Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 45 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 45

Written by Ligayacroft
Editing by Kakashi and Panda
Consultant Bunny


What a dreary place.

It was not one designed for comfort, no matter how Yánwáng had tried to make the place more cheerful. Even with its golden fixtures and the never-ending flow of food and offerings that flooded the hallways from the mortal worlds, the Underworld Overlord’s Tianzi Palace was unnaturally dark as it naturally sucked the beauty and life from anyone who stepped within its walls.

It was said that after the Heaven’s four pillars collapsed during the dawn of the Second Creation, Nüwa had appointed Starlords and created Diyu with the last of her cultivation to help balance the weight of the mortal worlds and to allow mortals to work on their immortal ascension. Xie Guchou had then been tasked to rule over Diyu — some say as a reward, some say as a punishment — but whatever the reason, Xie Guchou had done the task extremely well.

Unlike the rest of the immortal realms, Diyu followed mortal time — all the more to drag its enslaved souls’ years of punishment and mortal cycles. Thus, A-Li’s full mortal month’s stay here with Lian Song while they awaited news on Xue Jiaolong’s soul had felt significantly longer than any of the thousands of years he had spent in the immortal realms. When they had left to go back to the Celestial Realms, A-Li could still remember declaring that he would never return. Who would have thought that 5’000 years later he would be here again in a bid to save Xue Jiaolong’s lookalike?

A-Li allowed a black-clad fairy attendant to guide him toward Yánwáng’s throne room. The Zhèngyì Táng [1] looked empty but the very low light available gave the impression that the hall was filled with whispers. Every couple of steps, shrill screams from souls being punished could be heard from the hell levels down below. The air smelled cloyingly of herbs and earth, carried over from the floral offerings of living mortal souls for their departed beloved.

How Bai Gun Gun and Bai Feng Jiu had been able to remain in Diyu for years was something that would always baffle A-Li. That month that he had been here, there was hardly anything to do. He had no penchant for taking a peek into the hells below nor did he want to look into Difu [2] and watch as souls took Auntie Meng’s soup of forgetfulness before going into their next mortal cycle. Instead, he and Lian Song had the intricately-engraved golden throne moved to the side so they had space for a yi-table and tea. Nobody had dared cross two high-ranking princes of the Celestial Realms. Their visit might have caused a weeks-long backlog in mortal souls sentencing but Lian Song was adamant only the Zhèngyì Táng was a fit enough hall to host the two of them — also because it was the only hall that showed a little bit of daylight.

Today, however, the throne was back on its spot albeit empty.

“This lowly servant greets you, Diànxià,” Xie Guchou Yánwáng said in a rush as he entered the throne room from one of the side corridors and dipped into a very low bow. “How may I be of service to Your Highness today?”

Xie Guchou’s paint-speckled robes and paint-riddled hands didn't escape A-Li’s notice.

To the rest of the immortals, Yánwáng was a serious old man who only showed his face to other immortals during the annual summit of High Gods. Even there, he was known to barely speak and only a few were interested enough to talk to him. Still, his reports on Diyu Capacity, Mortal Trial Sign-ons and Sign-Offs, and Immortal Ascension Schedules came to the Thirty-Six Heaven like clockwork, and for that, he was the least of the Heavenly Emperor's problems.

But to the likes of Gun Gun and by association, A-Li, Xie Guchou was actually a flamboyant old man whose black robes hid the secret to his real personality. He loved color, and it defiantly showed through the scarves he wore around his neck whenever there were no mortal sentencings nor visitors, and on Diyu’s walls, which he spent all of his years painting on. This was also why Xie Guchou loved visiting Bai Feng Jiu in Qing Qiu. With its verdant hills, valleys filled with vibrant carpets of flowers, and locals who kept mostly to themselves, the infamously reclusive god had the space he needed to wear the colors he liked and dance and laugh to his heart’s delight.

“You have been painting again?”

Xie Guchou rolled his eyes and let out a weary sigh. He took out his wine flask, made the cursory offer to A-Li who turned it down, and took a swig.

“I tried to do the ceilings this time.”

“But it’s too dark,” A-Li felt bad for pointing out the obvious but sometimes Xie Guchou needed a reminder. Immortals were generally a complacent lot, but not Xie Guchou. Surrounded by the dead and their regrets, this ruler appreciated the value of time and of keeping one's hands busy.

Xie Guchou shrugged. “Such a shame my work will never see the light of day,” he said, his gaze fixed itself to the wall behind A-Li. “But I digress. What brings you here, Diànxià? How may I be of service to you?”

A-Li turned to face the wall behind him. Even with his immortal eyes, he could barely see Xie Guchou’s paintings of blue skies and green earth. Lian Song had once said that this hobby of Xie Guchou was frivolous and hopeless at best. But his tenacity was also the one quality A-Li had always admired. Had A-Li been the one tasked to keep Diyu working, he wouldn’t have lasted an immortal day.

“Yánwáng,” he began, turning to face the old man whose sharp eyes observed him with wary scrutiny. “I have made the acquaintance of the mortal Duke of Chángyíng,” At the mention of the name, A-Li saw Xie Guchou’s pupils momentarily dilate, ”whose wife has died right after she has given birth. Strangely enough, while her ling hun is gone, she is kept alive by a magickal artifact that has momentarily bound your Death God until life is leeched off its sacrifice. There are rules about giving mortals these type of weapons, Yánwáng, and I would like to know who is responsible.”

“It was me,” Xie Guchou admitted without missing a beat, immediately getting down on his knees to knock his forehead on the marble floor in front of A-Li. “It was a moment of weakness. An ancestor of the current Duke was a former lover of mine, and he wanted a way to ensure that his bloodline lasted for many generations.”

A-Li exhaled through his teeth. “Tell me why it hurt me to touch it.”

Xie Guchou looked up, eyes wide. “You were able to? Ah, that may have been the mortal in you, Diànxià. Other immortals, including your Father Lord himself, would not have been able to touch it much less remove it unless a deal was made with me.”

“How were you able to hide this from the Starlords — when an innocent life is snuffed out because of your greedy weapon against the will of Heavens?” It was startling to see an older High God tremble in front of him, especially somebody who was well-loved by both his cousin and nephew. But A-Li’s rage flowed like a river breaking through his own dam of empathy. Huo Zheng currently lay immobile and wasting under the effects of the damned shackles. There was no time to waste. “You have granted mortals with an item that defies heavenly rules. How many are there? I want them all gone.”

“May the grandson of Nüwa have mercy on me!” Xie Guchou cried out, knocking his forehead even harder on the marble floor. “There are only two pairs of these shackles, Diànxià, but in order to have them gone, you have to give me a favor in equal measure.”

As each moment he spent away from Huo Zheng could potentially be her last, A-Li would rather resolve the issue now and worry about the details later.

“Name it.”

Xie Guchou looked up again, his face full of tears. “How important is the sacrifice to you, Diànxià?”

“She is a friend of Gun Gun, Mei Lin and I.” A-Li answered, purposely downplaying Huo Zheng’s role in his life. Dropping Gun Gun’s name was also intentional. It was no big secret that Xie Guchou adored A-Li’s nephew like any good uncle would. “We would all be upset if anything happened to her.”

“Diànxià, with your permission, I would like to stand up.”

A-Li raised his hand in permission and the old man stood up. He tried not to wince when he saw that Xie Guchou’s forehead was bleeding.

“Please follow me.”

A-Li did as told and walked a little bit behind a still repentant Xie Guchou who had conjured one of those special lamps permissible for use in Diyu to hold a small space of light.

“Where are we going?”

“As you know, we who dwell in Diyu barely get enough attention from above-dwellers.” Xie Guchou replied, wiping the blood off his face with the edge of a sleeve. “There is indeed one thing I want more than anything else and if you can grant it, Diànxià, I will be most grateful.”

They entered what looked like an empty hall. A sliver of light filtered through from the limestone roof above but was too frail not to be consumed by the darkness around it. With his immortal eyes, A-Li could faintly see five circular bronze mirrors twice as tall as he was, standing in equal distances from one another, like five points of a star, each polished surface facing the walls while each decorated face faced toward a central point in their middle.

As Xie Guchou took him around the room and his eyes got better adjusted to the dark, A-Li was able to catch the details on the modeled drawing in low relief on the decorated face of each mirror [3]. The first was of a dragon, a tiger, a tortoise and a bird circled around a lotus flower in the middle. The second was of two dragons intertwined, but this one was burnt and jaggedly cracked from the middle. The third was of a dragon and a tiger chasing one another’s tails, forming a circle. The fourth was of a running tiger with two birds flying over it — one flying backwards as it faced the other, almost like it was taunting its pair.

But the fifth made A-Li pause, and it was because he had seen it before: the Sanctuary in Kunlun Mountain with nine flying dragons on the clouds above and around it. It was as close a depiction as an artist would be able to do if Xue Jiaolong’s painted panels were transferred into the back of a circular bronze mirror.

“Who did these?” He asked, his hand reaching out to touch the face of the preeminent dragon face. The similarities were so striking that A-Li’s heart thundered inside his chest.

“These were creations of the Primordial God Youchao. These mirrors were placed here under the behest of your grandmother, the Primordial God Nüwa,” Xie Guchou responded, stopping by the mirror where A-Li stood. “Diànxià, were you aware your eyes until a while ago blazed so fierce like refiner’s fire?”

“They’re brown —”

“Nüwa’s eyes also did that on certain occasions. And it’s quite unsettling to see because like your father, the Heavenly Emperor, and your uncle, the God of War, you usually possess Fuxi’s eyes.”

A-Li turned to face Xie Guchou, his eyes scanning the old man’s wrinkled face. It had always made him wonder why unlike most immortals who were originally created at the dawn of the Second Creation, Xie Guchou had chosen to wear the countenance of an old man. But with the appearance came the dignity ascribed not just to his age but to his loyalty. Here was a man who had served as an unimpeachable vassal to his grandmother — like how Zhonglin Xianguan always hovered about Dong Hua Dijun — and had faithfully served his last mandate from her despite the absolute dreariness of the place he had been subjected to.

Somehow the whole history on the Primordial Gods save for A-Li’s grandparents had been made inconsequential, almost like a legend that never deserved an afterthought. There were very few Old Gods that remained and their memories of the olden days have become hazy at best. Even A-Li’s Uncle had no recollection at all of his own Mother since she had died very early. The God of War didn't appear too attached to Father Immortal’s memory either.

“Yánwáng,” He started, moving back to the first mirror which showed four animals, “it never occurred to me before that nobody really talks about the Primordial Gods. More curious is that nobody talks about my grandmother. Why is that so?”

Xie Guchou took another swig of his wine, the liquid sloshing noisily from inside its flask. The flame from the lamp he held changed its angle and made the animals on the mirror facing them seem to move in the shadow play.

“Diànxià, has it ever occurred to you why you were able to freely come and go to the Demon Realms and suffer none of the ill-effects that usually plague Celestials?”

A-Li shrugged, pushing the knowledge that he possessed crimson hellfire back down to the recesses of his mind. “I am not a full Celestial,” he instead replied, “nor am I even a full immortal by birth. I have always assumed that was the reason.”

Xie Guchou walked closer to the mirror and his hand visibly shook as he reached up to touch the center of the lotus flower.

“Have you ever asked deeper, say, what if maybe you were part-Demon? There are groups who believe that the Demons came from Nüwa.”

“I’ve heard of a story from Yu Dian High Demon,” He replied, referring to Mei Lin and Mei Shui’s favorite uncle who was also a clan leader of the Demon Realms. He knew of the disbanded Soulswapper Cult, a group who had worshipped Nüwa, but A-Li had never attributed the fact that he had strange powers to that of being a fraction of a demon himself. It was a possibility he could digest later. “That because he was the son of Nüwa, the High God Mo Yuan was even worshipped by some when he stayed for a spell in the Demon Realms.”

“And with good reason. The God of War and the Heavenly Emperor were the only natural children of Primordial Gods.”

“What makes Primordial Gods special?”

“They were Creators. They were bigger than life itself. They merely had to speak, breathe, think — and life flourished where there used to be none,” Xie Guchou wistfully replied. “All of us that remain roaming the realms, we are all sons and daughters of the will of the Primordial Gods. But mortals, ah, mortals are even more special. The First Ones of their kind Nüwa said she had formed from yellow clay for the pleasure of One. They might be absent of any godly powers unlike the rest of Creation, but they were created for their capacity to do good and as conduits of the gods’ blessings.”

“They also have the capacity to do evil,” A-Li stated with some degree of revulsion as he recalled Yi Shang Xiāndì, the mortal emperor who had brutalized Xue Jiaolong and buried alive, and recently Xin Wuji who was endangering Huo Zheng’s life.

“It is true. But Diyu was created as an opportunity for mortals to redeem and better themselves through reincarnation.” He motioned for A-Li to follow him toward the other mirror — the broken one. “When my home here was first established, these mirrors were designed to spread light all throughout Tiānzǐ Palace.”

A-Li’s head cocked back. “The Palace had light?”

“It was constructed that way, yes,” Even in the dim light, A-Li could see that the knuckles of Xie Guchou’s fingers that wrapped around his wine flask strained against the skin. “I was, after all, a Celestial and I thrive in daylight. Thus, there were reflectors in the palace’s walls that could bounce light from the mirrors so that the halls and rooms would be lit as bright as daylight. Unsurprising, considering the one who built Diyu, Youchao, was the God of Construction. It is written that he also built the entire Thirty-Six Heavens and the Sanctuary at Kunlun Mountain. This Palace was supposed to be the last of Nüwa’s gift for me before she met her great calamity but —”

“But?” A-Li halted, almost bumping into Xie Guchou.

“Your grandfather destroyed this mirror. My Palace has been thrown into darkness ever since.”

A-Li took note of the damage done on the mirror that Xie Guchou was referring to. The Celestial Bronze was burnt from the middle of the space where the intertwined dragons’ chests touched each other. It was undeniable that this was due to lightning, and what a huge blast it must have been when it struck.

But stranger still was how this mirror felt to him. Strange yet familiar how the energies around him flowed toward the mirror, as if it was gently sucked in and dispersed back through the hole in different forms.

“Why would Father Immortal do this?”

“Jealousy? Pride? Love? Diànxià, whatever it was,” Xie Guchou glanced at the mirror depicting a dragon and a tiger, “when buffaloes are fighting by the lake, us frogs pay the price.”

The Tiger. History records state that the Tiger was Zhu Rong [4], the Primordial God of Fire and Heavenly Executioner, who had helped establish the Second Creation and presided over Universal Order. However, like the other Primordial Gods — save for Shennong, the ascetic God of Botany and Medicine who had died by ingesting a toxicology combination of plants, and Gong Gong whose death and defeat had caused the Great Flood that had wiped out the First Creation — it was never really divulged on the records how Zhu Rong had died.

“You knew Nüwa best. Was it true? Were my grandmother and Zhu Rong lovers?” A-Li asked. It was a tale often spun in taverns by drunk immortals who were against the Royal Family, whose voices hearkened back to the fraction of the immortal population who had cast doubts as to whether the Celestial Twins Mo Yuan and Ye Hua were really Fuxi’s sons, especially considering how Fuxi had sentenced Mo Yuan to live in Kunlun Mountain instead of handing him the Celestial Throne.

Xie Guchou shrugged as his gaze slid back to the broken mirror.

“My memory… it is strange but I don’t remember how the Primordial God Zhu Rong looked like at all.”

“But you remember my grandmother, Nüwa?”

A soft smile broke on his face but his eyes turned sad. “I have never seen anyone more alive than Nüwa. And towards her end, I have never seen anyone more lifeless either.”

Why? Because of a broken heart? Because somebody had died? A-Li wanted to ask more questions pertaining to his grandmother but he had been distracted enough from his main goal. Huo Zheng awaited him.

“We should have a drink together next time. I would want to hear more about my grandmother but time is running short. State your condition to release our friend, Yánwáng.”

“I need this broken mirror repaired.”

The simplicity of the request was overshadowed by the complex array of emotions on Xie Guchou’s face.

“You could have brought it to a blacksmith, that would have been easy.”

“A Primordial God made these and a Primordial God broke it. Do you still think a mere blacksmith is who I need? Like most ancient artifacts, this mirror requires cultivation to fix and re-activate.”

“Have you tried to do the fixing yourself?”

“Yes. And I have come to the conclusion a long time ago that this requires cultivation of the Dragon kind to fix.”

Xie Guchou’s words did not settle well with A-Li. “You need my cultivation. This seems like an excessive exchange for a mortal soul.”

“I am taking my chances, Diànxià,” Xie Guchou said seriously. “May the Heavens judge if what I ask of you is of equal importance to me as saving your friend's life is of importance to you. If not, let the mirror refuse your repair.”

Dread settled in A-Li’s stomach at the challenge. A test. Xie Guchou tried hard to hide it but A-Li knew, the Old God wanted the mirror repaired very much. It was there, present, in his forcibly blank expression and the stillness of his hands — hope.

So it might be that Diyu’s Yánwáng had wanted light for a long, long time. But the emotional attachment to these mirrors and its ties to Nüwa — the reverence, the softness that came out of Xie Guchou’s usual gruff tone as he talked about her — it was apparent that he had loved and venerated the Primordial God very much.

What if how much this mirror meant to Xie Guchou was less than how much Huo Zheng meant to him? What of then? Would she die? Would he be able to see her again, even in Diyu? And if so, how could he face her spirit for failed to save her?

A-Li stared at the broken mirror and studied the streams of energy swirling about and around it. Discordant then orderly then back to discordant again.

Finally, it came to him why it looked familiar.

Liánzi [5].

The mirror possessed the same energies as the Veil that shrouded all creation. He glanced at Xie Guchou who with his paint-speckled gnarly hands struggled to keep the lamp he held aflame. Did the Old God even know what this mirror was made of?

A-Li’s Shifu had warned him of the dangers of doing repairs on the Veil that shrouded the Created Worlds. But did it matter? Xie Guchou could ask for anything and the question still remained: Did A-Li care about Huo Zheng enough to give it?

Of that, the answer was clear.


“Diànxià, are you sure — “ A-Li raised a brow at the beginnings of the question, and the words immediately halted from Xie Guchou’s mouth. Instead, the Old God trembled as he bowed from the torso up. “On my long life, Diànxià, and on account of this great favor, I will destroy all instruments that I have blessed the mortals with over the years.”

“No. On account of the fact that I will try, you must promise to get rid of all of your instruments. I do not trust the Duke of Chángyíng not to do it again to our friend, and would hate for Gun Gun or Mei Lin to be put on the same tight spot as I am in now.” His eyes — two embers that now burned bright in the dark — reflected on Xie Guchou’s wide, dark ones. “Give me your solemn vow.”

“I give my word, Diànxià,” the Old God solemnly promised. He also shook as he got down on his knees and bowed before A-Li’s feet.

With little time to spare, A-Li commanded the Old God, “Get up. Leave this room and close the door behind you, Yánwáng.”

As Xie Guchou shuffled back to his feet and moved to seal the doors, A-Li turned toward the mirror and touched the damage that Celestial Lightning had wrought.

Now that the mirror’s components had been revealed to him, A-Li was sure he knew how to fix it. The places where the blast had struck oozed with yīn energy. Even better. He could fill the damage up with his own cultivation, his yáng. His Shifu had already taught him many times how to manipulate the ethereal Liánzi; how much more difficult could a physical object be?

But as A-Li began the repair, drawing from his own well of cultivation and that of Hùndùn, he quickly learned just how dangerous fixing the mirror was. Like a parasitic vine, the power within the mirror latched onto his spirit and began greedily siphoning off his cultivation to repair the Celestial Bronze, faster that he could ever allow it too.

Pure pain unlike any he had ever experienced before caused his body to go into shock, the coldness of ice creeping from the toes of his feet as it viciously made its way upwards. A-Li wanted to interrupt the connection but his energy had already drained too low for him to do anything to stop the invasion. When he gave up on severing the link, he became dimly aware that his feet no longer touched the ground.

He closed his eyes as his long life flashed before him in quick bursts: his Father Lord’s warm and gentle smiles that had been there for him all his life, all those time he had spent learning and playing with his Father Lord in the Ninth Sky and in their small hut on Mount Junji, the first time he had seen his Mother at the Eastern Sea Emperor’s Water Crystal Palace, the day he found out his Father Lord had fallen into deep sleep and everyone thought the Crown Prince Ye Hua had died, Lian Song and Cheng Yu taking turns to take care of him in his ‘dead’ Father Lord’s stead, the day his Father Lord had woken up, his parents’ wedding, the first time he had faced the Demon Ancestor and asked for her hand in marriage, the Second Demon War, the first day his Mother trained him and Gun Gun on martial arts, the day A-Xi was first introduced to him and he had felt the burden of becoming Crown Prince relieved from his shoulders, the first time he and Gun Gun had entered a tavern, his own High Immortal ascension which had turned out to be an ascension party for three, the first evening he had watched Xue Jialong dance, the first time he had kissed her while fireworks were lit across the river, the day she had cut her hair which was also the last day he had seen her, the first time he processed his grief by praying to her like she had once told him to, meeting Huo Zheng, the day he realized that he was in love with her, that night they had made love, wiping the tears from the sides of her face right before he had left for Diyu—

This confluence of thoughts and pain overwhelmed A-Li and threatened to take away his very breath. His body which had felt encased in a block of ice a while ago now burned with fire. When he looked, he saw flames of crimson so vivid it looked black licking the flesh off his bones.

Dust flying and flames dying.

So this was how it looked like.

With a dull sense of humor that was said to visit one who was about to meet one’s great calamity, A-Li wryly thought as he closed his eyes, At least the Heavens accepted my sacrifice.

Chapter 46

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1. (正義堂) Justice Hall. This is where the King of the Underworld hands out each mortal soul’s punishment.

2. The Netherworld, also where souls go for reincarnation

3. For more detail on ‘magic’ mirrors, see

4. (祝融)

5. (帘子) The curtain/veil/mass that stands between the physical realms (or, the state of order formed from the infinite set of possibilities that lie within Chaos/Entropy) and Chaos. The physical realms are immutable, so “piercing/tugging at the curtain/veil” —such as when employing magick — is prone to backbite unless the yin is balanced by an equally capable yang. (Adapted and crafted by Author for this FF. Mistakes on script translation or original definition are mine.)