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Of Babies, Curses, Assasins and Closure

Chapter Text

Drip.
Drip..
Drip...

The rushing acidic water forms a curtain around a stone platform. Stained with blood, the phantom screams still echoed within the halls of this prison.

In the middle of the stone platform was a man, chained with iron long rusted and limbs no longer there. Hair once bound tightly into a half updo loose and matted with grime and blood, robes once pristine and befitting an immortal now torn and filthy beyond compare.

Not even a small distance for an ant away were shards of metal.

Shen Qingqiu was the Peak Lord of Qing Jing and Shen Jiu was a street rat and slave.

But what did it matter now? Shen Qingqiu, Shen Jiu, even if he was named anything else, everything would still be the same.

Qi-ge was dead. What did it matter anymore?

Qi-ge, Yue Qi, Yue Qingyuan.

“I’ve never valued that thing called loyalty, so all my loyalty for this life, I give to you!”

What a joke.

What a f*cking joke.

His entire life must be a joke. Something to laugh at by the higher beings.

It must be. It has to be. Else...else all this shouldn’t be normal right? Which human, in the course of their lifetime, suffered as much as this without anyone?

Or have the gods condemned him to this?

Why?

 

Qi-ge...

Drip...
Drip..
Drip.

Something catches in Shen Jiu’s mouth, the meager sense of taste he had left without a tongue telling it was salty. Another droplet of liquid rolls down his face and he realizes belatedly—

I’m... crying?

“Haha...ahahaha...” Crying. He was crying?

When was the last time he cried? Not when Luo Binghe tortured him. Not when everything he built up for years was broken down in a single movement. Not when Wu Yanzi forced him to kill. Not when the Qiu burnt down. Not even when he was at the Qiu.

Of course. Of course it was Qi-ge that made him cry.

It was always about Qi-ge.

His entire life, loyalty, love, did they not all belong to Qi-ge? It was so unfair. So, so unfair of him.

The entirety of his adolescence, did he not wait for Qi-ge to come back and save him? Even when he didn’t, the rsst of his life was full of waiting and waiting and waiting for just one thing.

Qi-ge, ah, Yue Qi you fool. Couldn’t you have just explained once?

Or was I not worth it after all?

The one still remaining eye of his closed and he wondered. Just what else did he have to hold onto?

Qi-ge was dead.

And Shen Jiu had no purpose without Yue Qi.

The shards of Xuan Su, Qi-ge’s sword, sat like a siren tempting a self-assured man to their death. That beast had left him with a way out.

Then, he should use it, right?

Leaning forward, the chains easily snapped under the added pressure after so long of nothing. Shen Qingqiu had no hands, so he bit one of the shards and—

—swallowed.

He was not a street performer. Shen Jiu had never attempted to swallow a sword before, so he did not know how to do so without hurting himself.

That was good.

His instincts screamed at him, honed by years and years of simply trying to survive, don’t, he’ll die.

That was the objective.

Blood gushed out and he choked. Coughs hacking at his chest and the foul, familiar taste of iron greeting him. He had to hurry, though, lest the beast find out this attempt and bring him back from death’s loving embrace.

Qi-ge, Qi-ge, I’ll meet you soon, alright? Your Xiao Jiu is coming.

The next thing Shen Qingqiu knew, he was crying yet again.

Wrapped in warm cloth and held oh so lovingly, Shen Jiu’s first thought as he felt around and only sensed a tiny body with barely any control over itself was, ‘Can I please die again?’

Chapter Text

It had been a full year ever since Shen Jiu woke up as a newborn.

This place he was in was either not the same land he lived and knew of or it was another world entirely. He had had to learn a language, a new one that he had never once heard of which is, well, Shen Qingqiu was the Peak Lord of Qing Jing. Qing Jing was famous for it's scholars, go tell.

His parents were--they were nice. Too nice.

It made him feel as if they would do something to him and betray him. Shen Jiu had had enough betrayals by Yue Qi and fate to last him more than ten lifetimes, what was another one from the only parental figures he had ever had? Nothing. It was nothing and would amount to nothing, they couldn't do anything to him that would make him despair because he had always known that-that everyone would betray him one way or another.

It was merely life.

Adelaide, his mother was a petite woman with gentle black eyes, she doesn't have a particularly striking appearance but is beautiful nonetheless. The only thing memorable to the average peron about her was her somehow natural purple hair. She smiled and picked him up, cooing over how cute he apparently was. Shen Jiu's body pouted in accordance to his emotions and she smiled even brighter. Gah, stop it! This body knew no control!

"Vermont," she calls him. Shen Qingqiu guessed that it was his name from now on. "Ti comporti bene questa volta? La mamma ha bisogno di darti da mangiare, non essere cattiva, va bene?" (Will you behave this time? Mother needs to feed you, don't be bad, alright?)

Shen could only barely understand what she was saying but he grunted and turned away, not wanting to do so. He needed to learn more about this world.

Mother sighed in exasperation and tried to coax him again. He struggled against her until she put the former Peak Lord down and he walked around as gracefully as he could, struggling to maintain his achieved poise when he could barely walk several ten steps without stumbling. It was utterly humiliating.

(He could still feel the phantom pain of his legs and arms being ripped off every time. Sometimes, he would forget he had limbs entirely and stare at them blankly for hours on end, not processing what he was seeing.)

Desiderio, his father was quite a big person, in contrast from his wife. Dark purple eyes and brown hair, it was an odd combination. He comes home from work at that moment, barging into the door with an excited shout and picking up and twirling his wife around. "Tesoro! Come sei stato oggi?" He asks, after giving her a loud kiss that made Shen Jiu grimace with how shameless it was. (Sweetheart! How have you been today?)

"Buono! Il nostro Vermont ha cercato di camminare da solo, non è così intelligente?" She answers, looking her husband in the eye with such love that Shen Qingqiu could feel it radiating from where he was across the room from this shameless couple. Shen's father laughs, a loud thing, and announces proudly, "Naturalmente il nostro bambino è intelligente! Guarda sua madre!" (Good! Our Vermont has been trying to walk all by himself, isn't he so smart?/Of course our child is smart! Just look at his mother!)

Adelaide blushes and Desiderio takes to finally noticing his son that had been standing in the corner watching them. The man grins and kneels so he's only a little taller than Shen Jiu, which, this body was small for its age. He holds out his hands and keeps the stupid grin on, demanding with a coddling tone, "Vieni da papà, Vermont!" (Come to papa, Vermont!)

Instead of doing what he was told to, Shen Jiu completely ignored his father and ducked under his arms to get to his mother.

Father gasped and clutched at his chest in mock hurt, "Vermont! Non ami più papà?!" He fake-gagged and slowly laid himself down on the floor, fake-sobbing and fake-choking all the while, "Come hai potuto?! Morto, ora sono morto, bleh." (Vermont! Do you not love papa anymore?!/How could you?! Dead, I'm dead now, bleh.)

Shen Jiu huffed and grabbed his mother's skirt, sticking his tongue out at his father.

Their family was poor.

Shen Jiu knew that and he was just wondering about when the day will come that his parents sell him or give him away or something. But that just never happened.

Even when they had found him scratching at his neck until it bled and screaming as he was racked with nightmares at night, even as he gets into fights with the other kids and win it because this time, he was prepared and had strengthened his body and started cultivating at the youngest age possible.

They never let him go, instead quietly supporting him and being there whenever he needed.

It... this...

Qi-ge had used to do the same thing, but then he left. He left and never came back.

Hope was oh so dangerous to have. Even if they never left him, these parents of his would probably betray him sooner or later. They have to. They have to...

Else he wouldn't know what to do.

Despite their financial problems, they made him go to school. The public one and was probably the cheapest but was a luxury to them, Shen Qingqiu, being the scholar that he was and being faced with the opportunity to learn about this world and everything in general, studied hard and proceeded to ace absolutely everything via his iron trap of a memory. The teachers loved having him as a student, he heard, but didn't particularly care.

His parent's faces whenever they were handed his completely unblemished and perfect grades were enough to make his heart warm. Which was weird. Why did his chest feel warm?

Ever since he had been allowed around the neighborhood, Shen Jiu had set a goal to get his body in shape as best as he could and so he could start cultivating earlier than he had in his past life. His parents seemed to think it was a phase that would soon stop, that was fine.

One day, during a stroll, a snake came out of nowhere and wrapped around his leg.

"什麼...?!" He blurts out, the long years of not having to wear any mask bringing up some bad habits. Shen Jiu needed to fix that, really. (What the...?!)

He leans down and looks at the snake, the bamboo green color of its scales a familiar shade, and Shen Qingqiu felt a horribly familiar presence. That, it couldn't be, right?! No way!

Stil, he whispered, "Xiu Ya...?"

The snake perked up and flicked a tongue out at him at which he childishly rolled his eyes and stuck his tongue out back. His parents would be absolutely panicked if they saw this snake version of Xiu Ya and watching them would be... amusing. So Shen Jiu, nine-years-old and positively devious, came home with a snake coiled on his leg and watches with amusement as his parents shout at him and each other and the innocent snake.

Xiu Ya never left and refused to be fed. Shen Qingqiu figured that it had to do with the decreasing rats around, that was fine, they needed the pest infestation to just go away anyways.

He found out soon enough that the city he lived in was a more rural part of the country and was completely overrun by mafia.

His parents explained to him that, should he ever see anything happening to anyone, he was to turn and pretend he never saw it. Or else they would kill him too. They whispered about the mafia, everything they knew about it and spent the rest of the day looking over their shoulders as if someone were watching.

There wasn't, in fact, anyone watching. Shen Qingqiu would have noticed.

“Vermont!” His mother calls, Shen Jiu pausing and looking up from where he was buried in a book borrowed from the library and two stacks of books beside him. Adelaide sighs and brings a hand to his head, ruffling his hair. “Ehi, ehi, ehi, cosa devo fare con te? Dai, la cena è già fredda!” (Aih, aih, aih, what am I to do with you? Come on, dinner is already cold!)

“Mamma, ancora qualche minuto?” He asks, doing his best impression of a kicked puppy. His mother visibly wavers but resolves herself again, darn, it didn’t work anymore. “Vermont, mangia la tua cena o almeno mi aiuti...” (Mother, just a few more minutes?/Vermont, eat your dinner or so help me god...)

Shen Qingqiu was a wise man. He took one look at the murderous expression on his mother’s face and obediently ate his meal.

A sigh followed and Vermont looked up at his mother, wondering what she wanted.

“Vermont. Abbiamo bisogno di fare una chiacchierata.” Oh no. That was her no-nonsense-or-else tone. What happened? “Ma prima aspettiamo tuo padre, va bene?” (We need to have a talk. But we’ll wait for your father first, alright?)

He was eleven now, his parents finally letting him go farther than the block they were in as long as he came back within two hours and not after five-thirty. He thought it was somewhat reasonable, this place was chock full of mafioso and he had barely reached the Foundation ranks. His body would not be able to handle a bullet, which, by the way, guns were supremely interesting.

But they have had this somber mood for a while now and privately, Shen Jiu always thinks that they were preparing to finally give him away. It was fine, he told himself even as his chest squeezed painfully. It was fine, completely fine, he had always known that they would betray him one way or the another. Yet, yet it still hurt.

Why did it hurt so much?

At that point of time, his father walks into the house. Where he would normally cheer and pick up his wife and give her a twirl and grin at him before asking how his day was, now he sighed mournfully and put his things away.

Mother had taken to doing odd jobs here and there, somewhere along the line getting a stable part-time job. Father had started going home later and later, today was an exception to the nowadays' late times he would get home, Shen Jiu sometimes hearing him come into the house at midnight when mother was dead asleep and he was meditating. It felt so off every time it happened that he would get the urge to just go outside and greet him to just have some expression on and not that dead one he had been wearing more often.

"Caro, davvero...?" His mother asks with a clear hesitation, hand lingering on Shen Qingqiu's shoulder. His father looks at them and perks up, a grin lifting his lips from that off expression. "Mn, almeno ho avuto lo stipendio completo per questo mese mentre a malapena alzavo un dito!" (Dear, did they really...?/Mn, at least I got the full salary for this month while barely lifting a finger!)

Shen Jiu stared at the two blankly, hoping that they were merciful enough to not beat around the bush, else he might do something.

"Vermont, cara, madre e padre stanno per essere... saremo coinvolti in alcune cose molto pericolose." Mother hesitated but says bluntly. Father stand behind her with a pleading look and adds in, "Cosa pensi che dovremmo fare?" (Vermont, dear, mother and father are going to be... we are going to be involved in some very dangerous things./What do you think we should do?)

...wait what?

His shock must have been apparent on his face because father starts to make the impression of a kicked puppy and mother's expression shutters into a defensive blank one.

He had expected them to bulldoze on, not getting his opinion, but...

"Penso che voi due siate idioti e che abbiate bisogno di ripensare le cose. La mafia non è uno scherzo." He tells them, watching with a faint relief as their expressions show they let their guard down ever so slightly. Bad idea, but he wouldn't take advantage of that. Xiu Ya slithered up his leg and laid its head on his lap, watching his parents. (I think you two are idiots and need to rethink things. The mafia is no joke.)

The two of them simultaneously blanched at the sight of Xiu Ya so intimately close to Shen Jiu when he never lets his own parents too close and sigh, "Sono serio, Vermont. Ci è stata data un'offerta e..." what wasn't said was that they had no choice but to take up that offer. (I'm serious, Vermont. We were given an offer and...)

"Allora, di cosa volevi parlarmi? Arriva al punto." Shen Jiu hissed, voice almost wavering. (So, what did you want to talk to me about? Get to the point.)

He didn't want to be abandoned, he realizes belatedly. He expected it, but it doesn't mean he has to like or want it, did he? That would be... horrible.

Father--Desiderio, Shen Jiu reminds himself with not a small amount of desperation--reaches out and settles a hand on his head, Xiu Ya staring unerringly at the bigger man. "Vermont, io e tua madre ci uniremo a una famiglia di mafiosi. Sarà molto pericoloso per te, quindi dovrai vivere da solo per un po '." (Vermont, your mother and I are going to join a mafia family. It is going to be very dangerous for you, so you'll have to live on your own for a while.)

"E?" Shen Qingqiu raises a brow and waits, his parents sharing an odd look before looking back at him. (And?)

No one said anything for a few moments and Shen was starting to worry when his mother--Adelaide, he reminds himself with an odd vehement tone--suddenly awkwardly says, "Questo è tutto." (That's it.)

...wait what?

That was it? No kicking him out, no abandoning him, no selling him to the mafia?

Had these people been in his last world, they would have gotten torn to shreds in only several hours. Goodness and kindness--Qi-ge doesn't count, he's too good for the world--has never had a place in his last world, why should it exist in this world?

Was he too dirty to be placed somewhere where good people existed? But that didn't make sense!

A question that was largely ignored but still resided deep inside popped out to the forefront of his mind, "Why am I here?"

Shen Qingqiu was a scum and trash of the lowest grade, he had gotten what he deserved in the Water Prison and the time spent with the beast. Redemption? Laughable. Not even Qi-ge who saw the good in everyone had been able to trust him when he told him that he didn't kill Liu Qingge, Qi-ge didn't defend him against Qiu Haitang. If not even Qi-ge who had single-handedly raised him and saw the good in everybody had seen him worthy of forgiveness or even time--

--why was he here?

Shen Qingqiu didn't deserve to live, but shamelessly continues to do so. Previously, he had continued to live because he wanted to, because he wanted to hear Yue Qingyuan's explanation. Now, now, what purpose did he have to live for?

He was Vermont now, his parent's oh-so-beloved prodigy son. Teacher's favorite student, gangs' best choice for a recruit, all that... really didn't matter at all.

Even so, even so. Shen Jiu watches his parents and sees that they are in no way joking. He sighs and nods, asking, "Dov'è questo posto dove devo trasferirmi?" At which point his parents share a confused look and tells him, "Non devi muoverti, noi invece resteremo nella loro base per un periodo di tempo sconosciuto." (Where is this place I have to move to?/You don't have to move, we on the other hand, are going to stay in their base for an unknown amount of time.)

That was dangerous! He wanted to say but instead looks down and nods again, ever so slightly.

His parents beam at him and Shen Qingqiu finds his heart and cheeks warming.

Chapter Text

For all that they lived in a rural town, it was actually a somewhat decent trading center. Shen Jiu says this, of course, because he sees a stall selling little trinkets. Blank paper fans among them.

Immediately, he asks his father, “Father, may I buy a fan?”

Father looks at the stall he was pointing at and furrows his brows. He had been promoted a little while ago and their economy was good enough that they could spare some money for a folding fan, of course, but father likely didn’t know what Shen Jiu was truly asking for.

A weapon.

Xiu Ya slithered out of his sleeve and stared eerily at his father, clearly wavering at the teary eyes of his son and the silent glare of the snake. He sighed, “Fine, fine. Come on, which one did you want?”

Mother giggled next to them and spotted something she either liked or wanted, going to a fruit vendor’s stall.

Father picked out a random fan and unfolded, folded, then unfolded it again. Shen Jiu stared at it, before deeming it unworthy and going to pick out another one when Xiu Ya directed him to one of them whose wood looked a little old.

Shen Qingqiu picked it up and felt small undulations of qi going through it. Almost-smiling, he asks his father for this one.

He had just found a jackpot.

Xiu Ya hissed and slithered back into Shen’s long sleeve. The vendor smiled and praised him, “Ah, the young one has a good eye! That one’s wood is different, but I can’t figure out what makes it so good.”

Shen Jiu unfolded it and covered the lower half of his face, a habit ingrained in him. He let himself smile briefly before saying, “The wood is quite old, isn’t it?”

“Yes, yes. The tree from where the wood came from was very old.” Father seemed confused but just paid for the fan nonetheless. They walked together for a while before finally being unable to contain his curiosity and asking Shen Jiu, “What does age have to do with anything?”

Shen Jiu was about to launch into one of his usual lectures before remembering that his father would understand sh*t about what he’s saying. So he tells him, “The older the plant, the more energy it absorbed.”

This was true. Only, it took more than a hundred years before a plant was able to absorb enough energy for a cultivator to feel and nearly a thousand years before it gained sentience. Ommitting this particular bit of information wouldn’t hurt anyone, especially because he suspected that cultivation sects were so secluded no one knew about them or they did not know of cultivation at all.

It was in the way that no one had any cultivation, in the way that some people had so much energy but not any cultivation.

To Shen Jiu, it was horribly weird.

Mother walked up to them again, handing Shen Jiu an apple and father a pear. She herself held a piece of watermelon.

He flicked his fan, folding it and shoving it into his belt before biting into the apple.

Xiu Ya coiled a little tighter around his arm and Shen Jiu narrowed his eyes, spreading his spiritual sense. It was almost overwhelming, considering that they were in a crowded market.

There, a huge amount of energy in one individual.

He had learned that the mafia had ranks.

The lower ones had the same amount of energy as anyone else, but held themselves the most suspiciously. The middle ranked people were more wary and were harder to spot in a crowd. The higher ranked ones were the hardedt to find to a normal person, but Shen Jiu could feel the sheer amount of energy in that person. It was like a beacon among small light bulbs.

So far, there had been four different individuals with such high energy levels. This was the fifth one and it didn’t bode well with him.

He grabbed his parent’s arms, making sure that his father got the sticky hand with the apple and lead them away from that person. They were involved with the mafia and it would not do if that person was an enemy.

Mother questioned him quietly, “What is it, Vermont?”

“There’s someone strong there. Not taking chances.”

Father hummed, eyes dark and hand going to the gun hidden in his jacket. Mother tsked and took Shen Jiu by the shoulders, father letting him go and walking with his back inclined to them.

They made it back home without any scares.

Shen Jiu wanted to complain. It had been a rare day where his parents could spend time with him and not have anyone at their backs. His luck was still as sh*tty as ever.

He was twelve now, but his parents still didn’t let him anywhere near the knives.

They would make a better and more lethal weapon than the fan he now had on him. Xiu Ya was venomous but was only a snake, he couldn’t rely on it.

Xiu Ya slithered out of his clothes and started climbing his rigid father’s leg. It seemed to like freaking his parents out.

Good. It was absolutely amusing.

They left during the evening, after dinner. His parents beamed at his stories about whatever happened in school and how this one kid sh*t his pants in front of the entire class when Xiu Ya slithered out and stared at him. He then asked them, “Should I skip to the next grade?”

“No,” his mother immediately said. “You should enjoy your youth.”

He wanted to reject that notion. People had childhoods only once and he spent that childhood begging on the streets and as a slave in the Qiu Family and waiting for Qi-ge. He had no actual friends, they were just friendly acquaintances who wanted to be on good terms with him so he could help them with their studies. Xiu Ya didn’t attend class, he didn’t need to wait.

But then his mother smiled at him so brightly and he couldn’t bring himself to shatter this comfortable atmosphere.

Shen Jiu would bring it up on a later date.

Hopefully.

For the first time in a while, this tiny apartment he called home seemed so light.

Another year passes this way. Shen Jiu staying at home and every once in a while, his parents would come home and they would spend some time together.

Xiu Ya had grown a lot ever since Shen Qingqiu had first brought him home. Now, the snake was about as big as his arm and as long as Shen Jiu was tall. It was disconcerting to anyone that Shen apparently kept a snake as a pet, much less such a big one. This year, however, he didn’t grow much at all.

‘Xiu Ya must have stopped growing,’ Shen Jiu thought to himself.

That was a good thing. Really. He didn’t want a monster snake accidentally breaking things.

The point is that Xiu Ya could no longer stay on Shen Jiu’s person for too long, he was heavy, alright?!

But when the sword-turned-snake slithered up Shen Jiu’s leg and coiled a little tighter than needed, he knew immediately that something was up. Something bad.

Shen Qingqiu was actually already on the last ranks of Foundation, but he did not want to form his golden core. Yet. For one, forming a golden core while still a child meant that he would physically stay a child for the rest of his life and while Shen Jiu was not that vain, he did not want to look like a small child the rest of this life. Two, heavenly tribulation lightning would rain down and set everything on fire. Three, well, there was no three but—but you get the idea!

That meant that he had opened his five senses more than the normal human and could sense things better. Hear, see, smell, taste and feel better.

Right now?

He was smelling faint gunpowder and the pounding of footsteps storming into the hallway outside the apartment.

That could only mean bad things. Xiu Ya coiled even tighter before springing off and slithering to his room, right! He could fit inside the cupboards. Shen Jiu was grateful for his small build in this life for once, thanking his mother for the inherited genes.

Then he realized that the cupboards were full of books and promptly dumped them all on his bed, slamming the doors shut.

Shouting, gunshots.

Shen Jiu prepared his fan and started charging his spiritual energy, reciting several incantations to calm down and watching the seals he put on the fan glow. Xiu Ya was coiled on his forearm, tense and ready to strike at the first living thing that appears.

They reached the place he was in, muttering in confusion. The sounds of them thrashing Shen Jiu’s home and the sound of paper being ripped had him fighting the urge of shredding these self-centered idiots into shreds. How dare they touch his books!

A gunshot rang out in the room and Shen Jiu banged his head on the wall of the cupboard, a loud sound created. The bullet hole was right beside him, the bullet having passed right in front of his eyes. Xiu Ya hissed and the chattering got louder and louder. They started to open the door and Shen Qingqiu decided to help them.

He kicked them open and slashed his fan in front of him, a sharp wind blade lodging into their chests before dispersing and blowing them to the other side of the room. Xiu Ya lunged and bit the person who didn’t get hit, Shen Jiu immediately taking it away from the person and sprinting towards the exit.

Then a person with high energy levels blocked his path, a flurry of blue flames—which, what??—making him drop down.

The telltale click of the safety trigger on a gun being shut off and still warm metal pressed against his head made Shen Jiu freeze.

In a last ditch attempt, he summoned a storm of spiritual energy, exhausting himself while the high energy guy ranted and monologued about catching the son of the traitors titled Gold Bullet Desiderio and Silver Blade Adelaide. Were those his parent’s titles? Why did they sound so weird?

Everyone shouted and quite a few were stabbed by debris that they had left. It was an improvisation of his move, instead of using leaves and flowers he used just anything light in the surroundings.

Xiu Ya was severely affected by whatever that blue fire was and was still curled up around his forearm, sluggish. His fan was in his hand and the time he spent sharpening the tips of it used as he shakily stood up and—

—was kicked down again.

The blue flame was used again and Shen Qingqiu saw that the high energy man was—he was using a leafblower.

He couldn’t help but burst into peals of laughter.

It was all too much. This entire thing. They can’t kill the parents so they kill the son, was this not so typical of humans? It seems that even this world had people like in his past world. Too much, it was too funny.

If he had had this life first, would he still turn out like this? Or would he be a good person?

It was such a joke. Such a f*cking joke.

Shen Qingqiu was, is a scum. Nothing could change that.

These people reminded him so much of his past world. It was hilarious the irony. The high level energy bastard looked angered and shouted something, but he couldn’t hear anything.

To Shen Jiu, he was surrounded by all the people who hurt him and he hurt in return, except one. Qiu Jianluo was shouting something incomprehensible as he held him by the neck now, Wu Yanzi sneering as he took Xiu Ya, and that beast—

Luo Binghe smiled that damned smile of his and set the place on fire.

Qi-ge—

Qi-ge, where are you this time?

The place was set alight once more with indigo flames replacing blue ones.

Chapter Text

If Shen Qingqiu were to be honest, he did not want to die.

He did not want to die, but he didn’t want to live either.

Living, it meant being hurt and hurting others constantly. A cycle that he recognized when that beast came back with all the fury of one that wants revenge.

Dying, it meant going against everything that he was in the past life, a survivor. But he survived being a street rat because he needed to take care of Qi-ge. He survived the Qiu Family because he waited for Qi-ge, he survived Wu Yanzi because he wanted to find Yue Qi’s remains, at least until he found out that the idiot was still alive. He survived Qing Jing and came out as Peak Lord, because he wanted to know whatever reason Yue Qi had for leaving him.

He didn’t want to die, but living had connotations that he didn’t like.

He realized it then, when Qiu Jianluo choked him and he was about to black out that. “I want to live.”

To see his parents again, at least. He hadn’t told them about how he was reincarnated, he hadn’t told them about his cultivation and Xiu Ya. He wanted to live, if only to see his parents proud of him.

The pretty purple flame sent everyone around them tearing at themselves and each other, screaming gibberish and everything. Xiu Ya coiled around his torso, laying its head on Shen Jiu’s.

Of course, this was what his parents rushed home to see.

Perfect.

They asked him what happened, the bruises and everything blooming and the pain finally catching up to him. He sighed and told them honestly what happened, omitting the fact that Xiu Ya may or may not have killed some of them by way of venom and that he may or may not have sent a bunch of men flying across the room. Not like they would believe it anyways.

“Vermont,” mother says in her “you-don’t-get-a-say-in-this” tone. “You’re going to move. It isn’t safe here anymore.”

Yeah, no sh*t mom. He snorts, petting Xiu Ya who loosens its grip on him ever so slightly. On another note, though... “Golden Bullet Desiderio and Silver Blade Adelaide? Really? You couldn’t have gotten a better title?”

Father revealed an exasperated face. “They chose it for us. By the time people listened, those titles had long become concrete.”

Shen Jiu rolls his eyes and says nothing more. A few more pleasantries, then his parents go out of the room and start discussing what to do in a language that Shen didn’t know yet, sometiems yelling at each other. He didn’t mind, the two of them certainly needed to cool off a bit and it was better than taking it out on some random people who wouldn’t understand.

They left him alone with Xiu Ya who slithered onto his hands and kept nudging them. Shen Jiu took two hands away from himself and willed it...

There. The purple fire that had appeared.

It was a dark purple, almost opaque even at the edges where it was supposed to taper off. Xiu Ya hissed and excitedly—

—swallowed it. The fire. The fireball.

“Xiu Ya!” Shen Jiu hissed, switching to Mandarin in a panic. “What are you doing?!”

“Trying to interact verbally with you, Shen Qingqiu.” A voice suddenly rang in his head. Shen Jiu whipped around before looking back at Xiu Ya, realizing. “How?!”

Xiu Ya snorts and tells him, “Mist Flames, this one however is not a variety I’ve seen. I suppose I will have to explain it to you?”

“What do you think?” Shen asked back, dripping with sarcasm. Mist Flames? What the hell is this? And why are they purple? This is not some kind of weird *ss fictional world!

“Alright. Where to start...,” Xiu Ya circled around Shen Jiu’s neck loosely, putting itself across his shoulders like a scarf. “Dying Will Flames are highly concentrated energies, making it visible to the naked eye. These Flames, as we currently know, have one spectrum, that is the Sky Spectrum.”

A snort, “Why not weather spectrum as well?”

Not a beat of hesitation later, “Because Sky Spectrum sounds cooler. And the rarest Flame are Sky Flames. Now hush hush, *Xiao Qingqiu, I’ll explain the rest.”

Shen Jiu raised a brow at the nickname.

“In the Sky Spectrum, there are seven Flames. The rarest is Sky, that is orange. Then there is Mist that is purple, that you have and Cloud that is also purple, but a different purple that is your secondary Flame. Storm is red, Rain is blue, Sun is yellow and Lightning is green. Do you have questions?” Xiu Ya laid it’s head on top of Shen Jiu’s, seeming to enjoy it.

“What do they do?” He asks, ignoring how Xiu Ya kept rubbing itself on him. “If mine had sent everyone feral then...”

A harrumph, Xiu Ya tightened slightly around him before loosening again and saying, “All those Flames have properties. The Sky has Harmony, Mist has Construction, Cloud has Propagation, Storm has Disintegration, Rain has Tranquility, Sun has Activation and Lightning has Hardening.”

“Construction?” Shen Jiu asks, thinking to himself that he will not become a construction worker. No way. As if hearing that thought of his, Xiu Ya faced him and flicked his tongue out long enough that it touched Shen Qingqiu’s nose.

“You can create illusions and make them real.” That did not make sense, but, essentially, he was able to make things out of nowhere? “Go to the mirror.”

Shen Jiu sighed and decided to follow instructions this time. Xiu Ya had never harmed him before.

The body was still unfamiliar, mostly. He was used to this height and weight and everything, but he wasn’t used to seeing it in the mirror. Purple hair that he refused to cut, much to his parent’s chargrin, and was tied into a low side ponytail ending at his hips and oddly enough, green eyes.

Neither of his parents had green eyes, nor did his grandparents or great grandparents, he heard from his parents.

It was the most familiar part of himself, really. Eyes, the color of his eyes were the only thing similar to his past life self while the shape of it was unfamiliar.

They say that eyes were the window to the soul, he wondered whether this was true.

“Now focus on your reflection, imagine it being replaced by... whatever. Anything. You can even become a snake like me if you want.” Xiu Ya’s still odd voice echoes in his mind and the snake itself slithered off of him and onto the floor.

The mirror they had was a standard square one, in the bathroom. He took a deep breathe and focused, thinking of his appearance in the last life.

He blinked and Qing Jing Peak Lord Shen Qingqiu was standing there.

“Woah, you’re quite the quick learner.” Xiu Ya seemed surprised flicking its tongue at Shen Jiu’s cheek. “Even smells the same.”

“...smells the same?!” Shen Jiu whisper-shouted at the snake, the image clashing with the lofty, elegant immortal impression he gave off. But, how did Xiu Ya know what he smells like?! The snake flicked its tongue at his cheek again and tilted its head innocently, “Yeah. You smell like bamboo and ink.”

That...

Did Xiu Ya have to be so frank about it?

He let go of the image and focus and Shen Jiu was back to being Vermont. Xiu Ya made a satisfied noise and went back to coiling itself around Shen’s neck on his shoulders.

He walked back into his room, wanting to just sleep and pretend nothing happened when he saw the state his bedroom was in. Right, the books were all destroyed, how the hell is he supposed to explain this to the librarian?!

Then, he went to the slightly bigger room next to his, flopped onto the his parent’s bullet ridden bed and slept.

Truthfully, it is something he didn’t realize until somebody points it out.

It starts with small things, creating illusions of him listening to his teacher while he was, in reality, asleep. Thinking of a book he remembered but didn’t exist in this world had made it appear in front of him, all the wrinkles and everything.

His parents had started on being hitmen which. Made him worry. About their mental states.

Killing people as a job seemed...

Shen Jiu, honestly, would do it if he was desperate. It was, he just really didn’t value the human life as much as he should. In the past world, didn’t people kill others in a whim, did Shen Jiu not kill innocent people because Wu Yanzi told him to? His own life, even—

—it was worth less.

But then, why was he here? Why not Luo Binghe if he was the oh-so-great Demon Sovereign? Why not Liu Qingge, the role model of a righteous cultivator? Why not Qi-ge?

Why not Qi-ge?

If Shen Jiu was here to suffer even more then—

Nothing. Xiu Ya was here, it cared for him. His parents too, would rather kill others then let him suffer so then—why?

He pulled an illusion over himself and looked at the face he had in the last life.

‘What am I to do with you?’

Smaller things turned bigger. Shen Qingqiu’s second most notable use of Flames was when he sensed a high energy level person. When that high energy level person looked straight at him, Shen Jiu pulled his Mist Flames over himself and Xiu Ya and fled the scene.

Xiu Ya hissed at him, its voice directly telling him in his mind, “Be careful! If you use too much at a time then it will shorten your lifespan!”

“You could have told me that earlier!” He snapped at the sword-turned-snake in his head, responding without uttering a word. The second thing he had learnt, creating sound illusions. Xiu Ya had yet to tell him how to do anything else with his Flames. “You are too cautious for your own good.”

Shen Jiu acquisced to that. If he had known, then he would never have used them as casually as he did.

Of course it was now that he got used to it that Xiu Ya told him.

The next thing Shen Jiu knew, there were chains shooting at him and dragging him into some dark, dreary place. Xiu Ya tensed, alert and ready to attack whatever. He forced himself to stay calm...

—chains held him up, on the stumps of his shoulders and neck. The shackles bruised his skin, rust feeling horrible as it formed. Dark, dark, the hiss of rushing water stopped and that was when the dread truly began. Red eyes, a damned smile and metal shards he recognized, “Even in death, you manage to take a sect leader down with you.”—

“Even in death, you manage to take a sect leader down with you.” Was that not the damndest thing? His entire life, Yue Qi has never ever come for him. So why at that time?

Why does he make everything so damn complicated?!

There was a big...humanoid thing in front of him. Wearing bandages all over its head and a top hat, as well as a ragged cloak. It felt foreboding.

Garbled voices, “Child, what do you know of the power you wield?”

Xiu Ya curled protectively around him and Shen Jiu—Shen Qingqiu looks directly at the thing and asks, “What, who even are you?”

The garbled voice echoed through the place, “We are the Vindice.”

Chapter Text

OBCAaC chapter 5

Xiu Ya, oddly solemn, tells him in his mind, “I forgot about these people. The boogeymen of the mafia, the Vindice. Anyone who breaks their laws will end up in their Vendicare Prison forever.”

“And you tell me this now?!” He shouts at the sword-turned-snake internally, keeping the mask of cold indifference he did as Peak Lord. “What are the laws? Xiu Ya!”

The cloaked human(?) moved a bit, rustling chains heard. It(?) spoke again, “Child, we shall ask you again, wgat do you know of your abilities?”

“I...,” Shen Jiu hesitated, putting on an act of the facade of cold indifference breaking and being replaced by fear. The thing didn’t react and its face was covered in bandages so he couldn’t read it very well, damnit. “I can make people see things and make things appear.”

The thing stared, then demanded, “Show us your Flames.”

Shen Qingqiu ran the scenarios in his head, then decided that doing as told was the best bet. He was in an unknown location that was filled with people whose abilities were unknown to him, especially because Xiu Ya was slowly, well, slowing down. He reached out a hand and summoned the Mist Flames as Xiu Ya called them, the purple-indigo flames burning brightly. The cloaked thing froze and Shen Jiu started running more scenarios in his head, wondering if he would be able to get home in one piece and alive. The probabilities were low.

A door that he didn't realize existed opened with an ominous creak, a casual sweep of black flames breaking the illusion Shen hadn't realized he put on himself. Xiu Ya, with its remaining consciousness, tensed and coiled very tightly around his arm. The slight twinge of pain would have alerted him greatly if he weren't busy staring incredulously at the mini-Vindice thing.

There was a cracked clear pacifier that seemed to be made of glass on hanging from its neck and Shen Jiu had the brief thought that that thing was important.

"Child," the mini-thing talked and suddenly Shen Jiu realized why the big-thing had an echo to its voice. Big-thing was either possessed or controlled by mini-thing, "what is your name?"

"Vermont," he answers, trying to theorize and make a conclusion he can use for the time being. Were these big-things vessels controlled by the ghost mini-thing? Were big-things a cult and mini-thing a demon god? Were they trying to convert him?! The mini-thing contemplated and finally said, "Don't be shy. And stop that act. What's your real name?"

Shen Jiu's face fell into a blank, impassive stare. That mini-thing saw through his acting skills were nothing, he had not practiced them this life, but that question he asked... that was a somewhat difficult one. This life, he was Vermont. Last life, he was Shen Jiu, courtesy name Qingqiu. They were all his names. Still though, if the mini-thing wanted to know so bad then he could only tell the truth, couldn't he? Shen Jiu or Shen Qingqiu?

"My name is Vermont, but I used to be known as Shen Qingqiu." A compromise. "What is your name? I can't keep calling you mini-thing in my head."

"Bermuda Von Veckenschtein. Say, you haven't died recently have you?" Bermuda introduces himself then...wait, what? How did he know? the question was so abrupt that Shen Qingqiu had to gather all the composure he had cultivated in two lives to not look shocked. He blinked, then blinked again. Shen Jiu narrowed his eyes and flicked his fan open to hide the lower half of his face. Xiu Ya finally stopped moving and he wanted to scream to be let out of here and into somewhere warm. Xiu Ya, Xiu Ya was the only one he knew would never ever betray him. Not when he was the master of their relationship and not when Xiu Ya in still bonded to him like a spiritual sword is bonded to a cultivator.

Xiu Ya would die if Shen Qingqiu were to die, but Shen Qingqiu would not die if Xiu Ya did. This is the nature of their spiritual bond, as a spiritual sword and their bonded cultivator. As wielder and weapon.

"...more than thirteen years ago, to be exact." He spouted out hesitantly, but the other seemed contemplative once more. Bermuda tilted his head to the right, sharp eyes following his every movement, trying to guess what he was thinking about an how to get out of this. Nothing, curiosity perhaps, but nothing. Shen Jiu tried his best not to seem tense, but it must have shown because Bermuda hummed and deliberately relaxed himself, an effort to get him to calm down, and seemed to smile. "Then, I shall explain all this to you, Vermont."

There, an opening. "Send my snake to my quarters first." He stopped streaming spiritual energy into Xiu Ya to keep the snake's internal systems heated and going but hesitated slightly when he was about to dump the snake into the small portal.

Bermuda floated up, giving Shen Jiu more evidence that he was a ghost, and gestured for him to follow. Shen Qingqiu hesitated and swept the surroundings with his spiritual energy, confirming that there was no ill will towards him before doing as told and following the infant. Outside the small holding room he was in, it was even colder and the air was quite humid, the hallway dark with only flickering candles lit. Following Bermuda only gave him more proof that Xiu Ya's earlier words were true and this place was what he had called Vendicare Prison. The prisoners looked like they had lost all hope and cowered at the sight of Bermuda, even if they were curious about Shen Qingqiu.

It was just that, the twists and turns were starting to all blur together, all of them looking almost the same. It is at that point that Shen Jiu praises his photographic memory.

"This is the Vendicare Prison, home to those who break our laws and the Vindice, we keep the mafia in order." Shen Jiu nodded, not quite knowing how to take this casual tour of what was essentially a prison for criminals who do crimes bad enough to warrant being imprisoned even in other criminal's eyes. It was an absurd thing.

The two of them suddenly stopped and Shen Qingqiu took the time to mentally review the turns they made if he needed to run away. The only way from thereon was going back or through the door standing ominously at the end of the corridor. "That is where we release our frustrations. By beating up those whose crimes had anything to do with children or non-consensual or both of such things. Yes, separating them from the rest is necessary else we would have to clean out the brutally mangled corpses."

Oh. Ohh.

(He, too, belonged in that lot then?)

...there is an urge to beat them up too, frustration. As horrible a person was, he had never once touched a woman with any malintent or in any sexual way at all. The beast was, he admitted, something he made.

Abuse. Child abuse. Why, why was that the hand he was dealt and why couldn't he do the same thing they did to them and countless others? Unfair, unfair, unfair, why did that beast still come out on top and still have the same talent and why was he given everything Shen Jiu would have died and killed and commit countless atrocities for? The beast had a loving mother, Shen Jiu was abandoned in a ditch to be discovered and saved by Yue Qi as a newborn. Astonishing talent, Wu Yanzi laughed and laughed and watched in amusement as he destroyed himself, unbothered by how he was pushing his own disciple to destruction. Opportunities, Qiu Jianluo sneered, "You want to become a cultivator? You?"

Why was the world so unfair? A lifetime gone with nary a drop of kindness--Qi-ge, one part of him gasped out, still clutching onto a miserly hope that would only wilt, shut up, the rest of him shouted, he betrayed us! He left us to rot and die and never looked back--and yet, and yet!

Black wisps curled around his fingertips and Bermuda laughed, an odd, odd sound.

"What was that?" He asks later, calmed down and sitting in what seems to be the main office. One really big Vindice guy holding Bermuda in his hands and the scene was almost comical. The mummified baby snorted, seemingly amused and told him, "Night Flames."

What even was that?! He grumbled internally, instead flicking his fan open and habitually hiding the lower half of his face. The two mummies he was conversing with seemed nonplussed, but there was a pondering to their stances. What they were thinking about, Shen Qingqiu almost didn't want to know. Wasn't there some sort of saying out there, "Ignorance is bliss"?

"Not even I can tell you everything about Night Flames, for as of now, there have only been two recorded users. However, I can tell you what I know and have learnt over the years." Shen Jiu is suddenly struck with what Bermuda was trying to do and he forced himself not to show any outward reactions, instead listening. "As for the purple-indigo Flames that you have, they are a variant on Mist Flames if the user has a Cloud secondary just as strong called Fog Flames. I, too, had those Flames once and have all the research that the very first Fog Flame user had conducted."

"Are you asking me to be your student?" Blunt, to the point and no nonsense. Bermuda paused and replied, "Yes."

He didn't know how to answer that, so he asked again, "Why? What are your intentions? It could be anyone else, why me?"

"To be frank, you're perfect for it. There have only been five noted users of Fog Flames and the two Night Flame users are in this room, though I did found them." There is a bitterness in the last part, one that implies it has a story behind it. Bermuda then added as an afterthought, "Besides, I would be better than that snake of yours."

He knew about Xiu Ya? Shen Jiu felt threatened. He couldn't help but think of the time Wu Yanzi had taken him on as a disciple, but he asked again, "What are your intentions?"

"To take advantage of your fate." Shen Jiu was in no mood to be playing around, what did Bermuda mean by that? Seeing the still unmoving child, the mummified baby started explaining, "You have very pure and strong Mist Flames at such a young age, if he," that 'he' was so full of hate that Shen was almost startled, "does not choose you, then he has truly gone blind." Of which explained nothing to him.

A pause, Bermuda tilts his head to the right and finally explains. "The world is held up by the Tri-ni-Sette, three sets of seven things. The Vongola Rings are the most famous set, representing the past. The Mare Rings are the most obscure, representing the future and the Mare Sky Ring holder will...get some very unique powers. The last set of seven are the Arcobaleno, the seven strongest babies in the world. Except, they are not babies, but adults cursed into having baby bodies and carrying a pacifier that will suck their Flames dry for the world. Also, there's some secondary set, but that is a very obscure thing that we will not interfere with unless certain circumstances happen."

"These people are almost always the people who have the strongest and purest Flames of their kind. Chosen by Checkerface, who also goes by The Man in the Iron Hat. You will inevitably be chosen because I suspect you are one of the strongest and purest Flames in this generation. Essentially, we are taking advantage of what will happen to you anyways." It sounded like a horribly made set-up, but here Shen Jiu was, talking to a mummified baby. Well, he didn't get any say in this either, considering just how many plants and even animals were basically aphrodisiacs in his first world.

(...now that he thought about it, wasn't the beast's blood also aphrodisiac?)

But to this topic, "You are taking advantage of my fate." Shen Qingqiu blankly said. Then demanded, "how?"

"The Vindice are the law of the mafia. But we are first and foremost a group that is seeking revenge against Checkerface, the man who cursed us and brought us to our doom." There is a grim determination there. The biggest-Vindice also staring at him.

Well then, something to see what kind of person this baby who was trying to become his mentor was, "If I reject?"

Bermuda sniffed, as if disdainful, "I'm not going to leave a threat to the world uneducated on his abilities, that would lead to destruction for the world and a lifetime of Vendicare for you." He was righteous enough not to threaten a child, that was...

It was perhaps sad that that was the only standard that Shen Jiu had before agreeing, "Alright." Maybe he was also desperate. It didn't matter anyways. Bermuda only shot him a look that was nowhere near pitying and Shen Qingqiu felt like he had made the right decision for once.

Chapter Text

In the end, Shen Jiu had been sent home shortly after determining the frequencies and schedules of their supposed meetings, tutoring sessions, whatever. He still did have to go to school, after all, not having gotten his parent's permission to skip into the next years. At this point though, the teachers might as well pull some strings to do so themselves, having gotten both very annoyed and impressed when it was revealed that he knew way more than he should at that age.

His classmates loved leaving all the work to him in any group project, Shen Jiu insists on being given a big sum of hush money and it succeeds almost every time. Other than that, he has to entertain the brats in making whatever project they were saddled with. This time, the brat just did not budge on Shen going to his house and now he has to spend hours of his time where he could be reading something or theorizing on a brat and a project that wouldn't even matter in the long run. Annoying, definitely annoying and frustrating to boot.

Xiu Ya launched itself onto him the moment it had felt his presence. Now, it absolutely refused to let go and Shen Qingqiu merely tsk-ed before continuing to furiously write things down, wanting to nothing more than to learn everything he could at the moment.

Marzio, his classmate, had dark green hair and hazel eyes and was the typical smart*ss. He and Shen Jiu had been competing in class for first place ever since the faculty got the great idea to out these two in the same classroom and that both would always be in the same group no matter what because whatever they thought. The brat was disrespectful and entirely happy to contradict Shen Jiu in everything until one of them proved to be right.

This time, it was to make the science project that consisted of a model for viruses and the paper report about World War II they had learned about in History class. Shen Jiu could only hope that they finished it early an that they did not have to meet up more then necessary.

Just then, knocking came from the door.

Ughh. Xiu Ya rolled its eyes and its voice echoed in Shen Qingqiu's head. 'Make some friends, Xiao Qingqiu. You won't always get the same chance.'

The boy directly walked in, not saying anything else and settling down like it was all normal despite the fact that Shen Jiu had only moved three months ago. It was a testament to how many times they did this that Marzio had brought what he knew Shen Jiu didn't usually have at home and Shen Qingqiu himself filled a mug with water and set it in front of the boy without any questions.

Marzio had dark green hair and hazel eyes, face set in a frown. He was also quite significantly taller than Shen Jiu, like most people, considering that he had inherited his mother's petite stature. The insolent brat put the bag filled with art supplies and his history textbook, taking out a small stack of paper. He stated, out of courtesy, "I will be doing the second part."

"No." Shen Jiu decided. Xiu Ya started trying to freak the other out, going up his pant sleeve and down again when Marzio barely reacted. "The teachers would not like a robot spouting facts about the country's heroes mental states and presenting the empathic with barely any interest. I will be doing it." There was a few seconds before the brat slowly nodded, accepting the facts and proceeding with the first part.

It made Shen Qingqiu want to smirk in satisfaction, but he held it back.

Xiu Ya continued to try and provoke a reaction out of the other and it was only when they were painting the cardboard for their science project that the brat starts a conversation, either trying something or wanting friends like brats their age usually did. "You know, when I grow up, I want to have an alligator."

"An alligator?" Shen Jiu raises an eyebrow and decides to entertain Marzio. "Not a crocodile?"

A scoff, "I'm not as stupid as our classmates! Don't try tricking me, I know very well the differences and alligators are... are cooler!"

...

"Wha-hey, no! Stop laughing at me!"

Xiu Ya flicks a tongue out and seems to also be laughing at Marzio, not that the brat knows that Xiu Ya is doing that in Shen Jiu's mind. The brat pouts and starts murmuring to himself, an embarrassed flush on his face. Shen Jiu decides imperiously to spare the child some humiliation and stops, instead telling him. "That's fine. At least you actually have a goal, unlike...our other teammate I may or may not have forgotten the name of."

A shocked laugh, Marzio smiles widely, looking more like the child he is instead of the adult he has been portraying himself around everyone for a long time.

"...his name was *Irrilevante, by the way."

"His parents must hate him a lot, huh."

They soon finished up and left it to dry in Shen Jiu's home. The following day of school, Shen Qingqiu didn't feel bored when he and Marzio kept finding ways to discreetly talk. It was nice to have an intelligent person around to talk to--Xiu Ya hissed as if offended by that--that was what Shen Jiu told himself.

Going home that day was quite the experience. Walking normally as ever, Xiu Ya following and suddenly there were three high-energy-level people that were apparently Dying Will Flame users in front of them and they started monologuing as if they were those comic book villains Xiu Ya loved picking faults of. "We are the Estraneo Famiglia! Child," that address was starting to get both old and annoying, "we invite you to come join us and share the glory of making breakthroughs in the field of science with Dying Will Flames."

Shen Jiu bet that when he told them no, they would smirk and say, "You don't have a choice in this, unfortunately."

So he did just that, not the least bit surprised that the one in the middle stepped forward and smirked before telling him, "You don't have a choice in this, unfortunately."

How cliché.

Two of them soon laid on the ground, lifeless and they're blood never once staining Shen Qingqiu. Xiu Ya hissed and tightened around his arm, mentally warning, "To your left, the Rain."

Oh?

Then Shen Jiu prepared his fan and slashed a wind blade towards the sneaky bastard and fell down.

Down.

He. Fell down. Right onto his ass into a f*cking cold stone floor with an almost sheepish Vindice guard looking at him while clutching some chains. Xiu Ya scrambled into Shen Jiu's clothes, trying to share some warmth. He scowls, reminding himself to make faces at the mirror and practice them later. Glaring at the nervous looking Vindice guard who only got more visibly skittish every passing second, he swore--a very rare thing that should be marked on the calendar because Shen Qingqiu wasn't not always elegant and aloof--at the mummy, "What the hell?" Shen Jiu pulls the hissing and squirming Xiu Ya out and conjures a real illusion of a very long and warm sweater, strapping on some heat packs as an afterthought. The Vindice guard who seemed to be the same one who had first brought him here fidgeted and quietly started talking, "...I...apologize...?" To which Shen Jiu harshly replied with, "Don't apologize if you don't mean it." The nervous fidgeting reminded him of Shang Qinghua--a...complicated thing for him to think much less talk about--and the apologizing reminded him of Yue Qingyuan. Shen Jiu hated that thing called guilt. At least it wasn't too extreme. "You were running late." Bermuda says as he comes into sight, definitely having a flair for dramatics because he had apparently been in the impossibly cast shadows the whole time. Xiu Ya laughed mockingly at the baby in Shen Jiu's head and he agreed with the sword-turned-snake. It was so stupid. The mummified baby stared and continued to stare until Shen Qingqiu realized that he was waiting for an explanation, at whih point he scowled again and told Bermuda, "For one, school held me up because all the teachers are damn lazy, two, some guys called themselves Estraneo and decided that kidnapping children is an acceptable hobby, three, I don't exactly have a watch on me and I don't even know how to get here in the first place!"

He had...dealt with them, the mafioso. Shen Jiu felt nothing about the bastards who tried to brainwash him into being some kind of slave. Night Flames were, unlike what one would have thought, were quite hard on the user's mental state, so sue him for wanting to slow down the process of going insane and not like these weird-ass Vindice guys. Watches were...expensive and he had become far too used to looking at the sun and moon to determine what time it was. Besides that, he had an excellent internal clock, just one that hasn't been defaulted to the time system this world uses.

Bermuda hummed then turned to the biggest Vindice guy Shen Jiu had seen, addressing him. "Jaeger."

Biggest-thing who was apparently named Jaeger nodded, then disappeared into a portal. The mini-thing then turned to the nervous-thing--who was standing like an idiot. An awkward idiot--and ordered him with a far gentler tone, meaning that he was either favored or Bermuda knew them personally and this was the best way to deal with nervous-Vindice. The latter was far more likely, considering that that Jaeger guy had been the only one allowed to carry Bermuda around. "Qionglin, go search up whatever famiglia Vermont had mentioned and arrest those I charge with Wuxian. Give them the longest prison life known for attacking a civilian and breaking the omerta even if they are a Flame Active and conscious user. Go."

Shen Qingqiu watches as the awkward air turns into a bone-chilling anger and revised his opinion on this Qionglin. Individuals like these, with fuzzy exteriors and steel cores are people who remind him of Shang Qinghua. Nearly never a good thing, but...

No matter how weak or pathetic that shidi of Shen Jiu's was, he had been a driving force that sent Cang Qiong--and, he bitterly added, the Northern Mobei Clan--to great heights. Most people would think it was because of Yue Qingyuan, Shen Qingqiu, iu Qingge and Mu Qingfang's prodigy, but only those who had observed would notice how much better everything was run and how prosperous Cang Qiong became after the Qing generation had ascended.

It was truly unfortunate that Shang Qinghua's loyalty was never to Cang Qiong, but to the demon who had killed him.

(During a time when Shen Jiu didn't want to die, in Huan Hua's Water Prison, Shang Qinghua had taken over the duty of his food delivery. Somehow.

"Shen-shixiong," he asks, a tired smile on his face as he force fed a spiteful Shen Jiu. "Shen-shixiong understands, right? Shen-shixiong always has this conflicted whenever he looks at Zhangmen-shixiong." Traitor, Shen Jiu wanted to call him and say, don't call us your shixiong, traitor!

"Zhangmen-shixiong has betrayed Shen-shixiong once, right? A really big betrayal, if I read it right." Something in Shang Qinghua's expression seems wrong. It was as if he knew everything about Shen Qingqiu and it was horribly absurd that he had felt a small twinge of fear towards this mousy traitor of a shidi. "I didn't have a choice at that time. Even now, I... Shen-shixiong understands, right?"

What did he know? What would someone like Shang Qinghua know? Why is he asking this?

The both of them stare at each other and Shang Qinghua smiles another tired but knowing smile and what the f*ck did he know?

The days were always painfully clear to Shen Jiu, an inconvenience though dully appreciated sometimes, Shang Qinghua spoke the world of Mobei-Jun. It was as if Mobei-Jun had hung the stars and moon to Shang Qinghua with how much he praised the demon to high heavens...the more appropriate term would be lower hells. It was to the point that even a blind man could see that he was in love. Then, he tells Shen Jiu one day, after his tongue had been cut off. "I'm going to tell him, just to get all this over with."

Don't, the words come out an incoherent grumble. Don't, he'll kill you, he won't accept, the world won't accept(, don't leave me).

But then Shang Qinghua beams like 'that' and Shen Qingqiu knows that he is a lost cause (like him).

That was the last time he had ever seen that shidi of his.

The next day, the beast gouges out one of his eyes and the lackey demon given the task of delivering and force feeding him blandly tells him how Shang Qinghua had died. Demons...really were horrible. The beast who was half demon and half human even more horrible.

And what does that make Shen Jiu, who had raised the beast worse than both demon and human? What was he? Was he even human anymore?)

Xiu Ya hisses and flicks its tongue at his cheek, Shen Jiu gets up. Bermuda, exuding a pleased air, tells him, "Think of a place, like your room, and will for a portal to open." Room? No, he thinks of his past world, Cang Qiong sect and where--where Qi-ge's remains were. The portal opens and he, Xiu Ya and Bermuda peer into what kinda has to be the Endless Abyss. Silence follows.

"...I asked you to think of a place like your room. Not hell."

"In my defense, I didn't think it would actually work."

Shen Jiu wills the portal to close and marvels at how pretty it looks, he himself looking utterly unaffected as a demon beast tried to jump at him as it was closing and the head fell onto the floor, gushing blood. Xiu Ya shakes its head as if exasperated an flicks its tongue at his cheek before bumping Shen Jiu's nose with its own, saying "Boop!" in his mind.

...what? Shen Jiu didn't get it.

Bermuda shakes his head, "So you really did come from another world..." he mutters, head tilting to the left. Shen Jiu nods and waits for Bermuda to say something else but the mummified baby just continued to stare at him.

Shen Jiu furrows his brows and says, "I'm not telling you."

Silence, the staring continues.

Irritation welled up inside Shen Qingqiu and he repeated, loudly, "I am not telling you!"

But then Bermuda suddenly jerked and tensed for a small moment before calming down. He tilted his head to the right and asked as if he was innocent, "Could you repeat that? I fell asleep."

In his mind, Xiu Ya burst into hysterical laughter and Shen Jiu couldn't keep his eye from twitching. Zombies could fall asleep. Baby zombies could fall asleep. Alright. This was normal. Zombies could fall asleep and his supposed mentor just fell asleep on him.

Everything was completely normal.

Chapter Text

It was a bad day.

Sunlight was filtering through the shades covering Shen Jiu's window, the ceiling as barren as ever save for the single light bulb in the middle of it and the bed was comfortable, covers warm. A snake--Xiu Ya, he thought, but Xiu Ya was shattered and a sword, how could it be a snake?--curled around his midsection and slowly flicked a forked tongue at his cheek.

Wrong. Everything was wrong.

Where were the chains that hung him just a little bit off the ground? Where was the ache and never-ending agony of being limbless, tongue-less and short of one eyeball? Where was the numb static hiss of acid water trapping him? Why could he feel his limbs, see properly? Everything was wrong.

Shen Jiu was laying down, and so he looked down and felt the dull realization of, oh, he had limbs again. Moving his tongue, closing both his eyes and opening each of them slowly to see perfectly also gave him the same muffled realization. The faint feeling of shock was odd and he didn't know what exactly to expect. Why was he complete, in a comfortable place? What game was the beast trying to play with him this time? And...in a child's body nonetheless.

The snake somehow seemed sad and rubbed itself on his cheek, words echoing within his mind. He paid no attention to it, not understanding what they were.

Tired. Helpless. Frustrated. Resentment only grew and grew.

Shen Jiu breathed in fresh air and exhaled, no pain except phantom and imaginary. He inhaled again, the smell of clean, crisp air unlike the stale, bloody one in the Water Prison and exhaled, he had a whole, healthy body ready to go onto the Golden Core stages at any time. Another big intake of air, mindless and he balled the sheets beneath his palms and fingers and a loud sigh, the morning was growing late and his parents were going to come back soon. They had promised, to be here by seven and they would have a whole uninterrupted--if plans go as they should--week to themselves. A breathing exercise came to him on habit and he continued it, Bermuda was going to teach him how to make a hive mind or at least link minds with some people later, he had been rather proud to have been able to find such a way for Night Flames to be used.

Looking out the window gave him the approximate time of six. Alright, that should be enough time to make his parents a simple breakfast, right?

Xiu Ya coiled itself on his shoulders and rested its head on top of his and Shen Qingqiu let him, craving the touch and company like the child he was.

He had made a theory that was plausible enough to be true, he thought while Xiu Ya nudged him towards the salt and he dumped two hefty spoonfuls in and mixed the eggs, dumping it into the burning pan and yawning. Dying Will Flames, the purer they are, the stronger the will or resolve. Night Flames on the other hand, have some nuances to it that Bermuda has not been able to learn. Such as, it was literally resentful energy but concentrated enough to be able to see with the naked eye of a normal human and was then made only stronger by having resentment towards someone or something.

Shen Jiu had both of these in spades. Will, he had enough will to last a lifetime of nothing but suffering and could do so again if only for the parents who...actually loved him in this world--it was still as unbelievable as ever, but it was nice--and...

Night Flames were able to warp things around and make portals. They were also able to increase one's power base and could theoretically make one be able to go even at the speed of light. How Shen Jiu saw it, it could warp space but not time to achieve the wishes of the user.

So then, that lead to this.

Back then, when he swallowed Xuan Su's shards--because if he couldn't have Qi-ge's remains to bury then his sword should be kept safe enough within Shen Jiu's own body, right?--he knew he was going to die. He acknowledged the fact that he was going to die, but the thing he wanted most and wished for was "to meet Qi-ge again". Shen Qingqiu had wanted to die, but also wanted to see Yue Qi, the boy who raised Shen Jiu and in turn gave all his loyalty to, but then during those final moments, a surge of despair and hate was all he could feel because how dare that beast?

(That beast, Luo Binghe could torture Shen Jiu however much he wants because it was karma, but why did he have to kill Yue Qingyuan and raze Cang Qiong to the ground too?)

Hate, despair, this could only feed the resentment coursing through his veins and devouring his every thought. He wanted to see Qi-ge again. Night Flames could warp things, meaning transportation.

When put like that, was it not obvious? Night Flames warped space in order to fulfil the user's wishes and so it warped space to another world and shoved his soul into a newborn. But then, his wish... that could only mean that Yue Qi was here too, probably also reincarnated, didn't it?

Hope was a sickening thing that he had long learned to squash down and pretend didn't exist but even he couldn't deny it this time. Xiu Ya nuzzled him and seemed to know that he was distracted because it hissed and nuzzled his cheek. Shen Jiu...smiled.

A small one, one that looked entirely unfamiliar on his face and seemed stiff but Xiu Ya froze and Shen Qingqiu couldn't help but snicker meanly, taking the pan off the stove and putting the black mush that was fried eggs onto a plate and starting on toast. His parents would be back anytime now and he wanted to finally tell them about the fact that he was in fact a reincarnated person and wanted to teach them a body and spirit strengthening technique because even though they were already too old, it would still help.

...oh, right. Xiu Ya. How did it fit into all this, did it fit into this at all or was it simply a coincidence?

Besides all that, how was he going to tell his parents, who are a part of the lower-rung mafia, that he has been in contact with the Vindice, the police of the mafia and hasn't been arrested yet?

His parents were going to positively kill him.

Maybe...he should hold off on telling them? Until he was sure that they wouldn't kill him for taking the body of their son while he was a newborn child? That...

It didn't sound right, even if he had no ground to stand on when it came to doing the "right" thing. "Xiu Ya?" He whispered in his mind, never once looking the slightest bit ruffled as he continued to sit in the perfect posture and stare at the black goop that was scrambled eggs. The snake settled on his shoulders and coiled loosely around his neck, it was Xiu Ya's favorite position for some reason. He would have figured that Xiu Ya would like to coil around his waist but that would be inconvenient.

"Xiao Qingqiu?" The unspoken question sounded aloof enough, if one ignored the pet name and undercurrent of concern.

"Why are you here? You know my theory, how do you fit into this?"

It was silent and Shen Jiu couldn't help but have the thought that maybe he had done something wrong, maybe he wasn't supposed to know about this but he said nothing. Xiu Ya couldn't leave him, it was spiritually unable to. (None of the fear in his chest abated at the thought, but worsened. Xiu Ya probably hated him for not letting it go and Shen Jiu didn't care.)

('Don't abandon me' again, Qi-ge.)

('Don't leave me alone', except he wasn't alone anymore, was he? His parents loved him--did they really? Or was it the son whose body he stole they loved?--, Marzio was a friend--or trying to use him--, Bermuda had been a good teacher so far--he just wants a bait and admitted to using Shen Qingqiu as a pivotal plot point-- so why then was he so...afraid?)

"...Xiao Qingqiu really needs to learn how to keep his thoughts quiet," a whisper, "I won't leave. You're not alone. And as for my role..."

Xiu Ya moved to face him and flicked its tongue at his cheek. "Who do you think directed your Flames? Xiao Qingqiu, you are far more loved than you think. Xuan Su helped too, it gave our bond enough spiritual energy to interfere with your body. As for this world, it was the closest and had more Dying Will Flame users commonplace so I chose it on impulse."

Alright. That was...good, it meant he wouldn't be alone.

That was fine. Just don't leave, it will all be fine.

Xiu Ya went back to what seemed to be his favorite position, hanging off of Shen Jiu's shoulders and laying its head on top of his. It was nearly time for his parents to be back home and he needed to wash his face and any and all evidence that he had shed tears.

When they did come back though, he smiled and hugged both of them--no, father, mother was obviously getting the first hug!-- then asked them how the eggs tasted.

Adelaide, mother, forced her face to be completely blank and told him with the straightest face he had ever seen her make, that it was not bad and that he needed to turn down the heat and add less salt. His father, Desiderio, struggled to swallow and kept drinking water while forcing himself to eat, not wanting to break his son's heart. Shen Jiu smiled placidly the entire while and Xiu Ya was in hysterics over how much the two coddled Shen Qingqiu.

Shen Qingqiu told them, "I think I made a friend."

To which immediately his father started interrogating him. Name, address, grades, looks, ambitions and goals in life...it was almost as if father believed that he was going to lose his precious daughter to the clutches of some evil villain and he had to prevent it.Mother laughed at him and made them a proper breakfast, pretending like she didn't see the completely burnt and molten pan in the garbage bin. Xiu Ya, as mentioned somewhere, loved playing pranks on his parents and kept slithering up father's pant sleeve, at which point father would scream like a little girl and yell at Shen Qingqiu to get it off.

"Vermont! This isn't funny, it's going to bite me!"

"Darling, Xiu has never intentionally harmed us."

"Listen to mother, father."

"You two!!"

Chapter Text

It is a quiet affair, Shen Jiu's fourteenth birthday.

Xiu Ya was strangely quiet, probably also not knowing what to say, not that it would help any. The room got darker as time passed and Xiu Ya, sensing Shen Jiu's turbulent emotions that needed space to explode before calming down, got up to switch off the light switch.

His parents hadn't come back home. Not on the morning they promised or hours late into the night, it...

Shen Jiu thought he was infallible to the crushing feeling of betrayal after so much of it, yet now as he stares unblinkingly at the sky outside and the moon slowly moving up and up... those feelings once again resurfaced and took hold of everything.

Rage, grief and confusion all at once.

He trusted them. Mother and father said they would be back for all his birthdays, they reassured him last time he had seen them they would be there but they weren't and it...hurt. It was childish, maybe, but they promised and have never broken their promises despite always being busy and Shen Jiu had believed that an trusted them to always keep their word. Was he not enough anymore? Did they finally decide to abandon him?

Irrational thoughts plague his mind one after the other and Shen Jiu blinks past the liquid blurring his vision, instead pulling an illusion over himself and leaving to take a long walk.

Xiu Ya followed and he hardly reacted when the snake coiled up his leg, instead covering it with an illusion too. Walking, walking until Shen Qingqiu could hardly feel his legs anymore and he stops, finally paying enough attention to actually register his surroundings and see where he had ended up.

The lights were obnoxious and bright, flashing one color to the other and was supposed to look inviting and fun--to him it seemed more like a masochist's favorite thing--but merely succeeded in making him want to rip them off and brun them with pure spite. The most obnoxious and bright one was--

Shen Jiu watched as three very obvious mafioso walked into the bar, wearing their full suits and everything. Xiu Ya snorted and asked, "Are you going to follow them?"

"Hmm."

(It was just something to amuse him for a while because every mafioso he has encountered were all dumb as hell.)

He slipped into the bar, fully packed with boiling hot bodies, very inappropriately dressed people, mostly in their teens and young adults were dancing to some horrible music and the people Shen Jiu followed were being flirted with by some very obviously drunk partygoers. A body is shoved into him and he froze momentarily, loathing the intrusion of personal space and how they were all enjoying such a frivolous and meaningless thing.

If they wanted to dance, why do it in a crowd? Playing music in front of a crowd is fine, Shen Qingqiu himself had to do it quite a few times in his past life, but what monstrosity was this thing??

How could anyone enjoy this?!

Xiu Ya snickered.

The three mafioso eventually get to a very cliché isolated corner and Shen Jiu had taken to practicing the hovering Bermuda had told him the basics of. It was risky, but working.

Now, one would ask why the f*ck Shen Jiu was staying there despite not liking the place. That was a very, very simple question to answer. See, the mafioso had crests on their suit and he recognized them as the mafioso who had tried to capture him that one time. Xiu Ya, too, was very unnaturally quiet, like the time with those weird *ss mafioso. Other than that? He wanted to get some kind of information and eavesdropping is one of the best ways to do that.

Just, ignore the fact that it was impolite.

With an illusion, he makes himself invisible and listens in, focusing on the truly important parts. Xiu Ya flicks its tongue at his cheek and Shen Jiu pets the snake's head. The mafioso babble on about everything, getting especially unhinged when they get their hands on alcohol. They kept on talking, revealing their main base's location, the Possession Bullets that were apparently their Famiglia's current pride and how even Vongola would clamor to have some of these bullets. The experiments, who cared about some homeless people and street rats who suddenly disappeared?

Humans... really never change. Shen Jiu realizes. He was just... lucky to have his parents as parents.

Shen Qingqiu was about to go back when one of them he had nicknamed Dumb Guy in mind yells, "Ah, that hit was such a success though!"

The guy he nicknamed John Smith agrees, saying, "Well, it is only right to strike some sense into those upstarts! What Gold Bullet and Silver Knife, more like the Sh*t Couple!" At which point Shen Jiu froze. Hit... his parent's titles... these people...

...it was exactly midnight.

...

The last guy, nicknamed Lecherous Pig, complains, "It's such a shame though! That woman was quite nice..." he laughs a horrible laugh and Shen Qingqiu is slowly taking John Smith's neck in his hands and Xiu Ya launches itself onto Lecherous Pig's, biting down with a hatred. John Smith, in the moments that he registered that there was somebody about to kill him and that his teammate was being injected with venom from a snake, looked at Shen Qingqiu and realized something, because a mocking expression appeared in his eyes.

Shen Jiu hated it.

Dumb Guy, like his name, dumbly doesn't realize the deaths of his teammates until their bodies thump onto the table and Xiu Ya was wrapped tighly around his neck and biting down.

...how dare they.

Those people whose apparent deaths happened at their hands, they were Shen Jiu's parents. They were his. How dare they take away what was his? (How dare they kill the only people who have never abandoned him until the end?)

Mocking, mocking him, the child who was left behind after killing their parents, how dare they, oh god--his parents.

His parents were dead.

They were never coming back.

Xiu Ya hisses and shouts in his mind. "Master! You're going into qi deviation!"

So what? So what?! His parents were dead, dead and never coming back to see him and are never going to fulfill their promise and, and he just--

Alone in this corner with three cooling bodies and a crowd of people happily dancing and singing as if he hadn't just lost his parents--the most important people he had in this life--and how dare they be so happy?! Why was he here, going into qi deviation and having just killed a person and ordered the death of another two, all of which had killed his parents probably just this morning, why were they so happy?

Unfair.

Unfair, unfair, unfair.

Make it fair.

"Master!" He ignores Xiu Ya and the building slowly creaks and cracks, shrapnel and debris getting caught in a whirlwind and bringing people into it, racking his kill count up horrifyingly fast.

It didn't matter. These people who could only smile and indulge in pleasure didn't matter. His cheeks were wet. Was it raining? He could barely breathe. Xiu Ya kept shouting. He was getting very tired. It was raining quite heavily now, but why was only his face wet? That didn't make sense.

There were cold chains wrapping around him. Dragged, being dragged...

It didn't really matter at this point, did it?

....his parents were dead.

Shen Jiu closes his eyes.

Murmuring, distant voices. Italian or Mandarin? Or perhaps that one he had been studying, English? He slowly tried to open his eyes, feeling lethargic and exhausted despite having done nothing.

A snake, Xiu Ya flicks a tongue at his eyelid and Shen Jiu obediently lets them stay closed.

He dozes off within seconds.

It was quiet. Was it supposed to be this quiet? Dark, there was nothing as far as the eye could see, but he could see his hands and body clearly. That didn't make sense. Shen Jiu bit back a whine and curled around himself tighter, wanting nothing more than to lay down, close his eyes and never open them ever again.

What is your resolve?

What was Shen Jiu's resolve? He didn't know anymore. If you had asked yesterday, he would have said to learn about this world, to be the scholar he had always been proud of being. Maybe, to find Yue Qingyuan too and get an explanation out of him. To get stronger so even if fate decided that he had to be an Arcobaleno, he would be the undisputed strongest and force Checkerface to find another way of supplying the Tri-ni-Sette with Flames. To be able to provide for his parents. For Xiu Ya to stay with him forever.

But his parents were dead now. Killed by some bastards who thought it good to mock a Mist after killing the people they value the most. Estraneo...

...it was a mafia Famiglia wasn't it? He could go and get revenge. Bermuda would approve, because Shen Jiu too had Night Flames.

Night Flames burned strong with resentment and hatred. It was, at its core, resentful energy and therefore was demonic cultivation. It would lead him to qi deviations, it would eat away at his sanity and peace. But when has Shen Jiu ever been peaceful? When had even a single shred of sanity been in him? Maybe he was, long ago, when it was just him and Qi-ge. Maybe he was, just a small while ago, when his parents came back and spent time with him, despite knowing that they were selfishly putting him in danger. It didn't matter to him.

What is your resolve?

Revenge should not be a long time goal. It would rot him inside out, Shen Jiu would know this. Then, revenge would be something he wants to do and after?

Do what he thinks would make his parents proud.

That should be simple, right?

The inky darkness drips away and Shen Jiu opens his eyes.

"Mast--Xiao Qingqiu! Never scare me like that again!" Xiu Ya launches itself onto Shen Qingqiu and he pets the snake. Another weight settles onto his stomach and he looks to see Bermuda with the most troubled face he had ever seen on the mummified baby (which was quite a feat, considering that his face was covered with bandages).

But then, he sighs and says, "We'll talk about this later."

Chapter Text

Xiu Ya relaxed on Shen Jiu's shoulders, quite heavy and would be tiring if Shen Jiu had not been used to it. Bermuda gave the snake an unimpressed stare and they had a small staring contest where neither won or lost. The mummified baby handed him a dark cloak, accented with green and white and Shen Jiu merely raised a brow at him.

The baby simply said, "It fits you and you need to have a signature thing."

"...how did you know my favorite color was green and white?"

"None of your business," Bermuda replies, but stares at Xiu Ya and Shen Qingqiu immediately knew how.

In the world, there were countless things that could be inherited.

One type of those countless things are technique or skills from a teacher to a student or a parent to a child. The title "Viper" and the skills and techniques it comes with is one of them.

Espers, the mafia called these illusionists who are almost always one of the top ten Mists. Terrifying, the monsters that lurked under your bed and are responsible for some sort of misery even if you don't know that they were the ones responsible for such a thing until they declare it their doing. It is unsurprising that these people were either eradicated as fast as possible or won over by the bigger mafia famiglia and that always came with a risk, because they were a Mist. Of course, the strongest ones always choose to be a freelancer.

As Shen Jiu and Bermuda *discussed before, Shen Qingqiu would inherit the title of Viper. The current Viper just had to be dealt with, meaning that they needed to get him to not pass on his skills to anyone. Which was relatively easy, considering that Shen Jiu had the Vindice on his side.

After that was choosing what he wanted to be. Obviously, he was going to be a freelancer but what kind? Hitman, information broker, illusionist...there were several things that he could go with. Naturally, he chose to be an information broker, considering that it was the closest thing to a scholar and dealt with information, not to mention that he had an iron trap of a memory and would not forget important things easily.

That was fine, now, he needed to collect information and do something to tell the mafia that he was now here.

Now here came a problem.

Shen Qingqiu wanted to destroy the Estraneo Famiglia and that is considered quite the debut, not as an information broker, but as a very talented Mist who was able to grasp the arts of real illusions. This was resolved by going by "Vipers are known to be just that. Who cares? If they want to scout me then go ahead and try," which led to a lecture of, "Skies are very persuasive, not many are able to resist."

In Shen Jiu's opinion, Bermuda was overreacting. A Sky... going by how they are usually defined, Shen Jiu had never met any, but if he went by their job, to pull in and stick together, then wasn't the beast one?

Of course the beast would have the rarest Flame type. On this, Shen Jiu did not envy him, his Flames were much more useful anyways.

Other than that, he couldn't think of anyone else. Shen Jiu didn't believe that a mere Sky would be able to make him yield when the beast, after a prolonged time of torture he couldn't keep track of, did not. Xiu Ya had agreed with him, stating that perhaps only the Skies of the larger mafia famiglia like Vongola or Giglio Nero would be able to tame Shen's Fog.

All that was done and decided, now, to actually do it.

The Underworld exploded with gossip, of how the Estraneo had been destroyed cruelly and mercilessly by someone who had left behind a single word painted on a wall with blood, Viper. Another Esper! The higher ups gasped and went to looking for the person behind it. The faster this person can be shackled to one Famiglia the better, or else they would be facing a fearsome opponent. The old Viper had vanished and no one could find him, it was a rather odd thing.

One night, a quiet envelope slipped into the room of a fairly influential mafia don who did not notice it only until hours later. It contained the exact numbers of their, well, everything! Not to mention, in another paper, there was an assortment of information on the highest rankings of his troops and their strength as well as their weaknesses.

A smaller note said that if the mafia don did not want this information to be revealed to the entire Underworld, he would accuse the Estraneo of being deserving of their fates because they had been creating something called the Possession Bullet.

Unknown to him, several other mafia dons or donnas had received a similar envelope and after listening to their ally, their alliances began to say the same. Sooner or later, the entire mafia was shunning the Estraneo, though there were some who resisted it, saying that it was normal. They were the mafia, after all.

When the dons and donnas who got the envelope realized that this was probably from the new Viper, they tried to contact the man, one of them succeeding by putting a letter in the envelope and leaving it on the same place he had found it. After which he told the other mafia dons and donnas who had gotten a letter and they managed to do so too. Viper, after being asked what was it that he wanted, said that they would be good connections and he was going to be an information brokers. They would provide him the goings of what they knew was going on down to the smallest rumor and he would give them information on their enemies free of charge.

In one move, ten fairly influential people were caught in Shen Jiu's strings. This move would be to facilitate a backup plan, if anything with his main plan goes awry.

Like many things, his plan starts small.

Going to the gangs that were in where Shen Jiu as Vermont lived, he analyzed everything and found one of them suited to his tastes before going to a bar--which mafioso or gangs love for some reason??--where he knew that one of the gang he had chosen's most trusted advisor was visiting. The man himself was quite strict and only allowed himself a number of drinks and a number of time.

Shen Jiu settled next to him, getting ready to put on an act.

By the end, all he had to do was act friendly and somewhat suspicious and imply that he knew critical information about the rival gangs when the man finally seemed interested and realized that he could be a new information broker who found something out.

From then on, it was a little easier to find clients in the smaller areas and his influence soon spread.

As for Shen Jiu himself, he had taken to completely acing school and skipping grades as if he would die if he did not do it within the month. The school was worried and shocked and was starting to talk about just directly letting him skip to college or university. Marzio had confronted him and asked if something happened, Shen Jiu had replied with, "If I keep talking to you, you'll be in danger." and he had understood.

It didn't stop Shen Jiu for looking out for his friend, especially when he was the tallest tree in the forest and very prone to the wind trying to take him down. Perhaps, he was too sentimental, but his parents would have wanted for him to have a close friend, wouldn't they?

(The protection of Marzio proves very useful in the future when he becomes far too well-known for his own good.)

"Vermont," Bermuda starts, looking very awkward somehow and for some reason. "This will be the last lesson, you've already learned everything that you need to know."

"En."

Following which the mummified baby takes out a stack of paper and took one from the top, giving it to Shen Jiu. Shen Qingqiu did not know what he was going on about and simply raised a questioning eyebrow that drew a somewhat reluctant, pained explanation for Bermuda, which was weird until he heard what he said. "Blow your nose with the paper and think of locating Jaeger."

Blow...his nose? He meant, do that, disgusting, thing, and put, snot, all, over, the place?

At Shen Jiu's expression of disgust, Bermuda tells him a chant.

"...it was made by one of the previous predecessors. They thought it would be funny and all Vipers are to teach this skill to their students on the last lesson. It shames me to have ever tried this technique."

"It works." Shen Jiu says eloquently. "This is complete bull and it somehow works. What the f*ck."

"...this never happened."

"This never happened."

An award silence descends and Shen Jiu gestures at the stack of papers. "Do you want me to..."

"No, no, its tradition. Even if..."

"...mm."

What Shen Jiu had offered was to turn the paper into illusion.

This was something that he had been thinking of for a long, long time. Well. In this life at least. If Mist Flames were able to make illusions into reality, what could Fog Flames do? Wrath Flames were not Stormy Sky Flames and Fog Flames were not Cloudy Mist Flames.

Wrath Flame's property has not been discovered, as only ten of such users have been recorded. A famous one would be Vongola Secondo and the two things he was famous for was expanding Vongola's power by miles and exlosions.

Really big explosions. Both literally and metaphorically.

As such, he had tested with the Fog Flames he had again and again and found that, if he wanted to turn something real into an illusion, he could. It wasn't like normal Mist Flames that could only make illusions real and cloak real things in illusions, he could turn something real into an illusion. It was as if a it was a play of the phrase, "reality is an illusion". Furthermore, if he turned that thing into an illusion and dispel it, it would be as if that thing never existed.

Theoretically, if he did that to a person...

Either way, since Bermuda did not want him to destroy this longstanding tradition of his, then Shen Jiu wouldn't. He just had to not take in a student and Shen Jiu would be safe from such humiliation. He could almost imagine that student completely giving up if they ever found out that this was something that they had to learn...

On second thought. It would be fine, hopefully.