Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 56 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 56

written by LigayaCroft
edited by Panda/kakashi

Reckless. Impudent. Destroyer. And now, to add to your list of accolades, you, Goddess, are a Murderer! You have killed your nephew and over what?

Huo Zheng’s head snapped up from where it rested against her knees and with a groan, she settled her forehead back down again. Even in Huicūn, she had always found little pockets of time for sleeping refreshing but lately, she had really started hating the activity.

It had been over two-thirds of the moon cycle plus a couple of days since the Cǎibǔ ritual which meant it had also been about a month since she had had the same dream playing over and over again every time she closed her eyes to sleep.

Except it was not a dream, but a recollection of what had been her first life.

As she lifted her head again and squinted at the clear blue skies, she remembered the destruction her first life had wrought: blazing fires and uncontrollable flooding, animals attacking and eating people, and fighting everywhere — as if the world detected a great disbalance in the cosmos and suddenly, warlords had risen to try to claim more of their measly piece of earth.

She remembered the great sorrow and repentance that had consumed her heart which caused her to be speechless as she faced a tribunal of gods who all glowed brighter than the sun. And even as she recalled the memory of her falling to her first death, all she could say was sorry.

I am a leader and a healer. How could I have been a destroyer and murderer?

For days since the Cǎibǔ, she had struggled with the disconnect in personalities. Could she have been living non-ending cycles of mortal lives to atone for her sins? What could break her out of the cycle?

It was a struggle Huo Zheng had been living with on her own since finding out because she hadn't felt safe to let Lu Dongbin know.

And she was only too thankful that when she left, the old man hadn't followed.


About a month ago.

When Huo Zheng next came to after the ritual, she was naked and exhausted like she would have been had she tended to tilling the land and planting rice all day with no water buffalo to assist her. It definitely felt like she barely had any strength left to even move a finger or move her head from side to side.

Yet, it was hard to miss that the rock ceiling that had stood behind A-Li before she lost her connection to the real world was gone, replaced by a sky of gold.


As Huo Zheng’s eyes adjusted to the bright light above her, she saw a woman moving about, humming to herself. Her thin braids swayed on her back behind her, dancing a gentle rhythm like bamboo trees would to a strong breeze.

As if sensing her watchful gaze, the woman turned and a flash of recognition made Huo Zheng feel the need to become smaller. She had gravely wronged this woman, of that much she was sure. But instead of spewing a torrent of condemnation, the woman rushed over, took hold of her hand, helped her sit up and enfolded her in a tight embrace.

“Oh, Xiăohŭ, our Xiăohŭ, I never thought I would see you, much more, hold you, again!”

Sister—” She choked out, both alarmed at how natural the word felt coming from her own lips. Her mind buzzed in dissonance: I have no sister! And yet as if in a waking dream, the reality of being in the present, in the presence of her sister, triumphed. “Where are we?”

“One of the Uncreated. We never got around to finishing this world. But none of that. Xiăohŭ, how do we break your curse?”

Huo Zheng opened her mouth to speak but no sound came out. She furiously shook her head, just as she felt herself being drawn back — sucked out of the light and into the darkness.

Pain. Robbing her of her breath was the unimaginable pain of her flesh burning and her bones breaking. Then a booming voice spoke overhead.

A recollection of her sentencing. It had to be.

As your form dissolves, these grounds will hold your essence. It will be you and you will be it. This is your home and prison now.

Huo Zheng next came to with a start. Stars twinkled overhead. While a glance to her left and right showed she was lying on the same cave floor A-Li had pushed her to just before she had lost consciousness, the cave roof was gone revealing the sky above… and so was A-Li.


Huo Zheng pushed herself to sit up. Once she did, everything else became apparent. First, her body was in so much pain— and more from the inside than outside. Second, she inspected herself in the darkness and discovered she was naked. Third, she was bleeding. She could feel the indentations under her fingers from the scratches and bite marks where her skin hurt.

When she moved to her knees to crouch before standing up, the pain that hit her lower body almost toppled her back down. Once upright, a gush of fluid snaked down her inner thighs. When she put her hand down to swipe at her skin and brought it up, she could detect the smell of bodily fluids and the intangible scent of blood.

The destruction of the cave and the undeniable manhandling of her body had been proof of the brutality of the ritual— but where was A-Li?

As she walked the uneven ground, groping her way along the cave, she welcomed the biting chill in the air because it somehow helped to numb her injuries. She didn't mind the cold, sharp pieces of rocks that stung the pads of her feet as she scrambled toward the direction of the cave entrance. All her thoughts were fixated on A-Li.

Lu Dongbin should know where he is.

She met the immortal just as she was close to the mouth of the cave and upon sighting her, he quickened his steps, throwing not one but three bearskin furs over her. Huo Zheng welcomed the warm relief for a couple of breaths as it wrapped around her shivering body and only after did she speak.

“Where is A-Li?”

Lu Dongbin took the straw slippers off his feet and assisted her at putting them on. “I was not prepared for what I found when I was finally able to approach the cave. Forgive me for simply being a loyal servant but I opted to take the First Prince out first to bring him back to the hut, and only then could I come back for you.”

She nodded her understanding of putting their patient first but still felt it necessary to question, “Why were you not able to come in?”

“My lady, have you not seen what has happened to my cave? Do you not yet recall who you were?”

Reckless… Impudent… Destroyer…

Huo Zheng had so many questions to ask the immortal Lu Dongbin but for now, she shook her head as she decided to keep all her new information to herself. She was spent: physically, emotionally and mentally. But more than that, she was also afraid— afraid of what would happen to her if she was found out by these immortals.

Lu Dongbin graciously led her back to the hut, pressing a fresh change of clothes into her arm right before she crossed the door.

“Tianshen?” she called out, turning her head to the right so she could catch a glimpse of the immortal. “Does our agreement about keeping this a secret unless you necessarily have to still stand?”

“Didn’t you hear the thunder that rumbled when I gave my word? My lady, I have already sky-bonded myself to uphold my promise.”

“Good,” she said calmly as she moved to close the door behind her. Then to no one but herself and A-Li’s unconscious form on the bed, she licked her dry lips and soothed herself with another, “Good.”

She was not good.

She was not safe.

More than the pain she felt on her skin as it rubbed against the fur, more than the pain she felt at the stretch of every step, Huo Zheng felt something twist deeper as she approached A-Li.

He lives because of me. I did that. I heal people. But what if this healer was not the real me?

Had he shared her memories? Because if he did, he would know the truth by now: that she was a criminal.

To think that right before the ritual, she had crushed herself with the damning breadth between his immortal princely life and her mortal farmer’s life. To think that the actual chasm between them wedged itself even wider. There was no way now that a man of his immortal pedigree would allow himself to be tied to a cursed immortal murderer.

It is wise to never trust immortals, was a lesson quoted again and again from mortal fables and legends. They are a fickle lot.

Further, as a learned scholar who had observed firsthand dastardly princes, feckless princesses, and the snaky business that transpired within the royal harems in close quarters, Huo Zheng knew better than to trust her life with any royal. It was for this very reason she had tried very hard to wheedle herself out of the Ninth Prince of Nanking’s affections without endangering her nor any of the village people’s lives.

As she confirmed for herself that A-Li was better now— judging from his pulse, breathing and healthier color— Huo Zheng felt herself breathe easier for the first time since they had arrived days ago at Lu Dongbin’s haunt.

He must never find out. About the ritual. About my past lives. Especially the first life.

So on her next breath, she said the only word that made sense at that point.




And so, like a thief in the night, Huo Zheng had fled Lu Dongbin’s hermitage about a month ago.

She bound her breasts, put her hair up in a tight bun, and instead of using her own clothing, she had borrowed A-Li’s simplest attire, along with bundling several others up. She took five pearls from his moneybag, rationalizing that it should be a just loan considering she had saved his life. Then without looking back, she had set off toward the direction of Huicūn.

Her plan? She would ask her grandmother to give her permission to release the Three Monkeys from their bond and then convince Nǎinai to leave with her and her daughter. They would move to the mountains or wherever population was sparse; as farmers and healers, Huo Zheng was confident they would survive. That way, Huicūn could be spared from the wrath of the gods when they descend on the village to find that the Huo women were gone.

The problem now though were her fainting spells. During odd times of the day, Huo Zheng would lose consciousness only to wake up in a strange location every time. It took her some time to deduce that her past lives, stirred by the ritual, had woken up and each scrambled to gain footing of her consciousness. She would end up losing a day getting lost while another life drove her body, and then took several days trying to find her way back, only to get lost again. Pressed for time and hoping very badly that A-Li had not yet awakened, she struggled to find her way back as soon as she regained control of her body, no matter how fragmented her mind had become.

A sparrow flew down by her feet where her stack of wood for tonight’s fire lay and she began to feel sorry for herself once more. Had there really been a time in her life when she had wreaked havoc on creation? With a wave of her hand, she shooed the bird away. It flew off with a frightened chirp.

That's right, stay far away from me. You're safer that way, she thought while her eyes followed the bird as it fled fast until it was just a tiny speck in the sky.

With a sigh, Huo Zheng stretched her legs, her left foot kicking her tied-up firewood aside. Her appetite had waned and like in the past few days, she had lost interest in food. She did fall asleep a lot. In fact, she had barely laid her head down on her makeshift pillow made out of rolled clothes to rest and she would be out like a light again.

She was tired. So tired. She surmised that it was the tradeoff that the ritual had demanded from her body, comforting herself with the fact that it was a miracle that she had even survived it at all. Her wounds had healed but the sluggishness never left her body after— and some days like today, it was just too much.

The sun beat her head from above, the shadow provided by the two halves of rock flanking her no longer enough as shelter. It was barely in the sky when she had snuggled between the rock and now it was already noon? This won't do, I’ve slept half the day away. I need to aggressively hunt now or I won't have supper.

With another groan, Huo Zheng pushed herself to her hands and knees and then stretched up. She grabbed her stack of firewood, her bow, her arrows and walked back inside the forest.

She had trudged quite a distance when it finally occurred to her that something was off; and quite some distance later before she realized what it was.

Only because she had seen it happen to her in a past life once before.

“A-Li!” She called out, staying put and unmoving in one place. “Show yourself! A-Li!”

True enough to her suspicions and yet still to her shock, A-Li— his face showing his grave displeasure— suddenly appeared in a cloud of white smoke right in front of her.

* * *