Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 48 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 48

written by LigayaCroft
consulting by Bunny
edited by Panda & kakashi

Lu Dongbin, please save me.

Those were the last words A-Li had spoken before he threw up a copious amount of blood and collapsed unconscious against Huo Zheng about a week ago.

She had been too amazed with their mode of transport — flying over trees, rivers, hills and mountains — that she had failed to notice at the time that A-Li was not alright. She had been just too glad to still be alive — that A-Li was alive — that she had allowed herself to be distracted from the fact that she had her arms around a patient herself.

And not just any patient but he who had gone to The Underworld to save her. How could she have thought that a trip like that wouldn't cost A-Li?

Grandson of the Nine-Tailed Fox Emperor, oldest son of the current Heavenly Emperor, and Grandson of Father Immortal, the One who created us all—

He now lay still as death inside a small hut, surrounded by jars of pills and elixirs, and a small trunk of what looked like seeds of different colors. Lu Dongbin, who had spent his time in the mortal realms in the guise of a female shaman but who turned out to be an esteemed male immortal, had been feeding A-Li the seeds at an increasing rate, his worry getting more pronounced as each day lapsed with no change.

Her mortal healing techniques rendered incompetent and unnecessary, Huo Zheng helped out by fetching water from the stream, washing and changing A-Li’s clothes, cooking their meals and preparing the mysterious herbs being used for A-Li’s treatment.

Yet, as much effort as they exerted, A-Li’s condition didn’t improve. Instead, he grew paler day by day. Lu Dongbin said that A-Li was severely injured, akin to gunpowder exploding from the inside, which could only come from when one’s cultivation was forcefully taken away.

Cultivation? Huo Zheng didn't understand what Lu Dongbin was talking about exactly but she understood the word forcefully. Whatever had been taken from A-Li, he had had no control over giving it. And it had happened to him because of her.

“Think of cultivation as your blood’s essence — not the red liquid that flows in your veins but the energy it holds within it that keeps you alive,” Lu Dongbin explained the other day while she watched him run his hands a hand’s width over A-Li’s body. Energy healing or whatever it was, was part of A-Li’s morning healing rituals. “For some mortals, when one’s cultivation exceeds one’s life force, they can ascend and become immortal Celestials. Of course, the reverse is also true — when one’s cultivation is depleted, a mortal can start acting like an animal, like one who cannot be reasoned with anymore.”

“And for immortals?” Huo Zheng asked.

“If we have enough we can ascend to High Immortal, and even to High Gods. If we lose more cultivation than our bodies can cope to give, we can become a monster, a Yaoguai,” He paused, his hand resting a little over A-Li’s face, “Or we could turn into dust flying and flames dying.”

She had shuddered then at the thought of A-Li succumbing to any of the two options. There should be a way. There had to.

From their days together as the immortal’s de facto assistant, Huo Zheng had slowly learned that Lu Dongbin was an internal alchemist, one who dabbled in creating cultivator cores — the different-colored seeds he had been feeding A-Li — and had dedicated his mortal life and his now long immortal life to creating the elusive Golden Elixir.

The Golden Elixir was the material that mortal mythology was made of: a core so strong it could transform a mortal into an immortal, or a common immortal to a more powerful one. Lu Dongbin had eventually abandoned the quest because of the depletion of the divine fungal grass as without it, a power transfer of that magnitude would not only be impossible but also dangerous.

Back to present, Huo Zheng filled the last of the eastern earthenware water jars and stretched her back. It was an arduous task, going up and down the stream and back to the storage room to fetch water but today, she needed the repetitious action more than ever. As the last of the jars were covered with their lid, she looked around and drew a shaky breath. There, all done. Then, with the vulnerability afforded by the storage room’s straw door closed behind her, she sat on her haunches, tucked her head between her knees and cried.

She had woken up that morning to find A-Li cold as ice and barely breathing. In her worry, she had disturbed Lu Dongbin’s slumber to ask him to check on A-Li. She needed the reassurance that he was still alright.

The immortal stood up and rushed back to the hut with her. Some time after checking A-Li’s vital signs, Lu Dongbin had somberly asked her to step out.

Fetching water back and forth had not provided any relief to Huo Zheng’s troubled heart. No matter how hard she tried to convince herself to be emotionally detached from A-Li’s condition, she couldn’t. Because how could she not, when every single time he had looked at her during better times in the past, and even now when he lay still as death, her silly heart kept on chanting mine-mine-mine? How could she even imagine a future without seeing him again?

“Huo Zheng!”

She shot back to her feet, her heart thundering an incessantly disturbing rhythm in her chest. She carelessly wiped her sleeve over her face and ran out toward the direction of Lu Dongbin’s voice. She found him seated at the outdoor wooden table where they ate their meals and prepared herbs. His weathered face held the look of pure worry, which certainly did not help calm her heart down.

Please tell me he’s going to be alright, her inner voice chanted inside her head as she put on a tremulous smile. She had seen that kind of face before, had worn it herself when she became the bearer of bad news. And although she blamed herself for feeling weak, she was smart enough to know being a coward when faced with that sight was the best thing to do.

“Lu Dongbin Tianshen, I apologize for being slow. I have just finished bringing water but I will cook our breakfast now.”

She bowed and turned to go but he called her back, the tone of his voice grave.

“He’s not getting any better. I need to take him home. One of his grandparents is the best healer of the immortal realms. He should know what to do.”

Huo Zheng closed her eyes to reject the reality of what stood before her but it only intensified the sound of her heart hammering inside her chest, that feeling of losing her breath as if she had just run several li.

“You should say goodbye.”

“I don't want to,” she stressed through gritted teeth. Wasn’t it cold a while ago? Why did she feel so hot? “Excuse me, I need to cook the rice.”

“Huo Zheng, I don’t need you to say goodbye. But you should.”

She whipped around, feeling the sides of her eyes sting with the onset of tears. I’m tired of crying. I don't want to cry anymore!, she wanted to scream but crying was all she had been consistently able to do since the day they had arrived here. It was the only thing she could do. Lu Dongbin sat there with an unmoving expression on his face, cold and stark like the barren tree behind him.

“One immortal day is equivalent to one mortal year. His Highness The First Prince will need more than just an immortal month to heal. Say your goodbyes, child.”

An immortal month is about thirty days. Thirty mortal years. And Lu Dongbin said it might take more than that? She wouldn’t live that long. She wouldn’t be able to see A-Li again.

Huo Zheng’s hands fisted against her sides. “What about the Golden Elixir?”

Lu Dongbin shook his head. “I have tried for so many years. It is impossible. It will forever be a myth.”

Myths. Gods. Immortals. How Huo Zheng’s life had freely spun toward this direction still gave her a headache every time she tried to put more thought to it than was necessary. But faced with the insurmountable was when the improbable became believable. It was why mortals turned to faith, to myths.

To gods.

“Many weeks ago, I didn’t believe in gods but now I am within the vicinity of two. Lu Dongbin Tianshen,” She took a deep breath to shave off the edge in her voice. Her chest constricted, more so when she cast a glance at the hut where A-Li lay. “Please, let me know what I need to do to prepare the ingredients you need for the Golden Elixir.”

“We don’t have enough time to do it, Huo Zheng. One, I told you, we need the divine fungal grass, and that became extinct so long ago.”

“But you have been feeding him cores!”

“Which carry with them the bare minimum his body needs to sustain itself for the day. Meanwhile, a Golden Core takes the cultivated spiritual energy of the level of High Gods, or a billion mortal lives, maybe more.”

Huo Zheng’s heart raced as Lu Dongbin’s words harkened to words her grandmother had spoken to her all her life.

“All mortals are reincarnated, right? How many lives do you think I have lived? Can we leech this cultivation you need off of that?”

Lu Dongbin poured himself a drink. Considering the sun had just freshly risen in the sky, a drink was way too early. Huo Zheng walked closer and leaned forward from the opposite side of the table.

“Lu Dongbin Tianshen!” The air between them suddenly felt hostile and Huo Zheng would have been scared if she had not been feeling so desperate. “Enlighten me, please.”

The old man shook his head and mournfully looked away. “When I said a billion mortal lives, child, I referred to killing more than a billion living mortals, not leeching off their past lives. Such a massacre is forbidden by Celestial rules. And leeching off past lives— that’s impossible.”

“But I thought our existence was also tethered on lessons learned or punishments earned from our past lives. It then follows we mortals are linked to our past lives, am I right?”

“Yes. But mortals weren't supposed to recall how these lives were like. How can you leech off something you cannot remember?”

We weren't supposed to remember? “Lu Dongbin Tianshen, I can recall over a hundred different past lives.”

The old man’s gray brows lifted.

But it was enough for Huo Zheng to see that the immortal was also interested to know more. She was willing to give more, anything, if only it guaranteed that A-Li could stay a bit longer. She had always believed this latent ability of hers would have some use in the future. If this was it, she would not back down.

“I see them all in my dreams, and so vivid are they that I still wade through which is real and which is not hours after waking up.”

“Do not let your desperation cause you to lie before a god, child!” Lu Dongbin reprimanded but as furious as he looked, he had the rabid look of an animal who had just caught the scent of his next meal. “The soup from the River of Oblivion ensures that mortals on reincarnation cycles have no memory of their past lives. The memory of one, two, leaking — I would understand — but over a hundred, you say? The Underworld is too bureaucratic to have let that slide.”

A trill of fear snaked down Huo Zheng’s back. Growing up, she had been warned by her family never to let anyone know of her secret so could she trust Lu Dongbin with it to make it right by A-Li?

It was a risk she had to take.

“If I had the recollection of my past lives, could you make use of it to help save A-Li?”

“There is probably a way, but you better not lie. If I run the risk of endangering the oldest son of the Heavenly Emperor, I better make sure it is worth it first. Let me search your soul.”

Huo Zheng had no idea how that went but remembering the day the Three Monkeys swore to be tied down to Huicūn, she demanded a promise.

“You must never tell anyone about me nor breathe a word about what I had sought done.”

Lu Dongbin’s head shot back and his face reddened. It reminded Huo Zheng of the indignation on the Three Monkeys’ faces when they were asked to bind themselves to Huicūn. It must be a universal reaction from immortals to be flighty about making promises.

“I cannot lie to the Celestial Tribunal, to the Heavenly Emperor nor to the First Prince.”

“Then don't, but only open your mouth if they specifically ask. Do I have your word?”

Lu Dongbin cleared his throat and crossed his arms over his chest. “I'm not sure where you have acquired your boldness, child, but you forget I am the one doing you and the First Prince a great favor.”

Huo Zheng would have balked, had she not been used to negotiating with men all her life. It all boiled down to how much the other side wanted what one side had to offer. Per Lu Dongbin’s own words, Huo Zheng had confirmation she was an anomaly, and based on the tone of his voice, he would give an arm and a leg to search her soul — whatever that meant.

So even if it killed her, Huo Zheng let her shoulders sag and stepped away.

“Where are you going?” Lu Dongbin stood up in such a rush, the drink he was imbibing spilled on the table. The liquid traveled half the length of the table before it seeped into the wood, making it darker.

“I’ll say my goodbyes to A-Li. If I ride hard enough, I could still make it to Huicūn by sunset.”

She had taken several steps when Lu Dongbin shouted, “Alright! I swear to keep this a secret unless directly asked!”

Thunder rumbled from the clear skies above, startling Lu Dongbin. He muttered something along the lines of it was not supposed to do that but then again, he was some distance off so that Huo Zheng wasn’t sure she whether she had misheard.

Huo Zheng stopped and turned around, making sure a smile wouldn’t slip off the serious expression on her face.


Lu Dongbin sighed and picked up his bottle, beckoning her to come closer.

“Let us begin.”


It was the most rigorous interview Huo Zheng had ever encountered in her life. Lu Dongbin exhaustively asked about her birth date, read her palm, read her face, fiddled with his star charts, divinors’ board, cosmic boards, trigrams and hexagrams, repeatedly gasped, gave her looks of alarm, then started asking about some of her recollection on her past lives.

“Lu Dongbin, you were not lying when you said there was a way to cure A-Li with my help, right?” Huo Zheng asked as she spread herself on her back on the pallet, breathing low so as not to choke from the incense coming from Lu Dongbin’s censers.

“I think I have read of one way from the Celestial Library but I first need to ensure your soul could take it,” Lu Dongbin replied all too eagerly. “I don't think the First Prince would appreciate it if his wife died while under my care.”

“I’ve been dying since the first moment I took my breath anyway. What difference does it make now?” She muttered and almost choked when smoke entered her throat.

“Were you always like that?”

Huo Zheng shifted her head to a more comfortable position. “Always like what?”

“Like you couldn't wait to meet death.”

“It doesn't help that I can see them.”

“You can see Death Gods?”

Huo Zheng almost laughed at how wide Lu Dongbin’s eyes got.

“So the Death God inside the Duchess’ room…?”

Huo Zheng nodded.

“You are a peculiar mortal. Are you a goddess on a mortal trial?”

Huo Zheng’s initial reaction was to scoff at the thought until she remembered she was in the presence of two gods. She let her head fall to her left to observe the deathly stillness of A-Li’s profile, her thoughts suddenly as murky as a disturbed still pond.

Me. A goddess on a mortal trial. Could it be possible?

It filled her heart with hope, sending a tickling feeling to the middle of her chest. If she was a goddess on a trial, she might be able to see A-Li again even after she died. Their story together wouldn’t have to end here.

“Do you have a lot of those?” She returned her attention back to Lu Dongbin. “Gods on mortal trials?”

“Not really, but if you were, there would be another god hovering about. A starlord, a family member, a worried lover— it’s almost a predefined outcome. But aside from the First Prince, I have yet to see any.”

And it was not like A-Li had been intentionally looking for her too. The Three Monkeys had literally burned their way to Huicūn.

The hope she had prematurely nurtured died inside her chest. Still, Huo Zheng forced herself to look at the brighter side of things. She was still a mortal who had a remembrance of her past lives. Lu Dongbin thought it could be worth a shot.

Her vision swam as the effects of the tea that Lu Dongbin had asked her to take to help her sleep finally presented itself. He had claimed it would make his soul searching easier for her, and had promised her a massive headache when she woke up after.

“Are you getting sleepy, child?”

”Unh huh,” she mumbled, her hand reaching over the bed to tangle her fingers with A-Li’s cold ones. There was limited space inside the tiny hut that was built only for one and so for the past several nights, Huo Zheng had lain beside A-Li both as a bunkmate and as a patient’s guardian. Today’s diagnostic procedure needed a bed for her and so she was made to share A-Li’s bed again, and for that, Huo Zheng was thankful. Having him nearby helped quell her fear.

It was unacceptable for her to lose control— but now, not only was she losing it, she was giving it up willingly. This unknown ritual that Lu Dongbin was about to perform on her felt scary, like the dark shadow of a heavy cloud crawling over Bailóng valley, threatening destruction on all the tea shrubs that thrived under the shadow of the glacier. Her only source of comfort was the cold and still body beside her, one whose impending death caused her heart to want to claw its way out of her chest.

Scared as she was of how painful the soul search could be — and she imagined it would, since she was practically inviting Lu Dongbin’s spirit to go inside her body— that worry seemed infinitesimal compared to her fear of the alternative.

“Close your eyes, Huo Zheng.”

Huo Zheng did as told, her last sight that of A-Li’s still profile.

Will it hurt?

Will it help?

Huo Zheng’s fingers around A-Li’s tightened. As her last grip of the conscious world loosened, her last thought was of why she was really doing this.

At all.

Chapter 49

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