Yue Qingyuan was dead.
Torn apart by a thousand arrows until nothing was left. The only proof of his previous existence being Xuan Su, now only scraps of metal after its owner’s death, a pitiful end for the weapon whose mere name had struck fear in the hearts of many demons.
He had laughed when the Beast brought the news, when he threw the remains of that sword in front of him. He had laughed himself hoarse, and at the demon’s disdainful, questioning look, he laughed harder because he didn’t know. He didn’t know why he was laughing.
He lost his mind soon after.
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“—di? Shidi, are you alright?”
Shen Qingqiu jerked back from the outstretched hand. He realized that the hand belonged to Yue Qingyuan who was still alive . Next to him stood Liu Qingge , despite his confirmed death years ago. Confirmed, because Shen Qingqiu himself had been present at the scene.
“... Nevermind me, Zhangmen-shixiong.” He somehow managed to control his voice not to waver. Regardless, Yue Qingyuan still looked at him with undisguised concern, while Liu Qingge scoffed.
“Very well, if you say so.” The sect leader then turned towards the Bai Zhan Peak Lord, “Liu-shidi, although you don’t usually pick disciples for yourself, there’s no harm in observing the hopefuls. What do you think about this year’s batch of participants?”
Though he looked reluctant, Liu Qingge decided to do as the man asked. He took one look around the field below and pointed at one boy in particular, “That one has potential.”
Shen Qingqiu, who had just managed to gather his bearings, followed the others’ gaze and felt his own eyes widen in disbelief.
He was convinced now. He had somehow found himself years in the past. Because at the end of where Liu Qingge had pointed was the Beast.
Still small, still weak.
This was the perfect chance to kill it, before it grew too strong.
He made his way down to the field where the hopeful disciples-to-be were digging holes, ignoring Yue Qingyuan’s inquiries, his sight set solely on the filthy wolf in sheep’s clothing. As he made his way closer, he unsheathed Xiu Ya and slowly walked towards the demon who had its head bowed low, immersed in unearthing the ground with its bare hands. It had yet to notice his approaching presence.
So focused on his new objective, Shen Qingqiu didn’t feel someone come up to him, until the person grabbed him on the shoulder.
Startled, he immediately slashed at his ambusher.
Who would have thought that said ambusher was the sect leader himself, trying to stop Shen Qingqiu from murdering an innocent child in cold blood.
Who would have thought that Yue Qingyuan wouldn’t dodge, because he hadn’t expected to be attacked by Shen Qingqiu of all people.
It was a clean slash straight across the throat, cutting through the man’s arteries, and perhaps such precision would have usually earned him praise, but this matter would be the last thing any member of the Sect should be proud of.
Shen Qingqiu watched as Yue Qingyuan looked at him wide-eyed, before the light in his eyes dimmed and he fell, blood trickling from his mouth and the wound on his throat.
His hand trembled. He dropped Xiu Ya, white blade bathed in the red red red of Yue Qingyuan’s blood. He felt nauseous. He felt faint.
In the middle of the now chaotic field, filled with confused and horrified would-be disciples and peak lords alike, Shen Qingqiu blacked out.
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“ — go back first. I’m the oldest, I can’t just leave them be.”
A small, painfully familiar child said to him.
He remembered exactly where this was. A glance down at his own body confirmed his thoughts.
The moment when Yue Qi walked out there was the start of everything going downhill in his life, and he couldn’t let that happen a second time.
He grabbed at the older child’s hand, ready to tell him to forget about those other children, to run away with him and just forget everything , when he heard a voice long forgotten, but one he never stopped hating.
There, in the middle of the streets, Qiu Jianluo sat upon a steed, whipping at the filthy street children who dared make themselves at home in his territory.
All reason fled Shen Jiu’s mind as he saw red, and before he knew it, he had run towards that voice. Killing him once was not enough to satiate his desire to make the young lord suffer. He was no longer that helpless child from years ago. He had grown, cultivated, he was strong now, he could defeat the man in his sleep.
It slipped his mind that he currently had yet to grow, he had not cultivated, he was still weak .
He threw a piece of rock at the young master’s head, imbued his spiritual powers in it, expecting it to nail him straight in the head and kill him instantly. Instead, it lost control midair, his cultivation, although present, had never been polished. The rock broke and shot shrapnel everywhere, some of which hit the Qiu Jianluo’s horse in the eye.
The horse went mad, galloping wildly, and Shen Jiu stood frozen at the unexpected turn of events. He couldn’t move in time as the horse made its way towards him.
Suddenly, he was pushed away.
Horrifying snapping, cracking sounds were heard, as well as an agonized scream, followed by silence.
When he looked back, Yue Qi laid on the ground, trampled flat by Qiu Jianluo’s horse. Snapped ribs poking out of his chest, skull cracked open, blood creating a huge puddle around him.
Shen Jiu couldn’t hold it in anymore. He threw up, his stomach contracting and trying to expel contents that were barely there, and he failed to hear the young master scream at his servants to capture all the street rats and kill them on the spot.
Something hard hit him behind the head, causing him to fall face first to the ground, sullied with his vomit. There, he was beaten to death.
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Immortal Alliance Conference. Wu Yanzi.
His old master being alive meant that he had yet to reunite with Yue Qingyuan. He felt anxious, wanting to find the other before Wu Yanzi could find him and undoubtedly kill him. Shen Jiu proposed the idea of splitting up, so they could cover more grounds and rob from more people. At this point he was skilled enough in swindling people, so Wu Yanzi agreed easily and left.
As soon as the man was far enough, Shen Jiu sprinted in the opposite direction. He couldn’t remember where exactly he had reunited with Yue Qingyuan, not when everywhere he looked was filled with dense trees and demons lurking in the dark.
He ran for hours and couldn’t find signs of Yue Qingyuan anywhere. Just as he had lost hope, he finally stumbled upon the other, his back facing Shen Jiu. Except—
That proud, broad back had a tip of a sword sticking through it.
When Wu Yanzi noticed his presence, he discarded Yue Qingyuan’s limp body to the side and wiped away the blood with a piece of clothing he had ripped from the Cang Qiong disciple’s robes.
“Ah, there you are. I was just about to go look for you. Come on, this one wasn’t holding anything valuable with him. Let’s move a bit further before continuing our hunt.”
He didn’t hear anything the man had just said, because he was transfixed ad Yue Qingyuan’s motionless form on the ground. Once again, he failed to save him.
Fighting Wu Yanzi head-on was useless, he knew this. Yet the blood rushing to his head prevented him from thinking straight as he lunged at the man in fury.
Wu Yanzi frowned, “What a shame.”
Suddenly, Shen Jiu felt his breath being knocked out of him, his body temperature lowered as warmth seeped away. Though he had never experienced it for himself, he knew that this was the result of the dark talisman his old master normally used when he was backed into a corner.
“I suspected something was wrong when you suggested we split up in an unknown territory, so I slipped my talisman within your clothes. I’m very glad I did, seeing as my little pet had decided to bite the hands that fed him.”
His insides felt like they were being squeezed and twisted, he couldn’t help gasping in pain as he fell to the ground, curling up in a fetal position.
“Still, I suppose I could show you some mercy. You’ve been very useful these past few years, disciple of mine. Sleep well, now.”
His heartbeat slowed down, and try as he might, he couldn’t keep his eyes open.
Shen Qingqiu woke up in Lingxi Cave. Liu Qingge went into qi deviation. It took a long time before he could stabilize the man.
By the time he got out of the cave, Cang Qiong Mountain had been razed to the ground, and he received news that the sect leader had died from the demonic invasion.
Yue Qingyuan died from Without-A-Cure.
Yue Qingyuan died from qi deviation.
Yue Qingyuan died falling into the Endless Abyss.
Shen Qingqiu believed he found it. He found the answer to save Yue Qingyuan, to stop this loop, to end it all.
It took eight thousand, two hundred, and twenty one days of torturous nightmare.
No, he thought. He had actually figured it out earlier. Much, much earlier. He wasn’t dumb. He could have stopped this torture sooner if he wanted to. The only thing stopping him from doing so, however, was his own accursed cowardliness, that voice at the back of his mind telling him that no, he didn’t want to do it. Why did he have to do this? To go through this hell? Why did he have to save that man?
Why. Why. Why why why why why why why why why—
In the end, he had stopped questioning. He had stopped trying to go against the current, to try and make a third option for himself. For the two of them.
He was tired.
This time, his consciousness brought him to Qing Jing Peak in flames, disciples trying to put it out to no avail. Those are demonic flames, after all. No amount of water could distinguish it, for it only listens to the will of its master. And right now, its master was demanding Shen Qingqiu to hand over his life to him, or he would let make the entirety of Cang Qiong Mountain Sect be engulfed in a blazing inferno.
Better to just get this over quickly.
He walked towards the Beast without protest, much to the surprise of everyone present, including Yue Qingyuan.
The desperation in Yue Qingyuan’s voice tugged at his heart, loathe as he admitted it, but it didn’t cause his steps to falter.
“Qingqiu… Xiao Jiu!!”
That, however, did.
He stopped in his tracks and, against his better judgment, turned around.
There was nothing left for him, so he might as well indulge the man one last time.
Yue Qingyuan’s deathly pale face was the last thing he could process before he self-destructed.
Although he would have preferred to see the other man’s usual calm smile in his last moment, Shen Jiu guessed that, considering the current circumstances, this was already more than enough.
That was his last thought before nothingness consumed him.
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