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Courting of the Consort

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One day left to live.

Shang Qinghua tilted his head back until he was staring up at the ceiling, swaying a brush through the air in lazy strokes as if he could paint himself a skylight.

It could be worse. One day was still plenty of time for Mobei Jun to find him. Everyone knows that the hero doesn’t arrive until the very last moment. Not that fate had been playing fair with the rules of proper storytelling lately. Who brings back an old mini-boss this late into an existing story arc anyway? It’s such a cheap ploy for drama!

Of course it wouldn’t have been possible if Mobei Jun had just killed his uncle back then, that day on the roadside. Not that Shang Qinghua could blame him. Not really. Linguang Jun was family, and sadly thanks to someone’s shitty writing, he was the only real family he had left. That Mobei Jun couldn’t bring himself to dispose of someone who had treated him so horribly in the past, and even tried to kill Shang Qinghua, said way too much about his life up to that point.

Mobei Jun should never have to live like that again, standards so low, and Shang Qinghua put all his bookkeeping, all his bed warming, and all his outright stickiness to make sure of it! Maybe it was a little bit out of guilt, but who wouldn’t want to make it up to someone if you gave them a backstory so angsty even the trolls couldn’t hate him?

Though his chances to do that were pretty much over now.

Naturally he had spent a couple of hours attempting to break the shackle after Wu Mingxia had left. It barely gave enough slack to take two steps from the bed. Whatever it was made out of, even mustering up his energy and sending it into the chain didn’t do a damn thing, nor affect the wood flooring it was attached to. That at least he’d already learned a few days earlier in another failed attempt at finding escape routes. The room wasn’t fancy, and probably wouldn’t pose a problem for a high-level cultivator to bust out of it, but Shang Qinghua? Apparently it suited him as a prison just fine.

Shang Qinghua sighed, looking down at the book that laid open on his lap. The servants had brought the tray of writing supplies back as usual, though this time to the bed, and today he decided to take Qu Shiying up on his luxurious offer. He didn’t set out with anything specific in mind to write about, but once the brush hit paper, words came as they always did.

He began with the topic of a small grove of trees that he routinely passed when flying his preferred route between realms. It always stood out because the leaves glowed in the dark. Want something lit up at night? Smear some of the tree’s sap on it, and you’re all set. That part Shang Qinghua had learned after a crash landing in one of them—the bird came out of nowhere!—resulting in the first time Mobei Jun had outright laughed at him for something that wasn’t related to him hurting himself, if you ignored Shang Qinghua’s injured pride. It was more of a chortle, really, but at that point in their servant-King relationship, Mobei Jun may as well have been doubled-over. The resulting bath had been equally as entertaining. Speaking of hot water, you could even turn the tree sap into a tea that was surprisingly good for hangovers, though your mouth would light up the room for the next few hours.

After describing it in great detail, Shang Qinghua’s words naturally moved onto the surrounding flowers and herbs, and even a legend or two about them. The Lost Lovers’ Lotus was a particular favorite after a little subplot about reincarnated soulmates tossed into his story on a whim actually got him some nice comments. Seriously though, with how many flowers in this world existed for the sole purpose of being betrothal gifts used to rope in another wife for Luo Binghe, it was a wonder anyone was still single. He doodled a few petals in the corner of the page.

Shang Qinghua couldn’t always tell if these were things he’d actually written before, and were now facts in this world, or something new he’d come up with on the spot. It all blended together sometimes. Right now he hoped part of it was the latter and a conflicting piece of information would inspire one of his kidnappers to grind down the Tameable Engorgement Root, and instead of providing “support” for their nightly endeavors, it would leave them with an uncontrollable itch for the rest of their lives. It would serve them right!

The book was nearly full when he finally took a break. As the ink dried, Shang Qinghua’s mind began to wander.

He hoped that Linguang Jun was vindictive enough to tell his nephew that he’d killed him. Honestly, Shang Qinghua didn’t write enough about him to really know for sure. He was pretty confident about the murder part happening. The vindictiveness just seemed plausible. The worst thing that could happen is Shang Qinghua simply disappearing and Mobei Jun never knowing what happened. He really hoped Mobei Jun wouldn’t just think he left. They knew each other better than that now, didn’t they? What reason would Shang Qinghua have to even leave in the first place?! It’s not like anything has changed recently.

Shang Qinghua chewed on the end of the brush. Okay, so maybe suddenly going missing right after being told you’re going to be someone’s spouse without your input could be construed as a motive, but it’d be a dick move! Mobei Jun wouldn’t assume that of him.

Would he?

No! No, he wouldn’t, and the ex-Lord of An Ding Peak and boyfriend of the strongest and coolest demon in this entire world was not about to start wallowing about the possibility just because he was probably going to die tomorrow! Sure, he only had himself to blame for some past instances of fleeing, like after he left Mobei Jun in that inn the first time they met, or after Mobei Jun’s ascension ceremony, or after the first time they had sex, or after Mobei Jun asked him to move to the North permenantly, to name a few...

Damn it.

For all his past groveling and apathy, Shang Qinghua had to admit there might be a slight chance he had some commitment issues.

Shang Qinghua really did want to marry Mobei Jun though! The idea of a big wedding, hilariously expensive red robes and the requirement to socialize out of personal obligation didn’t exactly send Shang Qinghua’s heart aflutter, but having more political power to support Mobei Jun would be nice. Having the whole realm know that Mobei Jun held him above everyone else would be great! Just knowing that Mobei Jun wanted to marry him, silly old Shang Qinghua...well, that would be the best. It wasn’t about some unrealistic fairy tale like being together forever because who knows what tomorrow might bring—irony noted—but the idea of someone wanting to be together with him forever?

Maybe they both needed that.

Why doesn’t his relationship feel as ‘for sure’ as Cucumber Bro and Luo Binghe’s? Is it really dumb to be jealous of your best friend’s marriage? It sounds really dumb. Even though Shang Qinghua and Mobei Jun had been “together” for years now, there’s still that really annoying little voice in his head telling him that Mobei Jun would find someone better. That Shang Qinghua was just a filler, a placeholder, someone that Mobei Jun would swap out when he met someone with brains, beauty, pedigree and the ability to bench press his weight tenfold. Shang Qinghua didn’t think it was unfair to say he only had one such feature.

When he thinks about it, it makes sense that writing millions of words about Luo Binghe and his obsessive nature was why he had so much faith in their relationship from an outsider’s perspective. He was even the one who put the very idea of stickiness in Luo Binghe’s head in the first place, no web novel required! While Mobei Jun was his character originally too, he hadn’t written nearly as much about him, and certainly not in a romantic or sexual way. If he was being honest, Shang Qinghua liked Mobei Jun too much even back then to ever put him in scenarios that were too risky, so without the protagonist halo to protect him, it just meant he was rarely there. If he was being really honest, Shang Qinghua had probably spent more hours thinking of features he’d ascribed to Mobei Jun while laying in his bed at night with his trusty right hand and a box of tissues than he ever did in front of the keyboard.

But who needs that kind of honesty?!

It turns out that being on death’s door makes for long, depressing brain tangents. Would it surprise anyone to learn that Shang Qinghua was never very good at meditation either?

Time to clear his thoughts. Mind empty. No problem.

...

What will Mobei Jun do when he dies?

Shang Qinghua slapped the book shut in frustration, moving to put it aside before the question stalled his hand. He tore out the remaining blank pages and used the tray as a makeshift table to place brush to parchment once more.

Mobei Jun,

If you are reading this, then something unfortunate has befallen me. Please know it was not this ser my intent to leave you. I was kidnapped and met an untimely end entirely due to my own weakn shit luck conspiring forces. How embarrassing!

I hope the following can help.

He filled every bit of available space with anything useful he could think of. Nothing that would be especially useful if it fell into the wrong hands of course. Mobei Jun could rule all on his own just fine, so there was no need to write down any of the broader details, just some of the things Shang Qinghua knew would make his King’s life a little easier. Things like where next season’s tariff lists were stored, or when the last inventory of the south wing’s storeroom was taken, and definitely the priority list for accepting audience requests to avoid a repeat of last year’s courtyard scuffle. (They were still finding bone fragments and blood splatter from that disaster…) Oh, and he couldn’t forget to mention what cabinet the servants stored Mobei Jun’s favorite off-season cloaks in, or where the next volume in the series of books he’d been reading to him was shelved (it was a cliffhanger!), or the proper ratio of berries to get that one snow cone syrup flavor Mobei Jun really, really liked.

Nothing actually important.

The brush hovered over the sheet until it dried too much to use. He swirled it back on the ink stone for several dragging moments before he continued, writing as small as he could with the fraying ends of the cheap writing utensil.

You’re really angry but it’s not your fault. You’re really sad, and I wish I was there to help. Remember when I got my butt stuck in the melon seed barrel? I know I made you promise never to joke about it again but you have my permission now.

I always used to think I was unlucky but now I feel like the luckiest man in the world. Lots of weird shit happened but it was enough to bring me to a place where I met you. Maybe it could happen again? Don’t wait for me though, or sleep with my body for five years. I didn’t make myself a spare plant body but maybe I should h

Mobei, you are a great King.

Mobei, you do your ancestors proud.

Mobei, you are the strongest there is!

Mobei, you treated me very well.

Mobei——-

Shang Qinghua wrote until his view of the paper became distorted by tears welling up in his eyes. Why was he still such a crier?! He should be saving those in case weakness to weeping happens to run in the Mobei family.

He skimmed what he’d written before he flipped over the pages and scrawled across the backs as well. Maybe tomorrow he’ll try to get more poetic, if Linguang Jun wasn’t an early riser who did his killing before lunch. After the pages dried, Shang Qinghua folded them into neat little shapes and tucked them under a pillow.

The servants came right on time—or at least it felt like they did, since they were the only way he had to track it. They took away the writing supplies and his first filled book. As promised, they returned shortly after with another tray, this one with a serving of rice, a small bowl of bitter soup, a tiny plate of weird looking fruit, and a single cup of wine.

They didn’t even have the courtesy to ask him what he wanted for his last meal. How cruel.

-------------------------------------

The next morning, it wasn’t servants who came to visit first. The door slammed against the wall as Qu Shiying burst into the room. The sound startled Shang Qinghua upright, the borrowed red robe hanging loose around his shoulders.

How fun to wake up with a heart attack. At least it wasn’t Linguang Jun. A little longer to live! Maybe , he reconsidered upon taking in the scene.

This was a new look for his captor. Qu Shiying was breathing heavily, his hair only partially done up, and sweat trickling down past pinched brows and red cheeks to frame an overall frantic expression. He was also missing an arm. That probably should’ve stood out first.

Shang Qinghua blinked. “Ah...good morning?”

Qu Shiying strode towards the bed and Shang Qinghua instinctively tried to scramble away, his back pressed against the divan’s decorative frame.

“How does one fix this?!” Qu Shiying demanded. He was making no efforts to hide his desperation.

Shang Qinghua replied dumbly, “Fix what?”

Qu Shiying’s remaining hand rose to grasp at the air around his other shoulder. His fingers were tense and clawed, shaking from whatever exertion he was under. “ This! This wound, it will not heal ! I t will not close! Tell me how to fix it or our arrangement is forfeit!”

Our arrangement? Shang Qinghua snorted. Qu Shiying was close enough for him to see the injury. Wrappings had been torn away—by his own nails from the look of it—to reveal a fresh stump.  Sure was a missing arm alright. But more than that, he could see leftovers of the attack still infused in the wound. Ice crystals crept over the exposed muscle and skin, trying to spread its way over to his collarbone, before retreating like a melting frost, then reappearing seconds later. Watching it ebb and flow was mesmerizing.

"Qi poisoning,” Shang Qinghua stated matter of factly. He looked at Qu Shiying’s face. He was still sweating and Shang Qinghua could feel the heat rolling off him. He understood. Qu Shiying’s body was increasing its temperature to compensate but wasn’t strong enough to subdue the cold altogether. Based on his appearance, not to mention the smell, he’s been fighting it for at least a couple of days. Whoever had taken his arm must be very strong.

Shang Qinghua didn’t need more than a single guess to know who. Pride bloomed in his chest, right alongside a kernel of hope.

Qu Shiying pressed for more. “This one knows, but what cures it?!”

Honesty would hurt much more than any lie Shang Qinghua could concoct. “No cure. It will feed off your own qi until there’s nothing left to take,” He shared. It was mostly true. If Qu Shiying were the protagonist, there would always be a cure, but someone who scarcely makes the cut as an NPC? Good luck!

Qu Shiying grabbed Shang Qinghua by the front of his robes and wrenched him closer. “You expect this one to believe you wouldn’t know better of your own Lord’s power?! Tell this one or—”

“Or what?” Spoke a new voice. It had been so long since he’d heard it and served as irrefutable evidence that Shang Qinghua would never forget it.

Two villains at once?! Have a little mercy, System!!

Linguang Jun stood in the open door way. He was just as handsome and just as terrifying as Shang Qinghua remembered—a weak imitation of Mobei Jun in features granted to him only by virtue of being written as a blood relative. As Linguang Jun walked towards them, he quietly hummed a familiar tune that sent shivers down Shang Qinghua’s spine.

Qu Shiying immediately let him go. Not that it mattered. Shang Qinghua’s legs had lost the strength for anything but a kneeling position.

Shang Qinghua remembered when Mobei Jun could make him feel like this—like his very presence could fill an entire room, making terror and unpredictability feel tangible, leaving him desperate to find a hole to hide in where there was air to breath. Even as a teenager, barely that much taller than Shang Qinghua, Mobei Jun had the aura of someone you did not want to piss off.

Still, his fear of Mobei Jun had always been mixed with pride and awe, before it quickly evolved to honest admiration, and eventually became nearly indistinguishable from relief and excitement. Now any fear he held for Mobei Jun was for upsetting him not because he thought there’d be retaliation (okay, maybe a little), but because he didn’t want Mobei Jun to be upset at all. He didn’t want him to be unhappy. Mobei Jun could manhandle him all he wanted—and he does—but Shang Qinghua knew he was in no real danger at all.

Linguang Jun was like being all the way back at step one, only worse. These two had history and it wasn’t good.

“My Lord...” Qu Shiying was clearly caught off-guard. “This one had not expected… It is only the—”

“Yes, yes, I’m early. Now move aside,” Linguang Jun said, walking towards the two. Each boot step matched a half dozen beats of Shang Qinghua’s heart. “I’ve no desire to draw this out.”

Qu Shiying moved aside.

“L-Linguang Jun…” Shang Qinghua stuttered, feigning no deference to the demon in his address as he had in the past. What was the point of it now? He’d hug no other thighs for the rest of his life, and that included all remaining ten seconds of it.

This was fine.

It was fine.

Hell no! It was not fine!!

Shang Qinghua didn’t want to die.

He pulled out that handful of papers, babbling an incantation to infuse them with power. The hastily scrawled writing along the back lit up as the talismans came to life. The symbols glowed a brilliant red. They worked!! The spell wasn’t that strong but it should immobilize a demon even of Linguang Jun’s strength for a few seconds, which was all he needed to—

A hand slammed against his throat. Shang Qinghua gagged, and his crude creations burned up harmlessly in his own hand, a light singe against his fingertips.

Linguang Jun sneered. “You think I would let you fool me again with the same trick?”

Shang Qinghua felt compelled to point out it wasn’t the same trick, but the tight grip around his neck made it impossible to speak.

Easily holding Shang Qinghua with one hand, he pulled him closer. “You don’t need to scream this time,” Linguang Jun mocked as his other hand pressed against Shang Qinghua’s chest. He resumed that haunting tune, a spell woven into the song.

Shang Qinghua only mustered enough strength to wrap his fingers around the sleeve of Linguang Jun’s robe. A familiar ache began to form in his chest, like a rock had suddenly appeared in his ribcage, and all too quickly he realized what was happening. The pain intensified as a biting cold took route around his heart, stealing the breath from his lungs and replacing the pink of his lips with a deathly purple. His skin felt brittle as his entire body began to freeze from the inside out.

It was all happening so fast. Considering the alternatives, maybe the System was having some mercy on him after all. Shang Qinghua could only cough once as his eyelids grew heavy. He wanted to close them before he lost the ability to.

Oh wow...I really am going to die… He didn’t even get a cool montage of his life or anything.

..

.

“Wait!” Qu Shiying cried out, grabbing onto Linguang Jun’s wrist. “You can’t! Not here! ” Panic laced his words and Shang Qinghua felt the icy tendrils working through his bloodstream pause.

“Oh?” Linguang Jun’s voice spoke of amusement, but the glare he gave Qu Shiying’s hand spoke of something else entirely.

Qu Shiying pulled his hand back and attempted a feeble one-armed bow. “My Lord, you can not kill him here. If Mobei Jun were to find this place, if he was to see…!”

“See what exactly? Do you still believe my nephew is unaware this is all your doing?”

Shang Qinghua let his eyes roll limp in his head so his gaze fell towards Qu Shiying. Villain team ups never work out. His lip twitched in its attempt at a smirk.

Qu Shiying looked horrified. “H-he suspects, but he does not know—”

Linguang Jun laughed loudly. “He knows. Although I suspect…” He pulled his hand away from Shang Qinghua’s chest to tap a single finger to his own chin. “...if he’d known the extent of your betrayal before I spoke with him, you would not have been granted these last few days.”

“You...you…” Qu Shiying unravelled before their eyes. He had so far survived getting on Mobei Jun’s bad side, but for Mobei Jun to know the truth of everything he had done, that he had been the one to steal Shang Qinghua away, Qu Shiying had to know he and his own were done for. “You would go back on our deal?! Our clan was to be protected. Our mountain—!”

“When did I say such things?” Linguang Jun scoffed. “You offered me this—” He squeezed and Shang Qinghua choked on a gasp for air. “—and I offered you my forces’ withdrawal. I had no need for those paltry resources any longer. My honor is well intact.”

“M-maybe you both...c-could, ah, s...ettle your d-d-differences...elsewhere?” Shang Qinghua chattered, frost clinging to his eyelashes. Their argument had allowed just enough time for his insides to start thawing. Linguang Jun looked to him with an expression that read ‘why are you still talking’, and Shang Qinghua immediately regretted not playing dead.

Linguang Jun smashed his head against the wooden bed frame.

Barely conscious and hating every second of it, Shang Qinghua couldn’t make out what Qu Shiying and Linguang Jun were saying. His ears rung as white spots danced in his vision. It’d been a really long time since he’d taken a hit that hard, and it was as awful as he remembered. At least the hand around his neck was gone. Granted it had been replaced by a horrible throbbing in the back of his head and his body still felt like he’d been turned inside out and hung in a meat locker, but beggars can’t be choosers. He laid limp on the bed as the two blurry shapes exchanged heated words above him.

The bed abruptly jostled and he could vaguely hear voices shouting from somewhere else. A third blur came through the doorway. Shang Qinghua blinked. Ow. He blinked again. Wu Mingxia? 

“—gotten past! My Lord, please!” She pleaded, her lovely face matching Qu Shiying’s in being far less composed than Shang Qinghua had gotten used to. The bed jostled again. Could we all stop kicking the bed please? One of us has a really horrible headache, thank you.

After a brief back and forth, Qu Shiying allowed himself to be pulled from the room, leaving only Linguang Jun and Shang Qinghua behind.

“Faster than I thought, that damn boy.” He heard Linguang Jun curse.

Another impact shook the bed. Or it shook the room. Shook the building? Shang Qinghua felt his brain begin to settle. He sat up quickly to alleviate a sudden need to vomit, clutching the back of his head with both hands. Shit, that really hurt!! The door of the room was still open, revealing the narrow hallway on the other side. A heavy fog was rolling in low to the ground.

Shang Qinghua’s eyes widened, but a familiar thrum of magic demanded his attention elsewhere. Linguang Jun had opened an inky black portal in the corner of the room, not dissimilar to Mobei Jun’s. Can he even do that...? Shang Qinghua didn’t remember giving him that ability. Maybe it was an ice demon thing, in which case he should count himself lucky their servants aren’t popping in and out of every shadow scaring the crap out of him on a regular basis. Not to mention Mobei Jun’s distant relatives. Yikes! But if that was the case, how could he not know before now? That didn’t make sense! It couldn’t be an ice demon thing. Not that it was a very strong portal anyway. He could tell just from the look of it that it paled in comparison to one Mobei Jun could make—its uneven edges and rippling surface made it impossible to blend in with the surrounding shadows.

“Who do you think taught him?!” Linguang Jun snapped. “Certainly not his father."

Inner monologues stay on the inside, Shang Qinghua.

...though that answer did make sense, even if it served as a bitter reminder of how many things he’d yet to learn about Mobei Jun. How many more things he wanted to ask him. So many more things he wanted to tell him.

Linguang Jun raised an open palm to Shang Qinghua, who waved his hands insistently. “No, no, no, no! Very unwise to kill me now!”

Too many things happening at once! A man needs time to think!! 

“And why is that? I’ve no more use of you now than I did before my nephew promoted you from dog to whore.” Linguang Jun retorted, a large, very deadly looking shard of ice with Shang Qinghua’s name written on it forming in front of his hand, pulled from a basin of washing water. There wouldn’t be enough Shang Qinghua left to bother scooping into a cart if that hit him.

“Are you sure? That portal can’t take you very far. If you kill me, and leave nothing to the imagination, then you’ll only have yourself to blame if it’s shoot on sight!”

Linguang Jun actually appeared to be giving the idea some thought. “Do I look like a demon shameless enough to use a human as a shield?” He asked honestly.

Shang Qinghua quickly answered, “You do.”

“Perhaps you’re right.”

“Ah?”

Linguang Jun returned to the bedside and grabbed Shang Qinghua by his upper arm, dragging him off. In a panic, Shang Qinghua failed to grab onto anything and simply tried to brace his bare feet on the wooden floor to little success.

Not good! Not good!!

“Wait, wait, wait! I didn’t mean take me with you! I’d just slow you down! You know how weak my legs are... Why not just—”

The two were suddenly jerked to a stop by the chain on Shang Qinghua’s leg going taut.

Oh.

Linguang Jun gave an immature yank before letting out a frustrated, “What is this?!” before he spotted the offending attachment. His other hand went to seize Shang Qinghua’s leg, the aim being—one could only imagine in graphic detail—to make him one leg lighter!

Shang Qinghua made a desperate grab for Linguang Jun with his free hand, nearly throwing himself off-balance in the process as he was stuck between the shackle on his ankle and the demon’s hold on his other arm. Just how long did Linguang Jun think a meat shield could last with that kind of blood loss?! Shang Qinghua was a firm believer in blood staying on the inside, and the memory of Linguang Jun trying to twist off his arm like a drumstick was forever fresh.

The fog from the hallway had crept its way into the room as small fractals of ice worked their way up the door frame like vines of ivy. It caused the portal’s stability to worsen. Linguang Jun looked between it and Shang Qinghua. Then again. Then a third time, increasingly more angry. “Oh, fuck! ” He spat, before harshly shoving Shang Qinghua aside and stepping into the shadow alone. The portal instantly curled around itself and vanished.

Shang Qinghua hit the side of the bed, landing hard on his knees. After a moment to realize he was not in fact dead, he began to frantically paw at his own chest, patting and prodding, looking for a wound, looking for some horrid gaping hole—the kind that was so painful it transcended sensation and someone would only notice it was there just as the throes of death overcame them and—!

There was nothing.

Nothing but the tinkling of bells.

...bells?

“Found him~” A voice called out, accompanied by the sound of settling chimes. There was an undeniable sense of boredom to the words despite the cheery pitch. Shang Qinghua had never, ever, in the entirety of both of his lives, been so relieved to hear it.

Sha Hualing was leaning against the door frame. The demoness gave him a skeptical glance, before looking down at her nails like this was the most casual of meetings. Time dragged on just long enough to make Shang Qinghua consider the possibility she was planning to leave, then Sha Hualing made eye contact and said, “You are in so much trouble.”

Her approach to the door had been mostly silent. She was always light on her feet, her presence only announced by sound if she wished it to be, despite her preference for accessories. The owner of heavy boot steps behind her, who crushed the icy floors and parted the dense fog, was normally no different, but today stealth was not something anybody gave a damn about.

Mobei Jun stepped past her into the room.

A better writer could no doubt come up with a beautiful paragraph of baroque descriptions for the feelings that overcame Shang Qinghua, waxing poetic with not a single word wasted or an emotion missed. It would be a timeless ballad, a song of the soul, a transcendent experience akin to those penned only by the most prolific of writers who had ever lived...

Shang Qinghua’s mind was just a series of screeches.

Mobei Jun walked towards him and their eyes met.

...

Say something.

Say something, dummy!

“Y...you...you’re uncle!!” Shang Qinghua spat, clutching the robe tight around his chest to keep his heart in place. “He only just left, he...he’s still here somewhere.”

Mobei Jun stopped and turned his gaze to Sha Hualing. “Can you find him?”

Sha Hualing stared back, searching for something in Mobei Jun’s frozen expression, and replies with a question of her own, “You know what it means when I do?”

“Do whatever you want,” he replied with no discernible hesitation.

“Just what I like to hear, Mobei,” Sha Hualing grinned, her full lips going thin as they stretched across her face in what could only be described as murderous glee. “This will be fun then.” She pushed herself off the door frame with a flourish of the silks that draped between her arms, and left the room.

The air stilled as attention returned to him. Mobei Jun approached until Shang Qinghua was encased in his shadow, pinned by a stare so heavy he may as well have sat on him.

Silence.

With the way Mobei Jun was staring at him so intently, one had to wonder what he was seeing. Shang Qinghua could safely assume he was a little disheveled. Certainly not ‘greet your King’ worthy! There was no way his skin looked nice, and his hair hung loose from sleep. A ring of marks was definitely starting to show around his neck, he was chained to a bed, and wearing some stranger’s clothing. He can only imagine how strange he must look in red for how twisted Mobei Jun’s expression got when his gaze moved down to see it.

Mobei Jun lifted a hand and Shang Qinghua promptly burst into tears.

Okay, burst was a bit of an exaggeration. It was just that whatever bit of restraint remained to keep his body’s water content inside where it typically belonged had finally gotten enough cracks in it to crumble, letting the tears escape from his eyes in a steady stream down his cheeks. He didn’t burst. He was a grown-ass man! He just...fell apart.

Shang Qinghua was feeling too many things at once. How was he supposed to just keep it all in?! Impossible! Who did he think he was, Shen Qingqiu, who could fit his emotional range in a teaspoon?!

Why was Mobei Jun looking at him like that? Why wasn’t he saying anything? Was Mobei Jun angry? Oh shit, he looked sort of angry. If he was here, then he has to know about Shang Qinghua being (arguably) courted by another man, (arguably) lying about it, and then getting himself (unarguably) kidnapped because he didn’t have the balls to do anything about it first. If you put anything like that, of course it would sound bad!!

“M-my King, I…”

Mobei Jun broke their eye contact first. He reached into his cloak, and after appearing to fish around, pulled out a single outer robe. It was a rich blue color and laced with shimmering silver trim, decorated to match with intricate designs along the bottoms of the arms and dress. It was only after noting all that, that Shang Qinghua realized Mobei Jun had held it up just long enough to allow the chance, before he tossed it over top of him.

“Change your clothes.” Mobei Jun said as his throat bobbed with a visible swallow.

“O...okay…” Shang Qinghua replied nervously as he pulled the new robe off his head. Holding it in his hands, the quality was immediately apparent. It felt heavier than the robes he’d worn back in his Sect, but nothing like the thick robes he layered in Mobei Jun’s icy desert. He recognized the silky fabric from their own collection too. They had been saving it for an important occasion. Did Mobei Jun have any idea how much those were worth?! Shang Qinghua couldn’t deny how nice it looked with the silver detailing though. Up close he could make out the different shapes of the Mobei clan insignia, matching the tapestries and war flags back at the palace. The inside of the robe was lined with some kind of thin, white down that may have been the softest thing he’d ever touched. It even felt a little warm.

It was beautiful, and—he would learn as he pulled off the red robe to replace it with the one Mobei Jun had gifted him—it fit him perfectly.

What a waste to wear such a fancy outfit with his puffy face and his hair a mess!!

“Thank you…” He whispered all the same.

Shang Qinghua had to stand up to dress himself. It didn’t take long, replacing a single layer above the inner robes he still wore. He didn’t have anything else to go with it. Suddenly he felt himself pulled forward, a simple sash wrapped around his waist and used to reel him in. He stumbled and his nose collided with Mobei Jun’s chest.

Looking up felt like being struck by a bolt of electricity (and Shang Qinghua would know).

Mobei Jun was gazing down at him, his brows turned up and his lips making a shape Shang Qinghua could hardly recognize on that chiseled face. One wouldn’t call it a smile, nor would they call it something entirely sad. It fell somewhere in the middle and had it not stopped Shang Qinghua breathing, he was sure he’d have some out of date thoughts about character continuity as if he couldn’t see years of loyalty and passion pooling in those perfect eyes.

Strong, attentive hands tied the sash around his waist before sliding past his ribs, over his arms, across his shoulders, and up to hold his face between them. Mobei Jun’s thumb wiped away a tear and Shang Qinghua couldn’t help a breathy giggle from the sensation of it freezing beneath his gentle touch. All the while Mobei Jun kept staring at him, like he hadn’t seen him for a week. Shang Qinghua felt himself blush under the intensity. Even with all his own feelings about the situation, to be looked at like that...by those eyes...on that face...even after all this time...it was still a little overwhelming!!

Mobei Jun pulled him into a hug, burying his face in his neck.

“Never again.” Mobei Jun nuzzled into him. His breath was so warm against Shang Qinghua’s skin. “You are never to leave this one again.”

“Ah…” Those words were a knife to his conscience. “It was...that is...an accident... Er, that’s not quite right. I had no intention to leave you, and things had gotten…Well, it really was just a huge mess. Believe me that I am very, very sorry. I should’ve told you or dealt with it properly but there was a lot going on and I didn’t want to bother you with such things. And the conference, ah! I left you to deal with it all! I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I hope it wasn’t too much trouble for you, my King, and—” Shang Qinghua knew he was rambling but couldn’t stop. Apology after apology punctuated his sentences as Mobei Jun said nothing in reply to Shang Qinghua’s attempts to untwist the knot of guilt that had settled in his stomach for weeks, one that had led him to being here and Mobei Jun with that look on his face.

Mobei Jun bit his neck.

Shang Qinghua shrieked. "Ahh! My King—!” He squirmed, but dared not pull away with fangs piercing his tender skin. It hurt!! Yet quickly the pain gave way to relief, stealing attention away from the bruises forming around them. “What’re you…” The heat from Mobei Jun’s lips was like fire on Shang Qinghua’s throat. Warmth blossomed in his chest, chasing away the remnants of Linguang Jun’s spell. He felt his knees begin to weaken. “This really isn’t…” His fingers grasped at the back of Mobei Jun’s cloak.

Teeth slid out from the tiny holes they left behind. Mobei Jun’s tongue licked away the trickle of blood before moving to slow, hungry kisses, each and every one a proclamation of ‘mine, mine, mine’ They made their way down towards his collarbone as Mobei Jun’s hand slid up to expose it from beneath the robe Shang Qinghua had just so carefully put on.

It really wasn’t an appropriate use of their time, but hell if Shang Qinghua was going to suggest they stop now.

“M...Mobei... ah …” Shang Qinghua wriggled enough freedom from the embrace to maneuver his hands up beneath the fur that lined Mobei Jun’s broad shoulders, his fingers splaying over the robes and the firm muscle beneath it. He pressed his chest into Mobei Jun, eager for whatever touches he could get. He felt the back of his legs brush against the bed frame as those fervent kisses returned upwards, lips against his jaw, his check, his li—

Shang Qinghua’s finger grazed the bandages peeking out from his very generous kisser’s clothing. Mobei Jun growled in disapproval as Shang Qinghua abruptly pulled himself back to get a better look. He didn’t need to move the cloak much to see the extent of the injury and the blood that was trying to work its way through the layers of cloth. He frowned, Mobei Jun’s grip around his waist loosening as Shang Qinghua made quick work unraveling the unsightly mess.

Most of the wound had healed but crude, swollen edges and the smell of rot betrayed what a horrible injury it had been. Did something bite him?! Shang Qinghua trailed two fingers over the puffy skin and Mobei Jun clicked his tongue. “What were you doing when I was gone, fighting giant Turgid Bog Rats?!” Shang Qinghua exclaimed.

Who treated this wound?! There’s not even a hint of medicinal ointments or Restoration Grass left on it! Did they want Mobei Jun’s head to shrivel up and fall off?!

His exploring fingers felt something hard beneath them, small but foreign. “My King...one more apology I’m afraid,” Shang Qinghua didn’t wait for a reply before he dug a single finger into the shallow laceration. Mobei Jun hardly flinched. What a champ! Second laters, he pulled out a shard from a broken tooth nearly the size of his own. WTF?! Pinched between two fingers, he held it up between them. “Did you do this to yourself?! Because you’re the only person I can’t demand you exile for this shitty excuse for treatment!”

Mobei Jun stood up straight and took a slow, deep inhale. He cracked his neck, looked back down, and he grinned. Shang Qinghua flinched.

That was its own brand of scary!!

“Come, we’ve no reason to stay here any longer.” Mobei Jun said, literally smacking the tooth fragment out of Shang Qinghua’s hand before grabbing his wrist and pulling him towards the door. Shang Qinghua was immediately struck with a sense of very recent nostalgia. Like Uncle, like nephew , he thought, to his own disgust a moment later, before he made the important connection—

“W-wait!” He yelled, pulling back on Mobei Jun, who looked to him with annoyance.

“Why?”

“It’s just...my leg?” Shang Qinghua offered an awkward smile as he lifted his bound appendage off the floor. Mobei Jun’s eyes trailed down Shang Qinghua’s body, to the metal chain that still held him captive. Going down on one knee, Mobei Jun hooked a single finger between the shackle and the sensitive skin of his ankle. A shiver rippled through Shang Qinghua’s body (from the cold!) as the metal was encased in ice, and then promptly shattered.

Mobei Jun tugged at Shang Qinghua’s pant leg until he was satisfied with its placement, but instead of getting up, he remained kneeling before him. Shang Qinghua looked down and was met with the eyes of someone clearly trying to make a decision. Much as he loves any opportunity to look at that beautiful face, what could be more important than leaving?!

“My King?”

“Will...” Mobei Jun hesitated, pivoting his words. “I don’t blame you.” He said in a low voice. Shang Qinghua caught the change, but found too much relief in what was said to chase a different truth. Mobei Jun stood up, taking a light hold of Shang Qinghua’s hand. “You will pay for it, but you do not need to apologize to me again.”

Ah? Shang Qinghua laughed nervously. “O-of course…”

“Now follow me,” Mobei Jun finished as he released his hand and moved to the door, dazzling as always.

A smile crossed Shang Qinghua’s face, even as his fingers twitched at the loss. “For the rest of my life, my King!” He promised and trailed after him.

-------------------------------------

It didn’t take long to weave their way through iced up corridors and unfamiliar hallways. Shang Qinghua hopped over the occasional body and whined as his toes stuck to frozen patches of the floor before Mobei Jun pried a pair of boots off one of the guards and made him wear them.

After passing numerous windows, openings to small gardens, and a spattering of decor, Shang Qinghua could make out enough details to wager a guess where they were. This must be Wu Mingxia’s home in the Western Gulches. He hadn’t written much about it. Really it was just a place that Luo Binghe had taken his newest wife for some privacy as he proved to her with a week of endless papapa how she didn’t need to use her abilities to please him. Oh, hey, there’s the altar where Luo Binghe… … Oh, that could not have been comfortable.

But how did Mobei Jun know about this place?

The sound of clashing swords welcomed them to a large exterior courtyard. It was a flurry of activity, dozens of individuals brandishing a variety of weapons. Shang Qinghua squinted in the sunlight. They were all fighting...Shen Qingqiu and Luo Binghe?!

“You brought them?” Shang Qinghua asked incredulously.

Mobei Jun crossed his arms. “I brought Sha Hualing. Lord Shen came of his own choosing and my Lord followed.”

Shang Qinghua stared agape before he turned back to the pair fending off attackers with ease. He couldn’t help the grin that curled up his cheeks—or at least it would’ve been a grin, if he wasn’t another second away from crying, the two overlapping expressions fusing together into something that more closely resembled constipation.

Cucumber Bro really does care, doesn’t he?

And to a much, much, much lesser extent his “son”, but still!

Sha Hualing he assumes is here out of boredom. It’s not like she’s Mobei Jun’s subordinate, and to say she tolerates Shang Qinghua’s presence would be a vast overstatement. At least he’s pretty sure. Frankly she terrifies the hell out of him and he’d rather not be in her presence long enough to really get a read on their relationship. The idea of being liked by Sha Hualing felt just as scary as the alternative. He’s seen how she plays with people on both sides. At the very least he’s confident that he counts as Mobei Jun’s possession, which warrants him at least a sliver of worth.

Pushing aside thoughts of demonic hierarchy and his place somewhere between tableware and royal stooge, Shang Qinghua had to appreciate the martial display in front of them. Shen Qingqiu fought like grace incarnate. Not a single movement was wasted as he blocked incoming attacks with his sword, his other hand behind his own back, and his smooth footwork keeping him close to Luo Binghe as they orbited around each other. A perfect complement, Luo Binghe’s form was very similar to Shen Qingqiu’s but with a sharpened edge that made blocks harder and attacks more frequent. His movements matched the smirk on his face in contrast to Shen Qingqiu’s unwavering passivity. One could easily make a case for Luo Binghe’s skill fighting blindfolded as he was obviously looking at Shen Qingqiu just as much as the people they were fighting. Not out of concern, quite the opposite, and Shen Qingqiu spared his own gazes in turn.

The ultimate power couple! Shang Qinghua felt proud. Not that he could take all the credit.

Those they were fighting were a mix of Qu Shiying’s retinue, evident by the clothing they wore, and the rest a scattering of individuals who didn’t seem to have much consistency to their appearance or allegiance, aside from the fact they were all demons of some sort. Not a human in the bunch that Shang Qinghua could tell.

Shen Qingqiu finally noted their arrival. With another smooth parry, he let his sword arm fall to the side and casually walked over to them as if they weren’t still surrounded by enemies. Luo Binghe filled the gap without missing a beat, stopping anyone from approaching his spouse and taking the lot of them on himself.

“Shang-shidi appears well,” Shen Qingqiu commented dryly after giving him a top-to-bottom lookover. A quick look exchanged between Shen Qingqiu and Mobei Jun preceded the latter stepping off the wooden terrace and joining the fray. Shen Qingqiu sheathed his sword and replaced it with his fan, unfurling it to provide himself a few comforting waves of air. Not that Shen Qingqiu did something as barbaric as sweat, or so people thought. Shang Qinghua has seen the pit stains.

“Thanks?” Shang Qinghua responded, fiddling with his hair in attempts to tie it up and flinching when he grazed the swollen lump on the back of his head. Shen Qingqiu pursed his lips slightly and Shang Qinghua leaned in closer.

“You wouldn’t happen to feel guilty about something, would you, Cucumber Bro?” Shang Qinghua inquired slyly.

Shen Qingqiu moved his fan higher, as he blatantly averted his gaze. “ Tch, what reason is there?”

“Oh, I dunno...not telling me about the you-know-what with you-know-who?”

Shen Qingqiu scoffed. “It’s your story.”

“Bro, I told you I forgot!”

“Well since when did a little horniness result in getting kidnapped?! Whose fault is that?! ” Shen Qingqiu hissed, snapping his fan shut across his palm. An instinctual flinch hiked up Shang Qinghua’s cheek, but it only further stretched out his satisfied grin when no strike came. Shen Qingqiu coughed. “I am not here because I felt any such thing. I simply wished to fulfil my curiosity about Qu Shiying’s race. That is all. They are very unique.”

Shang Qinghua nodded in mock agreement. “ Mm-mn. Okay, okay,” before the two watched Luo Binghe and Mobei Jun make quick work of the remaining chaff.

Finally, it was time to go—

“Stop!”

Qu Shiying’s voice carried remarkably well as he come into the courtyard from an adjacent hall. He was out of breath and his cheeks were still flushed. Did the fever send him into some kind of delirium? He could’ve been long gone by now. He should’ve been long gone by now.

Although Qu Shiying was already dying, that was an unavoidable truth. With Mobei Jun now knowing his clan’s involvement in the whole debacle, there was definitely going to be retaliation once they left here. Considering how much of this whole mess seemed to be for Qu Shiying’s clan in the first place…

Shang Qinghua actually found himself feeling sorry for the guy.

Your Father would have treated you better if he’d known!

Ten others flanked Qu Shiying, all wearing light armor that Shang Qinghua recognized from the guards who had harassed him before. This group was likely a little stronger than those currently littering the ground, but he had to assume they were no less fodder-y.

Qu Shiying raised his one arm to Mobei Jun, a sword pointed at the demon king’s head. “You and your Lord Luo Binghe left this one and his people to suffer at the hands of your kin. Our pleas to Lord Luo Binghe were dismissed and our missives to you unanswered. We had no choice!”

“With flesh unharmed by fire and lungs not bound by air, we shall not be felled by the ice!” Cheered one of the others. Shang Qinghua and Shen Qingqiu grimaced in unison. Put that one in the long list of things that were a lot less cheesy to read than they were to hear.

Still, Shang Qinghua stifled a laugh. Qu Shiying thought he could kill Mobei Jun? Talk about a hopeless cause! That doesn’t even address the fact that Luo Binghe was here—main character and ruler of the entire demon realm. The guy you just mentioned, sound familiar? It’s not like they were the only ones Luo Binghe considered too small-time to manage, and did Qu Shiying have any concept of how many messages go past Shang Qinghua’s desk any given day? Give a guy a break! This whole mess had gotten really personal even before the whole kidnapping thing.

Mobei Jun and Luo Binghe answered the accusations with nothing but engagement in combat as all ten descended upon them in the foolhardy assault.

Putting his fan away, Shen Qingqiu gave Shang Qinghua a prepared scowl. “As I doubt you packed your sword nor have developed some kind of physical prowess without my knowing… Stay. Here.” He pointed at the porch like he was scolding a child.

Shang Qinghua held up both his hands in immediate submission as he watched Shen Qingqiu return to the fight. That was a surprise. Not the submission part of course—Shang Qinghua was happy not to squander his rescue, thanks—but that Shen Qingqiu joined in such a skirmish when Luo Binghe and Mobei Jun were already there. He wasn’t kidding about being curious about Qu Shiying’s race. A nerd after his own heart!

It turned out to be a good decision pragmatically too. This battle seemed less one-sided than before as Qu Shiying’s hand-picked group were remarkably talented with their weapons. Most wielded swords but one guy did have an interesting mace-like club. For fighters with considerably less imposing figures, they fought with an odd sense of abandon, and it became clear why when Luo Binghe sliced across one of their chests resulting in nothing but a torn shirt, the skin beneath a hard indistinguishable stone. Even a flash of fire didn’t seem to have any effect beyond damage to clothing, allowing them to press forward with attacks when it was expected they would block or falter.

There was no way in hell they could beat that trio, but they’ve been promoted from inconvenience to obstacle.

Things dragged on like that for some time, with Shang Qinghua hunkered down on the porch, lamenting he had nothing to snack on, and marveling at the opportunity to just watch these three powerhouses do their thing. Just look at how Mobei Jun moved—all flashes of ice, black crackling power, and sharp claws. His cloak billowed behind him when he turned and his beautiful black hair shifted just enough to reveal more of the glowing sigil on his forehead, which was only minorly distracting from how much of his chest was exposed because of the low cut he’d worn today to accommodate for his injury. Perfection! Go get ‘em, my King!

It was almost enough to make Shang Qinghua forget why they were here in the first place. Within the hour he’d been seconds away from death and now—

Where was Linguang Jun, anyway? Had Sha Hualing really killed him off-screen, just like that?

Think of the in-law and the in-law arrives! Movement caught his attention nearby when a figure stumbled out from a shadowy corner. Shang Qinghua opened his mouth to shout but Mobei Jun was faster, spinning as he raised a cloak-covered arm to block the incoming attack. A wave of blue energy crackled against the black of his own aura before being cast aside like rain on a windshield.

So cool!!

Linguang Jun sneered from his position. He had seen better days—his robe was torn open on one side, his hair was in tangles, there were whip-like gashes across his cheek, and his mouth was spouting all sorts of obscenities, not least of which about a “spoiled bitch”. The mouth on that one!

Mobei Jun knocked away another attack like it was child’s play as he stormed towards his uncle, pushing past any warm bodies in his way. The air around him darkened as he summoned forth his array of swords, dozens of black blades made entirely of his own demonic qi manifesting around him and prepared to strike at any target of his choosing. This is what one would call a ‘special occasion’ attack. Shang Qinghua could count the number of times he’d seen it on his hands and it was never short of spectacular.

Shang Qinghua wanted to call out a cheer but the moment was too bittersweet. Nephew against uncle, who for all intents and purposes, was like a surrogate father to him. Or maybe more like a big brother? Details! What matters is there’s some serious baggage, and as comforting as Linguang Jun being dead, gone, and never coming back would be, Shang Qinghua thought that continuing to deal with that ever present fear of death at his hand was worth not seeing Mobei Jun being the one to do him in.

Shang Qinghua wanted to look away but knew he couldn’t. He has to see this th—

Snake in the grass! Qu Shiying was moving his way through the crowd, his sword held tight in his remaining hand and his eyes dead set on Mobei Jun’s back. He moved slowly to avoid being seen but wasn’t the only one whose eyes were locked on the northern monarch.

All sympathy gone!

Shang Qinghua’s legs moved before his brain could concoct a plan and his mouth could shout anything useful, settling for a few harsh words of his own. He didn’t have a weapon so he’d just have to settle for warning Mobei Jun, or worse-case a tackle with little faith he was strong enough to pull it off.

“Airpla—Sha—what did I tell you?!” A voice cursed in passing. Someone else collided into him and he shoved past, ignoring how close he’d just come to losing an ear. My King! My King! My King! His mind shouted, at least one actually making it to his lips, he thinks, but his target doesn’t turn around.

Mobei Jun’s display of power was immense as he continued towards Linguang Jun, unknowingly positioned between Shang Qinghua and Qu Shiying. His swords circled around him in an impressive ring and anyone in close proximity was giving him a wide berth to avoid becoming targets. His weapons were poised to attack, but they were facing the wrong way! Why are they beholden to Mobei Jun’s eyeballs and can’t just attack for themselves?!

Behind you, you stupid swords!!

Magic in this world was a funny thing. Shang Qinghua had written it based on years of accumulated media knowledge, pulling from any and all sources for inspiration to ensure that the world of PIDW never got boring or was held back by things as unimportant as ‘rules’. If something needed to happen, it would happen, and the reverse was just as true if it suited a scene for dramatic purposes. It was this kind of unapologetic writing that made a god’s level of know-how about this world only go so far. Magic had cause and effect, but very little in the way of explanation in the middle.

So Shang Qinghua didn’t consider the finer details before he did what he did—grabbing onto a construct made entirely of demonic qi as it hovered in the air before him, nor what would happen when he thrust it into the chest of someone who could deflect any weak blow by virtue of built-in body armor.

The effects were instantaneous.

Just as Qu Shiying raised his arm to stab into Mobei Jun, the sword broke past his hardened flesh like it was made of eggshells. The power that gave the ebony blade form traveled like lightning from the point of impact, drawn towards the same energy that had already made its home there, wreaking havoc. The sword slid between ribs, tore past muscle, and burst out the other side with an abrupt lack of resistance.

Qu Shiying screamed, a maddened declaration of wordless shock, as his own weapon fell from his hand with a clatter. He twisted away, the sword pulling out with a sickening squelch with Shang Qinghua’s hand held tight on the base. The demon’s eyes fell on Shang Qinghua, his grasping hand failing to reach him as he staggered forward.

“Y...you...” He coughed, an eruption of blood with the consistency of slush narrowly missing Shang Qinghua’s borrowed boots. The qi poisoning that Qu Shiying’s body had barely managed to hold back finally overtook its host, stiffening his limbs and hardening his skin before he even hit the ground, not with a shatter but a cold, dull thud in a bloodless heap.

Adapt to THIS!! would’ve been a cool thing to say in hindsight. A shame that Shang Qinghua was rarely one to get the show stopping lines with writing chops like those...

When the shock of the moment had passed, Shang Qinghua looked down at the sword in his hand. Should he have been able to do that...? This was pure demonic power—it should’ve fried him on the spot! Or turned his meridians into pretzels, disrupting his cultivation beyond repair. Where was the pain? Where was the penalty? This was a classic sacrifice play, not that he intended it that way…nor was he complaining! He tilted his head up and his gaze met Mobei Jun’s who seemed just as lost as he was at the sight, mouth open in surprise.

“My King…” Shang Qinghua gasped. “He was, so I... Are you alright?”

Mobei Jun snapped out of his trance and dismissed his own spell with a wave of his hand. The swords in the air around them and in Shang Qinghua’s possession melted away to black swirls of mist. He took one long stride towards Shang Qinghua and abruptly cradled his head between his hands.

His King stared at him intensely and Shang Qinghua stared back, too confused to do anything else.

With his thumb, Mobei Jun began to trace around the center of Shang Qinghua’s forehead. The movements felt too careful, too intentional, to simply be cleaning off the sweat and dirt that clung there. Whatever he was drawing left a cool tingling sensation behind. As he finished, Mobei Jun closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to Shang Qinghua’s, his demonic mark connecting where his touch had been moments before.

Shang Qinghua’s whole body shivered from the contact, like a bit of Mobei Jun’s power had wiggled its way inside him. He heard Mobei Jun’s breath catch, and only then realized he’d closed his own eyes at some point too. When he opened them, Mobei Jun was already lifting one of Shang Qinghua’s hands and slipping something small and hard onto one of his fingers. Was that a…?

“Shang Qinghua.”

“Ah,” He looked back up. “Yes, my King?”

Mobei Jun grasped both of Shang Qinghua’s hands between his own. “Shang Qinghua,” he repeated. “Will you marry me?”

Alarms went off in Shang Qinghua’s head. System warnings? Wedding bells?! What just happened? Mobei Jun was proposing?? Weren’t they already engaged? But with a ring? Was this Hollywood?! Do they even do the ring thing in this world? Demons didn’t care for little trinkets, right? The ring was so pretty. Why’d he have to go and cover it with his hands? Light had danced off it, multi-layered rainbows like oil on freshly laid asphalt…It felt sort of warm. All of Shang Qinghua felt warm. Was his face on fire? It felt like his face was on fire. Except for that one spot on his forehead. Refreshingly frosty. What did Mobei Jun even draw there? The lingering feeling reminded him of Mobei Jun’s gentle kisses, not the sexy kind, he doesn’t usually put those on his forehead, but the other kind, the kind that say ‘I lo—’

The hold on his hands tightened. “Qinghua...this one needs you to focus.” Mobei Jun spoke with unbearable softness. Shang Qinghua shook his head to dislodge the tangled web of thoughts. He was focusing! Of course he was focusing! He’s always focusing! Focusing on...

“Will you marry me?” Mobei Jun asked again, his eyes boring into Shang Qinghua who became keenly aware just now that the fighting had continued around them in a frenzy of clanging swords and thrown spells. Mobei Jun’s hair whipped behind him in a sudden updraft of wind and his demonic mark shone a brilliant blue. His body did not flinch and his gaze did not falter.

He was so, so, so, so, so, so cool.

And waiting.

“Yes, my King—ah, Mobei! I'll marry you, I'll marry you, of course I'll marry you!” Shang Qinghua cried as he jumped up and wrapped his arms around Mobei Jun’s neck—one part concern for the chaos around them and ninety-nine-parts overwhelming, uncontrollable affection. He pressed his lips against the demon’s cheek, hanging for a moment before his feet touched back to the ground.

Mobei Jun pinched his chin between finger and thumb and pulled him in for a kiss. A good kiss. A great kiss. Shang Qinghua’s hands clenched in Mobei Jun’s cloak while the others’ hand found its way onto his lower back, pressing their bodies together. Shang Qinghua moaned. Mobei Jun smirked and his tongue did something in Shang Qinghua’s mouth that even a master of PWP scenes couldn’t begin to describe.

“Binghe, what are you—? We’re already married!!”

By the time Mobei Jun released Shang Qinghua from what was undoubtedly the best damn make out session of his life that didn’t result in lust-drunk fondling—though Mobei Jun did slip in a very enticing hip squeeze because he’s evil like that—the fighting around them had almost completely stopped. They stood there together, surveying the area, hands still placed on the other and Shang Qinghua reteaching himself how to breathe.

Luo Binghe had decided he was done playing around and made swift work of the remaining guards leaving a courtyard covered in blood and bodies—most were dead, with a few still twitching with no want to present themselves as anything different. He sheathed his sword and his gaze traveled elsewhere.

Shen Qingqiu was fighting Linguang Jun near the farthest wall, no doubt cutting off the demon’s escape at some point. How thoughtful! Linguang Jun was making an impressive show of it, attacking the cultivator with numerous small projectiles of ice, yet hopelessly unaware that he was using that ability against someone who had a lot of experience with just such an attack style. To see Shen Qingqiu struggle at all though, stepping to the side to dodge one moment, and missing a sword strike the next, gave Shang Qinghua a teeny, tiny bit of admiration for his future uncle-in-law. He wasn’t ‘make Luo Binghe shout ‘Shizun!’ strong, but he wasn’t dead.

Yet.

Mobei Jun’s hands slid away from their very welcome place on Shang Qinghua’s sides as he stormed towards the pair, a flurry of different emotions overtaking his regal face. Shang Qinghua followed closely behind, almost tripping over Qu Shiying’s body in the process. Creepy!

Shen Qingqiu saw their approach and disengaged, swatting away the last ice bullet with his fan in a move so perfect that Shang Qinghua knew his friend was gloating inside. It was very nice though—two thumbs up, Cucumber Bro. Linguang Jun had been confused by the action until he saw Mobei Jun’s approach.

“Ah, nephew. I was wondering if you had any intent to greet me. One could become concerned you had gotten too good for such things.” Being in such a sorry state, Linguang Jun kept up airs remarkably well. Where’s your potty mouth now, ah?

Mobei Jun raised an arm which Shang Qinghua promptly bumped his head into. “There shouldn’t be misunderstandings between family.” He said, darkly.

Misunderstandings? Shang Qinghua peeked over Mobei Jun’s arm to look between the two.

Linguang Jun hummed. “Yes, it would be a pity. We’ve none though, yes? Nothing harmed today. Nothing maimed.”

“When I tear the limbs from his body…” Mobei Jun started, walking forward. Linguang Jun’s eyes widened. His pupils made an obvious dart to the side in search of an exit, finding only the stone wall of the courtyard.

“Rotten youngster, you dare to mock me?!” Linguang Jun spat and Mobei Jun shot forward like a beast released from its cage. One hand grabbed Linguang Jun by the neck and lifted him up.

“And hurl them piece by piece…”

“M-Mobei—” Linguang Jun choked, failing to bat away Mobei Jun’s other hand that wrapped around his thigh. There came a sickening snap. Linguang Jun coughed up blood. Shang Qinghua winced.

“For the worms to chew on…” Mobei Jun twisted his wrist and the flesh and muscle beneath his fingers contorted and stretched. He pulled slowly, agonizingly, until in one fluid motion, he tore Linguang Jun’s leg from his body.

“This I do so only for my own satisfaction.” And with that he hurled Linguang Jun like he weighed little more than a sack of flour, up and over the wall of the courtyard.

Shang Qinghua shielded his eyes from the sun as he watched Linguang Jun’s leg thrown after him. He could’ve sworn he heard a curse among the sound of rippling robes, followed by silence. Mobei Jun walked over to a large round window and Shang Qinghua jogged up behind him, scooting just far enough to see the cliff on the other side. Who knew the building was sitting only several long strides from the edge? Good thing Shang Qinghua didn’t test his ‘I’m not on a mountain’ theory earlier in the week...

He looked to Mobei Jun. “Did you mean to do that?”

Mobei Jun said nothing, but satisfaction was still woven into the scowl on his face.

“Well, next time then, ah? A bit ironic… But at least that’s a gulch this time, not a ravine.”

“They’re the same thing.”

“No they’re not.” Shang Qinghua retorted, wagging a finger. “A gulch has water at the bottom.”

“Both of you shut up.” Shen Qingqiu spoke sharply from behind them, a hint of fluster in his voice. “We’re leaving,” he added with a reserved huff. Luo Binghe slid his hands off Shen Qingqiu’s waist and kicked aside a body impeding their path. The two groups met at the courtyard’s entryway. Three groups, really, if you counted Sha Hualing seated above them on the archway.

“All done?” She asked, making a point to look down at Shang Qinghua who returned her blatant judgments with a tiny wave. “Good.” Sha Hualing hopped down, her gauzy shawl settling around her and completing the picture of a fashionable demoness who had for sure been spreading hell in that building and probably helping herself to a snack or novel while the party happened outside. She excused herself to Luo Binghe, offered Mobei Jun a little sneer that was somehow very endearing and didn’t spare Shen Qingqiu so much as a look before she was gone.

Not that Shen Qingqiu would care, even if he had been paying attention. Shang Qinghua glanced over to see Shen Qingqiu was instead staring at him. At what? His sloppy hair? His beautiful robe? (Don’t be afraid to comment on that one, bro!)

“You’ve got a little something here.” Shen Qingqiu said instead, motioning to his own forehead with the tip of his closed fan. “It’s red, so I almost didn’t recognize it at first.”

Red? Shang Qinghua hovered a finger over that spot Mobei Jun had touched him. Did he smear blood on his head?! Some kind of demonic ritual probably, so he really shouldn’t be surprised. Why was it always blood?

“Mobei Jun’s symbol. It… Well, it suits you.” Shen Qingqiu added with a sense of finality before snapping open his fan to block anything else nice from sliding out by accident. “Come, Binghe. This master is tired.”

“Of course, Shizun.” Luo Binghe replied proudly, leaving Mobei Jun’s side where the two had exchanged brief words, and sidling up to Shen Qingqiu. A series of vague nods, subtle looks, and subtler smiles, and the two took to their swords and left, leaving only Shang Qinghua, Mobei Jun, and a small field of bodies.

Kudos to those still doing a very good job at playing dead and praying for them to leave. It was harder than it looked!

Shang Qinghua let out a sigh, drooping his shoulders. He was tired, and hungry, and dirty, and not really interested in any of the things required to solve them. He was also just kidnapped, nearly died, and killed a guy but oddly it didn’t weigh on him that much. Not anymore. Not in this crazy world. He looked up at Mobei Jun only to find him already looking back. Who cares about those other things when he was otherwise healthy, happy, and engaged to this man before him, soon to be his—Shang Qinghua smiled—“husband.”

Mobei Jun looked shocked, and then he blushed. He blushed!! Shang Qinghua resisted doing a little victory dance. “Soon…”

Shang Qinghua was unbearably delighted at the newly acquired ammunition. “How does it sound though, my King? Good, ah?”

"Mnn. ” Mobei Jun smiled softly. “It sounds good.”

Skipping closer, Shang Qinghua clung to his arm. “Did Shen-shixiong tell you about all that? Proposing with a ring?” He stretched out his arm to show off the stone ring on his finger, polished so smooth and catching the sun. Only now did he notice how it fit just as flawlessly as his new robe.

“He did,” The other replied, as the two began walking, leaving Wu Mingxia’s home behind them and following the dirt road as it wound down the hillside. Neither had explicitly said they wanted to walk. Neither of them had to. It was nice. Besides, Shang Qinghua could definitely use the fresh air! “Though I admit I wasn’t able to accomplish all that Lord Shen had shared.”

“Oh?” Shang Qinghua perked up curiously, before leaning his head on Mobei Jun’s bicep. “Like what?”

“I did not find the ‘perfect place’.”

“I think we could make that argument.”

“I did not have flowers.”

"Pfft! Not needed.”

Mobei Jun frowned a little at that response.

“I did not kneel.”

That actually caused Shang Qinghua to look up, offended on his behalf. “Never necessary, my King!” How dare anyone ask Mobei Jun to kneel?! Luo Binghe didn’t count.

“A kneel relinquishes little to one who already has a King at their call.”

It was Shang Qinghua’s turn to blush. “Ahhhh, okay, okay, okay. Anything else? I need to know how many trials our Lord Shen attempted to put my King’s honor through.”

"Mnn, there was one more thing.” Mobei Jun stopped walking, the two of them standing beneath a grand tree that cast a shadow across the empty road. He placed his hands on Shang Qinghua’s shoulders, holding him firm as if he would find reason to flee. “Qinghua…”

“Yes, my King?” Shang Qinghua was all smiles.

“I love you.”

Mobei Jun knew well to hold him there because all Shang Qinghua’s body was screaming to do was cover his own face and vibrate into the soil. Instead when his legs threatened to give out under the sudden rush of blood to other places (like his face, his face!!), Mobei Jun’s experienced hands slid down to his upper arms with just enough force to keep him upright. It wasn’t the first time Mobei Jun had said it—though Shang Qinghua definitely beat him on usage count—but still...but still!!!

“H-he really told you to say that…?”

Were they talking about the same Shen Qingqiu?!

Mobei Jun smirked. “It was implied.” He adjusted his cloak to tuck one half back over a shoulder, reminding Shang Qinghua of the discomfort a warmer climate could cause. Honestly he was craving a little frostbite himself and felt oddly compelled to rub at his own neck. “Now, don’t you have offerings for me in return?”

Huh?

“Ah...offerings, my King? Like what?”

What did you tell him I was supposed to do, Cucumber Bro?!

“Another promise.” Mobei Jun’s tone was suddenly a bit more serious. One has to wonder what could be more important than to promise someone lifelong servitude and now marriage, but Shang Qinghua could admit the former might’ve gotten a little repetitive. “Should one feel foolish enough to seek your attentions again,” He lifted Shang Qinghua’s hand to place a possessive kiss atop his knuckles. “You tell this Mobei Jun. No matter how frivolous. No matter how ‘busy’. I will take care of it.”

Agreed! This entire incident was not something Shang Qinghua wanted a repeat of. Politics be damned—let his King stomp on the troublemakers!

“Absolutely, my King! Your faithful ser—husband, will gladly leave such a role to you from now on.” Shang Qinghua slipped his hand away to raise it in oath. “Though please let me save some face. Today was not my first attempt to stab him.”

Mobei Jun pet him on the head. “That pleases me.” He moved his arm in a large arc, opening a portal in the deep shade beneath the tree and extended his other hand to Shang Qinghua. “Follow me.”

Shang Qinghua took it. Mobei Jun’s hand was cool and strong and made him feel indescribably safe as the others’ thumb traced over the ring on Shang Qinghua’s finger.

“Mobei…” He swallowed, his mouth dry and his heart still racing. “You do know that...I would never, ever leave you, right? Not for any reason. It’s...ah...really important that you remember that.”

Mobei Jun simply gazed at him fondly, offering a gentle pull forward into another apparent hug, before abruptly yanking Shang Qinghua up over his shoulder instead.

"Ah! My—M-Mobei!” Shang Qinghua squeaked, his arms floundering for balance before Mobei Jun’s hand came to rest on his ass.

“Time is up,” Mobei Jun commented. Shang Qinghua could only laugh between cries of ‘Spare me, my King!’ as Mobei Jun carried him through the portal and back towards their home. Fortunately it was the only direction Shang Qinghua had any interest in going, no courting of the consort required.

THE END