Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 42 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 42

Written by Ligayacroft
Edited by Lara, Kakashi and Panda
Consultant Bunny

She was gone when he woke up.

A-Li figured he must have slept the sleep of the dead. How Huo Zheng had crossed over his body to the floor, gotten dressed and left their room — all without waking him up — was beyond him. She was indeed very much like a cat.

As he hurriedly got dressed, he happened to walk by the table and saw a tied scroll on top of it. A-Li picked it up but, upon seeing the characters that indicated it was the ledger on which Huo Zheng had recorded a written account of her dreams, he placed it back down and left for the Duchess’ hall.

Many attendants waited right outside the steps that led to the door along with a frantic-looking Duke, who wordlessly nodded to acknowledge his presence.

“How is the Duchess?” He quietly asked Cai Jin who, like him, stood behind the Duke.

“We were told it would be any moment now, but the Duchess has stopped making any sounds. I wonder what is happening inside?’

Even though A-Li could use his ears to listen in on the happenings inside, he chose not to. One, because he trusted Huo Zheng to do her job well and two, because there was no man in any of the worlds who would want to have ears inside any birthing room.

So, like all the mortals he stood with at that moment, he waited.

The sun had moved a few degrees in the sky and the people outside were beginning to run out of shade to stand in when they finally heard a baby cry. Gasps and stifled exclamations of happiness erupted from within the small crowd.

Cai Jin alertly stepped in front of his Master and bowed, “We offer you our greetings on the birth of your child, Zhōnghuì Gōng [1].”

“Do not congratulate me yet, Cai Jin, until I have heard news of the status of my wife.”

The Duke’s single-minded devotion impressed A-Li and he resolved in his mind to leave a blessing for the couple before they left for Huicūn.

An attendant came out of the doors, bowed to the gathering, announced that the Duchess had given birth to a son, and invited the Duke to visit his wife and child inside.

A-Li waited outside as more well-wishers arrived. Then he got tired of standing and looked for somewhere to sit on.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Finally, Huo Zheng stepped out of the birthing room, looking like she had just gone to war with bloodied clothes and her braided hair in disarray. But what got A-Li shooting out of his seat were the bruises she had on her wrists, hands and around her neck, visible from the short-sleeved tunic she wore. The crowd was thick by now, which made it difficult for A-Li to reach her right away.

Huo Zheng didn’t appear to be looking for him anyway, however. Instead, she shuffled in slow and aimless steps, which caused her to bump into people every now and then.

He ordered two servants to bring hot water and a tub to their room. Then, he pushed people out of the way and reached her in a couple more steps. He twined his fingers with hers but she only looked up at him with a blank expression on her face.

Like a soldier who had just come home from a war.

Although he was supposed to be too young to remember, A-Li had seen faces with expressions like hers after the Second Demon War.




This being the first time he had seen her after a birthing session, A-Li wondered if she looked like this every time. If so, why would she put herself through such an ordeal over and over again?

“Oh Xiăohŭ,” he sighed as he stooped to fit and carry her in his arms. It pleased him that she didn’t resist. Instead, she linked her fingers behind his neck and leaned the side of her head against his chest as he walked toward their room.

The Duke had an efficient household that must spend a fortune in heating. A tub was already being drawn inside their room followed by servants carrying buckets of hot water by the time they came in.

A-Li set Huo Zheng down on her feet after the last of the servants had left and the doors were closed behind them. With gentle care, he undressed her and guided her inside the tub.

In daylight, her body showed evidences of the tough life she had lived through the presence of toned muscles. She was hard where women were usually soft. Still, his eyes liked what he saw, his hands reached out to touch it, his mouth watered to taste it. Yet his lust was also killed by the presence of fresh bruises that marked different parts of her body, especially the ones on her neck.

The Duchess must have taken out some of her pain on Huo Zheng…but the neck? The violence delivered in closed quarters concerned A-Li but he kept his opinions to himself. Instead, he picked up a wash cloth and some slivers of soap, and started washing Huo Zheng’s hair and back.

She remained quiet for quite a while until with a shudder, a sob broke through her chest followed by a heart-wrenching wail.

“The baby… I thought he was dead. H-he was not breathing when he came out.”

A-Li had no idea how to deal with crying women — his mother rarely cried — but on instinct, he alertly wrapped his arms around Huo Zheng as her body crumpled and folded her against his chest for support as she wept.

“And then Xin Hua also lost consciousness after her last push. I was so scared, A-Li. So scared at the thought she had died in my hands.” Huo Zheng jerked upright, faced him and gripped his arms. “We have to leave now. I saw Death. It was like a smoke, and it flitted back and forth between Xin Hua and the baby as I tried to revive them both.”


A death god?

“You can see death gods?”

“I don’t believe in gods,” she reiterated as she splashed water on her face, and grabbed the congealed soap shavings and washcloth from his hands. “But Death. I believe in Death. I had the eye for it since I was a child. We have to go, A-Li, before the Duke will surely have us killed. Death still hovered inside the room when I left. Please hand me that bucket of clean water so I can rinse. I won’t take long to pack our things and get dressed.”

At the very least, she had stopped crying.

A-Li took a bucket of clean, warm water and placed it beside him but held onto the water dipper, his mind spinning with this new discovery as Huo Zheng finished scrubbing herself clean.

“But didn’t Nǎinai say the child was destined for greatness?” He asked, remembering the old woman’s words.

“Yes, but she never said anything about the Duke’s wife and the Duke loves her dearly.”

Had she already forgotten what he had told her yesterday morning?

“I promised you that not a hair on your head will be harmed. Do you still believe me?” He asked as he placed the dipper down inside the water bucket.

“Of course I do.” She looked irritated as she grabbed a dipper-full of water and gently poured it over her head. “But I also remember you never really promised you will come out unscathed.”

A-Li’s heart jumped. “You worry about me?“

”Why shouldn’t I? I am the reason why you are here. If something happens to you, it’s on me.”

His mood plummeted at the no-nonsense answer but A-Li gave himself a mental shake.

“Take all the time you need to take a bath while I check on the Duchess’ status. I will return. Alright?”

She looked like she was about to ask something but her lower lip started quivering again. Embarrassed, she nodded and turned her back to him, her shoulders delicately shaking in silent sobs.

He had to do something.

But just as he was about to return to the invisible realm, a servant called out from the other side of the door.

“Huo Zheng Yīshēng, the Duke requires your urgent presence.”

“Xin Hua?” gasped Huo Zheng.

The water splashed against the sides of the tub as Huo Zheng alertly stood up and got out. A-Li stood quietly as she efficiently crossed toward where their clothes lay folded on top of a trunk and got herself dressed in no time. Her wet hair she twisted and turned into an 8-knot secured at the back of her head with one-half of what used to be a pair of chopsticks. Her eyes looked wild — flitting between the look of one who was concerned, afraid, distracted — but she gave him packing instructions in her usual calm, disaffected voice.

When they stepped outside, A-Li was surprised to see Cai Jin standing at the front of the platoon of soldiers and servants that had waited in front of their door.

“Bai Li Xiānshēng, I apologize,” Cai Jin said, holding out a hand to stop A-Li from approaching further as he walked behind Huo Zheng. “But we were given specific instructions that only Huo Zheng Yīshēng is allowed to go with us. Please be a good guest and stay in your room.”

The skin on A-Li’s nape prickled but his attention was diverted to the cold hand that now held his wrist.

“Just do like you’re told. I will be back soon.”

Maybe Huo Zheng did not meet his eyes on purpose so he wouldn’t see whatever was visible through hers. Her head remained bowed as she joined the group, and was immediately closed in by soldiers as they walked back to the Duchess’ quarters.

“If you do not mind, I will stand guard here as we wait for further instructions,” Cai Jin offered although he, too, refused to meet A-Li’s eyes.

Left with nothing to do, A-Li requested for the servants to take the used water and tub outside of their room. He had a bad feeling about this yet felt mentally-restrained to still keep up appearances under the hawk-like gaze of Cai Jin and his soldiers.

As he followed Huo Zheng’s packing instructions, he worked his magick to link himself to Huo Zheng’s mortal signature. He may respect her enough not to eavesdrop, but he could still listen to the beating of her heart.

He was packing her dried peach roots back inside her red satchel when he heard — felt — Huo Zheng’s heart slow down.

Like something was weighing it down.

What… He slowly turned around to face Cai Jin, his wrath immediate. “What have you done to my wife?”

“Your eyes—” Cai Jin visibly trembled and fell down to his knees. “So what we were told was true. Bai Li Tiānshén [2], this humble servant would like to plead for your mercy. I was just doing as told by my lord.”

A-Li felt the divine pressure leak from him and saw the shield, which he had set up over the compound when they had arrived, quiver. He fortified the cover and disappeared from Cai Jin’s sight, only to materialize inside the Duchess’ chambers.

Huo Zheng lay immobile on the floor, weak but aware. On her ankles were two black iron clamps. On the Duchess’ wrists were a similar pair of bands.

Invisible to mortal eyes were the black chains that connected the two pairs of clamps, as well as the Death God that was wrapped up and bound in the middle of it all.

The Death God’s pallid face looked horrified upon seeing A-Li and its body physically trembled with the need to bow upon his entry.

Diànxià [3], save me. The Duke has restrained me from doing my job.

“A-Li,” Huo Zheng weakly whispered from below, diverting A-Li’s attention.

Her fingers twitched. Unseen from mortal eyes was the dark energy that restrained Huo Zheng’s body save for her toes, fingers and the rest of her head from the neck up.

A-Li could also see that the divine pressure that emanated from him was not helping her so he sealed it. He could hear the other people that were left in the room gasp in relief, but he couldn’t care less about any of them. Another wave of his hand and he had all the mortals in the compound rendered unconscious.

Except for Huo Zheng and the Duke.

The former so he could check on her status. And the latter so he could issue his sentencing.

A-Li knelt beside Huo Zheng, who looked frail as she laid still on the cold floor.

He tried to lift her up.

The wave of bite back that the simple physical action produced cost him the pain of a million daggers to his skin. At once, he knew that the magick that restricted her was from an artifact that could only be wielded by mortals. Although the god-part of him rendered him powerless from removing her shackles, he could touch them — because of his mortal roots?

How many of these annoying artifacts are there exactly?

“What have you done?” A-Li demanded, his eyes flashing toward the Duke. With his power, he pushed the Death God closer to the wall then threw a shield that only contained himself, Huo Zheng, the duke and his wife who lay unconscious on the bed.

“A-Li,” Huo Zheng said in a weak, hoarse voice, the fingers of her left hand clutching the edge of his sleeve. “Run. Run away from here.”

A-Li stared at her eyes, and wondered if she was feeling the pain that he had been feeling. How could she think of him during a time like this?

“Are you in pain, Xiăohŭ?”

She slowly shook her head, the movement so minute one could miss it.

“Just… weak,” she whispered while her fingers gave his sleeve another tug. “A-Li, you need to run. The Duke only needs me. You can go.”

“Xiăohŭ,” hadn’t she seen him appear in a cloud of smoke in front of her? “Do you still not know who I am by now?”

“I care that you were dragged into this,” she hissed. “Don’t be stubborn and just leave.”

“It is called Xīnsuì [4],” the Duke spoke up, calling their attention once again. His voice trembled but his eyes had a feverish, over-bright sheen in them. “We, Northerners, believe in the old gods better than any other region does, which was why some families were blessed by the gods themselves with talismans and weapons. The Xīnsuì is a relic that extends a dying person’s life by leeching off from the life force of another. It buys everyone around the dying person — in this case, my wife — time to save her.”

“His lordship means to punish me alone, A-Li. I have failed as a healer. Their doctors will find a way to bring the Duchess back and then I will be fine. Please do not bother yourself on my account. Run. Please, run.”

He could hear her heart beat ever so slowly inside her chest, enough to keep her conscious and breathing, but not to allow her any extra movement. A-Li twisted his left wrist so he could free his sleeve and grasp Huo Zheng’s cold hand. His jaw clenched as he considered his options.

But first, he needed to get Huo Zheng away from the floor.

Strange but he couldn’t feel the pain now. Had he released it back to Hùndùn? Or had his anger at himself over his foolish remark to the Duke last night caused him to be impervious to pain?

He stood up with Huo Zheng cradled in his arms and crossed toward the bed. He moved the Death God, tangled in the invisible chains that tethered the Duchess’s life to Huo Zheng’s, along the wall but well outside the perimeter of his shield that kept the Death God’s ears from listening in.

He gently placed Huo Zheng on the vacant side of the Duchess’ large bed. Her clammy fingers hadn’t let go of his left hand. A-Li dropped a kiss on the back of her hand before he set it to rest on her side. Then he stood up to face the Duke from the opposite end of the bed.

“You have my attention, mortal. Tell me how to get the clamps off of my wife.”

“A-Li, your eyes…”

A-Li could feel his nostrils flare. He burned in heat as it flushed all over his body. His hands itched. He hadn’t gone as far as to think of how to breach the topic of his immortality to Huo Zheng. And never in his wildest imaginings had he even thought that his identity would be revealed this way.

But there were ways to set things back to how it was before this moment. He could erase her memory afterwards, same as he would do with everybody else in the compound.

“It cannot be released until my wife is no longer under the shadow of death.” The Duke fell down on his knees and wailed, ”Forgive me for doing this to you, Tiānshén, but please save my wife.”

His rage needed a release. A-Li held out his right hand and the Duke flew over the bed, his neck landing smack inside A-Li’s grip.

“How dare you play a game with me and use my wife as your pawn!” He seethed and gripped the Duke’s neck even tighter. “Especially after I gave you an inkling of who I am.”

The Duke had clasped A-Li’s right wrist with both hands for purchase. “We are both leaders and warriors,” he choked. “I believe we call this a calculated risk?”

A-Li slowly let the Duke back down on his feet but he didn’t let go of the Duke’s neck just yet.

“Even so, you dared play a game against a god!” He reprimanded in a carefully controlled tone. “You are a foolish man.”

“I will accept any punishment you hand out. Just please, save my wife.”

A-Li let go of the Duke’s neck and turned to the Death God against the wall. Pulling his hand back caused the spirit to slide inside his shield.

“Where is the Duchess’ ling hun [5] now?” He asked, after his quick soul search on the Duchess showed him that it was the only hun [6] among the three huns that were missing.

Diànxià, I have already sent it down to Diyu [7] for judgment. I was about to eradicate the rest of this woman’s hun’s and po [8]’s when her mortal husband bound this healer and I to her.

A-Li pushed the Death God back outside his shield and rubbed at his brow as he returned his attention back to the Duke.

“Your wife’s soul is already in Diyu—”

“I did it because I loved her,” was the Duke’s weak, honest reply to a question A-Li never even thought to ask. “I would have put the Xīnsuì on myself had I no better alternative. But, Tiānshén, you told me last night that you also love your wife. I believed you would do anything just to save her, which was why I used the Xīnsuì on her. So, please. Please, in extension, save my wife.”

A soft bubble of laughter erupted from the bed, which caused both the Duke and A-Li to turn their attention back to Huo Zheng.

“Zhōnghuì Gōng, you have staked your wife’s life on words uttered over drinks? I am disappointed because I had thought you were wiser than that.” While Huo Zheng’s face remained pale, the flash of cold smile and the smirk that remained on her face in its aftermath gave her visage an uncharacteristic feral quality. “Bai Li is simply my lover, not my husband. He was a worker in our farms whom my grandmother sent to come along with me to help ensure my safety on this journey. Be he a god or not, you have overcalculated your rewards over your risk because there is no love that exists between us. Lust, yes. Love, no. Instead, trust in the advances of medicine. Your doctors can figure out a way to revive your wife. I will gladly not resist this punishment for having failed to save her, even if it costs me my life. Just please, let my ward go free.”

Her words did worse instead of alleviating A-Li’s mounting frustration. But before he could lash out at her for her pragmatic-to-borderline fatalistic views, his Father’s face flashed before his eyes.

A-Li, a glassy sea still holds so much life underneath so always strive to look beyond what you see. And when you blow on its surface, look — the ripples carry on for several lǐ [9].

Huo Zheng’s gaze slid from the Duke toward A-Li, and it did not waver. If her words weren’t clear enough, the hostile look in her eyes was.

Back off.

In the past year, A-Li had been to several drinking sessions with the locals of Huicūn whom by now he already considered as friends. When asked about their village leader, everyone — young and old alike — could describe Huo Zheng two ways.

Huo Zheng never needed to repeat herself. Her word was law, and all the village had to do was to follow.

Huo Zheng was strong and self-sufficient. She could work out a solution to any problem all on her own.

Both good qualities to have, but to A-Li, regardless of gender, these characteristics spoke of a person who probably never had somebody come from a position of strength to call out their mistakes or to look after their welfare.

The words she had just said — as much as they pointed to how little she thought of everything they had just shared — spoke volumes about her loneliness.

“I will go to Diyu,” he declared, and he spoke this to Huo Zheng, not the Duke.


He slowly knelt and gently ran the knuckles of his right hand against her cold cheek.

“I will rescue the Duchess’ soul.”

“Don’t be stupid. Oh, A-Li, please —”

He offered her a tight-lipped smile, committing the beauty of her features to memory one more time.

“And I will do it because of you, Xiăohŭ.”

“Idiot,” a choked sob escaped her lips as her eyes formed two pools of tears that spilled on the sides. “Don’t be an idiot. If you go to Diyu, you might never come back.”

“I think the better question would be, ‘Why would I go to Diyu because of you, Xiăohŭ?’ Maybe by the time I return, you might have mulled over the right response?”

“Stop teasing me. Your life — my life hardly amounts to that.”

“Oh, but it does.” The pallor of her face reminded him of the incessant dreams he had had of Xue Jiaolong, with her eyes forever shut, that had ran for thousands years. “Keep those beautiful eyes open for me. Promise me.”

She bit her lower lip. After a long moment’s hesitation, she gave an imperceptible nod.

A-Li stood up and faced the Duke. “I will erase your household’s memory of my true form. Take good care of my wife. If I sense any abuse on her of any kind, I will drag you into Avici myself. Understood?”

The Duke eagerly nodded.


“Yes, Xiăohŭ?” He asked, kneeling once again by her side.

“Do not erase my memory. Please.”

He nodded.


Suddenly, the trip to Diyu was not the most intimidating prospect in A-Li’s horizon.


Her gaze slid down to her right hand as her fingers twitched. A-Li picked up her icy hand and leaned the left side of his face against its underside.

“Promise me you will not touch my memory.”


A soft smile formed on her lips and its warmth traveled across the whole expanse of A-Li’s chest.

“Because A-Li, I don’t ever want to forget.“

Chapter 43



1. (忠惠公) The Duke of Changyin’s formal name and title

2. (天神) God, Deity

3. (殿下) Literally means "beneath your palace". Used when addressing members of the imperial family, such as princes and princesses

4. (心碎) the extreme depth of sorrow, heartbroken

5. (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}

6. 魂(Hun) - spiritual, ethereal soul.

7. (地獄) The Realm of the Dead

8. (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.

9. (里) Chinese Mile. This now has a standardized length of a half-kilometer (500 meters or 1,640 feet). This is then divided into 1,500 chi or "Chinese feet"