Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 26 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 26

written by LigayaCroft
edited by Panda and Kakashi

Huicūn Day One

Clang! Clang! Clang!

A-Li had barely gotten any sleep when he was jolted awake by the sound of clanging metal from outside their tiny hut. As he blinked the remnants of sleep away, A-Li turned to check on his nephew who slept soundly a few feet on the floor away from him,. Gun Gun’s light snoring indicative of the emotional strain from the night before.

Clang! Clang! Clang!

A-Li jerked and crawled against the wall until he was able to stand upright. He swung to the window to see what the commotion was all about.

A young man of barely fifteen mortal years stood outside and happily banged two cast-iron pots together.

“Boy, what is all this commotion about?” He yelled, unhappy at how the sound reverberated in his sleep-muddled brain.

“Huo Zheng asked me to wake you and your companion up. Please get up!”

A-Li cursed under his breath. “What time is it?”

“It’s time for morning tea and the morning town meeting. Please wake up your companion, Xiānshēng. Huo Zheng doesn't like it if we keep her waiting.”

“What’s your name?” He called out after the young man who had started to run off.

“Luo Bo, Xiānshēng,” and with that, the young man dashed off.

A-Li groaned against the window sill.

This was madness. It truly was.

A-Li woke Gun Gun and half-dragged his half-asleep nephew toward the same direction as Luo Bo took. Once out in the street, it wasn't hard to find where the young man ran off to as the rest of the village also trudged their way up to a large open hut. There, people sat on wooden benches, holding steaming cups of tea, while Huo Zheng stood in the middle, laughing at whatever was just mentioned to her.

What a sight for sleepy eyes she made first thing in the morning. Huo Zheng looked like she just woke up from a long nap. Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks were flushed from the crisp and cold morning air. A smile involuntarily formed on A-Li’s lips before he could take it back.

She is married. She has a child.

A-Li looked around.

Where is her husband?

“We need to gather all the ashes from the fire and safely dispose of it where it won’t cloud our water supply. Only then can—” Her voice trailed off as her eyes met A-Li’s across the hut.

Huo Zheng motioned for Luo Bao to come close, then whispered something into the young man’s ears. The boy went off running afterward.

Huo Zheng continued with her meeting, as she set directions on how the day was supposed to go. She commanded authority that was different from what A-Li’s Heavenly Emperor Father had. Ye Hua possessed a quiet air of dignity that left most immortals in reverent awe. Huo Zheng was casual and she possessed a boisterous laughter reminiscent of Xue Jiaolong’s that was always shared by the villagers. But during serious moments, her audience was all ears as she ticked off from her mental list one by one. Details such as which plots need to be trimmed or fertilized, updates on insect and pest population, the price of market goods, the high-priority clean up of yesterday's soot and ash from the aqueducts and roofs, the water level of Bailong River, who got assigned to each task until finally, the topic of A-Li and Gun Gun were brought up.

“It occurred to me this morning that we don't even know what your names are. Introduce yourselves.” Huo Zheng pointed a finger toward Gun Gun. “Starting with you, pretty boy.”

Gun Gun questioningly pointed at himself before stepping forward. With a deep bow that caused his still-unbound silvery hair to cascade in front of him, Gun Gun introduced himself.

“Good morning, everyone. My name is Bai Gun Gun. I apologize that we had to meet under this circumstance.”

Huo Zheng nodded at Gun Gun then approached them. “I would have thought a pretty boy like you always kept his appearances in order. However, you came to the meeting this morning without even tying up your hair.”

“I lost my hairpin in the fray last night. I will find a way to tie it again later.”

“No need. You can have mine. I have more at home.” Without further ado, Huo Zheng pulled her pin from the bun on top of her head as she approached, snatched Gun Gun’s hand and pressed the nondescript black stick in it. “We can't have you walking around the fields and damaging our tea leaves with that hair. Put it up. Now.”

A-Li expelled a ragged breath as his eyes drank Huo Zheng in, and seeing her with her hair down to her hips brought back the painful memory of the last time he saw Xue Jiaolong.

How she had unflinchingly sliced through her hair.

I no longer owe you anything. Live up to your name.

“What’s your name?”

A-Li blinked as he was brought back to the present by curious, impatient eyes. However, still half-adrift in the potently crippling memory of the past and his interminable grief — A-Li wanted to form words but found his throat too dry to speak.

“Why is he suddenly mute?”

“He’s not.”Gun Gun replied and wrapped an arm around A-Li’s shoulder. “You have to forgive my uncle, he's prone to spacing out because he lost his wife five th-… five years ago.”

Huo Zheng’s brows raised. “Oh. I'm sorry. That's… fairly recent. She must have been very special.”

Murmurs of sympathy erupted from the crowd to which A-Li only shook his head and apologetically nodded.

Huo Zheng backed up and turned to the locals. “Alright, up on your feet, everyone. We are almost halfway through the hour of the tiger [1]!”

The villagers all scrambled up to their feet and began piling out of the hut.

“Huo Zheng? Where are we assigned to?”

A-Li watched with growing annoyance at how Gun Gun had turned on his full charm on Huo Zheng. While she didn't fawn over Gun Gun, she did offer him a sweet smile, bright enough to put the sun back in the sky.

“Huo Zheng.”

She turned.

“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Bai Li.”


“Yes.” He rocked on his heels. “Li.”

She frowned. “Why is your name so…”

“Uncreative? My mother had issues.”

“It’s sad!”

“Your parents gave you a man’s name!” He exploded in defense. “How can parents give their beautiful daughter a manly man’s name?”

It took a few breaths before they both realized they reached a stalemate and broke out laughing together.

The laughter was like a breath of fresh air for A-Li. He had breathed stale air for a long time, and having her here in front of him was suddenly the medicine he needed.

“Thank you.”

“For what?” He asked as he stared into her sparkling eyes.

“Sometimes I forget I'm actually a woman. It's wonderful to get reminded every now and then.”

A-Li frowned. Didn't her husband ever call her beautiful? Was the man blind? Growing up, A-Li had been surrounded by beautiful women — his mother, his cousin Bai Feng Jiu, his aunt Shao Wan, and Mei Lin whose beauty was said to be unparalleled in the Four Seas and Eight deserts.

However, they all paled in comparison to this face. Features where all the beauty within the known universe combined and congealed. As if Beauty was modeled in Hùndùn after her.

And how could she forget she was a woman? She had a baby.

“A-Zheng, I found what you asked for!” Luo Bo shouted as he came running into the hut with a tied-up blanket in tow.

Huo Zheng motioned for Luo Bo to place the makeshift bag on top of a table and proceeded to open the blanket.

“You can wear this for now,” she said, and reverently handed over a pair each of peasant shirts and pants to A-Li and Gun Gun. “It might not be an exact fit but you can go to the market later to get what you need.” Huo Zheng placed their money sacks on top of the clothes. “The market opens from the dragon hour [2] to the horse hour [3]. The merchants come from nearby towns so don't hesitate to haggle. Also, put on a more decrepit appearance. If not, those merchants will surely overcharge you. Bo’er—” She turned toward the young man. “Li and Gun Gun will be working on reconstructing the aqueducts by the second plot on the West Side. Take them with you to harvest the materials needed and then to the market to get clothing once they are done. Take Mei Lin too.”

“Wait, you're leaving?”

“I have to see a… friend. I'll be back tonight, Gun Gun.”

It must have been because he was staring at her that Huo Zheng tipped her head to the side to give him a look.

“Don't think just because I am not here, I will go easy on you. Work well and work hard.”

And with those words, Huo Zheng turned and left.

“Li-Gē, this fabric is too rough.” Gun Gun complained. “Do you think I will get those scaly, red bumps I see on common mortals if I wear this?

“I don't think it will matter if we do, Gun Gun.” He said sagely as he watched Huo Zheng untie a horse, vault astride with ease before she raced into the dark. “Come, we have much work to do.”


The sun was high up in the sky by the middle of the hour of the snake [4] when A-Li and Gun Gun were dismissed by the farmhands. Without immortal magic, they were hungry, tired and their skin smarted from sunburn. They made their way back to the Huǒ house to fetch Mei Lin on the way to the market.

Mei Lin sat with her eyes closed outside the Huo house, with the sleeping baby’s cheek rested against the crook of her neck. Without immortal magic, Mei Lin’s skin looked dull and the skin under her eyes looked blue. A-Li thought he’d give anything for Mo Yuan Dáyè to see his daughter now. She looked almost… maternal.

Gun Gun reached out to lightly tap Mei Lin’s shoulder. Her eyes shot open and her posture turned rigid. In a crooning voice, she singsonged, “Get this critter off me before I kill her.”

“We’ll find our way to the market ourselves.” He told Luo Bo. “Can you please get the baby before our cousin makes good on her promise?”

Luo Bo looked from Mei Lin to A-Li. “She will really kill the baby?”

A-Li and Gun Gun both nodded.

Luo Bo awkwardly took the baby from Mei Lin but no sooner had he done so that the baby cried.

A-Li and Gun Gun proceeded to leave. It was a few steps after that A-Li realized that the baby was no longer crying and that Mei Lin wasn't with them.

For why would she when she had pushed Luo Bo to the ground and had retrieved the baby back into her arms?

“You were going to break Qianling’s back with the way you were holding her, you ignorant fool!”

“Zūzu,” A-Li ran and bodily snatched Mei Lin right before she could land a foot on the frightened Luo Bo, whom Gun Gun helped out. “He’s young. He’s probably never handled a baby before.” Just like you, A-Li wanted to add, as he found the ferocious look on Mei Lin’s face hilarious.

“You!” She pointed toward the house while still shooting daggers with her eyes at Luo Bo. “Run to the house and fetch me an umbrella!”

“You almost kicked me!” Luo Bo cried as he struggled to get up on his feet.

Mei Lin didn't even look sorry. “And I still will, if you don't get me that umbrella.” She scoffed, as she adjusted the infant in her arms. “I dislike the sun on my face.”

“I don't understand why A-Zheng entrusted her daughter to you!” Luo Bo shouted before he set off to run toward the house.

Gun Gun turned toward Mei Lin, shaking his head. “You’re despicable.”

“You're ugly.”

Mei Lin’s comment made Gun Gun lift his hands to pat on his face, streaking his fair complexion with more dirt, which made Mei Lin smile maliciously.

A-Li stepped between the two before they started throwing more barbs at each other. It had been like this since Mei Lin joined their group. Mei Lin thought Gun Gun was a vain idiot and Gun Gun thought Mei Lin as a blithering savage. Gun Gun’s laid-back attitude was so easily destroyed by Mei Lin’s prodding and Lian Song often used Gun Gun to guilt some refinement back into Mei Lin who often did the opposite of what she was told.

“Mei Lin, is it too much to ask to be a bit more… civilized… while we're here?” He inquired. “Mortals don't take to abuse easily like immortals.”

Gun Gun smirked.

Mei Lin snatched the pin that tied Gun Gun’s hair in a knot and threw it about half a li away.

“Maybe that will teach you not to smirk at me ever again, Bái Chī.”

Since he had no fan to wave between the two like Lian Song often employed to get the two in line, A-Li clapped his hands together to call the two youngsters’ attention.

“Can we not kill one another while we're here? Please.” To Gun Gun, he said, “Go find the pin. I think it landed somewhere along that field of purple flowers. Mei Lin,” He looked his cousin up and down, noting her simple commonfolk dress and haggard-looking face. “Go wash your face by the well and come back after you're done.”

“You'll hold the baby?” Mei Lin asked, her arms noticeably clutching the baby harder.

“I will. I have several sisters and brothers. I know how to do it.”

Mei Lin looked like she was about to yield but held back again. “You won't drop her? She likes body heat so you need to tuck her close to your chest.”

A-Li laughed at the absurdity of how maternal Mei Lin was right now. “I thought you were going to kill Huo Zheng the first time you get the chance?” he teased as he held his arms out for the infant.

“Oh, I still will. It's unacceptable for a woman who looks like that to roam the mortal realms. It's a good thing she lives here; can you imagine the uproar she'll cause among lust-addled Demons if they saw her? She's my competition and you know I can be a sore loser.” Mei Lin gently arranged A-Li’s arms before putting the baby’s head at the crook of his left arm and encasing the baby with his right. “See, you're not even contradicting me to soothe my feelings. I've seen the way you look at her, Li-Gē, and I’d like to remind you that you swore off mortals a long time ago because of Xue Jiaolong, right?”

“Huo Zheng is married, Mei Lin.”

The baby settled nicely in the crook of his arms. A-Li had a hand in taking care of his brothers and sisters, so this mortal baby didn't pose any threat nor challenge. Mei Lin was just conveniently choosing to forget that fact.

“And her husband might never return. I learned from Huo Mao that the village has a longstanding belief that anyone who leaves never comes back if they’re not back by midnight. That’s why everyone whom the Emperor has taken away to be commissioned for war has already been counted as good as dead by the villagers here. And that’s also why it’s very important for Huo Zheng to return by midnight tonight.”

What a strange village they had stuck themselves into. First was last night’s knife. And now, an odd superstition that certainly explained why Huo Zheng had to leave before the crack of dawn.

Gun Gun came back, his hair now tied in its topknot. Whoever thought Lian Song had it easy with the three of them sorely underestimated the challenge they posed, A-Li thought. He only had to control these two and he was already exhausted.

“You both — go wash your faces.” he commanded and stepped back inside the shade, Huo Zheng’s baby cradled nicely in his arms.

During his years of searching for Xue Jiaolong, A-Li came upon an interesting treatise written by a Starlord that in theory, a mortal could be reborn but not necessarily possess his/her old mortal features. However, there were several instances when immortals had reported similar mortal faces of notable mortals, although the faces’ new owners no longer held the same bearing nor intelligence of their previous owner. It was even rarer for a mortal to be reincarnated with the same face — and more often than not, these were deities on mortal trials, or mortals living out a sky-curse.

So which one was Huo Zheng? Another mortal reborn with Xue Jiaolong’s face? A mortal living out a sky-curse? Or a deity on a mortal trial?

The third was definitely an impossibility. As part of the search for Xue Jiaolong, Lian Song had compared all mortal trial records by the Xingjuns [5] and Yánwáng [6] side-by-side and found everyone accounted for.

And he could not imagine a mortal as kind-hearted as Xue Jiaolong suffering from the repetitious cycle of a sky-curse, which brought A-Li to the only other option, and what had been the most logical one.

Huo Zheng shared the same face with Xue Jiaolong. And it was apparent, too, that they were two different people.

The infant moved and A-Li deftly adjusted his hold over it. As Gun Gun and Mei Lin bickered by the well, A-Li tried to sit down where Mei Lin had sat a while ago.

Then suddenly, another vision.

The Jade Pool at the Peach Orchard. The stone table. And a long feng bao
[7] in his arms.

“Li Xiānsheng?”

A-Li blinked at the sound of Luo Bo’s voice which effectively pulled him back to the present.

“Li Xiānshēng, I have the umbrella Jiějie asked for.”

A-Li held out his hand for the item. “Thank you, Bo'er.”

The young man placed the umbrella in A-Li’s hand but his head tilted to one side.

“Li Xiānshēng, what happened to your eyes? They're go—”

“They’re light brown. It happens whenever I look into direct sunlight. Don't let it worry you, Bo'er. It will return to black in a bit.”

Luo Bo maintained his frown but eventually nodded. He glanced to the side and jumped.

“I have to go before Jiějie gets here. I will see you around, Li Xiānshēng.”

A-Li dismissed Luo Bo and exhaled as he stared into the distance. The visions had started appearing frequently ever since he entered Hùndùn and saw the realms of possibilities. Further, like his Shifu had warned him, the flashes always came in three’s.

Some of the Primordial Gods had access to Hùndùn, and the ledgers stated these powerful beings considered their visions as warnings instead of immutable truth. One could easily be swayed but as one who had seen the realms of possibilities himself, A-Li could stand by the truth that not everything was revealed in any of his visions.

Case in point, their stay in Huicūn.

A-Li had seen the vision five immortal days ago. A white glacier. A town. Gun Gun walking in a tea farm at night. Who would’ve thought that Mei Lin would set the tea farm on fire, that the land had no magick thus they would be captured, and that in the process they would meet Xue Jiaolong’s lookalike?

And so, like the other visions, he pushed the new picture aside.

Mei Lin and Gun Gun returned both looking fresh-faced and in a truce with one another. It didn't last long though.

“I think I like Huicūn,” Gun Gun declared as he took a deep inhale. “It’s refreshing to be in a place where Zūzu here cannot spontaneously combust.”

A-Li sighed. Times like this, you'd think where was Lian Song when you needed him.

Good thing the baby took the opportune time to cry. Mei Lin’s reaction was instantaneous — she went from murderous to motherly, and immediately snatched the baby back into her arms. The baby struggled against being tucked again and so Mei Lin held her at arms’ length.

“Ah, Ling’er, you’re awake now?” Mei Lin cooed to which the semi-bald infant cooed back. The baby’s stubby fingers reached out to cup Mei Lin’s face. “That’s right, I’m more beautiful than your mother but we already settled that this morning, haven’t we?”

“How are you feeding her?” Gun Gun asked in a shaky, disbelieving voice.

Mei Lin gave a little shake to her hips to show the satchel that was tied to her waist. “Qianling’s milk-mother expressed some milk for her at the start of the hour of the dragon and I put it in a special jade bottle provided by Huo Zheng. She said it should keep for three-hour changes, so this should last until the end of the hour of the goat. I feed it to Ling’er here through a tiny tin cup that I have to wash after each use. You should see her tiny tongue when she licks the milk up. It is so adorable.”

A-Li and Gun Gun shared a look before the latter asked, “Zūzu, a while ago, you said you were going to kill the baby.”

“I was just tired, alright? It was so hard to put her to sleep,” She rubbed noses with the baby who giggled, eliciting a wider grin from Mei Lin. “This morning, I decided I will outdo everything Huo Zheng does, including taking care of her own child. That should teach her for embarrassing me in public last night.”

Gun Gun turned and started to walk away, grumbling something about women’s crazy behaviors as he left.

“Come, Li-Gē, be quick and put the umbrella over me and Ling’er. We need to hurry because according to schedule, I need to bathe her and feed her very, very soon.”

A-Li opened the umbrella and held it over Mei Lin and Qianling’s heads. Mei Lin, the most willful of them three, had drastically changed overnight.

His eyes remained on Huo Zheng’s baby as they walked to the market, and for a short while, A-Li felt a pang of regret that the child could have been his and Xue Jiaolong’s in another lifetime.

Chapter 27



1. Between 3am-5am

2. Between 7am-9am

3. Between 11am-1pm

4. Between 9am-11am

5. (星君) Star Lords

6. (阎王) The god of death and the ruler of Diyu, overseeing the "Ten Kings of Hell".

7. Dragon-Phoenix twins— a set of a baby boy and a baby girl which is seen as a great blessing to the family.