Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 13 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 13

written by LigayaCroft
edited by Panda and kakashi

A-Li waited at the servants’ gate for Ge Peng to arrive after he had asked the guard to surreptitiously summon her around. The girl presented herself a short moment later and was very apologetic for coming late.

“Wang Ling had just returned from the Emperor’s Summer Palace. She hasn’t called for a bath yet so I believe she’s still awake.”

Something clutched at A-Li’s heart at the knowledge that Xue Jiaolong had still gone ahead to dance for the Emperor.

It didn’t make sense. Why had she done it even after she wrote him that poem?

A bitter taste crept up to A-Li’s mouth. After all, this was the same educated woman of genteel birth who, when pushed into a corner by circumstances, chose to jump and end up as a courtesan. Her choice might have been controversial, but she had the fortitude to live with it, no matter the stigma.

Soon, they stood in front of her door, and Ge Peng knocked. A-Li held up his hand and motioned for Ge Peng to refrain from announcing his name.

“Come in,” came Xue Jiaolong’s voice from inside.

A-Li dismissed Ge Peng who bowed before scurrying away. He pushed the door open and closed it behind him before he walked past the sandalwood divider.

Xue Jiaolong sat in front of her writing desk to A-Li’s right, a medium-sized calligraphy brush vertically held by three fingers of her right hand as it speedily swished ink onto the paper. She looked so immersed in her work that he doubted she even knew nor cared who came inside. This gave A-Li the opportunity to soak in her presence uninterruptedly and leisurely.

She changed brushes and alternated with ink and water so fast it felt like her hands were doing magick. The bells of the coronet on her head hardly tinkled, which showed just how much control she had over her body as she partly-moved her torso and freely-maneuvered her right arm and wrist. The brush moved in the same graceful way its Master danced in front of her audience of men, each movement done on impulse, from start to finish, down to each pause and thrust. There was rarely any hesitation as she began each sequence. Her own eyesight seemed to be optional in light of her confidence on where to speed up and slow down.

Tonight, she wore a lavish imperial red hanfu [1] that could only have come from the Emperor himself. A-Li was torn between desire as he admired how the color brought out the creamy luminescence of her skin and outrage at the Emperor’s suggestive color choice. Red was a color reserved for brides and Xue Jiaolong should have known better than anyone that she was playing a very dangerous game.

However, all that anger dissolved the moment she looked up from what she was doing and saw him standing there. The appearance of a happy smile broke through her lips followed by a shaky laughter. Her eyes shone as they looked at him. Her left hand lifted and beckoned for him to come.

Only a select few could motion for the future Crown Prince of the Four Seas and Eight Deserts to come— mostly those with higher titles than A-Li— but tonight he discovered the other end of that invisible string, and it seemed she held it in the crook of her fingers. His feet moved on their own accord, an increasingly frustrating habit they had developed in the twenty-nine mortal months that he had known her, and A-Li crossed the space between them in five strides.

“I thought you left the city.”

A-Li looked down on his fingers where her left hand wrapped around his. She tugged. A-Li understood her silent message and crawled up next to her on the elevated platform.

I heard you went to the Emperor’s Palace, he wanted to ask but the words that came out of his mouth were, “What are you doing, Jia’er?”

She let go of his hand and turned her eyes back on her paper. “This? I dreamt about her last night.”

It was a dragon alright, and a ferocious-looking one. This one looked like one of the dragons in the Islands in the Sky panel he had seen the other night.

“The dragon… is female?”

She nodded, holding the paper up in front of A-Li’s nose.

“Her name’s Jiaolong. I’ve dreamt about her since I was nine.”

A-Li cocked his head to the side. His thoughts scrambled to understand. He had never heard of a dragon deity with the same name but there was the Celestial Library where he could check to confirm.

However, the task turned out like a fuzzy afterthought for A-Li because it didn’t help that her fragrance— lily combined with the scent of jasmine and orange blossoms— wafted toward him and utterly distracted him whenever she moved.

Right, the name. He swallowed then cleared his throat. “Jiaolong?”

“She’s a venerated minor water-god where I came from. My mother dreamt of her a lot when she was pregnant with me, which was how I got my name. It was also why I drew her tonight— for Mother.” She put the paper down to dry on the floor beside her hip and retrieved a fresh one which she spread out on the table and anchored with paperweights. “I’ve been meaning to ask, what’s your family name?”

“I…” A-Li felt his stomach tighten but he gave Xue Jiaolong a fixed stare. “I don’t need one.”

Even as he said it, A-Li prepared himself for the next series of questions about his origins.

Instead, her gaze slid down and she turned to the container, which held water and several brushes.

“I suspected as much. You must be of a very high rank where you came from. Are you a royal? On several occasions, I’ve overheard some of the servants at the Luoyang House talk about you and Bai Gun Gun, and they referred to the two of you as diànxià. I’ve also heard a story from Lian Song that he has two palaces? Granted, he was inebriated that time but still—”

Xue Jiaolong selected a small brush, pulled a triple-folded paper from her side, and used it to gently press off the excess water from the animal hairs. A-li noted her right fingers were stained by ink, and felt oddly attracted to how the fat smudges looked like against her graceful, fair tapers.

“Yes,” he replied softly, and upheld his promise to never lie to her. “But don’t tell anyone.”

Her head turned to look at him. Her expression was far different from all the women he’d been with when they learned of his identity. There was neither the opportunistic flash of teeth nor the gleam of greed in her eyes. Instead, the slight quiver in her lips that she tried to hide by biting down followed by a very quiet sigh concerned A-Li more.

She was… sad? Disappointed?

She returned her eyes on the blank piece of paper before her, left hand running to and fro as it ironed nonexistent creases under the heat of her palm. They sat together in silence for a couple of breaths, while A-Li waited for her to move.

It was certainly the first time that A-li felt his princely status was a disadvantage to women.

Again, only to this woman.

Finally, Xue Jiaolong snapped back from her thoughts and turned to him with a brighter smile.

“Do you want to see the characters to my name?”

It was an odd segue but at least she talked again. He nodded and so she put her brush down and began the first stroke.


A-Li had always wanted to see Xue Jiaolong write ever since she had sent him that first poem after he gave her the Jūnzǐ Zhùfú.

When she painted her dragon earlier, it showed she had the form of a master calligrapher but, as she wrote the characters to her name, it showed the depth of her artistry.

As the son of Ye Hua, he should know. A-Li had watched his Father for a long, long time.

Xue Jiaolong wielded her small brush with needlepoint precision and the naked elegance of fire. She gracefully squeezed in the many strokes required for characters the size a quarter of A-Li’s thumb.

As they were on the topic of names, A-Li’s odd name was of course brought up.

“My mother had… issues.” He controlled the urge to laugh. “And when she had the opportunity to rename me, she wanted to call me Black Son.”

Xue Jiaolong turned, so close now, that this time their noses bumped.

"I think that’s a creative name”, she whispered, her eyes half-lidded, her fragrant breath warm against his lips. “It suits you, you honey-tongued rascal.”

“Now, you’re saying that just to spite me.” A-Li’s face tightened, drawing his brows closer. Knowing she didn’t deserve the reaction, he tried to soften it by raising his right hand to cup her cheek. It pleased him that she leaned into his touch. “When I first found out, I fled from home and hid at my Lǎoye’s [2] house for days.”

She put down the brush and pivoted her upper body so they sat with their torsos facing each other. Her head pulled back, eyes skimming his face.

“Do you know what I remember about you from the first night we met? Your eyes. Black, dark as the night sky. Piercing. Intimidating. I can’t explain exactly but something about them scared me. Then you called out my name.” Her fingers traced his lower lip and A-Li’s breathing slowed. “And then you smiled. I didn’t know stars could shine in a person’s eyes.”

“Even then?” He growled, pleasantly surprised at her confession. “But you made me chase after you for two years. If the earth didn’t shake—“

“Even then. I knew it was going to be love. That’s why I kept my distance.”



She mentioned the word love.

Not, like.


What is love?

It was the one word in the universe that was epistemically inaccessible to A-Li, all because it never made sense.

Was it love that caused his Father to deceive his mortal wife about his real identity because he wanted to protect her from Celestial interference? Or was it hubris because he didn’t see her enough as his equal, enough for him to trust her with his real name?

Was it love that drove his Father to bring A-Li as a child every year to Mount Junji so he could spend time with the remaining memories of his mother in what was once his parents’ tiny hut? Or was it guilt that caused his Father to fixate on a person’s memory so much even if she was never coming back?

Was it because of love that his Father had tried to kill himself so he could burn his soul — the only remaining memory of his mortal mother after Bai Feng Jui had extinguished the soul-gathering lamp? Or was it single-minded selfishness of such magnitude that he forgot the son he was about to leave behind?

What about his mother, who grieved his Father’s death so much that for three years she hadn’t thought to visit her own son?

And what about Xue Yuan who grieved the loss of his wife to this day and kicked his child to a different life in the process?


Love was too big a word for A-Li, especially in his view from here to eternity.

Love was recklessness and stupidity.

Love was weakness.

Love was selfish.

Love was pain.

So A-Li decided long ago not to have any of it.

Just like that, the verbal foreplay they were doing sizzled out for A-Li. He looked away from her seductive eyes to the golden coronet pinned on her head, and rolled his shoulders as he tried to slow down his breathing.

The antitheses were staggering.

Her stage name possessed the family name that meant King yet her father was a criminal. On her head was a small crown worn not by a noble but by a prostitute. A prostitute who sold her body and mind to men, but one who also just brought up the word love.

This was not a naive miss caught in the throes of infatuation and confession — caught tingling as common sense fled her body and her mind turned to mush in one-sided obsession.

No, this was Xue Jiaolong, one of the smartest and most levelheaded person he’d ever met.

She was somebody who could afford to fold to attraction because she knew the game. She was old enough to know how men liked the chase more than the prize. A-Li had expected her to be attracted to him, but he had not expected that he could awaken her love.

Had the confession come from another woman, A-Li would have dismissed it offhand. But this was Xue Jiaolong, and he needed to protect her from him because what she offered, he couldn't offer back. He was the bad guy in this story, and she needed to see him as such.

“Jia’er, I thought you knew better than to fall in love with me.”

A-Li regretted the words as soon as they came out of his mouth. He saw the shock that sliced through her beautiful features, knew that he put that there, and it made him want to take them all back.

But just as suddenly, it was gone. The transformation startled A-Li because in that split-second that it happened, the depth of emotions that brimmed in her eyes was suddenly replaced by something else.

As if it only took a breath to get over him for breaking her heart.

Or did her heart break?

“Did you think I did? How absurd! I sell my body and time to anyone who can pay enough so what do I know about love?” Xue Jiaolong laughed but this sound was different from her usual obnoxious laughter, the one he had been exposed to during the past three months they’d walked side-by-side. This one was new and sounded melodious like tinkling crystal, cultured and refined.

Xue Jiaolong burned the paper where she had written her name and dropped the flaming sheet inside the pan of extinguished charcoal that served as an under-table warmer during colder months. She then stood up and went down the platform. She worked her hands through her hair and dropped pins, flowers, combs, and delicate ornaments in her wake until lastly, the coronet was out and it, too, landed on the floor with a metallic clink.

A-Li stood up and got off the platform, too. He silently followed Xue Jiaolong with his eyes as she walked about with her back turned to him until all her hair unfurled in careless waves behind her back. It was a view that enticed as taking off one’s clothes— one that only a lover was supposed to see— and A-Li’s mouth watered.

She turned to face him with a smoldering look, and her head tipped all of her hair to her right. Her fingers busily ran through the knots, the careless action sensuous in ways that made A-Li feel like his clothes were on fire.

Still, in that space where lust had already gained a foothold, A-Li sensed that something was wrong.

It was only affirmed when she discarded her outer robe as she straightened up. The thick red silk fell with a silent whoosh on the floor, and her left hand stilled on the ends tying her qun [3] to her ru [4].

“Shall I do it, or will you?” She murmured, her voice a smoky whisper that made the room feel a few degrees dimmer and warmer.

“Do what?”

“Undress me.”

A-Li’s tensed as he cursed under his breath. His body was suddenly suffused in heat, but it was not the good kind.

His eyes narrowed at Xue Jiaolong. He analyzed her expression, her demeanor.

“This is what you came here past midnight for, haven’t you?”

No, this was not Xue Jiaolong. There were no vulnerabilities to the woman who stood in front of him. There was only that calm, practical gaze. That detached beauty.

Those were the same eyes that looked at him during his first twenty-five mortal months in Luoyang.

Xue Jiaolong was gone. In her place stood Wang Ling.

“You’re mad at me.” He said through the pain in the back of his throat. A-Li had built so many good memories with Xue Jiaolong over the course of the past three months that he had already forgotten how it had been for him to interact with her before that.

Had she always been like this?

“Mad? To be mad at you is to be mad 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.”

“Do not touch that belt.” He warned through gritted teeth when he saw her make a move to pull the ends herself.

Her eyes flashed, her nostrils flared, and her chin went high up. “What was all that effort you’ve done for then, if not to bed me? Or are you like those young scholars, who thought my strong will was just a game for you to break?”

“It’s not that—“

“Am I too lowborn for you to expend your lust on?”

“Are you even listening to yourself?”

“Maybe my attire is not to your liking.” She stalked toward a long chest against the wall. “Maybe you want to pretend you’re going to bed with someone virginal. I can do that.”

A-Li was beside her on the next breath, snatching her right hand before she was able to fling open her chest. Her eyes burned but there were no tears. Only flames.

“Jia’er,” he used a gentle tone, the kind he hoped would help calm her down. “Don’t do this to yourself. Please.”

She used her other hand to remove his hand from her wrist and took a step back. Then another. And another, still. Her left hand clutched at her right wrist as if his touch there had burned her.

But it was the change in her face that alarmed A-Li. The flames in her eyes had died and all that was left again was a blank, emotionless mask.

“We’re two stars found at the opposite ends of the sky. Now that we’ve met, there’s no need to linger.” She spoke slowly, then released her wrist so she could point to the door. “Please, leave.”

A-Li wished she would show emotions, any emotion, so he’d at least know how to fix things, to fix her. He was grasping at straws. Would telling her he liked her change things and calm her down a bit? But what did he have to offer? A mortal like her, and a prostitute at that, was not even fit to be a maid in his palace. Meanwhile, a prince like him could only afford a few immortal days at most in the mortal realm. It was never going to work, not if she wanted to keep him by her side.

She maintained her deadpan expression even as she slipped a dagger from her sleeve and — as A-Li watched in horror — cleanly-sliced through four-chi [5] of her hair without flinching.

A woman’s hair was her life, and more so for a woman of Xue Jiaolong’s profession. Yet, hers now hung in an uneven cut that was shorter on her left side than her right. The cut made her look younger and weak, but her expression remained impenetrable.

“I no longer owe you anything.” She held up her chopped locks before she released it to fall and scatter on the floor. “Live up to your name. Goodbye, Li Diànxià.”

She had cut off her beauty to prove a point; so desperate was she to be rid of him and the memories of the twenty-nine months that they’ve known one another.

So A-Li did as told.

He left. And he didn’t look back.

No, not for Luoyang House. There were too many memories of Xue Jiaolong there.

He headed for the Sky.

Chapter 14


1. Traditional dress composed of several articles of clothing from Shang to Ming dynasties. It is easily recognizable because the dress’ collar forms a y-shape at the front.

2. (老爺) Maternal Grandfather

3. (裙) skirt of traditional hanfu

4. (襦) open cross-collar shirt usually tucked under a qun.

5. Similar, but not exactly equivalent to, Western measurement for feet (between 12.3~13.4 inches)