Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 58 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 58

written by LigayaCroft
edited by kakashi & Panda

Compared to that time when she woke up after the Cǎibǔ ritual, Huo Zheng opened her eyes feeling refreshed, encased in A-Li’s strong arms. For the first time in quite a long while, she felt happy. With a restrained squeal, she snuggled closer, placing her nose close to the crook between A-Li’s shoulder and neck.

She had always wondered why even during the hottest of days the Three Monkeys smelled so addictive, almost like an infant’s natural scent. Now knowing that they were immortals, she sighed.

These immortals. How life must be so easy for them— smelling wonderful and having powers.

But then Huo Zheng remembered her first life and her sarcastic thoughts once again gave way to guilt. As a goddess, she had destroyed a world. Why should she be happy?

The crook of a knuckle tipped her head up by the chin.

“Xiăohŭ, why do you look sad?”

What about you? She wanted to ask. What have you done in Dìyù for you to return on the verge of death?

To distract herself from wallowing in more guilt, she pushed herself to sit up and get dressed.“I was worried about you for several weeks but now I just miss Huicūn a lot,” she deflected, snatching her tunic from the bottom of their makeshift bed.

A-Li nodded, and the presence of his boyish smile reached Huo Zheng’s heart and made it race. Her eyes greedily ran over his entire form. His lustrous hair, long lashes, that tanned skin that wrapped around toned muscles—

“It’s been almost two months since we left. Nǎinai must be so worried. For sure we have missed a lot on Ling’er’s development. Zūzu and Gun Gun must have killed each other by now. And don't forget the harvest! I missed that too!”

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 back from the clutches of death and all he could think of are his mortal teas. For some reason, this thought caused a painful twist in Huo Zheng’s chest.

They proceeded to get dressed in the quickest possible time. Huo Zheng pretended that she did not notice the worried look on A-Li’s face when he saw the damage the trial had wrought on her as he helped her tie the cloth that bound her breasts. He hissed as he traced lines on her back. The location had made it difficult to see for herself but judging from the weeks she spent in pain and the days she had had to wash residual dried blood from her tunics, she knew it couldn’t look good.

“It’s just scars,” she shrugged with a small smile as she put her tunic on. “I'm fine now.”

She saw him take a swallow before he nodded his acquiesce. Once again reminding herself that he had not asked for the ritual but was now suffering the guilt for it, she planted a quick kiss on the side of his lips. Brows raised, he looked at her with a fathomless expression on his face. She responded by holding out her hand.

“Let me carry the firewood,” he volunteered even as his free hand already tugged on the strap slung over her right shoulder.

Huo Zheng no longer put up a fight over the task and settled for linking her left hand with his right one. He looked pleased at her choice and they walked side-by-side over the green carpet of moss that covered the forest floor.

“Xiăohŭ, Lu Dongbin had informed me that he already explained our Kingdom to you. Now that you know who I am, I suppose you have questions.”

She had.


Are you really planning to leave after you have served your sentence in Huicūn?

Do you know who I am? To which immortal tribe do I belong to?

But instead she said, “Tell me about your wife.”

He glanced at her, his brows almost meeting together in the middle and with the sun a quarter down in the sky before it bid goodbye for the day, the shadows it made on A-Li’s face made everything look harsher.

“The one who died five, six, years ago? Or was it much longer than that?” Now that her thoughts had returned to the woman whom he had called his wife, Huo Zheng attempted to think positive thoughts about who that woman had been, even though her own stomach filled with a burning sensation. She better not be beautiful and feminine and graceful, she thought, her teeth biting the soft flesh behind her bottom lip. “Was she also a mortal? Was she the reason why you cousins were in the mortal realm? Why do you look like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like I said something stupid.”

“Xiăohŭ—” with the hand that was linked with hers, he pulled her close so their arms rubbed against each other. “I was expecting you to ask about many things but this.”

But how could she not? That life that had met A-Li, the Courtesan who had fallen in love with him, had bothered Huo Zheng second only to her first life. What was her name? What did that woman look like? Why did that woman die a tragic death? Since what she had seen of the Courtesan’s life were just snippets of sweet memories with A-Li, Huo Zheng had wondered if the woman's love had ever been reciprocated, which was hardly likely. Being her grandmother’s old profession, Huo Zheng knew those flowers ended up living lonely lives, discarded as soon as their face value had diminished along with their youth.

But what of A-Li? Did he ever think kindly of the Courtesan at all?

“You must have loved her,” she tried her best to keep her voice plain even though she herself detected the edge in it. However like her pig when it had caught the scent of truffles, Huo Zheng was not yet ready to let go. “What was she like?”

A-Li’s gaze followed her silently and Huo Zheng showed she meant it by raising a brow at him.

“Very well,”’A-Li looked forward, his grip on her hand tightening. “Her name was Jia’er and she was a mortal who lived in Luoyang many… many years ago. She was beautiful. Feminine. Graceful. But more than that, her heart was so pure, nobody, most especially I, deserved it.”

Take a sword and stab my heart with it!, she wanted to scream but instead flashed A-Li a small smile, never mind if it did not meet her eyes. Where did a courtesan stand against those wifely qualities? Worse, where did she stand against those qualities?

What are you even thinking about, trying to strike a stone with an egg? Of course he’ll be gone after he has served his sentence.

“We could sword-fly and be at the outskirts of the Bailòng Glacier before the sun sets. We’ll be home after a couple of hours on foot because magick does not work in Huicūn. Will you be fine with that?”

Was that even a question? Now that A-Li’s health was back to normal while she still carried the festering guilt caused by her knowledge of her first life, all Huo Zheng wanted to do moving forward was to stay out of his sight. This need to draw close to him and the necessity to extricate herself from him was tearing her apart from the inside out. Huicūn would easily afford her reasons to stay out of the way. She nodded, maybe all too eagerly.

“Xiăohŭ,” A-Li stopped walking, causing her to to stop as well. “When we get to Huicūn, I—”

“Are Gun Gun and Zūzu really your relatives?”

A-Li blinked at her interruption. Huo Zheng knew he must be judging whether to continue his original trail of thought and she exhaled in relief when he nodded in response.

“My nephew and my cousin, yes. But they are not related to each other at all. Gun Gun is the son of my cousin from my Mother's side while Zūzu is the only daughter of my Father’s twin. For a long time, Gun Gun and I were the only children in our Kingdom so we naturally became the best of friends but Zūzu, she came much later and started following us around until we had no choice but to take her in.”

“And how old are all of you? In immortal years? I already know of the one mortal year is to one immortal day conversion.”

“Forty five,” he replied, holding on tighter to her hand when her grip purposely slackened.



Forty-five thousand! “And Gun Gun? Zūzu?”

“Almost forty three. And Zūzu is thirty seven and five.”

“But I look older than her!” She complained, incredulous at how a woman older than many mortal lifetimes could look and act so full of youth.

“Age is a relative thing in the immortal realm. My Mother Lady was almost a hundred thousand years older than my Father Lord. Yet, they look around the same age.”

Huo Zheng recalled the painting she had retrieved from A-Li’s possessions when the Three Monkeys had first arrived in Huicūn. The handsome man and the beautiful woman who turned out to be the gods who ruled over all Creation — Huo Zheng started feeling light-headed and held on to A-Li’s hand for support.

“Did your mortal wife even know you were an immortal?” She asked again to divert her thoughts as soon as she caught her breath. “How long has it been since you and her… since you knew her?”

“I was forty thousand,” A-Li’s eyes scanned over her face and they looked considerably sad. “I never got around to telling her. She… died before I could.”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” she apologized although she did not mean it. Knowing she knew something this mysterious mortal woman did not made her somehow feel taller. The realization of her selfish thoughts was shocking because she never knew she had it in her to take pride over somebody's ignorance. Yet this was a woman whom A-Li had clearly loved or an immortal prince like him would never have married and mourned her for five thousand immortal years. Huo Zheng felt thusly justified at feeling no remorse over her unkind thoughts.

“Why are we talking about her when we should be talking about us?”


“I have asked you to think about why I would go to Dìyù for you. Have you?”

Her cheeks grew incredibly warm. “While I am grateful for the save, I did not ask for it so I don't want to talk about it. If we are going to remain as lovers, there should be no talk about feelings,” Remembering his words the night they had first made love, she added, “Or forever.”

She could not deliver that though. Since the Cǎibǔ ritual, she had noted that the life line on her hand had incredibly shortened. What else did she have to offer this beautiful immortal except a couple of measly mortal years?


“You're easily agreeable,” she poked, both irritated and relieved.

“I told you, I could always try again tomorrow. You’ll eventually say the words.”

A-Li summoned his sword out of thin air. Huo Zheng’s annoyance at A-Li's self-assured statement dissipated as she watched the sword in fascination. It audibly hummed while it grew bigger until they could comfortably step on the blade.

“Why doesn't your magick work in Huicūn?” she asked as they flew above trees, mountains and valleys. “You can control the weather. You could have made everyone's lives easier at the farms, even yours.”

“I have no idea why either. But I have many other reasons to be thankful to be able to call Huicūn home.”

His grip around her waist tightened as he spoke, leaving Huo Zheng quiet afterwards.

His nearness was nearly her own undoing. She felt her knees grow weak as her curves met the now familiar hard planes of his body. Why did his eyes have to smolder like that whenever he looked at her, as if he wanted to ravish her? And why did her body start melting from the inside every time, as if she wanted to be ravished?

The attraction between them was undeniably thrilling. But the truth of her identity — of a goddess charged with the crime of murder, and his — the First Prince of the current Heavenly Emperor, made any future with him look bleak.

It served her well to be reminded that for them, Huicūn was all but a wonderful interlude.

And perhaps if she could keep her eyes open long enough, she would be able to enjoy moments like this with him a little bit longer.



With no magick, no lantern and only the moon to guide their way, A-Li and Huo Zheng arrived at Huicūn halfway through the pig hour [1]. The town inhabitants were already asleep hence the main road was empty. A-Li breathed in the familiar smell of bamboo and tea, his heart clenching with anticipation at reuniting with his local friends come the morning.

Without his immortal powers, he felt tired but just being back in this town also made him feel rejuvenated. It had rained, making the ground soft, but against the moonlight the street possessed a sheen that was plain mesmerizing. He was already formulating a mental list of all he needed to do tomorrow— like finding out just how much of the harvest he had missed, checking the culverts, testing the soil for moisture —

“It seems Nǎinai is still awake. I need to go stop by my clinic before I head on up.”

Huo Zheng had talked about urgently needing to take he shi feng first thing as a precaution to their noon interlude. A-Li purposed to drop her off by the cellar entrance but they were both taken by surprise when the doors opened, revealing Huo Mao.

“Took you two long enough to show up around here,” she said, her eyes quick on their joined hands which they self-consciously unclasped.

A-Li cleared his throat and moved, ready to get on his future grandmother-in-law’s good graces when she raised the end of her cane toward Huo Zheng.


“Yes, Nǎinai?”

“You have drastically changed your fate, child.”

Something in the tone of Nǎinai’s voice crept under A-Li’s skin, and the old woman by all means did not look too pleased either.

“Nǎinai—” he took a step forward again but she waved him off.

“I need to talk to my granddaughter. You, A-Li, have other things to mind on your own.”

With that, Nǎinai turned and went back inside the cellar. Huo Zheng gave A-Li a withering smile before she followed her grandmother, leaving him alone and for a couple of breaths unsure at what to do next.

Home. Right. Maybe he should go home.

A-Li walked down the path to his house, his thoughts consumed with the dressing down Huo Zheng was probably getting from Huo Mao by now. What could the old woman have meant when she said Huo Zheng’s fate had changed? And what was Huo Zheng’s original fate?

So distracted was he that when he pushed open the door to his house, ready to toss and turn the night away, he almost failed to realize there were not one but two naked people in Gun Gun’s bed.

He did not even need the moonlight to tell him who it was tangled in Gun Gun’s limbs because he would know his best friend’s lover’s form from head to toe anywhere.

Inexplicable rage erupted inside A-Li’s chest. He grabbed the folded blanket from his bed and with an explosive, “Get up!” threw the blanket over Mei Lin’s naked form and moved to the table where between heavy breaths he lit the lamp.

“Li-Gē—” Gun Gun moved from the bed, making a grab for his pants and tunic. “I can explain. I—”

“We have nothing to explain,” Mei Lin haughtily declared, her movements distinctly slower than Gun Gun’s, with her nose up in the air. She did not even bother to get dressed unlike her lover, choosing to wrap the blanket around herself instead.

“Be quiet, Zūzu,” A-Li snapped, breathing through the ugly haze of red he was seeing as he glared at his best friend. And because doing nothing became an increasing nonoption, he stalked toward Gun Gun and grabbed him by his tunic. “Didn’t I tell you that you could have anyone but my sisters— and that exception included her, you idiot?”

Gun Gun did not even put up a fight after A-Li’s fist connected with his jaw, staggering him to the floor. Mei Lin screamed and jumped between them. Her hands pushed against A-Li’s chest, aiming to put more distance between him and her lover.

“You forget you don't speak for me, Li-Gē!”

He grabbed Mei Lin’s right wrist before it connected with his cheek. Her eyes burned like fire and A-Li had no doubt if she had her powers they would all be incinerated by now.

“Do you even know who you are dealing with? Zūzu, weren't you even paying attention all these years?”

“And weren't you also paying attention all these years? You are starting to sound just like my Father, and you know how I hate it when I am treated as if I am something fragile. I am not some prize to be won!”

From the periphery of his vision, A-Li saw Gun Gun slowly stand up to his feet. The fact that he was still able to stand made A-Li’s body tense with the need to flatten him once more.

“A-Li,” Gun Gun called out, using his nickname, something his best friend was oft to do when it was just the two of them talking like they were equals. “I can take responsibility for—”

“No, you won't!” Mei Lin barked back.

“The God of War is a merciless god,” A-Li told Gun Gun over Mei Lin’s objection. “And an even more frightening Father. You are not getting off easy if he makes you his son-in-law.”

“It doesn't matter,” Gun Gun replied. “I am in—”

“Gods, do you men even listen to yourself?” Mei Lin screamed, and did something she hadn’t done to A-Li in a long while: she kicked his shin. The surprise and pain that followed made A-Li momentarily buckle on one side. “Let me put it this way, as I have observed either of you so callously put it on several different occasions. I wanted sex. He,” she pointed at Gun Gun without looking. “He was willing to participate in it. Him and I — we— do not need to get married to do it. There’s no need to talk about honor nor doing the right thing here. I wanted fun. He was willing to give it. As a former libertine, do you understand?”

A-Li stilled, as through the haze of fury came the realization that Mei Lin, his cousin, his sister, his co-disciple, their baby phoenix, had grown-up.

“If my Father wanted me to marry some hot-tempered Demon or Ghost Lord or some crusty Celestial Lord to settle an alliance, then by the gods you idiots, I will take my fun now before my new owner locks me up in his harem for a lifetime of undeserved filial piety.”

“Zūzu,” Gun Gun audibly growled.

“What?” She snapped back. “But it’s true, am I right? Why can’t I be queen after my Mother? Why can’t I have my own harem? Why do men think they can run my life?”

“Nor should women,” said Huo Zheng’s voice from behind, which made them all turn to face the doorway. “Mei Lin, in the name of the Glacier Bailòng, I release you from your oath to us, and to the town of Huicūn. As do we release you, Bai Gun Gun,” she looked at Gun Gun before turning to A-Li, her eyes unwavering. “And you, Bai Li.”

The sound of thunder followed her words. The low rumble lifted the heavy weight upon his person that A-Li had only felt while in Huicūn.

“The three of you are free to go. Tonight. There is no need to linger. Go.”

A-Li wanted to laugh in stunned disbelief. Could this day get even stranger? Finding out Gun Gun and Mei Lin were lovers, having made love to Huo Zheng that morning himself, coming to some sort of understanding that while they should not be together they could still be together— and now she was letting the three of them go and leave Huicūn?

“No,” Mei Lin cried and stomped her feet. She rushed for Huo Zheng, clinging onto their host’s arms. “Don’t make me leave here, Xiăohŭ. I love it here. I have a purpose that I have chosen to live for myself here. Those two can leave. I will stay here with you. Let me stay here with you!”

“You are no longer needed here,” She said in a steady, lower pitched voice. “Leave, Mei Lin, and let us mortals be.”

Mei Lin stepped backward, her shoulders stiff. “You… you know.”

“Yes. I know.”

Narrowed phoenix eyes shot toward A-Li’s direction before they went back to Huo Zheng.

“I’m not leaving,” A-Li declared.

“I’m surprised you think you have a choice in this,” Huo Zheng replied in a detached tone, wrestling her forearm away from Mei Lin. But Mei Lin hung on and refused to let go. “Mei Lin, let me go.”

“Xiăohŭ, you—”

“Let my arm… go!” Huo Zheng staggered backward with the force of her efforts. A-Li quickly caught her before she lost her balance, and he felt her shoulders stiffen in reaction. She shook his hands off and took several steps away from them and toward the door.

“Xiăohŭ—” Mei Lin called out again.

“If you really think of yourself as a healer, Mei Lin, you will keep your mouth shut in the presence of others like you have been taught to do.”

“Well, luckily, I have not,” came Huo Mao’s grating voice before the old woman pushed the door to show herself. “Children, why are the stairs to your door so rickety? Gun Gun, you put your tunic on backwards and that’s a nasty bruise you're developing on your jaw. Zūzu, stop crying and get dressed.”

“Nǎinai,” Huo Zheng said with a shaky exhale. “Why are you here? I told you I will handle this.”

“By letting our guests go? I have told you many times over that your Father is no longer around so stop living like he still is and put yourself first, instead. A-Li,” Huo Mao turned to A-Li, her face suddenly hard. “I do not know how it works in your kingdom but I will not settle for my only grandchild to be your concubine. Give me your word here and now that you will make her your main wife.”

A-Li’s eyes met Huo Zheng’s wide-eyed ones over Huo Mao’s head. As the property of her guardian, Huo Zheng had no say if and when Huo Mao chose a husband for her.

“You have my word.” He swore, shaking his head at the looks of surprise on Mei Lin and Gun Gun’s faces. As living currencies for political alliances, the three of them knew there were complications to his pledge. But as somebody who had already done the things he had done for Huo Zheng, A-Li couldn't care less. “I will take her as my main wife only if she’ll have me.”

“Well, that's settled then,” Huo Mao said and satisfactorily tapped her cane against the floor. “You can get married as soon as I determine an auspicious date.”

“This is madness,” Huo Zheng declared, her hands covering her ears. “Nǎinai, these three have no place here any more than I have any place being the wife of Bai Li!”

“Do not be foolish, child. You spent two full moons with that man.”

“Am I the only one who remembers that Xiăohŭ is already married?”

Huo Mao’s scowl at Gun Gun’s question and Huo Zheng’s triumphant smile sliced through the room.

“Yes, yes, I am already married. I cannot get married again.”

“That only works on the Prince of Nanking,” Huo Mao scoffed, erasing the smile from Huo Zheng’s face. “And everyone here wanted to keep you chained to this town so they of course did not object to your deception. Having an adorable baby like Ling’er was an added incentive too.”

A-Li was sure he heard Huo Zheng’s sharp intake of breath but that dimmed in comparison to the new knowledge of, “You’re not really married?”

“Nǎinai, why are you being so unreasonable?” Huo Zheng gasped, ignoring him, but Huo Mao just shot her a stern, warning look. “I am not getting married. Most especially not to him. Please do not make me!”

She's not married. A-Li felt so much lighter, even lighter than when the curse to make them stay in this village had been lifted a while ago.

Huo Mao rolled her eyes, which with one blind eye looked unsettling.

“Do you even know who his parents are, Nǎinai?” Huo Zheng challenged, her eyes wild.

“I only care that he cares for you. And for this village, too. If you worry about leaving, then ask him to let you stay. Actions have consequences, Xiăohŭ, and I thought I have taught you well.” The old woman sized her tall granddaughter then impatiently tapped her cane. “Gun Gun, Zūzu, come with me. These two need to talk.”

They did, and A-Li was thankful for Huo Mao’s meddling. As the three piled out, Gun Gun alertly assisting Huo Mao, A-Li shot his best friend a look that said We are not yet finished, which Gun Gun received with a quiet nod.

Huo Zheng furiously paced back and forth and she did not look like she was going to stop anytime soon. How confusing it must be for her, how sudden, that Nǎinai was now demanding she marry for honor.

“Xiăohŭ, it can't be that bad to be married to me,” he began after clearing his throat, twice.

She shook her head. “It's not you, it's me. There’s so much we have yet to know about me.”

“I have an eternity to get to know you,” he said softly, taking another determined step closer as her pacing suddenly stopped.

She laughed. The sound was choked, almost pained, but she delivered it in bursts.


“Don’t you want to know why Nǎinai wants us to get married?”

Convenience? Prestige? Riches, although the Huo women were not ones who would be impressed with wealth.

“It does not matter.”

“Oh yes, it does.” She held out her hand. At first A-Li thought it was to keep him at bay but he realized she was showing him something. There was nothing on her hand but the usual lines one would find on one’s own. He frowned as he looked at her from the spaces between her fingers.

“Don’t you gods know how to read a mortal’s fortune?” she asked, tilting her head to the ceiling and letting out a heavy sigh before waving her hand closer to his nose.

A-Li took her hand although he had no idea where to begin. Lian Song had never taught the three of them any divination art, because of how easily signs could be misinterpreted. Case in point, how the former Tianjun had missed the fortuitous signs of Lian Song’s birth. While it had allowed his grand uncle to live a relatively easy life, it was also a given that any son would strive to be recognized by his own father which Lian Song had missed for most of his long life.

“The ritual has further shortened my life.”

“Further?” A-Li clarified, sure he had heard wrong.

“I was not supposed to live long,” she explained, taking her hand back. “I’ve been living on borrowed time all this time.”

A-Li stared at the lines on her hand, self-loathing that he had never gotten around to learning how to palm read especially since his own Mother Lady was pretty good at it. How he wished he knew something, so he could tell her that what those mortal fortunetellers had told her wasn’t true.

But alas, he was ignorant of these things, and all he could do was pull her into his arms and enfold her in a tight embrace.

“We will find a way, Xiăohŭ.”

She felt warm and very much alive. Her breath against the thin cloth of his tunic blew a comforting rhythm that matched the beating of his heart, and after his journey to Dìyù, A-Li was finding that he liked feeling her breathe against him very much.

But just as he was settling into this warm cocoon, already thinking of the nice ways they could end the night before he continued getting Mei Lin and Gun Gun sorted out, Huo Zheng said the words that would forever change any man’s life.

“I am pregnant.”

Chapter 59

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1. Between 9pm-11pm