his fingers, he tried to stifle the sob that tried hard to escape his chest. The resultant stabbing pain caused his posture to crumple as he suffered through the onslaught of guilt over could-have-beens.

A-Li looked up to the overcast sky.

“What have I done? What have I done?”

Chapter 16