Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 25 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 25

written by LigayaCroft
edited by Panda and kakashi

“Huǒ Zhěng will be here soon. Then we'll see what we'll do with you, spoiled rich brats.”

A-Li looked up at all the angry faces that stared at them with hatred, and could only bow his head in shame. Beside him, Mei Lin bristled with reined-in anger at the humiliation of kneeling on the ground before mortals. There was no doubt that if the land didn't absorb magick, all of these mortals would have been roasted by now.

“I can take them all out with my own two hands,” Mei Lin whispered into A-Li’s ear. “They didn't even bind us.”

A-Li shook his head, his eyes shooting Mei Lin a stern warning.

“What’s taking your leader so long? We're not accustomed to waiting.” Gun Gun asked. His handsome face wore a bored expression. “If we’re going to be sentenced to death, make it quick. I’m curious to see how that goes.”

“Death is an escape. I don’t plan to make it too easy.”

The hair on A-Li’s forearms rose at the sound of a voice that came from behind the group that crowded around them.

Female yet low, smoky yet powerful.

A voice from his past.

The crowd around them parted and in walked an old woman well into her mortal seventies. She leaned against a crooked stick, and one of the villagers alertly assisted her by the arm.

A-Li and Gun Gun shared a look.

“Huo Zheng?” A-Li asked the owner of the voice, hoping this was the long-awaited village leader.

One of the old woman’s eyes was already blind, and yet both looked at them with sharp suspicion.

“I’m Huǒ Mao.” She spoke with a raspy voice, much different from the voice that had just spoken earlier. Then Huo Mao raised her head and called out. “Huo Zheng, this habit of yours of walking away has to stop. Especially before such handsome guests.”

“I’m sorry, Nǎinai [1],” came the voice again from behind the crowd, this time to A-Li’s right. The crowd parted like a human curtain. “I had to give instructions to —”

Huo Zheng’s voice trailed off as her eyes met A-Li’s.

A-Li went up on his feet as he blinked and stared at a ghost.

One he spent 1’000 years looking for.

One he spent 5’000 years praying to.


“Jia’er?” Gun Gun gasped from behind him.

A-Li glanced at Gun Gun who was now up on his feet as well. His nephew’s face possibly mirrored the confusion on his face.

“Jia’er?” Mei Lin and this woman called Huo Zheng both asked the question at the same time.

A-Li turned to Huo Zheng once again, but words failed him. His throat had turned too dry for him to speak.

Tanner. A lot leaner. And dressed like a man.

But the resemblance was uncanny. That small, oval face, the winged eyebrows, those lush lips.

And then there were those upturned, almond eyes.

Eyes that featured heavily in his dreams, shut closed for all eternity in his nightmares.

Suddenly the 5’000 years A-Li had spent without her compressed into nothing but a distant and unpleasant memory. The grueling 1’000 years of searching billions of mortal realms, only to come home empty-handed each time— floated away like wisps of smoke. All the self-loathing, anger, frustration, despair, grief… gone just because he had her within his sight again.

Huo Zheng’s eyes on him were sharp, judging, and assessing. She visibly vibrated with distrust.

“How do we make them pay, A-Zheng?” asked one scruffy-looking villager. This one looked like in his mid-40’s, but he looked at Huo Zheng with deference despite the fact that she didn't look a day over 30.

She had a man’s name, a man’s nickname and wore male clothing. But all these failed to hide the beauty and curves that she naturally possessed and the fact that she didn't look aware of it made her all the more attractive.

A-Li was grateful for the villager’s question, too, as it removed her flinty gaze from him.

Without warning, Mei Lin shot up and snatched A-Li and Gun Gun’ money satchels from where they were tied to their waists.

“We have money and pearls to pay for the entire tea farm and not just the side that was burnt down.” Mei Lin announced, and threw the satchels, along with hers, at Huo Zheng’s feet. “Let us go so we can be on our way.”

Huo Zheng’s gaze slid down from Mei Lin to the satchels at her feet then back to A-Li, Gun Gun and Mei Lin yet again.

“Your pretty face isn’t enough to make up for your horrid attitude,” Huo Zheng murmured, her voice low and menacing. Then she moved, taking each step closer and closer to Mei Lin.

Mei Lin’s gaze darted toward A-Li and Gun Gun. A-Li, however, was too riveted by Huo Zheng to offer any sympathy to his cousin.

Huo Zheng’s gait was just the way he remembered Xue Jiaolong’s to have been.

Savagely graceful.


And yet Huo Zheng was different.

Her eyes, her movement, were all self-possessed and spoke of strength and authority that Xue Jialong had not had.

Mei Lin, who could snap Huo Zheng’s neck with her bare hands if she wanted to, actually rocked where she stood. A-Li’s usually fierce cousin held on to Gun Gun’s forearm by the time Huo Zheng stood in front of her, regardless if they were of the same height.

“Your name.”

A-Li’s cousin blinked twice at the command.

“Mei Lin.”

“Ah, Mei Lin.” Huo Zheng tilted her head to one side, her lips holding a tiny smile. “I can see you probably came from a rich clan and you are probably a bit spoiled but you need to understand one thing: not everyone can be bought. We may be poor but we have a lot of pride. Those shrubs you and your companions burned down take three years to grow from seedlings before they can be productive. Further, you also razed trees that were hundreds of years, some even millennia old. How are we supposed to replace those? With money and pearls?”

Mei Lin, daughter of the God of War and the Demon Ancestor, proud to be described in so many words such as ruthless, temperamental, unstable, and horrible, became unnaturally still.

“Look at me, Mei Lin.” Huo Zheng demanded in an even-toned voice when Mei Lin’s gaze slid down to stare at her own silk-clad feet. “When one asks a question, one should be given an answer.”

Grunts of assent erupted from the crowd once again.

A-Li’s felt his face grow warm when Mei Lin raised her head to look Huo Zheng in the eye. It was nothing short of a miracle to find somebody his cousin could actually pay equal respect to. It was a pure display of Huo Zheng’s mental fortitude, her willpower, and the basic explanation why these villagers looked up to her with awe despite her relative youth.

As far as his own daughter was concerned, The God of War fell short against this mortal.

It occurred to A-Li that this woman was indeed not Xue Jiaolong. Xue Jiaolong settled her issues privately. This woman, this Huo Zheng, didn’t mind an audience. But at the same time, it was apparent through her tone and style that she wasn’t out to shame Mei Lin. Instead, Huo Zheng talked to his cousin with the patient care of a teacher.

She was something… someone… else.

His heart pounded so fast in his chest that A-Li thought it was going to burst. A shiver crawled up his spine but it brought pleasure instead of fear.

“Are you the oldest in this group?”

Her eyes now directed towards him made A-Li feel light-headed.

Those same eyes… and yet, they were unfamiliar.

“What do you want from us?” He asked, amazed that his voice came out steady. It might just be the firelight from the torches the villagers were holding but something changed in her eyes — a spark — when he spoke.

His fingers ached to reach up and wipe the soot that streaked across her cheeks and nose.

“Three years.” Came Huǒ Mao’s voice from behind. It took great effort to look away from Huo Zheng but A-Li managed to do so and saw the old woman as she turned to face the crowd. “These three youngsters should replant and cultivate the West Tea Farm by themselves until teas can be harvested.”

The villagers looked to one another before they cheered their agreement.

A hand grabbed him, making A-Li jump. Huo Zheng had aggressively snatched his hand and lifted it up.

“Nǎinai, that is too much to ask of us, don't you think? Look at this hand. It’s too soft — as if they've never known hard work in their life. How can we count on these popinjays to tend the West tea farm?”

It was true. Huo Zheng’s hand was rough and callused against the back of A-Li’s hand. Apparently, there was indeed nothing soft about this woman. The contrast was enough to make A-Li feel embarrassed.

“You can't keep us!” Gun Gun exclaimed, aghast.

Huǒ Mao walked closer to stare up Gun Gun. “Ah, just look at that silver hair. You’re too pretty, boy. We'll make a man out of you yet.” Turning to A-Li, she said, “Now, all three of you, swear on the glacier Báilóng.”

Gun Gun’s lip lifted on one side. “Do you even know who we are?”

“You’re right, we don't.” Huǒ Mao clapped back then took out a dagger from its sheath on her side.

A-Li froze as his eyes rested on the dark blade and his ears picked up its imperceptible, primal song.

That knife had been formed in Hùndùn. How was it in the hands of a mortal?

“Perhaps we should mark that pretty face instead so you'll learn your lesson, young man? It'll be quick and painless, although I'm not sure about the scarring. I was told any wound from this dagger festers for years so that you'll wish for death.”

“Where did you get that dagger?” A-Li hissed at the old, half-blind woman.

There was no magick in this place but the dagger in Huǒ Mao’s hand held ancient magick— magick that trumped over whatever deflected magic from Huicūn. It was a bloodthirsty artifact and it called for Gun Gun’s face. A-Li’s nephew fought the magic with all his might, so much so that beads of sweat formed on his upper lip and forehead. But the way it pulled him in to meet the blade was too strong—

“I swear on the glacier Báilóng I will work in the West Tea Farm for three years!” Gun Gun shouted as he was narrowly pulled even closer to the blade. “Zūzu, Li-Gē, do it. Swear we're staying here for three years. Please!”

“I swear on the glacier Bailong to stay and serve here for three years!” Mei Lin screamed. Normally, she burst into flames when agitated but tonight, she didn't set herself on fire. She just turned pinkish-red all over.

“This is nonsense, Nǎinai!” Beside A-Li, Huo Zheng let go of his hand and stepped forward to throw herself between Gun Gun and the dagger.

“I swear on the glacier Báilóng to replace what was lost for three years from this day or may that dagger strike my heart.” A-Li found himself declaring, stupefied at why he made the last part of the promise.

Had the dagger made him say it?

A deafening crack resounded from the sky followed by bursts of lightning. A-Li, Gun Gun and Mei Lin all shared a look.

The Sky still heard them, in a place where magick, not even Mei Lin’s uncontrollable phoenix fire, didn’t work.

They had just made a valid Sky-bond.

Huo Mao’s dagger glowed with the sheen of glass as the old woman returned it to its sheath. If the villagers found it strange, nobody voiced it out. In fact, their faces looked smug, as if A-Li and his companions got their well-deserved reckoning.

“Well, that does it then.” Huo Mao announced, her tone back to jovial. She even openly smiled at Gun Gun, as if she hadn’t brandished a blade in his face just a while ago."You can start tomorrow.”

“Where are we going to live?” A-Li asked.

The Huo women looked at one another before Huo Mao pounded her walking stick on the ground and declared, “You and pretty boy here can take our family’s guest hut. The girl stays with me and A-Zheng as a maid in our house.”

“Maid?” Mei Lin screeched. “You want me to be a… maid?”

“Lady, you'll do anything I ask you to.” Huo Zheng snapped, and Mei Lin actually shrank back. “My Nǎinai is half-blind, not deaf.”

Gun Gun crumpled to the ground, either to ponder their grim fate or his face’s near-miss with a cursed blade.

“The arrangement is temporary.” Huo Mao added. “Since you'll be staying for a while, I expect you'll get started on building your own hut because you need to move out in a month.”

A-Li was at a loss as he tried to figure out the situation that they had just gotten themselves into. The Sky-bond loomed ahead and sealed them in this village for three mortal years.

Three immortal days.

And then there was her.

Huo Zheng had already moved on and walked off without looking back, much like how Xue Jiaolong used to do. A-Li grabbed Gun Gun and Mei Lin by the forearms so they could follow.

“Li-Gē, what do we do now?” Mei Lin asked. “I’m going to be a maid.”

“You’ll be fine, Zūzu.”

“I don't know how to be a maid!”

A-Li offered his cousin a comforting smile. “You can be anything you put your mind into, Zūzu.”

“A mortal trial. This is a mortal trial, right?” Gun Gun asked, dazed. “You’ll have her around. But why do Zūzu and I have to be involved?”

Mei Lin picked up on Gun Gun’s question and pulled at A-Li’s left forearm.

“Her? She and her grandmother are probably High Demons judging from their cockiness, and I should know because I'm a Demon too! Earlier, you looked like you know her. Do you know her?”

A-Li fixed his eyes on Huo Zheng’s rapidly disappearing form. He picked up his pace and dragged his nephew and cousin behind him.

Mei Lin tugged at his forearm yet again. She demanded an answer to which A-Li paid no heed.

“Huo Zheng!” A middle-aged woman ran to meet Huo Zheng, cradling what looked like an infant in her arms. “She won't stop crying. I think she’s looking for her mother.”

A-Li froze to a stop as he watched the scene unfold.

The swaddled infant got transferred into Huo Zheng’s arms and the baby… stopped… crying.

“There, there,” crooned the woman as Huo Zheng dropped a kiss on the baby’s forehead. “Your mother has you now.”

Beside him, Mei Lin swore under her breath. “Don’t tell me I will take care of… that.”

A-Li felt Gun Gun detach from his hold to put a hand on his shoulder.

“Li-Gē,” Mei Lin dabbed a finger on A-Li’s cheek. “Li-Gē, why do you look like that? Do you know her?”

Huo Zheng looked up from her baby and from the distance between them, held his eyes in a curious gaze.

“No, Zūzu.” A-Li answered without breaking eye contact from Huo Zheng. With a sinking feeling, he realized she may look like Xue Jiaolong but, reality couldn’t be any clearer. “I don't know her at all.”

Chapter 26


1. (奶奶) Paternal Grandmother