Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 18 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 18

written by LigayaCroft
edited by Panda and kakashi

Lian Song wasted no time at all.

Upon arrival at Diyu, Lian Song authoritatively ordered Yánwáng to find Xue Jiaolong. Although the order shocked Yánwáng; on the basis of their friendship, he immediately acted upon the request and set his Ten Kings of Hell to work.

That was twenty-six immortal days ago.

Meanwhile, A-Li tried to patiently wait inside Yánwáng’s Tiānzǐ Palace. However, his mood was constantly dark and aggravated by how minimal the amount of sunlight the Zhèngyì Táng [1] was able to receive from the surface. It didn’t help that the little light that was able to seep through was instantly absorbed by the hall’s dull blue walls. Worse, the incessant sound of mortal souls screaming in agony from the pits below echoed back and forth across every nook and cranny of the Palace, and provided A-Li’s ears with no escape.

To think Gun Gun had spent his first couple of hundred years in this place. This might be the reason why it took much, save for the possible destruction of Gun Gun’s good looks, to faze A-Li’s usually unflappable nephew. A-Li had barely been here a full moon’s cycle but he was just about to go insane.

Lian Song and A-Li were about to have afternoon tea that day when Yànwàng and his Ten Kings quietly appeared inside the Hall in clouds of dark smoke.

“My deepest apologies for the long delay, Diànxià, Wángyé [2].” Yánwáng, Overlord of the Underworld, apologized as he dipped his upper body into a deep bow. All the other Hell-Kings who stood behind him ceremoniously did the same. “But rest assured, we have been thorough with the report we are about to give you.”

Lian Song waved his hand for Yánwáng to proceed.

Yánwáng straightened. “We have checked and rechecked all of our records and we can confirm that there were neither Wang Ling of Luoyang nor Xue Jiaolong of Xi’an in Shǎnxī whose ling hun [3] had come forward. We do have a Xue Yuan of Xi’an in Shǎnxī in the 4th hell and the mortal realm’s Yi Shang Xiāndì who will be languishing in Avīci [4] for all eternity.”

The results of Yánwáng’s findings lifted A-Li’s heart. It had taken great fortitude to remain functional during the past several days while he had waited and hoped for good results. So they were not able to find her. Could that be—

“She’s alive?” he asked breathlessly, gripping the edge of the stone table.

The kings behind Yánwáng gave uncomfortable glances to one another.

“No. I’m sorry, Diànxià.” Yánwáng’s eyes on him were steady but apologetic. “She’s dead.”

A-Li sank bank in his seat. He felt a comforting tap against his curled-up hand. It was Lian Song, and his gaze silently asked A-Li to keep calm.

Yánwáng’s lips pressed together in a slight grimace. “We have talked to the Death Gods who went to harvest the souls who died in Yi Shang’s necropolis. There was indeed a slightly mangled female body found decaying inside Yi Shang’s crypt. The Death God who found her was able to identify her as Xue Jiaolong through the disintegrated remains of her po [5]. However, the Death Gods were not able to find even a trace of her jue hun [6]. They filed a formal report but it got buried under administrative backlog and that’s why this case didn’t get to me until you came searching for it.”

“A Missing Soul?” Lian Song asked, giving A-Li a meaningful glance.

“It has become a minor administrative issue which caused the delay in our report. But, rest assured, we will get to the bottom of this.”

“Xie Guchou,” Lian Song called out Yánwáng’s given name, in a move A-Li knew was used to assert authority, as the Old Dragon tapped a silent beat with his closed fan against his thigh. “Could it be a body that was used for a mortal trial?”

A-Li’s breath hitched in his chest at his uncle’s theory. If the body was used for a mortal trial then that meant Xue Jiaolong was a Celestial roaming the Four Seas and Eight Deserts.

However, Yánwáng’s face flushed at the suggestion. “Mortal trials are heavily-bureaucratic events organized between the Star Lords and I [7]. There are very few gods who can create a soul that has neither previous nor subsequent existence, and even so, they are still subject to our laws. Case in point, when Dong Hua Dijun asked Elder Yunzhuang of Taichen Palace to stealthily create a soul from his own shadow to be sent to the mortal world for a mortal trial, the said soul was still subject to Si Ming’s Destiny Ledgers. Further, Dong Hua Dijun’s mortal soul still appeared in my Soul Registry. There’s always a check-and-balance to these things else the world will fall into chaos, Wángyé.”

The flat of Lian Song’s hand landed on top of the stone table, which made the kings nervously jump backwards.

“What good are laws if you are right now telling me you are missing a soul and she’s not in your registry? That woman was real. I knew her since she was sixteen mortal years.”

Yánwáng opened his mouth to try a retort but, under the Old Dragon’s glower, shut it back again.

“Unless you can explain to me how your Death Gods can lose a soul, and how your soul registry didn’t have a name that Si Ming wrote about, I will say there is trouble in hell, Xie Guchou. The Universe demands balance, does it not? A-Li, stand up. Let’s go.”

Lian Song stood up and made the move to go but Yánwáng emboldened himself to stand in the former Third Prince of the Six Realm’s way.

“Wángyé, you should ask your best friend about this.”

The Old Dragon’s brows rose. “Dong Hua?”

Yánwáng turned to A-Li and with a small jerk of his head that constituted to a bow, added, “Or your grandfather Bai Zhi Dijun or Zhe Yan, Diànxià. They are the oldest in the immortal realms. They might have experienced a similar case before.”

“I don’t think we need to bring the Old Ones into this investigation just yet, Xie Guchou.” Lian Song snapped. “Can you imagine the uproar this one soul will cause for your kingdom? It’s better if we investigate this quietly and on the side. I also suggest you put Xie Bi’an and Fan Wujiu [8] to work and locate her Yuánshén [9]. It’s somewhere out there. It has to be.”

Yánwáng appeared to consider Lian Song’s advice especially since it was good advice, too. His position as King of the Underworld could be in jeopardy if it ever came out that the Underworld was missing a soul.

“Let me know when you do find her.” Lian Song finished and walked away without looking back. “I have questions to ask her myself.”

Yánwáng and his kings bowed to Lian Song’s receding back. A-Li courteously bowed back to the men of the underworld before going after his granduncle, who by now was just a wisp of cream-colored robes in the dark.


Lian Song stayed quiet until they got back to Ziqing Palace after a whole day’s travel. A-Li was grateful for the silence because it finally gave him time to cope with the brutality of his loss.

If anything, their stay in the Underworld confirmed one inescapable truth: Xue Jiaolong was gone. Not just her body but, also, her soul. Somebody, somewhere, thought to play a cruel joke when it snatched a part of him, and then refused to return even a piece of it.

Now back in the stunning brightness of the Ninth Sky, A-Li worked out it wasn’t the lack of sunlight in the Underworld that contributed to his dark mood. With grief as a new emotion he had to cope with, it took the familiar scenery of the Ninth Sky for him to realize that he had been swallowed in an inescapable void that robbed the world of color. All around him was just this dense fog that only showed the world in shades of gray. Even the wisteria tree blooms by his palace gates lost the delicate colors he had so admired about an immortal month ago. He was like a boat cast adrift in a sea of desolation— no paddles, no moorings, no anchors.

“Shūshu,” A-Li turned to his granduncle, grateful his voice turned out well. “I think I should set a memorial for her.”

“That is fine, Zhízi,” Lian Song’s eyes were unfathomable but his voice was kind. “She was a good person. I’ll bring Gun Gun and Cheng Yu to come by later. We should remember her. ”

“Her servant gave me a painting she made—” A-Li cleared his throat, catching his voice from breaking just in the nick of time. “You should see this, Shūshu. It’s spectacular.”

“Even better since we both know you inherited your lack of artistry from your mother,” Lian Song sat down on A-Li’s study platform. “We cannot have you capture Xue Jiaolong’s beautiful face and spirit using circles-and-lines that will make Chenwei laugh, can we?”

Lian Song’s words at least drew A-Li’s first smile in days. It was funny because it’s true. Aside from poetry, A-Li could not draw to save his life.

A-Li called for the servants, who were permanently stationed to wait on him outside his study, and asked them to bring inside six wooden panels for putting up paintings. Once the panels had arrived, A-Li conjured the cedar wood box Ge Peng had given him and supervised putting up the paper canvases onto the panels.

Strange enough, the activity calmed A-Li’s inner turmoil because for the first time in days, he actually remembered her.

How she looked like.

Her voice.

Her mischievous eyes.

Her smile.

Her compassion.

The happiness on the nine dragons’ faces on the panels reminded him of how Xue Jiaolong’s eyes sparkled whenever something amused or touched her heart.

Just because you've been around long enough doesn't mean you should take these things for granted. Look, the sky’s so clear and blue today. Did you even look up since you woke up this morning? You should.

The carefree way the dragons played above the sedate orderliness of Kunlun reminded him of how she always chose not to walk on a predetermined path, be it on the forest floor or her life.

Isn’t it wonderful that my insistence to turn down all those nobles who wanted to keep me over the years was so that I can beat you thrice at Yì and walk with you by the riverbank tonight? Why would I wish to live a different life?

Looking at the dragon’s face on the third panel brought back memories of how she slept next to him, softly breathing, trusting. She couldn't even keep her temper around him for long.

It seems the hardest thing for me to do is to stay mad at you.

Could she? If she were here, could she have forgiven him for being the man who didn’t know what he wanted until it was too late — the man who shunned her love? Would she forgive him for not coming in time to save her?

I don’t need a hero.

A-Li touched a panel.

Her brush strokes felt alive— deliberate with no hesitations— much like how she had approached her life. Always forward, never backward.

Mad? To be mad at you is to be mad at at my fate, and I’ve refused to feel that way a long time ago. In some aspects, I’m better than you. You were born into your role. I chose mine.

A-Li had mulled over their last meeting for nights and nights, while dissecting every word that was spoken, every action she had made. Her strength showed at how quickly she had picked herself up when he had rebuffed her love, and had hidden her momentary vulnerability so fast behind the facade of Wang Ling that A-Li had lost track on how to properly respond.

She had even cut her hair.

Then, the guilt would creep in.

Because what would have happened if earlier on he had already known he loved her?

After the guilt came remorse. That night was the same night she had danced for the Emperor. What happened at the Imperial summerhouse in Luoyang? She carried a dagger on her person. Was she proposed to? Threatened? Cajoled? Was she already carrying the burden of a threat with her when they parted ways? Were the words “Save me” already halfway to her lips when he walked out that door?

A-Li touched a hand to his face and was surprised to see his fingers come back wet. His eyes flew over the panels to Lian Song whose gaze remained steady and fixed on A-Li, offering only strength, not judgment. A-Li gave him a tight-lipped smile as he wiped away the tears. Moving to the other side, he motioned for the servants to turn the panels in unison so Lian Song could see.

Lian Song’s eyes widened as he shot out of his seat, his mouth fell open, and the hand that held his closed fan trembled as he pointed to the painting.


A-Li looked at the painting, and tried to ignore the pinpricks that stabbed at his chest.

“She dreamt about it.”

“T-That’s Kunlun.”

“I know.”

“No mortal has ever laid eyes on Kunlun from that direction before.”

“She said she dreamt of dragons since she was nine.”

Lian Song approached the panels to further examine the painting. A-Li remained on the side, and felt somehow proud for Xue Jiaolong the longer he watched the wonder grow on his granduncle’s face. Lian Song was a huge connoisseur of the music and arts, and that look on the Old Dragon’s face A-Li had only seen before when Lian Song studied the works of the greatest artists of each millennia.

“She signed it,” Lian Song shuffled back a step, his eyes wide.

A-Li moved toward the direction his granduncle was pointing to. At first he thought it was just part of a dragon’s scale but upon closer inspection, he saw her stage name elegantly written in minuscule print, so much so that it looked part of the edge of the scale.

He looked back at his granduncle, his eyes a mirror of what was on the Old Dragon’s face.

“She was a poet and a mystery to the very end, Zhízi.”

Wang Ling — the name she chose for herself when she entered her trade.

王靈, Wáng Líng… the name that appeared on publications carrying her poems and songs. It could have had many meanings, and in retrospect, A-Li knew he should have asked her what this name meant to her.

But now, did it matter? Because here she was, a tiny piece of herself written in tiny script which marked her place in history for all time.

亡靈, wánglíng… departed spirit.

“Just who was this woman?” Lian Song asked with a shake of his head.

It was a question that the Heavens refused to answer. However, as stunned as A-Li was with this new discovery, it didn’t matter who she was because all that mattered now was that Xue Jiaolong was gone.

A-Li couldn’t even mourn about his pain because he had yet to mourn about hers. But how? Was there a kind of grief that was worse than this: to have nothing to go back to? He was this powerful God, yet he had never felt more powerless even as he stared down on the King of the Underworld and mobilized the Underworld’s army to spend days to search each of the 12,800 hells — but they had failed to find even a wisp of her shadow.

Because she didn’t even have a jue hun, A-Li couldn’t get a spirit tablet ready for her like she did for her mother. It was as if she never really existed, and as he carried that knowledge, it bore the weight of hundreds of daggers that pierced through his heart.

“We will find her, Zhízi,” Lian Song soothingly rubbed his grandnephew’s shoulders as he promised this, and many other things, before he left.

However, it was long after Lian Song had gone to check on his wife that A-Li realized he had something even better.

This painting of hers captured her personality and spirit in a way a spirit tablet failed to do.

It triggered a part of his memory of her that at that time he thought was trivial.

If I die before you do, will you pray to me? I just think Death shall feel a little less lonely when somebody talks to you.
“Will you hear me if I do?”
“I don’t know, but you know me. I'll find a way. I always do.”

Could it be? Was it possible?

A-Li called for joss sticks and an incense burner. He paced in front of her painting as he waited for the servants to rush back with the goods he had ordered, and he debated whether it made sense to actually do what she had suggested long ago.

Of all the things A-Li had done since she had gone, to go through the same motions of her praying to her mother would probably be the most extreme of all. Him, a god— a future High God— down on his knees to pray to someone who did not even have a soul that he could pray to.

Would she hear him?

Would it work?

But as A-Li was quickly learning, desperation was indeed a powerful force.

Despair didn’t separate a god from a mortal.

Pride did.

And A-Li had no more pride left to give.

So he knelt.

He bowed.

He kowtowed.

A-Li had only ever kowtowed to his parents and grandparents before, and only because he had to.

Today, he kowtowed because he wanted to. He kowtowed because he needed to.

“Jia’er,” he whispered breathily against the wooden floor, as the tears from his eyes pooled on the spot on the floor where his forehead rested on his first kowtow.

“Jia’er,” he whispered again, on his second kowtow, and was stunned to discover how this ultimate act of submission in front of her painting, and the mere mention of her name, acted like a balm to his tired soul.

There were too many things A-Li wanted to say to her that it was almost impossible to determine where to start.

Death shall feel a little less lonely when somebody talks to you.
Talking. They did a lot of that after the earth-shake when she was still alive. He could do that.

And so on his next kowtow, A-Li confronted her with the question that had been pressing on his mind ever since he first saw this painting.

“Jia’er, I’d always thought you painted your dragon Jiaolong as an ugly beast. Looking at her now, she still is. How could you be named after such an ugly creature?”


1. (正義堂) Justice Hall. This is where the King of the Underworld hands out each mortal soul’s punishment.

2. (王爷) An informal way of addressing a prince or a vassal king, on account of Lian Song and Xie Guchou Yánwáng’s friendship.

3. (靈魂) This is part of the soul that will go through rebirth. Those that accumulate good karma will be reborn to either heaven or in the human world. {Side note: Taoism believes in Three Soul Fragments/Hun: Ling Hun, Jue Hun, and Sheng Hun}

4. (阿鼻地獄) This is the lowest level of hell reserved for sinners who have committed heinous crimes, brought misery to the people or betrayed the ruler. Whereas the other hells function more like a “purgatory” and can be reborn to a lowly-life form after eons of suffering , those sent to Avīci are thought to languish there eternally.

5. (魄) the substantive, corporeal soul. Po is considered as the “shell” or “container” for the three soul fragments. At death, Po will descend into the earth with flesh and bones, and eventually dissolve.

6. (覺魂) One of the Three Huns. It is part of the soul that lingers on Earth, wanders around the cemetery and can be worshiped on its ancestral tablet with incense and food offerings.

7. Mortals are subject to three deities: The Lord of the Southern Star (birth), The Lord of the Northern Star (death) and Yánwáng (postmortem judgement and reincarnation)

8. Jointly known as Heibai Wuchang, literally "Black and White Impermanence”. They are two deities in Chinese folk religion in charge of escorting the spirits of the dead to the Underworld.

9. (元神) Primordial Spirit