Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 71 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 71

written by LigayaCroft
edited by Panda & Kakashi

How far can you go for the one you love?

It was on a cold night of an early winter that The Observer finally arrived at the Jinxing Bandit Gang’s new encampment; his movement unimpeded by the fact that he was floating invisibly a couple of li off the ground.

This group of mortal heathens were notorious for their barbarism and fierce fighting skills, and their new encampment was proof of how brutal they could be. Burning corpses of those who had initially gone against them were tied to stakes on the ground and lined up along the streets. The ones spared served the bandits hand and foot, enduring verbal and physical abuse as they went through their day. From somewhere in the huts below him, he could hear the screams of women as they were abused and mercilessly sodomized — as their helpless husbands, brothers and fathers stood not too far away, crying and begging for their captors’ mercy and humanity.

Some even called to their gods for vengeance and reprieve, something The Observer particularly scoffed at. Didn't these humans know that their gods were either drunk or sleeping?

It angered him because as One who had once ruled over the mortal race, The Observer had performed his role with sincerity and dedication. In comparison, this generation of Celestials was lazy, and abused their immortality with vice and complacency. Didn't they know that as the one immortal clan to whom the mortals prayed to, their rule was a privilege?

His Beloved would not be happy to find the condition her loved mortals now lay in. After all, she thought she had paid for their freedom from the Celestials with her life and cultivation— only for Füxi to put her sacrifice to waste.

Mortals were still puppets tied to strings. Adversity was given not to teach a lesson or to punish, but often out of a whim. It was not just once that a mortal world had suffered famine because the rain gods had slept on the job. Some wars had erupted because gods had a misunderstanding among each other or because some of them got bored and decided to play dice with human lives.

With arrogant and lazy gods, no wonder the mortal worlds had slowly descended into chaos.

A redo was needed.
The Third Creation.
But first things first.

He went down on the ground and drew apart the Veil, revealing himself to the red-haired man waiting at the courtyard gates below, just enough to stay inconspicuous and out of sight as he had been commanded to.

“Pet,” he called out and the red-haired man’s ears perked.

“Maaaster,” His Pet drawled as it half-ran to meet him, immediately sinking to the ground to kowtow before him. “Master returned.”

The Observer sighed, his eyes scanning the perimeter as Pet proceeded to mewl and kiss his feet.

Seeing Pet reminded him once again of the cost of his impatience. Fresh from the success of evolving his Yāoguài (1) from animal to human and excited with the knowledge that the Heavenly Emperor’s eldest son was once again traveling the mortal realms, he had pushed for Pet to begin eating immortal hearts in case one of the disguised immortal travelers turned out to be the Prince, Li. However, the quality and cultivation contained within the hearts his Pet had consumed hadn’t been enough. Worse, they had been introduced too early. Although Pet was now harder to kill, his speech had unfortunately turned out impaired. Although he was as loyal and obedient as any tamed animal, he had the communication skills of an idiot.

“Maaaster—”

The Observer kicked and the toe of his boot landed on Pet’s cheek. Pet’s red hair, matted with dirt and grime, swayed with the force of The Observer’s action. Still, he felt no remorse, instead using his boot to tip Pet’s chin up.

“Bring me Yan Jiāng,” he commanded as he conjured leather satchels to appear on the ground beside his feet.

Pet kowtowed before getting up. The Observer sighed yet again. He could not wait for the day that Pet’s critical thinking skills would catch up to its bodily strength.

The scent of burning flesh crept up The Observer’s nose while he waited, making it crinkle in distaste. This tribe’s penchant for burning their captives’ bodies was an insult to his personal code of conduct, but given the circumstances he had to let his personal preferences go.

The end justifies the means, he told himself again as he stared at the burning pyre of a woman he knew all too well.

She must have been burned about two or so hour changes ago. The Observer reached out to the still burning cadaver and slipped his thumb and index finger through the socket that used to contain a left eye. His ministrations caused the socket to catch the knuckles of his fingers, and he tugged against it with unrestrained force. The burnt skeletal remains of what used to be a neck crumbled. The Observer shuddered and fought against the nausea, forcefully shaking the skull off and throwing it back to the still burning embers on the ground. The skull stared back at him agape after it rolled and rested beside what used to be a person’s feet.

The remains of Huo Mao.

Swallowing again to fight off the nausea, he turned his back to the pyre and focused his attention on what he was holding. Invisible to mortal eyes was his piece of magick— a pod as big in diameter as the pupil of an eye— that had made Huo Mao’s left eye blind.

He had offered it to Huo Mao a long time ago, while tempting her with the promise of intermittent dreams and visions as the pod was connected to the vein that had allowed him to have a limited view into the possibilities within Hùndùn.

Doing so allowed him to perform his mandate as an observer to His Beloved’s life, without the necessity of his actual presence. It afforded him the secrecy he needed especially since he was preparing something big.

But it had its tradeoffs. For the whole duration that Huo Mao had possessed his sight, he had been blind to whatever the Heavens were setting up around His Beloved’s life. The risk hadn’t felt like a threat at that time. He had been confident that His Beloved was once again safely-ensconced in one of the mortal worlds’ few magickal wastelands. Away from immortal eyes.

As was her real form, in this life she had been very intelligent, like a sponge that absorbed water, and it didn’t take long before he had run out of things to teach her. In the past five to ten mortal years, as much and as often as he had loved to see her, his work had made trips back to her mortal realm close to impossible. He could only afford quick meetings in Nanking instead of taking a journey all the way to Huicūn, where his magick was greatly reduced and he had suffered the after effects for many days after.

Also, he hadn’t counted on her to hide secrets from him. Where had his obedient student gone? The Celestial Royals had lived in Huicūn for more than a mortal year and in the many times he had met up with her during that time, not one word had been breathed about the town’s suspicious guests.

He would have to see for himself when things digressed from his original plans but that was an exercise he needed for later. The Observer tucked the pod inside a satchel and sent it for storage in Hundun.

“Ah, Zhū Ge, we have been waiting for you,” said the tall and burly Yan Jiāng as he sauntered toward The Observer. “It has been over a month. Where is the money that you promised us? Leaving us this simpleton as your bond that you would return was hardly enough.”

The Observer’s ears cringe at the way this mortal creature talked down to him but with a hard swallow, he let the offense slide.

“As we discussed,” He picked up the satchels and threw them right in front of Yan Jiāng’s feet.

Yan Jiāng grunted as he lifted one of the satchels, and threw The Observer a bewildered look. “How did you—” however the question was arrested midway when the satchel’s contents— gold and silver ingots— spilled to the ground.

“How is the village leader?” He asked.

Yan Jiāng picked up two gold ingots, weighing them in each hand. “She’s tough. She still wouldn’t let us know where her husband and friends have gone even after we burned her grandmother alive. However, she is in labor now.”

His toes curled at the news.

A baby in the way.

A baby was in his way.

“Do you have the old woman’s dagger?”

Yan Jiāng took the dark, wicked-looking blade from a sheath tied to his belt.

“Like you requested. I don't understand why you had to pay so much money for something that looks utterly average.”

The Observer closed his eyes to better focus his hearing on the dagger’s primordial song.

Oh, how it reminded him of home.

And strengthened his resolve to do what needed to be done.

A reset.

A redo.

The Third Creation awaited.

How far can you go for the one you love?

***

Her hands immediately flew to stem the steady stream of blood which flowed through the dark steel of the blade that had pierced through her body. Being a healer, she knew pulling out the blade would do more harm than good, but she still hedged her chances.

It was all in vain. A similar injury inflicted on her would take longer before she succumbed to blood loss. But a blade such as this, created in Hùndùn before the Second Creation began, had the capacity to debilitate and even endanger the lives of immortals.

An unborn baby and a mortal body stood no chance.

Not too long after, the convulsions began. She was a proud creature, and even though she was surely in maddening pain, she didn't howl. Her eyes searched his, the helpless fury causing the orbs to turn so light they crackled like fire. This intensity was something The Observer had only seen once before, of His Beloved as a young girl, in the days before she ended the First Creation.

Her breaths came in heaves and pants as her mortal body racked in increasing shudders, from pain that told her she was still alive, the very same pain that told her she was about to die.

Then her eyes began to glaze over. Her hand rose, and for a moment The Observer thought she was reaching out for him. A lonely tear ran down her right temple, and her lips moved in a whisper only The Observer’s immortal ears could hear.

“A-Li,” she whispered between choking sounds. “Live well.”

And with that, her eyes closed and she once again gave up her Spirit.

The Observer retreated from the mortal body he possessed, the body he had used to grasp the Primordial blade that had delivered his ruthless yet necessary sentence. It had surprised him when he first saw this blade in a younger Huo Mao’s hand, which she said she bought from a traveling peddler who sold strange artefacts. He immediately recognized the blade as one of those fashioned in Hùndùn by His Beloved herself. She had gifted the blade to a favored mortal after she had used the very same blade to teach the First Creation mortals how to make fire.

Who knew then it would find its way back into her hands... into his hands?

The stunned Yan Jiāng staggered back as he spotted the dead Huo Zheng on the ground. The Observer paid no heed to Yan Jiāng’s shout of alarm after seeing the dead victim. Once again invisible to mortal eyes, he knelt beside His Beloved’s mortal shell, his fingers shaking as he touched her pale cheek.

“It is done,” he said to no one but himself. Were they words of comfort or of regret? The Observer wasn't sure which.

But it was done. For with Yan Jiāng’s hands, he had stabbed His Beloved’s womb all the way through her fetus’ heart so that its Yuanshen would be incapable of reassembling. With Yan Jiāng’s hands, he had meted out this future god’s final calamity.

“It is just one of your many lives,” he uttered to her supine mortal shell. Not that she would know he ever spoke the words, for when the time came to review this life he was only entitled to give the memories seen through Huo Mao’s eyes. “That day you decided to wipe out your Father's creation, you did so because a reset was necessary. I hope you will understand when you wake up why I did what I had to do today.”

The Observer stood up and looked heavenward.

How far can you go for the one you love?, Nüwa had asked him that day he had accepted his mandate… his curse.

How drunk with righteous fury and love he had been that day that even in the past hundreds of her mortal lifetimes, he had never really realized the cost his mandate entailed.

Until today.

How far can you go for the One you love?
All the way to the end.

___________________
(1) (妖怪) Creatures originated from objects or lower life forms (such as spiders, trees or skeletons) spiritually possessed with strong intention or imbued through blood. (Adapted and crafted by the Author for this FF. Mistakes on script translation or original definition are mine.)