Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 90 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)



Chapter 90

written by LigayaCroft
edited by Kakashi


Running away from monsters had been a common occurrence for Wei Xiaolian these past couple of years. Somehow, the Dog Beating Stick always kept them at bay, but once she ventured outside its protective circumference they gathered toward her like ants. Her grandfather had once said it was because of the way her skin strangely smelled like white flowers when she was born that she had her trouble, and it was because of the Dog Beating Stick’s noxious spiritual aroma which helped cover it up that she had her reprieve.

Knowing there might be more coming, Wei Xiaolian tried to attract the five Bashe farther away from the town, and deeper into the swampy forest. With only eight daggers and five arrows left, she knew her chances were very slim. But since she could not outrun the serpents, she might as well burn her boats and minimize the fallout.

Which was hard to do because the incessant banging reverberated in her head with discordant noise that made her both annoyed and increasingly sleepy.

She perched herself high atop a tree as the serpents below fought with one another as to who could climb up. They were so big that once again, Wei Xiaolian asked herself: if compared to these monsters’ sizes she was not even a snack, why were they always trying to kill each other to get her?

Wei Xiaolian shook her head and rolled her shoulders to break the drowsiness that had momentarily overtaken her. Taking out her short bow, she counted at the nineteen remaining weak spots that played with her eyes like light reflected by copper mirrors. Not even a breath later, and one of the smaller serpents let out a death shriek as it was finished off by the largest serpent, leaving her with only eighteen weak spots to hit. The small serpent’s death provided a temporary distraction and Wei Xiaolian launched off, dropping from the tree to fire her arrows with speed and precision.

She landed with a roll on top of a serpent’s head but she had barely gotten up on her feet when she flew through the air, courtesy of another serpent’s neck that swiped her.

Then it was air, leaves, branches, air, leaves, before her back hit the upper trunk of a tree. Something cracked, probably a rib or two from her lower chest. Unable to do anything, she fell like a rag doll until she landed on top of a thick branch.

Wei Xiaolian panted through the ache that exploded from many locations within her body. The straps that held her quiver to her back got caught by a branch from above so she made fast work of unstrapping it while holding on to the branch she was on with her left arm.

It was only after she was done and released the quiver to the ground that she noticed two yellow eyes staring at her.

She and the biggest serpent looked at each other eye to eye.

Oh, the irony that she was clinging to a branch grateful to still be alive while death stared her in the face.

Wei Xiaolian laughed but instantly regretted it. The seemingly innocuous action brought into the fore a massive pain that made it hard to move, and harder to breathe.

But she had to laugh, or she would end up crying again. Death had never looked so ugly and so menacing. Maybe the serpent could smell her fear from the air, and she wouldn’t lie.

She had never been this scared.

But, if the gods were watching from their idle places up above, Wei Xiaolian figured she might as well give them a show.

Using tremendous effort as she waded through feelings of agony and discomfort, she struggled to get up on her wobbly knees then to her feet. She ignored her body as it screamed for her to stop and stay still, and took out a dagger each from where they were holstered around her thighs.

“Come on.” She didn’t like how that sounded. It was weak and it betrayed the pain that racked at her body. So, she shouted, ”Come and get me then!”

The serpent hissed and its long neck reared back to strike. Her hands were cold and could hardly feel the metal handles but Wei Xiaolian gripped her blades tighter and crouched.

She jumped just as the serpent struck but the next thing she knew, somebody grabbed her and she was a good distance away from where the serpents were.

***

She was flying.

No. Nobody in the Jianghu [1] could fly this far while carrying another person.

Nor could they go this fast.

She could still hear the serpents’ banging sounds but it was considerably farther away now.

Wei Xiaolian couldn’t stop her hand from cupping the side of his face. He stiffened but looked at her, and she saw his eyes return to black.

He looked different. He had always been handsome but something about him today was glorious. The planes of his face looked rigid. Intense. And his eyes…

Not the sickly yellow like the serpents’ eyes were. Instead, they were a golden amber, shining bright like the sun.

He set her down on the ground with great care that he had never shown her before. His hands ran over her shoulders, her arms, and when she groaned when his hands gently touched the sides of her chest, his gaze became even more brooding.

Wei Xiaolian couldn’t have stopped her hand from cupping the side of his face if she could. He stiffened but he looked at her, and she saw his eyes return to black.

It suddenly struck her that he looked familiar, like she had seen him before. Impossible, considering that her life as a thief made it necessary for her to have a good memory. Yet here he was, so strange and yet so dear.

How could a man’s facial skin be this soft?

How could he smell so good and remind her of babies?

“I will find someone to heal you.”

The statement, his low voice, brought her back to the present. She tried to sit up, which wrenched a cry from her and made her collapse back in anguish.

The momentary panic and the lingering concern in his eyes were unexpected. Surely, somebody whom she had only met barely three full moons ago wouldn’t look this concerned unless they were family?

“There is a town nearby,” she wheezed. When had breathing and talking become hard, with air being in short supply like somebody had punctured a hole in her chest? “The serpents…”

Her voice trailed off because Bai Li’s eyes turned golden again.

“Hold still, I will make this quick.”

It was four monsters against one, how could he finish it quickly?

Bai Li stepped away from her and with a wave of his hand, something covered Wei Xiaolian. She knew it because it was windy a while ago and suddenly it was like she was sheltered underneath something warm. Wei Xiaolian reached up, and something that felt cold and hard reacted to her touch, showing off a honeycomb pattern over the spot above her fingers.

She looked back at Bai Li.

Just who was this man?

Wei Xiaolian watched Bai Li’s right hand go inside his left sleeve. She must have only imagined it, but wisps of white smoke floated from his left arm.

And even though she was protected behind a barrier, she felt something release along with that white smoke. Suddenly, Wei Xiaolian could barely breathe. A drop in air pressure— something so strong that some of the thinner branches of trees around them splintered, while the tinier rocks that dotted the ground floated up by one to two chǐ [2].

Even her Wàigōng did not have this much spiritual presence.

No mortal had.

The banging got louder. It didn’t take long before the serpents showed up, slithering over and biting one another in their haste.

To add to all the surprises that she had already received this afternoon, Bai Li’s sword materialized in his right hand. She had trained with him for several months and while Bai Li could wield all sorts of weapons, he had had no weapon of his own.

Yet, there it was, a majestic sword that gleamed as he held it with its tip to the ground.

Then he was off. Wei Xiaolian didn’t dare blink as she tried to follow his movements. There was no hesitation, no mercy, in each slash that he delivered until he beheaded each serpent. When one tried to bite him, he even stopped it by holding and breaking off its fang… with just one hand.

It turned out there was no need to pray to gods after all. She was already in the vicinity of one all along.

* * *

ENDNOTES

1] (江湖) – literally translates as “Rivers and Lakes”, but figuratively refers to the “Martial World” or the “underground world of martial arts”.
2] (市尺) - 13 inches, or a Chinese foot