Actions

Work Header

Deluxe System 2.0: Co-op Mode!

Chapter Text

From the moment he heard 【You can you up!】 in the cheerfully soulless tones of a Google Translate voice, the moment he was – against his will! – locked into the character of that scum villain Shen Qingqiu, Shen Yuan knew he was fucked.

He just never fully considered how fucked until he stood on the edge of the Endless Abyss, the point of Xiu Ya carving a shallow wound into the chest of his no-longer-so-little bun, Luo Binghe. Translucent windows, tinted the universal red of emergency, popped up at the center of his vision, emphasizing in text the words that the System was blaring with increasingly forced cordiality.

【WARNING! 10,000 Coolness Point deduction imminent. This System suggests that User kindly proceed with prime mission. Failure to do so will result in deactivation of account. Do you wish to continue Y/Y?】

Shen Qingqiu shunted the warning windows aside with a flick of his fan, leaving Luo Binghe’s teary-eyed confusion the only thing in his sight.

“Does Shizun… is this disciple now such a monster in Shizun’s eyes that he would throw me away?” Luo Binghe’s words choked on hitched breaths, each rise of his chest digging the point of Shen Qingqiu’s sword a little deeper. But Luo Binghe stood firm, waiting. Waiting for Shen Qingqiu’s decision.

He’s the protagonist! His halo will protect him!

He has to go through this or he won’t become the Heavenly Demon Lord of both realms, never find Xin Mo, never join the worlds, never gather his harem of jade-like beauties!

And anyways, he’s only a character! A blackened OP stallion in a badly written web novel!

Shen Qingqiu’s grip firmed with the strength of those arguments, Xiu Ya digging deeper into the muscle beneath skin. Luo Binghe refused to retreat. The tears spiking his lashes fell, diamonds and rubies in the glow of his newly awakened demon mark. Even crying, he was beautiful.

This sticky disciple of his, this fluffy little sheep. What is with this crying, Binghe? Always so quick to cry. You’re not some little mistress! You’re the protagonist of that trash <<Proud Immortal Demon Way>>!

But… was he really?

Shen Qingqiu drew a shaky breath at that thought. No, Luo Binghe wasn’t the character he’d read about, no more than he was the scum villain who’d abused his disciple for years. And while he might have made the role of reserved Peak Lord his own, while he might rationalize doing terrible things to improve a trash story that he’d died loving to hate, this didn’t feel like a story anymore. This was his life. Luo Binghe was his lovingly raised white lotus.

And he wasn’t Shen Qingqiu.

“I… I can’t,” Shen Yuan whispered, Xiu Ya’s tip sliding clear of Luo Binghe’s flesh. He stepped back, as much to escape the cascade of warning windows flashing up before his eyes as to keep from stumbling and accidentally knocking them both into the Abyss.

A tingling numbness crawled up his limbs; his sword and fan dropped as he lost control of his grip. His knees locked, the only thing that kept him from also dropping to the ground. That, and Luo Binghe’s hands on his arms.

“Shizun?” he whispered. The devastation had fallen away, leaving only the confusion. “What—”

【User error. 10,000 Coolness Points deducted. Initiating failsafe in five…】

“Not… Binghe’s Shizun.” Shen Yuan shook his head, the only part of his body still under his control, and even that was fading.

【Four…】

“This disciple… he… I…” Luo Binghe’s fingers dug bruises into Shen Yuan’s arms to keep him upright. “I don’t understand.”

【Three…】

“Don’t worry.” Now they were both crying. Ah, so embarrassing! Shen Yuan was no better than this sticky disciple of his. “Binghe is safe now. This master won’t let him be blackened.”

【Two…】

“Blackened? What blackened?” Luo Binghe’s grip loosened, and Shen Yuan started to sag. “Shizun, is it Without a Cure? Tell me how I can fix this.”

【One.】

Shen Yuan could barely see Luo Binghe through the array of pop-up windows, barely hear him over the System’s alarms. This wasn’t the way he would have chosen to die, but it was better than a compromised immune system and a freak encounter with expired ramen. It was preferable to being turned into a human stick. At least he’d done the right thing and protected his Binghe.

“Tried to make me,” he whispered through lips grown numb. “But I won’t. I can’t…”

【Failsafe engaged. Reverting host body control to original user.】

Strength surged through Shen Yuan, yet none of it was his. He floated above it, outside it, an observer only. Vision whitening at the edges, he watched with horror as the body he no longer controlled swept its arms out to break Luo Binghe’s loosened hold, as its tear-streaked face froze into a sneer, eyes empty of anything but disgust.

“But I can,” it said, raising a booted foot and planting it into Luo Binghe’s stomach with enough power to send him hurtling over the edge of the chasm. The last thing Shen Yuan saw before his senses failed was Luo Binghe falling while Shen Qingqiu coldly retrieved his sword and fan.

 

***

 

【System rebooting. Initializing in three… two… one…】

Shen Yuan groaned – a sound that seemed to rattle around his brain like old pipes in a vast, empty warehouse. The voice sounded more like Siri than Google translate – more pleasant, but just as inane. It did nothing to alleviate the hollowed-out ache in his chest.

【Welcome back, Original Player, to the offshoot world of <<Proud Immortal Demon Way>>. Due to a System processing error, you have been granted a free upgrade to Deluxe System 2.0: Co-op Mode!】

Wait, what was with this new voice? Offshoot world? System error?

Co-op mode??!!

Shen Yuan tried to move, but his brain still felt disconnected from his limbs. He could feel them – the weight and warmth of a blanket, the tickle of a soft breeze across his brow, the slight tug on his hair where it was pinned under his arm – but he couldn’t move. Not even to open his eyes to see where the System had dumped him.

Wasn’t he supposed to be back home? Wasn’t he supposed to be dead? What had happened? The Immortal Alliance Conference, the Endless Abyss, losing 10,000 points when he refused to push down his disciple Binghe.

Binghe.

Binghe!!

::Yes, yes. We are all very aware that the little beast is your first, second, and only concern,:: grumbled a voice in his head that was neither his own nor the System’s. Yet still oddly familiar.

Too familiar.

Shen Jiu?!

::In the flesh. Your flesh. Or rather, my flesh, which you’ve stolen, you… wait. You can hear me?!::

Shen Yuan hoped he was dreaming, even as he was increasingly certain that he wasn’t. You’re… here?

The silence that followed was extended enough to renew Shen Yuan’s hope, but then the voice returned, piercing his thoughts like a particularly vicious migraine.

::I have always been here, you impudent imposter! It’s my body. You are the one who shouldn’t be here. Interloper, insinuating yourself into my life without any concern about whose identity you were usurping.::

Shen Yuan cringed mentally as the tirade flayed him of every scrap of confidence he’d built up during his years as Shen Qingqiu.

And it drove on, relentlessly. ::I have had to sit and watch in screaming silence as you made a mockery of my position, destroyed the respect I’ve spent years drumming into my disciples, defrauded my shixiong and shidis with your wholly implausible impersonation, and coddled that sniveling, demonic viper who is – apparently – destined to annihilate us all.::

The ongoing barrage sent Shen Yuan reeling. No wonder Wei-shidi had tested him for demonic possession so many times with the Hongjing sword. Shen Yuan couldn’t compare to this. The Original Goods had cultivated cutting disdain into a fifth scholarly art!

I… I didn’t know, Shen Yuan offered meekly. The System never said. And in every transmigration novel I’ve ever read, the original goods was always gone when the transmigrator moved in.

A snort echoed through Shen Yuan’s thoughts. ::As though you would have done anything differently. I know what you are. I’ve watched you all these years, reaping the benefits of my efforts at cultivation, while all you do in your head is whinge about missing the baidu and the weibo and your ticking and talking. You are nothing more than a lazy, indolent, self-centered… millennial.::

Shen Yuan couldn’t.

He shouldn’t.

But… how could he not?

OK, Boomer.

【It’s wonderful that you both are getting along so well!】 the System interjected into the sputtering – from Shen Jiu – and the snickering – from Shen Yuan – that followed. 【Camaraderie and team-work will be essential for succeeding in Co-op Mode!】

Shen Yuan’s laughter died. Again with this Co-op Mode.

::What exactly do you mean?::  Shen Jiu’s question was colder than the Luo River in winter.

A coldness the System blithely ignored. 【Welcome to Deluxe System 2.0: Co-op Mode! This special feature has been made available exclusively for you! Both user accounts have been bound to the host body. All previously accrued point categories, awards, and deficits have been erased. Current categories and point totals are:】

【Original Goods Shen Jiu (User OG)

  • Reforming Villain Plot Points: 0
  • Heartbreak Points: 1000
  • Fix-it Fic Progress: 5%
  • Secret Stash: Empty
  • Tutorial Points: 0】

 

【Original Player Shen Yuan (User OP)

  • Revising Protagonist Plot Points: 0
  • Heartbreak Points: 1000
  • Filling Plot Hole Progress: 5%
  • Secret Stash: Empty
  • Tutorial Points: 0】

【Compete for points to take control, or cooperate on quests to unlock special upgrades, secret questlines, and unique features. Until {System Requirement Pending} is met, this System will remain in sandbox tutorial mode. Good luck, Users. You Can Each Other Up!】

::What does any of that mean? System? System, you useless…::

Shen Yuan was tempted to rant alongside Shen Jiu, but he had to use what few edges he had. Who could guess that a millennial’s gaming experience would prove useful in a cultivation setting?

/DM: System?

【Hello User OP! How can this System assist?】

/DM: Is this a private channel?

【Of course!】

Given Shen Jiu’s ongoing rant, which had moved on to a sequence of artfully interlocking and increasingly insulting chengyu, Shen Yuan had to trust the System was telling the truth.

/DM: What quests are available right now?

【User OP Active Quest Log:

  • Activate User Mode】

/DM: That’s it?

【More quests will unlock after user mode is activated.】

Oh. Okay then. Ignoring the slight twinge of guilt at usurping – this time with full knowledge – what wasn’t his, Shen Yuan braced himself.

/DM: Activate user mode.

【User OP’s User Mode activated. Congratulations! 10 Tutorial Points awarded.】

The muffled cocoon around Shen Yuan burst apart. He surged upright, eyes opening to see the warm, lamplit space of Mu Qingfang’s infirmary. Residual spasms, like a backup queue of commands all activating at once, jolted through his limbs and nearly sent him tumbling off the bed. A firm arm around his back and hand on his shoulder kept him in place until the initial vertigo passed.

“Shen-shixiong. You’re awake. Here, lie back. Don’t try to move yet. You’ve been unconscious for several days.” Mu Qingfang spoke with the same studied calm of all the nurses who’d tended Shen Yuan in his first life. He obeyed out of habit.

::Wait, what? How did he… what is happening?:: sputtered a not-so-soothing voice in Shen Yuan’s head.

【User OP has successfully activated user mode and is in control of the host body.】

::I can see that! How?!::

【By activating user mode.】

Shen Yuan coughed to hold back a snicker at the System’s smug tone.

::Don’t get insolent with me, you disembodied bag of wind!::

You’re a disembodied bag of wind…】

“Shen-shixiong? How are you feeling?” Mu Qingfang asked, fingers drifting down to press across Shen Yuan’s wrist. His eyes narrowed as he monitored the pulse there.

I’m alive. I’m in control of my body. And this System seems to dislike the Original Goods more than it does me.

“I’m alright, Mu-shidi,” Shen Yuan said, taking stock of his aches, the roughness of his voice, and a hollow pain yawning at the edge of his awareness that didn’t seem to have any source.

/DM: Hey, System. You said more quests would be unlocked?

【Yes! User OP’s Active Quest Log:

  • Find out what happened at the Immortal Alliance Conference
  • Recover 【Special item: Fake Jade Guanyin】
  • Reforge Zheng Yang
  • Build Memorial
  • Mourn】

Shen Yuan’s breath caught as he read through the list, the distant, hollow ache blossoming through him until it was all he could do not to collapse around it.

Now Shen Yuan remembered those last moments when he thought he would die: stepping back, dropping Xiu Ya, and then… losing control to Shen Jiu, Luo Binghe falling into the Abyss—

::Give me my body back, you usurper!::

—and the look of devastation on Luo Binghe’s face as his Shizun betrayed him.

Fuck. You.

Shunting aside the mental flood of vitriol spewing through his mind, She Yuan asked the question he didn’t want answered. “Mu-shidi? What happened to Luo Binghe? Where is your shixiong’s disciple?”