Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 49 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 49

written by LigayaCroft
Consultant Bunny
edited by Panda & kakashi

It was evening when she regained consciousness.

Huo Zheng slowly got up from bed and looked around the confines of the dark hut, her hand crawling over the space until it found A-Li’s cold arm. The incense that Lu Dongbin had lit for his soul-searching ritual had long been extinguished but its scent — that of wild jasmine irreverently blooming during hot summer nights— clung to the air, unsettling her.

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she turned toward A-Li, her hand letting go of his arm so her fingers could feel for his breath right under his nostrils. Her heart seemed to stop beating until she felt his slightly-warm breath, and only then did she herself breathe.

She wasn't under any form of pain, which she had feared before the ritual started, but neither did she have time to waste. Huo Zheng shot out of bed and the hut, her eyes nervously scanning the area until she found her quarry sitting by the fire they had maintained for days for brewing potions.

“Lu Dongbin!” She called out breathlessly. The old man’s head turned and he drew himself up to his full height. “What happened? Were you able to confirm that my soul has something we can use to save A-Li?”

His eyes studied Huo Zheng for several breaths, and it disturbed her so that she noticed a bit late that his hands were shaking. Worried at the state of the only person who could save A-Li, Huo Zheng reached out and grabbed one wrinkled hand.

“Tianshen, are you alright?”

He looked like he was about to cry. This worried Huo Zheng even further. Had the soul search been a failure? Had her last attempt to keep A-Li here longer failed?

“Tianshen,” She took a deep breath to tamp down her emotions before they bubbled to the surface again. She hated it, hated how little control over her emotions she had had ever since A-Li had left for Diyu. “Will you be taking A-Li away?”

Lu Dongbin clasped her hand between his cold and trembling ones.

“Huo Zheng, it would be my honor to assist you and I could only hope one day you would look kindly at me when you recall the time you have spent with me. But first, let me tell you about the ritual.”

Hope as bright as a sun finally revealing itself from behind a mountain shone on Huo Zheng’s heart.

“So you found one? I thought you need to visit the Celestial Library for that?”

“I… I remembered one.”

Huo Zheng didn't appreciate how shifty his eyes had suddenly became but she focused on the fact that there…was…a…chance.

“You need to sleep with the First Prince.”

Surely… Huo Zheng blinked, quite unsure if she heard the old man correctly. “A-Li is currently half-dead. How—?” Her voice trailed off on its own while her sight stared at the old man in bafflement.

Lu Dongbin's head shook from side to side. “His human form is almost dead but his beast form is not. Yet.”

Huo Zheng took a cautious step back.

“Born immortals usually have two forms: one, their human ones, more self-contained and easier on the eyes, and the other, their beast form, more powerful but more visceral,” Lu Dongbin explained, his hand beckoning her to come back.

A pop and hiss from the burning firewood under the cast iron pot on the firepit to her right made Huo Zheng jump. She immediately ran her hands over her thighs to remove the evidence of how sweaty they had become.

“The First Prince is of the Dragon Clan but his mother, the Heavenly Empress, is a nine-tailed white fox.”

Lu Dongbin didn't even need to continue with the implications because Huo Zheng already had a sense of where this was going. As a learned scholar of the Emperor’s Royal School in Nanking, Huo Zheng had read countless treatises on mythological creatures. Of all mythological animals, the nine-tailed white fox stood out the most. Legends said that a fox spirit thrived through parasitism, that it had to find a human and induce them to fall in love, since only through copulation could it maintain its immortality, and ultimately the fox’s love interest would die from this relationship.

“The First Prince’s body might be too frail to transform but I was… r-reminded… of a potion that can call out to his beast form, specifically to his fox side, to draw power from you through sex, released during orgasm.”

“And then I will die?” She asked without missing a beat. Mortals die from sleeping with húli jīng [1], am I correct?”

Lu Dongbin grunted as he pushed himself to sit down on an outcropping of rock, and fanned his fly whisk around to ward off mosquitos from coming near.

“There are reasons why mortals die, mainly through lack of cultivation.” His eyes bore through hers, assessing and yet by every measure fearful, and for a moment Huo Zheng felt empathic. She had been in the same shoes several times before. “After my soul search, I am confident you will survive the ritual.”

“I will?”

“Your past life— I mean, lives— will make sure of it. It… They are strong. Huo Zheng, I thought you weren’t afraid to die?”

“I am not. But if I were to die, I wanted to be able to say my proper goodbyes.” She answered, thinking of her grandmother and daughter, and of the village. “If I write my grandmother a letter, will you promise to give it to her?”

“My lady, there is no need to think negatively.”

“I like to make sure I have things in order,” She shrugged off the note of concern from Lu Dongbin’s voice. “Can you give me the length of half an incense stick before we perform the ritual?”

Lu Dongbin’s bushy brows raised. “We are still going ahead with the ritual?”

Huo Zheng nodded and bowed, her mind already on the sleeves of paper and ink she had seen inside the hut.

“There is no time to waste, Tianshen. I just need to write a letter. I will be right back.”


Huo Zheng wrote as fast as she could and had rushed back out of the hut to help Lu Dongbin with the preparations. While it was plain to her by now that something about the recently completed soul search had caused Lu Dongbin to look at her differently and act strangely reverently, she opted not to call it out. There were other things on her mind, mainly this ritual the Old Sage had called cǎibǔ (采补) or more specifically, cǎiyīnbǔyáng (采阴补阳). As they mixed the tea for the ritual, Lu Dongbin shared that the ritual was a forbidden one because of its connotations to rape, and that even in his years of dabbling with internal alchemy he had never even thought of doing it because of its unethical standards.

“But this isn't rape since I offer myself willingly,” she had clarified as she poured the bowl of chopped up peach root inside the cauldron — a dǐng [2], which was basically what she would be in the ritual, a vessel for which A-Li could regain yīn to even off his disbalanced yáng.

“Correct, plus the method around it is different. We will try to awaken the First Prince’s beast form same as we will try to awaken your past lives.”

“It sounds like dark magick,” she mulled, her eyes following Lu Dongbin who shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “If you are a Celestial, how did you know of this ritual?”

His eyes zoned in on her— sharp, piercing, and so unexpected Huo Zheng felt pressure at the back of her skull. Her throat went dry and she felt weightless, no longer even sure if she was still stirring the cauldron.

But instead of fear, she felt free. Thoughts bubbled to the surface of her mind in the form of discordant, dissonant voices. Huo Zheng strained to listen to each of them but they were so noisy—

The weight of a hand on her shoulder brought her back to the present, to the boiling cauldron, to the fire. Ah, fire. Since she was a child she had been so fascinated by it, always reaching out to touch it such that the palms of hands were roughened by the burns it had acquired over the years.

“My lady, I believe we are ready.”

With a shake of her head, Huo Zheng stood up. She took her letter out from her sleeve pocket and handed it to Lu Dongbin. “In the event that I don't make it, please.”

Next, they moved A-Li to Lu Dongbin’s meditation cave.

As they laid A-Li’s straw pallet down in the middle of the cave and Huo Zheng had her first lookaround, she noticed that the cave had no adornments, not even a raised flat table to put a tea pot and cup on. It was one meant for suffering in solitude as expected of an ascetic like Lu Dongbin. Yet even Huo Zheng felt something soar within her spirit upon contact with the cave’s holy energy. It was a strange and oddly familiar feeling, and it helped comfort her a bit.

Lu Dongbin stepped out after serving the tea, with the excuse that he had to fortify the shield covering the area from Celestial eyes, and once again she was alone with A-Li.

Huo Zheng tried to ignore the chill inside the cave as she sat beside A-Li’s unconscious form. In the dim candle light Huo Zheng committed his features to memory and linked her fingers with his.

“Lover,” she said out loud, her voice echoing inside the cavernous walls. The cave answered back with a drip-drop from somewhere far out in the back, the damp air smelling of moss and wet dirt.

“Wife,” this time she said the word a bit quietly, letting the word he had said too many times float to the surface and sink to the bottom of her heart. Him, an immortal First Prince, and her, a mortal healer— what were the chances that they would meet? And yet this past year, A-Li had brightened up her life in a way not even her own daughter had. This past year, she had never felt as inspired to be alive.

She raised his hand and placed the cold back of it to her warm chest, and this time tested the two words that she knew would never come to pass.

“Husband. Mine.”

Somehow saying it out loud, in his presence, made her nerves sing with a delighted trill. For a couple of breaths, Huo Zheng allowed herself to indulge in the fantasy of a dream that had often crossed her mind. It was a dream composed of many hopes, expressed in many words, and shown through various actions — of her putting her fingers in the spaces between his, caressing the side of his face, putting her ear against his chest so she could listen to the dull beat of his immortal heart, and of her lips briefly touching his cold ones.

But it would never be. He had less than two years left to serve Huicūn. From Lu Dongbin’s stories, Huo Zheng had learned that A-Li’s home, Jiuchongtian, was the most beautiful realm ever established. Pink clouds, golden streets, magnificent palaces, lavish costumes, and a carefully structured caste system where A-Li’s family sat at the pinnacle — how would that compare to Huicūn and the natural disasters that ravaged it at every change of the season? And even if he stayed for her, how would they look like ten, twenty, thirty years from now when she was already old and gray and he remained his beautiful, youthful self?

With that sobering thought, Huo Zheng unlinked their hands and moved her right arm underneath A-Li’s shoulders to lift him up. With as much care as she could afford given the hard ground she was kneeling on and his dead weight against her arm, she made him drink the bowlful of tea Lu Dongbin had prepared for him. At first, his mouth remained closed and some of the liquid spilled down his chin but from what could only possibly be magick derived from the liquid, his mouth opened and he started drinking with ease. Huo Zheng’s heart jumped at the thought that he could finally be conscious but he went back to his deathly stillness as soon as the bowl was done and he was back on his back on the straw pallet.

With no time to lose and one last caress on the side of A-Li’s cheek, Huo Zheng stood up and reached for her bowl. The liquid tasted like plain water at first sip but as it made its journey to her stomach it started giving out pleasantly sweet notes that made her crave for more.

The bowl’s contents was finished in no time and with nothing else to do, Huo Zheng sat beside A-Li’s hip again, wondering if Lu Dongbin had been lying about the drug and ritual being her one-shot to save A-Li.

Doubt began to pile over another doubtful thought, and impatient as she was, Huo Zheng was about to stand up when a cold hand grabbed her wrist. She looked at its owner and was met with eyes so pale they were almost like two shining suns, similar to how they were that day A-Li had left for Diyu.

It is important to bear in mind that the First Prince you will encounter is merely his corporeal shell, and to his starving soul, you are just a food source.

True to Lu Dongbin’s words, there was none of A-Li’s usual gentleness as he pulled her down and covered her body with his, no care at all at how he began tearing through her clothes— She had been warned and yet, how come it was so easy to make believe that this savage was still him?

She did not have time to dwell on the thought as Huo Zheng’s consciousness suddenly got sucked from her body, and a regal voice rang loud and clear.

Finally. I’ll take over. I'll save him.

Whatever had tethered her to the physical world was suddenly gone. Huo Zheng felt weightless, like one would if they floated in water.

Then the memories began.

Bits and pieces.


By the time all the memories faded back into black, Huo Zheng was sure of three things.

She had met A-Li in the past and had fallen quite in love with him before.

A very prominent person in her life was suspiciously also a god.

And lastly, Lu Dongbin’s early impression was actually right.

She was a goddess on a trial.

* * *


1. (狐狸精) Fox Spirit
2. (鼎) ancient cooking cauldron with two looped handles and three or four legs