Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 61 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 61

written by LigayaCroft
edited by kakashi&Panda

It had often been said by Lian Song that there was no loyalty in all the Realms that ran as deep as the one that Gun Gun and Mei Lin’s Li-Gē had for one another.

Despite being a couple thousand years apart in age, the two had been known to be thick as thieves since the day they had first met as kids. Li-Gē’s precocious personality was medicine for Gun Gun’s serious and melancholic self, which was a product of the silver-haired boy’s cloistered childhood living in the mortal worlds and then Dìyù. It wasn't long afterwards that the two were getting into a lot of trouble on their own.

Without an older brother to call her own, Mei Lin had always aspired to be acknowledged by her Cousin. Like any younger sister would, she had lived for Li-Gē’s praise. She expressed this by always challenging her Cousin to sparring sessions every time he came to Kunlun. She had also endeavored to beat up Gun Gun as often as she could, just to prove that she was a fitting companion of the duo. She had loathed that they always left her behind so at the first opportunity that presented itself, she escaped her Father’s controlling clutches and demanded to be taken in by Lian Song at merely 10’000 years old.

It was this intense focus, the need to be recognized and her competitive sense to prove that her loyalty was as tantamount as Gun Gun’s that one day she finally bit off more than she could chew.

And it all happened 15’000 years ago.

Her Li-Gē was 30’000 years old when the date of his immortal ascension was finally set. As any thriving degenerate with issues to his name and the weight of his identity would, her Li-Gē had spent the night before at a demon tavern cavorting with women and drinking with the equally degenerate Gun Gun. Mei Lin was at the time tasked by their Shifu to get the two back to Jiuchongtian by any means available.

As they all cloud-jumped back to the ceremonial grounds to attend the high immortal ascension trial which her Li-Gē had planned to be the first in the Royal Family’s history to fail, Mei Lin heard the stupidest proposal that had ever come from her Li-Gē’s lips.

“Gun Gun, you should come with me to the trial grounds,” he slurred, laughing as he pointed at the dark clouds that continued to build overhead.

Gun Gun blinked but he also, unsurprisingly, nodded, “Alright.”

Mei Lin could still remember the anger she had felt at that time— for those two idiots to willfully mess up a trial and to go at it plastered too. The Celestial Council would find no mercy and those two might be punished with several bouts of mortal trials or worse, expelled! Where would that leave her then?

“Hey, why aren’t you asking if I could come too?” She demanded, pinching her Cousin’s arm— hard. “That's not fair!”

Her Li-Gē turned to her, his flushed face twisted in an amused smile. “Maybe when the heavens open up, Zūzu.”

How come her Cousin thought Gun Gun was better than she was? And how stupid were these two, really, to think that they could survive lightning bolts while under the influence of wine?

So enraged was she that when they arrived, she didn't understand at first why the Minister of Rites was making a fuss at how dark and ominous the thunder clouds that had gathered were.

Too late. Her feet had done the thinking for her. Despite shouts from Ministers and the Royals who were watching and already shouting for Gun Gun to get out of the trial grounds, she stepped into the circle just moments before the Heavens walled everyone off and the first lightning bolt drew its line across the sky.

It split and struck the three of them all at the same time.

“What are you doing here?” the two men yelled, rushing toward her as soon as the first bolt fizzled out.

Mei Lin was in pain. Thunder, a water power, hitting her, a fire elemental and a proclaimed Demon— she was certain she was experiencing as much pain as her Cousin was.

“Opening up heaven and earth,” she said through gritted teeth and stifled a scream as the next thunderbolt struck.

It was much, much later, after all of them got eight thunderbolts each — surely a punishment from the Heavens for their folly as it was an unprecedented record for a High Immortal ascension where one was only supposed to receive three — after their wounds were treated by the Medicine King and after they all got an earful from their worried parents that her Li-Gē turned to her and said, “You're reckless. But damn if I don't feel so proud of you, Zūzu.”

Because of that, she had become the first Demon to achieve a Celestial High Immortal status. But more importantly, she had beaten her Father’s record by 3’000 years, something her Mother gloated over in front of other Celestials to this very day.

The two had made sure never to leave her behind again after that. Mei Lin, for her part, had since held that if she could follow her Cousin to a Celestial ascension, she could follow him anywhere.

Thus over the years, she had followed her Cousin through so many troubles and adventures that nothing rarely surprised her anymore. Like Gun Gun, she trusted his leadership, at times almost blindly especially when she followed him through mischief.

But this, this had to be the greatest curveball her Cousin had ever thrown.

Her Li-Gē was taking a main wife, without his parents’ permission.

A mortal.

Who was currently pregnant with his first child.

And who, as Mei Lin had found out, was inflicted with memories of her past lives.

It had been disconcerting the first few times talking to a past version of Huo Zheng, as well as utterly miserable for Mei Lin to bear the burden alone because Nǎinai had strongly warned her from telling her Li-Gē and Gun Gun of these episodes. It also didn't help that Nǎinai had insinuated that this was all her Cousin’s fault, that Huo Zheng had already overcome this childhood affliction but for some reason, after Chángyíng, it had returned.

Her Cousin wouldn't talk about all that had happened to him and Huo Zheng while they were gone either. It was for this reason that even though she felt a twinge of guilt, Mei Lin felt it was still well-deserved that her Li-Gē be kept in the dark.

Because her friend was sick, Mei Lin had been under strict instructions from Nainai to not let Huo Zheng out of her sights all day, which had been annoying to do because the betrothed couple liked to spend a lot of time together.

How to pull it off without her Cousin sensing that she was following them was another thing, especially since she had a shadow of her own.

“What?!” she turned, blowing air exasperatedly through her nose. True enough, Gun Gun was there, following just a couple of steps behind.

And just like that, she hated herself again. Hated her fiery tongue for once declaring that their affair was over as soon as her Li-Gē returned. Hated her pride for being stubborn enough to not go back on her word. But most of all, she hated how her throat had suddenly gone dry as the quickening in her lower abdomen instantly signified her need.

It didn't help that there was actually a couple around her that looked blissfully happy. As if they were fastracking their courtship, her Li-Gē and Huo Zheng had been showing an inordinate amount of affection for one another. The moony eyes, teeth biting their lips so as to hide their smiles for one another, and not to mention the absurd amount of handholding and stolen kisses — there was no doubt her Cousin was taking a page off the helplessly romantic Heavenly Emperor's book.

And that was just the thing, wasn't it, that loving couples looked extra annoying when you yourself were… dry, in every sense of the word? Her body craved Gun Gun’s especially in that place that only he could fill to a degree, that pleasuring herself in recompense had become a hopeless affair.

It scared her. Especially since she now knew it was possible, even for a woman who had had many lovers to end up with only one once she had found The One. Her free-spirited Mother was the perfect example of this, and Mei Lin wasn't happy to know that she could follow the same trajectory. She was yet too young, and had a duty to herself to experience as much of the world as she could. She could not allow herself to be corralled by one man. She would not!

“Why are you following Li-Gē and Xiăohŭ?”

“It’s none of your business,” she snapped back, embarrassed at having been caught. “Why are you following me? Just because Li-Gē had been lenient with us doesn’t mean that you can keep following me around. We are done.”

To Mei Lin’s surprise, Gun Gun seemed not to hear her. He stepped past her to peek over the edge of the tiny hill they were on. Buyers had endlessly flocked to Huicūn at this time of the year but instead of focusing on business, the town’s two leaders were on… a… date. Walking down the rows of shrubs, talking, picking leaves every now and then, smiling —

“I’m concerned for him,” Gun Gun confessed to her and to no one. When he turned and met the questioning look on her face, he sighed and shrugged. “Have I ever told you how much Xiăohŭ looks like Jia’er?”

No, Gun Gun had never told her that. Her Cousin had mourned the courtesan for 5’000 years. What were the chances that the next woman that he fell in love with was a lookalike? No wonder he was drawn to Xiăohŭ at first sight!

And then there were those past lives.

Could it be—?

“Jie Jie!” Bo’er huffed as he ran and almost crashed into Gun Gun. “Where is A-Zheng?”

Mei Lin pointed down to where Huo Zheng held on to her Li-Gē by the crook of his arm as they strolled down the tea farm.

“Ling’er’s father is here! He demands to see Ling’er and A-Zheng!”

“What did you just say?” Mei Lin heard Gun Gun demand but it all became an afterthought as her feet had already set off running.

Ling’er. Her baby.

She came to the courtyard just in time to see a tall, dignified man dressed in silk robes that spoke of a member of the mortal aristocracy squat in front of Qianling, who was looking at the man with wide eyes as she tightly held on to Nǎinai’s hand. The man had brought closed horse carriages, soldiers and servants that were stationed outside the courtyard.

Mei Lin’s sprint slowed to a full stop as she took in the scene before her. There was no doubt Qianling was this man’s daughter for the two looked alike like two peas in a pod.

The man turned his eyes toward Mei Lin, and the way his interested gaze drew on her from the top of her head down made her feel uneasy. Suddenly, the back of a silver-topped head stood in front of her, cutting her off from the man’s line of vision.

Well, how dare he?

Miffed, Mei Lin held on to Gun Gun’s arm to push him aside but he didn't budge until she had to settle for looking over his broad shoulders.

“Chen Tzu! You’re still alive,” Huo Zheng wheezed as she flew into the courtyard.

The man was around Huo Zheng’s age, had deep indentations on his cheek when he smiled and it brought out a boyish charm to his otherwise gruff exterior.

“Xiăohŭ, did you pray that I was dead?”

“Every day,” Huo Zheng answered, crossing her arms over her chest.

The animosity that came from Huo Zheng was so thick, Mei Lin could have sliced it with a sword.

“I have received your message. I came to take back what is mine.” Chen Tzu imitated Huo Zheng’s pose but the smile on his face made Mei Lin’s fist itch to meet it. “Isn’t that what you have wanted all along?”

“Yours? You so callously left months ago to chase that dream of yours to get into the Emperor’s good graces and now you’re here acting as if nothing happened? As if I could just move on from how you have upended my life?”

For a few moments he did look guilty but that smile once again drew on his face. “Are you finally going to let me see you cry, Xiăohŭ?” The man’s voice had softened as his leather-booted feet slowly made its way toward Huo Zheng. “We have been together for so long— years and years and I have never seen you cry. And you,” He said, looking at Li from head to toe. “You must be the fortunate man marrying our Xiăohŭ. Do not fret. My daughter and I will be out of your hair soon enough.”

“You are separating Ling’er from her mother?” Mei Lin shouted, stepping away from Gun Gun’s shadow and stalking toward Qianling. The child clung to Huo Mao’s skirt, unsure and afraid from all the shouting.

“Mister, you will do well to rein in your woman.” The man sent a threatening look her way and Gun Gun’s.

“You can't take her away from me,” Huo Zheng challenged. “I birthed her, named her, fed her, clothed her. I didn't write to you—””

“You birthed her but you didn't give birth to her, Xiăohŭ. Meanwhile, I am her father. By all rights, she is mine.”

A gasp escaped Mei Lin’s throat. Huo Zheng was not Qianling’s mother? How? Her friend had never given her any reason to doubt otherwise, showing a degree of devotion to Qianling in private that would put to shame too many mothers whom Mei Lin had known in her long lifetime. Seeing her exhausted friend go home just to put her child to sleep at night before going out again to tend to their patients, remembering how frantic Huo Zheng had looked like whenever Qianling’s fever wouldn’t go down— she had been a mother in every sense of the word.

“Give Chen Tzu his offspring, Xiăohŭ,” Nainai shouted. “Her future is better off with him than with us.”

“Nainai—” Huo Zheng ran up the steps to embrace her daughter, crushing the toddler into her arms. “Were you the one who wrote to him? Why?”

“Actions have consequences,” Nainai said, her expression hard. “I told you, you have drastically changed your fate, child. Don't drag your daughter into it with you. If you love her, let her go.”

Mei Lin would have raised her voice in dissent if only she hadn't seen a tear slide down the old woman’s cheek before Huo Mao turned and walked away.


The house was quiet. Too quiet. Mei Lin tossed and turned from bed for several incense sticks before she finally gave up and got up, her feet creating the first noise she had heard in hours.

The sound was a welcome relief.

There was no toddler fussing about in the other room, no crying, no periodical coughing nor snoring anymore. Snoring, Mei Lin smiled to herself. Qianling was such a tiny thing but the little girl sure did snore quite loudly at times. Huo Zheng had once shared it was passed down through Qianling’s father who also snored which had to do with the way his nasal bone was formed.

Mei Lin wiped the tears that had begun to form in her eyes and walked out of her bedroom door. Feeling parched all of a sudden, she turned right and headed toward the kitchen’s direction. She no longer bothered to light a lamp, knowing the wooden slats at the top of the wall built to let daylight and air in would suffice to give her enough moonlight.

She was halfway through refilling her bamboo cup when Huo Zheng’s voice spoke from behind her.

“I miss her,” Huo Zheng whispered brokenly. “I miss her, Zūzu.”

“Xiăohŭ!” The cup clattered on the floor as she turned her attention to the voice’s direction, squinting a little to see her friend seated by the table in the dark. “Oh, Xiăohŭ, why are you still up? It’s almost the end of the ox hour. Have you even thought about the baby? You should be resting.”

“I can't sleep. I miss my Ling’er. I miss my daughter.”

Mei Lin took another bamboo cup, filled it with water and brought it over to her friend. “Here, drink. And you should be headed for bed. I can fix you a mild sleep aid if you like.”

“I don't want a sleep aid! I want my daughter back!” Huo Zheng pushed the cup off the table and started sobbing, face in her hands.

Mei Lin sat beside Huo Zheng and pulled the woman into her arms. She had never seen Huo Zheng cry before today but neither had she seen anyone cry enough tears to fill an entire lifetime. It was like a dam had finally broken and there was no way to contain all the water within, the excesses of which spilt down the riverbanks toward the plains.

Or it could also be because she was pregnant that Huo Zheng was this emotional? Mei Lin thought better not to bring it up anymore. Hells, she herself was sad too.

“How did you end up with Qianling’s custody? And who was Chen Tzu?”

Huo Zheng blew her nose on a square of cloth before she spoke up. “He was a lover. My first lover. We met in school. He was the son of a General, and my roommate.”

Mei Lin opened her mouth but just as fast shut it, deciding in that split of a breath to let Huo Zheng tell her story. Her friend leaned forward, her weight supported by the backs of her forearms against her thighs, her gaze blank on the dark floor. But at least she was no longer crying.

“Growing up, he was kind, gentle and highly intellectual. More importantly, he kept the secret of my gender. But he changed when he entered the Council of Junior Ministers who can advise the Emperor. Within a few months, he took a wife, the daughter of a Marquess, and I didn't hear from him again until he arrived with his heavily-pregnant wife mid-winter. By then, he was already Minister of Ceremonies on his way to being the Imperial Secretary at the death or retirement of his predecessor, so he was extremely busy just as he was important. He didn't have time to stay long. The Imperial Doctors had told him the baby was breech which was why he brought his wife to me.”

“He left his wife and baby here?”

“You don't understand. She died while giving birth. But I was certain the baby was still alive so I asked Tzu’er if I could open her up and take the baby out, which I did.”

Mei Lin’s mouth fell, astounded. In mortal terms, what Huo Zheng had done— it was taboo.

“The baby was barely alive but Tzu’er took one look at her and fled. He believed Qianling may have been affected by evil spirits so he left her to me.”

“And now that he’s proven Ling’er is nothing short of perfect— he took her. She’s political currency,” Mei Lin concluded, a topic she knew only too well. Her eyes grew hot, and she rubbed at them to ward off the tears. “I saw my brother in Nanking and he informed me my parents are now looking at future grooms for me.”

“Oh Zūzu, what about Gun Gun?”

She shook her head. “My Father Lord will never agree. Besides, Gun Gun and I— it will never last beyond Huicūn. He needs a harem to keep him occupied and I don't like to share what is mine.”

They sat head-to-head with arms around each other. In their shared sadness, they told one another stories of Qianling’s antics, as if reliving the past could make her memory alive.

“A-Li promised me that he will periodically check on Ling’er. Do you really think he can do that?”

Mei Lin thought of the immortal instruments one could use to look into the lives of mortals and immortals. Dong Hua Dijun’s Miaohua glass was one and a stuff of legends since it no longer existed but surely there were other tools they could use?

“I’m also her mother, Xiăohŭ. I will check on her from time to time and ensure she’s treated well and living a good life.”

Huo Zheng silently mouthed the word ‘Thank You’ and Mei Lin smiled.

“She will be fine,” she promised, giving Huo Zheng’s hand a gentle squeeze. “I will smite Chen Tzu myself if Ling’er is in any way harmed. How is your belly? I’ve been worried.”

Outside, rain fell on the roof in fat drops, reaffirming the presence of dampness in the air that had been present since the sun had set.

“The baby is fine,” Huo Zheng replied, releasing Mei Lin’s shoulder to stroke her own belly.

Suddenly, lightning clapped overhead, the sound of thousand glasses breaking making the roof vibrate.

“Oh no,” Mei Lin groaned. “Not again.”

Huo Mao had warned her of the triggers that could put Huo Zheng down into a trance.

Thunder, the sharp, loud cracking kind that you hear in a lightning storm and not the usual long, low rumble. Glasses and pottery breaking. Some fireworks.

Her grip on Huo Zheng tightened as she watched her friend’s eyes close. Huo Zheng’s head lolled back from her neck, barely giving Mei Lin time to catch it.

“Come on, Xiăohŭ. You can fight it. Don't let any of them take over.”

Don’t let any of them stay on for too long, Nǎinai had warned Mei Lin, putting her gnarly hand on Mei Lin’s neck for a show and tell. Render her unconscious right away by pressing here, and here. This gives her time to take her body back.

The earth gave a light tremor, a shudder that made the cups hanging inside the kitchen sway back and forth. Mei Lin pulled Huo Zheng to herself, her eyes already looking for a way out of the house.

But what she felt next made her hesitate.

Because from the deep recesses of her human form, she felt her Phoenix waking up. Her heart raced in her chest, her breath grew warmer, and so did her eyes.

Contain it. Contain it!
She was no longer aware of when she had let go of Huo Zheng as her senses reduced to only concentrate on what was happening to her. Then there was the fear. Would she self-combust, bringing harm to Huo Zheng or worse to the whole town?

Mei Lin felt her way to the door, afraid even to open her eyes in case flames might shoot out of them.

Something cold, a hand, touched her back.


Mei Lin gasped at the touch and turned, and through the flaming haze saw Huo Zheng’s form before her.

“No! Stay away from me!” she begged, warding her friend’s hand off and running outside, away from Huo Zheng. Away from the baby in her belly.

“Dǎodàn, come to me. It’s Mother.” Huo Zheng called out as she ran after Mei Lin. “I can help you feel better.”

It was difficult to push her friend off when all Mei Lin wanted to do was to consume… everything. The urge to transform grew bigger and bigger. When she glanced at her arms, she saw that her clothes had begun to burn and in its place, feathers had started to grow on her skin. Seeing this made her run even faster.

Run! Before anybody else sees you.
It didn’t help that with the flames burning through and around her, Mei Lin could still hear how Huo Zheng— or whoever it was now who possessed her— was so close in distance.

Huo Zheng was fast, too fast.

Suddenly, the pressure seemed to hiss off her skin like steam in a boiling, just un-covered pot. Her transformation stopped, knocking the wind out of Mei Lin’s chest in surprise, causing her to fall forward.

On the ground on her knees and hands, she looked back. Huo Zheng stood above her, holding between her fingers a gold and red feather. Preposterous!, she wanted to shout. Nobody had dared to pluck a feather off her skin before.

“This fixed it, didn’t it? There’s too much power in this one feather and it has caused you to feel unbalanced. I have told you before not to wear it in your skin unless you absolutely have to.” Huo Zheng said, her eyes still transfixed on Mei Lin’s feather as it shimmered and glimmered in her hand. “You should keep this somewhere safe, Dǎodàn, or I could keep it safe for you. By the by, where is your Brother?”

It was strange because Mei Lin had shed feathers many times before and had felt nothing. The one Huo Zheng was holding felt alive, however. It called out to her, as if it was still connected to her.

Huo Zheng turned her head and it tilted as her brows frowned at Mei Lin.

“Wait— you are not my Daughter,” she exclaimed breathlessly, her eyes wide as she leapt back. “Where is my Daughter?”

There was no way Mei Lin was allowing this stranger in possession of Huo Zheng’s body to run free, especially not with her feather. With what remained of her strength, she jumped up, falling forward to seemingly hug Huo Zheng but in truth her right hand was aimed toward that vulnerable spot on Huo Zheng’s neck.

Huo Zheng fainted almost instantaneously and Mei Lin barely had time to turn and wrap her hands around Huo Zheng’s belly as they fell. But she managed to, and all to ensure Huo Zheng landed on her instead of the hard ground behind them.

Her back hurt where it hit the ground and her ribs throbbed sorely where majority of Huo Zheng’s weight had fallen. Her feather floated from Huo Zheng’s hand and landed on the tip of her nose, from where Mei Lin picked it and held it up.

It vibrated in her hand. While its wispy ends moved with the breeze, outlined against the bright light of the full moon above them, tears gathered in Mei Lin’s eyes out of pure relief.

First, because she could finally breathe.

Second, because she had been able to successfully stop a stranger’s consciousness from overtaking her friend’s.

And third, whether by the blessing of three lifetimes or not, with one less feather, she finally felt stable.

But how had Huo Zheng known just what to do?

And who had she been just a few moments ago?

* * *