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The Quest to Happiness

Chapter Text

When Shen QingQiu opened his eyes in the morning, he was greeted by the sight of sunlight streaming into his little bamboo hut. Nothing looked amiss, but Shen QingQiu was struck by a strange soreness in his heart and throat, and the phantom feeling of something being wrong with his limbs.

These limbs... Why did he feel like they didn’t belong to him and shouldn’t be there?

They disconcerted him – these inexplicable feelings. Shen QingQiu didn’t like it. They made him feel vulnerable and Shen QingQiu had sworn years ago since that (hot, terrible, bloody) night that he wouldn’t be weak or pathetic enough to be vulnerable again.

Shrugging off his strange thoughts, as nothing would come out of them, Shen QingQiu prepared himself for the morning.

A bright voice greeted him. “Good morning, Shizun,” Ning YingYing chirped, “This disciple arrives with breakfast!”

Shen QingQiu waved her in and had her set down the congee on his little desk. He moved over and began to eat.

“Shizun, shizun,” Ning YingYing said happily as she hovered around Shen QingQiu, making no move to leave for some reason today. “Aren’t you excited? Today is the day when A Luo will enter the Sect officially!”

A Luo…? Shen QingQiu wondered for a moment.

Ahhh, that brat he picked up yesterday at Ning YingYing’s insistence. And to spite Liu QingGe, of course.

It had barely been a day, and she’s already so close to that brat? This girl, she really had no sense of caution. She was a naïve little flower, not quite unlike the girl he found safety in many years ago. A little flower who had only been treated kindly by the world, and saw none of the bad.

But it’s ok. Girls are allowed to be softer and sweeter. Nicer.

They don’t hurt people.

But the world had a habit of trampling on softer, sweeter people and Ning YingYing, Shen QingQiu knew from the start, had the survival instinct of a gnat.

Softer, sweeter people with the survival instinct of a gnat tended to get exploited. And of all things, to become close to a pathetic piece of thrash who held no value whatsoever.

(Who had not even entered the Sect such that Shen QingQiu can scare the fear into that brat that some people are untouchable. Watched over.)

Shen QingQiu found the apathy he held toward the newest brat he picked up morph into something closer to suspicion and distrust.

 “Ah, I think I hear Ming Fang shixiong bringing him along now,” Ning YingYing looked up from where she had been beaming at her Shizun. She darted out of the room.

Soon, Luo BingHe entered the room, struggling with the tea he balanced delicately in the tray as Ning YingYing tugged at his arms. “Shizun, I’ve brought A Luo in!”

A faint blush was on Luo BingHe’s face the moment he met Shen QingQiu’s gaze – a sure sign of guilt. Shen QingQiu watched cold as Luo BingHe gently disentangled himself from Ning YingYing.

With a small flip of his fan, Shen QingQiu said, “Ning YingYing, return to your studies. Don’t slack off.”

A bright “Yes, shizun” was returned and Ning YingYing was sent out of the room, with a stern MingFang replacing her presence.

“From now on, you will stay at Qing Jing Peak,” MingFang announced.

Luo BingHe glanced at Shen QingQiu again, and his flush deepened.

At least the brat knew he was caught red-handed. Shen QingQiu despised men who took advantage of others. He especially hated those who tried to take advantage of what was his.

Luo BingHe approached Shen QingQiu and quickly poured a cup of tea, before kneeling down and proffering it to the silent master.

“This disciple pays his respect to Shizun!” rang a loud and clear voice.

Shen QingQiu felt the vague sense of unease he experienced in the morning rapidly skyrocketing at this motion.

This brat--! There’s something wrong with this brat.

(And he was most definitely taking advantage of Ning YingYing’s trustful nature earlier—look at that guilty flush!)

Acid clawed up the back of his throat and Shen QingQiu’s head pounded. The brat was still going on about something in the background with MingFang, but Shen QingQiu could not hear it over the pain in his head—

<< System initialised! Hello, hello! That took a while, sorry to keep you waiting, my dear customer!>>

Shen QingQiu’s eyes widened. That was the only visible difference that can be seen, as he immediately picked up his fan to hide his face.

<<Hello, hello! My dear customer, can you not hear me? System 52088 greets his dearest customer! (*^3^)/~♡>>

Shen QingQiu’s eyebrow twitched.

<<Hmm, did system initialise wrongly? This is Shen Jiu, right? My beloved customer, please respond if you can hear system! System cannot bear to not hear the dulcet voice of his dearest customer any longer! (っ˘з(˘⌣˘ ) Here you go, a kiss to wake system’s sleeping beauty!>>

Who are you? Shen QingQiu raged in his mind, his breathing deliberate and slightly laboured.

<<I’m system 52088, here to assist in my dearest daugh—customer’s quest to happiness!>>

Are you a spirit here to possess me? What are you doing in my mind! Get the fuck out! Saying so, Shen QingQiu began circulating his qi as he tried to find hints of foreign energy. But nothing was amiss, his body was fine and meridians intact and healthy.

<<Customer saddens systeeeeeeeem. ಥ╭╮ಥ Why is Shen Jiu so mean as to accuse system a spirit! System is not a spirit. System is his dearest daugh—customer’s guardian angel. System is here to ensure Shen Jiu’s happiness!>>

You fucker! Get out!

<<System cannot get out! System has gone to great lengths to bring customer back to when—ahem… System loves customer! ♥‿♥ Please don’t kick system out! System 52088 only sincerely wishes for Shen Jiu’s everlasting happiness and is here to ensure that customer doesn’t deviate to the wrong path anymore.>>

What deviate? What nonsense! What is this stupid voice in his head! Shen Jiu could feel needles jabbing into his body as the onset of a particularly vicious qi deviation.

<<Ahhhh, careful with your spirit please! Please don’t be mad, dearest Shen Jiu! ლ(ٱ٥ٱლ) Your cultivation, while strong, is still very prone to qi deviation! Be careful with that teacup in your hand too!>>

Shen Jiu gritted his teeth.

<<Ah, careful, careful! Shen Jiu, Shen Jiu, to your right please. System is to your right! Yes, yes, throw the tea at system—ok fine, you may throw your fan—ah, even the table? (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻  What a waste of all that food—ok ok, Shen Jiu can throw whatever he wants, but please throw it a few feet further to your right! System is right here! Here, throw here!>>

This was truly a troubling qi deviation, Shen Jiu admitted to himself even as he continuously cursed this ‘System’ non-stop in his mind.

Eventually, his qi could no longer run through his misaligned meridians and Shen QingQiu succumbed to darkness.

<<Shen Jiu! Shen Jiu, are you alright! Ahhhh, what went wro-->>


Luo BingHe didn’t really know what to expect when he went to first meet his new Shizun.

His Shizun was truly the epitome of an immortal cultivator, Luo BingHe could only flush in awe when he drank in the sight of his new master sitting elegantly in his bamboo hut. Those long tresses of hair caught the morning sunlight and the white and green robes that his Shizun was wearing only added to the image of a strong, lofty cultivator.

So cool! So beautiful! Luo BingHe would be happy if he could just remain close to his Shizun!

However, things went wrong shortly thereafter.

His Shizun entered into a terrible qi deviation that even had MingFang, the head disciple trembling in fear, as Shizun rampaged, throwing all sorts of things around.

What did Luo BingHe do wrong? Was he the one who had triggered his Shizun?

Luo BingHe wanted to cry, but he couldn’t as he now stood frozen to the spot and tried (uselessly) to ensure that his Shizun didn’t hurt himself in his qi deviation. MingFang had ran out of the room earlier, commanding him to look after Shizun as the head disciple left to get help.

Luo BingHe just entered his Shizun’s tutelage, but he would do his best to watch over Shizun to the best of his ability.

So what if Shizun was frightening now? Luo BingHe would be a good, loyal disciple! And even in his rage, look, Luo BingHe… wasn’t harmed at all? Shizun was throwing things everywhere, but he was still… somehow staying clear of Luo BingHe? Keeping Luo BingHe safe?

Shizun was so kind! Even when he was at his most vulnerable, Shizun still protected others!

This Luo BingHe would do his best to return this protection!

Luo BingHe wept tears of gratitude as his tiny voice tried to calm his Shizun down.

Chapter Text

When Shen Jiu next opened his eyes, it was to the sight of Yue QingYuan’s worried face.

“QingQiu shidi,” Yue QingYuan was quick to notice that Shen QingQiu was up, “Are you feeling alright?”

What a stupid question, Shen QingQiu spared some energy to scoff in his head even as he felt that he had been ran through the wringer. He had just experienced one of the worst qi deviations he ever had (and that was saying a lot, considering that Shen QingQiu had that night) and Yue QingYuan was asking him if he was feeling alright?

What an annoying, stupid man – first, for showing concern to those who didn’t deserve it, and next for asking idiotic questions to show his concern.

Shen QingQiu debated the idea of replying to Yue QingYuan, but decided it would be a waste of his breath. He was unable to muster the usual vitriol that Yue QingYuan’s stupidity warranted.

Sliding his eyes close again, Shen QingQiu consoled himself, at least that demonic spirit was out of his mind.

<<Uhm.>>

WAS IT NOT OUT OF HIS MIND?

<< |ω・)>>

!!!

Shen QingQiu could feel the return of his qi deviation.

To his side, he could sense Yue QingYuan anxiously fretting again. “QingQiu-shidi, QingQiu-shidi,” Yue QingYuan said as he gripped onto Shen QingQiu’s hand tightly, “Your qi is suddenly fluctuating! Please, calm yourself down!”

A steady stream of qi flowed into Shen QingQiu from where Yue QingYuan was holding his hand. It warmed his body and was familiar as ever. Shen QingQiu’s qi calmed down again, even though his mind wanted nothing other than to reject this traitor’s qi from his body.

But as usual, the world didn’t behave like how Shen QingQiu wanted—far from it, even his own body betrayed him and welcomed Yue QingYuan’s help eagerly.

(He vowed many years ago that he would no longer rely on help that would never come. But look at Shen QingQiu now, pathetic as ever.)

<<Customer isn’t pathetic. Customer is awesome! (★≧▽^))★☆ >>

Shen QingQiu’s qi spiked again. Yue QingYuan’s voice took on an alarmed tone, although Shen QingQiu couldn’t parse what he was saying over that irritating demonic spirit’s voice. The qi flowing into him from the linked hand nonetheless increased.

<<Please, system is begging Shen Jiu to please stop being angry whenever system speaks—it’s bad for Shen Jiu’s cultivation. (T⌓T) System swears that he is not a demonic spirit!>>

That’s what a demonic spirit would say!

<<How would Shen Jiu like system to prove it? System would do anything to prove that he is Shen Jiu’s guardian angel! Look at how system holds his wand of victory in his left! V(^コ^) Left, left, left.>>

Get out!

<<System can recite all of Shen Jiu’s likes and dislikes that he observed the years as he watched over Shen Jiu! System can share Shen Jiu’s deepest fears and wishes. System can-->>

Any demonic spirit can do that! Shen Jiu snapped without any thought.

<<No? System is quite sure that no demonic spirit is able to do that? Maybe a dream demon can, by looking through your dreams. But has Shen Jiu experienced any unusual dreams these days?>>

No, Shen Jiu reluctantly admitted.

<<Yes, so all of system’s learnings is from his unwavering presence next to Shen Jiu. (▰∀◕)ノ Shen Jiu likes sesame in his snacks. It doesn’t matter what snacks they are, so long as there’s sesame in them, Shen Jiu would eat them. Shen Jiu likes the colour green because they remind him of the forests he found safety in after that night. Shen Jiu likes the colour white because his time at that place was dominated by hues of gray. Shen Jiu-->>

Stop!

<<Should system move onto Shen Jiu’s dislikes then? Shen Jiu dislikes coriander because it drowns out all other tastes, which disrespects the rest of the ingredients. Shen Jiu dislikes the colour maroon because it’s too close to the colour of blood. Shen Jiu dislikes weakness because if one is weak, one would be trampled upon. Shen Jiu dislikes apologies because they don’t explain anything-->>

Are you trying to kill me, Shen QingQiu flatly stated.

<< ⊂(゜Д゜⊂ No! System would never!>>

Then shut up.

<<Yes, system will shut up! System knows that it has failed its duties as a guardian angel!>>

Shut up.

<<…>>

An indeterminate period of time passed, before Shen Jiu reached out to the spirit in his head again.

If you’re truly a guardian angel, where were you all these days?

<<…System knows that Shen Jiu hates apologies, but system would like to offer his sincerest apologies to Shen Jiu! System didn’t want to stay away for so long too! He wanted to come and help, but unfortunately the administrators didn’t allow system, saying that they needed fate to reach its conclusion. And if Shen Jiu had help while others don’t, where the fairness to the rest of the world?

It wasn’t till that disastrous conclusion of fate that system was allowed to reach out to his dearest Shen Jiu and bring him back! The administrators finally admitted their wrong, and noted that they were too negligent. Benign neglect can still be malignant sometimes! System was thus finally allowed to reunite with Shen Jiu, and could finally approach you, dearest daugh—customer.>>

<<All that system has said is true! Please, lovely, awesome, beautiful, kind and great Shen Jiu, please believe this system!>>

<<System just wants the best for Shen Jiu! He wants to give you a happy ending—no, a happy life forever! System doesn’t want Shen Jiu to be reduced to a lonely, limbless man this time—no! Focus on the positive, system 52088! What system means is that he wants Shen Jiu to live a fulfilled life this time round!>>

Shen Jiu thought back to the phantom feelings in his limbs in the morning. He deliberated for a long while.

Shen Jiu wasn’t a man given to flights of fancy, nor was he some spiritual medium who could claim to see the future. But the sense of unease earlier truly unsettled Shen Jiu. It was foreign. It was painful. It was realistic. Like a pain lived through, but forgotten.

This spirit was stupid and had loose lips. While those hints that he let slipped might have been deliberately dropped to mislead Shen Jiu, Shen Jiu honestly doubted that the spirit has the intelligence for that.

Shen Jiu was cautious. He might even be considered paranoid. But what he’d learned in these years was that sometimes, it was best not to attribute malice that which was adequately explained by stupidity.

(He also wanted to ask what the spirit what conclusion of fate played out then, but Shen QingQiu did have a sense of self-preservation and held himself back. Scum like him probably met with the worst sort of ending possible.)

Shen Jiu came to a conclusion. I’ll seek out the sword at WanJian Peak to test for possession, and the amulet at QiongDing Peak to test for demonic energies. If you’ve lied, I’ll kill you.

<<Ok, ok! Does this mean that Shen Jiu believes system? Yayyyyy!>>

Shut up.

<<Shen Jiu is so shy. But Shen Jiu should do that tomorrow. His body has passed out anyway! (✿◠‿◠) >>

This infuriating spirit!

---

Yue QingYuan was beside himself. He was useless, useless, utterly useless!

Shen QingQiu was suffering again, but what was he doing? Nothing!

There was obviously some great pain tearing apart at his QingQiu-shidi’s soul, but Yue QingYuan couldn’t even begin to understand what it was, much less try to provide the reassurances that the man so badly needed. Yue QingYuan barely interacted with Shen QingQiu these days, being unable to hold a conversation that lasted beyond five sentences with his most precious person.

But the scent of a distressed Omega (of a distressed Shen Jiu) was still as familiar as ever, and when Yue QingYuan caught scent of that sour note in the air, he was already half-way out of his seat before that disciple from QingJing crashed into his study. Face pale, just a single glance at the disciple’s harried desperate look was enough for Yue QingYuan to grab XuanSu and fly to QingJing Peak without a single word exchanged.

(He had once promised a little boy that he would always protect him. He had failed then, and was failing even now. What was Yue QingYuan but a perpetual failure?)

Shen QingQiu’s body was now listing to the left (towards Yue QingYuan, towards and not away) and Yue QingYuan naturally opened his arms to envelop the man without a second thought. It was the way things were. When Shen QingQiu fell, if Yue QingYuan was around and allowed, he would catch him.   

The face in his arms was familiar. When asleep, Shen QingQiu looked unguarded, just like how he had back in the days when Yue QingYuan was just Yue Qi and Shen QingQiu was just Yue Jiu. Two feral street brats who had nothing but each other.

Those were the uncomplicated days, when he was the only one who held Shen Jiu’s regard, and when he could unabashedly shower Shen Jiu with his regard too.

However, times had changed, and many events happened which Yue Qi would regret to the end of his days.

Yue Qi had failed to become stronger, had failed to protect his Shen Jiu, and even after he had become the Sect Leader of one of the most prominent Sects in the world, Yue QingYuan was still failing Shen QingQiu. 

What use was climbing to the position of Sect Leader when his strength could not reach out to his most precious person to protect him?

Yue QingYuan siphoned qi endlessly to the man in his arms, and could only wait as Shen QingQiu’s head disciple ran to the kitchen to get Mu QingFang, who was brewing medication. At least the sour notes lessened, Yue QingYuan heaved a sigh of relief internally.

But Shen QingQiu’s skin was still almost gray in its pallor and his body trembling imperceptibly. Yue QingYuan had never held a wraith before, but he imagined (despaired) that it was probably something like what it was now.

His A Jiu was slipping through his fingers and there was nothing Yue QingYuan could do to stop him.

 

Chapter Text

This was getting tedious.

The third time Shen Jiu opened his eyes that day, it was to the sight of Mu QingFang’s stoic express and Yue QingYuan’s useless hovering at the healer’s shoulder.

“QingQiu-shidi,” Yue QingYuan exclaimed in a relieved sigh, seemingly a reflexive action at having found that Shen QingQiu was awake again. Not well, but at least awake. It was a step in the right direction.

Shen QingQiu spared the man a glance, before he redirected his attention to Mu QingFang.

Sensing the attention, Mu QingFang said, “You entered a terrible qi deviation, Shen-shixiong. Something disturbed your spiritual energies. Zhangmen-shixiong did what he could to stabilise your energies when I was away preparing your medication. But now that you’re awke, please drink this.”

A bowl of warm medication was held towards Shen QingQiu, as Yue QingYuan immediately leaped into action, hurriedly moving to his shidi’s side to gently prop him up. 

Shen QingQiu glared at that traitor, exerting some strength to hold himself up by himself. The great Sect Leader wilted before his eyes, before retreating to a respectful distance.

<<Dearest Shen Jiu, you should be polite and thank Yue QingYuan! ◕ ◡ ◕>>

“Here,” Mu QingFang offered the medication again, “Drink up.”

Let it be said that effective medicine tasted bitter.

Given that Mu QingFang was one of the best healers around, the medication he brewed had always tasted the most bitter, surpassing even those brews Shen QingQiu brought from random peddlers during his time as a lawless vagrant.

Seeing that Shen QingQiu had drank up, Mu QingFang spoke. “May I inquire about what happened for Shen-shixiong to lapse into such a terrible qi deviation? This shidi doesn’t mean to pry, but it’s important to prevent re-occurrences.”

Shen QingQiu stared quietly at Mu QingFang for a long moment, his face inscrutable. His fingers twitched though, and immediately a fan was placed into his grasp by an ever-ready Yue QingYuan.

<<Are you not going to thank him again? Ahh, how did system get such a rebellious little daugh—customer (´Д`) But it’s ok, it’s just part of Shen Jiu’s charms!>>

Shen QingQiu did not so much as bother with a thanks, simply opening up the fan to hide his face. “Nothing that concerns you,” he said.

Mu QingFang held Shen QingQiu’s glance, eyes conflicted. But eventually he gave up, as he (everyone) always did. “This ‘nothing’ that shixiong speaks of can hurt him much worse in the future if he isn’t careful. As it’s spiritual in nature, there’s very little this shidi can offer to heal in terms of medications. What I can advise is that Shen-shixiong needs to calm his mind and soul.”

Mu QingFang hesitated, before adding on, “And Shen-shixiong’s health is a concern to everyone.”

<<Awww, he’s so nice! System likes him! Should we add him to our list? (✿◠‿◠)>>

“…Thank you for your advice, Mu-shidi.”

Mu QingFang shook his head to indicate that thanks were not needed as he packed up and prepared to leave. “This shidi would stay longer if he could, but he had a prior appointment with his patients in an hour’s time,” the tone was almost apologetic.

Shen QingQiu inclined his head silently.

Taking it as a goodbye, Mu QingFang departed from the bamboo hut, but not without some parting words, “Nonetheless, Shen-shixiong can consider a period of seclusion to calm his spirit and mind. Perhaps what’s needed is some distance from worldly desires and worries.”

Once Mu QingFang had left, Shen QingQiu was left in the room with Yue QingYuan, who was still doing his best to hover courteously in the room, not knowing exactly what to do with himself, but not wanting to leave yet. MingFan was in the room too, but was standing at a corner as he looked worriedly at his shizun.

Shen QingQiu also spied a shadow at his doorway. It was Luo BingHe.

Deciding to put aside the thought of his two disciples for now, Shen QingQiu focused on Yue QingYuan who had something he wanted.

“Yue-shixiong,” Shen QingQiu allowed a more familiar way of greeting than his usual ‘zhangmen-shixiong’ to pass through his lips. Manipulation was something he could easily fall back onto.

<<System doesn’t think Yue QingYuan requires any manipulation though? (。ヘ°) Yue QingYuan would happily jump into a fire if Shen Jiu tells him to.>>

“Yes, QingQiu-shidi,” the man was almost pathetic in how quickly he responded. “What do you need?”

Shen QingQiu was still grappling with the system’s stupid comments (and wasn’t that a problem? That Yue QingYuan had zero sense of self-preservation?), when Yue QingYuan, misinterpreting the silence as Shen QingQiu’s displeasure, hurriedly spoke up. “Anything that QingQiu-shidi needs, or wants, Yue-shixiong will provide. QingQiu-shidi doesn’t need to stand on ceremony. He just needs to let his shixiong know.”

<<See. ( ̄▼ ̄)>>

Ugh, Shen Jiu was surrounded by fools.

“I want to visit the sword at WanJian Peak, and the amulet at QiongDing Peak.”

“Does QingQiu-shidi suspect that he’s being possessed or corrupted by demonic energies?” Yue QingYuan immediately fell back into his familiar anxiety when it came to anything concerning Shen QingQiu’s safety. “QingQiu-shidi should say so immediately. This shixiong—no, the Sect would immediately do our best—“

“It’s for research.”

Yue QingYuan hesitated, disbelief clear. “QingQiu-shidi doesn’t need to hide his vulnerabilities when he’s with his Yue-shixiong. Yue-shixiong will do his best to protect him from dangers.”

“It’s for research,” Shen QingQiu repeated firmly, daring Yue QingYuan to contradict him.

<<Does saying something twice make it true, this system wonders? ●﹏●>>

As always, Yue QingYuan relented. “If shidi insists… When does shidi wish to schedule this research?”

<<Σ(꒪ȏ꒪)>>

“Now.”

“Now’s not the time, QingQiu-shidi! You just went through a terrible qi deviation. You need to rest and recover!”

“I want to visit Lingxi caves for a period of time too.”

“Anything you want, QingQiu-shidi,” Yue QingYuan agreed easily. “But just not now. After you’ve recovered, you can do anything you want.”

<<Wow, he’s really whipped. System is glad that Yue QingYuan is on the list. He would be easy to order around! б(>ε<)∂ Darling Shen Jiu would never have to work a single day anymore!>>

Shen QingQiu glared at the harried man who was fluttering his hands uselessly in some nervous tic now. Did he think that Shen QingQiu would let Yue QingYuan control him, deny him, just because he was acting so pathetically?

“I will leave as and when I desire—“

Shen QingQiu’s words were cut off by the sound of his door being kicked violently open. There was no need for Shen QingQiu to even look up to know who was standing there.

Who else could it be, other than the violent brute from BaiZhan Peak?

<<A wild Liu QingGe appears! (●o’∪`o)ノ―♪`*.+>>

Shen QingQiu speared MingFan with an irate look, who immediately hurried to profess his innocence.

“It was not this disciple who brought Liu-shishu over! MingFan only went to find Yue-shishu and Mu-shishu!”

Stupid boy! Even so, it must had somehow been his fault that Liu QingGe caught wind of this incident. Perhaps some BaiZhan brats saw MingFan running unruly around the Peaks and immediately returned to report to their master.

Look at Shen QingQiu now, he was now being treated like a spectacle! Having to be seen in this humiliating, ugly state!

<<Shen Jiu looks as graceful as ever! Shen Jiu need not be concerned by his appearance. No Alpha—actually, no men or women can remain unmoved by his looks of graceful suffering! v( ̄∇ ̄) >>

Fucking spirit needs to learn when to shut up and stop spouting nonsense. Shen QingQiu hissed angrily in his head.

“How are you feeling?” Liu QingGe strode over to Shen QingQiu’s side, ignoring MingFan entirely.

Shen QingQiu maintained his cold façade as he arched an eyebrow deliberately, fan up and at the ready.

“How’s he feeling?” after a beat, Liu QingGe turned to Yue QingYuan with an air of faint exasperation.

“This doesn’t concern you,” Shen QingQiu snarled before Yue QingYuan could reply. He narrowed his eyes at Liu QingGe who dared to ignore Shen QingQiu even when he was seeking information about said man’s wellbeing when he was right before him.

Even when he had been raised to the position of QingJing Peak Lord, Liu QingGe, for all that he antagonised Shen QingQiu, was the only one who saw him as him. Liu QingGe laid all faults and grievances at Shen QingQiu’s doorstep, and did not once try to imply that it was the fault of others. Despite how all that brute’s barking caused slandered Shen QingQiu, at least Shen QingQiu was vindictively pleased that he was seen as independent and responsible for his own actions.

He wasn’t reliant on others, nor did he need their suffocating care and tolerance.

(He was a shadow of no one. No one, not even Yue QingYuan who surpassed him in all aspects that mattered and threw him away like the thrash he was.)

But now, now… he was deferring to Yue QingYuan about Shen QingQiu’s health? As if Yue QingYuan was his keeper?

Outrageous! (Pathetic.)

<<Ahh, great Shen Jiu, beloved Shen Jiu, please calm yourself! ⊂(゜Д゜⊂  You’re on the cusp of another qi deviation.>>

“When your stink—,” Liu QingGe paused and… demurred (?), “When you distress can be smelled throughout the Peaks, it does.”

“Are you saying I stink?” Shen QingQiu lashed out.

“QingQiu-shidi, please don’t misunderstand. Liu-shidi is just concerned about your wellbeing. He just returned from a demon-extermination mission late last night, yet he still rushed over once he knows that you’re unwell,” Yue QingYuan interjected, always ready to take another’s side against Shen QingQiu.

“Stay out of this!” Shen QingQiu emphasised his point by sharply snapping his fan close. He then turned to glare at both Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan, “Get out of my place!”

“Shidi…” Yue QingYuan put on his pathetic woebegone face again.

“Get out!”

“You guys are angering Shizun and making him sick again!” A small angry voice piped up from the doorway where he had been observing all this while.

That brat, Luo BingHe was still around. How dare he spy on his Shizun on his very first day! And when his Shizun was in such a pathetic state too. Shen QingQiu gritted his teeth and couldn’t bear to countenance that brat’s presence any longer.

“Out!”

<<Dearest Shen Jiu, you can’t just throw everyone out ahhhhh. (>﹏<) Luo BingHe is your disciple too, you’ll need to see him soon to guide him on his cultivation anyway.>>

“You!” Shen QingQiu snapped at Luo BingHe, “Take the first manual from the second row of the shelf and get out of my sight! Do not return till you’ve mastered it!”

Luo BingHe jerked and hastily ran to grab said book, “BingHe is thankful for Shizun’s guidance! BingHe will never forget—“

“Out!” Shen QingQiu gestured sharply with his closed fan, sweeping a wipe arc that managed to encompass the presence of all four individuals present. “All of you, out! Are you trying to drive me to my grave?”

With that sentence, the four boys and men present froze and Shen QingQiu could see Yue QingYuan’s woebegone expression infecting the rest to different degrees. Liu QingGe managed to look like a constipated, pained statue. Shen QingQiu’s ire rose sharply.

Pathetic!

As if they could hear Shen QingQiu’s exclamation, the 4 individuals reluctantly began to file out of the bamboo hut.

---

Luo BingHe clutched the manual to his skinny chest.

This was… this was Shizun’s own cultivation manual that he used when he just a disciple himself! Luo BingHe could see Shizun’s neat handwriting marking the margins of the manual with his notes.

To think that Shizun trusted this disciple with such a precious item.

Luo BingHe would not let his Shizun down and would do his best to cultivate!

---

Liu QingGe had always known that God was fair.

What he was blessed in terms of looks, skills and innate talent was compensated by what he severely lacked in communication.

His sister had once said that even a dog was better at communicating than Liu QingGe. At least it could freely bark, lick and wag its tail at whom it liked, while Liu QingGe could only direct the same scowling expression to everyone, regardless of likes or dislikes.

Not that he liked Shen QingQiu, of course.

He was just concerned for one of the two only Omega Peak Lords in CangQiong Sect. While Shen QingQiu was a strong cultivator, who could be spiteful, petty and occasionally malicious to those who wronged him, Liu QingGe not exempted, there had also always been this strange scent of vulnerability floating around Shen QingQiu.

Even when Shen QingQiu was at his most vicious, there was something pained and scared that made Liu QingGe want to…do something.

Like the time when they were youths out on a mission, and Liu QingGe had accused Shen QingQiu of ambushing him instead of attacking the enemy. Shen QingQiu had lashed out at him immediately, feigning ignorance and placing all the blame at him.

At that moment, Liu QingGe was too caught up in the heat of the battle, latching onto the notion that Shen QingQiu was a two-faced backstabber and not letting go. But later, in the comfort of darkness, Liu QingGe thought back to that battle and recalled an underlying scent of being wronged that Shen QingQiu emanated then.

It wasn’t something that could be easily faked, and Liu QingGe had always prided himself on his strong sense of smell – another of the innate talents he had been born with.

Was there a kernel of truth behind Shen QingQiu’s protest? Did Liu QingGe wrong him?

Liu QingGe had tried to approach Shen QingQiu after that to clear the air, but Shen QingQiu was as prickly as ever and brushed him off with spiteful remarks.

But it’s alright. While Shen QingQiu’s expressions and words had never been honest, his scent always was.

Even in Shen QingQiu’s hut earlier, Shen QingQiu’s scent spoke more than the man did.

That unease, that confusion, that fear. It nearly made Liu QingGe nauseous, much less the man who was experiencing all that.

It inspired in Liu QingGe an unfathomable urge to bundle the man away and hide him where no one can find him. Yet, at the same time, Liu QingGe wanted to place the man on a pedestal and proudly proclaim him as one of the Peak Lords in CangQiong Sect – where else can you find such a contradictory, confusing, and pretentious Omega, who still somehow managed to be so strong?

---

<<Shen Jiu loves system! Shen Jiu loves system! (* >ω<)=3>>

What are you going on about now, you stupid spirit!

<<Saying something twice makes it true! (∩^o^)⊃━☆゜.*>>

 

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Shen QingQiu glided out of his hut as elegantly as ever.

His expression was cool, and one would never have known that he suffered a terrible qi deviation the day before if not for the anxious disciples who flocked around their master immediately.

“Good morning, Shizun! Why are you up so early? Shizun should be resting!”

“Yes, Shizun, this disciple is still preparing the medication Mu-shishu left. Please return to your hut, and take a rest, Shizun!”

“Shizun, please leave the matters to us disciples, and rest well!”

Shizun, shizun, shizun… Did these disciples of his have nothing better to do other than cawing like a murder of crows around their master.

The last day was bad enough, with Shen QingQiu’s emotions going haywire, and his usual tight-rein over his temper fraying. Shen QingQiu had firmly rebuked himself at the unbecoming behaviours he displayed the day before and had resolved not to show such weakness again.

So what if there was a spirit in his head? Shen QingQiu had lived with far worse.

His disciples’ incessant chatter was getting on his nerves though. 

“Why are QingJing Peak’s disciples so rowdy in the morning? Has this master not taught you better than this, or are his disciples too idle?” Shen QingQiu said coldly. “Very well, all of you are to run 10 laps around QingJing Peak once you’re done with your chores and studies.”

“Shizun, we’ll do as you say, but please take your medication,” MingFan pleaded.

“Shizun…” Ning YingYing joined in the pleading.

Ugh, Shen QingQiu had always been weak to his sole female disciple.

“5 more laps for MingFan for talking back to this master,” Shen QingQiu decreed, even as he walked back to the hut.

The medication was to heal his body and ensure that his cultivation remained unharmed in the long-run. Shen QingQiu wasn’t seriously thinking about skipping it anyway. He would be a fool to ignore his own wellbeing.

MingFan nodded eagerly, accepting his punishment. He scurried after Shen QingQiu, ready to fulfil his role as the head disciple and prepare Shen QingQiu’s table for his breakfast and medication.

Luo BingHe walked in with a tray of steaming food just when MingFan was done.

“Good morning, Shizun!” he chirped brightly, “This disciple brings Shizun his breakfast.”

Shen QingQiu felt the same phantom pains in his limbs and nausea in his throat.

“What are you doing here, brat?” Shen QingQiu curled his lips in distaste, “Didn’t this master say that you’re not allowed to show your face till you’ve mastered the basics of cultivation?”

“This…this disciple apologises!” Luo BingHe jerked before bowing immediately, all the while ensuring that he didn’t jostle the tray too much. “This disciple simply wishes to deliver Shizun’s breakfast!”

“This master doesn’t speak for the pleasure of hearing his own voice. You’ll listen to this master’s instructions or be exiled from QingJing Peak.”

Luo BingHe visibly paled. “Yes, this disciple obeys!”

Saying so, he placed the tray on the table in front of Shen QingQiu before fleeing rapidly.

Inexplicable tension flowed out of Shen QingQiu. Everything was wrong, but dared Shen QingQiu say this – Luo BingHe might be a worse calamity than the dratted spirit in his head.

Heart more at ease now that his source of discomfort was no longer in sight, Shen QingQiu picked up his spoon and habitually began consuming his breakfast before his paranoia could set in. On days when his equilibrium was less unsettled, Shen QingQiu would not have hesitated to throw out the breakfast that the brat brought in (opportunities for poison), but as it stood now, Shen QingQiu was preoccupied with other thoughts. 

!!!

What was this taste? This—this soft, fluffy congee? Shen QingQiu drew back in mild shock, as he stared at the food before him.

Shen QingQiu had never had such good congee before in his years in QingJing Peak. Did the chefs suddenly gain newfound talent in cooking?

“MingFan, who prepared this?”

“Luo BingHe,” MingFan readily replied. “He was going on about how he wanted to cook, and caused a lot of trouble for the chefs this morning, taking ingredients left and right as if the kitchen belonged to him!” The response grew to become a tirade.

That brat was skilled in cooking? How did a street rat manage to pick up such skills? It wasn’t as if a well-stocked kitchen would be readily available to street rats.

<<It’s innate talent, darling Shen Jiu! (^o^)/ Innate talent.>>

Ugh, the bane of Shen QingQiu’s life had returned.

<<System added him to the list because he knows that Luo BingHe makes the best food in the world! He won over numerous Omega lovers simply by virtue of his cooking! Luo BingHe is the Casanova of the cooking world! \(★^∀^★)/ Shen Jiu would not have to eat anything awful again.>>

Just using his cooking? Shen QingQiu questioned, choosing to ignore the strange terms that the spirit always used.

<<Not just his cooking, of course! Luo BingHe also used his demo—ah, system misspoke! System meant that yes, with this level of cooking skills, Luo BingHe grew up to be a Casanova who can win over many Omega lovers! The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach after all!>>

This spirit sure is bad at lying. Shen QingQiu scoffed in his head, even as he chose not to pursue its slipup.

<<Uhmmmm. ((((((‥)(: )(¨)( :)(*‥) But doesn’t Shen Jiu agrees that this is one of the best congees he had ever tasted? System knows—thinks that Luo BingHe’s food is unmatchable in taste and he thinks that despite how Shen Jiu hates his disciple, he should at least let Luo BingHe serve him food! System just wants dearest Shen Jiu to never have to suffer again, and it’s important for Shen Jiu to get nutritious meals even though he knows how to practise inedia already-->>

I’m going to visit WanJian Peak and QiongDing Peak after this.

<<Ahhhh, why does Shen Jiu hurt this system so? (TдT) Does he still believe that system is a demonic spirit? This system is a holy guardian angel! He only wishes for the great Shen Jiu’s happiness!>>

Shut up and let me eat in peace.

---

There was something off about this world.

Shen QingQiu was used to Yue QingYuan being extremely solicitous and conciliatory towards him because the traitor someone had the inane thought that that could make up for his past betrayal.

But… why was Liu QingGe, Mu QingFang and Qi QingQi all trailing after him too?

One stalker was enough, thank you very much!

Shen QingQiu just wanted to go about his business in peace and solitude (lonely, so lonely), but his four other Peak Lords seemed determined to ensure otherwise.

“Shen-shixiong, hasn’t this shimei told you that you shouldn’t exert yourself overmuch?” Qi QingQi probed with a slight furrow between her brows.

Look at her, mocking Shen QingQiu again! But that furrow between Qi QingQi’s brows seemed to be concern? And the look in her eyes… they were a far cry from her usual sharp glint. It almost looked gentle?

Perhaps the two qi deviations yesterday had somehow turned Shen QingQiu’s perceptive abilities into mush.

<<Ahh, system didn’t know that Qi QingQi could make such expressions! (´∀`) She used to be so nasty, but she seems nice now! System is really an awesome system! To think that she can make such pretty expressions with just a simple tweak.>>

Cold ran up Shen QingQiu’s spine. What did you do to the Peak Lords?

<<Not just to the Peak Lords, but to the whole world! System is a guardian angel after all! He can be considered a fragment of god! ( ̄ω ̄) This little thing is a piece of cake for system!>>

What did you do? Shen QingQiu’s jaws clenched.

<<System just introduced the Alpha, Beta, and Omega dynamics to the world, that’s all! (✿◠‿◠)>>

Explain. 

<<Uhmmm, how can system explain? (^◇^;) It’s a bit hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have any inkling of the concept in the first place.>>

Explain.

<<Well, so Alpha, Beta, and Omega are secondary genders that everyone can have in this world now. This is on top of the usual male and female genders! (* >ω<)=3 Alphas are supposed to be the strong ones, and are blessed physically. Betas are like the usual humans that Shen Jiu already knows. Omegas are supposed to be weaker in strength, but stronger in spirit.

Oh, and also alphas have voracious sex appetites and can impregnate any female Betas or Omegas, regardless of genders! That means that any male or female Omegas can get pregnant too! And there’s such a thing called pheromones now, which can help to attract mates-->>

WHAT ARE YOU BLABBERING ON ABOUT?

<<Shen Jiu ah, your qi, your qi! ⊃゜Д゜)⊃ It’s becoming erratic again! System knows that you’ve become an Omega and is thus more in-tune with your emotions, but such wild fluctuations are bad for your body, most precious Shen Jiu! Please calm your-->>

I’M A WHAT?

<<(●o’∪`o)ノ―♪`*.+ Male Omega, the most precious of all genders! Wait, wait, why’s your qi spiking even more? Shen Jiu, Shen Jiu!>>

---

Shen QingQiu later found out that he entered a qi deviation while on his way to WanJian Peak. However, thanks to the fact that he had four Peak Lords, one of them being an exceptional healer, trailing after him like lost dogs, Shen QingQiu didn’t suffer much.

He was also informed that his body was solidly thrown against the sword at WanJian Peak and amulet at QiongDing Peak like a sack of cheap rice to test for demonic possession, as his fellow Sect Lords wanted nothing more than to get rid of his affliction.

<<Shen Jiu, you got it wrong! The sword and amulet were thrown to the floor like sacks of cheap rice after they did nothing for you. You were cradled against Yue QingYuan’s chest very gently throughout the whole process! Don’t worry, he didn’t take advantage – system made sure of it. ┗(`・ω・´)┛ >>

Chapter Text

After his third qi deviation in two days, it was as if half of CangQiong’s Peak Lords decided to camp over at QingJing Peak.

Was Shen QingQiu running an inn now? He should just collect fees while he was at it!

From the moment he regained consciousness, Shen QingQiu was being inordinately fussed over by powerful Peak Lords. His own disciples seemed to treat this like some form of competition, and were also doing their very best to trip him over with how they kept getting under his feet.

Metaphorically, of course, because no one was keen to let Shen QingQiu off his bed.

“QingQiu-shidi, please do not exert yourself unduly. What do you require?” Yue QingYuan pressed Shen QingQiu back onto his bed, “This shixiong will get it.”

Was Shen QingQiu a fucking invalid now? He would not be restrained, or have his authority trampled over in his own home.

“Touch me again and I’ll cut your hands off—“ the strong sense of unease returned to haunt Shen QingQiu again, and he stiffened unwillingly. The usual cold indifference he affected slipped with how disoriented Shen QingQiu was, and a stricken expression was cast onto his face.

A long silence followed, before Shen QingQiu spoke again. Quieter, this time round, and with less vehemence and force behind it. “Don’t touch me. All of you, any of you.”

---

Yue QingYuan froze, for an entirely different reason compared to Shen QingQiu.

His QingQiu-shidi was too cute!

While Yue QingYuan felt a bit bad for finding his shidi cute when he was suffering, he couldn’t help it.

Yue QingYuan had always known (hoped) that Shen QingQiu held a modicum of affection of him, and it was proven so by how he behaved today. Even when Shen QingQiu tried to curse Yue QingYuan away, he couldn’t bear to do so and looked as if the sheer thought of that curse coming through pained him physically.

So sweet! His QingQiu-shidi was too sweet!

(A Jiu, it was always A Jiu. A Jiu used to be just as sweet to him, before Qi-ge let him down in the worst possible manner.)

And when Shen QingQiu told everyone to not touch him, a surge of protectiveness and crippling guilt overwhelmed Yue QingYuan.

Was it..? It must be. The past was haunting Shen QingQiu again, and this was an enemy that Yue QingYuan was ill-suited to defeating.

Yue QingYuan had always known that the Qius were cruel in their treatment of Shen QingQiu, beating him viciously. But the hints Shen QingQiu dropped over the years, together with how he reacted earlier at how Yue QingYuan tried to push back into his bed, it spoke of something far worse. When gentle touches were used to torment and pervert what was supposed to be an act of love.

It was horrible, but… not unexpected to Yue QingYuan. Shen QingQiu had always been pretty, even in dirty rags. Nothing could hide the radiance that Shen QingQiu had, not even the fierce exterior that the man himself tried to project.

And when Shen QingQiu had presented to be an Omega… Yue QingYuan didn’t know when, but it could have been during his imprisonment in the Qiu estate. Men had been known to do far worse, after all.

Did QingQiu-shidi think that his shixiong was trying to pin him to his bed?

Had Yue QingYuan’s foolish actions brought back terrible memories of Shen QingQiu that were better left half-forgotten?

Yue QingYuan immediately withdrew his hands as if burned, and retreated a few steps backward to be safe.

“This shixiong didn’t mean to cause QingQiu-shidi to feel unsafe,” Yue QingYuan bowed his head. “I’m sorry.”

“Pathetic,” Shen QingQiu said bitterly.

“Yes, this shixiong is pathetic. But now that QingQiu-shidi is awake, do you feel up to drinking some medicine?”

“It’s still warm,” Mu QingFang waved one of Shen QingQiu’s disciple over.

“Are you stupid?” Shen QingQiu cast a derisive glance at Yue QingYuan, “You needed me to drink medicine, and yet you were trying to push me back into bed?”

Yue QingYuan smiled helplessly, “It’s reflex.”

“Reflex to restrain me?” Shen QingQiu’s tone was ice-cold, “This shixiong is really the worst, isn’t he?”

Yue QingYuan immediately felt himself being speared by a dozen heated glares.

QingQiu-shidi, Yue-shixiong knew that you hated him, but could you please phrase it differently? You were making Yue-shixiong sound like a sex predator!

“Always holding me back, holding me down,” Shen QingQiu added bitterly. “No matter how much this shidi struggled, he couldn’t beat you, couldn’t catch up and was thrown away like thrash.”

Yue QingYuan was going to be lynched at this rate!

“I’m… sorry?” Yue QingYuan made an effort to recover the situation.

“Apologies, always apologies,” Shen QingQiu hissed.

Just when Yue QingYuan was about to fall onto his knees and beg for forgiveness that he didn’t deserve, Shen QingQiu’s expression regained its usual coldness, “Forget it. No one expects Yue-shixiong to keep a promise he made as a foolish child anyway. Much less, this shidi.”

Shen QingQiu said that, yet the undercurrent scent of distressed Omega, overpowered by the smell of the herbal medication, grew stronger and stronger, making Yue QingYuan’s heart ache.

Yue QingYuan had really hurt Shen QingQiu very much, hadn’t he?

“QingQiu—“

“Out,” ChengLuan was rudely thrusted before Yue QingYuan’s face.

Confused, Yue QingYuan directed his attention at Liu QingGe instead, who was glaring at him with force enough to surprise Yue QingYuan. Liu QingGe was serious about.

“We’ll fight, the two of us.”

“Liu-shidi, you’ve misunderstood. It’s not what—“

“I’ve misunderstood nothing. We’ll resolve this with our swords,” Liu QingGe bit off, his expression determined and just. “Draw XuanSu, and let’s bring this outside.”

Yue QingYuan knew that he should explain himself before this misunderstanding worsened. But perhaps, a tiny voice whispered in his head, a beating was what he deserved?

Yue QingYuan had hurt Shen QingQiu terribly after all, it was only right that he suffered because of Shen QingQiu. Like for like. An eye for an eye. Anything that could link him to Shen QingQiu.

(And perhaps with this atonement, A Jiu would finally forgive him.)

“I’ll not have anyone destroying my QingJing Peak in their brutish thoughtlessness,” a voice cut through the tension.

“As always, pretending to be concerned about this Shen QingQiu, when what both of you really wanted was to show off your might, and rub salt into this QingQiu’s wounds.” The bitterness in the air was palpable.

Yue QingYuan wondered, if he were to open his mouth, could he taste Shen QingQiu?

Liu QingGe’s words startled him out of his thoughts.

“That’s not true,” Liu QingGe said awkwardly, “I only want to protect Shen-shixiong.”

“Why? Don’t you hate me?” Shen QingQiu narrowed his eyes, “Don’t you want to kill me?”

Liu QingGe visibly faltered and seemed to be groping about for an answer.

Before he could reply, a dark expression descended upon Shen QingQiu’s face. Shen QingQiu asked, seemingly going off on a sudden tangent. “Are you an Alpha, Liu-shidi?”

Liu QingGe mutely nodded. Yue QingYuan could smell Shen QingQiu’s disgust in the air.

“All of you too?” Shen QingQiu angled his head towards where Yue QingYuan, Qi QingQi and Mu QingFang were standing.

“Yes, shidi, what’s wrong? Why’re you asking this?”

“What’s wrong?” Shen QingQiu let out a pained laughter. With a slightly hysterical voice, he continued, asking, “And I’m an Omega?”

Yue QingYuan was becoming concerned, no, more concerned. Why was Shen QingQiu asking all these questions? Was he simply disoriented from the qi deviation? Or… was it something worse – like memory loss? Why was he asking questions that he already knew the answers to?

After a pregnant pause, Mu QingFang nodded slowly.

“Fuck, it’s real,” Shen QingQiu’s usual calm façade was gone, with incredulity and sheer panic replacing it. His words were not directed at anyone, as if he had just accidentally voiced out a private thought.

The air turned bitter with Shen QingQiu’s distress. Yue QingYuan took an aborted step towards Shen QingQiu, feeling absolutely helpless, but yet wanting to help nonetheless. He wanted to reach out to Shen QingQiu, but Shen QingQiu had not given him permission, and had in fact told him to go away earlier.

Moments passed before Shen QingQiu seemed to recollect his composure. While the scents did not disappear, they lessened in intensity. Shen QingQiu had always been adept at compartmentalisation, locking away things that he did not want to feel or remember.

“QingQiu-shidi…” Yue QingYuan said softly, feeling absolutely useless in that moment.

“Enough,” Shen QingQiu’s voice was neutral again. He waved his fan as if he was brushing off unwanted bugs, “Where’s my medicine?”

“Right here, Shizun.” Luo BingHe offered immediately, the bowl of medicine held out to his Shizun.

“Brat,” Shen QingQiu narrowed his eyes, “Do you wish to be exiled from QingJing Peak so badly? This master can grant your wish.”

“No!” Luo BingHe hurriedly denied, “This disciple doesn’t want to leave! This disciple has finished the manual, and that’s why he dares to show his face to Shizun!”

---

Shen QingQiu scowled openly.

In a less distracted state, he would have already hit the brat soundly for daring to tell such lies. However, he had just realised that his world had been infected by some sort of disease (he was apparently now a fucking Omega!) that everyone seemed to be treating with nonchalance, so he could be forgiven for not being able to channel his usual vitriol towards an inconsequential liar. Most of Shen QingQiu’s energy was being directed at pushing down his panic and rage.  

Still, Luo BingHe had finished the manual already? Didn’t Shen QingQiu only gave him the manual a day ago? Couldn’t he tell better lies?

There could only be one conclusion. (This would be a good distraction; he could deal with the fucking Alpha, Beta, and Omega nonsense later.)

“If you’ve had other masters before this Shizun, you should’ve said so,” Shen QingQiu whacked Luo BingHe’s head harshly. “Just like how incompatible medicine can conflict and become poison when mixed together, practising different methods of cultivation without a master’s guidance can lead to qi deviation or death! What if you were to succumb to a qi deviation while asleep at night in the disciples’ quarters? Does this wretched brat want to kill the rest of his martial brothers and sister?”

God, he placed such a dangerous brat next Ning YingYing!

“No, this disciple swears he has no other teachers before Shizun! Luo BingHe couldn’t possibly afford to pay for the teachings of any other teachers, and was just a useless servant to the Young Master before then,” Luo BingHe denied, not even flinching when his head was hit. “And he does not sleep in the disciples’ quarters!”

Was this brat speaking the truth? Could he learn the basics of cultivation in just a day?

While the cultivation manual Shen QingQiu gave Luo BingHe the day before was the bare basics, and could not be considered difficult, it should have still taken more than a day! Most disciples took around 9 months before they could graduate from that cultivation manual!

Shen QingQiu himself took 6 months and he was considered a genius.

If it was true, what was this monstrous talent?

Shen QingQiu narrowed his eyes. “Demonstrate.”

Nodding his head eagerly, Luo BingHe took in a deep breath and began circulating his qi as the manual instructed. It wasn’t anything too exciting, but the basics of cultivation was all about learning how to control one’s own power, and Luo BingHe did it smoothly, flawlessly.

Shen QingQiu was floored, and agitated.

This brat really did learn the basics in just a day. This was unheard of.

Shen QingQiu should kill the brat. This talent could only portent the arrival of a power that the world could not deny.

If the brat truly continued on this trajectory of growth, and at such speed, Shen QingQiu swallowed nervously, it wouldn’t even be long till he surpassed this master.

No one else should be more powerful than Shen QingQiu.

No one else, except Yue QingYuan. And only then, it was because Shen QingQiu had bound him so tightly with the twin chains of guilt and debt, such that Yue QingYuan could’ve never lifted a hand against him.

Could he bind this brat in the same manner?

If Shen QingQiu could, he would have gotten yet another world-defying power in his hands. No one would ever be able to deny him again. 

(He would be able to deny anyone he didn’t want.)

This white sheep was still young and naïve, and look at how he was staring at Shen QingQiu with stars in his eyes. Shen QingQiu knew he could inspire awe easily when he wanted to, he had used his cold and aloof countenance to his advantage many times before.

Perhaps, once again, he could manipulate this frightening brat in the same manner. Another powerful backer never hurt.

And what was it that the spirit let slipped then? That brat gained countless lovers with his cooking and “demo” – what else could demo be, other than demonic powers?

If the brat had demonic powers in him, together with his logic-defying talent in cultivation, it made sense that he could become strong enough to gather “countless lovers” without being poisoned to death by his jealous wives or competition. 

If Shen QingQiu could tame such powers, everyone would fear him. Who cared about the nature of power? Power was just power.

(And no one would be able to inspire fear in him again.)

“You,” Shen QingQiu said coldly.

The brat before his eyes flushed, before standing at attention. “Yes, Shizun!”

Did he catch a fever? Perhaps learning so quickly did have some negative repercussions even for a demonic brat. It was good to know that he still had weakness in certain areas.

“Return the manual that this master gave you, and take the book that was to its side as its replacement,” Shen QingQiu commanded. “If you’re finished with the basic, proceed to the next stage. Do not slack off.”

“Yes, Shizun!” the brat flushed even redder. He was going to turn maroon at this rate.

Shen QingQiu did not bother with a response, reaching out for the bowl of medication that the brat was still holding steadily in his hands.

Gulping down its content in one swallow because Shen QingQiu didn’t want to prolong his own suffering, Shen QingQiu snapped open his fan and hid his grimace behind it.

He thought that he would have gotten used to the medication that Mu QingFang prescribed given how often he seemed to be drinking it these days, but alas, it was not to be.

Shen QingQiu idly fanned himself for a moment before a thought occurred to him.

“Luo Binghe.” Ah, the brat’s face was maroon now.

Shen QingQiu discreetly moved back just in case the brat’s fever was infectious.

“Yes, Shizun!”

“If you don’t sleep in the disciples’ quarter, where do you sleep?”

“Ah… this disciple has been busy cultivating, and thus have little time to rest. That’s why he does not sleep… in the disciples’ quarter.”

“I saw him exiting from the woodshed this morning,” Liu QingGe chose this moment to offer his two cents.

“Only your second day at this QingJing Peak and you’re already lying to this master,” Shen QingQiu said. He inclined his head towards Liu QingGe, “Liu-shidi, do you need another disciple at your Peak?”

“No, Shizun! This disciple apologises! This disciple doesn’t mean to lie, but he doesn’t want to get his martial brothers in trouble either!” Luo BingHe fell to his knees, head kowtowing on the floor. “This disciple doesn’t want to leave Shizun’s side! Please don’t make him leave.”

Shen QingQiu eyed the brat for a while, letting him stew in his misery.

This brat was really taken with him, wasn’t he? Such loyalty in just a day.

Annoying. This brat was even more pathetic than Shen QingQiu was when he was younger. At least, it took young Shen QingQiu months before he offered his undying loyalty to a traitor.

“50 laps around QingJing Peak,” Shen QingQiu decreed. “And MingFan, 100 laps.”

As the head disciple, it was impossible that MingFan didn’t know or didn’t have a hand in forcing the brat to sleep in the woodshed.

Shen QingQiu was no stranger to bullying. But he did not appreciate it when his disciples torture another without his knowing on his peak. That was trampling on Shen QingQiu’s authority.

“Yes, Shizun,” MingFan cringed.

“Out,” Shen QingQiu pointed eloquently with his fan at his unwelcomed visitors – not just the two disciples, but also the four Peak Lords who were mooching off him.

Qi QingQi looked like she was about to protest, but Mu QingFang held her back. “Shen-shixiong should rest. We shouldn’t disturb him any further.”

After some prolonged stares from Qi QingQi, Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan, the four Peak Lords finally filed out meekly, leaving Shen QingQiu alone with his thoughts – and the spirit.

Shen QingQiu knew he couldn’t avoid this any longer. It was clear that the spirit wasn’t going to be leaving him anytime soon. It was time to face reality.

Spirit, you’ve been awfully quiet. 

<<…System doesn’t want to drive his dearest Shen QingQiu into another qi deviation.>>

Shen QingQiu snorted. At least the sprit had self-awareness.

You’ve upset the order of my world, and yet you were surprised that I was driven to a qi deviation? Shouldn’t you have expected it?

<<System just wants the best for Shen Jiuuuuuuuuuuuu. (╥_╥) System swears that he would not have done this if he doesn’t think that this would bring Shen Jiu happiness.>>

Happiness is for fools.

<<What does Shen Jiu want then? System would do his best to assist! (▰∀◕)ノ Happiness can be a side quest!>>

I want power that the world cannot deny.

<<Hmmm… No problem! System 52088 can do that. 彡゚◉ω◉ )つー☆*>>

Chapter Text

What’s in it for you?

<<What does Shen Jiu mean? System doesn’t understand. (◎_◎;) >>

Why are doing all this?

<<Why…? Because Shen Jiu’s happiness is system’s happiness! \(★^∀^★)/>>

Stop lying.

<<System isn’t lying. (TдT) Hasn’t system been nothing but sincere?>>

You drove me to three qi deviations in two days. And that Alpha, Beta, Omega bullshit, Shen Jiu spat in his mind, You made me weak.

<<System truly apologises for the qi deviation. System prostrates himself at Shen Jiu’s feet. _| ̄|○ System was too blunt and he notes his errors! System would not speak in the future till he’s addressed by Shen Jiu! …And Omegas aren’t weak.>>

Child-bearing males aren’t weak? Is this spirit stupid? Child-bearing makes one vulnerable.

<<Yes, yes, but no. Don’t worry, Shen Jiu, system has it all taken care of! (v^ー°) System made it such that while Omegas are weak physically, they’re strong spiritually! And System used some of his own upgrade points to purchase a Super Omega body for Shen Jiu!>>

Explain.

<<Well, Alphas have more durable bodies, that’s true, so they can suffer greater physical abuse than the rest. But to balance this, Omegas have stronger spiritual powers. System isn’t sure if Shen Jiu has sensed this, but don’t you feel that your qi has been flowing more powerfully?>>

…Yes, Shen QingQiu reluctantly admitted.

<<See! This is all part of this new world’s worldbuilding. And Shen Jiu is the Super Omega, so his qi would flow even more powerfully than the rest of the Omegas in the world. ٩(^ᴗ^)۶ If one were to judge strength in terms of only qi, this system can confidently say that Shen Jiu is the strongest! No one would be able to deny that.>>

Is that why you so readily agreed to my ambitions? Because you’ve given me strong qi?

<<It’s not just that! Omegas are also super alluring! (・ω<)☆ No one can deny Omegas when they’re in distress, or if they bat their eyelashes, or if they just asked for what they wanted. Omegas have the world twirled around their little fingers—especially Shen Jiu’s fingers. System has made sure of that!

But of course, in return for this, there are some drawbacks. Omegas experience… strong mating urges once every quarter, just like how Alphas do. It’s to help in procreation, you see. (/≧ω\) During these period of times, Omegas want nothing more than to have sex, just like the Alphas. Once Shen Jiu has found his soulmates, his heat should align with his Alphas’ rut!>>

You afflicted me with a body that creates its own sex pollen once every three months? Shen QingQiu screeched.

<<No, no! Ahhh, system should have explained about the Super Omega body clearer from the start. No, system doesn’t want Shen Jiu to do anything that he doesn’t want either, so Shen Jiu could remain clear-headed even during his heats. You can even suppress your heats if you want to, without any medication. ┗(`・ω・´)┛

Shen Jiu could also dial up his allure as much as he wants to, or tone it down through his will. Shen Jiu’s body would not override his will!

It’s just that during heats, Shen Jiu’s can dial up his allure to be sky high, such that no one around him can think clearly and will do anything he wants!>>

Like fuck me?

<<Ahh, Shen Jiu is too direct! (/ω\) But no, system doesn’t want that for Shen Jiu either, and that’s why he spent a few upgrade points to purchase a Holy Maiden aura for Shen Jiu too. Once activated, Shen Jiu could shame all the Alphas around him for daring to lust after such a pure Omega like Shen Jiu. They wouldn’t be able to take any liberties with Shen Jiu, but would just want to do anything he says so. If strong enough, Shen Jiu can drive them to killing themselves due to guilt and shame!>>

This is… possession.

<<No? Shen Jiu’s soul would still firmly be in his body. Although… being subjected to the Holy Maiden aura may make some long for the heavens so much so that they end their own lives even after the aura has been switched off.>>

Shen QingQiu had never once considered himself for having the power to possess other people’s will—it was an art more suited to demons than humans. But then again, Shen Jiu had once killed an entire estate as a child, so what was one more strike against his bloody ledger?

Power to control minds and drive them to suicide… it would be better to have it, than not.

Is this Omega thing the reason why the other Peak Lords have been so solicitous towards me?

<<Ding, dong, deng! ≧(´▽`)≦ Shen Jiu is so smart! Yes, that’s right. Other than yourself and Shang QingHua, the rest of the Peak Lords are Alphas. As such, they are naturally inclined to believe you and side with you. Not only so, but the scents help Shen Jiu to communicate better with the rest!>>

Scents?

<<Has system not switched on the function yet? Hmm… system apologises! System switched it off initially to prevent Shen Jiu from being overwhelmed and haven’t found the opportunity to switch it on again. Here goes nothing! (∩^o^)⊃━☆゚.*・。゚>>

A sudden flood of smells flooded Shen QingQiu, and Shen QingQiu’s nostrils flared for a moment as he assaulted by the sense of—

The bitterness of the herbal concoction Mu QingFang prepared lingered. The freshness of the bamboo forest and the scent of the blooming wisterias drifted over. The smell of Yue QingYuan still clinging to the fabric where he pressed against Shen Jiu.

The concern that Shen QingQiu could almost taste in the air, belonging to all his martial brothers and sister, as well as his disciples. Genuine, and impossible to miss.

Underlying it, the sour tang of agitation and unease, which Shen QingQiu recognised as his.

Was this what everyone could smell from the beginning, Shen QingQiu wondered?

<<Yes, that’s right! Alphas and Omegas’ senses are naturally enhanced, and things such as intentions and emotions can be easily scented through pheromones! It’s much harder for people to backstab one another in this new world! (´∀`)>>

What is this? It’s almost as if everyone is perpetually subjected to a half-baked truth potion.

<<Yes, it’ll be much harder for others to misunderstand Shen Jiu’s true intentions too! (σ≧∀≦)σ>>

I’ve zero good true intentions! Are you trying to kill me? Get me assassinated?

<<… To achieve happiness, Shen Jiu needs to stop with his self-flagellation. It’s not healthy.>>

What self-flagellation! What nonsense! I don’t want any of this! Bring back the old world.

<<System apologises sincerely, but the change is irreversible. Please give it some time, Shen Jiu will see that this will change things for the better.>>

You say that you’re on my side, you say that you’re here for me, but you’re just here to kill me, aren’t you!

<<Never! Shen Jiu’s lifelong happiness is the only reason why system is here.

….I know Shen Jiu doesn’t trust in such sentimental notions… so how about this, I’ve tied myself inextricably to Shen Jiu’s existence. There’s no copy of this system 52088 anywhere else in the backup drive. I’m loaded into Shen Jiu. If Shen Jiu suffers, I suffer too. If Shen Jiu dies, I cease to exist too.>>

Shen QingQiu didn’t fully understand half the terms that the spirit blabbered on all about, but he got the gist... What’s with this overly dramatic spirit?

Murder-suicide was it? Shen QingQiu was familiar with the concept of parasites. There were some monsters who leeched off their hosts, but in return also provided some form of benefits back to the hosts. A symbiotic relationship. Was that what he had with this spirit, who kept proclaiming he wanted only Shen QingQiu’s happiness?

Was it because its wellbeing was also fully dependent on Shen QingQiu wellbeing?

Perhaps it was the kind of parasitic spirit that consumed other people’s happiness. Maybe it needed happiness to survive.

What a troublesome, albeit powerful, existence. If truly all the changes in the world were due to this spirit’s meddling, then it wouldn’t hurt to have this spirit on Shen QingQiu’s side.

Do you require happiness to survive? Shen QingQiu asked.

<<Happiness to survive? System is confused by this strange question. (・・;) Doesn’t everyone need happiness to survive? What life is worth living without happiness?>>

That answered Shen Jiu’s question obliquely. It was probably a yes.

Although, what a naïve spirit. Survival didn’t require happiness. It required stubbornness, tenacity and maybe an inexplicable desperation to cling onto life that not even the person himself might understand.

If survival was based on happiness, Shen Jiu would’ve died many years ago.

How can I trust that what you’ve told me is true?

<<Shen Jiu can verify the mechanics with anyone in this world! The worldbuilding took off without a hitch, and thus all denizens of this world would be subjected to this truth and treat it like common-sense! Like the other Peak Lords!>>

Very well, we can strike a truce for now. You may continue leeching off me.

<<How mean! System is not a leech! System 52088 is Shen Jiu’s guardian angel.>>

---

Meanwhile, back at BaiZhan Peak, Yue QingYuan was being hunted down by Liu QingGe, with Qi QingQi throwing in an occasional assist when it seemed like Yue QingYuan was about to escape.

Mu QingFang heaved heavy sighs, but did not step away from the spectacle, nor did he seem inclined to stop the conflict.

Yue QingYuan knew that this was the punishment that he somewhat courted… but, he felt so wronged!

He had never once preyed on or taken advantage of his A Jiu! Stop looking at Yue QingYuan as if he was scum please, Liu-shidi, Qi-shimei, Mu-shidi!

 

 

Chapter Text

Two weeks after the last qi deviation, Shen QingQiu decided that he could not put off his planned seclusion in LingXi Caves anymore.

That white sheep brat that Shen QingQiu was rearing was getting more and more irritating—always hovering underneath his feet, so much so that Shen QingQiu felt like he had somehow gotten a very young nanny. 

The only silver lining in the cloud was that Shen QingQiu’s meals improved considerably.

After having tasted Luo BingHe’s congee, Shen QingQiu quickly tasked Luo BingHe with all his future meals at the spirit’s urging.

<<Shen Jiu has such a talented chef in his tutelage! Shen Jiu should get Luo BingHe to serve him. Don’t waste this opportunity to have the best food in your life, Shen Jiu! Would you accept this mission, Shen Jiu? (◕‿◕✿)

Mission: Get more familiar with Luo BingHe.>>

Tsk, all missions have rewards, Shen QingQiu scoffed with derision. I’m not in the business of charity!

<<Sorry, system 52088 is forgetful! Here you go!

Reward: System 52088’s everlasting love (˘︶˘).。.:*♡>>

Fuck off!

<<So rude! Alright, system wouldn’t joke around anymore.

Reward: Luo BingHe as Shen QingQiu’s personal chef>>

That conversation went nowhere after that, but nonetheless, the spirit wasn’t wrong. Good food was good food. No point standing on courtesy. And besides, a master was like a disciple’s parent. It was only right that the white sheep brat showed his filial piety by cooking food. That was the least he could do for this master showing mercy towards him, and not squashing him like the bug he still was.

Nonetheless, the brat was really improving at an unsettling pace. He was nearly 20% through the manual in just two weeks – the manual which usually took most disciples a year to complete. This pace, while somewhat expected by Shen QingQiu, was unsettling!

It was not humanly possible!

Shen QingQiu would like to put some distance between the brat, and what better way than to try and achieve a breakthrough in his cultivation by heading to LingXi Caves.

<<Shen Jiu’s Super Omega qi is super powerful! But power needs to be wielded with skill for its potential to be fully maximised! ☜(⌒▽⌒)☞ As such, would Shen Jiu accept this mission?

Mission: Cultivate at LingXi Caves

Reward: Unlocking Shen Jiu’s love interest #2 (◍•ᴗ•◍)❤>>

This spirit was always fucking around with Shen QingQiu. It was a thorn in his side who perpetually wanted to get a rise out of Shen QingQiu.

“MingFan,” Shen QingQiu called out as he surveyed his hardworking disciples studying in the classroom. At the sound of his voice, the children’s heads snapped up in unison and looked at their Shizun who had deigned to grace them with his presence. Their Shizun had been so terribly unwell these few days, yet he still came to watch over their progress!

At the sight of all his disciples staring at Shen QingQiu misty-eyed, twin looks of awe and affection blatant, Shen QingQiu cursed at the spirit in his head again. He was quite certain that QingJing Peak’s disciples held him with fear and respect before the order of things were messed up.

Disgusting! Shen QingQiu had never wanted to be thought of with anything as disgusting as awe and affection. Those were unreliable, flighty emotions that could vanish overnight when given the right incentives – a bribe, the possibility of a brighter future. Fear though, fear was something that could be hammered into the bones and sink its claws into one’s heart.

Fear could linger years after, even if the source was long gone.

Meanwhile, the head disciple who was summoned had hastily stood up from his little study table and hurried over to his Shizun’s side. “Yes, Shizun! MingFan is here.”

For some reason, the white sheep brat was glaring hard in Shen QingQiu’s direction. Had he finally noticed that Shen QingQiu despised him? No matter. The brat might be monstrous in the future, but he could not hurt him now. Shen QingQiu would bind his loyalty to him before the brat knew better.

“Bring this letter to the Sect Leader,” he commanded as he handed over an envelope to MingFan.

“Yes, this disciple will head over now!” MingFan took over the letter and dashed out.

Shen QingQiu wasn’t done yet. “Ning YingYing,” Shen QingQiu said as he easily found the lone female in the room.

It was Ning YingYing’s turn to rush over to her Shizun. “Shizun!” she called out brightly.

“Tell this Shizun,” Shen QingQiu asked with his usual air of cool indifference, “How does this disciple feel about going over to XianShu Peak for next six months?”

Immediately, Ning YingYing’s eyes began tearing.

“Had this disciple done anything wrong? If so, Ning YingYing apologises and begs for Shizun’s forgiveness!” Ning YingYing cried out as Shen QingQiu quickly squashed the alarm that was bubbling to the surface.

Pathetic! Why were his disciples so stupid? Crying so easily, and over a misunderstanding no less! Shen QingQiu was the Peak Lord second only in authority compared to the Sect Leader. If his disciples were to head out into the world with such weak attitudes, they would bring shame not only to Shen QingQiu, but to the entire Sect too.

Shen QingQiu was just glad that most of his disciples had not reached puberty yet. He wouldn’t know what to do with himself if Ning YingYing were to suddenly emanate sour notes of distress.

“What’s this disciple talking about? Has this Shizun taught Ning YingYing to leap to baseless conclusions?” Shen QingQiu hit Ning YingYing sharply on her head with his fan, “Gather yourself. Such a shameful presentation is not worthy of QingJing Peak.”

Ning YingYing sniffled loudly once, before a glimmer of hope entered her eyes. “Does this mean that this disciple was wrong in her assumption?”

“Shizun would be entering seclusion soon. At the same time, he believes that Ning YingYing’s progress warrants education that this master could not provide. It’s this master’s wish that Ning YingYing go under Qi-shimei’s care during the time he’s away.”

Loud gasps filled the room as the disciples learned of their master’s intention to enter seclusion.

Over the course of the last two weeks, Shen QingQiu had used the time to plug away at the spirit and Mu QingFang for information about this new world order. Quickly, he learned that this Alpha, Beta, and Omega nonsense only kicked in after a person reached puberty. For a human, puberty meant anytime between the ages of 12 to 16.

Given that Ning YingYing was 14, that meant that there was a very real possibility of Ning YingYing presenting when Shen QingQiu was away. And presentation, as the spirit had so delightedly told him, was about “finding one’s true self! If the person presents to be an Alpha, he would be in an inconsolable rut; if the person presents to be an Omega, a heat then! It’s the time when a person’s inhibitions fall away and he becomes reunited with nature!”

From that, Shen QingQiu took away one key learning: when a person presented, he would want to fuck.

Fucking disgusting! 12 to 16 meant that when a person was overcome with carnal urges, he would be just a child! Immature, stupid, and weak! Prime target to be exploited! Was the spirit a paedophile?

Shen QingQiu might hold little affection for anyone in this world, but Ning YingYing was firmly his.  Moreover, she was the lone flower in his backyard. He would be inhumane to leave her alone with his collection of rough, brutish brats. One could never be too cautious!

It would be best to send Ning YingYing away to somewhere where she could be looked after if she so happened to present then.

“Ning YingYing doesn’t need Qi-shigu’s teachings! Ning YingYing thinks that her learning is progressing fine under Shizun’s tutelage.”

The white sheep brat was glaring even fiercer at Shen QingQiu now as Ning YingYing clung onto his robes.

Did that brat realise that Shen QingQiu had spoiled his plans? Was he looking forward to when Shen QingQiu was leave Ning YingYing unprotected so that he could take advantage of his shijie’s soft heart?

“Do not wrinkle this master’s robes,” Shen QingQiu tapped at Ning YingYing’s hands that were clutching onto him. “Ning YingYing will take this letter and deliver it to Qi-shimei. Tomorrow, she’ll pack up her belongings and head over to XianShu Peak for six months.”

<<Shen Jiu is so kind and considerate! (*≧∀≦*)>>

---

The next day, when Shen QingQiu showed up at the entrance of LingXi caves, he was unsurprised to find Yue QingYuan present.

Yue QingYuan had always found every single opportunity he could to attach himself to Shen QingQiu. After receiving the letter from Shen QingQiu the day before, which was not a request for permission to cultivate in LingXi caves, but rather a polite, distant missive informing Yue QingYuan that he would be cultivating in LingXi caves starting from the day after, it was only to be expected that Yue QingYuan would turn up to see him off.

However, what surprised Shen QingQiu was Liu QingGe’s presence.

“Zhangmen-shixiong,” Shen QingQiu acknowledged Yue QingYuan’s presence politely, before turning his attention to Liu QingGe. “Liu-shidi, what are you doing here.”

“I’m going to cultivate in LingXi caves with you too.”

Shen QingQiu could feel the onset of a headache.

“This shixiong doesn’t know where did this shidi get the impression that seclusion means cultivating with another person, but he would like to correct his misunderstanding now,” Shen QingQiu injected as much sarcasm as he could into his words.

“I don’t need to be right next to you,” Liu QingGe’s expression was mulish. “We could be in adjacent caves.”

“And pray tell,” Shen QingQiu snapped open his fan, “Why is this arrangement necessary?”

“For safety.”

“This shixiong is an immortal cultivator. He’s not a young fledgling disciple who needs to be watched over,” Shen QingQiu said coldly. “Liu-shidi should watch his words.”

“Hmph.”

“QingQiu-shidi, we’re just concerned about your wellbeing,” Yue QingYuan chose this moment to enter the conversation. “Your constitution is… delicate these days.”

Shen QingQiu clenched his fan tightly. He was not weak! He would like to see how the rest could have handled this situation better if they suddenly got a parasitic spirit in their heads, and found out that a third of the population became sex-crazed addicts once a quarter!

<<System 52088 isn’t a parasitic spirit… (T⌓T)>>

Shut up, you’re the root cause of all my problems!

<<System will shut up soon. But Shen Jiu should stop protesting Liu QingGe’s presence in LingXi’s caves. It’s clear that Yue QingYuan and Liu QingGe would not back down, and it would just be a waste of Shen Jiu’s energy. m9っ`・ω・´)>>

…I know, Shen Jiu reluctantly admitted. Liu QingGe was famous for his bull-headedness, and Yue QingYuan was implacable when it came to Shen QingQiu’s supposed safety these days – atonement for his past failings.

<<Besides, Shen Jiu needs Liu QingGe to be present to collect the mission’s reward anyway! ღゝ◡╹)ノ♡>>

Chapter Text

Once Shen QingQiu entered the caves, he promptly shut himself away in the closest one that looked suitable for his purpose.

Or rather, he sat himself there, and eyed Liu QingGe imperiously, daring the other man to also claim the same cave for his needs.

Liu QingGe heaved an inaudible sigh. “Is this where you intend to cultivate for the next six months?”

Shen QingQiu did not deign to respond.

After an indeterminate period of silence, Liu QingGe seemed to have gotten the message loud and clear and left Shen QingQiu to his own business.

Finally, peace and quiet.

<<Yayyy! System is happy to be alone with his dearest Shen Jiu! \(★^∀^★)/>>

Or not.

<<There’s no need to be shy! Shen Jiu has many questions about how he can unlock the qi of his Super Omega body, right? System would be happy to guide! ٩(^ᴗ^)۶>>

A parasitic leech that could only consume Shen Jiu’s happiness for his survival could be trusted, Shen QingQiu reluctantly decided. They could either survive together, or die together, and Shen QingQiu didn’t think the spirit was suicidal yet.

If you want to guide, guide then.

<<Ok! So, all mighty Shen Jiu needs to do is-->>

Wait, before that, can you switch off the scents? Shen QingQiu frowned, he needed to be able to focus to cultivate, but even now the musky tang of Yue QingYuan and Liu QingGe lingered.

<<System will be able to do that, but scents are an important source of information in this world! Does Shen Jiu really want that? ლ(•ω •ლ) You can use scents to uncover hidden intentions!>>

Shen QingQiu waved an impatient hand in the air. He had gone by without scents for years and managed to interpret everyone’s intentions – hidden or not—just fine. He didn’t need it now.

<<Ok then! Ability to perceive pheromones switched off! (∩^o^)⊃━☆゚.*・。゚ Shall we begin our training now?>>

Just like that, five months passed by uneventfully. The spirit was actually fairly decent when it came to teaching, and Shen Jiu unlocked an incredible reserve of qi within him, and regained his equilibrium.

His cultivation had increased by leaps and bounds, and anyone who could feel his qi now would know for sure that Shen QingQiu had reached another breakthrough. Moreover, Shen QingQiu actually felt more in-tune, in control of his emotions—a far cry from the first few days he woke up with the spirit in his head.

<<System 52088 is glad to assist! But there’s power that this system cannot help to unlock by himself. (/≧ω\) Shen Jiu would need to dual cultivate with his mates in order to reach the next level.>>

Shen QingQiu mused. He supposed he could make a trip to the courtesan’s house the next time he left the peaks for a mission. Perhaps it was finally time to start visiting the brothels for their intended purpose, rather than just seeking comfort—

<<No, Shen Jiu misunderstands! (>△<)u He needs to dual cultivate with a fated mate! Not just any random stranger on the streets.>>

What inconvenient things did you introduce into this world again? Shen QingQiu would have strangled the spirit if he could.

<<Fated mates aren’t introduced into this world by the system though? (´・_・`) System just made the connections between fated mates more apparent.>>

Fine, Shen QingQiu didn’t require any more power ups anyway. The level of qi he had achieved, together with Yue QingYuan as his tool would be more than sufficient anyway.

<<Shen Jiu is so contradictory… This system finds it hard to understand your relationship with Yue QingYuan fully. You claim that you want to rely on no one, yet you say that Yue QingYuan is your tool. You claim that you want to have power that no one could deny, yet you allow Yue QingYuan to be stronger than-->>

Shut up!

---

The next time the peace and silence was broken, it was all caused by Liu QingGe.

The man who ostensibly wanted to enter seclusion together with Shen QingQiu for Shen QingQiu’s safety experienced his own qi deviation. There was humour to be found in the situation, if not for the fact that Liu QingGe was now charging at Shen QingQiu.

<<Beautiful Shen Jiu, hurry and use your Super Omega pheromones to distract Liu QingGe! (・ωー)~☆>>

By making him fuck me instead? No thanks! Shen QingQiu snarled as he nimbly avoided Liu QingGe’s strikes.

<<Shen Jiu can use it in combination with the Holy Maiden aura. v( ̄∇ ̄)>>

Didn’t you say that it can drive people to suicide? If Liu QingGe dies here, everyone is going to accuse me of murder. Shen QingQiu barely twisted his body out of range as Liu QingGe’s inhumane physical prowess seemed to be enhanced by the qi deviation… and his Alpha gender too.

<<Shen Jiu can control the aura carefully then. System will help! ( • ̀ω•́  )✧>>

No, we’re doing this the usual way. I’m going to force my qi into this mindless brute to align his meridians.

Saying so, Shen QingQiu immediately changed direction, his evasive measures turning aggressive as he swiftly dodged all of Liu QingGe’s attacks to bring himself within hand’s reach of said man. Shen QingQiu raised a palm up and slammed it into Liu QingGe’s chest.

“You—you,” Liu QingGe’s eyes cleared for a moment, looking down at the hand on his body before looking up at Shen QingQiu. “Are you trying to kill me?”

“If you’ve time to entertain wild speculations, focus on calming your qi!” Shen QingQiu channelled his own qi forcefully into Liu QingGe, trying to reign in the raging storm.

Godammit, how strong was this man? Shen QingQiu had just achieved a breakthrough in his cultivation, but he was still struggling to align Liu QingGe’s meridians. He feared to think what might have had happened if Liu QingGe entered a qi deviation before Shen QingQiu had time to unlock his newfound powers.

Quickly, Shen QingQiu ripped open the top of Liu QingGe’s robes, giving him unfettered access to the man’s bare chest. Shen QingQiu needed to channel more, and channel faster.

After what felt like hours, Shen QingQiu could finally sense that Liu QingGe’s qi had returned to some semblance of order. Somehow, during the course of his qi transfer, Liu QingGe had ended up being cradled in his lap and said man was now gazing heatedly at Shen QingQiu.

Shen QingQiu grew agitated. Was there nothing he could do right according to Liu QingGe? He had just helped the man, and yet the man was still glaring at him with such hatred in his eyes. Shen QingQiu shoved the man off his lap, taking particular vindictive pleasure when he saw Liu QingGe flinch at the sudden motion.

“Ungrateful wretch,” Shen QingQiu spat out. “This shixiong just saved Liu-shidi’s life again, and yet you level such hatred at your saviour. I should have just let you die.”

Liu QingGe hurriedly sat up, shaking his head violently.

“Not even a single word of thanks. Didn’t your parents teach you better manners than this?” Shen QingQiu stood up, getting ready to leave. “But if Liu-shidi is strong enough to sit up, he’s strong enough to repair the rest of meridians himself. This shixiong will be leaving—“

A strong hand grasped at the sleeves of Shen QingQiu’s robes. Liu QingGe’s head was bowed, in what seemed like a contrite manner. In that posture, Liu QingGe looked nothing like his usual arrogant, brutish self.

In fact, Liu QingGe emanated an aura of a misunderstood maiden. With lustrous black locks that were artfully dishevelled and the slight moue of upset that Shen QingQiu could glimpse from the downcast face, Shen QingQiu was overcome by a sudden feeling of wanting to comfort the man before him.

<< Σ(゚Д゚;) What’s with this subversion of Alpha-Omega tropes?>>

“This… this shidi thanks Shen-shixiong for his assistance,” Liu QingGe said softly, before finally looking up.

He swallowed, face flushed, as if finding the right words to say next to be terribly difficult, “And for all his assistance previously too. This shidi is finally enlightened and knows that he has misunderstood his shixiong’s intentions all along.”

The hands in Shen QingQiu’s robes clutched tighter, as Liu QingGe’s head bowed. “And if Shen-shixiong allows it, this shidi will dedicate his entire life to repay the many debts that he owns! And so, could this shixiong please… stay with this shidi for now?”

<< ΣΣΣ(゚Д゚;)     �(゚□゚*川     ∑(ΦдΦlll>>

Shen QingQiu narrowed his eyes at Liu QingGe. Liu QingGe had spoken more in this one instance than he ever had previously. And he actually called him ‘shixiong’. Not once had this brute addressed him in such a manner before today.

Was this a lie, or some trap that Shen QingQiu couldn’t see? He couldn’t understand why Liu QingGe would have a change of heart now.

The man had always been insistent that Shen QingQiu had bad intentions, and was the scummiest of scum, despite how much Shen QingQiu tried to protest his innocence.

Alright, maybe Shen QingQiu didn’t protest that much.

Still.

Spirit, Shen QingQiu called out, Can you switch on the scents—No, are you able to interpret the scents and tell me what they say?

<<Yes, system can do so! Liu QingGe is sincere! There’s no sense of deceit. Liu QingGe is feeling very upset and regretful! Hmmm, he’s also aroused. (/≧ω\)>>

What the fuck. Did sex replace battles in this Alpha Liu QingGe’s heart? Even his qi deviation must have somehow managed to feature some sort of lusty sex scene.

But alright, Shen QingQiu could ignore that. If Liu QingGe was sincere, having the BaiZhan War God in his arsenal would serve him well in future battles. Liu QingGe’s strength could not be easily dismissed.

And even if Liu QingGe was somehow lying, Shen QingQiu could still throw Yue QingYuan in his path—no, he could rely on his own qi to kill him.

He was somewhat satisfied with this new turn of events.

“This shixiong accepts Liu-shidi’s life,” Shen QingQiu reached out with his free hand to run light fingers down Liu QingGe’s face before firmly gripping his chin such that the other man was looking him in the eyes. “But does Liu-shidi know what such an oath encompasses, and who he would swear himself to?”

Shen QingQiu was pleased to note that Liu QingGe shivered briefly, as if in fear.

“Liu-shidi should know that the man before him is neither a kind nor charitable man. Should Liu-shidi truly swear his life to this shixiong, I’ll not tolerate any further actions, or even thoughts, against me. Your life, body, soul, and mind will belong to me.” Shen QingQiu allowed his lips to curl up faintly, “Hearing this, does Liu-shidi wish to still swear his life to me to repay his life debt?”

If there was one thing Shen QingQiu had learned about Liu QingGe over the years, it was that Liu QingGe was a proud man who never backed down from a taunt. Having Shen QingQiu challenging him now could only lead to one answer.

“I, Liu QingGe, swear my life to Shen QingQiu,” there was no hesitation in the response, as Liu QingGe trembled like a leaf in Shen QingQiu’s hands, unshed wetness in his eyes and colour high on his cheeks. “This shidi’s life is now shixiong’s to use as he pleases.”

Shen QingQiu froze. While he expected a positive answer from Liu QingGe, did Liu QingGe have to tack on that second sentence? That almost sounded like a line fair maidens in romance novels uttered before the male leads proceeded to ravage them. And the way Shen QingQiu was holding onto Liu QingGe now simply added to that image.

It was also not helped by Liu QingGe’s unfairly good looks that could rival famous beauties.

Shen QingQiu took a moment to gather himself, before breaking the charged gaze. “Very well then,” Shen QingQiu’s voice came out too soft for his liking.

Desperately casting in his mind for a way to break the strange tension in the air, Shen QingQiu remembered Liu QingGe’s last request.

“And will this shidi explain why does he need this shixiong to stay?” Shen QingQiu questioned loftily.

Liu QingGe’s face brightened visibly, tugging strongly on Shen QingQiu happily. This caused Shen QingQiu to lose his balance, falling onto Liu QingGe, whose robes were still pooled around his waist.

“I want to spend time together.”

Shen QingQiu clicked his tongue irritably, smacking Liu QingGe’s head from his prime position. At least he wasn’t holding Liu QingGe now. “Is Liu-shidi returning to his rude and curt responses just seconds after having sworn his life to this shixiong?”

Saying so, Shen QingQiu moved to stand up quickly, brushing at the dirt and dust that had somehow transferred themselves to his clothes. He took the opportunity to put some distance between the two too.

He did not notice the dark flush on Liu QingGe’s face and down his chest, even as said man obligingly helped him up, taking the opportunity to also put on his displaced robes.

“I would like some time to recover and repair my meridians, and will… appreciate if Shen-shixiong can stay with this humble shidi. For safety.”

Oh, was Liu QingGe the one who needed safety? Who was the one who insisted on tagging along previously? Look at how far he had fallen. Shen QingQiu gloated internally.

Alright, he could watch Liu QingGe as he struggled—that would be good entertainment.

“Hmph,” Shen QingQiu huffed, moving over to a nearby rock, and sat down. He crossed his legs and assumed the typical position for meditation.

“Thank you.” A gruff yet gentle voice drifted over.

<<Ding dong deng! Mission accomplished! ☆*。★゚*♪ヾ(☆ゝз・)ノ

Shen Jiu’s love interest #2 has been unlocked!

Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations!>>

Chapter Text

When Shen QingQiu finally emerged from the caves at the end of the predetermined six months, it was with Liu QingGe firmly in tow.

Now that Liu QingGe had sworn his life to Shen QingQiu, he would do his utmost to protect this infuriating, dishonest Omega before him. Liu QingGe had always suspected that Shen QingQiu’s actions and words were at odds, but his suspicions were finally confirmed in LingXi caves.

This Shen QingQiu was a man whose words could not be trusted. Rather, one should trust his scents.

Shen QingQiu had always said that he wanted to kill Liu QingGe, but looked at how Shen QingQiu risked his life to save him. Shen QingQiu was afraid that he would be hurt when he was channelling his qi to a rampaging Liu QingGe, yet, even then he did not stop or run away even though he very well could. Shen QingQiu pretended to be indifferent to Liu QingGe’s oath, yet look at how sweetly pleased he smelled eventually.

Now that Liu QingGe had a better understanding of the man before him, he deeply regretted all his past accusations and malicious attitude towards Shen QingQiu. All the times he had thought Shen QingQiu was being a nasty, despicable backstabber who only knew petty tricks were probably misunderstandings stemming from Liu QingGe’s own prejudice. Shen QingQiu must have had some hidden intentions that Liu QingGe couldn’t fathom then.

Even now, Liu QingGe could not dare to say he fully understood his shixiong, but Liu QingGe swore that he would always think the best of his shixiong, take the side of his shixiong, and dedicate his sword to his shixiong. That was the only way he could repay his shixiong for all the wrongs Liu QingGe committed against him.

And if Shen QingQiu ever wanted to settle down, and find someone special to mate with… Liu QingGe would not disappoint him either.

Liu QingGe still couldn’t recall the scene of Shen QingQiu’s hand caressing his bare chest without embarrassment and arousal.

Such an innocent touch, and intended to heal, Liu QingGe should not be perverting that memory. But he could not help it! Shen QingQiu had looked at him so intently, as if Liu QingGe was the only person in his world then, and no one else had ever cast such a look towards him before. Outside of battles, no one dared to cast a single glance at Liu QingGe, as if his visage was terribly monstrous or ugly.

But Shen QingQiu did not seem to think that way.

Liu QingGe’s heart pounded. His life, body, soul and mind belonged to Shen QingQiu now, and it seemed like his heart was eager to join the rest.

Liu QingGe was interrupted from his thoughts by the urgent gasps of a disciple. “Shen-shishu, Liu-shishu! We’re under attack!”

At the idea of an impending battle, Liu QingGe snapped to attention. There were indeed signs of smoke and fire in the area of QiongDing Peak.

“Who dares to attack CangQiong Peak?” Shen QingQiu asked sharply, even as he drew XiuYa.

“Demons, Shen-shishu! They’re at QiongDing Peak. The Sect Leader had left for a meeting for the Immortal Alliance Conference.”

Nodding tersely, Shen QingQiu leaped onto XiuYa. “Don’t worry, Liu-shidi and I will handle this.”

Liu QingGe swiftly drew ChengLuan, and kept pace with Shen QingQiu as the two Peak Lords flew to QiongDing Peak.

The sight that they were met with when they arrived was of demons terrorising the disciples. The disciples were doing their best to help but ultimately, being young and inexperienced, they were being beaten back. The strong smell of blood, pain and hurt was a familiar scent to Liu QingGe.

Although… it was usually the beasts that Liu QingGe beat up that emanated such scents, and not CangQiong Peak’s disciples.

Liu QingGe tightened his grip on ChengLuan as he immediately slashed at a horde of demons that were terrorising a bunch of youthful disciples.

“Liu-shidi!” Shen QingQiu snapped, even as he joined in the slaughter, “You should have waited till we found the leader to launch an attack! We’ve now lost the element of surprise.”

Did Shen QingQiu think that Liu QingGe couldn’t handle these demons by himself? He did not need the element of surprise to win.

Liu QingGe shrugged, and was content with that as his response before he remembered Shen QingQiu’s earlier admonishment to speak more.

Taking off the head of a goat demon easily, Liu QingGe responded, “I do not need the element of surprise to kill every demon here.”

Liu QingGe could smell Shen QingQiu’s aggravation, despite the other stronger scents permeating the air. Since when had he become so attuned to Shen QingQiu’s scent?

“Such a bull-headed brute! Have you never studied tactics?” Shen QingQiu cursed vehemently, “Liu-shidi, we could’ve ended this battle in seconds if we just killed the leader immediately. Instead, we’re now forced to enter into a prolonged battle that’ll destroy even more of QiongDing Peak and damage our forces.”

Now that Liu QingGe’s perception of Shen QingQiu wasn’t coloured by unfair prejudice, he saw the truth in Shen QingQiu’s words. And besides, he could not bear to be the target of Shen QingQiu’s anger any longer.

“This shidi accede to his shixiong’s advice and will be sure to keep his teachings in mind in the future. This shidi will apologise for his mistake by killing faster.”

Not waiting for Shen QingQiu’s answer, Liu QingGe leapt into the thick of the battle and began decimating the demonic forces. He would have to get this done and over with quickly, such that Shen QingQiu wouldn’t have to fight any longer.

After all, Shen QingQiu did expend a considerable amount of qi calming Liu QingGe. He was not in his peak condition, and lord knew what demons would do if they managed to get their hands on an immortal Omega cultivator.

“Enough! Enough!” a scantily-clad demon dressed in red fabric… fabric might be overselling it. Dressed in tiny red pieces of cloth separated herself from the crowds of demons to stand before Liu QingGe. “Do human cultivators not know any etiquette these days? This Sha HuaLing just came to QiongDing Peak, seeking to exchange knowledge about the different martial arts with the esteemed cultivators. Yet, here we’re, met with violence at the onset!”

Liu QingGe was about to leap forward to meet her words with sword when Shen QingQiu drifted elegantly to his side. Despite the fact that Shen QingQiu was fighting just minutes ago, he appeared untouched by the battles. Not a single speck of dust or blood marred Shen QingQiu’s pristine green and white robes, and his fair was tidy as ever in his half up-do. Waving the fan elegantly before his face, Shen QingQiu emanated a determined, fierce tang into the air.

Liu QingGe felt like he had just witnessed the scene of a deity descending upon a battlefield, ready to grant his blessings.

Or maybe that was just Liu QingGe’s smitten Alpha side speaking.

Liu QingGe was suddenly taken by a strong surge of embarrassment.

“Does this Sha HuaLing believe that slaughtering CangQiong Peak’s disciples equates to exchanging knowledge then?” Shen QingQiu’s voice was cool.

“We hardly killed anyone!”

“Your demonic horde raised their claws and bared their teeth at CangQiong Peak’s disciples.”

“Our claws and fangs are our swords,” Sha HuaLing laughed cruelly, “That’s our way of duelling with human cultivators.”

She continued, adopting a faux obsequious tone, “But enough of this. Let’s settle this in a civilised manner, shall we, XiuYa Sword and BaiZhan War God? Three rounds of one-on-one battle. If CangQiong Peak wins, this Sha HuaLing and her subordinates will leave peacefully.”

“You ran to our Peaks when the Peak Lords are gone to burn our forests and kill our disciples,” Shen QingQiu narrowed his eyes, “Now that the tides are turning, you beg for quarter and ask for duels?”

Shen QingQiu’s anger was magnificent to behold, especially when the anger was wielded not against Liu QingGe but against Liu QingGe’s enemy instead. He looked like an avenging deity, ready to smite the demonic horde. This Omega, this man before him was not to be trifled with.

Liu QingGe felt faint stirrings in his heart, and his loins.

Sha HuaLing abruptly turned her attentions to Liu QingGe, probably smelling his arousal.

“BaiZhan War God,” she crooned seductively. “XiuYa sword is being so mean. Don’t you like fighting? This Sha HuaLing would give you a good fight, and… maybe a tumble between the sheets if you win.”

Disgusting, Liu QingGe’s expression immediately darkened. As if Liu QingGe would want to sleep with a demon.

Liu QingGe gritted his teeth but held back his desire to turn Sha HuaLing into mincemeat. Instead, he turned to look at Shen QingQiu. Liu QingGe had previously fought without care for Shen QingQiu’s tactics, but now he would cede to his shixiong’s wishes.

A faint amusement wafted over from Shen QingQiu, before he turned to regard Liu QingGe was fierce intent. Shen QingQiu snapped his fan closed, and said with a sharp smile, “Fight.”

The spicy tang of ferocity intensified, and there was not a single trace of fear or hesitance haunting the scent. Shen QingQiu had zero doubts that Liu QingGe would fight and win.

With such trust in him, how could Liu QingGe fail? The BaiZhan War God was thus unleashed onto the battlefield, slaughtering all demons that stood before him.

Inside his mind, Liu QingGe was a mess.

Shen QingQiu smiled! Smiled at him! And it was smile free from condescension or malice! It was a smile fierce and true and bright, radiant against the fire and smoke in the background, and Liu QingGe could have only been honoured by being on its receiving end.

Liu QingGe felt as if he had found a new religion – he would swear to fight tirelessly on behalf of this deity of war.

---

At the ravaged demonic horde evacuated CangQiong Peak after having been thoroughly trounced by a very motivated BaiZhan War God, an elder demon spotted a moment of inattention on the part of the XiuYa sword. Leaping forward, he tried to launch a sneak attack, but was foiled when a young boy threw himself before the man.

“Luo BingHe!”

Chapter Text

When Shizun told Luo BingHe that he was not allowed to see Shizun till he had mastered the cultivation manual his Shizun lent him, Luo BingHe resolved to study it as quickly as he could.

After all, how could Luo BingHe disappoint Shizun? His Shizun event lent him his personal cultivation manual! Surely, that must have been Shizun’s way of motivating Luo BingHe to study harder.

He wouldn’t rest, wouldn’t eat till he had mastered it!

Luo BingHe’s studies were only interrupted when MingFan tried to corner him to do chores, but couldn’t MingFan see that Luo BingHe had no time for such trivial matters now? Maybe later, shixiong!

In retaliation, MingFan threw Luo BingHe to the woodshed, but BingHe couldn’t care less. In fact, he appreciated the peace and quiet from the rest of the other disciples.

Luo BingHe’s studies for that day were interrupted the second time when he saw the other Peak Lords rushing back with Shizun in their arms, unconscious.

Luo BingHe wanted to run to his Shizun’s side to keep vigil, but Shizun’s words rang in his mind. No, he mustn’t disappoint Shizun.

If this lowly disciple wanted to have the privilege of keeping vigil next to Shizun, it meant that he must earn it.

With renewed vigour, Luo BingHe found that his eyes were no longer tired and his body no longer lethargic. Flipping to the last chapter, Luo BingHe sat himself down in the little woodshed which was his home now, and began practising.

---

Shizun had saved him from the woodshed, allowed Luo BingHe to borrow another of his personal cultivation manual, and gave MingFan twice the amount of punishment that he gave this lowly disciple!

Luo BingHe had never experienced such affection from anyone other than his mother before!

This young disciple swore that he would give his entire lifetime of loyalty to his Shizun. His Shizun was such a strong Omega, yet still oddly vulnerable as Luo BingHe witnessed his Shizun recovering from his third qi deviation.

Luo BingHe would protect his Shizun or die trying!

---

Shizun was about leave Luo BingHe…

No, Luo BingHe shouldn’t be so self-centred. Shizun needed this seclusion to heal from all the qi deviations that he had experienced recently. If this was for Shizun’s wellbeing, Luo BingHe needed to accept it and send his Shizun off safely.

Luo BingHe woke up early the next morning to prepare a basket of snacks for Shizun to bring into LingXi caves.

Shizun regarded him with his usual cold indifference before it melted into irritated confusion.

Luo BingHe’s heart pounded. At that moment, his Shizun did not seem like an untouchable immortal, far beyond Luo BingHe’s reach, but just a very adorable man that Luo BingHe might someday... Hmm, what would Luo BingHe want to do someday with his Shizun?

“What’s this?”

“Snacks for Shizun during his seclusion!” Luo BingHe answered promptly.

Shizun furrowed his brows slightly and looked Luo BingHe in the eyes again.

Ahhh, so pretty, Shizun had such pretty eyes!

“Don’t be silly,” Shizun hit Luo BingHe sharply on his head with his fan. “Go and read up about seclusion before you next speak to this master again.”

Did Luo BingHe say something stupid? But… but, Luo BingHe was finally been granted the honour of being hit by Shizun again!

Luo BingHe had soon realised that Shizun didn’t bother overly much with the disciples on QingJing Peak, often opting to let them do self-learning. Only those whom Shizun was closer with would ever get the chance to be hit by Shizun’s fan.

Luo BingHe really didn’t like Ning YingYing and MingFan who were often on the receiving end of such loving strikes. But at least, he consoled himself, Ning YingYing was being sent off to XianShu Peak for a short while.

---

When Shizun swept in like an avenging deity, Luo BingHe nearly forgot about the ongoing battle around him. His eyes were irrevocably drawn to the graceful figure of his Shizun striking down all the demons with clean, elegant strikes, a relentless determination on his face. 

Such a contrast with Liu QingGe who only knew how to use brute force!

Ah, if only Luo BingHe could excuse himself from the battle to just watch Shizun in his deadly dance, Luo BingHe sighed like a young maiden in love.

---

How dared that despicable demon try to hurt Shizun!

Luo BingHe would die before he let that demon succeed.

---

Was this a dream? Luo BingHe blinked his eyes blearily, the vague silhouettes behind him solidifying into clear images.

“Mu-shidi, Luo BingHe is awake.”

Yes, that was really Shizun beside him. Luo BingHe hurried tried to sit up, but his body didn’t obey him, resulting in a vague flailing of limbs before Luo BingHe was firmly pushed back into the bed by Shizun.

“You’ve been poisoned, rest.” Shizun commanded.

Luo BingHe felt himself tearing up. This was the first time Shizun had shown such explicit care for Luo BingHe. A strange emotion welled up from within Luo BingHe, warming him.

“Yes, Shizun,” Luo BingHe croaked hoarsely. He smiled weakly.

“Luo-shizi, I’m afraid I bring with me terrible news. While you’d bravely fended off the demon, we later learnt that the demon’s spikes were coated with a most toxic poison – Without A Cure,” Mu QingFang approached. “But do not fear, Luo-shizi, while this poison cannot be cured, it can be treated. With regular monthly transfer of qi from a strong cultivator, such as your Shizun or Liu-shishu, Luo-shizi can stave off the worst effects of Without a Cure and live with it.”

“Your qi may fail you at unexpected times though,” Shizun added on, flapping his fan agitatedly. “This may prove fatal for a disciple as weak as Luo BingHe.”

His Shizun was warning him of the dangers! His Shizun was concerned about his wellbeing! Luo BingHe could die happy!

No, he was going to live happy! Luo BingHe would grow up to be a mighty immortal cultivator like Shizun and protect him!

And for that, Luo BingHe realised he needed to give the current situation the attention it deserved. He could not afford to die before he achieved his goals after all.

With his resolution firmly in place, Luo BingHe digested the information silently.

Alright, so he was poisoned. But thanks to that poison, Luo BingHe now had more opportunities to approach Shizun and serve Shizun.

Could this be considered a net positive?

Hmmm, yes, it most certainly could!

Luo BingHe struggled to sit up so that he could at least bow his head to Shizun.

“This disciple apologises for troubling Shizun with his monthly treatments! This disciple will train harder and ensure that the poison doesn’t slow him down!”

---

<<Ding dong deng! Mission accomplished! ☆*。★゚*♪ヾ(☆ゝз・)ノ

Shen Jiu has gotten closer to Luo BingHe!

Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations! Luo BingHe will now cook even more delicacies for you!>>

Chapter Text

Shen QingQiu maintained a cool exterior as Mu QingFang continued to further detail the effects of Without A Cure to Luo BingHe.

Internally, he was holding a conversation with the spirit.

Spirit… did you just say that I accomplished my mission?

<<Yes, that’s right! Congratulations, dearest mighty Shen Jiu! \(★^∀^★)/ You’ve successfully gotten closer to Luo BingHe!>>

But all I did was to warn that brat, and reminded him of his weakness in future battles? Besides, isn’t that brat still in pain from being pierced by the demon’s spike?

<<Maybe Luo BingHe likes pain? …_φ(・ω・` )>>

Fuck! So young, and already a deviant! Thank god Shen QingQiu had the foresight to keep him away from Ning YingYing.

<<Some people like being threatened. We’ve a term for it… (ノ≧∀≦)ノ・‥…━━━★ masochism!>>

That brat does have a sturdy body though; good for getting beaten. Being able to hold back that hulking demon with just his body is fairly impressive, Shen QingQiu could admit to the spirit in his mind. Not that he would ever say it out loud.

<<Yes, Luo BingHe is strong! But… great and mighty Shen Jiu, when are you going to stop referring to him as ‘brat’? (・ω・`)……….. Luo BingHe did save your life after all. You should treat him with more affection!>>

Shen QingQiu was not an ungrateful man and believe in repaying his debts, so long as they aren’t too difficult to accommodate. For someone who saved his life, Shen QingQiu reluctantly admitted that he should probably be more charitable towards that… Luo BingHe.

And it would be good to endear himself to the boy further. If just being his Shizun was sufficient to inspire willingness to die in Luo BingHe, what could feigned kindness and affection inspire in that boy?

Shen QingQiu supposed he could put aside his grudge and the strange ache in his limbs that still haunted him occasionally at the sight of Luo BingHe.

<<That’s the spirit! ღゝ◡╹)ノ♡ Awesome Shen Jiu is so smart and wise! Treating Luo BingHe well will help Shen Jiu in his quest to happiness! Luo BingHe is on the list after all! And don’t worry, Luo BingHe wouldn’t die to something as useless as Without A Cure!>>

What do you mean?

<<Once Luo BingHe activates his demo— Ahem, what system means is that Luo BingHe has his ways. (;^_^A>>

Just when Shen QingQiu was about to pursue this topic further to needle the spirit (who was the spirit fooling? Luo BingHe had demonic powers, Shen QingQiu had already figured this out a while ago), his attention was suddenly drawn back to the room, as Mu QingFang indicated towards him.

“Shen-shixiong had already transferred the necessary qi this time round, so you should be fine for the next 30 days. And as mentioned earlier, Shen-shixiong has already agreed to take care of your monthly treatments, but should he be unavailable, you can reach out to your Liu-shishu too,” Mu QingFang explained. “He will also be able to help you out.”

“This disciple can wait till his Shizun is available! He would not need to trouble Liu-shishu!”

Did this brat want to suck all the qi out of him or something?

No matter. The brat would have to seek out Liu QingGe naturally if warranted.

“Do as you will,” Shen QingQiu declared imperiously as he swept out of the room. Shen QingQiu’s time could be better spent elsewhere.

The moment Shen QingQiu stepped out of his hut, he was met with the sight of Liu QingGe and Ning YingYing sweeping in on ChengLuan. Once Ning YingYing spied Shen QingQiu, she was inconsolable.

“Shizun!” Ning YingYing wept, running over to hug Shen QingQiu. “Shizun, Ying-er is so sorry!”

“What happened?” Shen QingQiu asked tersely even as he gently patted Ning YingYing’s back. Seeing that he wouldn’t be getting any responses from said girl anytime soon, he looked to Liu QingGe instead.

“I saw her running and wailing towards QingJing Peak when flying here. So I picked her up,” Liu QingGe said with a worried tone. “I do not know why this shizi is crying.”

<<Amazing! A flying Uber! (✧∀✧)>>

Shen QingQiu decided to take Liu QingGe’s word for it, given that Liu QingGe for all his brutishness, had never had a reputation for preying on young girls. He was a block of wood who only had battles on his mind.

Although, recalling the incident back in LingXi caves and the purported surge of arousal that the spirit sensed…

Shen QingQiu tightened his hold on Ning YingYing and turned her slightly away from Liu QingGe.

“This disciple is shaming QingJing Peak with her hysterics,” Shen QingQiu admonished. “If you’ve suffered any grievances, either share with the master now, or Ning YingYing is to stop her unbecoming crying.”

“Ying-er is so sorry she couldn’t help Shizun or A Luo at the battle on QiongDing Peak! Ying-er tried to rush out as soon as she could, but she was locked in the confinement room and thus couldn’t arrive in time! Ying-er is useless!”

Confinement room? How dare Qi QingQi confined a disciple of QingJing Peak!

But rather than leaping to conclusions, Shen QingQiu asked further. Qi QingQi, despite her (a)typical spitefulness always had a good head on her, and did things for a reason.

She would not do things senselessly, especially since how Qi QingQi seemed to actually like Shen QingQiu in this new world.

“Why were you locked in a confinement room?”

<<She probably presented! ۹⌤_⌤۹>>

“Ying-er presented at the worst timing!” Ning YingYing wailed. “She presented yesterday as an Alpha.”

<<Shouldn’t Ning YingYing still be in a rut then? Σ(-᷅_-᷄๑) Strange child.>>

“If Ning YingYing presented yesterday, what’s she doing outside? Ning YingYing should be resting. Your rut should’ve lasted for at least three days.”

“Ying-er broke out of it once she heard that the Sect was in trouble,” Ning YingYing sobbed, “But she was still useless and couldn’t help Shizun or A Luo.”

<<Wow, Ning YingYing’s spirit is strong! (⌒▽⌒)ゞ This system knows for a fact that it’s difficult to break out of ruts or heats! Her affection is strong!>>

Shen QingQiu really needed to keep Ning YingYing further away from Luo BingHe. Although, at least he could console himself with the fact that at least Ning YingYing was an Alpha and could, according to biology (as mentioned by spirit), beat Luo BingHe to pulp if he tried to take advantage for her.

“Ning YingYing needs to stop having unrealistic expectations. It’s only right that this master protects his disciples and CangQiong. This responsibility would not fall onto Ning YingYing’s shoulders till she grows up to be a capable cultivator,” Shen QingQiu reprimanded. “Now, Ning YingYing is to stop her crying and rest. Ning YingYing must be still weak from her presentation.”

Looking around, Shen QingQiu then called out to a disciple who was just passing by. “Take Ning YingYing to her room and settle her down.”

With a parting sniffle of “Shizun” from Ning YingYing, Shen QingQiu finally found himself relieved of one crying disciple.

He then turned to Liu QingGe, who had been watching the scene play out with a blush on his refined features.

Absentmindedly, Shen QingQiu could almost admire the men’s appearance. The blush on his face brought out the brown in his eyes and the fairness in his skin. It also lent Liu QingGe a strange air of a young maiden in love, however incongruous that might be with the BaiZhan War God’s image.

Honestly, this brute was really unfairly blessed. Good looks, good background, good talent – what did Liu QingGe lack?

How was it fair that some men like Liu QingGe got everything, whereas others like Shen QingQiu got nothing?

<<Don’t worry, system 52088 is here to right this wrong! ┗(`・ω・´)┛>>

Liu QingGe’s ability to interact with others was really lacking though, Shen QingQiu thought, amused. Just staring at Liu QingGe for a few minutes could unnerve said man till the point that he was entirely crimson.

If Shen QingQiu knew that Liu QingGe had such a weakness earlier, he would’ve just stared Liu QingGe into submission in their past spars.

So what if there were no grand battles, flashing swords, or awe-inspiring displays of martial prowess, a win was a win!

With his newfound knowledge, Shen QingQiu resolved to exploit it more in the future.

<<System doesn’t think that’s the case though? (^-^;) But if it makes dearest Shen Jiu happy…>>

---

Liu QingGe watched as Shen QingQiu consoled that disciple of his, gentle yet firm. His scent was set to assure and calm, and even Liu QingGe found himself affected even though he wasn’t the targeted recipient.

He had never known that Shen QingQiu had such a soft, maternal side to him, yet he could not be surprised at the fact that Shen QingQiu had once again effortlessly overturned his initial perception.

Shen QingQiu was a man of hidden depths.

Liu QingGe would just need to spend more time and effort uncovering such hidden depths. It would be his privilege.

Why was Shen QingQiu staring so intently at him again though? Had Liu QingGe done something very wrong… or very right?

Whatever the reason, Liu QingGe could feel the warm flush creeping up his cheeks.

Shen QingQiu could always inspire the strongest emotions from Liu QingGe. And right now… these emotions were not unpleasant in the least.

Shen QingQiu… would make a very good father.

---

The night after Luo BingHe was struck down by an elder demon and afflicted with Without A Cure, he dreamt a very strange dream.

Luo BingHe dreamt of a city that he stayed in when he was younger, but everyone’s faces were a blur.

No, not everyone’s faces were a blur, Luo BingHe noted as he walked closer to the city center. As he neared the town square where he had begged for a living, he noted that people’s features were starting to take on definition.

Two eyes, one nose, one mouth.

Then, he spied the alleyway where Luo BingHe was frequently dragged into and beaten up. He could sounds of flesh pounding against flesh, and a sudden red haze overcame Luo BingHe. He ran forward, and true to his expectation, he saw a scene of his younger self getting beaten up mercilessly by a group of older boys.

They were malicious in their cruel delight, and merciless with their blows. A sound kick from the leader had Luo BingHe’s younger self being flung heavily against the dirty alley’s wall.

That kick cracked his ribs, Luo BingHe distractedly remembered, even as he drew his arms back to land a crippling punch on the bullies closest to him. He moved like he was possessed, holding nothing back and using all the martial arts he had learned in QingJing Peak to pummel the boys before him. They could not hold a candle to him, now that Luo BingHe had trained and was older.

Cold anger and rage overwhelmed Luo BingHe, such that even when all his childhood bullies were down, he continued kicking savagely at their bodies.

As a result, Luo BingHe did not have the presence of mind to keep an eye out for other potential threats, and was harshly surprised when a sudden blow to his back sent him flying. The pain made Luo BingHe want to curl up around his body once he had landed to protect his soft stomach, but Luo BingHe was still mad enough that he was unwilling to stay down this time round.

He was older, stronger! He wasn’t a weak child anymore!

He looked up, mouth in a snarl, ready to tear apart whoever had dared to beat him, only to be stopped short when he saw who was before him. Luo BingHe’s mouth turned into an ‘o’ of surprise.

It was his Shizun!

It was Shen QingQiu dressed in his usual green and white robes, fan flapping lazily before him, the perfect picture of a lofty, aloof immortal. He was untouched by the grime around him, and because of how Shen QingQiu stood at the entrance to the alleyway, an almost ethereal glow surrounded him.

Ahh, so beautiful!

Luo BingHe felt the red mist lifting. But… why did Shizun hit him?

“Stupid child, can’t you tell that you’re in a dream realm?” Shen QingQiu eyed him coldly, “Your own dream, to top things off. Harming anything in your own dream is tantamount to hurting yourself.”

Was this what it meant by beating someone to show affection, and scolding someone to show love? Luo BingHe felt as if he had been enlightened.

Luo BingHe’s eyes teared, and his gaze softened in adoration. “Shizun! This disciple understands! He’ll keep Shizun’s lesson close to his heart.”

Shen QingQiu spared him another glance, before he turning around, saying, “Come. This is obviously the work of a dream demon. And the fact that this dream hasn’t ended now means that there’s another trial waiting for you.”

Luo BingHe hurried scampered after Shen QingQiu. “Yes, Shizun!”

“Overcome all your trials, so that we can return to the real world. Staying in a dream realm for too long can harm a cultivator’s spirituality.”

“Will Shizun accompany this disciple as he goes through his trials?”

“This master will make sure that Luo BingHe doesn’t lose control of his emotions,” was Shen QingQiu’s cool response.

A warm feeling effused Luo BingHe as he felt immeasurably touched by the concern Shen QingQiu was showing towards him. His Shizun would stay beside him! His Shizun cared enough to be willing to remain in Luo BingHe’s dreams to ensure that he could escape safely.

Never once did Luo BingHe consider that Shen QingQiu was trapped in this dream realm too, and as Luo Binghe was the master of the dream, Shen QingQiu’s best chance of leaving unharmed was to ensure that Luo BingHe could leave unharmed too.

Correction—relatively unharmed.

Everytime it seemed like Luo BingHe was about to lose to the painful illusions that the dream demon had conjured for him, Shen QingQiu would quickly put an end to it by forcibly beating Luo BingHe away or restraining the young boy.

Ahhh, the amount of affection that Luo BingHe was getting showered with was nearly too much for him to handle, Luo BingHe thought with a smile on his face as Shen QingQiu held him down with an unmoving foot on his abdomen.

“Shizun…” Luo BingHe couldn’t help but to cry out happily.

A look of disgust—no, that couldn’t be, Luo BingHe must have been mistaken. But a look of something flickered across Shen QingQiu’s face before it settled back into its cool impassivity.

“Luo BingHe, you need to stop succumbing to your heart’s demons everytime they show up. This master does not have a disciple as weak as this.”

“Shizun, this disciple apologises!”

“Luo BingHe’s anger will be better directed elsewhere. Lashing out in your own dreams is just pure foolishness,” Shen QingQiu’s gaze darkened and turned introspective. “If you truly hate the world so much, become stronger and then take revenge against those who wronged you in reality. Crush and grind them into dust.”

Shen QingQiu unconsciously exerted more strength into his foot that was still holding down Luo BingHe then, and Luo BingHe could not help the breathless gasp that escaped him. It was not because it pained him (although it did), but rather because it stirred something novel, but not altogether unpleasant in the young Luo BingHe.

Hmm, Luo BingHe decided to file away this strange feeling for further review.

By then, Shen QingQiu had looked down, and deliberately removed his foot. Luo BingHe missed the contact immediately.

“Having said that, Luo BingHe mustn’t become a mindless beast that only destroys everything in sight. You must return the care and concern others have shown you a hundred-fold,” Shen QingQiu said, smoothly assuming the posture of a master lecturing, “What this master has given you, Luo BingHe must pay back once he has grown up.”

Luo BingHe’s heart skipped a beat before it started racing. D—Did his Shizun have expectations of Luo BingHe? Expectations that Luo BingHe could only fulfil after he had grown up? Things that lit a fire in Luo BingHe’s abdomen just thinking about them?

But… this was his Shizun after all! How could the almighty, beautiful QingJing Peak Lord have any expectations for a scrappy little disciple?

“To do so, Luo BingHe needs to focus on his cultivation and not be distracted by frivolous pursuits.”

These words!

“Stay away from Ning YingYing.”

!!!

Shizun, this disciple promises not to let you down! He will look at no one other than you! He will live up to your expectations!

Luo BingHe made an oath there and then. 

Chapter Text

Starting from two months after the demonic invasion and that unwanted jaunt into Luo BingHe’s dream realm, Shen QingQiu began seeing his martial brothers and sister with an increasing frequency.

“Shen-shixiong will be entering his first heat after having recovered from those qi deviation,” Mu QingFang explained solicitously, after Shen QingQiu ‘ran into him’ for the fifth time in just as many days. “If he is to feel unwell, please let this shidi know immediately.”

Shen QingQiu froze for a moment, before he swept away. 

Spirit, you said I can suppress my heats?

<<Yes, dear Shen Jiu! (✿◠‿◠)>>

Without any repercussions?

<<Of course, Shen Jiu! This is the Super Omega body that we’re talking about! ( ̄ω ̄) System used the bulk of his upgrade points for this.>>

Suppress them.

<<Okie, dokie! (∩◠ - ◠)⊃━✿✿✿✿✿>>

---

Three months after the demonic invasion, Yue QingYuan and Liu QingGe started spending more hours on QingJing Peak than their own Peaks.

“Is your confinement room prepared? This shixiong will be happy to help shidi ready the room if it isn’t,” Yue QingYuan offered.

Shen QingQiu spared an irritated glance for Yue QingYuan as he sipped contentedly at the sesame paste Luo BingHe prepared.

Pathetic. Was Yue QingYuan willing to be reduced to a serving maid for Shen QingQiu?

<<Of course! A man who’s willing to jump into the fire for the awesome Shen Jiu would not balk at things like menial chores! (≧∀≦)>>

“Let me know if you need anything,” Liu QingGe said with a strained smile.

Truly unfair. Even when the smile was awkward and unnatural, Liu QingGe still looked unreasonably attractive.

<<Of course! Ugly men have no place on the list! (*≧∀≦*) This is not lookism, but rather… Shen Jiu deserves the best of best!>>

Regardless, whatever the two men had offered was pointless. Luo BingHe had taken to the role of being personal chef and servant with great aplomb, and now everything in Shen QingQiu’s hut was kept spick and span. Even the confinement room, which Shen QingQiu was quite sure he didn’t have as of nine months ago.

<<System took great care in designing Shen Jiu’s confinement room as part of the worldbuilding process! ٩(^ᴗ^)۶>>

---

Four months after the demonic invasion, and Shen QingQiu was ready to snarl at everyone he came across. It wasn’t even just the other Peak Lords now, but even his own disciples!

Was everyone tracking Shen QingQiu’s heat? Someone, please stop this lunacy!

“I’m busy,” Shen QingQiu did not let Qi QingQi say a single word before he swept past her. “Postponing my heat.”

“I’m tired,” Shen QingQiu left with hurried steps when he saw Mu QingFang, “I’m rescheduling my heat.”

“No,” Shen QingQiu glared at Yue QingYuan, “Just no. Not a single word about my heat, or I’ll take XiuYa to your head.”

---

It took six months before an intervention was staged.

Shen QingQiu was conned to QiongDing Peak under the guise of some meeting with all the Peak Lords.

“QingQiu-shidi, heats can’t just be…” Yue Qing waved his hand vaguely, “Postponed as desired.”

“Not without any negative effects,” Mu QingFang added.

“If Shen-shixiong is facing any troubles, he should not hesitate to share them with us,” it seemed like today was a chatty day for Liu QingGe again. “This shidi would be willing to even jump into fire for you, Shen-shixiong.”

<<Yayyy, another one! \(★^∀^★)/>>

“Yue-shixiong too,” Yue QingYuan hastily chimed in, as if it was some competition that he did not want to lose.

Pathetic. Yue QingYuan was pathetic as always.

Nonetheless, Shen QingQiu couldn’t believe that he was being cornered by his own martial brothers and sister on such an embarrassing matter.

Did Shen QingQiu haunt Qi QingQi about her monthly periods in the previous world? No, he didn’t! So he really couldn’t see why the other Peak Lords were now so insistent on imposing themselves on him.

Fucking hell, stop trying to curtail Shen QingQiu’s independence. He could look after himself just fine.

<<System thinks that your fellow Peak Lords are just trying to look after someone they care about… (^ - ^ゞ Shen Jiu should try opening his heart to others and lower his defences.>>

Shen QingQiu had spent years building his armour, filling up the chinks and fixing the weaknesses. He was not about to let down his defences over some feigned concern from his martial brothers and sister. They probably just wanted to witness the humiliating sight of Shen QingQiu being an unthinking beast, mad with lust.

Liu QingGe excepted, probably. Because Shen QingQiu now owned his life and if Liu QingGe dared to harbour such thoughts against him, Shen QingQiu would not hesitate to order him to take ChengLuan to his own neck.

<<System thinks they’re genuine, but… how about a new mission then, almighty Shen Jiu? (★^O^★)

Mission: Dismiss the meeting in 30 minutes

Reward: Reactivating love interest #1’s route or, boosted love-love meter of love interest #2>>

Stop distracting me! Shen QingQiu yelled at the spirit in his mind. What love, what meter, what nonsense! Stop it.

<<It’s not nonsense though… This system is willing to throw in a free scenario pusher if lovely Shen Jiu accepts! ◕‿↼>>

I don’t understand half the words you say. Stop speaking in that strange language!

<<System can’t help it! This is just the way system is coded. Shen Jiuuuuuuuuuuu, wouldn’t you accept this mission? It’s for your happiness! (ᗒᗨᗕ)>>

Fuck you!

<<Beautiful Shen Jiuuuuuuuuuuuuu. 。。゛(ノ>  <)ノ>>

Fuck off!

<<Shen Jiuuuuuuuuuuuuu… (ノ。≧◇≦)ノ>>

Alright, I accept, shut up now!

<<Yayyyy! Ok, system is shutting up now! System will give Shen Jiu the privacy he desires in such a romantic moment. But before that, activating free scenario pusher! (ノ≧∀≦)ノ・‥…━━━★>>

Shen QingQiu took in several deep breaths, willing equilibrium back into his mind and body. He wouldn’t succumb to the childish taunts of a stupid parasitic spirit. Shen QingQiu pulled together the scattered remains of his defences and donned an apathetic expression before he returned his attention to the room of Peak Lords.

Only to register an anxious Liu QingGe and a frantic Yue QingYuan.

As if able to sense that Shen QingQiu’s attentions had returned just by the minute changes in his expression, Liu QingGe immediately asked, “Shen-shixiong, are you alright? You stopped responding.”

“Do not hover, Liu-shidi, Zhangmen-shixiong” Shen QingQiu responded calmly. “This QingQiu was just lost in his thoughts.”

“Blackout episodes are not uncommon for those whose hormonal cycles have gone out of sorts,” Mu QingFang approached Shen QingQiu. “If Shen-shixiong would lend me his wrist, this shidi would like to check on his qi please.”

Mu QingFang! Stop being overly invested in Shen QingQiu’s hormones and heat please!

Shen QingQiu stood up from his seat, firmly stepping aside Mu QingFang, Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan, as he moved towards the nearest window, under the guise of wanting some fresh air. He fanned himself idly.

This was a wide window. Shen QingQiu would be able to flee through it quite easily.

At this moment, the door to the meeting room was slammed open, admitting a man dressed in the colours of TianYi Overlook, and a harried QiongDing Peak disciple close on his heels.

Yue QingYuan and Liu QingGe were the quickest to react, moving to stand before Shen QingQiu as if trying to block the strange man’s access to Shen QingQiu. Their hands rested threateningly on the hilts of XuanSu and ChengLuan respectively.

Qi QingQi snapped, “What’s the meaning of this?”

“This disciple apologises! This disciple has tried to explain to Master Li Rang that the Peak Lords are in a private meeting and did his best to stop him from crashing into Shizun’s meeting rooms! But unfortunately, this disciple is incompetent. Begging Shizun to please punish this disciple!”

“At ease, Lin HuiShi,” Yue QingYuan said, “If Master Li Rang, the famed ZhunXian Staff, wanted to go anywhere, a disciple would be hard pressed to stop him. You’re dismissed. Return to your duties.”

Bowing, Lin HuiShi left the room quickly, not forgetting to close the door.

“And now, Master Li Rang,” Yue QingYuan’s voice hardened. “May we know why did you pay such a sudden visit to CangQiong Sect? Is there some emergency at Tian Yi Overlook, or…?”

“Apologies for alarming Cang Qiong Sect’s esteemed Peak Lords by this one’s sudden visit,” Li Rang bowed his head quickly. “But the reason I’m here is not because of any official business from my Sect.”

“Personal affairs then?” Qi QingQi raised a delicate eyebrow, “And what could be so pressing to have caused Master Li Rang to abandon all sense of etiquette and come crashing here?”

Master Li Rang paused for a long moment, before spearing Shen QingQiu with an intense look. “It concerns matters of the heart.”

Shen QingQiu scowled. Even as a Peak Lord, he had very little interaction with Tian Yi Overlook, leaving the required interactions for Yue QingYuan to handle. Tian Yi Overlook was also located at a faraway location, thus resulting in a low likelihood of Shen QingQiu chancing across them during his missions.

Shen QingQiu couldn’t recall any incident in which he had given Li Rang such great offence that the man crashed into a CangQiong mountain to try and… accuse him? Challenge him to a duel? Fight him?

And it must have been a great offence for the Tian Yi Overlook master to forget his senses and reveal his intentions before a roomful of CangQiong Peak Lords. Because despite how much his fellow martial brothers and sister might despise him, they were still duty-bound to defend Shen QingQiu if he were challenged so openly.

Was this… the spirit’s doing again? Did the spirit give Shen QingQiu a nemesis from TianYi Overlook?

“I’ve heard tales of QingJing Peak Lord’s martial prowess and unrivalled beauty that could even put the Empress to shame. And now that I’ve finally laid eyes on the QingJing Peak Lord, I know that the stories are true when describing Master Shen’s fair looks. Thus they’re undoubtedly honest about Master Shen’s powers too.”

Shen QingQiu could sense strong murderous aura overpowering the room, although rather than the aura being directed towards him, it appeared that it was his martial brothers and sister directing it at Li Rang.

“This humble one is overwhelmed by the affections he has developed for Master Shen from afar, and would thus like to formally seek Master Shen’s approval to court him,” Li Rang declared, earnestly.

What.

What?

What was this atrocious development?

Shen QingQiu had no tales about his strength or his… fair looks circulating the realms. He was a scum! A scum who visited brothels, used sneak attacks in his battles and who did shy at employing underhanded means to achieve his aims. He only had negative rumours floating about, none which should have inspired such passion from a Tian Yi Overlook cultivator!

And speaking of which, didn’t Tian Yi Overlook practise asceticism? Disavowal of worldly pleasures and luxuries, including sex?

Had this new world order changed so much that Tian Yi Overlook wasn’t filled with monks and nuns, but were also sex-crazed idiots?

“Has this master taken leave of his senses?” Qi QingQi said with obvious scorn, “Aren’t you a monk from TianYi Overlook? Is the Sect no longer keeping to their philosophy of purity of heart, body and mind?”

“This humble one is willing to abandon TianYi Overlook if Master Shen’s accepts his intentions,” Li Rang held a closed fist to his chest. “He would be willing to cast aside—“

“No,” Yue QingYuan interrupted with a fierce slash of a sheathed XuanSu. “Leave, and never return. You’re not allowed to stain QingQiu-shidi with your filthy intentions.”

“This is a question that can only be answered by Master Shen, Sect Leader Yue,” Li Rang glared, “You might be the leader of CangQiong Sect, but even you’ve no say over Master Shen’s love life.”

Finally, someone who recognised Shen QingQiu’s independence! Shen QingQiu shied away from considering the other parts of the conversation which were somehow about love, romance, and worst of all-- romancing him. Those were problems for a future Shen QingQiu to deal with.

“Master Shen,” Li Rang’s voice gentled, “This humble one is sincere in his intentions. I say this with all the respect I can muster for a man as great and beautiful as you. I hold great affection for you, and have no doubt that this affection would blossom into love once I get to spend more time with Master Shen.”

Chapter Text

Yue QingYuan watched with a sinking heart as Shen QingQiu seemed to sink into serious contemplation. It was as if he was actually considering Li Rang’s proposal instead of giving it the immediate refusal it deserved.

(Was his A Jiu’s heart moved? Was his A Jiu leaving him?)

“This humble one can wait for Master Shen’s reply,” Li Rang spoke after a long silence, offering a gentle smile. “There’s no rush. He would wait at the town at the foot of the mountains till Master Shen is ready.”

Shen QingQiu reacted to that, his gentle fanning slowed.

Yue QingYuan tensed in anxiety. What was his QingQiu-shidi about to say? Was today the day he lost him?

“No, Master Li, there’s no need for that. Pardon this one’s slow responses. It’s simply because… this is an unusual situation he has found himself in. Never had anyone declared such intentions towards him.”

“Then the world must be full of idiots if no one had seen Master Shen’s worth and thought to shower Master Shen with the admiration and affection he so deserves,” Li Rang flushed, “But this humble one is happy for the opportunities that the stupidity of world offered him. He’s honoured to be the first to declare his fondness for Master Shen.”

Yue QingYuan’s heart broke when he saw Shen QingQiu stiffening in surprise. Shen QingQiu did not blush, but the telling smell of embarrassment spread.

Wrong! Yue QingYuan had always seen how worthy Shen QingQiu was, even years before he became Shen QingQiu. But he had failed his A Jiu, and that was why… Yue QingYuan was no longer allowed to smother Shen QingQiu with his love.

But… A Jiu was his, wasn’t he? How could Yue QingYuan allow a random cultivator from TianYi Overlook sweep him away? Surely his A Jiu wouldn’t want such superficial attraction?

Unless his A Jiu wanted it…? If his A Jiu wanted it, then there was nothing Yue QingYuan could do, because Yue QingYuan had always been slave to A Jiu’s wishes. Even if would break his heart, if A Jiu wanted to leave, Yue QingYuan had to send him off with a smile on his face.

A sudden movement to Yue QingYuan’s side woke him up from his reverie. Liu QingGe had spun around, grabbed hold of Shen QingQiu’s free hand and declared with strange tenderness in his voice, “And I’ll be honoured to be the second to declare my intentions to court Shen-shixiong.”

The air in the room shifted as the rest of the Peak Lords were all stunned by Liu QingGe’s words.

“My life, body, soul and mind belongs to Shen-shixiong, and now, I want to swear my heart to you too,” Liu QingGe smiled, colour high on his cheeks. “Your words have always been harsh, your expressions cold, but I know that your heart is true and warm and good. Because when push comes to shove, Shen-shixiong had always risen to the occasion with kindness and strength that awes this shidi, and leaves him reeling in his realisation that he holds more than the fondness one has for one’s martial brother in his heart.”

“This shidi will like to give Shen-shixiong his heart too,” Liu QingGe looked at Shen QingQiu through his lashes, affecting the air of a shy maiden. “Will Shen-shixiong accept?”

No! No! His A Jiu would not accept! His A Jiu was Qi-ge’s, no one else! Stop flirting with A Jiu, Liu-shidi! You were supposed to be a stoic man who knew nothing about love. Stop talking so much!

A sharp and genuine fear crept up Yue QingYuan’s spine. But… Liu QingGe was different from the ZhunXian Staff. He was someone whom A Jiu had spent years with, and it was an undeniable fact that A Jiu had been spending more and more time with Liu QingGe, much to Yue QingYuan’s consternation.

Yue QingYuan might have been able to let A Jiu go with Li Rang, because that man was no real threat to Qi-ge (A Jiu will return). But Liu QingGe was credible competition, someone who could actually steal A Jiu away.

Yue QingYuan wasn’t blind and could see how A Jiu’s regard for Liu QingGe shifted to something warm these days. Yue QingYuan’s own scent took on an acrid note as he tried to warn Liu QingGe away.

“A Jiu, I’ve always regarded you fondly,” Yue QingYuan swiftly grabbed Shen QingQiu’s other hand that was still holding onto his fan. “This Qi-ge’s heart has always been yours. He’s willing to do anything for you. A Jiu just needs to be A Jiu and there’s nothing this Qi-ge wouldn’t do for him.”

Yue QingYuan could feel Shen QingQiu freezing, and the sharp scent of anger and grief cutting through his A Jiu.

“Do not call me that!” Shen QingQiu spat, withdrawing his hand from Yue QingYuan’s grasp violently.

Yue QingYuan always had a talent for inspiring strong emotions from Shen QingQiu. He flinched at the vitriol from Shen QingQiu and immediately sank to his knees.

“Yue-shixiong apologises, and heeds QingQiu-shidi’s words,” Yue QingYuan begged. “But he will like his shidi to know that all the affection he holds for the man before him is true. There’s not a single world where this Yue QingYuan wouldn’t be fond of Shen QingQiu, wouldn’t be willing to do anything for the most precious person in his life. Shen QingQiu has held Yue QingYuan’s life in his hands since the days they were children. Now, he wants to pledge his heart too.”

Shen QingQiu withdrew closer to the window, shaking off Liu QingGe’s hands.

“And what would a thrash like me do with your hearts? Would they become mine to trample, mine to manipulate, and mine to hurt?” Shen QingQiu’s expression twisted in its mockery, but Yue QingYuan could keenly tell that it was self-mockery.

The sour notes of distress and pain now enveloped the room.

“Anything,” Yue QingYuan promised, “QingQiu-shidi could do as he pleases.”

Liu QingGe nodded.

While Shen QingQiu’s expression remained as scornful as ever, the scent of disbelief now added itself to the miasma of scents. Yue QingYuan’s A Jiu had always had a hard time believing in his own worth, and even now, after having clawed his way to a Peak Lord, it was clear that this aspect of A Jiu remained unchanged.

“Fools! Pathetic fools!” Shen QingQiu slashed the air angrily with his fan, “You two are CangQiong Peak Lords! Do not give away your hearts so easily to another.”

“They’re already yours,” Liu QingGe said quietly. “But if you do not want them, this shidi will still be honoured to remain Shen-shixiong’s martial brother. Or if Shen-shixiong would like this shidi to stay away or leave, he would do so too.”

Yue QingYuan remained silent on his knees.

“Do not be stupid! CangQiong Sect needs you!” Shen QingQiu raged, “And are these public declarations your schemes? So that if any of you dies or leaves CangQiong Sect, the world will lay the blame at my feet?”

Yue QingYuan jerked. “Never! That’s never Yue-shixiong’s intentions. Yue-shixiong will kill himself before he lets that happen.”

The anger in the air throbbed, with fear creeping in.

“You—You,” Shen QingQiu’s hands were shaking minutely, as if he was struggling to contain his emotions.

Shen QingQiu threw his fan at Liu QingGe and gave Yue QingYuan a hard shove. With that, Shen QingQiu leapt out of the window and took off on XiuYa without a second glance.

Yue QingYuan stared after Shen QingQiu’s disappearing figure.

Why did he leave so abruptly? Or could it be…

For a man as proud and fierce as Shen QingQiu, a non-refusal could constitute agreement. When Shen QingQiu did not push you away, it meant that he wanted you to stay. This was a fact that Yue QingYuan had learned since young.

A brilliant smile gradually descended upon Yue QingYuan, as he arrived at his revelation. His heart felt like it could burst in joy.

If Shen QingQiu did not reject Yue QingYuan, that meant he wanted Yue QingYuan to pursue him.

---

<< Ding dong deng! Mission accomplished! ☆*。★゚*♪ヾ(☆ゝз・)ノ

Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations!

As expected of the mighty Shen Jiu! To think Shen Jiu can simultaneously conquer two routes at once! System is in awe!

Ahhh, but system will be so sad when he has to let someone take his daughter’s hand in marriage. Such a bittersweet feeling! Shen Jiu mustn’t forget system after he has gotten married, alright?>>

Chapter Text

Shen QingQiu did not know how he ended up in such a troublesome state.

A master tactician had once said “If all else fails, retreat.”

When there was nothing more to be said, the best tactic was to leave – and that was exactly what Shen QingQiu did. However, after leaving the meeting, it was sheer habit brought Shen QingQiu back to his bamboo hut, his mind too flummoxed and flustered to remember the journey back home, except for the spirit’s thrice-damned words.

Shen QingQiu drifted blankly past Luo BingHe who happened to be tidying his room then, went to his favourite daybed, and took a seat.

Luo BingHe was saying something in the background, but Shen QingQiu couldn’t hear him over his own clamouring thoughts.

Courting Shen QingQiu? Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan? Giving him their hearts?

Things weren’t computing! How did Shen QingQiu managed to get himself cast into the role of a female lead in romance novels?

Shen QingQiu was sly, contemptible, and hateful cultivator whom everyone despised! He, himself, had witnessed how his actions and intentions were twisted to eventually develop into the blackened reputation that he now—once held.

How did things change so rapidly over the course of a year to become this?

SPIRIT! Shen QingQiu yelled in his mind.

<<Yes, beloved Shen Jiu? Spirit is here! (’◇’)ゞ>>

What did you do to Yue QingYuan and Liu QingGe?

<<Nothing much? (・_・ヾ System just gave them the Alpha gender?>>

And manipulated their feelings so that they could love me?

<<No! System would never! (゜Д゜*) System 52088 had not changed any of their feelings.>>

Then how do you explain those… confessions?

<<System thinks Shen Jiu should be the one explaining. (▰˘◡˘▰) After all, Shen Jiu is the one responsible for them!>>

I most definitely did not manipulate Yue QingYuan and Liu QingGe into having feelings for me!

<<Maybe not manipulation, but Shen Jiu most undoubtedly made them fall in love with him with his own actions. (*^∀゚)ъ System had no hand in that!>>

Ridiculous!

<<It’s the truthhhhhhhh. ٩(^ᴗ^)۶ Shen Jiu might not have seen it, but as a bystander, this system could see the romantic developments between him and Liu QingGe quite clearly over the past year.>>

What romantic developments! Shen QingQiu scoffed, his hand twitching in agitation which came to grasp around a warm porcelain cup.

Shen QingQiu blinked.

“Shizun, please have a cup of tea to calm yourself down,” Luo BingHe fretted. “This disciple doesn’t like seeing Shizun mired in worries.”

Shen QingQiu distractedly brought the cup to his lips.

“May this disciple asks what troubles Shizun so? Perhaps this disciple can help.”

“Nothing that concerns you, Luo BingHe,” Shen QingQiu brushed off Luo BingHe easily. “This master can handle his own proposals from foolish men.”

<<Yes, Shen Jiu should welcome the courting with open arms! \(★^∀^★)/Shen Jiu will be spoiled, pampered, and worshipped as he rightly deserves! This system can’t wait to see how Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan will court him!>>

Nonsense! All they intend to do is to embarrass and humiliate me.

<<Shen Jiu can rest assured that that wouldn’t happen! As this system said earlier, Liu QingGe’s relationship with you has been progressing extraordinarily well. You guys resolved your misunderstandings, did skinship and bound yourself together with oaths. (★≧▽^))★☆There’s no need to fear about insincerity on his part!

As for Yue QingYuan, your thread of fate is so tightly entangled with his that they’re now a mess of knots! Almost like a Gordian knot actually. Trying to untangle them would be futile, foolish endeavour on this system’s part! If anything, the only way to untangle them would be to cleave the Gordian knot into half! ╰(⇀︿⇀)つ-]═───>>

I’ll cleave you in half if you were to touch a single hair on Yue QingYuan’s head!

<<Such unwarranted violence! Shen Jiu is so mean to system! ಥ╭╮ಥ>>

Stupid system! This is all your fault for introducing the weird Alpha, Beta, and Omega things into the world. Take responsibility and fix this!

<<Shen Jiu should not worry! System’s purpose is to guide Shen Jiu to happiness! (*^3^)/~♡ He’ll wipe away all the suffering Shen Jiu went through with lifelong happiness!>>

This is not what I meant, Shen QingQiu groaned. Remove the Alpha, Beta, and Omega dynamics from this world.

<<That’s not possible! As system shared previously, the worldbuilding is irreversible.>>

They’re just courting me because of this Super Omega body of mine, aren’t they? Tell me, spirit, have you been releasing… Shen QingQiu paused, distaste clear, Mating scents to try and entrap others?

<<No! System would never betray Shen Jiu’s trust. (⋟﹏⋞) This system swears that Shen Jiu’s body had not been releasing unduly potent pheromones for the last year! All romantic developments can only be attributed to Shen Jiu’s actions alone.>>

But I acted no differently compared to previous years. How could they fall in love with me only now, and not then?

<<Lovely Shen Jiu, this system means no offence, but you’re really blind to your own relationships. (・ω・`)………..>>

<<But it’s alright, this is just part of Shen Jiu’s charms! Let system 52088 explain to Shen Jiu then. ღゝ◡╹)ノ

Yue QingYuan… does Shen Jiu need system to even explain his relationship with this man? It should be obvious, shouldn’t it? How Yue QingYuan favours you, defends you, and fights for you? Surely Shen Jiu could sense that such actions stem from a place of love? Yue QingYuan’s feelings for you aren’t something that developed over the past year, but rather affections that he has carried since his days as Yue Qi.>>

He favours me because I’m aware of his ignoble past as Yue Qi. He defends me because he’s trying to atone for his past betrayal. He fights for me because it’s his duty as the Sect Leader. Shen QingQiu rebutted coldly, reciting the harsh truths that he had known for years.

<<This system knows that the world hasn’t been kind to Shen Jiu, but this system begs Shen Jiu to start thinking himself worthy of love or he would never be able to understand the things he demands this system to explain to him. (T⌓T)>>

… Very well, let’s assume that Yue QingYuan is this pathetic because he loves me. How about Liu QingGe? He and I only became closer in the last year, after I’ve gotten this stupid Super Omega body.

<<While Shen Jiu’s Super Omega body hasn’t been releasing pheromones to entice others, including Liu QingGe, Shen Jiu’s new biology has been releasing scents that allows him to communicate better with others. ^ω^>>

That half-baked truth potion condition.

<<Yes, that’s right. o(^▽^)o Emotions and intentions can be scented with this new biology. As such, it’s much easier for Liu QingGe to see past Shen Jiu’s prickly exterior and understand his true feelings. For example, when you were in LingXi caves… Liu QingGe could smell your fear of and for him. He could smell the sweet notes of your delight when he swore his life to you, and how those sweet notes thickened when you accepted. Is it that surprising that Liu QingGe was moved?

And subsequently, the two of you fought side-by-side to drive off the demons, with you displaying zero suspicion and full faith in Liu QingGe’s abilities. Wouldn’t that stir the heart of a War God? And-->>

Enough! Shen QingQiu had a heavy blush on his face now, as the system forced him to re-evaluate past events with new eyes.

<<This system will leave Shen Jiu alone now. Shen Jiu probably needs some time to himself to think through things.>>

The system wasn’t wrong. A period of solitude would do Shen QingQiu good. Shen QingQiu found himself missing the peace and quiet of the bamboo forest. Perhaps, he could think better under dappled sunlight and surrounded by the gentle rustling of bamboo leaves.

“Luo BingHe, this master wishes to meditate in the bamboo forest. Do not let anyone disturb this master.”

“Luo BingHe hears and obeys!” Luo BingHe accepted the command eagerly, before a hesitant look crept over his face. He continued, “But what of the matter this disciple asked Shizun earlier?”

Shen QingQiu inclined his head. Having focused most of his energies to the conversation with the spirit, Shen QingQiu did not hear a single word Luo BingHe asked. Nonetheless, Luo BingHe did grow to become an outstanding disciple in the last year and had a good head on him.

Rarely did Luo BingHe require correction. Shen QingQiu had taken great delight in delegating the more monotonous duties of a Peak Lord onto the young boy.

Luo BingHe was turning out to be a chef and secretary extraordinaire.

“Do as you will, Luo BingHe.”

“Yes, Shizun! This disciple will do his best and not disappoint Shizun!”

---

Shizun accepted Luo BingHe’s intention to court him once he presented!

Luo BingHe was allowed to court Shizun once he became a man!

Luo BingHe would sweep Shizun off his feet and trample over all competition once he had all grown up! All other competitors, watch out!

Chapter Text

The next year passed by in a blur.

Li Rang hung around for a week, before Shen QingQiu mustered the necessary courage and equanimity to coolly reject him. For all that Shen QingQiu detested the reckless man for being the one who triggered the whole troublesome affair, Shen QingQiu could admire the guts in him. The least he could do was to nip the idea in the bud, so that Li Rang could return to living his life.

Shen QingQiu also started receiving an inordinate amount of gifts from Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan.

<<They’re courting you, my darling Shen Jiu! (ノ´ヮ´)ノ*:・゚✧ These are courting gifts! …Shen Jiu, stop ignoring me!>>

The famous BaiZhan War God who used to wander the realms, only returning once a month to thoroughly beat up his disciples, could now be regularly found at QingJing Peak. Of course, Liu QingGe still took on demon-extermination missions regularly, but he now tackled them with impressive expediency and returned to the Sect once done, instead of continuing to linger in the realms, tracking down random rumours of demonic activities.

And when he returned, Shen QingQiu would always be the first to know, because Liu QingGe always made his way to QingJing Peak first, before his own BaiZhan Peak to visit his disciples, or QiongDing Peak to turn in his reports.

More often than not, Liu QingGe would also bring with him trinkets that caught his eyes, or the occasional demon corpses.

Shen QingQiu could appreciate the trinkets because Liu QingGe did have a sense of aesthetics and seemed to understand Shen QingQiu’s preferences well.

But the demon corpses! Those gory, bloody, dirty corpses! Liu QingGe, what made you think that Shen QingQiu of the scholarly, refined QingJing Peak would like those?

While it was true that Liu QingGe looked unfairly masculine and handsome when dragging in his conquests, the bloody robes only accentuating his good looks, Shen QingQiu did not appreciate having to clean up after the bloody trails those corpses left.

When Shen QingQiu finally spilled his true thoughts after the third time Liu QingGe arrived like a savage warlord with conquests to boast of his strength, Liu QingGe was immediately contrite and promised to learn from his mistakes. The next time Liu QingGe showed up, it was with clean pelts that had been treated, and prime cuts of meats that had been neatly sliced up.

Now, those, Shen QingQiu could appreciate.

The vermin from BaiZhan Peak started attacking QingJing Peak’s disciples with increasing frequency since then.

Instead of the typical weekly drive-by raids, it seemed like BaiZhan Peak disciples were actually camping at the foot of QingJing Peak, ready to ambush any QingJing Peak disciple who passed by.

Shen QingQiu could empathise with their pain though. Not only was their Shizun spending more time on another Peak than his own Peak, he was also forcing them to treat demon corpses to be delivered to said other Peak. Shen QingQiu would be incensed too if he were placed into the shoes of BaiZhan disciples.

Oh well, Shen QingQiu was a staunch believer of the school of hard knocks. Experience was experience, regardless where it came from. His QingJing Peak disciples could learn from these attacks.

Recently, Luo BingHe could take on five BaiZhan Peak disciples by himself. Ning YingYing was also surprisingly good at trouncing them too, being able to easily take on three at once. Shen QingQiu allowed himself to bask in a strong sense of pride when contemplating the achievements of his two most outstanding students.

Yue QingYuan also came by frequently to drop off gifts and declare his undying affection to Shen QingQiu. It was as if a dam had been unblocked the day that stupid cultivator from TianYi Overlook arrived, and now unblocked, Yue QingYuan couldn’t stop.

Thankfully, Shen QingQiu had not lost the ability to rebuff him with sharp glares and cold words, and so Yue QingYuan was often sent slinking off QingJing Peak after having spent only five minutes or so on said Peak.

Shen QingQiu did not care about what the spirit said. Yue QingYuan could not even be bothered to come up with a good excuse as to why he abandoned Shen Jiu to the Qius.

What love? Yue QingYuan was simply conflating guilt and duty with love.

---

One of the gifts that Yue QingYuan gave was a delicate white dreamcatcher laced with green feathers. These dreamcatchers were said to possess the ability to ward off dream demons and the nightmares that accompanied them.

Shen QingQiu hung the dreamcatcher at his window, admiring how it gently swayed in the wind. He did not know if it worked or not, but Shen QingQiu was quite certain that he entertained no dream demons henceforth, other than the infuriating spirit in his mind. 

Everyone also began to lay off the topic of Shen QingQiu’s non-existent heats after a while. The change from obsessive concern to deliberate non-interest nearly gave Shen QingQiu whiplash from the sudden drastic transformation, but Shen QingQiu did not dare ask about the reason why, for fear of inciting a second intervention.

The first was traumatic enough, thank you very much.

It was only when Mu QingFang took him aside, pressed a packet of red powder into his hands that Shen QingQiu understood.

“Shen-shixiong, this shidi understands that some Omegas may not enjoy the heats that come once a quarter and that there exists certain… herbal medications out there that promises to suppress them. However, those herbal medications aren’t safe and shouldn’t be consumed regularly. This shidi has thus applied himself to the research of effective and safe medication that can suppress an Omega’s head,” Mu QingFang said.

He continued quietly, “This powder is the culmination of the research and has no obvious repercussions as far as I can tell. Shen-shixiong only needs to abstain from the powder and let his heat come naturally once every three years to reset the hormonal balance.”

Warmth spread from Shen QingQiu’s heart as he listened to Mu QingFang. Shen QingQiu might not have been taking any contraband herbal medications, but his shidi’s intentions were true and good. To think that Mu QingFang would spend so much time trying to come up with a better suppressant simply for Shen QingQiu’s wellbeing. Shen QingQiu could not stop the surge of affection he felt for his shidi even if he wanted to.

“Mu QingFang, you’re a good shidi,” Shen QingQiu said after a moment, eyes softening. “This shixiong is very grateful for all that you’ve done.

An Ding Peak started trading heavily in Mu QingFang’s powder suppressant subsequently. It became CangQiong Sect’s top export good.

Omegas all over the world thanked Shen QingQiu and Mu QingFang for their gift. And ever since then, a new epic about the pure, untainted love between the XiuYa Sword and QianCao Peak Lord took the world by storm.

---

Then, the Immortal Alliance Conference came, and that was when everything fell apart.

---

“This disciple begs Shizun to allow him to attend the Immortal Alliance Conference,” Luo BingHe was on his knees, begging. They were just done with the monthly transfer of qi to stave off the effects of Without A Cure, and Luo BingHe had taken the opportunity to petition Shen QingQiu again.

“No, Luo BingHe,” Shen QingQiu’s irritation rose. “This master dislikes repeating himself. Leave, and do not ask again.

“Shizun, this disciple is the strongest in QingJing Peak! He wants to make you proud.”

“Luo BingHe is also afflicted with Without A Cure,” Shen QingQiu snapped. “The Immortal Alliance Conference is different from the brawls with BaiZhan disciples or the missions with this master. If Without A Cure flares up at an inconvenient moment, Luo BingHe may die and shame QingJing Peak with his poor performance.”

“This disciple has been diligently getting the monthly treatments from Shizun and have not encountered any troubles recently. This disciple is confident that he’ll returned unharmed. This disciple promises!”

<<Shen Jiu, this system thinks that you should just let Luo BingHe go. (◞‸◟) This is part of Luo BingHe’s fate. He needs to attend the Immortal Alliance Conference, and will attend the Immortal Alliance Conference regardless whether you permit him to do so or not.>>

Shen QingQiu could feel the phantom pains returning and an abyss of fear yawning beneath him. His instincts were screaming at him to reject his foolish disciple’s request. But the system had not led Shen QingQiu wrong yet, and he doubted that it was going to start doing so now.

“100 laps for Luo BingHe every day, and Luo BingHe is to spend all his rest time practising martial arts and refining his forms,” Shen QingQiu decreed with an irritated flick of his fan. That was as close to agreement that he could get to.

If Shen QingQiu could not dissuade Luo BingHe from stupid pursuits, then Luo BingHe must ensure that no dangers could threaten him. If his tool was blunted before Shen QingQiu could use it, then Shen QingQiu’s investment in the last few years would have been for naught.

“Luo BingHe thanks Shizun for his permission. Luo BingHe swears to return unharmed to his Shizun’s side!”

Chapter Text

Yue QingYuan and Mu QingFang led the entourage of cultivators from CangQiong Sect as they progressed towards the Immortal Alliance Conference on horseback.

Liu QingGe and Shen QingQiu were at the end of the group, tasked with ensuring that there were no stragglers left behind or any sudden attacks on the other Peak Lords and disciples in the middle. The two rode in companionable silence.

Soon, Luo BingHe slowed his steed and approached Shen QingQiu.

“Shizun, are you hungry?” Luo BingHe asked solicitously. The boy had grown up to be a fine teenager, and at age 15, he was already tall enough to be at Shen QingQiu’s eye-level. His voice was still the high-pitched tone of a child though, as Luo BingHe was a late-bloomer who had yet to present.

Shen QingQiu had been readying his contingency plans as to what to do with Ning YingYing should Luo BingHe present as an Omega. No hormonal rutting in his disciples’ quarter allowed.

“No, Luo BingHe,” Shen QingQiu replied easily. How could a cultivator of his level feel hungry?

And besides, saying “yes” that might just drive Liu QingGe into the kitchen yet again, which tended to yield… less than edible results. Shen QingQiu shuddered as he remembered the ‘mooncakes’ Liu QingGe gifted him previously. It would have been more accurate to call them shapeless bitter mush.

(Although that memory had never failed to cause a gentle warmth to well up from the bottom of Shen QingQiu’s heart, completely at odds with the taste of those mooncakes. It was sweet, that gesture.)

<<That’s why system added Luo BingHe to the list! (*^∀゚)ъ He’s the best at cooking! And once he has unlocked his demo—ahem, awesome powers, Luo BingHe would be able to get his hands on all the exotic ingredients he needs to make you the best dishes ever, wonderful Shen Jiu!>>

“But Luo BingHe has already prepared some sesame candy. They’ll go stale if they aren’t eaten soon. Will Shizun help this BingHe by eating them?”

Honestly, this disciple of his had taken to indulging in his every whims, almost like Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan. Such a transparent excuse could be easily seen through by Shen QingQiu, who knew that Luo BingHe took pride in his cooking and would never offer anyone anything close to “stale”. Even if Shen QingQiu started his day at an ungodly hour such as 5am, Luo BingHe would still insist on waking up at 3am to prepare his meals.

Not even the chefs in QingJing Peak went to such extremes. They would usually prepare some light snacks the night before, and served those as breakfast.

Shen QingQiu reached out for a sesame candy. He had a soft spot for sweets and anything made with sesame. There was no reason to reject Luo BingHe’s offerings when it was something he enjoyed anyway. Luo BingHe’s sesame candy was as good as always.

Remembering that he had company to his side, Shen QingQiu asked, “Are you not offering any to your Liu-shishu?”

“This disciple has heard that Liu-shishu is terrible at cooking. This disciple wouldn’t want to cause his Liu-shishu to feel any embarrassment if he’s to learn how much better this BingHe is at cooking and providing for Shizun than him.”

Disrespectful brat, Shen QingQiu sighed in annoyance. For all that Luo BingHe excelled in his studies (and cooking and paperwork), he had developed a rebellious streak in him that showed up most strongly when Yue QingYuan and Liu QingGe were around. The way Luo BingHe was behaving was almost like a dog pissing around his territory, trying to lay claim to QingJing Peak and warning off other beasts.

<<System thinks that Luo BingHe is trying to lay claim to something else…>>

Shen QingQiu smacked Luo BingHe soundly with his fan, “For disrespecting your shishu, 10 laps around QingJing Peak when we’re back from the Immortal Alliance Conference, Luo BingHe.” He ignored how his disciple looked completely unfazed by the hit, his beaming smile seeming to brighten even more.

Shen QingQiu then turned around to look at Liu QingGe, “Do you want one? They’re decent.”

Liu QingGe’s expression had darkened and he shook his head firmly.

Alright then, more for Shen QingQiu.

“Shen-shixiong. This shidi will practise his cooking and serve you sesame candy next time round.”

Shen QingQiu paled. Fuck no! He was an immortal cultivator who supposedly could not fall ill, but being poisoned by Liu QingGe’s cooking remained a real and distinct possibility.

“Shidi does not need to worry about this shixiong’s snacks. Luo BingHe is more than enough,” Shen QingQiu hurriedly rejected, missing the triumphant look Luo BingHe shot Liu QingGe.

“Shen-shixiong, please let me try,” a faint pleading note entered Liu QingGe’s voice, and Shen QingQiu was subjected to the full force of Liu QingGe’s unparalleled beauty again.

Was this about the whole courting thing again? Alphas providing for Omegas? Liu QingGe, you could provide for this Shen QingQiu in other ways. He didn’t need your cooking!

<<Liu QingGe seems really sincere though. Shen Jiu should give him a chance! (★^O^★)

New mission: Make sesame candy with Liu QingGe

Reward: Vaguely edible sesame candy + boosted love-love meter for love interest #2

Will Shen Jiu accept this mission?>>

NO. REJECT, REJECT!

---

The first day of the Immortal Alliance Conference flew by with the disciples of the four great Sects demonstrating their skills at archery. Shen QingQiu was heartened to see that his QingJing Peak disciple was in the top 10.

Truly, Luo BingHe was his most outstanding disciple.

Shen QingQiu was once again thankful for the fact that he had the foresight to bet a thousand silver taels on Luo BingHe. It was an investment that would be sure to pay off so long as Without A Cure didn’t flare up.

After the activities had officially ended for the first day, the CangQiong Peak entourage gathered at the inn to have dinner together before they dispersed to their respective rooms. Shen QingQiu could not fall asleep though, and had trouble meditating too. His heart was unsettled and he felt as if he was at knife’s edge, perpetually waiting for something terrible to befall him.

After ten minutes of rattling about his room like a loose marble in a box, Shen QingQiu decided to take a stroll. After all, the town was extremely lively these few days, with a night market set up to last the duration of the Immortal Alliance Conference, as enterprising business owners set up stores, all too ready to relieve the visiting crowd of immortal cultivators of their money.

Shen QingQiu was just heading out of the inn when he caught sight of Liu QingGe.

“Liu-shidi,” Shen QingQiu greeted.

“Shen-shixiong, you couldn’t sleep as well?” Liu QingGe perked up at the sight of Shen QingQiu, his usual stoic expression softening.

“Yes, will Liu-shidi care to accompany his shixiong to the night market?”

Liu QingGe blinked once, before a radiant smile bloomed across his face, light pink dusting his cheeks. “This shidi will be delighted to!”

Shen QingQiu was beginning to regret his decision. Ahhh, this man before him was really too handsome. If Shen QingQiu was to be seen walking around the night market with Liu QingGe, which now seemed horrifyingly like a date, Shen QingQiu might just get lynched by all the jealous women and Omegas. God, Shen QingQiu, what in the world were you thinking?

However, it was now too late to withdraw his invitation as Shen QingQiu allowed himself to be gently led to the night market by an increasingly cheerful Liu QingGe.

When the two arrived at the night market, Liu QingGe appeared to have no real desire to visit any stores, happy to follow Shen QingQiu’s lead. As Shen QingQiu only came for a distraction, he wandered store to store, no real aim in mind. He could sense that Liu QingGe had gathered a gaggle of girls trailing after him.

Shen QingQiu scowled, before sighing. He was a looker himself too, but even he could admit that when next to Liu QingGe, it was only inevitable that everyone’s attention would be drawn by his shidi.

“Young Master, why is there a need for such a sigh? Does this one’s tassels disappoint you?” a female voice interrupted Shen QingQiu’s thoughts, “Here, allow this one to bring out her higher-quality tassels for your perusal.”

Shen QingQiu returned his attention to the sight before him and realised that his feet had brought him unconsciously before a store seeming to specialise in tassels. The young woman was already reaching beneath the desk to pull out a tray containing some of the finest-looking tassels that Shen QingQiu had seen.

Shen QingQiu was surprised. He didn’t know that the kind of small town could produce such fine silk and delicate weaving. The craftsmanship was undeniably good.

He brushed a light hand over the tray of tassels, stopping over a tassel dyed a pale turquoise and weaved into a beautiful Chinese mystic knot. For some inexplicable reason, Shen QingQiu felt that the tassel was calling out to him.

“Do you like it?” Liu QingGe asked gently.

“It’s pretty,” Shen QingQiu said, but a childhood of poverty made it difficult for Shen QingQiu to spend on frivolities even though his days of penny pinching were far over. Thinking quickly, he turned around to regard Liu QingGe with a coy smile.

“Will Liu-shidi buy it for me?” Shen QingQiu asked, snapping his fan open to hide his upturned mouth. His eyes were alit with mirth though, as he continued teasing, “After all, isn’t Liu-shidi courting this shixiong?”

Liu QingGe swallowed, before hurriedly looking away. His eyes kept flitting back to Shen QingQiu though, as if he couldn’t stop looking even if he wanted to.

“I will take it,” he told the store owner, handing over a golden tael without even asking for the price.

The store owner appeared to be inordinately pleased at this development and quickly returned the change to Liu QingGe. She asked, “Would this Young Master put it on his partner now, or do you require this one to pack it up?”

Shen QingQiu looked sideways at his blushing shidi. How could he ignore such prime opportunity to tease the usually serious block of wood?

“This shixiong will allow Liu-shidi to put it on XiuYa now.”

The effect was immediate. Liu QingGe reddened further (even the tips of his ears were pink now), and he took over the tassel swiftly before hesitating. Shen QingQiu had not removed XiuYa from its place on his belt, and that meant that Liu QingGe had to close the distance between the two to remove the original green tassel and replace it with the newly-purchased one.

Shen QingQiu could smell the usual scent of iron and sandalwood from Liu QingGe as said man bent to change the tassels. Despite his blush, Liu QingGe’s hands were steady and focused on their task.

“Thank you, Liu QingGe,” Shen QingQiu said softly, leaning towards the pink ears that were now at the perfect height for him to whisper into.

At that, Liu QingGe froze and looked up like a startled rabbit, eyes wide and mouth slightly open in a moue of surprise. The pink dusting Liu QingGe’s cheeks softened the sharp angles of his face, and his lustrous hair tied up into a ponytail lent an air of youth and vulnerability to the man.

Ahhh, Shen QingQiu thought to himself again, this man is really unfairly attractive. Even Shen QingQiu could feel his heart pounding faster as having such a beautiful face barely centimetres away from his face.

Those lips looked so soft and pink, just like Liu QingGe’s ears. How would it feel against Shen QingQiu’s lips? Would they fit well?

Shen QingQiu found himself unconsciously leaning forward, falling towards Liu QingGe—when Liu QingGe was suddenly jolted to the side by a shoulder from a passing man.

The charged tension in the air was broken and Shen QingQiu could feel his own face heating up. He hurriedly fanned himself.

Shen QingQiu! What were you thinking? You almost kissed Liu QingGe, and in public no less! How embarrassing! Thank god for that passer-by… although, now that Shen QingQiu was no longer behaving like a cliché maiden with only her lover in her eyes, Shen QingQiu could sense a thousand glares piercing his body.

Turning around to take stock of his surroundings, Shen QingQiu’s suspicious were confirmed. Yes, a crowd had formed. Yes, they were indeed staring at Shen QingQiu intently. Yes, it was as if they wanted him dead.

Shen QingQiu, the famed XiuYa Sword of CangQiong Sect, turned around and left the scene with hurried steps.

Chapter Text

Shen QingQiu was displeased. After he had gotten a fair distance away from the crowd, Shen QingQiu slowed his steps, expecting Liu QingGe to be right at his heels. However, said man was not around.

Shen QingQiu scowled as he resumed his steps. Why did Liu QingGe leave him? Did he lose sight of Shen QingQiu? But how was it possible for the BaiZhan War God to lose sight of anyone he didn’t want to?

If that was the case, then did Liu QingGe fail to follow Shen QingQiu deliberately? Had one almost-kiss from Shen QingQiu scared Liu QingGe away when the past year of ambivalence didn’t? Was Liu QingGe disgusted by how forward Shen QingQiu was, or did having Shen QingQiu’s face at such close proximity made Liu QingGe realise how he could have someone much more beautiful?

Stupid, stupid, stupid! When did Shen QingQiu let himself to start hoping for things that he never could have? Hadn’t he learned many times before that Shen QingQiu was only good for pain, suffering and betrayal? Anything good would just be either tainted by Shen QingQiu, or slip through his hands.

The destruction of the Qiu estate, the leaving of Yue Qi…

Shen QingQiu was such a pathetic, foolish man. Once bitten, twice shy. Even a dog that had been kicked twice would learn its lessons and not approach the same human for scraps, but Shen QingQiu had been trampled over so many times, yet he still kept expecting—hoping for things to be different.

What did they say was the sign of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.

Yes, perhaps Shen QingQiu was an insane, stupid, pathetic man. He always had been, but for the last 50 years, with the finery of the QingJing Peak Lord’s garments, he had managed to fool everyone. But the truth of it was that the dirty, worthless core of a street rat remained unchanged, static and constant.

Shen QingQiu wasn’t a butterfly that morphed from a caterpillar, wasn’t a phoenix who rose from the ashes. He was still the caterpillar that wriggled about disgustingly in the dust of the corpses he created.

<<Shen Jiu, please stop hurting yourself like this! Liu QingGe has always been sincere-->>

Shen QingQiu batted away the irritating voice of the spirit easily. Its voice was fading anyway. Or was it Shen QingQiu who was fading? What’s with this strange smoke in the air…?

---

How many times, Shen QingQiu wondered, one needs to faint before he gets used to it?

<<Shen Jiu, Shen Jiu, you’re awake! This system was so worried! ༼☯﹏☯༽>>

Yes, yes, Shen QingQiu answered tiredly as he assessed his situation.

Shen QingQiu was in a dark, dank cave, lying in the middle of what appeared to be a gigantic cobweb. His arms were bound tightly behind his back and his legs tied together by strong silk that seemed to be sapping away at his qi. He appeared to be alone for now, although there appeared to be giant white balls at a slightly smaller cobweb separate from the one that Shen QingQiu was placed onto.

A spider demon, Shen QingQiu concluded. A nesting spider demon with eggs about to hatch into ravenous tiny spiderlings, and Shen QingQiu was probably supposed to be their first meal.

But how could Shen QingQiu have been caught by such a lowly demon so easily? He was the XiuYa Sword who had slayed demons far more terrifying than a mere spider demon. How could he be entrapped like this?

As if summoned to answer his question, a young woman entered the cave.

“Greetings, XiuYa Sword,” the spider demon said, “How are you feeling?”

“The tassel store owner,” Shen QingQiu stated flatly as the face before him belonged to the same woman who sold him—Liu QingGe the turquoise tassel earlier.

“Indeed. I’ll like to thank the XiuYa Sword for choosing to purchase my tassel and donning it immediately. It made you so much more susceptible to my influence,” the spider demon grinned cruelly. “Why, I barely needed to exert any effort before you succumbed to your worst fears. The combination of the cursed tassel and incense does function very effectively, don’t you think, XiuYa Sword?”

<<What a low-rate demon. (¬_¬)>>

Shen QingQiu turned away, not wanting to converse any further with the demon now that he had gotten his answer.

Clicking her tongue, the spider demon leaped agilely to the centre of the cobweb within seconds. “Surely the XiuYa Sword has better manners that this? I just asked you a question, wouldn’t you answer?” the spider demon asked, tightly gripping Shen QingQiu’s jaw.

When it was clear that Shen QingQiu wasn’t about to respond, the spider demon slapped him across his face.

Shen QingQiu could not prevent the grunt of surprise from escaping his lips.

<<How dare this demon hit Shen Jiu! Die, die! (‡▼益▼)

Mission: Be dramatically rescued by Liu QingGe.

Reward: Love interest #2’s kiss

Shen Jiu, hurry and accept this mission so that we can give her the beating she deserves!>>

Seeing his reaction, the spider demon laughed maniacally. “How does it feel to have fallen so far, XiuYa Sword? Does it fill you with shame to be toyed by a demon like this one?”

Saying so, the spider demon slapped Shen QingQiu’s other cheek viciously.

<<Argh!! This system is going to kill this spider demon! ╰(⋋▂⋌)つ-]═─── Don’t you hurt my Shen Jiu! This system is going to stab you a thousand times, revive you to kill you again, and then blast your soul into smithereens! Die!>>

“I accept,” Shen QingQiu gritted out.

“Hmm, what did you say? Are you getting delirious just by getting slapped twice? How weak.”

Shen QingQiu ignored the ramblings of the spider demon before him, took in a deep break and shouted, “Liu QingGe!”

The spider demon seemed stunned for a moment, looking around hastily. When the BaiZhan War God did not appear, a smug expression returned to her face.

“Awww, do you miss your lover?” the spider demon taunted, “But it’s useless. Where is he?”

A stern, gruff voice tightly responded, “Right here.”

<<Amazing, such speedy pickup time! Liu QingGe is really a great Uber! *\ (≧∀≦) /*>>

Startled, the spider demon turned around and was immediately speared by ChengLuan. Liu QingGe gave no quarter even after having stabbed a clear hole through her heart. He withdrew ChengLuan and lopped off the spider demon’s head in a smooth arc.

Ignoring the demon blood that had sprayed onto both himself and Shen QingQiu, Liu QingGe immediately kneeled down, his expression panicked and fraught with concern. Liu QingGe patted Shen QingQiu’s body perfunctorily, checking to see if Shen QingQiu had suffered any bodily wounds, as his mouth moved non-stop, pouring out his genuine care and fear for Shen QingQiu to see.

“Are you alright? Did the spider demon hurt you? Did she touch you unduly? Are you in pain—hurt anywhere? I’m so sorry for losing sight of you—I didn’t mean to lose sight of you. I should’ve ran after you immediately, but I—I was too late, too slow. I’m just a useless block of wood— I’m so useless. I’m sorry, Shen-shixiong, I’ve failed you. Please forgive me. I’ll do better next time, I promise—I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

Liu QingGe eventually collapsed into a pile next to Shen QingQiu, his hands on Shen QingQiu’s chest. Bowing his head on top of them, Liu QingGe took on a position of supplication.

Shen QingQiu’s heart was not made of stone, and as the sight of this strict, stern man breaking down before him, his love and care for Shen QingQiu as clear as if he had written it across the night sky, Shen QingQiu felt a comforting warmth descending upon him.

His chest pounded and he felt that… perhaps, he too, had fallen in love with Liu QingGe.

Falling for this reliable shidi of his… wasn’t too bad. Liu QingGe had always been a steady presence next to him, and he came the moment Shen QingQiu shouted. He did not abandon Shen QingQiu.

And perhaps that was all that Shen QingQiu needed—someone who loved him enough to never leave him behind.

“Stupid shidi, I’m fine,” Shen QingQiu said softly, “But you should remove my bindings now.”

Liu QingGe jolted up immediately, eyes raking up Shen QingQiu’s body to finally rest on his face, as if only noticing then that Shen QingQiu was still bound.

For a short moment, Shen QingQiu was pinned by a charged gaze, Liu QingGe seemingly arrested by the sight before him. Liu QingGe’s Adam apple bobbed.

Shen QingQiu tilted his head, a sly understanding coming to him as the pieces began to fit together.

Spirit, is Liu QingGe aroused now?

<<Very much so! (▰∀◕)ノ>>

Rather than the disgust Shen QingQiu expected, or even fear, because Shen he had no fond memories of men wanting his body, Shen QingQiu found himself to be strangely flattered instead. He even felt a responding warmth in his belly.

Still, not now, not here. Shen QingQiu had just reached htis revelation and if Liu QingGe wanted him, Shen QingQiu was going to make him work for it. Now that he knew Liu QingGe would not throw him away, held him in real regard to have him persistently returning to him, Shen QingQiu had no qualms about drawing this out for his own benefit.

“Liu QingGe, I’m not going to have sex with you in a demon cave,” Shen QingQiu laughed, “So you might as well untie me now.”

Liu QingGe reddened, stammered his false denials and genuine apologies, before slicing the silk apart easily with ChengLuan.

Stretching his body under Liu QingGe’s watchful (and blushing) eye, Shen QingQiu felt a weight lifting off his shoulders when the familiar qi returned to him. Shen QingQiu held his hand out and called for XiuYa, and was relieved when the sword flew to his hand, seemingly unharmed and unblemished.

Liu QingGe immediately reached out to tug at the turquoise tassel that was still hanging off XiuYa. He furrowed his brows, “We should remove this.”

“It’s fine.”

“This tassel is made of spider silk. It must’ve been part of the reason why you were taken so easily, Shen-shixiong.”

“Yes, it’s a cursed tassel, but I’m keeping it,” Shen QingQiu pulled the tassel out of Liu QingGe’s hold.

“Why do you want to hold onto a cursed item?”

“It’s a very fine tassel still, and the spider demon died, so it might not even be cursed now. Even if it’s, there’s not much harm it can do,” Shen QingQiu assessed lightly.

“Even the slightest possibility of harm is too much, Shen-shixiong. We should remove it,” Liu QingGe’s stubbornness was rearing its head.

“This is Liu QingGe’s gift to me,” Shen QingQiu was alarmed at how his mouth could say such embarrassing things. Was he getting infected by Liu QingGe? “I’m keeping it.”

Liu QingGe immediately blushed and looked away. He cleared his throat, as if embarrassed on Shen QingQiu’s behalf, “We should get it checked out when we return then.”

Strong, reliable, and obedient! Shen QingQiu crowed in his mind, Where else could you find such a perfect shidi!

<<Is Liu QingGe only your shidi though? ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)>>

The spirit made a good point. Approaching Liu QingGe, Shen QingQiu reached out to hold the back of his head, and pulled Liu QingGe in for a kiss.

Liu QingGe froze for a moment, before he finally started kissing back.

Liu QingGe’s lips were as soft as they looked, Shen QingQiu thought idly. Even though the clacking of teeth was quite uncomfortable, Liu QingGe’s tongue was a pleasant invading warmth. His hands began wandering.

Shen QingQiu pulled before it could go too far, breaking the kiss. As if drawn forward by a magnet, Liu QingGe followed Shen QingQiu’s retreating face, only to be stopped by Shen QingQiu’s fan against his lips.

Liu QingGe hummed questioningly.

Shen QingQiu’s usual cool façade had long since fallen off his face, leaving behind a strange, open honesty. Shen QingQiu did not know what sort of his expression he had on when he replied Liu QingGe, but he knew it felt unfamiliar, but not unpleasant. A warm pang struck his heart, slowly spreading to effuse him entirely.

“Claiming my reward,” Shen QingQiu said simply, eyes crinkling.

---

<<Ding dong deng! Mission accomplished! ☆*。★゚*♪ヾ(☆ゝз・)ノ

Shen Jiu has been dramatically rescued!

Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations!

Love interest #2’s current status: Ready for marriage>>

Liu QingGe, aren’t you too easy? Just a single kiss, and you’re ready for marriage?

Chapter Text

The second day of the Immortal Alliance Conference passed by without a hitch, and Shen QingQiu could only watch on with pride as Luo BingHe handily defeated the other Sects’ disciples who were pitted against them. The sense of accomplishment was even sufficient to drown the lingering unease that had plagued Shen QingQiu since the Immortal Alliance Conference began looming in the horizon.

The event on the third day was what truly mattered though, as it tested the disciples’ mettle against demonic creatures. This was how the true worth of a cultivator was judged—their ability to defend against a race stronger than theirs the only reason why cultivators were so exalted in this realm. A strong showing at the demon hunt could overturn all previous accomplishments in the last two days.

Liu QingGe had noticed how unsettled Shen QingQiu was and remained a solid, reliable, and undemanding presence to his side. While there were no overt differences as to how they acted around each other, intimacy had crept into their interactions and it was easy to see that Shen QingQiu and Liu QingGe had grown much more comfortable with each other.

No one commented, although Yue QingYuan looked more morose than usual.

When evening fell, Shen QingQiu watched the line of disciples began entering the shielded area where demons had been released to roam freely.

Bile rose in Shen QingQiu’s throat, and he did not understand the reason for his own sharp apprehension. Shen QingQiu understood logically that only low-level demons suited for these novice cultivators had been placed in the area, and that Luo BingHe should be more than capable of handling them. Even if Luo BingHe’s condition flared up, he should still be swift and smart enough to evade the demons as he waited for Without A Cure to subside.

Why then, did Shen QingQiu feel as if he was sending Luo BingHe to his death?

Before he knew it, Shen QingQiu had already leapt onto XiuYa and had flown over to Luo BingHe. It was easy enough to spot the white and green robes that signified QingJing Peak.

“Shizun,” Luo BingHe looked startled for a moment, before his face broke out in a wide smile. “What can this disciple do for you?”

Indeed, what could Luo BingHe do for him? Why did Shen QingQiu abandon propriety and flew over? The masters were supposed to be at the viewing tower right now, and not down on the grounds. This was because the disciples had just been checked to ensure that they were carrying no contraband items that could unfairly give them an edge over others. Yet, here Shen QingQiu was, in close proximity to his own disciple.

Shen QingQiu retreated backwards, putting a clear distance between the two so that no one could accuse him of slyly passing talismans or amulets over with a sleight of hand.  

“This master wishes to inquire about Luo BingHe’s wellbeing. Is his qi flowing well?” Gone unsaid was the fact that Shen QingQiu would not hesitate to embarrass his Peak and withdraw Luo BingHe from the demon hunt if Luo BingHe admitted to the least bit of illness.

Luo BingHe grew misty-eyed. “This disciple thanks Shizun for his concern, but this disciple is in his peak condition! Shizun doesn’t need to worry.”

Shen QingQiu grew even more agitated, there was nothing more he could do to prevent Luo BingHe from participating from the demon hunt if the one in question wanted to. Nevertheless, Shen QingQiu could at least afford to still leave Luo BingHe with a parting advice.

“Remember, Luo BingHe, you aren’t that strong yet. Should you chance across a demon that your strength cannot defeat, run. He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.”

---

Shen QingQiu prayed to the deities that Luo BingHe remembered his words -- that the white sheep brat he reared into a stubborn, bright, clingy disciple did not forget his teachings and was now hiding away, safe and unharmed.

Phantom pain stabbed Shen QingQiu’s limbs even though he had not been hurt yet, and fear practically emanated from Shen QingQiu in waves. He threw himself into the shielded area, unleashing XiuYa and slashing his way through the hordes of demons that obstructed his path.

Liu QingGe had tried to follow him, but Shen QingQiu sent him away with vicious words that felt a bit unfamiliar and rusty on his tongue. It had been a while since Shen QingQiu lashed out verbally at anyone, but he had not lost his touch as he drove Liu QingGe away in another direction, using the twin whips of anger and duty to direct Liu QingGe to where his BaiZhan disciples were last seen.

Liu QingGe shouldn’t be around, couldn’t be around; he mustn’t be implicated.

(Implicated in what?)

When Shen QingQiu arrived at the scene, it was to the sight of an ice demon thrashing Luo BingHe right next to a gaping Endless Abyss. Thoughts of tactic and ambush were immediately discarded, as the two somehow managed to sense Shen QingQiu the moment he appeared.

“Shizun!”

Having been robbed of his element of surprise, Shen QingQiu had no choice but to throw himself bodily into the fight, XiuYa, an elegant, dangerous silver in the air. Shen QingQiu slashed and cut, in tandem with the disciple whom he had raised for years, who had sacrificed his life to protect Shen QingQiu willingly, and whom Shen QingQiu had started thinking of as his son. They battled in beautiful harmony, but unfortunately, the ice demon was too strong, and Shen QingQiu could sense his own strength flagging.

SPIRIT! Shen QingQiu yelled in his mind. 

“System 52088 reporting for duty! (^ ∇ ^ゞ>>

Switch on that stupid allure of this body of mine and turn on that ridiculous Holy Maiden aura!

<<System can do that, but as Mobei-Jun is a beta, the pheromones would’ve to be upped to the point when even an unpresented Luo BingHe would be affected, especially since he hasn’t unlocked his demo—ahhh! (゜Д゜*) Shen Jiu, watch out-->>

Seizing upon Shen QingQiu’s momentary lapse in attention, the ice demon—no, Mobei-Jun had taken the opportunity to land a forceful blow on Shen QingQiu’s stomach, sending him flying till his back was met with a tree.

Shen QingQiu heard the sound of something snapping. He did not know if it was the tree, or his spine. All he knew was that he was in excruciating pain, and this managed to tear a gurgling shout from Shen QingQiu, as he weakly coughed up blood. Ice quickly froze over his body, and Shen QingQiu was trapped.

“SHIZUN!” shock flickered over Luo BingHe’s face before it settled into grim despair. “You—you demon, how dare you hurt Shizun!”

“Flies should stay out of the way,” Mobei-Jun answered coldly. “This king has no interest in him. You, though, on the other hand interests this king.”

Mobei-Jun paused as he surveyed Luo BingHe like a particularly intriguing insect, “Immortal, yet not immortal. Demonic, yet not demonic.”

Luo BingHe didn’t bother with an answer, choosing instead to meet Mobei-Jun’s words with ZhengYang.

Had blood loss and pain confused Shen QingQiu’s mind though? Because it almost seemed as if Luo BingHe was moving faster than before, with a bright red gleam high on his forehead.

Shen QingQiu swallowed wetly, tasting iron in the back of his throat. He had not lost his voice yet, and he could probably still scream if he wanted to. Liu QingGe briefly flitted through his mind, and Shen QingQiu nearly shouted for his shidi, but something held him back.

Shen QingQiu had no doubts that Liu QingGe would arrive if he had called, but this wasn’t Liu QingGe’s battle to fight.

… It was Luo BingHe’s.

The red gleam on his forehead was the mark of a heavenly demon.

Shen QingQiu was right all this while, Luo BingHe was a demon, and not just any demon, but the strongest kind of all – a heavenly demon.

Suddenly, the battle did not look so hopeless, and Luo BingHe was easily matching Mobei-Jun’s strikes.

Shen QingQiu gathered himself and tried to channel his qi to break the ice. It was strong, but Shen QingQiu persevered and eventually cracks formed, and with a one last surge of his qi, Shen QingQiu was freed.

It was time to drive that Mobei-Jun away. Gripping XiuYa tightly in his hands, Shen QingQiu joined the battle in a flurry of strikes. Luo BingHe cooperated flawlessly with Shen QingQiu as they slowly, but most definitely, pressed Mobei-Jun backwards. ZhengYang shattered in the midst of the battle, but Luo BingHe was barely impeded by this development, fighting just as well with his bare hands.

Sensing that the tide was turning now that he was facing a heavenly demon who had unlocked his powers, and a master cultivator, however weakened he might be, Mobei-Jun cast a portal and disappeared like a shadow.

Before he left, he said, “This king is Mobei-Jun. Remember my name and come look for me in the demon realms.”

Now that the oppressive ice demon was absent, Shen QingQiu finally allowed the tension to flow out of his body. Adrenaline had dulled the worst of the pain during the battle, but Shen QingQiu felt each and every one of his bruises and cuts keenly now.

If he was in such a terrible state, how was Luo BingHe faring then? Heavenly demon or not, the young disciple was still a novice.

Shen QingQiu approached Luo BingHe and lifted a hand, wanting to assess Luo BingHe’s injuries.

Luo BingHe flinched, as if expecting to be hit.

Shen QingQiu paused, and assessed the situation. Luo BingHe had just been beaten up to an inch of his life, after years of a somewhat easy existence at QingJing Peak, notwithstanding Without a Cure. He should have expected Luo BingHe to be traumatised by the violence that he just experienced.

Xiao Jiu had always welcomed Qi-ge’s hugs after the beatings and abuse, the warmth soothing his pain and terror. Perhaps this was what Luo BingHe needed now.

“Luo BingHe does not need to be afraid. Luo BingHe is safe with this master,” Shen QingQiu willed calmness into his voice, as he telegraphed his movements slowly, such that Luo BingHe would not be startled away and would have ample time to reject Shen QingQiu if he so wanted. 

Eventually, Shen QingQiu held one wailing disciple in his arms.

“Shizun, Shizun!” Luo BingHe cried, “This disciple doesn’t deserve Shizun!”

“Nonsense,” Shen QingQiu scolded even as he channelled what little was left of his qi into his disciple, “Stop crying. This is unbecoming.”

“This disciple practised demonic cultivation and placed Shizun into danger! This disciple has sworn to become stronger so that he can protect Shizun, but he has instead caused harm to Shizun!”

“Foolish boy, don’t take on blame for others,” Shen QingQiu responded. “This master being hurt is no fault of Luo BingHe. Was Luo BingHe the one who raised his hands against this master? Was Luo BingHe the one who raised a sword against this master? Was Luo BingHe the one who threw this master?”

“No, Luo BingHe would never!” Luo BingHe denied vehemently, his voice slightly muffled from how his face was pressed into Shen QingQiu’s shoulders. “But… this disciple still practised the demonic cultivation which Shizun hates… and he is a half-demon himself.”

“Power is power, Luo BingHe. This master doesn’t hate demonic cultivation, but the demons who wield it. So long as Luo BingHe doesn’t use it to harm CangQiong Sect or this master, this master doesn’t see what Luo BingHe has to apologise for. This master does not hate Luo BingHe.”

With a loud cry of “Shizun!” yet again, Luo BingHe clutched even tighter to Shen QingQiu, missing how the man involuntarily stiffened in his arms. It wasn’t because of anything Luo BingHe had done though, but rather because the useless spirit in his head had presented yet another mission for him.

<<Shen Jiu, Shen Jiu, you need to get Luo BingHe into the abyss now. People are coming! (*´゚д)(д゚`*)

Mission: Convince Luo Binghe to willingly enter the Endless Abyss

Reward: Shen Jiu’s happiness>>

Reject.

Shen QingQiu couldn’t believe the audacity of this spirit. He had just battled for this disciple of his with much pain and blood on his end, and the spirit wanted him to cast Luo BingHe away? Shen QingQiu might not be a good man, but his heart wasn’t made of stone. How could he send this disciple of his, who trusted him infinitely and saved his life, to the Endless Abyss?

Shen QingQiu wasn’t that much of a scum, alright!

And besides, Luo BingHe had just grown into his full power. How could Shen QingQiu just cast him away? Shen QingQiu wasn’t daft. He had just seen the potential of Luo BingHe’s demonic blood, and the fact that that he could beat up a high-ranking demon like Mobei-Jun in this nascent stage meant that Luo BingHe still had much room for growth.

How strong could this boy become? Shen QingQiu wasn’t just about to throw away such a powerful tool!

And what if Luo BingHe somehow survived the Endless Abyss? Where would that leave Shen QingQiu? Shen QingQiu might have just gained himself an arch-nemesis if that happened.

<<Shen Jiu, this system didn’t tell you to push Luo BingHe into the Endless Abyss! (。´・д・)o System 52088 most definitely didn’t want that to happen either! Rather, Shen Jiu needs to convince Luo BingHe to enter the Endless Abyss willingly. This is the only way he could fully unlock his demonic powers, and escape certain death at the hands of the righteous sects!>>

Shen QingQiu froze, the last phrase that the spirit uttered echoing in his mind.

Right, someone had released high-ranking demons into the shielded area, which undoubtedly killed many disciples. The sects would be baying for justice and blood. And if Luo BingHe’s heavenly demon heritage were to be discovered, then him being cast into the role of a villain was a foregone conclusion.

But how could Shen QingQiu asked Luo BingHe to jump into the Abyss? That was just pushing Luo BingHe away from one certain death, towards another.

<<Shen Jiu need not worry; Luo BingHe wouldn’t die in the Endless Abyss! o(*・ロ・*)o But he needs to go there to reclaim his birth right. This is inevitable, dearest Shen Jiu! Luo BingHe needs to go into the Abyss to become a power that the world cannot deny. If he doesn’t, he would most certainly be killed by the righteous sects!>>

Ugh, how annoying. Why was this system always putting him into such difficult positions?

<<This system swears that Luo BingHe would survive! No demons can hold a candle to Luo BingHe now that he has unlocked his heavenly demon powers!>>

Fine.

Saying so, Shen QingQiu disentangled himself from Luo BingHe before dragging him to the edge of abyss.

“Luo BingHe, you need to jump into the Abyss.”

Luo BingHe’s face fell, as if his whole world had been destroyed. “B—but Shizun,” he said with a tremulous voice, “Didn’t you say that you don’t hate Luo BingHe?”

“This master’s feelings on that matter remains unchanged,” Shen QingQiu spared the boy a stern glance. “But Luo BingHe, have you not realised how terrible the situation looks? If Luo BingHe was to stay in the human realm, there’s no doubt that you’ll be sentenced to death.”

“Shizun?” Confusion laced Luo BingHe’s voice.

“What appears to be a sabotage or demonic invasion just killed many disciples from the righteous sects. If a heavenly demon were to be found at the site in question, who do you think the righteous sects would accuse of being responsible?” Shen QingQiu scowled at his own powerlessness. “Not even your master will be able to shield you from the sects then.”

 “Shizun!” Luo BingHe was horrified. He took up a shattered piece of ZhengYang, angling it before his forehead as if he wanted to dig that red mark out.

“Luo BingHe!” Shen QingQiu quickly smacked Luo BingHe’s hand, causing his to lose grip of the metal. “Don’t you dare take your own life!”

Shen QingQiu continued angrily. “This master wants you to hide and survive in the Endless Abyss till the outrage over this Immortal Alliance Conference tides over. This master wants Luo BingHe to fully come into his birth right in the demon realms so that he would never be hurt again. This master wants Luo BingHe to live and return to this master’s side when is finally strong enough to either hide his demonic heritage or strong enough to be able to crush any protesting voices. Luo BingHe must now throw away his life till he has achieved those goals!”

Luo BingHe’s lips trembled. “But this disciple doesn’t want to leave Shizun’s side.”

A long silence lasted.

“Very well,” eyeing his scared little disciple, Shen QingQiu came to a grim resolution, “Then this master will enter the Endless Abyss with you.”

Shen QingQiu was loathed to have to traverse such a hellish landscape like the Endless Abyss, but at least he wouldn’t die. That spirit wouldn’t let him die, probably. Maybe it was time to repay his life debt to Luo BingHe. His reputation would be irrevocably destroyed if Luo BingHe stayed anyway. Who would believe that the master who taught Luo BingHe for years did not know of his heritage?

The responses were immediate and vehement from both the spirit and Luo BingHe.

<<No, Shen Jiu shouldn’t! ゞ◎Д◎ヾ>>

“Shizun, you mustn’t!”

“Luo BingHe doesn’t command this master. Luo BingHe might grow to outstrip this master eventually, but this master is still the XiuYa Sword. He can help Luo BingHe with his trials in the demon realm.”

“No, Shizun! The demon realm is no place for an Omega like Shizun!”

Of all the times that Shen QingQiu expected his Omega nature to be used against him, he never would have thought it would be now.

What? How did his Omega nature have to do with anything?

“Demons are known for their lust and viciousness, Shizun! If Shizun were to enter the Endless Abyss, he would no doubt be ravished by countless demons who couldn’t resist Shizun’s allure. This disciple cannot allow Shizun to be dishonoured—“

A sound smack on Luo BingHe’s head stopped his words.

Fuck! This stupid hormonal brat! Shen QingQiu wasn’t some innocent virgin whose virtue needed to be defended!

“Shizun, please do not enter the demon realm,” Luo BingHe begged. “Shizun’s lily-white—“

<<He’s right! Shen Jiu mustn’t enter the Endless Abyss! ゞ◎Д◎ヾ Shen Jiu shouldn’t have to suffer such filth!>>

Red coloured Shen QingQiu’s vision and he unconsciously shoved at Luo BingHe to get him to shut up, because he very much did not need to hear about anything lily-white of his.

However, in his rage, Shen QingQiu had forgotten the fact that the two were standing at the edge of the ravine. Shen QingQiu’s shove had sent Luo BingHe plummeting into the Endless Abyss.

He only realised a second too late, and when Shen QingQiu’s pale face looked over the edge of the cliff, he saw a white and green silhouette disappearing into a red fiery background, who still managed to gather his breath to shout.

“Shizun, this disciple will achieve the goals Shizun has set for him in the Endless Abyss! So please, Shizun, do not follow Luo BingHe!”

<<Don’t worry, Luo BingHe wouldn’t die. Shen Jiu should listen to Luo BingHe’s wishes and not follow him into the nasty Endless Abyss. (人ゝд∩) It’s not a good place to be!>>

Shen QingQiu’s vision blurred. Numbly, he looked down at the hands that had somehow managed to send tumbling Luo BingHe into the Endless Abyss.

It was what he was trying to achieve, but why did this success feel so hollow?

Luo BingHe was still a child… but he would survive the Endless Abyss. Luo BingHe promised so, and the spirit said so. Yes, it would all be fine in the end.

Ugh, but that child didn’t even have a sword with him. How was he going to defend himself?

Coming to a quick conclusion, Shen QingQiu unbuckled XiuYa from his side and tossed it into the abyss. The Endless Abyss swallowed it, before it faded away into nothingness.

Whatever force which linked the Endless Abyss to the human realm was gone.

<<Shen Jiu has once again flawlessly completed yet another mission! This system is in awe!

Ding dong deng! Mission accomplished! ☆*。★゚*♪ヾ(☆ゝз・)ノ

Luo BingHe has entered the Endless Abyss!

Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations!>>

Chapter Text

“QingJing Peak’s disciple, Luo BingHe, disappeared during the Immortal Alliance Conference.”

---

Somehow, unknowingly, that clingy disciple of his had wriggled his way into Shen QingQiu’s heart.

Shen QingQiu felt as if he was mourning for a son.

Which was ridiculous, because firstly, Shen QingQiu had no sons. And secondly, said disciple was supposedly alive still, as the spirit informed him every day.

There was no need for Shen QingQiu to be morose. Luo BingHe was alive and well in Endless Abyss. He had XiuYa with him. He would return to Shen QingQiu’s side once he was ready.

All Shen QingQiu had to do was to ensure that there was something for Luo BingHe to return to.

He could wait.

He was used to waiting.

(Xiao Jiu was still waiting for Qi-ge even now.)

---

The rest of the Peak Lords began hanging around QingJing Peak regularly again. It was the same soft tones and gentle approaches as per how they treated Shen QingQiu four years ago, when the spirit first entered his life.

Everyone treated Shen QingQiu like he was porcelain, and he was frankly speaking, sick and tired of it. As an immortal cultivator, Shen QingQiu was not unfamiliar with the concept of death. He had disciples who died of old age before him due to their low cultivation, and he had disciples who were killed during demonic hunts.

So, why was the Sect convinced that Shen QingQiu was so adversely impacted by the death of one measly disciple?

Perhaps it was time for Shen QingQiu to take up some missions that would bring him off these mountains and suffocating concern. He would even allow Liu QingGe to tag along if the rest of the Peak Lords were that concerned about his wellbeing. Just because he no longer had XiuYa with him did not mean that he had transformed into an incompetent fool overnight, but the rest of the Peak Lords seemed to think otherwise.

However, he never expected that his requests would be rejected by Yue QingYuan, even after Shen QingQiu had asked repeatedly.

“QingQiu-shidi, Yue-shixiong hopes you would be willing to stay in the Sect for the next few months,” Yue QingYuan could not meet his eyes, finally saying, “Until your… natural heat kicks in.”

Shen QingQiu was waspish in his response. “This shidi’s heats are his own concerns. And besides, this shidi is on Mu-shidi’s medication.”

“This shixiong doesn’t wish to impose. But it’s precisely because shidi is on Mu-shidi’s medication that he would like to gently remind QingQiu-shidi that he needs to allow one natural heat to play its course every three years.”

Was everyone still tracking his heats? Shen QingQiu resented the faint flush he could feel crawling up his cheeks.

That wasn’t the only conversation he had on that matter. Later that night, as Shen QingQiu was having dinner with Liu QingGe, said man cleared his throat and spoke, “If QingQiu-shixiong needs this shidi’s company, he only needs to ask.”

Shen QingQiu was dumbfounded. Was Liu QingGe offering Shen QingQiu sex over a dinner conversation?

<<Yes! (๑→‿←๑)>>

---

One week later, Shen QingQiu declared that he was going into heat, and shut himself in his confinement room for five days.

During those five days, he enjoyed the much missed peace and quiet and managed to achieve another cultivation breakthrough.

---

Just like that, another three years passed, during which Shen QingQiu got a nameless sword to wield. It could hardly be compared to XiuYa, because while it wasn’t the best sword in the world, it was the most suitable sword for Shen QingQiu. Nonetheless, it served Shen QingQiu well during his demon hunts with Liu QingGe, with an occasional Mu QingFang or Qi QingQi joining them.

With two to three Peak Lords working together, most of the demon hunts were a walk in the park. CangQiong Sect and Shen QingQiu gained greater fame in the human realm and more and more random people came forward to proposition Shen QingQiu. It was fun and somewhat flattering initially, but it soon got tiresome.

During times like those was when Shen QingQiu took great delight in handing those pests for Liu QingGe to deal with. He was happy enough to take a backseat as he watched his shidi glare them into submission. For those more obstinate ones, battles were fought.

Rumours began to spread after a while, of an entanglement between QingJing Peak Lord and BaiZhan Peak Lord, and the number of flies flocking towards Shen QingQiu dwindled. Shen QingQiu did nothing to suppress the rumours, and instead began to actively encourage them. 

“QingGe-shidi, stay closer to this shixiong. It won’t be good if we get separated in this crowd.”

“QingGe-shidi, don’t you think this looks good on me? Won’t you buy it for me?”

“One room will be sufficient, innkeeper. QingGe-shidi and I can share the room.”

If being rumoured to be in a relationship was what it took to ward off pests, Shen QingQiu could do far worse than Liu QingGe.

<<Shen Jiu… why don’t you just admit that the two of you are courting already? There’s no need to come up with these convoluted reasons. ヾ(〃ω〃ヾ)) Or perhaps, are you shy, dearest Shen Jiu? The two of you are already doing everything that a couple is doing – holding hands, hugging, kissing, and sleeping in the same bed!>>

Who is shy?

<<Heh. (〃´ノω`〃) This system will like to remind you that Liu QingGe is ready for marriage. He’s ready whenever you’re ready to take the next step.>>

What next step!

<<What else? It’s mating of course! ♡〜٩( ˃́▿˂̀ )۶〜♡ Shen Jiu, it’s time to conquer this route completely; there’s no point in dragging it out. Love interest #2 love-love meter has been fully maxed out!>>

I’ve my own plans. Stop trying to interfere.

<<Oooooh, what plans, what plans? (*≧▽≦)ノシ)) Share them with this system please!>>

<<Or is it that the two of you’ve been in a ‘some’ for so long that you don’t need how to proceed? ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Shen Jiu dearest, what did this system say about not going overboard with your teasing? But no worries, Shen Jiu, you just need to bat your lashes and Liu QingGe will be naturally yours!>>

---

Then JinLan city came, and all things went to hell again.

<<Mission: Investigate the incident in JinLan city.

Reward: Unlocking Shen Jiu’s love interest #3 (◍•ᴗ•◍)❤>>

---

“Shizun.”

Shen QingQiu felt like he couldn’t breathe. Blood pounded in his head and acid clawed up the back of his throat. His feet felt unsteady, and Shen QingQiu swayed slightly before GongYi Xiao reached out to support him.

The system had assured him again this morning that Luo BingHe was alive and well as per their usual routine, but he had not expected to see Luo BingHe.

Luo BingHe stood before him, hale and healthy, dressed in the reds of HuanHua Palace. He had grown up well, Shen QingQiu noted faintly. Luo BingHe was now taller than Shen QingQiu and his once childish chubby face had now developed into strong jaws, sharp cheekbones and eyes that one could sink into.

However, most importantly, Luo BingHe’s red demonic mark was absent.

Luo BingHe had learned how to conceal his demonic presence and had chosen not to return to Shen QingQiu’s side.

Anger and bitterness enveloped Shen QingQiu like a familiar mistress, as he regarded the sight of yet another betrayal before him.

Foolish, pathetic, and stupid. Why did he expect a man who had the strength to fight and leave the demon realm to return to being a measly little disciple at QingJing Peak?

No one would ever return to Shen QingQiu.

Shen QingQiu was not worth returning for.

(Qi-ge, Qi-ge… when would you take Xiao Jiu away?)

The heat of his vitriolic anger was eventually displaced by cold indifference, as Shen QingQiu steeled his heart and squashed all those troubling, human emotions.

Shen QingQiu, eventually responded, the perfect visage of an untouchable immortal, “Luo BingHe has no right to address this master as such. No self-respecting disciple of QingJing Peak would wear the robes of HuanHua Palace.”

Shen QingQiu was proud to say that his voice did not waver, and that his retreat from Luo BingHe was dignified and unhurried.

---

Shen QingQiu did not weep, did not cry, but Liu QingGe held him in his arms anyway, knowing what Shen QingQiu needed even without Shen QingQiu giving voice to them.

Shen QingQiu clung to the white and blue robes before him.

“If you ever leave me, I’ll hunt you down,” Shen QingQiu tried to threaten, but his voice was too soft and weak, and it came out like a plea instead.

“So long as QingQiu-shixiong wants me, I’ll never leave,” Liu QingGe cupped Shen QingQiu’s face, thumb gently caressing the sides of his cheeks. “This shidi will follow you to the ends of the earth.”

An inscrutable expression flickered past Shen QingQiu’s face before it finally settled on a strange, vulnerable flirtatiousness.

“Is that so?” Shen QingQiu purred, nuzzling his face into Liu QingGe’s hand, “QingGe-shidi is so good to this shixiong. How can this shixiong reward him?”

Liu QingGe smiled gently. “Just having QingQiu-shixiong’s presence next to me is good enough. I do not need anything else.”

“Really?” Shen QingQiu moved himself to straddle Liu QingGe’s lap, making Liu QingGe’s body light up at the points of contact. “Does this QingGe not want more? Are those kisses and petting enough to satisfy QingGe?”

Saying so, Shen QingQiu grinded down on Liu QingGe’s lap, colour high on his cheeks and all the while looking at Liu QingGe through his lashes. They fluttered briefly.

Liu QingGe swallowed, feeling a responding blush creeping down his chest. He moved his hands to Shen QingQiu’s waist, and Shen QingQiu’s initial look of triumph was transformed into confusion when Liu QingGe tried to still him.

Liu QingGe tried to breathe through his mouth, so that he wouldn’t have to smell the bitter, sour smell of pain, longing and anger thick in the air.

“What are you doing?” Shen QingQiu frowned.

Liu QingGe considered. Yes, what was he doing? Because hadn’t he longed to see Shen QingQiu in the throes of pleasure for the past seven years? Yet, here he was, denying what was served to him on a platter.

But despite the coquettish demeanour Shen QingQiu affected, his scents were shouting so loudly that the last thing the man needed was a pity fuck. Liu QingGe considered this frustrating, volatile and sensitive man before him and a well of fondness welled up from within him.

Liu QingGe loved Shen QingQiu in spite of—no, because of all his contradictions. Shen QingQiu was a mystery that he would dedicate his entire life to unravel. And right now, Shen QingQiu was in a delicate state, and Liu QingGe considered his reply carefully.

“I want everything that QingQiu is willing to give me,” Liu QingGe confessed the greediness of his heart, “But QingQiu doesn’t want this, and so we should stop.”

“I want this,” Shen QingQiu pouted, “Is QingGe deaf? Can’t he hear what this QingQiu is saying?”

“QingQiu wants comfort, not sex,” Liu QingGe returned with a wry smile, leaning forward to gently rest his forehead against Shen QingQiu’s. “Not now anyway, although if QingQiu wants this from me in the future, I’ll be all too happy to show QingQiu the results of his research.”

Irritation, surprise and wonder flitted across Shen QingQiu’s face before it finally settled onto curiosity. “Oh? What does QingGe mean? Has he been practising with others during his ruts?”

“No, sharing ruts with others just feel empty these days,” Liu QingGe denied firmly. “I’ve been reading up, so that once QingQiu has a taste of what this QingGe has to offer, he would have no choice but to keep returning to this QingGe’s side.”

Shen QingQiu pulled back so that he could better look at Liu QingGe.

Liu QingGe hoped that the love and devotion he felt for the man before him was clear on his face. He would carve his heart out for Shen QingQiu to inspect if he could, but perhaps Shen QingQiu could see Liu QingGe’s sincerity from his eyes and actions instead.

A long moment passed and sweet notes began creeping into the room, displacing the bitter and sour scents. Shen QingQiu leaned forward to capture Liu QingGe’s lips, devouring them in a manner that could only be described as hungry.

“You stupid, stupid man,” Shen QingQiu managed to gasp in between the heated kisses. “What made you imagine that such words would dissuade me? Do you not think?”

Liu QingGe’s mind was indeed, barely thinking, so surrounded by Shen QingQiu and the sweet, spicy scent he emanated that he thought he was getting drunk. So this was how Shen QingQiu smelled when he desired.

Liu QingGe could get addicted to this.

Shen QingQiu’s hands tugged impatiently at Liu QingGe’s belt. He demanded, breathless, “Take me to bed. I want you now.”

When faced with such a command, what could Liu QingGe do but to obey?

Chapter Text

<<Congratulations, Shen Jiu! You’ve successfully had sex with Liu QingGe for the first time! ヾ(@^▽^@)ノ

… But Shen Jiu, when will you mate and marry that man? Surely you don’t intend to dine and dash?>>

---

Shen QingQiu had never expected that he would see Qiu HaiTang again.

His crimes had finally caught up with him. He should have just killed the entire estate that night. He should have—

Mind full of regret and self-recrimination, Shen QingQiu nearly didn’t notice when a broad back appeared before him.

“Those are all baseless accusations,” Liu QingGe’s voice was curt and dismissive. “Do you’ve any proof to bring before us, or are you here to waste our time?”

Ahhh, of all those crimes, perhaps Shen QingQiu’s worst one was tying Liu QingGe to him so tightly that there was no way this honourable shidi would abandon Shen QingQiu now. A better man than Shen QingQiu might be regretting his actions, but instead, Shen QingQiu could only feel incredibly pleased at having such devotion and loyalty.

Knowing that he would never be left behind by this one man in the world… was really reassuring, Shen QingQiu could admit this to himself.

Shen QingQiu had really become a softie, hadn’t he?

“Enough,” Shen QingQiu said when the situation had devolved to the point where it looked like CangQiong Sect and HuanHua Palace were about to breakout into a fight at any moment. “This QingQiu will attend the trial to clear his name.”

Shen QingQiu had briefly considered using his Super Omega’s allure and Holy Maiden aura, but he tucked that thought aside for now, because even the thought that he might accidentally drive Liu QingGe (and Qi-ge and Luo BingHe) to his own death was too painful to consider.

<<Shen Jiu, this system thinks that your fellow martial brothers and sister would be strong enough to avoid the potential insanity caused by Holy Maiden aura. Shen Jiu shouldn’t go to the water dungeon. This system begs Shen Jiu to please activate his Super Omega’s allure and Holy Maiden aura! (┳Д┳)>>

Yet, he couldn’t allow the accusations against his name to stand, because Shen QingQiu was still a Peak Lord of CangQiong Sect, and any stains on his name would reflect badly on the sect too. And the sect had always been dear to Liu QingGe. Not to mention, Luo BingHe remained a mysterious entity.

He had spent three years in the Endless Abyss and had emerged, seemingly stronger than ever, dressed in HuanHua Palace robes. Who knew what powers Luo BingHe gained in the demon realm? Who knew what did his Heavenly Demon birth right granted him? Who knew where did Luo BingHe’s loyalty lie? If Luo BingHe truly attacked CangQiong Sect, Shen QingQiu ignored the stabbing pains in his heart as he considered this possibility, then not even Shen QingQiu could predict the outcome.

“Very good,” the Old Palace Master nodded his head sharply, face vile in its barely-concealed delight. “We shall hold the trial in a month’s time. Detain the QingJing Peak Lord to the Water Prison.”

<<What an evil man! System can’t wait till this Old Palace Master meets his just deserts! (‡▼益▼)>>

“No,” Liu QingGe gripped Shen QingQiu’s arm tightly, almost like a reflexive action.

Shen QingQiu tapped at his hands sharply with his fan. “Let me go, QingGe-shidi. This shixiong will clear his name and return to QingJing Peak in no time.”

“I can’t. The Water Prison is famous for tormenting its prisoners,” Liu QingGe’s face was pale and tight with tension. “And this shidi has promised to follow QingQiu-shixiong to the ends of the earth.”

Liu QingGe looked up at the Old Palace Master, “If you’re detaining Shen QingQiu, you’ll have to detain Liu QingGe too.”

This infuriating shidi! Couldn’t he see that everything Shen QingQiu was doing, he was doing for Liu QingGe’s safety? Look at how angrily Luo BingHe was glaring at Shen QingQiu now.

Damn that wretched brat! He hadn’t even returned XiuYa. Shen QingQiu spared a mutinous glance for the familiar sword that was resting in Luo BingHe’s scabbard. Even the turquoise tassel remained unchanged. The fact that that brat had stood aside as the public and Qiu HaiTang rained accusations after accusations at Shen QingQiu cemented the fact that Luo BingHe had turned his back on him.

“No,” Shen QingQiu firmly shook off Liu QingGe’s hands. “The one who has been accused of crimes is me. The one who will go on trial is me. The one who will be imprisoned will be me too. QingGe-shidi is to return to CangQiong Sect and help this shixiong find the necessary evidence to disproof these baseless accusations.”

<<Beloved Shen Jiuuuuuu, please stop this insanity! (iДi) This system begs you to reconsider! This system doesn’t want you to suffer in the Water Prison! Shen Jiu, please accept this mission.

Mission: Avoid imprisonment in the Water Prison.

Reward: Shen Jiu’s safety and comfort>>

Shen QingQiu held out his hands to the approaching HuanHua Palace disciples, ready to be bound. However, before that could be done, Yue QingYuan took the moment to intercept.

A retinue of CangQiong Sect disciples and their Peak Lords had arrived in the afternoon once the situation had been cleared up and the sowers determined as the cause of the incident, rather than an infectious disease. This was so that the Sect could aid JinLan city in its recovery. Yue QingYuan and Qi QingQi were the ones leading this expedition. They had all gathered together in the square to decide what to do with the captured sowers, and Shen QingQiu was wholly unsurprised that Yue QingYuan would speak up in his defence.

“CangQiong Sect would not allow its Peak Lord to be detained by HuanHua Palace,” Yue QingYuan’s voice was cold, a sharp contrast to the amicable tone he usually used. “The trial may occur, but Shen QingQiu is to be detained in CangQiong Sect during the duration when the trial preparations are underway.”

“Sect Leader Yue, this is unbecoming behaviour. Even the man himself had agreed to be detained by HuanHua Palace,” the Old Palace Master sneered. “Sect Leader Yue should stop trying to pervert the trial process.”

“This is non-negotiable.”

“And what assurances does HuanHua Palace have that Sect Leader Yue would not allow the QingJing Peak Lord to escape during his supposed period of detainment?”

“How dare the Old Palace Master cast aspersions on the integrity of CangQiong Sect!” Qi QingQi snapped.

“Given the overwhelming favour Sect Leader Yue has shown to the QingJing Peak Lord, is this an unjustified concern?”

“CangQiong Sect’s words have always been true, and will remain true. If the Old Palace Master doubts this, we can settle it another way,” Yue QingYuan’s hand drifted threateningly onto XuanSu’s hilt.

A sudden clatter was heard and Shen QingQiu threw the nameless sword he was currently wielding at the feet of the Old Palace Master.

Enough! Shen QingQiu was not a frail flower to be coddled and defended. He would not have more blood on his hands.

“Take me to Water Prison,” Shen QingQiu commanded, cold and aloof.

(Xiao Jiu had always mocked Qi-ge for sacrificing himself for the sake of others. But look at what Shen QingQiu was doing now.)

 

 

Chapter Text

The Water Prison was as wet and inhospitable as its name implied. Having been bound by Immortal Binding Cables, Shen QingQiu’s qi had been repressed, making his constitution the same as other normal man. The cold that would have been usually shrugged off by Shen QingQiu now sunk its claws into his very bones. 

Shen QingQiu was in for a long, tedious, lonely month.

<<Ahhh, dearest, precious Shen Jiu, why didn’t you take up Yue QingYuan’s offer to be detained in CangQiong Sect? つ´Д`)つ This Water Prison is a terrible place to be!>>

Maybe not so lonely after all. Just as well, it wasn’t as if Shen QingQiu could meditate with his qi suppressed.

The Old Palace Master wouldn’t have allowed Zhangmen-shixiong to have his way without a blood bath.

<<How does that matter? (πーπ)Shen Jiu can switch on his Super Omega pheromones and the Holy Maiden aura! No one would be able to harm him in the blood bath then! Shen Jiu would be safe and away from the Water Prison!>>

Spirit, you’re really selfish, aren’t you? You only care about your own survival, and hence, mine too, indirectly.

<<Of course system 52088 cares only for Shen Jiu! Shen Jiu is this system’s dearest daughter! (´∀`)♡ He has watched you grow up from a sweet baby to a fine young man!>>

Fuck off! Who’s your daughter? I’ve been ignoring your slip-ups for the last few years. This master is clearly a man and you know it too!

<<This system is aware, but daughters are meant to be pampered, while sons are raised to be independent, dearest Shen Jiu. (⋈◍>◡<◍)。✧♡ So, of course you would be like a daughter to this system.

Ahhh, this system just wants to pamper you forever—No, he wants the whole world to pamper you forever, starting with Liu QingGe.>>

The spirit’s reasoning was beyond comprehension. Shen QingQiu had nothing to say when faced with such blatant gender discrimination and delusion.

<<Shen Jiuuuuuuuuuuuu, why are you ignoring me now? o(*>ω<*)o>>

<<Shen Jiuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu, I love you the most. σ(≧ε≦o)>>

<<Shen Jiuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu, talk to this system. This system cares for only you in the entire universe! 《《o(≧◇≦)o》》>>

What if I’ve people important to me then? Will spirit then factor the happiness and wellbeing of these other people into your plans then? 

<<If Shen Jiu wants system to, system will do so! (・∀-d)>>

Alright. Add Liu QingGe to your list then. I do not want any of our actions to even have the slightest possibility of harming him.

<<Added! (=゚▽゚)/ But if it’s just Liu QingGe, then Shen Jiu should have just gone ahead and switch on the Super Omega pheromones and Holy Maiden aura then! Liu QingGe has a strong constitution and spirit, it wouldn’t be easy to fracture them!>>

Not easy doesn’t equate to impossible. If you do anything that ends up harming Liu QingGe, you can forget about consuming my happiness because there would be nothing for you to consume!

<<Uhmmm… (´∵`) This makes it very difficult for Shen Jiu to ever use your Super Omega abilities then!>>

Who told you to give me such a troublesome ability? Shen QingQiu rolled his eyes. Driving someone to suicide isn’t something to be taken lightly of.

<<System was just trying to help… (o > <)o>>

Come up with a better plan next time round then.

<<System will strive to do so! (°∀°)ゝ”>>

Good. And add Yue QingYuan and Luo BingHe to your list too.

<<(⊙.☉)7 Why?>>

Just do it.

<<System knows that they can bring Shen Jiu happiness, but… Shen Jiu, you should prioritise your own wellbeing over theirs, rather than considering them equal! (`Д´) Those two are bad! They keep making precious Shen Jiu sad.>>

That wasn’t a question.

<<… Alright, if Shen Jiu insists. (_ _)…>>

Good… and thank you.

<<Is Shen Jiu thanking system 52088? Σ(T□T) Ahhh! This is a momentous occasion! System needs to note down this day and time so that we can commemorate it every year! Shen Jiuuuuuu, system loves you!>>

---

The first time the curtain of acid parted, it was to reveal Young Palace Mistress.

The spirit immediately reverted to his murderous ways.

<<The evil Young Palace Mistress arrived! She’s going to hurt you! Hurry up and switch on your Super Omega allure and Holy Maiden aura, Shen Jiu! ლಠ益ಠ)ლ>>

What if she’s driven to suicide? That’s hardly going to help my case. They’ll accuse me of murdering her.

<<Just as well! (`ε´) Shen Jiu is bound up in Immortal Binding Cables anyway, how can they accuse Shen Jiu of anything?>>

They can, and they will. The Old Palace Master has a vendetta against me. It doesn’t matter what’s possible or what’s not possible. If the Young Palace Mistress dies here, they’ll definitely paint me as her murderer. I cannot sabotage my own trial like this.

With that resolution, Shen QingQiu ended up being whipped harshly by the Young Palace Mistress, his robes torn to shreds. 

<<Shen Jiu, my precious Shen Jiuuuuuuu, you need to cover yourself up! (iДi) You can’t let anyone catch a glimpse of your beautiful lily-white skin. System cannot bear to see Shen Jiu being unwillingly ravished. Shen Jiuuuuuuuuuuuuu!”

Fucking hell! If Shen QingQiu’s qi wasn’t repressed, Shen QingQiu would have most certainly entered a qi deviation there and then.

---

The next visitor that Shen QingQiu had was Luo BingHe.

“Shizun,” the boy—no, the man’s voice was soft.

“Luo BingHe wears the robes of the Sect that had accused this master, and yet he still dares to address this master as Shizun?” Shen QingQiu’s tone was sharp.

“Shi—“ Luo BingHe stopped, hurt and sorrow that Shen QingQiu couldn’t understand was clear on his way.  His downcast eyes finally lifted to meet Shen QingQiu, and it was then a horrified expression took over.

“Shi--Peak Lord Shen, what have they done to you?”

“Nothing that concerns Luo BingHe,” Shen QingQiu inclined his head proudly, ignoring the wounds he wore.

The pained look in Luo BingHe’s eyes were much clearer after he neared Shen QingQiu, but Shen QingQiu was honestly befuddled. The current situation was the culmination of the machinations of the new Sect Luo BingHe had defected to. If Luo BingHe was so unhappy with the outcome, he should just return to QingJing Peak!

After a long period of begging, of course. Shen QingQiu was not going to allow Luo BingHe to return so easily.

A red outer robe was suddenly placed onto his shoulders, and Shen QingQiu stiffened. He looked down. It was the HuanHua Palace robe Luo BingHe was wearing.

Shen QingQiu shrugged his shoulders angrily, causing the robe to slip down to the floor.

He bit out, “Does Luo BingHe intend to humiliate this master by making him wear the robes of Sect that’s now baying for his blood?”

“No! This is not BingHe’s intentions!” Luo BingHe looked startled by the accusation, “Luo BingHe just wanted to cover up Peak Lord Shen’s lily-white—“

AHHHH! THAT CURSED WORD AGAIN! QI DEVIATION, WHERE ART THOU?

“Do not address me!” Shen QingQiu snarled. “This master has nothing to say to a defector of CangQiong Sect.”

<<Shen Jiu! Please don’t try to harm yourself! Is Shen Jiu sure he doesn’t want to switch on the Super Omega pheromones and Holy Maiden aura? Luo BingHe has already unlocked the strong regenerative abilities of the heavenly demon bloodline. Even if he were to try and kill himself, he would probably just bleed a bit, but wouldn’t die.

Or maybe bleed a lot, but he deserves that for making darling Shen Jiu resort to self-harm! (#`皿´)>>

“But… but this BingHe is just following Peak Lord Shen’s instructions,” Luo BingHe managed to affect an air of being incredibly wronged.

The sheer audacity of this boy! How dared he run away from QingJing Peak on his own volition and then laid all the blame on Shen QingQiu. XiuYa sword was still hanging in his scabbard too!

“This master told Luo BingHe to return to his side after he had exited from the Endless Abyss. Has Luo BingHe’s brain been turned to mush during the time he was in the demon realm? So much so that he now interprets this master’s instruction as permission to cavort around the world and defect to HuanHua Palace?” Shen QingQiu’s voice was frigid and laced with sarcasm.

“No! This BingHe is just trying to get more powerful—“

“And you have. You’ll soon be HuanHua Palace’s head disciple. This master is unable to offer a corresponding position in CangQiong Sect, and it makes sense that Luo BingHe would thus abandon his place in QingJing Peak for somewhere more powerful,” Shen QingQiu was cold in his assessment.  “Indeed, Luo BingHe has grown sly and cunning in the demon realm, and there’s nothing more this master can teach anymore.”

Shen QingQiu’s heart was rabbiting in his chest, and blood pounded in his head. He could barely hear himself speak over the pain he felt as he was forced to give voice to why yet another of his important person had left him again.

He was worthless, truly. Shen QingQiu had given and given, but it was never enough.

“I—this BingHe—“

“This master requests Luo BingHe to leave,” Shen QingQiu’s voice cracked at the end, but the incline of his head was as proud and elegant as ever.

He closed his eyes, a clear dismissal. Luo BingHe was gone when he next opened them.

---

The third visitor to Shen QingQiu’s dratted prison was Yue QingYuan.

<<Why is it Yue QingYuan? (・・?) If anything, it should be Liu QingGe who’s paying a conjugal visit.>>

Yue QingYuan took one look at Shen QingQiu’s dishevelled appearance and immediately rushed over, ignoring his escort’s protests. He shrugged off the black robes of QiongDing Peak, and wrapped Shen QingQiu in them. A familiar warmth enveloped Shen QingQiu.

“QingQiu-shidi,” Yue QingYuan fretted, “What did they do to you?”

Stupid. As always, Yue QingYuan asked the obvious questions.

“Why are you here, Zhangmen-shixiong?”

“As a Sect Leader, they allowed me a visit to check on QingQiu-shidi’s wellbeing,” Yue QingYuan explained as he fussed over Shen QingQiu, who bore it with the grace of an annoyed cat.

“Well, now that Zhangmen-shixiong has seen QingQiu-shidi, he can leave.”

“Yes, but—let this shixiong reassure himself that you haven’t been badly hurt.”

Saying so, Yue QingYuan cupped Shen QingQiu’s face, pretended to be checking for injuries, and leaned in to whisper, “This shixiong is actually here to rescue QingQiu-shidi. It’s nearly three years since QingQiu-shidi last had his natural heat. It’s not safe for him to be here.”

Shen QingQiu stiffened.

Yue QingYuan was here to rescue him? What? Why?

That would obviously destroy all that Yue QingYuan had painstakingly built up over the years—his reputation, his position as Sect Leader, and CangQiong’s standing in the cultivation world.

<<Yayyy! Shen Jiu can finally leave the Water Prison! ⊂( ◜◒◝ )⊃

Mission: Be dramatically rescued by Yue QingYuan. 

Reward: Boosted love-love meter of love interest #1>>

Shen QingQiu scowled.

He was not some fair maiden, wasting away as he waited for a rescue! Shen QingQiu did not need to be rescued, did not want to be rescued.

He was not waiting for anyone anymore. Most certainly not Yue QingYuan, who had failed him once, but was now trying to rescue him?

Why? What changed? Why was Yue QingYuan willing to rescue Shen QingQiu, but Qi-ge unwilling to rescue Xiao Jiu? Shen QingQiu was also suddenly something worth loving these last few years, but never once had Qi-ge said he loved Xiao Jiu.

Was it because… of Shen QingQiu’s new Omega body? Shen QingQiu’s body chilled.

Yue QingYuan mentioned something about his heat.

Did Shen QingQiu become someone worthy of rescuing because he now had a self-lubricating hole that Yue QingYuan could fuck? Was all this driven by some Alpha lust to protect and defend what he owned?

Did that mean that if Xiao Jiu had a self-lubricating hole, then he would have been rescued by Qi-ge?

Yue QingYuan caressed Shen QingQiu’s face softly. At that, Shen QingQiu snapped.

“Fuck you if you think you can just swan in here to rescue me! Are you rescuing me now because I’m Omega, is that it? Is that why you left me to rot in the Qiu estate, because I didn’t have a warm, wet hole for you to fuck into? Who do you think you are, trying to rescue me after all these years!” Shen QingQiu exploded, chest heaving.

Yue QingYuan appeared stunned at this sudden outburst, but thankfully still had the presence of mind to send a sheathed XuanSu to hit the escort unconscious.

“Xiao—Xiao Jiu,” Yue QingYuan’s hands still held Shen QingQiu’s face. “This is not—it has never been about your Omega status? Qi-ge would always come to your rescue regardless of your gender.”

Hands freed, as Yue QingYuan had taken a knife to cut away at the Immortal Binding Cables, Shen QingQiu took this opportunity to try to push Yue QingYuan away, while at the same time hitting said man’s chest as hard as he could.

The emotional dam in Shen QingQiu’s heart had broken, and the past decades of accumulated pain and hurt now surged relentlessly through Shen QingQiu, reverting him back to the street rat that Shen QingQiu had tried so hard to squash and repress and kill. Acid clawed up the back of his throat, and Shen QingQiu felt as if he could not breathe; he felt as if his heart could not beat.

Why did this man still have such a strong hold over Shen QingQiu despite the decade that had passed!

“I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,” Shen QingQiu chanted fiercely. “Why are you willing to rescue me now, when you refused to rescue me then? Why am I suddenly worth your attention? Tell me, Qi-ge, or I’ll hate you forever.”

“The reason doesn’t matter, but this Qi-ge now has the power to rescue you,” Yue QingYuan kneeled onto the floor, head bowed “So please Xiao Jiu, please let this Qi-ge rescue you and atone for his previous failure.”

“No!” Shen QingQiu was now pounding on Yue QingYuan’s shoulders, as he heaved big, ugly sobs. “It’s because I’m an Omega now, isn’t it? Will Qi-ge rescue all the Omegas in the world? Is Xiao Jiu just another one of the Omegas that Qi-ge rescues? Is Xiao Jiu not special?”

“Xiao Jiu is special, Xiao Jiu is the most precious one to this Qi-ge. There isn’t a single time in which Xiao Jiu is in trouble that this Qi-ge wouldn’t want to run over to rescue him.”

“Then why did you abandon me in the Qiu estate? Why didn’t Qi-ge come back?”

“Qi-ge… was useless then,” Yue QingYuan prostrated on the floor, “I’m sorry.”

Yue QingYuan always had a talent for bringing out the feral street rat in Shen QingQiu. He could always bring out the raw, angry and distressed core in Shen QingQiu.

“Always apologies!” Shen QingQiu kicked Yue QingYuan, “Why don’t you look at me and tell me why rather than apologising all the time! If you don’t, Xiao Jiu will jump into the acid!”

Yue QingYuan stiffened, before he crawled the last few centimetres to cling tightly onto Shen QingQiu’s legs. Yue QingYuan’s voice grew thick with tears, “No… No! Xiao Jiu, please!”

“Then tell me why now!” Shen QingQiu struggled viciously to escape from Yue QingYuan’s hold, raining a flurry of fists on Yue QingYuan’s bowed back.

Yue QingYuan took them all without flinching, only cringing when he opened his mouth to speak, as if he could feel no pain other than the emotional wounds he bore, “I wanted to get you quicker, so I took shortcuts when cultivating.”

Yue QingYuan paused, taking in a deep breath as if trying to muster the courage to continue. “This… backfired on this useless Qi-ge terribly. What should have taken him only 3 years to accomplish, took him 4 years instead because he suffered a terrible qi deviation. When I could finally go back to the Qiu manor, Xiao Jiu had already left.”

The blows falling onto Yue QingYuan slowed before finally stopping. Shen QingQiu suddenly felt so exhausted that his legs could no longer bear his weight and he sank to the floor.

Alarmed, Yue QingYuan immediately moved to catch him in his arms.

Had Shen QingQiu always been precious to Yue QingYuan? Had Xiao Jiu always been precious to Qi-ge?

But why did his Qi-ge not say a single word?

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Shen QingQiu was deadly quiet. “Do you know how much it hurt? How the idea of being abandoned ruined me?”

“Were you never going to tell me, not until either of us are at death’s door?” Shen QingQiu questioned after a pregnant pause. “Do you want me to die, choking on guilt and regret?”

“I… Explanations seemed worthless in the face of the torment Xiao Jiu went through,” Yue QingYuan clung tighter to the man in his arms, tears finally running down his cheeks.

“If I don’t say anything,” the man pressed on, gasping, “There’s still the hope that Xiao Jiu would forgive this useless Qi-ge once it’s revealed. But once I’ve said it, and if Xiao Jiu still turns away from this Qi-ge, then this Qi-ge would have nothing else to offer.”

Had their relationship been corrupted by this twisted sense of responsibility and self-hatred? Was the pain and insecurity Shen QingQiu carried over the years simply because his Qi-ge didn’t trust him enough to forgive him? What happened? How did they end up in this state?

“Xiao Jiu,” Yue QingYuan cradled the man gently in his arms, “Xiao Jiu.”

“Qi-ge never meant to abandon Xiao Jiu to the Qius.”

The tone was more of statement than a query, but Yue QingYuan responded anyway, “No, of course not.”

“Qi-ge will always come to rescue Xiao Jiu when he needs it.”

“Of course.”

“Qi-ge belongs to Xiao Jiu.”

“Always.”

Xiao Jiu had bound himself inextricably to this stupid, pathetic Qi-ge in fits of childish infatuation decades ago. But Qi-ge was his, his. Had always been his.

A vicious sense of glee filled Shen QingQiu, flowing unceasingly till it transformed to something softer and warmer. Shen QingQiu allowed himself to settle into Yue QingYuan’s embrace.

“Then… take me away, Qi-ge.”

Unsheathing XuanSu, Yue QingYuan blasted a hole through the ceilings of the underground water dungeon.

---

<<Ding dong deng! Mission accomplished! ☆*。★゚*♪ヾ(☆ゝз・)ノ

Shen Jiu has been dramatically rescued from the Water Prison!

Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations!

But… is dearest Shen Jiu sure he doesn’t want to get rid of Yue QingYuan?  Maybe we can just hurt him a little bit? Just a tiny bit? After all, Yue QingYuan has hurt Shen Jiu deeply!>>

 

Chapter Text

Yue QingYuan had not managed to fly a hundred feet away from HuanHua Palace till Luo BingHe caught up.

His opening attack was to direct a flying sword towards Yue QingYuan and Shen QingQiu who were travelling together on XuanSu.

Ah, XiuYa. It did not take more than a split second for Shen QingQiu to recognise the silver glint in the air. Shen QingQiu reflexively called for his sword, using the little bits of qi he had recovered. XiuYa responded to his call immediately, diverting its course to fly smoothly into Shen QingQiu’s waiting hands.

A tension that Shen QingQiu did not know he was carrying finally dissipated as Shen QingQiu gripped its familiar hilt. It looked remarkably pristine, despite having spent the last three years in the demonic realm. Even the turquoise tassel which Liu QingGe gifted him seemed to be well-kept.

“Peak Lord Shen,” Luo BingHe bowed respectfully, a gesture that could only be interpreted as mocking given the current situation. “You must return to the Water Prison. Escape will only make you appear guiltier.”

Now that Shen QingQiu was no longer trapped in decade-old anger and pain, he immediately understood where Luo BingHe was coming from. Internally, Shen QingQiu was already beating himself up.

Argh, what was he thinking? Stupid, stupid, stupid!

What were those days of languishing away in the Water Prison for, if at the end, Shen QingQiu just smashed through the Water Prison to escape? If anyone were inclined to judge Shen QingQiu innocent before this, they most certainly would change their minds after this escape. After all, as Luo BingHe rightly said, this made Shen QingQiu look nothing but guilty!

But it was a bit too late, wasn’t it?

It was not as if he could turn back time… unless the spirit could do so?

<<No, sadly, this system has been banned from the reload save files function by the admin! (≧ o ≦*)>>

Despite the fact that Shen QingQiu was in mortal danger, the spirit was uncharacteristically chirpy, and as difficult to understand as ever.

<<Shen Jiu is in no danger at all! (・ω<)☆>>

Looking up at the murderous glare Luo BingHe was sending his way, Shen QingQiu found it hard to believe. He tightened his hold on Yue QingYuan’s waist.

Luo BingHe’s eyebrow twitched.

Now that XiuYa had returned to its original owner, Luo BingHe had no sword to use. Instead, he took out a curved dagger and aimed it threateningly at the two on XuanSu, saying, “Release Peak Lord Shen, Sect Leader Yue. It’s in his best interests to return to HuanHua Palace for now.”

This was bad. While Yue QingYuan was an accomplished fighter, he currently had Shen QingQiu to protect and it wasn’t as if he could fight with XuanSu when they were riding on it. Shen QingQiu let go of Yue QingYuan and was prepared to leap to the ground so that at least he would be one less burden for Yue QingYuan to concern himself about, when an alarmed hand gripped at his left shoulder.

Yue QingYuan turned around, anxiety tight in his voice, “Xiao Jiu, where are you going?”

“You can’t fight with me on XuanSu.”

“Doesn’t matter, this Qi-ge can fight with his bare hands. Please don’t leave.”

This Yue QingYuan was even more possessive and idiotic than usual, Shen QingQiu clicked his tongue, irritated.

The old Shen QingQiu would have told Yue QingYuan off without a second thought, before proceeding to do what he wanted to. However, so soon after the revelation in the Water Prison, Shen QingQiu still held a thread of fondness for the man before him that he couldn’t deny.

Qi-ge had been indulging him all this while. Surely, it would be fine for Xiao Jiu to indulge him this time round?

It was impractical and stupid, but Shen QingQiu wouldn’t mind being able to stay close to Yue QingYuan for a few more moments.

“Use XiuYa then,” Shen QingQiu relinquished his sword quickly to Yue QingYuan, “You need a weapon.”

Yue QingYuan’s expression was stunned, before it quickly dissolved into brilliant smile. His eyes shone with unshed wetness.

Shen QingQiu turned, face heating up. It was because he did not want to see such an embarrassing sight before him anymore, not because he thought Qi-ge looked strangely handsome, alright?

“Qi-ge will not let you down again,” Yue QingYuan said, tone firm and expression happy. “I will bring you back to CangQiong Sect safely.”

“See that you do,” Shen QingQiu demanded.

The two’s attention was suddenly drawn by a slashing arc in the air, as Luo BingHe launched himself at them. Yue QingYuan controlled XuanSu to dodge the attack, as he shifted his stance to begin counter-attacking with XiuYa. In response, Shen QingQiu locked his arms firmly around Yue QingYuan, bringing his center of balance closer to said man so as to make things easier for him. There was not a breadth of distance between the two now.

Yue QingYuan’s back lit up a line of heat up Shen QingQiu’s body. It had been decades—no, centuries since Shen QingQiu had been so close to Yue QingYuan, and this sudden intimacy brought to the forefront of his mind that Yue QingYuan was no longer the child of the past. He was a grown man and such closeness was inappropriate. But given the current situation, surely no one could fault them? It was to either stick close to Yue QingYuan or to risk further endangering both of them.

Still, Shen QingQiu noted with faint embarrassment and pride, Yue QingYuan was truly an exemplary Sect Leader. Not only was his cultivation strong, but it appeared that he did not neglect to develop his physical body’s strength too.

The ease at which Yue QingYuan was managing to avoid Luo BingHe was a pleasant surprise to Shen QingQiu too, although that was largely aided by the fact that Luo BingHe’s attacks were uncoordinated and messy. Strange, was this the level of strength a man who survived the Endless Abyss had?

“Shizun,” Luo BingHe cried desperately in between attacks, “Shizun, this BingHe returned XiuYa to you, and you immediately lent it to another man for him to attack this BingHe with?”

The pain in Luo BingHe’s voice was palpable and Shen QingQiu felt a corresponding tug on his heart.

Stupid! How could Shen QingQiu feel any sympathy for a man who was trying to kill him now? This was like twisted Stockholm syndrome.

“Shizun, this BingHe didn’t mean to let Shizun suffer in the Water Prison! This BingHe didn’t mean to defect to HuanHua Palace! This BingHe had never wanted to hurt Shizun…” Luo BingHe sounded miserably, words completely at odds with his actions as he continued clashing with Yue QingYuan in the air, Shen QingQiu a helpless bystander dragged into the battle.

Shen QingQiu did not deign to reply, his attention focused on keeping his balance on XuanSu and doing his best to not hinder Yue QingYuan.

Luo BingHe pressed on, “This BingHe might have become a lord in the demon realm, but he knows that it’s not enough as the cultivation world could still persecute him. I just wanted to use HuanHua Palace to attain a position among the righteous Sects, so that no one could deny him in either the human or demon realms!”

With that, Luo BingHe let out a wave of demonic qi so strong and overpowering that Shen QingQiu’s attention wavered and his hold on Yue QingYuan loosened. Before he knew it, Shen QingQiu had slipped off XuanSu, and was sent falling into the grassy knoll beneath.

Thankfully, some of his qi had returned and Shen QingQiu was able to use it to twist his body in the air and soften the impact on his landing, such that he landed less like a sack of rice, but more like an immortal -- weakened, but nonetheless skilful.

“Xiao Jiu!”

“Shizun!”

Twin cries echoed from above, and Shen QingQiu waved an irritated hand in the air, dismissing the two. Honestly speaking, it was quite impractical for Yue QingYuan to fight with Shen QingQiu aloft in the air with him. Now that his temporary bout of insanity was over, Shen QingQiu hurried over to a nearby outcrop of rocks to hide.

Given how the battle had progressed, it seemed that Yue QingYuan had it well in hand. Shen QingQiu would be more of a hindrance than a help, the way he was now. It would be best to just let Yue QingYuan knock Luo BingHe unconscious —

An oppressive wave of spiritual qi flooded the area, distracting Shen QingQiu from his thoughts. He looked up and saw Yue QingYuan wielding a XuanSu that shone so bright that it could’ve been mistaken for the noon sun.

Shen QingQiu’s eyes widened.

This was the second time he had seen Yue QingYuan draw XuanSu with his very own eyes, the first was just minutes ago in the Water Prison when XuanSu was used for a brief moment to decimate the ceilings of the dungeon. The force exuded by XuanSu now could not be compared to the force it exuded then. XuanSu was now being wielded seriously against an opponent.

Yes, he had heard the tales of Yue QingYuan using XuanSu in the battle to defeat TianLang-Jun, but Shen QingQiu was busy maintaining the arrays with the other cultivators and was thus far from the thick of action. Now that he could feel the overwhelming might of XuanSu in battles, Shen QingQiu could understand why cultivators from other Sects treated Yue QingYuan with increased respect and deference since that fight.

To counter that, Luo BingHe also started blasting away with thick bursts of demonic qi, his attacks suddenly much more intent and coordinated unlike previously.

The fight devolved into increasing violence and ferocity. Shen QingQiu watched, mouth dry and palms sweating. This was true killing intent. Yue QingYuan and Luo BingHe might actually kill each other at this rate.

However, the battle was evidently so beyond Shen QingQiu’s current ability to handle, having just suffered a week of torture with his qi repressed. He was helpless to do anything, and this pained Shen QingQiu incredibly as he watched the two men who had someone managed to wriggle into his heart did their best to slaughter each other.

Luo BingHe had just emerged from the Endless Abyss and still had his best life to live before him! And Xiao Jiu had just gotten back his Qi-ge, he didn’t want to lose him just moments after!

Oh god, what could Shen QingQiu do?

<<Uhmm, system is sorry for having to ask dearest Shen Jiu to do this, but… Just keep your distress going and think sad thoughts, Shen Jiu. (⋟﹏⋞) Yue QingYuan and Luo BingHe would surely notice and stop.>>

Shen QingQiu did not even have the presence of mind to scold the spirit for being cheeky as he considered one plan after another, before tossing them out as foolish. He mind had even lingered over the possibility of calling for Liu QingGe, but the situation now and the situation then at the spider demon cave were far too different – how likely was it that Liu QingGe would happen to be nearby right this moment? And besides, he did not want to put Liu QingGe in more danger!

<<See, they’ve stopped!>>

That broke through Shen QingQiu’s frantic musings, and he looked up to see that Yue QingYuan and Luo BingHe had indeed pulled aside their weapons for now, and were gazing concernedly at Shen QingQiu.

“Xiao Jiu, are you alright?”

“Shizun?”

No, Shen QingQiu was very much not alright. He just wanted Yue QingYuan and Luo BingHe to stop fighting, so that he could return to his bamboo hut on QingJing Peak. But it wasn’t as if he could just say that and expect the two to heed his words, right?

<<Shen Jiu should say it! They would most definitely listen! Go on, try it. o(^-^)o>>

“Stop fighting,” Shen QingQiu tried for sternness, but it came out lost and yearning instead. “I want to return to QingJing Peak.”

Chapter Text

Luo BingHe wanted to take a knife to himself.

In his ignorance and foolishness, he had somehow managed to hurt Shizun unknowingly.

When Shizun had scolded him for wearing HuanHua Palace robes, Luo BingHe should have immediately burned them up, and clung to Shizun’s thighs, begging for forgiveness. When Shizun was being faced with baseless accusations about the sowers and the massacre of some Qius, Luo BingHe should not have just calmly stood aside. When Shizun was held in the Water Prison, Luo BingHe should have done what Yue QingYuan did and rescued Shizun from the dungeon.

Luo BingHe thought that he was doing this all for Shizun’s sake. He thought that he would be able to infiltrate HuanHua Palace to take the Palace Master position himself. When the accusations came, Luo BingHe thought that he could abuse his position inside HuanHua Palace to destroy whatever fake evidence that the Old Palace Master cooked up, but… Luo BingHe realised now that his actions were completely misguided.

He was too arrogant to think that he knew what Shizun wanted.

Luo BingHe would never be able to redeem himself, not even if he spent the next thousand year making amends and seeking atonement.

But he would try.

The next day, before the rooster had even crowed to announce the start of the day, Luo BingHe moved to kneel before Shen QingQiu’s door, dressed in assuming black cotton robes.

He wouldn’t be discovered until hours later, when Liu QingGe opened the door from the inside. Liu QingGe’s robes were not in disarray nor were his hair the slightest bit unbound.

But the tangy and sweet notes of Shizun clung onto the man still, and Luo BingHe immediately knew what had transpired in the years he left. He had his suspicions in JinLan city, and now they were confirmed.

Ahh, he was too slow, too late. Someone had taken Shizun already. Luo BingHe came to this realisation as something died in his heart.

Liu QingGe stared down at him, distaste clear in his eyes. “How long have you been here?” Liu QingGe crossed his arms.

“Five hours, Peak Lord Liu,” Luo BingHe was proud that his voice did not waver.

Taking an assessing look at the kneeling Luo BingHe, Liu QingGe muttered something about “can’t believe he has been here for so long; should’ve been more alert” before finally raising his voice to address Luo BingHe, “I’ll let QingQiu-shixiong know about your presence. He’ll decide whether to see you or not. If he doesn’t wish to, you’re to leave or I’ll kick you off QingJing Peak myself.”

Luo BingHe nodded to show his acknowledgement.

The door closed and minutes ticked by, before Liu QingGe once again opened the door and angled sharply inside. “Do not anger him again,” Liu QingGe warned.

Luo BingHe allowed the familiar scents of bamboo leaves, ink and paper to envelop him, only that now, a somewhat novel sweetness permeated the air, which Luo BingHe immediately recognised as belonging to his Shizun. The metallic base notes of Liu QingGe’s was also annoying muddled in the mix. He had never presented during his time in QingJing Peak previously, his Alpha nature only unveiling in the demon realm.

This was one of Luo Binghe’s first few times being able to smell his Shizun, although the pollution from Liu QingGe deeply irritated him.

Luo BingHe resisted the urge to release his own flare of Alpha pheromones in a territorial act of aggression. He would probably be kicked out on his ass if he did that.

He approached Shen QingQiu, knelt down and adopted a suitably contrite posture. “Luo BingHe greets Peak Lord Shen.”

Liu QingGe had padded over to join Shizun on his seating area. Luo BingHe firmly reined in the urge to snarl at Liu QingGe.

“What brings a self-proclaimed demon lord to kneel before this master’s humble abode?”

Luo BingHe expected Liu QingGe to startle at that revelation, but said man simply continued to glare at Luo BingHe.

Ah, Shizun probably told Liu QingGe already. After all, they were cultivation partners, weren’t they? It was to be expected that Shizun would share such knowledge with Liu QingGe.

Thankfully, they weren’t mates yet.

“This Luo BingHe would like to explain his actions in JinLan City, and later at HuanHua Palace. This Luo BingHe would also wish to petition Peak Lord Shen to accept this humble one into QingJing Peak again.”

A scent of pain and betrayal filled the air, before curiosity reigned supreme.

“This master will allow Luo BingHe to speak,” Shen QingQiu waved his fan imperiously.

And so, Luo BingHe began to explain what happened once he managed to be re-enter the human realm. Sometime, in the midst of his explanations, Yue QingYuan had arrived, throwing out some flimsy excuse about wanting to inquire on Shen QingQiu’s health. 

His kind Shizun allowed Yue QingYuan to stay with a barbed word, claiming that it was because he was the Sect Leader, and thus should be aware of such vital information.

It was not false, not really. But Luo BingHe had also seen how his Shizun seemed to lean into Yue QingYuan before he caught himself, and how Liu QingGe bore that with resigned tolerance. A flicker of hope reignited inside Luo BingHe, and he found himself reconsidering the possibility of courting Shizun again.

After all, if Shizun’s heart could accommodate two men, what was a third?  

---

The return of Shen QingQiu’s prodigal son left him with mixed feelings.

On one hand, Shen QingQiu was quite pleased to learn that Luo BingHe had no intention to leave him in the first place. All that he did, was so that Luo BingHe could return to QingJing Peak unchallenged. He had even used his influence in HuanHua Palace to conduct a few side-investigations of his own, and had learned that there was another powerful snake demon who commanded the sowers to accuse Shen QingQiu.

On the other hand, this was a troublesome situation to be in. When-- and it was a matter of “when” and not “if” because no secrets are kept secrets forever, especially when Luo BingHe being the demon lord was common knowledge in another realm—the other righteous Sects uncovered that a Luo BingHe was a heavenly demon, they might just launch an all-out attack, not dissimilar to what was done to TianLang-Jun. Consequently, CangQiong Sect’s reputation would suffer too, as people would become suspicious as to how a great cultivation sect been blind to the fact that they had been harbouring a demon in its midst.

Defending that stupid disciple of his would probably bring CangQiong Sect in conflict with the other three major Sects.

Look at what Shen QingQiu was thinking in his mind already—he had already forgiven Luo BingHe and accepted him back to QingJing Peak, hadn’t he?

Truly, Shen QingQiu had become such a softie. What happened to wanting to make that stupid disciple to work for it? Shen QingQiu scoffed at himself.

Despite all his internal self-mockery, Shen QingQiu could not help but to ask at the end of Luo BingHe’s explanation, “And Without A Cure? This master assumes that you’ve found a cure for it, despite its name?”

“Shizun,” a joyous smile bloomed on Luo BingHe’s face, even as he replied in a voice that seemed to be on the verge of tears. “This BingHe doesn’t deserve your concern, but Shizun may be pleased to know that the heavenly demon blood can function as an antidote to many poisons, including Without A Cure.”

“Curious,” Shen QingQiu noted, before warning wryly, “Mu-shidi may come looking for you soon then, Luo BingHe. Or more specifically, your blood.”

“If it’s Shizun’s wish, this BingHe would be happy to bleed himself dry.”

“Do not be so morbid. This master has no particular wishes on this matter. Do as you will,” Shen QingQiu said, as his attention moved to the weapon resting by Luo BingHe’s hips. “And is that dagger your weapon of choice? What’s its name?”

“This dagger has no name, Peak Lord Shen. It’s a good dagger, but nothing deserving of a name. This BingHe had been using XiuYa till he recently returned it to Peak Lord Shen.”

Shen QingQiu raised an eyebrow, “Surely there are some famous swords residing in the demon realm?”

“There are. This BingHe did chance across one,” Luo BingHe smiled faintly. “But he dared not pick it up because that sword is known to be able to corrupt its wielder’s mind, making it more prone to maniac qi deviation, that could only be tamed by sex and carnage. Knowing that this BingHe is meant to return to Peak Lord Shen’s side, how could BingHe allow such a malicious sword to potentially turn him into a dangerous presence?”

Such smooth flattery, but Shen QingQiu could admit that he was somewhat moved. This filial son act was quite to his liking.

Shen QingQiu rose from his seat and opened a nearby cabinet to retrieve a familiar sword.

“ZhengYang?” surprise was evident in Luo BingHe’s voice.

“Indeed,” Shen QingQiu replied, pleased that this sword he had been safekeeping could finally see the light of the day again. “This master gathered the shattered pieces of ZhengYang and sought Wei-shidi’s help to repair the sword.”

“Shi—Peak Lord Shen, this BingHe is eternally grateful for your consideration.” Luo BingHe bowed deeply, so much so that his head hit the ground. 

“QingJing Peak’s disciples must not shame this master by going about without their swords at their sides.”

“Peak Lord Shen! Does this mean you’ve accepted this one as your disciple?”

“Foolish child. When had this master relieved you of your duties towards QingJing Peak?” Shen QingQiu admonished. He then waved to a stack of papers on his study table. “There are some invoices that needs your attention. Luo BingHe should get to them immediately.”

Another benefit of having his white sheep disciple back was that Shen QingQiu’s paperwork would decrease significantly. Goodbye, strained back and blurred sight! Shen QingQiu might not make Luo BingHe work for the honour of becoming his disciple again, but he could make him work for the honour of retaining his status as his disciple.

“Shizun!” Luo BingHe cried out, teary-eyed as he beamed adorably at Shen QingQiu.

Such a familiar sight. Shen QingQiu could feel faint prickles in his eyes, which he hurriedly blinked away. Instead, he affected a scowl.

“Luo BingHe, you’re dismissed. Take ZhengYang and get out.”

“Shizun, your generosity and compassion awes this disciple!” Luo BingHe seemed to be overcome by strong emotions. He swallowed visibly, put down ZhengYang, and then suddenly surged forward to grab hold of Shen QingQiu’s hands.

Shen QingQiu allowed this with vague amusement and irritation. Such a dramatic, excitable child.

Oh well, he could forgive this act of impropriety just this once. After all, Luo BingHe did suffer much and had only just returned to his rightful place in CangQiong Peak. 

Lifting his head proudly, a sincere and determined expression descended upon Luo BingHe’s face. He declared, “This disciple has once promised Shizun that after he had presented, he would court for Shizun’s hand honourably. This disciple would thus like to declare his intentions, and would do his best to convince Shizun of the genuine love and admiration he holds for Shizun from today onwards!”

Stunned silence reigned.

What the fuck?

Had this son gone mad? Since when did Luo BingHe promise Shen QingQiu any such thing? Shen QingQiu would have punished Luo BingHe with a 1,000 laps if he heard it!

Luo BingHe, you stupid child, stop making your Shizun sound like a degenerate scum who preyed on his own disciples!

<<Ding dong deng! Mission accomplished! ☆*。★゚*♪ヾ(☆ゝз・)ノ

Investigation of JinLan city completed!

Love interest #3 unlocked!

Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations!>>

What.

What?

What love interest #3! I don’t recognise this! I’m rejecting the reward, spirit! I never accepted the mission.

And speaking of which, what’s with the late announcement? Luo BingHe revealed the findings of his investigation way earlier in the conversation alright! Too slow, I reject!

<<Dear beloved Shen Jiu, this system does not allow refunds. 乂(> o < )>>

What do you mean not allowed? Reject, reject!

<<♪~(´ε` )>>

SPIRIT!

Chapter Text

“Liu QingGe,” Shen QingQiu demanded, a faint air of desperation surrounding him, “Mate me.”

---

It had been a week since Shen QingQiu’s dramatic escape from the Water Prison, bringing back with him a two-faced demon lord. During that week, said demon lord had stalked, clung and thoroughly harassed an increasingly furious Shen QingQiu.

Liu QingGe battled that demon lord no less than 30 times in that week. It was starting to become routine.

Wake up, head out of Shen QingQiu’s hut, and try to kick some senses into Shen QingQiu’s unfilial disciple who would be invariably found in the kitchen, making breakfast.

Finish breakfast (which would be cooked by QingJing Peak’s chefs because Shen QingQiu wisely did not want to encourage that unfilial brat) with Shen QingQiu, head out, and block that demonic brat from approaching Shen QingQiu.

Escort Shen QingQiu to his lessons, see Luo BingHe, and immediately fight him to throw him out of the classrooms.

Liu QingGe had never been more vigilant. Nor had he become as much of a giant walking bruise before this. However, he was pleased by how Shen QingQiu had reacted to all this.

Shen QingQiu became much more affectionate in public with Liu QingGe, allowing him to get away with gentle touches that would have been rejected by sharp hits from his fans previously. It was as if Luo BingHe was driving Shen QingQiu into Liu QingGe’s waiting arms.

This was something Liu QingGe could get behind, very enthusiastically.

Speaking of enthusiasm, the fact that he was now allowed to sleep over at Shen QingQiu’s bamboo hut daily so that Liu QingGe could chase off that demon lord sat well with Liu QingGe too.

Just yesterday, Shen QingQiu had coldly rebutted another of Luo BingHe’s advance by proclaiming in public while jabbing a thin finger in Liu QingGe’s direction, “I am dual cultivating with him.”

Liu QingGe wasn’t sure what else happened that day as he went about his schedule in a haze of delight.

He resolutely tried to forget Luo BingHe’s reaction to that.

(“How does that matter, Shizun? This BingHe would love to be in your harem,” that demon lord positively purred.)

The Peak Lords had now gathered in the meeting room in QiongDing Peak, ostensibly to discuss what to do about HuanHua Palace that was now shouting for Shen QingQiu’s head, claiming that his escape was an admission of guilt and that there was no longer any need for any trials. Luo BingHe invited himself to the meeting, claiming that since he used to a follower in HuanHua Palace, he could offer insights as to how to best sabotage HuanHua Palace’s efforts. He also offered the use of his demon army.

However, the discussion was soon side-tracked by talks of Shen QingQiu’s impending, necessary heat.

Liu QingGe’s blood boiled for Shen QingQiu at having to discuss such an intimate matter in such a public setting. The scent of discomfort and anger drifting from Shen QingQiu only made it worse.

The room was practically putrid with Alpha aggression, which was made worse when Luo BingHe declared that he would deliver the courting gifts to CangQiong Peak tomorrow, and that he would be happy to accompany Shen QingQiu through his heat.

Liu QingGe wanted to grab ChengLuan and slice that brat’s head off immediately, but Yue QingYuan was faster, levering a sheathed XuanSu at Luo BingHe’s throat despite the brat’s supposed status as a demon lord. It was unlike Yue QingYuan to lose his calm and forget about diplomacy, going straight for violence – that was more of Liu QingGe’s role.

But… Liu QingGe noted with resignation (and a tinge of jealousy) that this was Shen QingQiu they were talking about after all. Yue QingYuan favoured Shen QingQiu endlessly and it was clear to the entire Sect that there was nothing he would not do for Shen QingQiu. However Yue QingYuan typically behaved, the same standards couldn’t be applied when it came to Shen QingQiu or matters relating to said man.

And Shen QingQiu, similarly, treated Yue QingYuan differently from the rest. He used to treat Yue QingYuan with barely restrained anger, while the rest of the Peak Leaders were relegated to cool disdain. And now, ever since the rescue which Liu QingGe should have just gone, despite whatever justifications Yue QingYuan fed him (HuanHua Palace would not be able to deny a Sect Leader’s request, but they also wouldn’t allow two Peak Lords to visit Shen QingQiu), that anger had  transformed into something softer and nostalgic.

Liu QingGe could not help but to glare at Yue QingYuan. He was seething with anger and jealousy that was unlike him, but he could not stop himself. 

Liu QingGe was not an insecure man. He had a good background, good looks, a good cultivation and a good standing in the martial world. Liu QingGe would never say this out loud, but he could admit that except for his communication skills, he would be an ideal mate for most.

And Liu QingGe had been trying to improve his communication skills the last few years, so one could say that he was slowly getting closer to this idea of an ideal mate.

But love functioned in strange ways. Love wasn’t logical. Love wasn’t practical. And Liu QingGe had known from the start that there was something tying Yue QingYuan and Shen QingQiu together since even before they joined CangQiong Sect. Their relationship was all tangled and toxic, but one did not get so angry at someone whom one didn’t care about.

This was not saying that Shen QingQiu did not care about Liu QingGe, because Shen QingQiu did. Shen QingQiu had shown his affection towards Liu QingGe, Shen QingQiu had kissed Liu QingGe, and Shen QingQiu had made love to Liu QingGe.

Still, if Liu QingGe had in his hands a priceless treasure, was it unreasonable for him to be jealous of others who admired and coveted it, and to be upset when they tried to take it from him?

And now, out of the blue, Shen QingQiu had asked Liu QingGe to mate him. To mate him!

In any other circumstances, Liu QingGe would have been delighted. He would have swept Shen QingQiu off his feet, fuck decorum, and whispered “yes, yes, yes” into his skin.

But the Shen QingQiu now was reeking of distress and desperation, and it was clear to Liu QingGe that Shen QingQiu had simply wanted to escape from the current situation. It wasn’t because he wanted to be mated to Liu QingGe, truly.

Liu QingGe could have seized this opportunity to bind Shen QingQiu irrevocably to him, because mates were for life. Once a couple had mated, they would be together, forever. It was truly a bond that wouldn’t break till death. Yue QingYuan and Luo BingHe would be nothing in the face of a mated pair.

But… His sister had always accused him of being a closet romantic. And maybe just today, he would admit to himself that Liu MingYan was right.

“No, QingQiu-shixiong,” Liu QingGe said, sighing softly. “You don’t want to mate me for the right reasons.”

---

Shen QingQiu had seen the way Liu QingGe behaved when he was finally back in CangQiong mountains.

Liu QingGe was tender and sweet as always, but there was a strange tension to his body whenever he caught sight of Yue QingYuan and Luo BingHe.

For Luo BingHe, it was easy enough for Shen QingQiu to empathise with Liu QingGe’s agitation. If you had to be beaten up from the moment you wake, to the moment you sleep, wouldn’t you be exhausted and pissed too?

As for Yue QingYuan, it was more difficult for Shen QingQiu to understand why initially. But when the spirit gave him some silly mission of checking in on Yue QingYuan for injuries, with a supposed reward of “Boosted love-love meter for love interest #1”, Shen QingQiu came to a sudden realisation.

Somehow, the spirit recognised Yue QingYuan as a love interest.

Liu QingGe must be jealous. Originally, that would have filled Shen QingQiu with a strange joyous glee, because this might just be the first time that anyone got jealous over Shen QingQiu. Liu QingGe loved him that much.

But when Shen QingQiu found himself starting to behave more gently around Yue QingYuan, leaning into his presence, and craving his kind gazes, he panicked.

Was Shen QingQiu somehow… being disloyal? Was Liu QingGe’s jealousy warranted? What if Liu QingGe decided that he did not want to stay with a faithless Shen QingQiu who only kept troubling him endlessly? And Liu QingGe had been more distant these days. He stayed in Shen QingQiu’s bed daily but they did not fuck.

(Shen QingQiu did not want Yue QingYuan that way, not really. He just had a soft spot for that man.)

And during the meeting earlier, Shen QingQiu’s suspicions were confirmed. Luo BingHe had just declared that he would up his childish antics and bring even more trouble to those who cared about Shen QingQiu, and Liu QingGe’s fierce gaze at both that stupid brat and Yue QingYuan was molten-hot in its fury. But it was the pain in Liu QingGe’s clenched fists and furrowed brows that truly drew Shen QingQiu’s attention.

Shen QingQiu was desperate. He had just recently gotten Liu QingGe; he had bound the man with the twin ropes of duty and love.

Liu QingGe promised that he would never leave Shen QingQiu, but what if this was the straw that broke the camel’s back?

Liu QingGe was his. He didn’t want to let him go.

It was fine, Shen QingQiu still had one last thing to barter with. It had always been what Liu QingGe wanted, so this would be Shen QingQiu’s trump card that Liu QingGe could stand no chance against.

He would mate Liu QingGe and Liu QingGe would never be able to leave him. Their bond as a mated pair would not allow them to separate.

Liu QingGe would then truly be Shen QingQiu’s to own, Shen QingQiu’s to love. Shen QingQiu would possess Liu QingGe’s entire being. There would be nothing of Liu QingGe that didn’t belong to Shen QingQiu.

But… Liu QingGe rejected him? If not even his trump card worked… was Liu QingGe leaving him soon? If not today, then maybe tomorrow, or next week, or—

Shen QingQiu could feel panic settling its claws into him, and he could not resist the pained sound coming out of his throat, weak and pathetic. “Are you leaving me?”

Liu QingGe frowned, and reached for Shen QingQiu’s hands, pulling them together so that he could rest his forehead against Shen QingQiu’s. He asked softly, “Why do you want to mate me?”

Shen QingQiu, who had been warmed by the tender gesture, stiffened in fear. Had his despicable plan been found out? His disgusting possessiveness—

Just then, Liu QingGe suddenly threw his weight to the right, hands curling strongly against Shen QingQiu’s waist as he did so, causing Shen QingQiu to be pulled along.

Liu QingGe disentangled himself from Shen QingQiu and immediately stood protectively in-front of Shen QingQiu. He pointed ChengLuan’s naked blade at Luo BingHe, “You! How dare you claim to love QingQiu-shixiong when you throw your sword at him, you idiotic demon?”

“I was aiming at you, Liu-shishu,” Luo BingHe mocked, before he tried to lock gaze with Shen QingQiu to reassure said man. “Don’t worry, Shizun, ZhengYang would never pierce Shizun. This BingHe loves Shizun too much to harm him; he would give Shizun the best of everything.”

“You idiotic brat!” Liu QingGe exploded. “Stop saying that you love QingQiu-shixiong! Your love is nothing but a childish obsession! How can you claim to love him when you’re causing him pain and anger every day? Do you know what the people are now whispering about QingQiu-shixiong now? They claim that on top of being a heartless murderer, he’s also a licentious pervert who groomed a demonic child to satiate his inhuman lust!”

Liu QingGe slashed ChengLuan in the air forcefully. “And QingQiu-shixiong had said so many times that he didn’t want your worthless, troublesome courtship, and yet you continue to wilfully ignore his wishes! You prioritise your own childish desires over QingQiu-shixiong’s wellbeing and desires, and you dare to say ‘love’? Your ‘love’ is a cheap thing!

If you truly loved QingQiu-shixiong, you would have given him everything he wants. If he wants you gone, you would scram! If he wants someone else,” Liu QingGe’s gaze flitted over to Yue QingYuan unconsciously, imperceptibly gritting his jaw tighter, “Then you just do your damned best to ensure he doesn’t get hurt, and let him go! You don’t prioritise your own desires over his!”

Ah.

Ah, Shen QingQiu was so stupid. Maybe the spirit infected him with his stupidity.

Liu QingGe didn’t want to leave, he thought Shen QingQiu wanted to leave him.

The two of them were a pair, weren’t they? Both of them not wanting to leave, but still trying to leave.

Shen QingQiu’s heart warmed and for the first time in the last two weeks, he felt like he could breathe properly. It was alright, Liu QingGe and Shen QingQiu could be stupid together.

This was embarrassing to do before so many pairs of eyes, but Shen QingQiu really did not want the foolish misunderstanding to continue any longer. He reached out to hug that warm, steady, reliable back of his Liu-shidi, resting his chin on his shidi’s shoulder. 

“How can I not want you when you say such things?” Shen QingQiu murmured into Liu QingGe’s ears. He noted with quiet delight that Liu QingGe’s ears and neck had turned red.

“W—what?”

“This QingQiu-shixiong never wants to leave his Liu-shidi. He wants to spend the rest of his days with Liu-shidi,” Shen QingQiu continued, “But I’m not as kind as Liu-shidi. I would never let you leave, even if you want to.”

Shen QingQiu nuzzled softly into the pale neck before him, “So won’t you let me mate you, such that we can never leave each other?”

<<Such amazing subversion of Alpha-Omega tropes again! System 52088 is in awe! ・+(*゜∀゜*)+・>>

Chapter Text

<<This system would like to be the first to congratulate dearest Shen Jiu for completing his first heat! \(★^∀^★)/ Congratulations, congratulation, congratulations!>>

Shen QingQiu could not muster the energy to tell off the system. His waist ached, his legs ached, his asshole ached. Liu QingGe was vigorous once he was convinced that Shen QingQiu really, truly, from the bottom of his heart wanted to mate him.

Thank god for small mercies like a self-lubricating asshole.

<<You’re very much welcome, lovely Shen Jiu! (*^∀゚)ъ This system is pleased that his beautiful daughter had found such a brave, loyal man to settle down with! Now, all that’s left in Liu QingGe’s route is the wedding ceremony!>>

What wedding ceremony? Shen QingQiu and Liu QingGe were mated. Surely that was more momentous than any wedding ceremony. Now that Liu QingGe’s body and mind was tied to Shen QingQiu’s in every way that matters, what was a stupid ceremony?

He could sense where Liu QingGe was at any time, and he could actually began to scent Liu QingGe, even though his “pheromone-scenting ability” was still turned off according to the spirit. The scar on his neck actually throbbed whenever Liu QingGe experienced strong emotions.

<<Shen Jiu, you can’t be so dastardly! (°o°;) Now that you’ve ravished the poor Alpha, you’re refusing to take responsibility? Your name would be cursed throughout the realms!>>

… Aren’t Omegas the ones who get ravished?

<<Usually, yes! But Liu QingGe and you are different! The two of you have completed subverted the Alpha-Omega dynamics! You were clearly the one who seduced and ravished this poor maiden-->>

Shut up.

<<Honourable Shen Jiu, this system has taught his daughter better than this! (人ゝд∩) You need to take res-->>

Shut up.

<<Shen Jiuuuuuuuuuuuuu. (╥╯θ╰╥)>>

Resolutely ignoring the stupid spirit in his head, Shen QingQiu decided that now that his heat had broken, and he wasn’t overcome by the desire and lust pooling in his groins and ass, it was perhaps time to get up and got to business. His escape from the Water Prison was still unresolved to say the least, and there were still lessons to oversee.

Shen QingQiu spared a fond glance for Liu QingGe who had managed to curl around him tightly every night, before gently wriggling out of his grasp. He was untangling their legs, when the other man woke up.

---

Liu QingGe didn’t wake up like any normal man. As the Baizhan War God who loved demon hunts, he was used to sleeping lightly in whatever forests, caves or glades that he found himself in during one of his missions. As such, having been placed regularly in circumstances when he could not afford to let his guard down, when something that woke him up could very well kill him, Liu QingGe woke up to full wakefulness every time.

There was no time spared to rub at eyes lazily or to stretch the body languidly, Liu QingGe’s eyes opened and he was immediately taking in his surroundings, alert and at the ready.

He smelled sweat, arousal and sex in the air, and the familiar scent of Shen QingQiu. Turning, Liu QingGe spotted Shen QingQiu next to him, and something in him warmed and relaxed. His stance turned soft and open.

Right, he wasn’t in some wilderness or battlefield. Liu QingGe was right where he wanted to be, next to the man he loved; next to his mate.

Liu QingGe did not suppress the smile that pulled up the corners off his lips, succumbing easily to the desire to have Shen QingQiu to himself for a few moment more.

“QingQiu-shixiong,” Liu QingGe said, drawing said man back into his arms, “Where are you going?”

“Out,” Shen QingQiu said drily, amusement laced in his voice. His mouth said one thing, but his body said another, as Shen QingQiu took a couple of seconds to linger in Liu QingGe’s embrace.

Liu QingGe wanted to protest, but in the end, he released his hold on Shen QingQiu after pressing a soft kiss on the newly-made bond mark on Shen QingQiu’s neck.

“Good morning,” Liu QingGe said instead, as he swung his legs off the bed too, and joined Shen QingQiu in putting on a fresh set of robes they had prepared before entering Shen QingQiu’s confinement room. After all, their original set of robes were undoubtedly ruined, after all those… activities.

The sheer thought of those activities sent a hot flush coursing through Liu QingGe’s body, and as if Shen QingQiu could sense Liu QingGe’s burgeoning arousal, Liu QingGe was speared with a sharp glance.

“Don’t even think about it,” Shen QingQiu arched a stern brow, but his amusement was betrayed by the slight quirk in his lips. “We fucked for five days, and god knows what HuanHua Palace have been up to.”

Liu QingGe fumbled for a response.

So direct! Did Shen QingQiu have to phrase it like that? ‘Fuck’ sounded so vulgar! How about ‘making love’? Even having sex would be better than ‘fuck’.

Just when Liu QingGe was still having an internal debate regarding Shen QingQiu’s word choice, Shen QingQiu had already neatly put on his robes and tied up his hair. Seeing that Liu QingGe was nowhere near presentable yet, Shen QingQiu frowned slightly before bringing over a comb to help untangle the knots in Liu QingGe’s hair.

“Don’t dawdle, we’ve much to do today.” Shen QingQiu’s hands were infinitely gentle when brushing through Liu QingGe’s hair, a stark contrast as to how he sharply pulled on them just the night before.

Liu QingGe was heating up again. Was this his fate? Was it his fate to be rendered perpetually pink now that he had mated Shen QingQiu? 

A few more strokes, and then Shen QingQiu deftly tied Liu QingGe’s hair into its usual ponytail. He swiped a crown and slipped it onto Liu QingGe’s head.

Shen QingQiu nodded his head in satisfaction, before frowning again as his eyes moved down.

Ah, Liu QingGe had been in a daze, and his robes was still in disarray, despite the fact that he could have put them on when Shen QingQiu was brushing his hair.

Hurriedly, Liu QingGe brought his hands up to try and tie his robes together, before they were firmly stopped by Shen QingQiu, who took over the job.

“Has QingGe-shidi become so lazy? Has it become this mate’s duty to tidy up after you?”

Mate.

Shen QingQiu just called himself Liu QingGe’s mate. Another wave of overwhelming delight and joy threatened to reduce Liu QingGe into yet another stammering mess, but… while it was lovely being addressed as ‘mate’ by Shen QingQiu, Liu QingGe would much rather be called ‘husband’. He could already imagine Shen QingQiu dressed in the lavish ceremonial red—

God! He was so sappy! There were more important things they had to contend with, and yet here he was, dreaming of a wedding like some young maiden in her first flush of love!

Embarrassing! Liu QingGe was the BaiZhan War God. He had no use for such trivial things.

… Although, Liu QingGe really would be more than happy to wed Shen QingQiu. He was even willing having to put up with having to invite his entire Liu clan, with its veritable mass of interfering, overbearing aunts and uncles, if it was to officiate their bond before the gods and the world. They were mated, yes, but… it would be nice if he could call Shen QingQiu ‘husband’.

Not that Liu QingGe would do it all the time, of course! It would embarrass them both, and Shen QingQiu probably wouldn’t be pleased either. But maybe, in private…

“All done.”  Liu QingGe was interrupted from his thoughts by Shen QingQiu’s voice and a firm pat on his chest. He looked down at himself, and noted that the robes which he had just hurried shrugged on earlier were now draping neatly on his body. His belt were on, and not a piece of fabric was out of place.

While Liu QingGe was daydreaming, Shen QingQiu had already dressed him with care.

Liu QingGe held so much affection in his heart that he felt like it would burst.

“QingQiu-shixiong, after all this is over,” Liu QingGe’s eyes were warm and wet, as he took gentle hold of Shen QingQiu’s hand that was still resting on his chest, pressing it tighter and closer. “Let’s get married.”

Shen QingQiu’s expression remained as serene as ever for a second, before he broke into sudden peals of laughter. He was laughing so hard and unrestrainedly that tears was even forming in the corner of his eyes.

Liu QingGe did not know what was so funny about his words, but he delighted in being the one who could bring such joy to Shen QingQiu. After a while though, when Shen QingQiu did not stop laughing, Liu QingGe felt the faint stirrings of unease.

Or was the thought of marrying Liu QingGe so ridiculous…?

“Alright, alright, I can hear you leaping to strange conclusions again. Stop being so anxious,” Shen QingQiu’s finally quietened and he regarded Liu QingGe with soft warmth. The previous bout of laughter left colour high in Shen QingQiu’s cheeks, and his eyes were bright and glistening, lips still smiling.

“This Shen QingQiu would be overjoyed to take responsibility and wed Liu QingGe.”

Saying so, Shen QingQiu abruptly turned around and made for the door, but Liu QingGe could see that Shen QingQiu’s ears were red and he wasn’t as unaffected as he pretended to be.

Hastening his footsteps so that he could catch up with his soon-to-be husband (!!!), Liu QingGe nearly missed Shen QingQiu’s soft, amused murmur.

“The BaiZhan War God is actually a blushing young maiden after all.”

---

The peace did not last though. It was just a temporary respite in a raging storm, and the moment Shen QingQiu and Liu QingGe stepped into the disciples’ common area, he could see that his QingJing Peak had become a hive of activity, with disciples scurrying to and fro.

Shen QingQiu spotted MingFan amidst this sea of fluttering white and green robes.

“MingFan, what happened?”

“MingFan greets Shizun and Liu-shishu!” the young man bowed respectfully, stopping in his hurried steps. “HuanHua Palace is at the foot of CangQiong mountains! They have brought with them a thousand of their disciples and are refusing to leave till their outrageous demands are met. All Peaks have been informed this morning to prepare for conflict.”

Upon hearing MingFan’s explanations, Shen QingQiu’s blood turned cold.

“The Peak Lords are now meeting on QiongDing Peak. MingFan asks that Shizun and Liu-shishu hurry over!” MingFan continued.

Tersely nodding, Shen QingQiu and Liu QingGe flew to QiongDing Peak as fast as they could.

The Peak Lords were deep in discussion when Shen QingQiu and Liu QingGe entered the war room.

Their entrance startled the rest, and Yue QingYuan took the time to greet them. “QingQiu-shidi, Liu-shidi, you look well.”

Gone unsaid was the fact that the two of them just spent the last five days fucking like rabbits.

Shen QingQiu was thankful for this small grace, as now really wasn’t the time to deal with embarrassment and he cut straight to the chase, demanding for an explanation.

As Yue QingYuan had to strategise CangQiong mountains’ defences with Liu QingGe now that he was back, Qi QingQi was the one who quickly filled him in.

He learned that in the five days he entered his heat, HuanHua Palace had suddenly upped their ante, as if they had gotten their hands on some decisive evidence or a powerful backer. This was despite the fact that TianYi Overlook and Zhao Hua Temple remained firm in their decision to stay out of the conflict.

HuanHua Palace mustered a force of nearly a thousand disciples and had then setup a large-scale containment array, preventing anyone from entering or exiting CangQiong mountains. They refused to leave till CangQiong capitulate to their demands, seemingly willing to starve the entire Sect till they got what they want.

  1. Surrender Shen QingQiu
  2. Allow the trial to take place

Shen QingQiu wanted to spit in the face of the past Shen QingQiu who foolishly decided to escape Water Prison. This was precisely what he was trying to avoid! How did he mess it up so much that the situation became worse?

Now, not only were the Peak Lords involved, but even the disciples, some of them whom had yet to even draw a sword from WanJian Peak, were forcibly pulled into what may become a devastating battle. They were far from ready to battle another Sect, but this was all thrusted upon them all thanks to Shen QingQiu’s sins.

<<It’s not Shen Jiu’s fault! (●o≧д≦)o That Qiu HaiTang was just too stupid to realise your suffering, dearest Shen Jiu! And Shen Jiu need not worry, this system will ensure that an all-out battle between CangQiong Sect and HuanHua Palace doesn’t happen. Please accept this mission, darling Shen Jiu!

Mission: Accept HuanHua Palace’s invite to a parley and resolve all lingering resentment

Reward: HuanHua Palace’s troops>>

Shen QingQiu wanted to accept this mission, but what was the stupid spirit going about? HuanHua Palace wanted war, what parley—

A disciple dressed in QiongDing Peak’s black robe burst into the room, shouting, “Shizun! HuanHua Palace had just asked for a parley!”

Ah, that parley.

Chapter Text

“This stinks of a trap,” Qi QingQi evaluated coldly. “Does HuanHua Palace think of us as fools?”

“Yes, but what if they truly wish to discuss?” Shang QingHua, AnDing Peak Lord, countered meekly. “It may just be the best way of avoiding bloodshed…”

“I’ve forgotten that we do have one such fool in our midst,” Qi QingQi’s eyes flashed angrily at Shang QingHua. “You may be fine with delivering Shen-shixiong to his death, but I’m not!”

Shang QingHua cringed as if he had been hit, but he still pressed on, “Luo BingHe would be there, wouldn’t he? He’s a demon lord! He can protect Shen-shixiong!”

“That’s the worst part of it all,” Qi QingQi scoffed. “You know how this demonic beast had been behaving around Shen-shixiong! What if he takes advantage of Shen-shixiong during the parley and make off with him?”

“HuanHua Palace would be there…” Shang QingHua trailed off meaningfully.

“HuanHua Palace thinks of that demonic brat as their disciple! Did you not hear what the messenger said?” Qi QingQi took on a scornful tone as she recited, “HuanHua Palace cordially invites Shen QingQiu to represent CangQiong Sect and himself for a parley, and seeks the return of our disciple, Luo BingHe. They think of him as their disciple! Do you think they will side with Shen-shidi over their own disciple?”

“We can just reveal Luo BingHe’s demonic heritage then? HuanHua Palace hates demons, so surely...”

At that, Shen QingQiu, who had been quietly listening to the argument, stirred. Just as he was about to object, Luo BingHe, who had been asked to join the discussion since he was requested in the parley, spoke, “The Old Palace Master already knows that I’m a demon. Revealing my demonic heritage is unlikely to change his attitude towards me.”

“The Old Palace master knows that you’re a demon, and he still favours you?” Qi QingQi sounded incredulous.

“Yes,” Luo BingHe shrugged.

The look in Qi QingQi’s eyes turned cool and assessing, before she decided to turn her attention back to giving Shang QingHua a thorough scolding. “See, all your bright ideas are for nothing.”

Shang QingHua cowered and did not dare to offer any further rebuttals.

At this point in time, Liu QingGe spoke, his agitation simmering in the air, “Qi-shijie is correct. The Old Palace Master is probably awaiting us with unscrupulous tricks up his sleeves. QingQiu-shixiong shouldn’t go.”

“What do we do then?” Mu QingFang asked quietly, “What about the Heavenly Meteor array that HuanHua Palace claimed they would unleash if QingQiu-shixiong doesn’t show up for the parley?”

The Heavenly Meteor array was a devastation-level array that could level mountains and dry up entire lakes. It was an immensely powerful array that was used in the last siege against TianLang-Jun, the ultimate array of HuanHua Palace.

While powerful, it was something that required a living anchor to cast, with said living anchor having to sacrifice his life-force to direct the destructive spiritual power that the rest of the cultivators cast. Thus far, the only man known to be capable of functioning as Heavenly Meteor array’s living anchor was the Old Palace Master.

“It’s probably a bluff,” Liu QingGe grinded out. “The Old Palace Master is already in his twilight years. He would be seeking death to actually cast the Heavenly Meteor array now.”

“But even the mere possibility of it…” Shang QingHua seemed to have found his courage to speak again, “Think of all the disiciples who live on this mountain.”

“Are you so keen to send QingQiu-shixiong to die?” Liu QingGe rounded around to yell at Shang QingHua, hand resting threateningly on ChengLuan.

Shen QingQiu laid a calming hand on Liu QingGe. “QingGe-shidi, Shang-shidi is simply trying to be the voice of reason. He’s not wrong. It’s known that the Old Palace Master has the capability, and the thousand HuanHua Palace disciples gathered here only reinforces this. We cannot dismiss it so lightly.”

“Then what?” Liu QingGe’s eyes glinted with pain and anger, “Do you want to deliver yourself into HuanHua Palace’s hands?”

“It would be a sin to throw away even the slightest possibility of allowing CangQiong Sect to emerge from this situation unharmed,” Shen QingQiu did not back down. “This QingQiu has stayed in the Water Prison once, and can stay in it again.”

“Are you not part of our CangQiong Sect?” Liu QingGe said, his bitter agitation intensifying. “Why do you keep putting yourself in harm’s way?”

Shen QingQiu remained quiet. It was not that he had a heroic streak like Yue QingYuan, Shen QingQiu simply had things he wanted to protect in CangQiong Sect. When he looked at the situation objectively – wasn’t the outcome where one died for the sake of a thousand far better than the opposite?

Not that he would die, of course. Attending this parley was a mission from the spirit, and the spirit would not send Shen QingQiu to his death. After all, the reward was HuanHua Palace troops. Maybe the Old Palace Master truly wanted to make peace?

Unlikely. Given the lengths that the Old Palace Master was willing to go simply to have Shen QingQiu back in his grasp, it was more probable that the Old Palace Master would torture Shen QingQiu till he was dead.

Well, Shen QingQiu still had this stupid Super Omega body, with its stupid pheromones and Holy Maiden aura. If the worse comes to the worst, Shen QingQiu could switch on that ability of his and prayed hard that he didn’t cause anybody to commit suicide by accident.

 “This disciple has Mobei-Jun at his command. If Shizun commands, this disciple can send Mobei-Jun to assassinate the Old Palace Master,” Luo BingHe offered quietly.

“No,” Shen QingQiu rejected coolly. “A demon assassinating the head of HuanHua Palace in a situation where his death would undoubtedly benefit this Sect would only invite trouble for CangQiong Sect. We would be known for allying with demons; our reputation would be ruined.”

“Better it ruined, than QingQiu-shidi dead,” Yue QingYuan’s voice was tight with tension.

“Enough,” Shen QingQiu said harshly. He turned to look at the occupants in the room, levelling a serious look at them, “While your concern heartens this QingQiu, this QingQiu has made up his mind. I would go to parley and either you do your best to ensure that I’m protected, or I’ll head there as I’m now.”

Thick waves of fear emanated from Liu QingGe, nearly barrelling Shen QingQiu with its intensity. Surveying the room, Shen QingQiu could see varying degrees of the same emotion on his martial brothers’ and sister’s faces.

Somehow, along the way, Shen QingQiu had managed to gather a roomful of people who cared for his wellbeing.

… How… nice.

“If Shizun has made up his mind, then this disciple would accompany him as per the terms of the parley.”

“Luo BingHe is a disciple of QingJing Peak. He’s not allowed to defect to HuanHua Palace,” Shen QingQiu rejected, sharply snapping his fan on the table for emphasis.

“This Luo BingHe has no intentions of defecting to HuanHua Palace,” Luo BingHe bowed deferentially, “He simply wants to protect Shizun.”

“No, this master needs no protection,” Shen QingQiu rejected again, “Luo BingHe is a mere disciple who has no say in such things.”

Shen QingQiu needed to go for the parley alone. How could he possibly switch on his bullshit pheromones and aura if Luo BingHe was nearby? What if that obsessed unfilial brat jumped him? Or worse, committed suicide?

“Then I’ll go with you instead,” Liu QingGe said tersely.

Hmm, not a bad idea actually? Perhaps mates are immune to this Super Omega allure?

<<Yes, Shen Jiu is so smart! ヾ(^∇^) But system suggests Shen Jiu to take Yue QingYuan instead!>>

Why?

<<It’s for dearest Shen Jiu’s happiness! (*^▽^)/ Please select Yue QingYuan to accompany you for the parley instead!>>

Explain.

<<There’s little resentment lingering between Liu QingGe and beloved Shen Jiu already! (*・∀-)☆ However, Yue QingYuan and Shen Jiu still have things to work out. For the sake of the mission, bringing Yue QingYuan along would be more effective!>>

So… the mission wasn’t about resolving any lingering resentment between the Old Palace Master and I?

<<Of course not! (хдх) The Old Palace Master isn’t worthy of precious Shen Jiu’s time, much less sparing any effort into resolving whatever bad blood there is between the two of you!>>

True, Shen QingQiu thought to himself. The Old Palace Master was a sleaze-ball who had rumours floating around about how some of his favoured disciples weren’t favoured because of their abilities, but rather because of his untoward interest in them. Some people even said that the only reason why the Old Palace Master hated demons so much these days were because the precious disciple he had his eyes on, Su XiYan, was defiled by a demon; that the purity he wanted for himself was stolen by others.

Moreover, Shen QingQiu had to interact with the Old Palace Master in his course of fulfilling his duties as QingJing Peak Lord. He had seen for himself how the Old Palace Master’s eyes lingered over the developing curves of his own young disciples. Shen QingQiu recognised those looks. He had once been the recipient of such looks, just from other men instead.

That was the reason why Shen QingQiu had never ever brought Ning YingYing to any cultivation event where the Old Palace Master would be present.

Although, what lingering resentment did Shen QingQiu have with Yue QingYuan? Wasn’t it all resolved during that embarrassing spate of emotional outbursts in the Water Prison?

<<Anyway, dearest Shen Jiu, don’t worry. v(⌒o⌒)v Even if you use your Super Omega powers with Yue QingYuan present, it’ll be perfectly fine! If there’s one benefit to how Yue QingYuan had so tightly bound his life to XuanSu, then it would be how he would be less affected by your Super Omega powers since he has an inanimate spiritual tool tying him down!>>

WHAT?

<<… Ahhh, has Yue QingYuan not told you? …Whoops? (゚ω゚;)>>

Chapter Text

After the room descended into chaos and Shen QingQiu explained why he wanted Yue QingYuan’s presence over Liu QingGe’s, the pair finally set off for the base of the mountains.

(“No, QingGe-shidi, this shixiong would never think that you’re weak. However, this is still a parley. We would already be snubbing the Old Palace Master by not bringing Luo BingHe. For diplomacy’s sake, the Sect Leader has to be the one that comes instead.

And besides, QingGe-shidi, we’re bonded. Should I happen to be hurt in any way, you would be able to know immediately and can come flying to my defence. Talismans can be suppressed by communication-scrambling arrays, tokens can be destroyed, but the way our bond allows us to reach out to each other… You’ll be able to sense my distress the fastest and come flying in with the vanguard if I happen to be in danger.”)

Shen QingQiu had very much wanted to grill and roast and maybe kill Yue QingYuan along the way, but they had other more pressing matters, such as the parley then.

Once they reached the base of the mountains, they were quickly received by a pair of disciples dressed in HuanHua’s red, and let to a luxurious tend. Awaiting them was the Old Palace Master, and a group of his elite disciples.

“This Old Palace Master of HuanHua Palace welcomes his guests to the parley,” the Old Palace Master greeted with false warmth, settled into a throne-like chair before a table. Before the table were two humble stools, which Shen QingQiu assumed was for himself and Yue QingYuan.

“Yue QingYuan, Sect Leader of CangQiong Sect, greets the Old Palace Master, and thanks him for this opportunity to parley,” Yue QingYuan dipped his head in acknowledgment. 

Swallowing his anger for the moment, Shen QingQiu affected an air of cold difference and followed suit. “Shen QingQiu, QingJing Peak Lord, greets the Old Palace Master too, and thanks him for this invitation to parley.”

The Old Palace Master waved a lazy hand towards the stool, and Yue QingYuan and Shen QingQiu took a seat. Immediately, a HuanHua Palace approached to pour a cup of warm tea each for the three masters.

“Now, we seem to be missing someone. This Old Palace Master is curious,” a hint of steel entered the Old Palace Master’s voice, “Have you misplaced Luo BingHe somewhere along your trek down the mountains, or did my messenger misspeak?”

“Luo BingHe is otherwise engaged in his duties as a CangQiong Sect disciple,” Yue QingYuan replied with equanimity, “It was thus decided that as the Sect Leader of CangQiong Sect, it was only right for myself to offer our sincere apologies that we would be unable to return Luo BingHe to HuanHua Palace.”

“I’m afraid CangQiong Sect doesn’t seem to be very sincere in their wishes for a parley,” the Old Palace Master shook his head in mock disappointment, “It was the only other request that this HuanHua Palace made, yet CangQiong Sect made no attempts to fulfil it.”

“Hardly,” Yue QingYuan smiled. “Luo BingHe is nothing but a wayward disciple of CangQiong Sect. As Sect Leader, we thank the Old Palace Master for caring for that foolish disciple of ours for the last few months. CangQiong Sect would like to recompense for any trouble caused with the gifts we brought here.”

At Yue QingYuan’s words, Shen QingQiu withdrew several priceless treasures from his Qiankun pouch – a luminescent night pearl as big as the size of a fist, a cultivation manual written by the first-generation QingJing Peak Lord, and a horn from one of the rarest and most dangerous beasts in the demon realms. He laid them neatly on the table before them for the Old Palace Master’s perusal.

“Very fine treasures indeed,” the Old Palace Master spared a glance before taking a sip of his warm tea. “But Sect Leader Yue is very much mistaken in thinking that HuanHua Palace’s disciples are up for sale.”

“The Old Palace Master assumes too much,” Shen QingQiu could not resist a jab, his equilibrium already disturbed by the spirit’s earlier revelation. His reins on his temper were fraying, and having to suffer the presence of the Old Palace Master before him was absolutely not helping things. “Unlike others, CangQiong Sect does not engage in the flesh trade.”

“Oh? But what of the rumours going around of the esteemed Peak Lord Shen lusting after his own disciple?” the Old Palace Master asked. “It seems that the Peak Lord Shen does not use crass tools like money to get the carnal pleasure he desires, but rather wields his Omega wiles like a weapon.”

Fuck! Did the Old Palace Master think that Shen QingQiu wanted that stupid foolish brat’s attention? He was just nurturing a healthy master-disciple relationship with that idiot.

What Omega wiles? This Shen QingQiu will Omega-wile the Old Palace Master till he died!

Yue QingYuan reached a hand out to cover Shen QingQiu’s own hand, ready to allay his anger, but that just made Shen QingQiu to flinch away bodily from the contact. His eyes were cold as he glared at Yue QingYuan, daring him to make another move.

And here was another idiot! Hiding important things from Shen QingQiu! What did Yue QingYuan think he was going to do when he learned of his secret about XuanSu? Did he think Shen QingQiu was going to blab to the world about Yue QingYuan’s weakness or lord it over him as blackmail?

How could Shen QingQiu trust Yue QingYuan’s promises in the Water Prison, if Yue QingYuan didn’t even trust Shen QingQiu with this?

Yue QingYuan sent him another pained smile, withdrawing his hand before focusing on the Old Palace Master again. His voice took on an unfamiliar hardness, “The Old Palace Master would do well to mind his words. CangQiong Sect would not allow its Peak Lords to be insulted like this.”

The Old Palace Master, for some strange reason, seemed to be struggling to contain some unsaid amusement. The corner of his lips twitched and his eyes were glinting with wicked delight.

Shen QingQiu roused himself from his thoughts immediately, quickly sweeping quick eyes over the tent. Had they just triggered a trap? Any tell-tale signs of foreign spiritual energy? Had Yue QingYuan and Shen QingQiu consumed anything?

“I see that Peak Lord Shen’s Omega wiles work very well. Even the great Sect Leader Yue cannot escape his clutches.”

Shen QingQiu did not splutter indignantly. He did not do anything that could be construed as boorish and unrefined. Instead, he snapped open his fan, regarded the Old Palace Master intently, and slowly considered how he could use said Omega wiles to drive this waste of space to his death.

For once, he was thankful for this annoying Super Omega body that the spirit had given him.

The Old Palace Master was the first to break the gaze, his neck an ugly red. “If Peak Lord Shen thinks that he could use his Omega wiles on this master, he’s very much mistaken. Has he forgotten that this master is a Beta and is thus immune to Omegas’ seduction?”

How about having the Old Palace Master torn apart at the hands of his own disciples?

<<That’s too merciful for the Old Palace Master! How dare he presumes that he’s worthy of dearest Shen Jiu’s attention! Stupid, lecherous old man!>>

Yue QingYuan stood up abruptly. “It seems that the Old Palace Master is not sincere in his intentions to parley with how he insults Qing—CangQiong Sect in his every sentence. If that’s the case, we shall take our leave.”

Shen QingQiu was flabbergasted.

Yue QingYuan, weren’t you the diplomatic Sect Leader? How could you be so easily angered to even throw away what seemed to be the last chance at peace? Sure, Shen QingQiu had every intention to use his allure and Holy Maiden aura to control the situation and ensure the safety of the Sect, but it wasn’t as if Yue QingYuan knew that!

“So easily angered, Sect Leader Yue. This is unlike you,” the Old Palace Master’s voice held an undertone of amusement. “Aren’t your emotions running a little high? Feeling a bit off-balanced, perhaps?”

There it was again. That disgusting attitude the Old Palace Master took on was almost as if he had the two Peak Lords by their balls, just that they didn’t know it yet.

“It doesn’t matter anyway,” the Old Palace Master waved a lazy hand in the air. “Shall we just get straight to business then? HuanHua Palace demands that justice to be served to Peak Lord Shen, and requires that he returns himself to the Water Prison for his detainment. Will the righteous Sect Leader Yue accede to this?”

“No! I’ll not leave Xiao Jiu behind again!” was Yue QingYuan’s immediate, vehement response.

Shen QingQiu blanched. Something was very wrong with Yue QingYuan. He had never once used this name to address Shen QingQiu ever since the two joined CangQiong Sect. He had attempted to do in private, but never in public.

“I have always suspected that there was something wrong with the relationship between Sect Leader Yue and Peak Lord Shen, but to think that it’s able to so easily rouse such strong emotions in the calm Sect Leader, Peak Lord Shen’s Omega wiles is truly awe-inspiring,” the Old Palace Master praised Shen QingQiu sarcastically. “I would have loved to see the great Sect Leader wilt before you, but alas, it seems that the two of you will die before that happens. How disappointing.”

Saying so, the Old Palace Master immediately made a hand seal and a red array flared to life underneath Shen QingQiu and Yue QingYuan.

It was a Shooting Star array, Shen QingQiu quickly assessed. As compared to the Heavenly Meteor array, the Shooting Star array took less power and did not sap the anchor’s lifeforce, as it was a smaller scale spell. What it required was instead an abundance of spiritual energy concentrated into a small area within its boundaries. Said boundaries were usually spelled to entrap.

However, the Shooting Star array usually couldn’t be concealed and there would be remnants of the spiritual energy used for the setup of the array lingering. How did Shen QingQiu miss it?

“Didn’t notice it, did you?” the Old Palace Master cackled, all previous masks of diplomacy having fallen away.

He then continued, as if lecturing students, “The HuanHua Palace has just created a new concealment spell that can even hide the trails of the Shooting Star array! Unfortunately, it requires large amount of spiritual energy too, just slightly lesser than that of Heavenly Meteor array. But look at then again, aren’t we surrounded by a thousand HuanHua Palace disciples who are supposedly here setting up the Heavenly Meteor array?”

Ah, that was why.

“Have you lost your mind, Old Palace Master?” Yue QingYuan said through gritted teeth, hand on XuanSu’s hilt, “This is tantamount to declaring war on CangQiong Sect.”

“How wonderful, I’ve always wanted to crush CangQiong Sect,” the Old Palace Master was unperturbed. “Your Sect has always been such an annoyance, preaching about lofty justice and mercy from your ivory towers, while your actions are as deplorable as HuanHua Palace’s.”

“CangQiong Sect’s power is on par with HuanHua Palace’s. This is mutually assured destruction.”

“Not anymore,” a secretive grin spread on the Old Palace Master’s face, “We’ve a… new friend.”

“New friend?” Yue QingYuan tightened his grip on XuanSu, “What fiendish monsters have you allied with? No righteous sect in the world would scheme with you to war against CangQiong Sect.”

“It matters not to you, Sect Leader Yue,” the Old Palace Master shrugged, “You shouldn’t waste your last 15 minutes in this world on such pointless matters.”

“I will not allow you to kill Xiao Jiu like this!” Saying so, Yue QingYuan drew XuanSu and a blinding white light flooded the tent.

Shen QingQiu, who had remained quiet as the Old Palace Master seemed to have zero qualms revealing his plans and intentions to what he deemed to be two walking dead, finally leaped into action. He sharply smacked against Yue QingYuan’s dominant hand, trying to loosen his grip.

However, Yue QingYuan did not so much as move. Instead, the white light grew brighter as Yue QingYuan settled into a martial stance.

“Yue QingYuan!” Shen QingQiu drew XiuYa and pressed it firmly against Yue QingYuan’s wrist, who was not on his guard against Shen QingQiu at all. “Sheathe XuanSu!”

“Xiao Jiu, I’ll die before I let them kill you!” Yue QingYuan ignored XiuYa’s sharp blade entirely. “This Qi-ge cannot promise that he’ll be able to get you out of the Shooting Star array… but he’s willing to die trying!”

Fucking idiot!

Shen QingQiu pressed harder, and a trickle of blood appeared. “Sheathe XuanSu, or I’ll cut off your wrist,” his cold words were betrayed by the undertone of anxiety and concern.

Yue QingYuan relented and slipped out of his martial stance to regard Shen QingQiu with desperation and confusion. XuanSu’s naked blade still gleamed brightly in the tent. “Xiao Jiu, what’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with you? Are you deaf? Do you enjoy having your life force drained by XuanSu?” Shen QingQiu withdrew XiuYa and hurried tried to wrestle XuanSu out of Yue QingYuan’s grasp.

Yue QingYuan paled, and his body stiffened. “Xiao Jiu… knows?”

“Yes, I know your terrible secret. Are you scared that I’m going to blackmail you now? Horrified that your weakness is uncovered by your treacherous Xiao Jiu who may take advantage of this?” Shen QingQiu’s tone was acerbic, even as he determinedly hit away at Yue QingYuan’s clenched hand.

Fuck! What was this grip strength? Should he just stab Yue QingYuan’s hand and be done with it?

“No, that’s not it, Xiao Jiu!” Yue QingYuan denied, his grip finally loosening. Shen QingQiu seized the opportunity to immediately grab XuanSu, sheathing it back into its scabbard. Now that the tent was no longer bathed in that overwhelming spiritual energy, Shen QingQiu could finally heave a sigh of relief.

Yue QingYuan continued, his expression tortured, “I just didn’t want you to bear the burden of this knowledge…”

What sort of shitty explanation was that?

“What burden! What nonsense! If you don’t trust me, just say it!”

“No, Xiao Jiu, that’s never the case! I just don’t want this knowledge to hurt you.”

“Why would it hurt me? Qi-ge has always been reckless and stupid! I know that! So what if Qi-ge is reckless and stupid and power-hungry enough to rush through his sword-binding exercise! How does that have anything to do with me?”

Yue QingYuan fell silent. The open and pained look in his eyes dulled, replaced by a familiar false amicability. “Xiao Jiu is right as always. Qi-ge is just being stupid.”

Shen QingQiu snapped, “What are you hiding now? Why do you think that you being stupid enough to bind your life to XuanSu has anything—“

Binding XuanSu. Yue QingYuan being in such a rush that to get more power. XuanSu bound to Yue QingYuan’s life force as a result of that failed attempt.

“I promise to come back and get you, Xiao Jiu. Wait for me.”

Shen QingQiu grabbed the collar of Yue QingYuan’s robes.

“Were—did you rush the sword-binding process because you wanted to come back?” Shen QingQiu’s voice was fierce as he stared intently into Yue QingYuan’s eyes, “For me?”

Yue QingYuan looked guilt-stricken and vulnerable again, but he did not say anything.

Shen QingQiu shook the man. “Say something, Yue Qi! Is it because of me that your life force is bound to XuanSu now?”

“No, the mistake with XuanSu is due to this Qi-ge’s incompetence,” Yue QingYuan denied. “It has nothing to do with Xiao Jiu.”

“Then why did you think that this knowledge will hurt me? Don’t you dare lie to me, Yue Qi! Tell me the truth now, or I’ll refuse to see you again!”

A beat of silence and Shen QingQiu shook Yue QingYuan harder, his sight blurring wetly.

Finally, Yue QingYuan opened his mouth, “When I entered CangQiong Sect, I was still a young and weak disciple. Even after three years of training, I was still considered young and immature, not allowed to head down the mountains by myself. To qualify for solo missions, I had to have my own spiritual sword. So when the opportunity was finally presented to me, I didn’t want to waste any more time searching for the most suitable spiritual sword… I simply reached for the strongest spiritual sword present.

However, this backfired on me, and I suffered a spiritual backlash. This drove me into a qi deviation so bad that I did not surface till a year later, until I had successfully tamed XuanSu by binding it to my life force. I went back to the Qiu manor shortly thereafter, but… I was too late. I’m sorry, Xiao Jiu.”

Shen QingQiu trembled minutely, his mind confused. He tried to piece together what Yue QingYuan spoke of in the Water Prison together with what he was saying now.

“So… during our conversation in the Water Prison, when you told me that you suffered a terrible qi deviation, it was because of XuanSu…? You said you rushed your cultivation… and because of that, XuanSu turned from being a weapon that strengthens you into a parasitic leech that weakens and kills you instead?”

“It doesn’t matter what happened to me, Xiao Jiu.”

“You—you don’t understand! Without the ability to wield a true spiritual weapon, your full potential can never be realised! You could’ve been stronger than this, Qi-ge! You could have stood at the pinnacle of the cultivation world if only your bond with XuanSu isn’t perverted!”

Shen QingQiu paused, face paling as a sudden realisation dawned. He continued waveringly, “Your… your ascension to true immortality may never be attainable now. XuanSu binds you inexorably to the mortal realm.”

“All that’s in the past, Xiao Jiu,” Yue QingYuan said gently, wrapping warm arms around Shen QingQiu’s shoulders. “I don’t regret binding my life to XuanSu, I only regret doing it too slowly, such that I couldn’t rescue Xiao Jiu in time.”

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” Shen QingQiu brought his arms around Yue QingYuan too, hands clutching him tightly. He added on, horrified, “And you used it three times to save me. Three times, you unsheated XuanSu—“

“It’s all worth it, Xiao Jiu. Don’t feel sad. This is what this Qi-ge has been trying to avoid exactly that by keeping his silence,” Yue QingYuan patted Shen QingQiu’s back comfortingly.

Shen QingQiu looked up, hands moving upwards to cradle Yue QingYuan’s face. Their bodies were pressed together, and Shen QingQiu could feel Yue QingYuan’s warmth and his breath on his cheeks. He had never treasured this before, but…

How close did he come to losing Qi-ge? To be trapped in a qi deviation that lasted a year and forced him to bind his life force to a sword, how painful and terrible must it have been? Qi-ge could have died years ago, and it was just because he wanted to return to Xiao Jiu faster.

Xiao Jiu could have never had the opportunity to hold a grown-up Qi-ge in his arms.

Shen QingQiu choked at the sudden feeling of loss that nearly overcame him. “You’re not allowed to keep such a momentous thing from me anymore. You’re not allowed to keep secrets from me anymore.”

Yue QingYuan gazed at him with unending affection, although his expression appeared faintly conflicted. “But if it’s for your best—“

“I know what’s best for myself,” Shen QingQiu interrupted, his thumb tracing Yue QingYuan’s cheekbone. “Promise me, Qi-ge.”

“I…” Yue QingYuan trailed off, before sighing, helplessly indulgent, “I promise.”

Suddenly, the disgusting voice of the Old Palace Master piped up again.

“Very touching, very romantic. To think that Sect Leader Yue and Peak Lord Shen have such a beautiful love story that is deserving of its own love ballads, this master is amazed. But it’s time to say goodbye—“

Spirit.

<<Activating Super Omega pheromones and Holy Maiden aura! (ノ≧∀≦)ノ・‥…━━━★

System would also like to congratulate dearest Shen Jiu on completing his mission! Lingering resentment with Yue QingYuan has been resolved!

Ding dong deng! Mission accomplished!>>

Chapter Text

Shen QingQiu did not sense anything different with himself, but he could see that the red spiritual array on the floor had disappeared and the force holding him and Yue QingYuan within its boundaries had dissipated. Probably, the individuals sustaining the arrays with their spiritual power had lost their will to attack Shen QingQiu.

Seizing the opportunity to escape, Shen QingQiu pulled himself out of Yue QingYuan’s embrace before dragging him out of the tent. The Old Palace Master and his elite disciples seemed to be stuck in some sort of internal conflict and made no move to stop the pair of Peak Lords. Their expressions changed rapidly -- one moment red with lust, another moment green with disgust, before they settled into paper-white horror.

Shen QingQiu spared the Old Palace Master one last disgusted glare as he let the flap of the tent fall close.

Outside the tent, the HuanHua Palace force had fallen into disarray. Some were standing stock-still, others were kneeling on the ground. But the one commonality they had was the pain, tortured look on their faces. When Shen QingQiu and Yue QingYuan stepped into their midst, all the faces immediately turned to look at them in one swift movement.

The keening and wailing started then. Some started slapping and punching themselves, while others grabbed the hilts of their swords.

Shen QingQiu’s steps faltered. He only maintained his cool façade through sheer force of will. God, this was terrifying.

He would have to deal with Yue QingYuan later. Right now, he had to stop a whole army of HuanHua Palace disciples from impaling themselves with their swords.

“Stay close to me, I’ll bring you back to QiongDing Peak safely,” Shen QingQiu commanded to Yue QingYuan, who looked appropriately tensed and bewildered, a ready hand on XuanSu’s hilt. An irate vein throbbed in Shen QingQiu’s head, “And don’t unsheathe XuanSu!”

Saying so, he immediately turned his attention to the spirit.

Spirit, how do I control this aura such that no one commits suicide?

Shen QingQiu would rather not have the blood of a thousand disciples on his hands. Nor would the situation reflect favourably on CangQiong Sect if the entire HuanHua Palace force was wiped out in the course of a few hours. It wouldn’t matter if it appeared as if the disciples stabbed themselves, everyone would still whisper terrible things of CangQiong Sect – allying with demons, using forbidden techniques to possess HuanHua Palace disciples on a massive scale, and so on so forth.

The best outcome would be to force the HuanHua Palace disciples to allow Yue QingYuan and Shen QingQiu to leave unharmed, before subsequently dispersing to the far corners of the earth.

<<Great Shen Jiu just needs maintain calm and peace in his heart! (◕‿◕✿) So long as his heart is feeling merciful, no one under the effects of the Holy Maiden aura would wish to commit suicide as they would know that they’ve been forgiven by the wondrous Shen Jiu!>>

Calm and peace in my heart…?

<<Yes, Shen Jiu! ◕‿↼>>

What stupid bullshit is this! Are you telling me that my powers are controlled by my feelings?

<<Yes! Some spells and artefacts are triggered by resentment, is it so strange that the Holy Maiden aura’s effects are tempered by emotions? (‾◡◝ )>>

Yes! Because how am I supposed to maintain my calm and peace after all that?

<<… There’s no use scolding system 52088, Shen Jiu. The answer wouldn’t change. (/ω\) Shen Jiu needs to calm himself to stop those HuanHua Palace cannon fodder, like those over there, from killing themselves.>>

Alarmed, Shen QingQiu looked up. Indeed, a trio of HuanHua Palace disciples to his right were already pressing their swords into their chests, maroon red staining their garb.

<<Amituofo. 八( – o – *) Dearest Shen Jiu needs to think good, peaceful thoughts and smile like GuanYin, the Goddess of Mercy, if he wants those cannon fodder to live. Blessings upon you, dearest daughter.>>

… Fucking hell.

Shen QingQiu recited the great works of the poet Li Bai, as he pushed down all other distracting thoughts. He relaxed his face and allowed a peaceful and benign visage to surface.

It felt uncomfortable and false on him, but it seemed to be working. The HuanHua Palace army had frozen in their actions, including the idiot trio. Their swords weren’t sinking any further. The air turned deadly silent.

Shen QingQiu’s lips slowly lifted and his eyes softened. Wearing the smile of the Goddess of Mercy, he walked out from HuanHua Palace encampment unmolested, with Yue QingYuan in tow.

---

“He… he smiled at us!”

“The Peak Lord Shen is such a beautiful, gracious and lovely Omega! I can’t believe the Old Palace Master imprisoned him in the dreadful Water Prison!”

“… I would love to be imprisoned by Peak Lord Shen!”

“You deviant… but I can’t believe HuanHua Palace subjected him to such tortures. I’m so ashamed of myself!”

“Yes! How can such a fragile, merciful Omega be guilty of the terrible crimes the Old Palace Master accused him of?”

“Impossible! I’m going to leave HuanHua Palace and devote myself to my beautiful Goddess of Mercy now!”

“Me too! I’m joining QingJing Peak!”

“I’m joining QingJing Peak first! You guys stand no chance against me. I’ll be worshipping at the feet of the Goddess of Mercy by the time you guys are accepted!”

Much to Shen QingQiu’s eventual displeasure, the HuanHua Palace force did not disperse. Instead, they removed the defensive and attack arrays surrounding their camps, took down all of HuanHua Palace’s flags, and lined up at the boundaries of the CangQiong mountains’ barrier. Before them was a trussed up Old Palace Master in Immortal Binding ropes.

Their heads were bowed, as they stood by humbly, awaiting their Goddess of Mercy’s grace.

---

Shen QingQiu was in the midst of reassuring Liu QingGe that he was uninjured and fine after having been given a clean bill of health by Mu QingFang, when another QiongDing Peak’s disciple burst into the room again. Shen QingQiu was starting to think that Yue QingYuan had neglected some fundamental etiquette lessons in his curriculum.

Stern glares from the two men, who had retreated into a smaller room for a more intimate setting, were sufficient to have the disciple spilling out the cause for his urgency.

“Shen-shishu, Liu-shishu! The Peak Lords invite you to rejoin them at the war room! HuanHua Palace disciples had not dispersed but are instead behaving strangely at the foot of the mountains!”

Ugh. Did his Super Omega powers fail him? Shen QingQiu supposed that it was perhaps a bit too much to expect the effects of his allure and aura to have lasted long after he left. At least, he managed to leave the HuanHua Palace camps safely.

The pair soon made their way to the war room. Shen QingQiu scanned the occupants and noted that someone was missing immediately.

“Where’s Yue-shixiong?” Shen QingQiu asked.

“Yue-shixiong is still being checked on by Mu-shixiong,” Shang QingHua answered meekly, already trying to shrink into a ball despite that Shen QingQiu had not so much as glared at him.

“We can proceed without Yue-shixiong for now,” Qi QingQi said, “Perhaps Shen-shixiong would be better able to answer our queries anyway.”

Shen QingQiu arched a delicate eyebrow.

“HuanHua Palace disciples are now standing at attention before our CangQiong Sect’s defensive barriers. They have captured and tied up their Old Palace Master and are offering him as a… token of apology and sincerity,” Qi QingQi said with faint distaste. “In their request to defect from HuanHua Palace and join CangQiong Sect.”

“QingJing Peak, to be more specific,” Shang QingHua chimed in before recoiling immediately.

Shen QingQiu could feel the onset of a headache.

“What tricks are those bastards from HuanHua Palace up to now?” Liu QingGe snapped. “Do we have any more information?”

“We brought up HuanHua Palace’s head disciple, GongYi Xiao, to try and further understand their intentions. His answers to our questions… are ridiculous,” Qi QingQi said, “Perhaps you and Shen-shixiong can ask him yourself and hopefully, you would have better luck than us.”

Saying so, a young man dressed in the reds of HuanHua Palace was escorted into the room by two QiongDing Peak disciples. Shen QingQiu recognised him as one of those elite disciples who were in the tent with the Old Palace Master.

Once GongYi Xiao caught sight of Shen QingQiu, he immediately fell to his knees, head bowing so deeply that it touched the ground. “This humble one greets the gracious Goddess of Mercy!”

Perhaps Shen QingQiu’s Holy Maiden aura worked too well.

“Who are you addressing?” Liu QingGe asked irately.

GongYi Xiao did not life his head. He spoke, “This humble one addresses his initial greetings to the beautiful Peak Lord Shen. This humble one also apologises for not having greeted the other Peak Lords in his excitement to see the Goddess of Mercy. This humble one now greets Peak Lord Liu, Peak Lord Qi, and Peak Lord Shang!”

Liu QingGe stepped before Shen QingQiu, as if trying to protect Shen QingQiu from the boy’s potentially contagious insanity.

“What are you talking about? What tricks are HuanHua Palace trying to pull now?” Liu QingGe asked angrily.

“The entirety of HuanHua Palace have realised the foolishness of their past behaviour. The kind Goddess of Mercy could not have been guilty of any of the crimes the Old Palace Master accused him of! We’ve been enlightened and thus only seek to spend the rest of our days serving the great Goddess of Mercy and atoning for our ignorance!”

Perhaps Shen QingQiu’s Holy Maiden aura did not take any lives, but a portion of that boy’s brain certainly died, alongside with his sense of shame. Shen QingQiu felt himself flushing in annoyance and embarrassment.

Heaving a heavy sigh, Qi QingQi said, “That’s what GongYi Xiao has been saying all this while. And we’ve already doused him with Mu-shixiong’s truth potion.”

“What? This boy must be insane! Take another one and interrogate him!”

“We took three,” Qi QingQi waved at the doorway tiredly, “They have all been interrogated under the truth potion and are giving the same answers as GongYi Xiao.”

Qi QingQi then addressed Shen QingQiu. “Shen-shixiong, are you able to cast any insights as to their behaviour? You were there, perhaps you can explain why the HuanHua Palace disciples suddenly have a change of heart?”

Qi-shimei, Shen QingQiu raged in his mind, do you expect this shixiong to say that he used his Omega wiles and somehow managed to turn a thousand HuanHua Palace disciples’ brains into mush? And to add insult to injury, this is entirely accidental! It’s not a scheme or plan on this shixiong’s part.

When thrusted with such a hot potato of a question, one of Shen QingQiu’s most tried-and-tested tactic was to throw it to someone else.

Shen QingQiu eyed GongYi Xiao, saying coolly, “The HuanHua Palace disciples would be better suited at explaining themselves than this shixiong. GongYi Xiao, speak.”

GongYi Xiao finally lifted his head, his face was radiant with joy and eyes bright with tears. “This humble one is honoured that the Goddess of Mercy remembers his name! This humble one thanks the Goddess of Mercy for his grace! This humble one—“

Shen QingQiu cut him off, “Explain succinctly. And stop calling me the Goddess of Mercy, fool.”

“This humble one apologises for any offences he has caused! This humble one wishes to share that his entire sect has realised their folly and simply wished to make recompense. We know that this can hardly make up for the terrible days in which HuanHua Palace wrongly imprisoned Peak Lord Shen, but this humble one and all his martial brothers and sisters swear that we will dedicate our entire lives to—“

This brat was just repeating what he said earlier!

“Explain in more details,” Shen QingQiu snapped, “Why do you have a change of heart?”

“This humble one and his martial brothers and sisters have been enlightened by the mercy and grace Peak Lord Shen radiates. Our change of heart stems from the conviction we have that Peak Lord Shen will never harm anyone—“

Shen QingQiu interrupted, deciding that GongYi Xiao had nothing else to offer them, “QingGe-shidi, Qi-shimei, Shang-shidi, there’s no sane explanation. The entirety of HuanHua Palace must have suffered a bout of group insanity. GongYi Xiao’s words drives home this fact—“

“—and this humble one was honoured to have been graced with the tale of your epic romance with Sect Leader Yue, of how the two of you have overcome such dire straits to be reunited as—“

With a well-aimed throw, Shen QingQiu’s fan smacked GongYi Xiao soundly on his face, shutting him up. Shen QingQiu felt a twinge of embarrassment and guilt, as he patted Liu QingGe on his shoulders.

“The HuanHua Palace disciples are certifiably insane. Do not heed GongYi Xiao’s words, QingGe-shidi,” Shen QingQiu assured.

“This humble one swears that we are not insane. We’ve merely seen the light and are enlightened!” GongYi Xiao denied, even as he held Shen QingQiu’s fan proffered respectfully in his hands.

He continued, damning Shen QingQiu, “We only hope to enter Peak Lord Shen’s service to bring glory to his name, and right all the wrongs that the Old Palace Master has done towards him and his mate, Sect Leader Yue!”

Ha. Ha. Ha. GongYi Xiao, are you trying to ruin me? Shen QingQiu seethed in his mind.

<<Dearest Shen Jiu and Yue QingYuan displayed such beautiful love that’s willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the other! How can GongYi Xiao remain unmoved? (ღ˘⌣˘ღ)>>

That’s just loyalty! And have you forgotten whom I truly mated? Who was the one who congratulated me this morning, you stupid spirit!

(Xiao Jiu loved Qi-ge, but Shen QingQiu didn’t love Yue QingYuan.)

<<Most precious Shen Jiu deserves everything in the world! You deserve more than one mate! ♡^▽^♡>>

Deciding that the conversation with the spirit was going nowhere, Shen QingQiu directed his attention to the Liu QingGe before him, who was emanating jealousy, anger and confusion.

No, no, no, Liu QingGe was a good man, was Shen QingQiu’s mate. Shen QingQiu had to right this quickly.

“Foolish brat,” Shen QingQiu rested a hand on Liu QingGe’s shoulder, “Liu QingGe is this master’s mate.” Shen QingQiu noted with pleasure that Liu QingGe’s scent returned to its usual content smell.

GongYi Xiao’s brows furrowed as he took in this new fact and tried to marry it with his existing knowledge. Coming to a sudden realisation, his expression brightened. Shen QingQiu did not have a good feeling about this.

“This humble one understands! This humble one now realises that Peak Lord Shen has many mates to worship him as he deserves!” GongYi Xiao beamed before kowtowing again, “As expected of the great Goddess of Mercy!”

SPIRIT! DID YOU POSSESS THIS BRAT?

<<No, he’s just rightly charmed by beautiful Shen Jiu! System likes this boy! (✿◠‿◠) Should we add GongYi Xiao to the list?>>

I’M NEVER USING THAT BULLSHIT PHEROMONES AND AURA AGAIN!

<<Why, Shen Jiu? They’re very powerful weapons as you can see!>>

NO.

“No,” Shen QingQiu repeated with far more calm than he was feeling in his heart.

“Uhhhh, ‘no’ to what, Shen-shixiong?” Shang QingHua asked after a moment of silence.

“Get rid of the HuanHua Palace disciples. They need to cleanse their spirits and minds. Chase them off if needed,” Shen QingQiu commanded.

“But what if they join some other sects and pit themselves against CangQiong Sect again?” Shang QingHua pointed out.

“Then accept the strongest and most influential 100 disciples and reject the rest.”

From that day onwards, 900 rogue cultivators were unleashed on the lands. They claimed no affiliation to any sects, but spent their days slaying evil demons and singing praises of the beautiful, gracious and kind Peak Lord Shen of CangQiong Sect. Any old rumours about the vicious, licentious and murderous Shen QingQiu of the past were ruthlessly squashed, replaced instead by ballads about his mercy and tales of his fated love with Yue QingYuan.

Shen QingQiu, the graceful XiuYa Sword and QingJing Peak Lord, gained another moniker in the realms as the people took to calling him Goddess of Mercy.  

Chapter Text

When Mu QingFang said that his initial physical examinations of Yue QingYuan were completed, Shen QingQiu immediately excused himself and paid a private visit to Yue QingYuan. He did not want to do this to Liu QingGe right after those ridiculous proclamations from a crazed GongYi Xiao, but he still had urgent business to settle with Yue QingYuan. And that secret surrounding XuanSu was not Shen QingQiu’s to share with Liu QingGe.

Shen QingQiu stepped into the room, resolved to elicit an oath from Yue QingYuan that he would never unsheathe XuanSu again. Shen QingQiu came with a determination that he would beat it out of Yue QingYuan if he had to.

A promise about not keeping secrets was not equivalent to never harming himself by wielding XuanSu. Shen QingQiu knew the ways Yue QingYuan’s mind worked; how his sense of priorities was absolutely screw up beyond belief. Yue QingYuan could be amazingly blasé with his own life.

However, much to Shen QingQiu’s displeasure, Yue QingYuan ended up on his knees, proffering XuanSu to Shen QingQiu, swearing that he would only ever unsheathe XuanSu for Shen QingQiu.

Shen QingQiu lost his composure, snatched up XuanSu, and proceeded to give Yue QingYuan a thorough trouncing with said sword.

Or rather, that was what he wanted to do.

Unfortunately, Yue QingYuan did not so much as defend himself, much less retaliate. While Shen QingQiu was many things, not even he could bring himself to beat up his annoying, reckless Qi-ge who was being so pathetic.

He wanted to at least vent by throwing XuanSu away angrily, but… that was Yue QingYuan’s life he was holding.

Shen QingQiu ended up forcing XuanSu back into Yue QingYuan’s hands. If he was careful not to let the sheathe slip, no one had to know besides him. 

<<Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations! Yue QingYuan has pledged his life to dearest Shen Jiu again! \(★^∀^★)/>>

Just when Shen QingQiu was about to thoroughly scold the spirit again, Yue QingYuan suddenly descended into an alarming fit of coughing. He coughed loud and painful, till his face was ruddy; almost as if his body was trying to cough up his entire lungs.

Alarmed, Shen QingQiu opened the door and asked the disciple standing outside to fetch Mu QingFang, whom he knew would be nearby doing some tests with his and Yue QingYuan’s blood.

Another violent fit of coughing had a worried Shen QingQiu returning to Yue QingYuan’s side. The sight that greeted him was that of red spilling out of Yue QingYuan’s mouth.

It was blood, but not just blood either.

Yue QingYuan was coughing up bloodied haitang flowers.

Cold dread ran down Shen QingQiu’s spine. Ignoring all decorum, Shen QingQiu raised his voice and yelled for Mu QingFang even as he dabbed a handkerchief to Yue QingYuan’s mouth, doing his best to clean up the mess. He pulled Yue QingYuan up onto a chair.

Yue QingYuan was supposed to be pristine, untouched and safe. Even when he was Qi-ge, he managed to remain noble and pure, untainted by the filth surrounding him.

He wasn’t supposed to be vomiting bloodied flowers.

---

The Peak Lords had been drawn to the room by Shen QingQiu’s shout. When they saw the stained handkerchief at Yue QingYuan’s mouth, and the red petals spilling over Yue QingYuan’s lap, their worried expressions turned grim.

Shen QingQiu’s brows were pinched together as he patted at Yue QingYuan’s back, ineffectively trying to soothe said man’s wracking coughs. He could sense Liu QingGe’s concerned presence to his side, but Shen QingQiu shoved that aside. His priority was Yue QingYuan for now.  

He knew this disease. It was something that existed even in the original world Shen QingQiu inhabited. It was the Hanahaki disease.

They were treacherous flowers that bloomed in a man’s heart, suffocating its victim till the one whom he first touched since the pollen were inhaled dual cultivated with him. Yue QingYuan would wilt in 36 hours if that did not happen.

Shen QingQiu would hunt down the man who dared to plot against Yue QingYuan like this, and kill him with a thousand shallow cuts. But before that he needed to find out who touched Yue QingYuan after exposing him to this virulent, yet near undetectable pollen.

Mu QingFang entered the room then, a worried look at his head that somehow paled further when he saw Yue QingYuan.

“I discovered something in Yue-shixiong’s blood and hoped that I was wrong,” Mu QingFang seemed pained, “But I see that Yue-shixiong has truly been afflicted with the Hanahaki disease.”

“Bring back that GongYi Xiao,” Shen QingQiu said harshly. “Bring back all the HuanHua Palace elite disciples who were with the Old Palace Master in the tent with us. Bring back the Old Palace Master, and interrogate all of them.”

Qi QingQi nodded quickly and left to do as Shen QingQiu requested.

Meanwhile, Mu QingFang had moved to Yue QingYuan’s side to take his pulse and examine the petals. After a few quiet seconds, he sighed.

“This is a particularly rare strain of the Hanahaki disease that Yue QingYuan has been afflicted with. These red haitang flowers only bloom in an extremely vicious part of the demonic realms, and are particularly virulent. They harm only Alphas, and Yue QingYuan would die within 24hours if he doesn’t mate with whom he first came into contact with after inhaling the pollen.”

Shen QingQiu stiffened and he asked, “Mate, and not just fucking?”

Mu QingFang seemed startled by Shen QingQiu’s use of the vulgarity for a moment. However, he quickly shook off his surprise before continuing, “What Shen-shixiong is thinking of would be the more common strain of Hanahaki disease that blooms in the human realms. This is not it though. The demonic Hanahaki disease is far crueller, and can only be cured when its victim bound himself to whom touched him first forever. The person who touches the victim first would usually be the perpetrator.”

Shen QingQiu blanched. Could it be that the Old Palace Master and Yue QingYuan had to be mated? But Shen QingQiu did not recall the Old Palace Master touching Yue—

A sharp knock interrupted Shen QingQiu’s thoughts, and Qi QingQi dragged GongYi Xiao into the room. He was tightly bound up in Immortal Binding cables now, ensuring that he could not escape.

“This humble one greets Peak Lord Shen, Sect Leader Yue, Peak Lord Liu, Peak Lord Mu, Peak Lord Qi, and Peak Lord Shang,” GongYi Xiao remained unfailingly polite despite the rough treatment.

Shen QingQiu immediately shot GongYi Xiao a vicious look. “Stop your useless chatter! Tell this master now, how and when did HuanHua Palace poison Sect Leader Yuan?”

GongYi Xiao looked up, saw Yue QingYuan and the bloodied flowers, and visibly hesitated.

“Speak,” Liu QingGe commanded, unsheathing ChengLuan to rest its naked blade on GongYi Xiao’s neck.

Adam’s apple bobbing nervously, GongYi Xiao started, “This humble one is unsure… but he saw the Old Palace Master sprinkle something from a pouch the moment he announced that he would be inviting the honourable CangQiong Sect to a parley.”

“Do you know what was contained in the pouch?” Mu QingFang asked.

“Some powder, maybe? This humble one did not get a close look.”

“Was there any demonic qi from that pouch?”

“Slightly, this humble one recalls. The Old Palace Master seemed very pleased after he scattered the contents of the pouch, but this humble one didn’t think much of it then because the Old Palace Master and the rest of the elite disciples remained unharmed and unaffected.”

“Were all the elite disciples in the tent Betas?”

“Yes, as is the Old Palace Master too.”

“Did you see who was the first to touch Sect Leader Yue after he entered the tent?”

Shen QingQiu thought back to the situation back in the tent. Yue QingYuan had become strangely emotional (calling Shen QingQiu ‘Xiao Jiu’ in public!) during the conversation with Old Palace Master then, which was a side-effect of the Hanahaki disease. And there was that moment when the Old Palace Master seemed strangely delighted, as if they had fallen into a trap after Yue QingYuan warned that thrash about speaking ill of CangQiong’s Peak Lord—

No, the Old Palace Master laughed after Yue QingYuan touched Shen QingQiu to allay his irritation at having been insulted.

Shen QingQiu’s head spun with the force of the revelation. It was him. It was him.

But why? Why didn’t the Old Palace Master press his advantage and touch Yue QingYuan then? Why?

Shen QingQiu let out a pained sound, and was immediately swept into Liu QingGe’s embrace. The familiar scent of metal and sandalwood calmed him down and cooled his distress quickly, but it was soon replaced by horrified guilt.

Oh god, what was he doing to Liu QingGe? What would he be doing to Liu QingGe?

A quiet voice finally responded, “This humble one recalls it being Peak Lord Shen.”

The arms around Shen QingQiu tightened.

Chapter Text

“We should corroborate this boy’s words with the Old Palace Master’s,” Liu QingGe said tersely. His emotions were a riot within him, but he did his best not to let any surface. This was not what Shen QingQiu needed right now.

“Wei-shixiong is interrogating him,” Qi QingQi replied, “We did not think that it would be safe bringing the Old Palace Master into the infirmary, as deluded and powerless as he seems.”

Liu QingGe acceded the point, still holding a Shen QingQiu who was sending such strong pulses of distress and upset that Liu QingGe ached for him. Ignoring his own bewilderment and consternation at what might happen next, what Shen QingQiu might be forced to do later, Liu QingGe directed his efforts to soothe the man in his arms.

To their side, Yue QingYuan descended into yet another coughing fit, his body clammy and feverish.

Qi QingQi approached and swapped out Shen QingQiu’s stained handkerchief with her own delicate embroidered one. She fretted worryingly, “Perhaps Zhangmen-shixiong should lie down instead? Or rest in the bed? Would that be more comfortable?”

“Maybe it would be better for Zhangmen-shixiong to stay seated? He may choke on his own blood if he’s lying down,” Shang QingHua interrupted.

“Would it kill you to say something nice, Shang-shidi?” Qi QingQi rebutted harshly, “Why are you cursing Zhangmen-shixiong like this?”

“I—I’m not,” Shang QingHua trembled, “It’s just that I… I know of someone who died that way, and I’m just concerned for Zhangmen-shixiong too.”

“Qi-shimei,” Yue QingYuan said weakly, “There’s no need to scold Shang-shidi. I’m fine where I’m.”

“If Zhangmen-shixiong says so,” Qi QingQi conceded easily, not one to fight with the Sect Leader, especially when he was sick.

“Thank you, Qi-shimei,” Yue QingYuan coughed violently, “But this shixiong is fine actually, and while he’s heartened by your concern, he doesn’t wish to bother you guys anymore. I’m sure there are other urgent items that require your attention—“

The body in Liu QingGe’s arms stiffened before it suddenly erupted into a flurry of sharp, angry movements.

“Y—you!” Shen QingQiu had shrugged off Liu QingGe’s hold and was now smacking his closed fan on repeatedly on Yue QingYuan. He was absolutely livid, and Liu QingGe could feel the white-hot pain and fury practically radiating from their bond.

An insidious thread of dread crept into Liu QingGe’s heart.

Yue QingYuan broke into another coughing fit, jerking so badly that not even Qi QingQi’s handkerchief could capture all the bloodied petals, resulting in a red haitang staining Shen QingQiu’s pristine white fan.

Shen QingQiu’s hits slowed at that, but words were now spilling out of his mouth at unprecedented speed, with unprecedented rage. Liu QingGe had never seen Shen QingQiu so unbridled, so open, and so violent with life.

“How dare you try to make light of this situation? How dare you! Who promised that he would return, to never leave? Did you not just promise your life to me again? How dare you try to throw it away so easily now!” Shen QingQiu’s fists clenched so tightly that his fan broke.

Letting the broken pieces of his fan fall to the floor, Shen QingQiu continued, hands trembling and eyes red, “Does Qi-ge hold no regard for Xiao Jiu? Is Xiao Jiu not allowed to worry for his Qi-ge? Do you want to leave me again?”

At Shen QingQiu’s words, something in Liu QingGe broke too. An inexplicable pang struck his heart and he felt like he had been doused in cold water. Shen QingQiu and Yue QingYuan were still speaking, but their voices sounded distant, as if they were talking from a faraway place.

Yue QingYuan looked even frailer than he did before. “No, that’s not it, Xiao Jiu. Qi-ge doesn’t want to leave either, but this Hanahaki disease…”

He paused to cough painfully, “Xiao Jiu has something beautiful with Liu-shidi. Qi-ge is not blind and can see that you two are in love. Qi-ge knows that it’ll hurt you to hurt him—“

“And? So you’ll rather die than mate with me?” Shen QingQiu sneered, anguish a clear counterpart to the condescension in his voice. “How very noble and self-sacrificial of Yue QingYuan, the great Sect Leader of CangQiong Sect. You want me to bear the guilt of letting you die for the rest of my life, is that it?”

Shen QingQiu paused, as if his breath was caught in his throat, “To live, knowing that I killed you.”

“It’s not Xiao Jiu’s fault. If anything, it’s the Old Palace Master’s fault,” Yue QingYuan begged, reaching forward to hold Shen QingQiu’s hands in his now. “Xiao Jiu should not feel any guilt over this.”

“I don’t care! I’m not letting you die!” Shen QingQiu shook off Yue QingYuan’s grasp. Instead, he threw his arms around Yue QingYuan, knuckles white with force.

Tears were running down his cheeks as Shen QingQiu finally sobbed, “Let me save you, Qi-ge! Let me save you…”

Liu QingGe felt something shatter in him. His instincts were still yelling at him to reach out to Shen QingQiu, to comfort him and reassure him, but Liu QingGe ignored them. He wasn’t the one Shen QingQiu wanted or needed now. He was just ‘QingGe-shidi’, and not ‘Qi-ge’.

Liu QingGe had always known that Shen QingQiu and Yue QingYuan had a history between the two of them, something special and unique, because why else would Yue QingYuan excuse so many of Shen QingQiu’s tantrums, and why else would Shen QingQiu always react so strongly to Yue QingYuan. Initially, Liu QingGe thought that he would be able to compete with that and still win, because Liu QingGe had always won whatever he set his mind on.

And he did, for a short while. But now, in the face of this overwhelming deluge of emotions from Shen QingQiu and Yue QingYuan, Liu QingGe learnt that he was a fool who won the battles, but lost the war.

The cards were stacked against him in the first place. He had no chance of winning. Shen QingQiu had always had Yue QingYuan in his heart even before he became Shen QingQiu. Their fates were so tightly entangled that one could not see where one ended, and the other started.

Liu QingGe courted Shen QingQiu for six years, had the man for five days, and lost him in seconds to Yue QingYuan.

Ah, this was the feeling of a breaking heart. Pain lanced through Liu QingGe’s chest and he felt like he was drowning, never to surface.

Only that soft warm touches to his head and his face slowly woke Liu QingGe from his pained reverie. A familiar heat enveloped him. The haze cleared from Liu QingGe’s eyes and he looked up to see a pale-faced Shen QingQiu.

“Are you alright, QingGe?” thumbs brushed across Liu QingGe’s cheeks to come away wet.

Huh, was he crying?

Shen QingQiu continued, pleading, “I’m sorry, QingGe, I’m sorry. You can hate me after this, but I will spend my entire life making it up to you, QingGe. I’m really sorry. I’m a worthless mate, but I can’t—Yue QingYuan cannot die—but I love you, I don’t allow you to leave. You can hate me, but you can’t leave. This is just to save Yue-shixiong.”

Liar, Liu QingGe wanted to say. But they were such sweet lies, and such a stark contrast to what Shen QingQiu was emanating now.

Shen QingQiu’s scent was sour and bitter, so conflicted and torn that it was far worse than how he smelled when he was in a qi deviation. It was almost as if something was breaking apart in Shen QingQiu too. Liu QingGe had never seen Shen QingQiu so worked-up before.

Ah, that was the scent of heartbreak.

And it wasn’t just Shen QingQiu either. Yue QingYuan, now that Liu QingGe tried to discern his from Shen QingQiu’s, was such a turmoil of pain and guilt that that Liu QingGe nearly gagged.

All three of them were hurting, even though none of them wanted to hurt the others…

Liu QingGe wanted to curse at the stupid, cruel world they were living in, but he couldn’t. Instead, he pressed a kiss to Shen QingQiu’s lips, and tried to smile reassuringly.

It probably fell flat, but it was the best Liu QingGe could muster at this point in time. He said, voice hoarse, “QingQiu does not need to apologise. It’s only right that you save Yue-shixoing.”

It was a foregone conclusion – Shen QingQiu saving Yue QingYuan. But if Liu QingGe could even lessen the tiniest bit of guilt and distress that Shen QingQiu felt, he would do so, unhesitatingly.

And if Shen QingQiu leaving him for Yue QingYuan was a foregone conclusion too, Liu QingGe would…

Liu QingGe would not give up. Liu QingGe would fight back, unwaveringly.

He was the BaiZhan War God after all. He backed down from no battles, especially after he had sworn to Shen QingQiu that he would never leave him. Even if these battles would leave his soul and heart in a thousand pieces, Liu QingGe would meet them head-on.

Chapter Text

“Uhm…” a hesitant voice piped up softly.

Immediately, three heads turned as one to glare at the man who intruded in the intimate moment. Sometime during that emotional breakdown, it appeared that the other Peak Lords had left the room, except for one.

Shang QingHua, whose default mode was to cower, cowered even more, hands above his head, as if ready to ward off any physical blows.

He hastened to apologise, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I don’t want to stay either, but I was forced to! I have no choice, so please don’t beat me up!”

The atmosphere chilled even further, before Yue QingYuan broke it with his coughs. He sighed and offered Shang QingHua a gentle look.

Yue QingYuan asked, “What do you need, Shang-shidi?”

“Nothing!” Shang QingHua quickly denied, before he paused and re-evaluated his words. He swallowed nervously, “No, actually I need to say something.”

Shen QingQiu who had used the last few minutes to pull together his frigid composure somehow managed to deliver a cool ‘Speak’ to Shang QingHua, even with his bloodshot eyes and pale cheeks.

“It’s just… I know of a man who once had 600 wives, and it’s actually common in this period to have many partners, isn’t it? A man’s heart can be immeasurably big and can hold more than one within. Besides, sharing is caring, so what I want to say is that since others can have many partners and still lead a happy life and I saw what happened just now, and I can tell that all three of you love each other dearly—“

“Get to the point,” Shen QingQiu’s patience was running short, “Or leave.”

Shang QingHua cringed at the harsh words, before he eventually squeaked, “All I want to say is that you guys shouldn’t be so hung up about monogamy or about how anyone is going to leave anybody? Why don’t you just make a harem and live happily—“

A loud crash sounded as Yue QingYuan stood up fiercely, knocking over his chair in his haste to move. “Don’t you dare disrespect QingQiu-shidi like this, Shang-shidi.”

Shang QingHua looked like he was about to cry. “But I wasn’t trying to disrespect him? I’m just trying to help you guys towards a happy ending. I don’t want to do this either, why am I being forced to act like a marriage counsellor among three OP men—I’m being bullied, I’m being bullied!”

“QingQiu-shidi isn’t an item to be shared,” Yue QingYuan gnashed.

When faced with his usually kind and amicable Sect Leader acting in such an angry manner, Shang QingHua thought that he would be sent to meet his maker with any wrong movements. His eyes darted towards the door, and Shang QingHua inched closer to it.

Nonetheless, Shang QingHua visibly dredged out the little remnants of his courage as he spoke hesitatingly, “I’m not saying that Shen-shixiong is an item. I’m just saying that you guys don’t have to act like it’s the end of the world just because Shen-shixiong needs to have multiple mates. I mean, it’s obvious that he loves both of you! So, rather than thinking of it as sharing Shen-shixiong, why don’t you… think of it as worshipping Shen-shixiong like he deserves? You know, like what that GongYi Xiao said, surely the Goddess of Mercy is worthy of being doted on and loved by more than one man!”

Shang QingHua pressed on. “And if you guys don’t get your act together and start reconciling, Shen-shixiong is going to be one dying of guilt, rather than Yue-shixiong! And maybe a broken heart too. I know of a woman who died because she was heartbroken, alright? It’s a very real possibility! So how about the two of you just kiss Shen-shixiong, promise to never leave him again, and then Yue-shixiong and Shen-shixiong go off and mate, and then the three of you can skip off together to your happily ever after? Why do you have to make it so dramatic and depressing?”

Shang QingHua levelled a trembling finger at Shen QingQiu, saying, “You! Isn’t it good that there are multiple handsome, strong and loyal men who love you? You need to be thanking your lucky stars, rather than constantly having a complex over being left behind. This Liu-shixiong would never leave you; he’s hopelessly in love and hopelessly loyal! And Yue-shixong is the same, but just misguided in his attempts to show you his love. And just in case Yue-shixoing hasn’t said so, I’m going to tell you now! Yue-shixiong never meant to abandon you to the Qius! He was just trapped in a terrible qi deviation that lasted for a year and that’s why he didn’t make it back in time. So just cling tightly to both of them and be happy!”

He then moved on to Yue QingYuan, “And you! If the love of you life wants to save you, let him! Stop trying to be noble and selfless! You need to start being more upfront about your feelings and be honest with Shen-shixong! Shen-shixoing is the best at thinking the worst of himself and others, and the more you allow yourself to be pushed away, the more he’s going to think he’s not worth chasing! So you need to be more selfish, Yue-shixong! Man up and stop letting Shen-shixiong go even if he says he wants to! The two of you need to stop waiting for the other to take action! Someone needs to take the initiative!”

Finally, Shang QingHua eyed Liu QingGe. “As for you, I don’t know what happened to make the BaiZhan War God fall in love with Shen—“ a growl from Liu QingGe caused Shang QingHua to quickly backpeddle.

“Not that I’m saying you can’t fall in love with Shen-shixiong! Shen-shixiong is very wonderful, very lovable; a real bundle of joy!” Shang QingHua put his hands out placatingly, “It’s just that, I thought that you would be repulsed by his prickly exterior… although I guess with all these ABO bullshit, everyone can finally see Shen-shixong as the tsundere that he is—nevermind.”

Shang QingHua shook his head, as if trying to disperse errant thoughts. “Anyway, Liu-shixiong, you get to be Shen-shixiong’s first Alpha, isn’t that fantastic? Even a blind man can see how much Shen-shixiong loves and treasures you. It’s not Shen-shixiong’s fault that he loves Yue-shixiong too; the heart is too difficult to control. Shen-shixiong is already beating himself up over it, so you should try and support him during these difficult times, rather than making him feel worse. He’s an Omega meant to be protected, after all!”

A stunned silence met the end of Shang QingHua’s passionate tirade. It was so quiet that if a pin had dropped, one would be able to hear it. Even Yue QingYuan managed to miraculously stop coughing.

Unease crept onto Shang QingHua’s face and he gulped loudly, realising that he had just lectured three very “OP men”, whose emotions were probably very unstable now and could kill him without sweating. In a flurry of motion, Shang QingHua reached out to the door knob and hurriedly flung the door open, throwing out his parting words, “So, if you don’t mind, this shidi will be taking his leave now! Please be happy together, shixiongs!”

The door was then slammed closed loudly.

Liu QingGe was the first to react. Gently unwrapping himself for Shen QingQiu, he escorted the man to stand beside Yue QingYuan, who was watching every movement intensely.

Liu QingGe sucked in a heavy breath. His eyes were still conflicted, but the pain in them had lessened. He said to Shen QingQiu, “Shang-shidi speaks a lot… and this shidi has a lot to think through. But no matter what, QingQiu should know that QingGe would never hold it against him for saving Yue-shixiong.”

Putting on a faint smile, Liu QingGe continued, eyes gazing into Shen QingQiu’s, “I’ll be waiting for you when you’re done.”

Saying so, Liu QingGe left the room.

---

Yue QingYuan waited for a while, wanting to see how Shen QingQiu would react, but then he recalled Shang QingHua’s words, about how someone had to take the initiative.

He opened his mouth, wanting to—wanting to… Yue QingYuan did not know what he wanted to say.

His first instinct was to reassure Shen QingQiu that he did not need to go through with this; that Yue QingYuan had inflicted a lifetime of pain on him, and he would rather not have to tear him away from the one person that made him happy now.

But was that what Shen QingQiu wanted? Did Xiao Jiu still have Qi-ge in his heart?

Yue QingYuan was told off by the silly but strangely insightful shidi of his to stop waiting, to stop letting Shen QingQiu go, and to start acting on what he wanted.

There was a hint of wisdom in Shang-shidi’s words. Yue QingYuan’s past actions had only driven Shen QingQiu away from him. The only time he had gotten closer to Shen QingQiu was during the Water Prison incident, and that was because Yue QingYuan was unwilling to let Shen QingQiu go.

Perhaps he had been misguided by his instincts. Perhaps what he should have done all this while was to cling so tightly onto Shen QingQiu that he couldn’t leave even if he wanted to.

The rest of the world saw them as a pair of lovers, and Shen QingQiu had always held a special place in Yue QingYuan’s heart. Was it so wrong to take the next step towards mating?

After all, their fates had been inextricably tangled together since the day they met as Yue Qi and Shen Jiu. Perhaps this was simply the inevitable conclusion to their relationship.

And Xiao Jiu, Yue QingYuan noted, did not appear to be as pained and distressed as he was initially. When Liu QingGe had obliquely given him blessings, and assured Shen QingQiu that he would not leave, it was then that Shen QingQiu’s panicked hurt muted.

If Liu QingGe stayed even when Yue QingYuan acted on what he wanted, then Shen QingQiu might be able to remain happy? Shang QingHua was right; Shen QingQiu deserved to have the world worshipping at his feet—what was two men? Yue QingYuan had to share Shen QingQiu with so many others over the past few decades. He had no qualms about Shen QingQiu having multiple mates.

And even if Liu QingGe backtracked on his promise, Yue QingYuan would be there to comfort Shen QingQiu. From today onwards, Yue QingYuan resolved to always stay beside Shen QingQiu. To do so, he had to live.

Yue QingYuan opened his mouth again, wanting to beseech Shen QingQiu to love him and mate him, but he could not stop the tickles that crawled up the back of his throat. His throat muscles convulsed, and bloodied haitang flowers spilled over the hand he had hastily clasped to his mouth.

Shen QingQiu immediately used the edges of his sleeves to dab delicately at Yue QingYuan’s stained lips, letting the cursed petals to fall carelessly onto the floor.

Shen QingQiu averted his eyes from Yue QingYuan’s as he spoke. “I do not know what’s going to happen next, but I’m not letting you die, Qi-ge.”

He continued, lips pressed into a determined line, “You’ve always forced me to stay even when I didn’t want to. You dragged me back to CangQiong Sect even when I refused you. Now, it’s my turn.  If I need to mate you to ensure that you remain alive, to make you stay, there’s nothing in this world that can stop me. Not even you, Qi-ge.”

“I only want to make you happy, Xiao Jiu,” Yue QingYuan said earnestly. “Will it make you happy if this Qi-ge stays beside you forever as your mate?”

Shen QingQiu’s cheeks were flushed and he refused to look at Yue QingYuan. He said, after a short pause, “Just bring me to your room. We’re not doing this in QiongDing Peak’s infirmary.”

“As Xiao Jiu wishes,” Yue QingYuan could smell the sharp burst of pleasure and embarrassment from Shen QingQiu, and he could not help the answering surge of affection and love from himself. He smiled, genuine, “This Qi-ge will love, honour and worship Xiao Jiu forever.”

---

Shen QingQiu took in a deep breath as he entered the room, trying to regain his composure. His gaze swept through Yue QingYuan’s private quarters and he noted at the back of his mind that it was functional and austere, just like the man himself. It could have been a guest room, if not for the fact that it was slightly too large to be for anyone other than the leader of CangQiong Sect.

However, what caught his eyes was the entrance that led to an adjoining room, most likely Yue QingYuan’s bedchamber. Shen QingQiu willed his nerves to settle as he strode unerringly towards it. While it was awkward and unexpected, what needed to be done still had to be done. He had practically promised Yue QingYuan that he would mate him, and Shen QingQiu was not about to back out of it now, although just the sheer thought of it sent another wave of embarrassment through his body.

For some unfathomable reason, it was Yue QingYuan who hesitated instead.

“Would you like to have some tea first?” Yue QingYuan asked, lingering by a table in the initial room, as Shen QingQiu stopped to turn around.

“What are you doing?” Shen QingQiu glared at the man who was coughing into his sleeves now.

“While my affliction is urgent, we still have some time, Xiao Jiu,” Yue QingYuan said. “Perhaps we can slow down a bit and get more comfortable first?”

“I did not ask to be taken to your room to drink tea.”

“Yes,” Yue QingYuan’s hand fluttered uselessly in the air as he gestured worryingly at Shen QingQiu. “But you’re so tense, Xiao Jiu. I’ve dreamed of mating with you so many times, but never like this; never when you’re practically radiating uneasiness.”

“You’ve dreamed of this?” It was one thing to hear Shang QingHua refer to him as love of Yue QingYuan’s life, it was another thing to hear directly from Yue QingYuan’s own lips words that echoed that sentiment.

“Do you still not know of the depth of my love for you, Xiao Jiu?” Yue QingYuan said with a helpless smile. “Have I not been courting you for the last three years?”

“I…” Shen QingQiu had not allowed himself to consider what feelings could have driven Yue QingYuan to his courtship during those three years. He just knew that it could not be love for him, because how could Yue QingYuan love him? It was guilt, responsibility and perhaps affection for the little brother he once had that motivated Yue QingYuan’s actions. 

“Then let me tell you now, so that there’re no longer any doubts between us,” Yue QingYuan said when Shen QingQiu did not respond after a while, his gaze understanding. “I love you, Xiao Jiu, I love you so very much. I’ve been in love with you since we’re just Qi-ge and Xiao Jiu, hungry streetrats under the control of slavers, and I love you now too, when we’re Yue QingYuan and Shen QingQiu.”

“Love… as in the romantic sense?” Shen QingQiu asked carefully, still finding it difficult to reconcile what he was hearing with what he thought he knew.

Yue QingYuan had sacrificed a lot for him, had sworn his life to Shen QingQiu and promised to love, honour and worship him, but not once had they directly addressed what was this thing that lingered between the two of them. And Shen QingQiu had been an old hand at denying Yue QingYuan that it was laughably easy for him to sweep all that Yue QingYuan had done and said under the labels of “guilt” and “responsibility”. 

“Yes,” Yue QingYuan approached Shen QingQiu to stand a handspan away from him. He reached out to gently cradle Shen QingQiu’s face, “Love as in the romantic sense. Love as in I want to hold you and treasure you forever. Love as in I want to make love to you and be your mate. This is the love that makes me burn with jealously whenever I see you with Liu QingGe, the kind that makes me all territorial, even though I know I’ve no rights, when Luo BingHe comes knocking on your door.”

“It’s the kind of love that makes me wish I can call you ‘husband’ but I know it’s not my place,” Yue QingYuan continued, thumb brushing softly against Shen QingQiu’s cheek.

A sudden warmth surged in Shen QingQiu, the strong emotion causing him to rest his own hand against the back of Yue QingYuan’s. “Why is it not your place?” Shen QingQiu asked somewhat petulantly.

“Xiao Jiu…” Yue QingYuan’s voice trailed off helplessly.

“We’re about to mate, and I’m not the kind of dastardly Omega who ravishes Alphas without taking resposnbility!” Shen QingQiu felt like he was going to die from embarrassment, but Yue QingYuan had always been the best at inspiring strong reactions from him. “We’re going to get married after this.”

Yue QingYuan’s eyes were locked onto Shen QingQiu’s, gazing at him as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. They were aglow with passion and joy, and Shen QingQiu could feel the answering love in him welling up.

“Do you mean it, Xiao Jiu?” Yue QingYuan asked with soft wonderment, his cheeks pinking as he used the hand that was still cradling Shen QingQiu to tilt his face up slightly, so that he could have bask in the beauty that was the Omega before him.

“Yes,” Shen QingQiu said resolutely.

Immediately, Yue QingYuan swept Shen QingQiu into a tight hug, the distance between the two bodies’ disappearing. Shen QingQiu instinctively moved his hands to loop around Yue QingYuan’s neck, unable to do anything else but to answer in kind at Yue QingYuan’s honest delight.

It turned out that Xiao Jiu loved Qi-ge, but so did Shen QingQiu love Yue QingYuan. And miracle of all miracles, this love was reciprocated, and there could be no other emotions as sweet as what Shen QingQiu was feeling at the moment. He felt completed, as if there was nothing else that he would ever want aside from this.

“Xiao Jiu, Xiao Jiu,” Shen QingQiu’s name was a constant refrain on Yue QingYuan’s lips as the two embraced. It was as if he could not house any thoughts other than Shen QingQiu in his mind.

Soon, Yue QingYuan pulled back slightly to once again hold Shen QingQiu’s face in his hands, peppering first his forehead with a light kiss, before moving on to his eyes, his nose, his cheeks and eventually his lips. Shen QingQiu’s face flushed a bright red in response, but he made no move to stop Yue QingYuan.

These kisses were remarkably innocent compared to what they had to do next, but Shen QingQiu delighted in the tender affection. This was what they could have been when they were teenagers, but they missed out on it because of misunderstandings after misunderstandings.

Shen QingQiu would greedily gather all the love Yue QingYuan gave, and he would give him his love in return.

Chasing after Yue QingYuan’s lips, Shen QingQiu captured them in a passionate kiss, delving into them when Yue QingYuan let out an involuntary gasp at Shen QingQiu’s sudden aggression. Their tongues tangled, and Shen QingQiu could taste the bitter medicine that Yue QingYuan had downed, together with that of his blood.

Blood.

Even while kissing, Shen QingQiu’s hands loosened their hold around Yue QingYuan’s neck, trailing down said man’s shoulders and caressing the hard planes of his chest to settle at his belt. Deftly unbuckling the clasps, Shen QingQiu had Yue QingYuan’s belt off in no time. He ignored Yue QingYuan’s hitched breath, and swiftly proceeded to untie the Alpha’s outer robes.

Shen QingQiu responded with triumphant delight as Yue QingYuan seemed to have finally caught up with the proceedings, his hands similarly wandering so, making quick work of Shen QingQiu’s belt. Their kiss grew hot as the intensity of emotions drove the two men into greater fervour.

Just when Shen QingQiu was about to push the robes off Yue QingYuan, Yue QingYuan raised a firm hand onto his chest, pushing. Shen QingQiu retreated and was met with the delicious sight of an unkempt Yue QingYuan with lips that looked red and swollen, his outer robes hanging scandalously open.

The inner robe was still closed, but the cut of the collar was lower than that of the outer robe, thus revealing a silver of toned chest. Shen QingQiu licked his own lips unconsciously as heat pooled in his loins.

“Xiao Jiu,” Yue QingYuan gasped dazedly, pupils blown wide, “Aren’t we going too fast?”

“Qi-ge,” Shen QingQiu laughed at the absolute ridiculousness in that statement, “We’ve gone too slow. We could have had this for decades.”

Yue QingYuan’s eyes darkened at that response, and this time round, it was Shen QingQiu who found himself being kissed in the most delicious places as he was crowded backwards, into Yue QingYuan’s bedchamber. His robes were unceremoniously tossed to the ground, and Yue QingYuan only paused in his ministrations of kissing in an ever downwards path, to whisper hotly, breathily into Shen QingQiu’s delicate nape, “Xiao Jiu, let’s head to bed now.”

The back of Shen QingQiu’s calves hit a wooden surface then. Shen QingQiu allowed himself to fall backwards into the soft mattress, arms locked around Yue QingYuan’s neck, pulling the man into bed with him. He did not say anything else, as he figured that that was response enough.

<<Ding dong deng! ☆*。★゚*♪ヾ(☆ゝз・)ノ

Congratulations on completing love interest #1’s route! Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations!>>

Chapter Text

Shen QingQiu and Yue QingYuan fucked and mated that afternoon.

Yue QingYuan was as gentle and as giving as he expected. It would be a lie if Shen QingQiu said he did not enjoy it, even without being in the throes of heat.

Still, when Shen QingQiu exited Yue QingYuan’s rooms together with said man, heading towards the war room where the rest of the Peak Lords were gathered, it was with a bond mark on his neck, and another freshly-made one in a location more intimate. The fact that only one mark was visible to the most sharp-eyed viewers was a saving grace, but Shen QingQiu felt their presence keenly, as if the two scars were burning holes in him. Through them, he could sense both Yue QingYuan and Liu QingGe—the vibrant delight (and faint guilt; Shen QingQiu suspected that it would always be present) from Yue QingYuan, and the steady affection from Liu QingGe.

Was there also a tendril of acceptance from Liu QingGe? Shen QingQiu did not dare hope.

Still, he hesitated before the door. Shen QingQiu had managed to embarrass himself magnificently before all the Peak Lords just hours before. It was like a cheesy romance drama, where the lead roles in a love triangle had a very public falling out.

Very unbecoming for any Peak Lord, much less Shen QingQiu of the dignified and scholarly QingJing Peak! Even just recalling it had heat creeping up the back of Shen QingQiu’s neck.

The window in the corridor was starting to look like a very appealing escape route.

Just then, Yue QingYuan spoke up, “If Xiao Jiu would like to take a break from his Peak Lord’s duties, no one will fault him for it.” Unadulterated indulgence radiated through the bond, as Yue QingYuan readied himself to accede to any demands that Shen QingQiu might have.

“Is Yue-shixiong soft in the head? Do not call me ‘Xiao Jiu’ in public,” Shen QingQiu scowled. “And stop trying to pamper me. I’ve my duties to attend to, and you should be in the infirmary, getting checked over now.”

“QingQiu-shidi need not be concerned. This Yue-shixiong knows that he’s no longer poisoned by the Hanahaki disease,” Yue QingYuan smiled softly, “QingQiu-shidi should return to QingJing Peak and rest. It has been a strenuous day for you. Should there be any matters that requires QingQiu-shidi, this shixiong can send for you later.”

Annoying. Who was the one who was doing his ultimate best to cough up his lungs just hours before?

“If anything, it should be Yue-shixong resting,” Shen QingQiu narrowed his eyes. “Go to the infirmary and I’ll attend to the meeting.”

Yue QingYuan eventually nodded helplessly, leaving Shen QingQiu alone before the door again. Taking in a deep breath, he twisted the handle and stepped into the room, his eyes immediately meeting Liu QingGe’s, who seemed to have known that Shen QingQiu was about to enter.

Liu QingGe probably did. Just like how the bond gave Shen QingQiu an idea of where Liu QingGe was at any point in time, it was probably the same for Liu QingGe. The room quietened, as the rest eyed the two uncertainly.

“You’re here, QingGe-shidi,” Shen QingQiu spoke. ‘You haven’t left’ was unsaid.

Liu QingGe strode over and held Shen QingQiu at arm’s length, looking over him intently as if trying to see whether Shen QingQiu was harmed in any way. Shen QingQiu relaxed minutely as Liu QingGe’s familiar presence warmed him.

Liu QingGe eventually replied. “Why did you come back so soon, QingQiu-shixiong? It has been a long day, and you should be resting.”

… Why did that sound like what Yue QingYuan just a few minutes ago? Did he just gain two mother hens?

“It has been a long day for everyone,” Shen QingQiu said irritatedly. “And while we’ve averted disaster, we’ve yet to uncover the reason why. This shixiong cannot rest till the mastermind is caught.”

“The Old Palace Master spoke. Wei-shixiong managed to get some answers out of him,” Liu QingGe’s gaze darkened.

“Yes, we found out why the Old Palace Master scattered the Hanahaki pollen,” Qi QingQi took over the explanation seamlessly. “Zhangmen-shixiong was not the intended recipient.”

If not Yue QingYuan… then was it meant for Luo BingHe? After all, he was the one whom the Old Palace Master intended to welcome originally.

“It was meant for Luo BingHe,” Qi QingQi answered Shen QingQiu’s unspoken question.

“Why?” Shen QingQiu asked, brows furrowed. That was the part that confused him. Did the Old Palace Master know that Luo BingHe had unfathomable powers of a Heavenly Demon? Was that why he tried to bind Luo BingHe to him with such unscrupulous and despicable methods?

A look of extreme disgust settled on Qi QingQi’s face. “The Old Palace Master is very taken by Luo BingHe’s… looks,” she spat, “He wanted to have Luo BingHe, but when Luo BingHe did not return his revolting overtures and even ran away to CangQiong Sect, the Old Palace Master decided to take more drastic measures. The parley was a farce from the start; he only suggested it to try and lure Luo BingHe out. That was why, when he saw that it was Zhangmen-shixiong who turned up, the Old Palace Master did not try to touch Zhangmen-shixiong as he was never the target.”

… Fuck!

What a pathetic deviant! To lust after such a young disciple like Luo BingHe was absolutely vulgar coming from someone who held a position like the Old Palace Master. The thought of the power difference and how it could potentially corrupt the relationship and could be used to force a weaker disciple to submit just made Shen QingQiu’s stomach churn uncomfortably.

Thank god Shen QingQiu had the foresight to keep Ning YingYing away from the Old Palace Master all this while!

<<What if it’s the other way round? If a young disiciple lusts after a master? What does dearest Shen Jiu think of that then? (・_・ヾ >>

Even more disgusting! A master is like a father to his disciple. This kind of incestuous relationship is strictly forbidden.

<<Poor Luo BingHe… It seems like he has an uphill task. (oT-T)尸>>

Now that you know, remove him as whatever bullshit ‘love interest #3’, spirit! My mind wouldn’t change. Stop making him waste his youth by pining for this master!

<<As mentioned earlier, all rewards are strictly non-refundable. Besides, this system can’t just excise love from someone’s heart just like that, Shen Jiu. (一。一;;)…….. It’s not a tumour to be removed.”

WHAT LOVE? THIS IS MISTAKING FILIAL PIETY WITH ROMANCE! THAT STUPID BRAT JUST NEEDS TO GO OUT AND FIND SOME PRETTY GIRLS OR BOYS TO FOOL AROUND WITH!

A steady hand rested on Shen QingQiu’s shoulders, and qi was channelled into him. Roused from his thoughts, Shen QingQiu looked up and saw Liu QingGe’s worried face.

“QingQiu-shixiong, this shidi understands how foul the Old Palace Master’s intentions must be to you, especially since you consider Luo BingHe your precious disciple. But you need to calm yourself down,” Liu QingGe murmured quietly. “You’re dangerously close to a qi deviation.”

Right… shoving the demented spirit to one corner of his head, Shen QingQiu returned his attention to the situation at hand. Now that one mystery was solved, it was time to move on to another.

“How about the mastermind behind all this? Who did the Old Palace Master name?” Shen QingQiu asked, “Who provided him with the Hanahaki pollen from the demon realm?”

That was actually the most concerning portion of the entire incident with HuanHua Palace. Now that HuanHua Palace was effectively neutered, the only threat that remained was the mystery “friend” that the Old Palace Master referenced during their parley.

Whoever could give the Old Palace Master the rare demonic Hanahaki pollen that was near inaccessible to most was a man to be feared. Having such a powerful man running loose, doing god knew what, made Shen QingQiu uneasy. 

“The Old Palace Master was singing like a songbird, but…” Qi QingQi answered hesitantly.

“He was killed by a demon before he could say,” Shang QingHua interjected, “It was a snake demon that just appeared out of nowhere and slit the Old Palace Master’s throat! He then disappeared before Wei-shixiong could do anything. This snake demon might just be a very dangerous demon that is known to be the subordinate of the past Demon Lord, TianLang-Jun!”

Ahh, the other great mystery had spoken.

Shang QingHua seemed to know a lot. Too much, even. He even knew things that Shen QingQiu and Yue QingYuan had not told anyone else. How did he know that Shen QingQiu was once a slave to the Qius? How did he know that Shen QingQiu had always blamed Yue QingYuan for not returning for him? How did he know that the reason why Yue QingYuan didn’t return in time was because Yue QingYuan himself was trapped in a devastating qi deviation that lasted a year?

And the way Shang QingHua spoke was strangely reminiscent of a certain spirit.

“Were you in the interrogation room when the demon appeared, Shang-shidi?” Shen QingQiu asked, quirking a delicate eyebrow.

“Uh-uhm, no?”

“Then how do you know so much? How could you possibly know that the demon was a snake demon? Did Wei-shixiong tell you that?”

“Uhm, no, but Wei-shixong described the demon to me!” Shang QingHua fumbled for an answer. “I recognise that his descriptions were very similar to what was written down in the books about TianLang-Jun’s loyal subordinate!”

“I just said that the demon was wearing green and seemed to have gleaming slitted eyes,” Wei QingWei pointed out. “Not even I managed to get more than a glance with how quickly the demon appeared and disappeared.”

“T—that’s enough to give the demon away!”

At the unconvinced looks that he was surrounded with, Shang QingHua broke into a cold sweat. Shen QingQiu saw how he was clearly glancing at the window, and swiftly moved to step in front of it.

Desperate, Shang QingHua appeared to have lost all strength in his legs and sank to his knees. However, rather than cowering and begging for mercy like what Shang QingHua was prone to do when cornered, Shang QingHua retrieved what appeared to be a talisman and threw it quickly to the ground.

With a cold blast of air, Shang QingHua disappeared from the collective Peak Lords’ eyes. There was no mistaking the burst of demonic qi from the talisman too.

“… Someone, please explain to me what happened,” the Zuixian Peak Lord finally said after a long silence. “I’m not drunk enough for this.”

Chapter Text

Five seconds after ZuiXian Peak Lord’s request, another sudden surge of demonic qi spiked in the meeting room.

Seeminigly stepping out of the shadows, a heavily injured Luo BingHe fell forward, right into Shen QingQiu’s arms. Immediately following after him was an ice demon whose face Shen QingQiu would never forget, together with a trembling Shang QingHua.

“Definitely not drunk enough for this…” the ZuiXian Peak Lord trailed off before he set about to rectifying this, downing alcohol from the bottles that never strayed far from him in huge gulps.

“Shizun!” Luo BingHe exclaimed, desperation having him clinging tightly to Shen QingQiu, “It’s not safe here. You need to evacuate!”

… Was this day not over yet? What’s with this ridiculous pace of development? Shen QingQiu had already mated two men, faced down HuanHua Palace, and used his Super Omega powers in the last 24 hours, what else did this dratted world have in store for him?

<<Dearest Shen Jiu needs to persevere! ٩(^ᴗ^)۶ We’re unravelling all the mysteries today. Please accept this mission!

Mission: Defeat TianLang-Jun

Reward: Boosted love-love meter for love interest #3>>

Shen QingQiu eyed the reward coldly.

Reject, he told the spirit.

<<Whyyyyyyyyyy? 。゚(゚´Д`゚)゚。 This is the grand finale in our quest to happiness! Soon, beloved Shen Jiu can get his happily every after!>>

Reject, Shen QingQiu repeated.

Even as the spirit continued to harass him, Shen QingQiu did not relent. There were many things that he had allowed the spirit to get his way, but this was one thing that Shen QingQiu was firm on. He would not be the second Old Palace Master. He would not be the second Qiu JianLuo.

Fuck, why was the system so insistent on forcing Luo BingHe onto him?

Beyond the internal conversation Shen QingQiu was having with the spirit, the trio who appeared out of nowhere were being interrogated by his fellow Peak Lords.

“Shang QingHua, are you consorting with demons? How dare you betray CangQiong Sect!”

“No—Y—Yes, I mean I’ve been working for my King, but I’ve never meant CangQiong Sect any harm!”

“A Heavenly Ice Demon… are you Mobei-Jun from the Northern Demon realms?”

“Luo BingHe, explain yourself. What dangers threaten QingQiu-shixiong? Who did you battle with?”

“Shizun!” Luo BingHe ignored the rest, “Please, this disciple begs Shizun to leave CangQiong mountains immediately. A demonic army led by TianLang-Jun is on their way!”

“Luo BingHe, what trouble did you stir up this time round?” Shen QingQiu remained unmoved. If the boy could hold onto Shen QingQiu so tightly, he was probably relatively unharmed. “When did you even leave CangQiong moutains in the first place? Had this master given you leave to go off to do god knows what?”

“This disciple humbly begs for Shizun’s forgiveness! This disciple will make up for it in the future,” Luo BingHe sunk to his knees, “This disciple did not want to leave either, but his retainer, Mobei-Jun, informed him of a sudden rebellion in his territories. He’d no choice but to leave to quell the rebellious forces immediately!”

“The ice demon, Mobei-Jun, is your retainer now?” Shen QingQiu raised an elegant eyebrow.

“Yes, Shizun, Mobei-Jun has his use. But this disciple knows that Mobei-Jun has harmed Shizun grievously previously. If Shizun commands, this disciple would be happy to offer you Mobei-Jun’s head immediately.”

A sudden wail sounded from Shang QingHua. “Shen-shixiong! Please don’t kill my king, he was just a foolish demon who didn’t know any better. Please spare Mobei-Jun!”

Filing away the knowledge that Shang QingHua seemed to be oddly invested in Mobei-Jun’s wellbeing for future blackmail purposes, Shen QingQiu decided to pursue another line of query.

“Are your injuries from the rebellious forces then, Luo BingHe?” Shen QingQiu asked, thinking back to the mission that the spirit had tried to foist onto him moments ago. “Would they happen to be led by TianLang-Jun?”

Luo BingHe gaped in surprise before nodding quickly. “Shizun is correct! How did Shizun know?”

“Only a Heavenly Demon of equal or superior strength can harm Luo BingHe. Since even Mobei-Jun was defeated by Luo BingHe, it stands to reason that the only being that could harm Luo BingHe was not from his generation. Of the famous Heavenly Demons that came before Luo BingHe, this master knows of only one – TianLang-Jun.”

Everyone’s attention was now focused on Shen QingQiu as he went through his deductive reasoning, awe clear in their eyes.

They did not need to know that Shen QingQiu had help from the spirit’s careless words.

<<Ahhh, dearest Shen Jiu is so smart! (❁´▽`❁)*✲゚* This system is amazed!>>

… Shen QingQiu had no words for the spirit.

“Shizun is truly the wisest of all immortals! However, if Shizun knows that it’s TianLang-Jun leading the demonic forces, then Shizun understands the danger he’s in,” Luo BingHe’s voice grew regretful, “This disciple is ashamed to say that he cannot say with confidence that he would be able to defeat TianLang-Jun in his current state.”

Spirit, the Super Omega allure and Holy Maiden aura work on demons too, right?

<<Indeed, beautiful Shen Jiu! d(=^・ω・^=)b>>

Having gotten the confirmation he desired, Shen QingQiu affected cool confidence. “Do not be presumptuous, Luo BingHe. It’s not the duty of disciples to stand before their masters. This master will handle this.”

“Shizun, please!” the remarkably stubborn and clingy disciple refused to relent.

To Shen QingQiu’s side was an equally worried mate. The sour notes of distress were unpleasant, but strangely heartening because Liu QingGe’s concern for him had not changed even after Shen QingQiu had mated with Yue QingYuan.

What a steadfast mate Shen QingQiu had found. Shen QingQiu must have saved the world in his past life to deserve Liu QingGe.

<<… If thinking this makes beloved Shen Jiu happy, then he should continue to think so. o(-_-;*)>>

“QingQiu-shixiong, this is different from going head-to-head with the HuanHua Palace forces. TianLang-Jun is a Heavenly Demon of reknown might. It took the combined forces of the four Sects to just seal him previously.”

“Indeed, and that’s why I’ll take QingGe-shidi with me this time round,” Shen QingQiu acknowledged solemnly.

“QingQiu-shixiong, this shidi would not be enough!”

“QingGe-shidi is always enough for this shixong,” Shen QingQiu allowed a sly undertone into his voice. He had always enjoyed teasing this shidi of his.

“QingQiu!”

Alright, time to lay off. Liu QingGe was genuinely annoyed now.

“Don’t worry, QingGe,” Shen QingQiu reassured. “This shixiong has his ways. How did you think this shixiong escaped unharmed from the Old Palace Master’s trap if he didn’t have a secret weapon up his sleeves?”

Surely Shen QingQiu’s fellow Peak Lords had realised that there was something uncanny about how the entire HuanHua Palace seemed to worship the ground he walked on? Even though they did not have extensive interaction with the… “reformed” disciples, it should have been clear that something was awry, based off GongYi Xiao’s behaviour and the fact that the entire HuanHua Palace wanted to defect to CangQiong Sect overnight.

In fact, Shen QingQiu was quite amazed that no one had questioned him about it yet. Although it might have been because of that Hanahaki poison incident with Yue QingYuan leaving no one time to interrogate him before this.

“QingQiu, while humans can’t help but to fall for your charm and won over by your pure intentions, the same cannot be said for demons,” Liu QingGe said, “They’re just a bunch of unthinking beasts who cannot be reasoned with.”

Huh? Did Liu QingGe know about the ridiculous Super Omega allure and Holy Maiden aura?

“Indeed, Shen-shixiong,” Qi QingQi chimed in. “Any humans with brains would of course fall to the ground in worship once they’ve had the honour of seeing your beautiful visage with their own eyes. But demons are another matter altogether! Their sense of aesthetics is the worst!”

“Yes, our Shen-shixiong is the most glorious Omega in the world. Sometimes, I look at Shang-shidi and you, and I wonder how the two of you are even the same gender. It seems impossible!”

“Shen-shixiong should just rest! It’s time that we fight for you as Alphas! Please let us protect you.”

Huh? Spirit, do all the Peak Lords somehow know about my powers?

<<Nope, this system did not publicise the abilities of Super Omegas! /(=╹x╹=)\ He kept it a secret so that darling Shen Jiu had a trump card to whip out should he find himself in sticky situations!>>

?? If that’s the case, why are all the Peak Lords speaking as if they know about it?

<<Maybe it’s because how they’ve become irrevocably charmed by beloved Shen Jiu over the last few years? To them, it’s probably common-sense that everyone would love Shen Jiu! ꒰⁎˃ ॢꇴ ॢ˂⁎꒱➴ෆ⃛>>

The spirit’s blatant favouritism was rearing its horns again. Shen QingQiu sighed internally.

<<Why is Shen Jiu so sceptical… (。•́︿•̀。) What other explanation does Shen Jiu have then?>>

Shen QingQiu thought about it, but could not come up with another answer to this mystery. If the spirit said that it did not make the knowledge of Super Omegas known, it could be taken as a fact because the spirit had been nothing but honest thus far.

But if that was the case… Going by the philosophy that once one had eliminated the impossible, whatever that remained, however improbable, must be the truth, did that mean that Shen QingQiu was surrounded by idiotic Peak Lords?

Had their brains been mush all along? Or had Shen QIngQiu unknowingly activated his powers and turned their brains to mush accidentally? How could they so easily accept that Shen QingQiu coculd charm a thousand disciples, as well as the Old Palace Master who was known to despise him, over the course of a morning?

That was obviously illogical!

<<No, dearest Shen Jiu, today was the first time you activated those powers of yours! ヾ(^-^)ノ This system can confirm that.>>

Help. Shen QingQiu was surrounded by fools. It was a miracle that CangQiong Sect still remained standing.

But Shen QingQiu could make use of their stupidity for now. If they thought so highly of his persuasive charms, it would be a simple matter to get the Peak Lords to entertain the possibility that his said persuasive charms extended to the demon-kind.

Case in point, Luo BingHe. Not that Shen QingQiu actually wanted that twisted affection.

“My fellow martial brothers and sister need not worry. This QingQiu is confident that he would be able to… charm the demon-kind too,” Shen QingQiu said with difficulty, finding it tough to believe what was actually coming out of his mouth. Was he painting himself as some high-end courtesan that could turn the tides of a battle by just batting his eyelashes and flashing some smile?

Nonetheless, he persevered regardless of the sheer embarrassment, “We should not be so hasty to leap to violence. If there’s a chance for this conflict to end without bloodshed, it’s our duty as Peak Lords to seize the opportunity.”

“Shen-shixiong, you don’t understand! Truthfully, we don’t have any doubts that you would be able to win over the hearts of anyone you want, but… demons are known to be lust-driven creatures! As your fellow Peak Lord, we can never allow any demon to stain your lily-white purity with demonic filth!”

Fuck! Was everyone obsessed with the word “lily-white”? Kindly use that on a young maiden, Wei-shidi!

“I… will have QingGe-shidi to ward off any enthusiastic advances,” Shen QingQiu felt like he was being forced to swallow poison.

“Please let all the Peak Lords accompany you, Shen-shixiong! While Liu-shidi is truly worthy of his title as the BaiZhan War God, we fear that he may not be able to handle a demonic horde led by TianLang-Jun!”

Wei-shidi… are you saying that you think the entire demonic army would be so “charmed” that they would immediately want to ravish me? Shen QingQiu had to shove down the sudden temptation he had to violently beat up Wei QingWei.

“QingGe-shidi would be enough,” Shen QingQiu repeated.

“QingQiu-shixiong, this shidi is truly honoured by the high regard you’ve of his martial abilities, but—“

“What if our martial brothers and sister end up ravishing me instead?” Shen QingQiu’s voice came out sounding fairly strangled.

Spirit, how about a spontaneous qi deviation now?

<<Dearest Shen Jiu needs to be in peak condition when he goes off to charm the demonic army. (๑و•̀ω•́)و No qi deviations allowed!>>

Noting the alarmed scent that Liu QingGe was now emanating, it seemed like Liu QingGe was seriously considering that possibility. At least Shen QingQiu’s shameful words achieved something.

Shen QingQiu observed Liu QingGe sweeping a steely glance through the room. Every eye contact he made with another person left the other wilting. Except for Luo BingHe, of course, who glared back defiantly at Liu QingGe.

“Shizun, if you insist on meeting TianLang-Jun’s forces by yourself, please allow this disciple to be present too. This disciple has had much experience restraining himself while under your care, and would not easily succumb to his urges,” Luo BingHe was absolutely earnest.

… There were so many things wrong with what Luo BingHe said that Shen QingQiu did not even know where to begin.

<<Actually… thinking about it, as a Heavenly Demon who had come into his birth right, Luo BingHe is immune to your Super Omega Powers too!>>

WHAT! Didn’t you just say that demons aren’t immune, spirit?

<<Yes, normal demons aren’t. But this system forgot about the presence of Heavenly Demons, whoops. (/≧ω\) It’s the OP race that the protagonist belongs to, of course, so it can counter darling Shen Jiu’s OP Super Omega abilities too!>>

Don’t forget such important information next time round! How am I supposed to defeat TianLang-Jun then?

<<You can always turn TianLang-Jun’s army against him! With Luo BingHe and Liu QingGe there, they would surely help to turn the tide in your favour, Shen Jiu. Don’t worry, no matter what, this system will ensure that you don’t get hurt! ( ►_◄ )-c<*_*; )>>

Damn it, things just got complicated.

<<You should bring Luo BingHe along, he’s very strong! This would also be a very important moment for Luo BingHe’s character development too. ೕ(˃̵ᴗ˂̵ ๑) After all, TianLang-Jun is his father.>>

The spirit was carelessly letting slip earth-shaking revelations again. At this point, Shen QingQiu was no longer surprised. Shen QingQiu had deduced this truth himself a long time ago.

To be a Heavenly Demon with human characteristics meant that Luo BingHe must have been a half-breed. And which other Heavenly Demon was famed to be especially intrigued by the human culture other than TianLang-Jun himself? He was even rumoured to have fathered a child with Su XiYan, which must have been true, although the child did not die but had instead grown up to be a QingJing Peak disciple.

The Old Palace Master’s obsession with Luo BingHe could also be easily explained too. Su XiYan was the only disciple who had slipped through his fingers. Of course, he would obsess over her child, and want him regardless of the child’s demonic heritage.

Since the spirit had confirmed Shen QingQiu’s suspicions, Shen QingQiu supposed he had no choice but to bring Luo BingHe along. It wasn’t because of any stupid desires to reunite Luo BingHe with his father or to allow Luo BingHe to spend one last moment with TianLang-Jun before he died. The demon was known to have only lusted after Su XiYan after all, wanting to dual cultivate with a human female who had astounding spiritual powers. Shen QingQiu had no use for idiots who thoughts with their dicks. They could not be trusted with children.  

Rather, it was because Luo BingHe could be the answer to stopping TianLang-Jun. Even the almighty demon lord might drop his guard when he realised that the son he threw away was alive and well. That would be the moment when Shen QingQiu and Liu QingGe would strike.

“Very well, Liu QingGe and Luo BingHe can come along.”

Chapter Text

“I’ll accompany you too, QingQiu-shidi.” A voice suddenly called out.

It was Yue QingYuan who stood in the doorway, the fever and wracking coughs he suffered just hours ago seeming to be a faraway memory. He looked hale and healthy, no longer enveloped by the smell of haitang flowers and iron.

Shen QingQiu snapped opened his fan and used it to fan himself idly, buying himself some time.

It was not that he hadn’t considered bringing Yue QingYuan along too, given that he was the other man who would be immune to the Super Omega powers, but…

It would be exceptionally awkward, having Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan side by side given what just occurred less than 24 hours ago. Shen QingQiu would rather take his chances with TianLang-Jun than to wish that kind of tension upon the two men and himself.

Traversing such emotional minefields were not his forte.

It was Liu QingGe who broke the silence. “Let him join us, QingQiu-shixong,” Liu QingGe said without ire, facial expression unreadable, “Yue-shixong’s strength will be a boon and he looks recovered.”

Startled, Shen QingQiu reached out with his senses. He could feel Yue QingYuan’s steely determination over the bond. At the same time, Liu QingGe was not radiating any strong anger, but was… faintly accepting and pleased about it? There was still an undercurrent of sour resignation and jealously, but barely detectable.

If the one man whom he thought would have objections to the arrangement agreed, what reason did Shen QingQiu have to reject Yue QingYuan’s offer?

Shen QingQiu acquiesced, “If QingGe-shidi says so.”

It would be reassuring to have both Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan beside him.

<<Ahhh, so romantic! ❤︎⁄⁄꒰* ॢꈍ◡ꈍ ॢ꒱.*˚‧ The scene of the leading man and his trusted harem facing down the antagonist is a classic! This system is so happy that precious Shen Jiu gets to experience this.>>

---

As such, that was how the four men ended up standing at the foot of CangQiong mountains, waiting to welcome TianLang-Jun and his forces.

They did not have to wait long, as a gray blot appeared over the horizon, that slowly grew in its size as the demonic horde drew ccloser to CangQiong mountains.

It would be a lie to say that Shen QingQiu did not feel an instinctual fear at the sight, but he tamped it down fiercely. There was no need to maintain his calm when he used the Holy Maiden aura this time round.

While the cultivation world might raise an outcry of the suicides of a thousand disciples, they would not have any issues with demons spontaneously dying. People might be suspicious, but no one would outright accuse Shen QingQiu of anything, so long as he didn’t step out of line.

Two demons soon separated themselves from the rank and file, and Shen QingQiu knew immediately that the one leading had to be TianLang-Jun. There was an unmistakable force that the demon emanated, demonic qi enveloping him, noxious and terrible. He was dressed in deep reds and blacks, with his companion in a dark green.

“TianLang-Jun,” Shen QingQiu greeted succinctly.

The demon’s face darkened, and TianLang-Jun did not bother acknowledging Shen QingQiu. Instead, he directed his attention to Yue QingYuan, “I see that CangQiong Sect has indeed captured Luo BingHe, our rightful demon lord.”

Something was off. Why did it sound less like a rebellion, but more of loyal retainers trying to reclaim their king?

Yue QingYuan evidently felt that was something was strange with TianLang-Jun’s wording too, and he corrected midly, “Luo BingHe returned to our sect of his own volition. There was no coercion involved.”

“No,” TianLang-Jun sneered. “You merely had one of your dogs entrap him.”

Shen QingQiu’s eye twitched. Was that… referring to him? Entrapping Luo BingHe?

“I told you already,” Luo BingHe burst out, “I don’t want to return to the demonic realm! I don’t want to be the demon lord anymore!”

“BingHe, you cannot be so wilful,” TianLang-Jun coaxed. “You cannot choose to pickup the responsibility of a demon lord one day, and then discard it the next day. As my heir, you’ve your duties to fulfil, and this father wish to get to know his son and make up for his prior failings.”

TianLang-Jun’s sudden change in tone from ruthlessly cold to gentle solicitousness gave Shen QingQiu mental whiplash. However, what was more important was the fact that—

TIANLANG-JUN ALREADY KNEW THAT LUO BINGHE WAS HIS SON?

WHAT WOULD BECOME OF THE PLAN TO TAKE HIM OFFGUARD WITH THIS FACT THEN?

<<The plan would become undoubtedly useless! \(^▽^)/>>

Luo BingHe’s sharp retort distracted Shen QingQiu from giving the spirit the scolding he deserved for that cheekiness.

“I told you already, I’m not your son!” demonic qi started to gather around Luo BingHe. “There’s only one man who deserves my respect and love, and that’s Shizun!”

“Luo BingHe,” Shen QingQiu rebuked.

Immediately, Luo BingHe affected an apologetic expression and meekly bowed his head. “Sorry, Shizun, this disciple forgot.” Saying so, he dissipated the demonic qi and chose instead to wield spiritual qi in his fists.

Truly, Shen QingQiu marvelled, TianLang-Jun and Luo BingHe were related. Look at how two-faced they were.

However, that was not the point Shen QingQiu was trying to drive across. “Luo BingHe, this master’s reprimand was not beacause of the demonic qi.”

“This disciple is stupid and does not understand. This disciple begs Shizun to enlighten him.”

“Luo BingHe, have you truly abandoned duties you took on in the demonic realm?”

“Yes, this disciple will devote the rest of his life to Shizun as per what he promised!”

Yes, Shen QingQiu seethed internally. And this is precisely why this master needs you to scram back to the demonic realm. So, the rebellious forces that you were talking about is just your father trying to get his prodigal son back. If no one is trying to harm you in the demonic realm, this master would much rather you return, focus on your lordly duties and forget about your foolish infatuation!

Although… what if TianLang-Jun was not being sincere, and was simply trying to lure Luo BingHe, his only competitor, to the demonic realm so as to slaughter him? A father who could abandon his child was not to be trusted.

Nonetheless, it might be wise to pretend to go along with TianLang-Jun’s plan for now. Surely his guard would be lowered if he saw that CangQiong Sect put up no resistance and allowed him to reclaim Luo BingHe.

“No,” Shen QingQiu said calmly instead. “This master understands if Luo BingHe’s birth right exacts certain requirements on him. You can return to the demonic realm and be the lord of that realm. This master will not expel you from QingJing Peak.”

“Shizun…!” Luo BingHe’s face fell and his eyes grew wet. “You’re far too kind and generous to this disciple! But this disciple will die than to leave Shizun this time round! What if I leave and you mate with another 100 Alphas?”

Fuck! Shen QingQiu’s blood pressure spiked and he was sorely tempted to give Luo BingHe a solid beating if not for the fact that there was a demonic horde loyal to said idiot before him.

The demonic qi that surrounded TianLang-Jun suddenly grew thicker and heavier too.

Fuck! Why was TianLang-Jun getting angry too? It was Shen QingQiu who had just been insulted, not him.

“Indeed, the QingJing Peak Lord is truly charming like a nine-tailed fox, wagging his tails at everyone he comes across,” TianLang-Jun’s tone could cut through steel. “Not only have you seduced my son, but you dare to two-time the heir of the demonic realm?”

Apparently, lunacy ran in the blood and Luo BingHe inherited TianLang-Jun’s delirious train of thoughts. Shen QingQiu strongly suppressed the desire to tear into TianLang-Jun the moment the words “nine-tailed fox” came out of his dratted mouth.

Firstly, why was a demon lord accusing a pure-blooded human of demonic heritage? Secondly, why a demonic fox race which was known for seducing and sucking the qi of men?

<<Ahhhh, precious Shen Jiu would look lovely with tails; they would be so fluffy and cute! ꒰⁎˃ ॢꇴ ॢ˂⁎꒱➴ෆ⃛ Shen Jiu, Shen Jiu, would you like-->>

Shen QingQiu clenched his fist so tightly that his fan cracked, thin line of fissures running through the wooden frame.

Ignorant of Shen QingQiu’s inner turmoil, TianLang-Jun continued in his tirade, baring his teeth threateningly. “Who is it? Let this lord send you and your scandalous lover to hell!”

“Me.”

“That person would be me.”

Twin answers responded to TianLang-Jun’s question before Shen QingQiu had time to regain his composure. His fan broke cleanly into halves, unsalvageable.

QingGe-shidi! Yue-shixiong! This was absolutely not the time to answer truthfully!

“But we’ve no intentions of allowing you to harm either ourselves or QingQiu-shixiong,” Liu QingGe laid a meaningful hand on ChengLuan’s hilt.

“Yes, we’ve just reached an understanding to live our lives together in peace,” Yue QingYuan added, “You can take Luo BingHe back to the demonic realm, but we’ll not allow you to lay a single finger on QingQiu-shidi.”

TianLang-Jun seemed to be shocked for a moment before he sneered. “Mating with two Peak Lords. Is the entire CangQiong Sect, all the Peak Lords and disciples, under your thrall?”

… Was TianLang-Jun implying that Shen QingQiu had a harem numbering over one thousand?

Please, Shen QingQiu was not a slag. And he had standards beyond needing a warm body located conveniently nearby; Shen QingQiu did not indiscriminately accept people into his bed. Who the hell needed so many lovers anyway?

Before Shen QingQiu could rein his anger in, so that he could maintain a semblance of impassive diplomacy in his reply, Liu QingGe had already opened his mouth, saying “Yes.”

LIU QINGGE!

“The entire CangQiong Sect does treasure and love QingQiu-shidi,” Yue QingYuan clarified. “But only Liu-shidi and I have the honour of being his mates.”

Shen QingQiu could not stand the farce of a conversation they were engaging in anymore. Raising a hand sharply to signify that Yue QingYuan and Liu QingGe were to stop speaking, he said through gritted teeth, “It seems that TianLang-Jun suffers from some profound misunderstandings regarding the relationship between your son and I. We are not lovers, nor have I ever considered Luo BingHe in such a light.”

He continued, ignoring Luo BingHe whose face had turned ashen, “There’s more that needs to be said, but this is not the place to discuss. If TianLang-Jun’s true intention is to bring Luo BingHe back and not to lay waste to CangQiong Sect, may we please invite your esteemed self for a talk? Perhaps, we can resolve this without bloodshed.”

TianLang-Jun narrowed his eyes, keeping quiet for a long while. He looked between Shen QingQiu and Luo BingHe, before finally saying, “Lead the way.”

Shen QingQiu’s face revealed nothing, but internally, he was filled with grim satisfaction.

The attack from a HuanHua Palace that had found a mysterious benefactor, the appearance of a rare demonic flower and the sudden revival of TianLang-Jun, they all happened one after another. It could not be an uncanny coincidence. There was someone manipulating things behind the scene, and perhaps Shen QingQiu might find out who it was today.

Besides, Shen QingQiu was hardly going to attack TianLang-Jun before his demonic horde. That was simply too risky.

Chapter Text

The group retreated to a more private location where Shen QingQiu quickly threw out an unassuming looking pod which soon unfurled into a grand tent draped in reds. This used to belong to the Old Palace Master, but a dead man could lay no claims, and it was now Shen QingQiu’s.

Entering the room and quickly activating the privacy array embedded into the tent, Shen QingQiu gestured for the rest to take a seat.

TianLang-Jun was the first to speak. His eyes glimmered with cool amusement. “This tent hardly looks like CangQiong’s style. Doesn’t this belong to the Old Palace Master? Where is he now?”

“Shouldn’t you know better than us,” Shen QingQiu arched an eyebrow, “Friend of the Old Palace Master?”

“Hmmm?” TianLang-Jun feigned confusion.

“What were you trying to do?” Shen QingQiu allowed his voice to turn baleful, “Giving the Old Palace Master the Hanahaki pollen which he was trying to use against Luo BingHe?”

TianLang-Jun remained silent for a second, before he burst into loud, raucous laughter. The sudden mood change left the rest unsettled, and no other sounds be heard except for those raspish laughs.

Finally, TianLang-Jun stopped and snarled, “Don’t you dare imply that I would hurt my son, you slag.”

“Just because you humans are foolish enough to assume that the Hanahaki disease could infect anyone does not mean that it’s true,” TianLang-Jun continued harshly. “The heavenly demons have always been immune to most poisons and this remains true for the demonic Hanahaki powder. Luo BingHe would have never been harmed.”

“Then what were you trying to accomplish?” Yue QingYuan asked, “What use is lying to the Old Palace Master? To pretend to aid him and to kill him the next moment?”

“It’s to show my son how these high-and-mighty sect lords are just thrash!” TianLang-Jun was truly enraged now. His eyes flared red and demonic qi cloaked him again. His retainer stiffened and appeared to ready himself for battle.

“All of you are just lusting after my darling son! The Old Palace Master is one, but you!” TianLang-Jun jabbed a violent finger in Shen QingQiu’s direction, “But you are the worst of them all. You actually took my innocent son as a disciple for so many years, yet rather than protecting him, you forced him to have such a despicable, sinful relationship with you! How dare you defile my beautiful son like this! I won’t be his father if I don’t end you today!”

Saying so, the demonic qi leapt straight for Shen QingQiu, but was stopped by the heavy layers of spiritual qi that Shen QingQiu had the foresight to layer himself, as well as his three companions in.

Shen QingQiu still had some reservations about a man who had somehow managed to trick Su XiYan and supposedly slaughtered thousands of righteous cultivators. But, the protectiveness in his words rang true, and resounded with Shen QingQiu’s own private thoughts.

Still, he could not allow the misconception to continue.

“TianLang-Jun, as I’ve professed countless times before, I’ve no intentions in developing a romantic relationship with Luo BingHe,” Shen QingQiu said with firm conviction. “QingGe-shidi and Yue-shixiong are all that I ever need. To me, Luo BingHe is just a treasured disciple.”

At this, Luo BingHe visibly wilted.  

“Shizun, why don’t you love me? All that I have ever done, it was for you! I cooked for you, I served for you, I survived and conquered the Abyss for you,” Luo BingHe attempted to approach but was stopped by Liu QingGe who inserted his body between the both of them.

Seeing that Luo BingHe was about to violently fling Liu QingGe aside, Shen QingQiu commanded instinctively, “Do not harm my mates, Luo BingHe.”

Those words seemed to have dealt Luo BingHe a physical blow, and he jerked back violently.

“Shizun…” Luo BingHe whispered desolately. Tears glimmered in his eyes as he continued, “Shizun, how can you say this to me? You’ve once told this disciple to look at no one other than you, you’ve once accepted my intentions to court you, and you’ve once told me to come back for you.”

Luo BingHe cried, “All these, I have done! Why do you throw me away like this? I’m even willing to share you with Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan. I know my place, Shizun, but can’t you give me even a silver of your heart?”

Shen QingQiu’s thoughts were in a jumble as he regarded the pitiable disciple before him.

Since when had he ever told Luo BingHe to look only at him? Since when did he accepted Luo BingHe’s courtship declaration? The only thing that Shen QingQiu could admit to, was telling Luo BingHe to not die in the Abyss and to return to him.

But that was just to continue their pure master-disciple relationship! Luo BingHe might have grown up to be a fine man, but Shen QingQiu wasn’t depraved enough to seek a romance with his own disciple.

For once, he agreed with TianLang-Jun, that kind of relationship was just disgusting and sinful. In Shen QingQiu’s eyes, Luo BingHe was still a child who had to be guided. Shen QingQiu would never think of laying his hands on a child whom he had raised; that would just be exploitative and paedophilic, never mind the many years he had on Luo BingHe.

Luo BingHe probably developed this unhealthy obsession with Shen QingQiu because he never had the chance to truly grow into his own man, to develop his own sense of self. Perhaps what Shen QingQiu did wrong to Luo BingHe was to keep the boy so close to him during his formative years.

The child had always hovered around him, eager to please. And Shen QingQiu had let him, finding his quick-wittedness useful, ignoring how Luo BingHe seemed to be inordinately much clingier than the rest of his disciples – even MingFan, who was his head disciple. Even after he had whacked Luo BingHe for some slipups, the child remained as cheerful as ever.

God, all those punishments, and Luo BingHe was not the least bit deterred. Shen QingQiu felt a cold shudder running up his spine. Had he raised Luo BingHe to be a deviant?

He should have sent Luo BingHe to XianShu Peak more often. Why did he not notice the child’s silly infatuation earlier and nipped his foolish affection in the bud? 

In a sense, Shen QingQiu could admit that he had failed Luo BingHe.

It was guilt that forced Shen QingQiu to apologise and gentle his words.

“Luo BingHe, this master apologises if his words have mistakenly led you to think that this master is willing to pursue a romantic relationship with you,” Shen QingQiu paused. His brows furrowed as he considered his next words carefully, “But I can never look at you as anything other than a treasured disciple. I’m much older than you’re, Luo BingHe. You have grown infatuated with me because you had not have the opportunity to see the world and meet more people. Once you have, I’ve no doubts that you’ll find others closer in age, and more suitable for yourself.”

Luo BingHe’s eyes were red and he looked as if his soul had been crushed. Yet, this child had always been obstinate, and Shen QingQiu was not surprised when the child stubbornly said, “Shizun is mistaken if he thinks this BingHe can love anyone else. I’ve sworn my heart to Shizun since I was 10, and ever since then, this love has only grown stronger and stronger. Only thoughts of returning to Shizun, and seeing Shizun’s smile kept me going during my years in the Abyss.”

Since he was 10! Shen QingQiu felt faint.

“This master…” Shen QingQiu’s head throbbed insistently and he reached up to rub at his temples, “I think some distance from me will do you some good, Luo BingHe.”

“Shizun, are you abandoning me?” the voice was halting and rough with unshed tears.

Troublesome, how troublesome. How many emotional rollercoasters did Shen QingQiu have to be subjected to today for the world to be satisfied? Shen QingQiu felt thoroughly exhausted and wished he could just rewind time and forget the last 24 hours.

Even the time spent in the Water Prison was starting to appear more appealing.

“TianLang-Jun,” Shen QingQiu chose to look over at the demon lord who had fallen silent, “If you can prove to us that you mean no harm to Luo BingHe, then CangQiong Sect would not stop you from taking Luo BingHe away, nor would we raise arms against you or your heir.”

“Have you truly never desired or touched my son before?” TianLang-Jun asked in a low voice.

Shen QingQiu responded to the non sequitur with calm honesty, “Never.”

TianLang-Jun eyed him cooly for a moment, and Shen QingQiu met his gaze with equanimity. This was a statement that he could stand by. He could sense the battle-readiness of Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan to his side, alert for any movements from TianLang-Jun or his retainer.

Finally, TianLang-Jun asked, emotions indecipherable, “Then have you been leading him on?”

“No.”

“My son said you gave him your expressed permission to woo you.”

“Luo BingHe must be mistaken,” Shen QingQiu resolutely ignored the hitched breath that came from said boy.

It was best to be clear now. Shen QingQiu must made known his intentions, for both the safety of CangQiong Sect, as well as the future of his wayward disciple. It was better for Luo BingHe to hurt now, than to allow him to continuously pine for Shen QingQiu who could not consider the boy as anything other than a disciple, or a son at best.

TianLang-Jun finally dispersed the demonic qi he had gathered.

“Your scent tells me that you believe in what you’re saying to be true,” he said, a strange mix of frustration and helplessness creeping into his voice. TianLang-Jun then turned to address the retainer to his side, “Does this mean that all this has been a grand misunderstanding, ZhuZhi-Lang? We could have had my son back if only we spoke to CangQiong Sect without sacrificing any of our sowers or having to deal with that sleazy HuanHua Palace Master?”

Before the retainer, ZhuZhi-Lang, could respond, Liu QingGe sharply interjected, “Sowers? Were you responsible for the sowers’ accusations against QingQiu-shixiong?”

TianLang-Jun shrugged, “We know that my son is obsessed with him. It was the easiest way to get rid of him with the least casualty.”

Liu QingGe hissed with virtriol, his killing intent skyrocketing, “You nearly ruined QingQiu-shixiong’s reputation.”

“And forced him to be imprisoned in the Water Prison when QingQiu-shidi was about to go into heat,” Yue QingYuan added with steel in his voice.

TianLang-Jun regarded the two with vague amusement. “And so? What do you want to do? Are you going to wage war against the demon realm after all?”

Just when Shen QingQiu thought he had to step out to calm the fiery tempers raging in the tent, Liu QingGe visibly reigned in his murderous aura and Yue QingYuan allowed calm impassivity back onto his face.

“No, because that’s not what QingQiu-shidi wants,” Yue QingYuan said, “We do not wish for unnecessary conflict with the demon realm. If you’re marching against us solely because of Luo BingHe, then as per what QingQiu-shidi said, you may take him back so long as we’re assured that you mean Luo BingHe no harm.”

“What makes you think that I want to harm my son?” TianLang-Jun asked, seemingly aggrieved. The implacable aura of a demonic lord finally fell from his shoulders and he once again asked his retainer, “ZhuZhi-Lang, have I gained a reputation for being a callous father in the human realm? But all I’ve done in the last twenty years or so was to be pinned under BaiLu mountain!”

“It was reported that you disrespected Su XiYan’s body without any consideration of her wishes,” Yue QingYuan responded, being the one most familiar with the tale given his involvement in the sealing incident at BaiLu mountain. “If you’ve only regarded Su XiYan with lust, how can we trust you to hold any fatherly affection for the child you’ve begotten from her in the heat of the moment?”

TianLang-Jun blinked. Then the demonic qi started to pool into the tent with unprecedented speed. His eyes darkened with fury and TianLang-Jun bit out, “Tell me. Who has been blaspheming my relationship with XiYan?”

Chapter Text

“The Old Palace Master,” Yue QingYuan responded without hesitation. The genteel expression was still on his face, but Shen QingQiu could sense the undercurrent of vindictive animosity from Yue QingYuan.

“ZhuZhi-Lang!” TianLang-Jun roared, “Bring me the Old Palace Master!”

“But we’ve already killed him?” ZhuZhi-Lang answered helplelssly.

“Bring me his corpse!” TianLang-Jun let out a sharp burst of demonic qi, “That quick death was too good for him. Not only did he lust after my son, but he dared to descerate the pure love that XiYan and I had! I will not rest till his corpse is mutilated beyond recognition!”

Shen QingQiu stepped forward, “We can offer you his corpse, if that’s what you wish for. But before that, we should handle the matters regarding Luo BingHe firstly. Tell us, how can we be certain of his safety in the demon realm?”

The demonic qi surrounding TianLang-Jun fluctuated and pulsated wildly for a moment before it finally calmed down.

“XiYan will not like it if I ignore our son’s wellbeing for revenge,” TianLang-Jun mumttered quietly. He looked up at Shen QingQiu then, a determined expression on his face, “Very well, let me tell you XiYan’s and my story.”

And thus, TianLang-Jun shared the ill-fated romancec he had with Su XiYan, of a romance between a demon and a human who did not expect themselves to fall in love, and who were both crushed by the prejudice of the society around them. Of how heartbroken TianLang-Jun had been when he thought Su XiYan had betrayed him, yet how he could not help but to be elated when he heard news of a young heavenly demon lord rising in the demon realm. How one look at Luo BingHe, and he knew that this was his and Su XiYan’s child. That perhaps, Su XiYan had not hated and despised him after all, if she was willing to give birth to Luo BingHe instead of aborting him like wha those thrice-damned cultivators told him when they trapped him under BaiLu mountain.

Luo BingHe was the proof that Su XiYan loved him. Luo BingHe was the last gift that his lover had left him. TianLang-Jun would sooner kill himself than to hurt Luo BingHe.

It was a very touching story, and Shen QingQiu was inclined to believe TianLang-Jun, as it was difficult for people to come up with such intricate lies. This was especially since Shen QingQiu could sense the sympathy that Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan were feeling, and he knew that the two had good judgement of characters.

Still, this was just what TianLang-Jun said. There was no solid proof, and Shen QingQiu was loathed to just entrust his vulnerable disciple to the demon realm again, without knowing for sure that he would be looked after. This was especially so given Luo BingHe’s current state of mind, Shen QingQiu uneasily thought as he glanced briefly at the boy’s dead eyes.

Luo BingHe needed care now, more so than ever. It was a pity that QingJing Peak could not be the one to provide him what he needed.

“I can prove that what I said is true,” TianLang-Jun volunteered, as if he could read Shen QingQiu’s misgivings. He retrieved a jade pearl that was the size of a closed fist from his pouch. Even at just a glance, Shen QingQiu could tell that it was a priceless artefact.

<<Ah! What’s this thing doing here? -(゜Д゜;)-ン!>>

“This is the Rememberance Pearl,” TianLang-Jun addressed the ashen-faced boy who had withdrawn to a corner of the tent, “So long as I hold it first, with BingHe joining me second, BingHe would be able to see all my memories. I would not be able to hide nor deceive you with any false memories. All my good and bad, as well as my love for your mother, you’ll be able to see them all.”

<<TianLang-Jun, you’re too extreme! There’s no need to use the Rememberance Pearl for such a little thing like this. !!Σ(゚Д゚;≡≡≡≡≡ヾ(;゚д゚)/ Take it away, take it away!>>

Shen QingQiu came to a sudden understanding. Indeed, he had head of this rare treasure before. It could show the receiver the holder’s entire life worth of memories, and nothing could be hidden. Should the process of memory sharing be interrupted, an insurmountable amount of backlash would be unleashed. It was one of a kind.

“BingHe?” TianLang-Jun entreated in a soothing voice as Luo BingHe remained silent, “This father apologises for the years he had not been around, but it’s never his choice. With this, I hope you can see the truth for yourself, and find it in you to forgive this father.”

When Luo BingHe did not react for a while, ZhuZhi-Lang urged, “Please take TianLang-Jun on his offer, young master. TianLang-Jun does not have long to live. You may grow to regret this if you do not reconcile—“

“ZhuZhi-Lang!”

ZhuZhi-Lang immediately fell onto his knees, “Begging TianLang-Jun for forgiveness, but this is not something you should hide from your son at this late juncture.”

“ZhuZhi—“

“You’re dying?” Luo BingHe’s voice was not loud, but it could be clearly heard through the tent and stopped TianLang-Jun from lambasting ZhuZhi-Lang. “But you were fighting me so energetically in the demon realm earlier.”

“The more TianLang-Jun fights, the quicker his body disintegrates,” ZhuZhi-Lang answered humbly. He then quickly followed up by kowtowing on the floor, “Begging TianLang-Jun for forgiveness.”

“ZhuZhi-Lang, has this lord’s mouth been sealed, making you so eager to speak on my behalf?” TianLang-Jun said through gritted teeth. “Be silent!”

“What do you mean?” Luo BingHe’s gaze was still dark and slightly dazed; it was clear that he had to recover from his recent emotional upheaval, but he still forced himself to demand to speak. “ZhuZhi-Lang, as the lord and heir to the demon realm, I command you to speak.”

“The current body that TianLang-Jun occupies is not his original body. The original body, which is now dead, still remains trapped under BaiLu mountain, which is why none of the alarm arrays have gone off and we could return to the demon realm so quietly,” ZhuZhi-Lang quickly responded, “TianLang-Jun is now using a body that is made from the Sun and Moon Dew Flower seed, which is full of spiritual qi. Everytime TianLang-Jun exerts demonic qi in this body, the contrary nature of the spiritual qi and demonic qi causes his body to break down.”

“And I can only barely hold my own against you,” Luo BingHe mused.

TianLang-Jun laughed cheerfully after a beat. “You should see me fight when I’m in my prime, BingHe. I was even stronger—“

“Show me then,” Luo BingHe interjected.

TianLang-Jun seemed stunned at this sudden change of heart. Shen QingQiu was not surprised. Based on what he had gleaned from the conversation, it appeared that TianLang-Jun had spent the last few months trying to convince his son to stay in the demon realm, to not return to CangQiong Sect in the human realm, but his son had rejected each and every one of his requests. Now that Luo BingHe was actually acceding to one of his requests, it was not unexpected for TianLang-Jun to be taken aback.

“I had just lost—“ Luo BingHe snapped his mouth shut with a loud clack of teeth, but no one missed the glance he darted over at  Shen QingQiu. He continued, a thin thread of frustration creeping into his voice, “I don’t want to lose again. So, show me, if you want me to stop hating you.”

A slow smile bloomed over TianLang-Jun’s face. He then approached Luo BingHe and offered the pearl for Luo BingHe to place his hands on too. The father and son duo held the gray pearl in their hands for an unknown period of time, a multitude of emotions crossing over their faces in quick succession, as they both lived through TianLang-Jun’s life again, years passing in seconds. At some point, both of them had started crying.

Shen QingQiu and the rest maintained a respectful silence, knowing better than to cause any disruption that could interrupt the duo.

When the two finally opened their eyes, TianLang-Jun was gazing at Luo BingHe tiredly, the affection unmistakeable. “Do you believe me now, my son? I love you.”

“How—How can you forgive them so easily?” Luo BingHe was still crying, breaths uneven, “Those human cultivators trapped you so cruelly for eons, when you did not even do anything to harm them! Why aren’t you seeking revenge against them?”

Cold fear gripped Shen QingQiu’s heart. He did not miss how Luo BingHe had referred to “human cultivators” as if he was not one of them.

“My son, I don’t have long to live,” TianLang-Jun said warmly, as he lifted his hands from the Remembrance Pearl to brush away the tears running down Luo BingHe’s cheeks, “I don’t want to waste my time on fruitless pursuits like revenge when I can spend my last days with my greatest pride and joy.”

At this, Luo BingHe broke down and he flung his arms around TianLang-Jun, crying, “Father… Father!”

The Remembrance Pearl fell onto the floor like a worthless sack of rice, its momentum causing it to roll over to Shen QingQIu’s feet.

Shen QingQiu bent down and picked up the pearl. While he understood that TianLang-Jun and Luo BingHe were overcome with emotions, this was still a priceless treasure that they had just rudely discarded onto the floor. If anything, the pearl would provide a good distraction as Shen QingQiu did his best to not intrude on the father and son’s moment.

However, Shen QingQiu nearly dropped the luminous pearl the next moment, because of how loudly the spirit yelled in his mind.

<<Shen Jiu! Don’t touch it! ヾ(´゚Д゚`;)ゝ Leave it alone now!>>

Irritated, Shen QingQiu shoved the spirit’s cries aside as he brought the pearl up to his eye level, sending a curious strain of qi into the pearl, probing to see if he could tell what powers this miraculous treasure contained.

<<Please, this system begs you! ლ|’Д’ლ| Please drop the pearl, Shen Jiu! It’s dangerous!>>

Why? Shen QingQiu finally asked. TianLang-Jun and Luo BingHe seemed to suffer no repercussions from using it.

<<It’s just a bad thing, Shen Jiu! ヾ(;゚Д゚;)シ This system cannot explain further, but you need to put it away!>>

If you don’t explain, it makes it hard for me to believe you. I only wish to examine it anyway.

<<Please, I promise to never refer to you as my daughter ever again if you put down the Remembrance Pearl. I’ve never led you astray, please trust me once more, Shen Jiu!>>

The alarm and unease was clear in the spirit’s words and Shen QingQiu reluctantly began to place the pearl onto the nearby pearl. As always, it was true that the spirit had never once caused him harm. Shen QingQiu had come to rely and trust spirit over the years, despite its eccentricity and fondness for strange words.

Just as Shen QingQiu rested the pearl onto the table with a gentle thud, a familiar hand reached out for it, “Shizun, please return this to my father—“

<<Shen Jiu! Stupid Luo BingHe, what have you-->>

Two hands were touching the Remembrance Pearl. The panicked cries of the system’s voice resounded in Shen QingQiu’s head as he was sent spiralling down a kaleidoscope of colours that left him disoriented.

Chapter Text

Shen QingQiu was a baby. His eyes blinked blearily at a woman’s face that he did not recognise. Neat eyebrows, thin lips and a high nose bridge, this woman looked similar enough to Shen QingQiu that he guessed she was the mother whom he had never remembered.

He was abandoned in a ditch too young for him to remember his parents.

True enough, Shen QingQiu’s infant body was soon dumped into cold mud. It was uncomfortable for the baby to bear and Shen QingQiu started wailing, despite himself.

He felt all the emotions and physical discomfort that the baby experienced; it was as if he was living his life again, just that this time round, his actions were predetermined.

How dreary, how dull, how disgusting.

---

Qi-ge picked him up and looked after him.

Shen QingQiu would never be able to forget the face of the young Yue QingYuan, but even then, his memories of a young Qi-ge only extended to when Yue QingYuan was already 8 years old. Any younger, and all his memories were lost to the annals of time.

Now that he was faced with a 5 years old Qi-ge, with his chubby cheeks and affectionate smile, Shen QingQiu resolved to imprint this memory to his heart.

If there was one positive thing about having to relive his life again, it was that Shen QingQiu could remember things that he had long forgotten. He could hoard precious memories like treasure and bring them back to his real world.

Speaking of which, the Remembrance Pearl probably brought Luo BingHe along for the ride. Where was he?

Shen QingQiu could not sense any foreign presence regardless how hard he tried. He soon gave up, and did his best to remain apart from the ferocious anger and hopelessness the young Shen Jiu felt as he lived through his slave days.

He did not want to show anyone his shameful past, but there was nothing he could do about it now if he couldn’t even sense the intruder.

---

The Qiu incident occurred. Wu YanZi allowed Shen QingQiu to tag along. Shen QingQiu ran into Yue QingYuan, who had become a CangQiong disciple by then, and then stabbed his ‘master’ clean through the heart. 

Shen QingQiu noted faintly that everything was as per what he had lived through; the world was free from the strange Alpha, Beta, and Omega dynamics. If Luo BingHe was truly viewing his memories, what would he think?

---

It was on the day that Luo BingHe was admitted into QingJing Peak, when the odd spirit showed up in his mind that everything diverged.

These were no longer his memories. Shen QingQiu watched with vague alarm as what he recalled did not happen. Rather than the spirit showing up and causing him to go into a qi deviation, the Shen QingQiu in this world remained perfectly fine and healthy, even pouring a cup of tea over Luo BingHe’s head.

The Shen QingQiu then was disgusted by the boy’s optimism and the fact that despite how he thought Luo BingHe was just a downtrodden useless thrash like him, he at least had a loving mother, whom Shen QingQiu had never had. Even Qi-ge abandoned him eventually.

Then, it got worse.

This Shen QingQiu turned a blind eye when the other disciples began to mistreat Luo BingHe. He even instructed MingFan to give him a fake cultivation manual that would never allow Luo BingHe to cultivate into anything. He watched on, horrified, as this Shen QingQiu allowed his pettiness and spite to make young Luo BingHe’s life miserable.

What was this? This was clearly not how it went. Everything was wrong.

---

In LingXi caves, because there was no Super Omega’s increased spiritual powers, Shen QingQiu was unable to save Liu QingGe.

Liu QingGe died, thinking that Shen QingQiu wanted to kill him.

Something in Shen QingQiu died as well, as he watched the life fade from his mate’s eyes. He had watched his life played on like a nightmare, where all the good he had wanted to do was twisted into evil. And now, his lover had died in his arms, and it was because Shen QingQiu failed him.

Wasn’t the Remembrance Pearl supposed to show the memories of the holder? Since when was it supposed to spin some nightmarish tales of the holder’s life? Had it been corrupted?

Shen QingQiu wanted to leave this fake world already. He wanted to exert his spiritual qi to destroy this false world, but then he recalled that the Remembrance Pearl could unleash severe backlash if one tried to exit before the ‘memories’ were done playing. In the real world, Shen QingQiu was right next to Liu QingGe, Yue QingYuan and Luo BingHe, he did not want to harm them—or even worse, kill them.

Shen QingQiu would bear with this cruel torment that the Remembrance Pearl had dreamt up for him for the sake of the people waiting for him in reality. Shen QingQiu gritted his teeth, and continued watching as his ‘life’ played out.

---

Because there was no fond relationship between Luo BingHe and himself, this Shen QingQiu pushed the young child down the Endless Abyss heartlessly.

A faint sense of unease crept into Shen QingQiu’s heart as he recalled how insistent the spirit was about persuading Luo BingHe to jump down himself, stressing that Shen QingQiu should never push him down. It was as if the spirit had seen this nightmarish scene play out before.

The spirit even said that Luo BingHe could not avoid entering the Endless Abyss.

---

Luo BingHe showed up in JinLan City as per what happened in the real world. However, that was where the similarity ended.

It took Luo BingHe 5 years, instead of 3. And rather than standing apart at the time when the crowds hurled abuse and accusations at Shen QingQiu, Luo BingHe joined in. He even levelled a charge of his own against this Shen QingQiu, saying that he was abused when under his care.

Shen QingQiu was shuttled ignominiously away to the Water Prison. Only Yue QingYuan tried to stand up for him this time round.

Shen QingQiu watched all this with detached apathy. This was just a cruel lie dreamt up by the Remembrance Pearl. He had people who loved him, who would never abandon him in the real world.

---

Shen QingQiu was flayed in the Water Prison. He was cut by a thousand knives and then healed by spiritual qi, just so that he would not die because Luo BingHe refused to let him go so easily. Shen QingQiu felt each excruciating tearing of his skin and muscles as if he was the one being hit.

The cold of the dungeon seeped into his bones and the ever-present fiery pain from his bloody wounds painted Shen QingQiu red.

This went on for months, and Shen QingQiu could feel his determination flagging. He did not want to live through such pain under his own disciple’s hands. He did his best to remind himself that this was just a cruel fantasy made up by the Remembrance Pearl, but it was getting harder to separate the dream world with reality with each passing moment.

His defences were getting worn down by the constant pain, and Shen QingQiu felt as if it was not just his physical body that was being torn apart, but also his soul. He feared that when he returned to the real world, he might confuse the two and treat Luo BingHe with animosity. That fragile disciple of his might not be able to bear any more emotional rejections from Shen QingQiu.

Then this Luo BingHe suddenly escalated the torment. He cut off Shen QingQiu’s left arm first, face split apart by a maniac grin as he did so, claiming that this was for all the beatings that he suffered at the hands of the other QingJing Peak’s disciples, as well as for Shen QingQiu’s neglectful care. If only he could throttle the boy, Shen QingQiu would have yelled at him to have a sense of proportionate response.

Did this Shen QingQiu cripple the boy? No! How was such a cruel punishment justified? At least give this Shen QingQiu a clean death so that the real one could return to reality!

Luo BingHe next cut off his right limb, claiming that it was for his wife’s brother whom this Shen QingQiu killed. Shen QingQiu might have failed Liu QingGe, but he refused to be thought of as someone who would ever hold murderous thoughts against Liu QingGe.

Damn it, Luo BingHe! Even this Shen QingQiu tried to save him, but he was too weak! Regardless what world Shen QingQiu was in, he would never be able to want to kill Liu QingGe.

Luo BingHe took off both of his legs next, claiming that it was for this Shen QingQiu shoving Luo BingHe into the Endless Abyss. At this action, Shen QingQiu was starting to feel faint; the blood loss was starting to catch up to him, and with his spiritual qi ruthlessly suppressed to just a trickle, he could barely sustain his waning life.

Luo BingHe also never allowed the wounds on this Shen QingQiu’s body to fully heal, always letting a constant stream of blood to flow from Shen QingQiu’s shackled body, like a leaking sieve. It was just another way to visit pain on Shen QingQiu’s body.

Then, Luo BingHe tore out Shen QingQiu’s tongue. For this, he said that it was simply because Luo BingHe hated Shen QingQiu. He said so with such malice in that familiar face that Shen QingQiu felt something breaking in him. He could not fathom that clingy disciple of his ever saying such a thing to him, but… with the recent developments, it might be possible that Luo BingHe might develop intense hatred for Shen QingQiu.

After being spurned, it might be possible for love to transform into hate. However much you loved, would become however much you hated.

Shen QingQiu shuddered. He hoped that it would not turn that way. No matter what, the Luo BingHe in the real world had spent a carefree childhood by his side, he believed that the boy would not turn needlessly cruel. He had to trust in Luo BingHe. That childish infatuation of his would fade with time, allowing their bond to settle back in the proper master-disciple relationship.

The next incident that nearly broke Shen QingQiu’s resolution again was when the shattered remnants of XuanSu was thrown roughly at his feet. Yue QingYuan’s life was bound to XuanSu. If XuanSu broke, that meant that Yue QingYuan had died too.

Cold terror flooded Shen QingQiu’s senses and for once, he resonated with the Shen QingQiu in the fake world, who was now screaming in anguish, garbled howls tearing out of a tongueless mouth.

Qi-ge could not die! He had promised to never abandon Xiao Jiu! He had promised to give his life to Xiao Jiu and—

At this, Shen QingQiu was sharply reminded of the fact that this was a fake world that he was in. He reigned in his raging emotions tightly, even as the terror remained. He was starting to confuse the fake world with reality. Shen QingQiu might truly lose his mind by the time he returned if this didn’t end soon.

This Shen QingQiu seemed to be share the same concern, as his body gathered the little bits of spiritual qi that was still in his body to self-detonate.

Shen QingQiu heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, he could return.

When Shen QingQiu opened his eyes in the morning, he was greeted by the sight of sunlight streaming into his little bamboo hut. He had probably fainted after being released from the Remembrance Pearl’s special brand of torture, and someone probably carried him back.

Nothing looked amiss, but Shen QingQiu was struck by a strange soreness in his heart and throat, and the phantom feeling of something being wrong with his limbs.

It was probably from all the fake ‘memories’ that the Remembrance Pearl forced him to watch. He hastily repressed them and looked about, searching for Liu QingGe and Yue QingYuan, or even Mu QingFang, who ought to be watching over him now, concerned about his recovery.

A bright voice greeted him. “Good morning, Shizun,” Ning YingYing chirped, “This disciple arrives with breakfast!”

Shen QingQiu waved her in and had her set down the congee on his little desk. He tried to ask “Where is QingGe-shidi and Yue-shixiong?”

However, rather than speaking, his body moved over to the desk and began to eat.

Horror flooded Shen QingQiu’s consciousness as he could only helplessly watch on as his body acted separately from his wishes.

What was this…?

Why?

Why couldn’t he control his body?

Was the Remembrance Pearl not done?

And why, now that he was paying attention, did Ning YingYing look so young? Like a child barely 10 years old?

“Shizun, shizun,” Ning YingYing said happily as she hovered around Shen QingQiu. “Aren’t you excited? Today is the day when A Luo will enter the Sect officially!”

Cold fear settled into Shen QingQiu as understanding dawned.

Why was the Remembrance Pearl replaying this scene again? Did it want to trap Shen QingQiu in a cycle of neverending nightmares? Was it going to force him to watch through its nightmarish version of Shen QingQiu’s ‘life’ again?

Ning YingYing prattled on about welcoming Luo BingHe, which Shen QingQiu did not pay much attention to as he evaluated the possibility of being stuck in here forever. Perhaps, he had to forcibly destroy this dreamscape that the Remembrance Pearl cast, despite the fear of backlash.

Then, a familiar voice spoke up.

<< System initialised! Hello, hello! That took a while, sorry to keep you waiting, my dear customer!>>

Shen QingQiu startled. These were the first words that the spirit ever said to him. This was actually a scene that was true to his memory.

<<Hello, hello! My dear customer, can you not hear me? System 52088 greets his dearest customer! (*^3^)/~♡>>

Why did the Remembrance Pearl forced Shen QingQiu to live through a false version, only for him to live through the real one later?

<<Hmm, did system initialise wrongly? This is Shen Jiu, right? My beloved customer, please respond if you can hear system! System cannot bear to not hear the dulcet voice of his dearest customer any longer! (っ˘з(˘⌣˘ ) Here you go, a kiss to wake system’s sleeping beauty!>>

This made no sense.

Then, Luo BingHe showed up, and Shen QingQiu fell into a qi deviation all thanks to the spirit’s aggravation. Somehow, miraculously, the child remained untouched despite the violent chaos surrounding him.

Now that Shen QingQiu was not caught up in his own emotions, he could see how the spirit masterfully directed him to avoid throwing anything in Luo BingHe’s vicinity.

Acid clawed up the back of Shen QingQiu’s throat as realisation dawned. He recalled the phantom pains in his limbs and throat in those days. He remembered the faint sense of unease he felt when he encountered Luo BingHe in the early days. He thought back of the inexplicable terror he had experienced during the Immortal Alliance Conference.

Those were… remnants of his past life.

What he thought of as a fake life fantasised by a cruel Remembrance Pearl was actually his memories. Memories that were forgotten as he somehow managed to get a second chance at life.

It was all true. Liu QingGe’s and Yue QingYuan’s death. Luo BingHe’s torture. All that truly happened.

Shen QingQiu could bear it no longer. He exerted the spiritual qi that he still carried in his soul, as his body’s qi was no longer his to control, and recklessly did his best to leave these memories. It felt as if he was tearing apart his very own essence, but that pain was preferable to the new knowledge that Shen QingQiu had once been the lowest of scums – that he was the lowest of scums.

Chapter Text

Luo BingHe had never truly spared a thought about Shen QingQiu’s childhood.

To him, it was as if his Shizun had always been an elegant existence on QingJing Peak. His Shizun had apparated on QingJing Peak as a lofty immortal as he should be, living a clean, dignified life as he so deserved.

Never once, would Luo BingHe have ever thought that his Shizun used to be an orphan, just like Luo BingHe.

But worse than Luo BingHe, he did not even have the tender care from an adoptive mother. Shen QingQiu had Yue QingYuan, but the young Yue QingYuan could barely provide for Shen QingQiu, much less protect him.

The two highest-ranking Peak Lords of CangQiong Sect used to be pitiable parentless beggars. The fact that his Shizun had somehow managed to climb his way to his status as QingJing Peak Lord just made Luo BingHe respect his Shizun even more.

His Shizun must have truly been outstanding to be able to achieve this position. The admiration he had felt for his Shizun blossomed even further, as a strange sense of pride suffused him.

This was quickly tamped down by the sudden thought that Shen QingQiu had never wanted to show Luo BingHe this. It was an accident.

Oh god, his Shizun would hate him even more. His Shizun had already detested him, found his presence despicable and wanted to throw Luo BingHe away. Luo BingHe’s already broken heart cracked even further, but even then, he could not help but to cherish the rest of the time he had to spend with his Shizun in his memories.

Luo BingHe would probably fall more deeply in love with Shen QingQiu as he got to know him more. But he could not resent it, nor would he not regret it.

Luo BingHe would use this opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of his Shizun. He would leave as Shizun commanded, but then he would return and court with him such passion and ferocity that not even his Shizun could deny him.

Luo BingHe had already sworn himself to Shen QingQiu. He would have no one other than his Shizun.

---

A common saying went “Ignorance is not a crime.”

Luo BingHe begged to disagree.

Fucking hell! Where was Qiu HaiTang? He would hang her up by her entrails for her crime of ignorance once he was back in the real world!

(It was a bit odd though; how the slavers did not keep his Shizun to later sell him as an Omega prostitute. Omegas, while not rare, were uncommon still. And even in his youth, his Shizun already had the makings of a beautiful Omega.

Or had the Qius truly offered so much money that the slavers are willing to forego the eventual payoff if his Shizun was—

Nevermind, it was better that his Shizun did not become a prostitute. Shizun was Luo BingHe’s.)

---

Luo BingHe brooded moodily as he watched his beloved Shizun dirty his hands yet again for that damned Yue QingYuan.

He had watched the two grow up together, separate, and reunite.

Luo BingHe had a prime seat to see how tightly entangled Shen QingQiu and Yue QingYuan’s fates were. He had no choice but to resign himself to the fact that a corner of Shen QingQiu’s heart would always belong to Yue QingYuan.

But it was alright, so long as his Shizun gave him the other part of his heart. Luo BingHe could share. He had weeks to get used to this idea already.

---

Why was the Remembrance Pearl showing Luo BingHe such a cruel parody of what happened in the real world?

His Shizun did not pour a cup of hot tea over his head! His Shizun went into a qi deviation, but even then, he protected the young Luo BingHe.

Was the Remembrance Pearl broken? But it had functioned perfectly fine when in TianLang-Jun’s hands.

---

His Shizun had never encouraged the rest of the QingJing Peak’s disciples to bully him. His Shizun was the one who rescued him from the shed and gave him a spot in the warm disciples’ quarters. His Shizun gave Luo BingHe his own personal cultivation manual for his studies.

His Shizun was aloof, but gentle. His Shizun was detached, but affectionate. His Shizun said that he didn’t care, but he cared.

This was not his Shizun. The pearl must be defective.

Luo BingHe wanted to leave these memories, as he could not bear to watch himself be abused by the man whom he loved. This cruel caricature of his Shizun was his worst fears come to life. It was unbearable, and Luo BingHe felt his soul breaking.

But he could do nothing but to float around the fake Shen QingQiu in this false world, tied as he was to the holder of the pearl. If the memories did not play out fully, then Luo BingHe could not leave. Luo BingHe was just a helpless bystander in this world.

---

Liu QingGe died?

Uh, ok?

---

His Shizun did not throw Luo BingHe down the Endless Abyss! His Shizun even tried to jump down the abyss together with Luo BingHe!

How dared this useless piece of shit pervert his Shizun’s memories of this incident!

Luo BingHe did not care if the pearl was a supposed priceless treasure. He was going to destroy it once he was back in the real world.

---

Luo BingHe tried to punch his fake self in the face, but it just went through this Luo BingHe uselessly. Luo BingHe was just a spectre, and he knew that all these were just cruel fantasies from the Remembrance Pearl, but he could not stand by idly as he watched the demon wearing his face torture Shen QingQiu in the Water Prison.

The Remembrance Pearl was said to force the wielder to live through their ‘memories’ again. Even if these were false memories, was his Shizun forced to live through this torment? Was his Shizun forced to suffer all these cruel beatings and lashings that this fake Luo BingHe visited upon him? 

What if Shizun confused the dream with the reality? What if Shizun hated him even more, after this?

Panicked, Luo BingHe tried to throw a bone-crushing blow to the fake Luo BingHe’s arms to no avail.

He needed to stop this. This was wrong! It did not happen like this!

Then this Luo BingHe suddenly began tearing out his Shizun’s graceful limbs. To see his Shizun reduced to such a bloody, pitiable state tore a hole in Luo BingHe’s own heart. He yelled at the fake Luo BingHe, he threatened the fake Luo BingHe and he thrashed wildly at the fake Luo BingHe, but it was all useless.

Luo BingHe could do nothing as he watched the demon tear apart his beloved Shizun before his eyes.

Luo BingHe did not understand why the Remembrance Pearl would choose to show him such a perverted version of the real world. If it was trying to confuse his Shizun or him that this was what  happened, it should have chosen something closer to the truth.

There wasn’t a single world in the universe where Luo BingHe would ever harm Shen QingQiu. That was an immutable fact.

This was so obviously fake.

Luo BingHe ignored the echoing strains of delight and malice thrumming through his soul when Shen QingQiu finally broke down and screamed in pain, shards of XuanSu before the two.

---

When Shen QingQiu self-detonated, Luo BingHe thought that he would be returning to the real world. If the fake Shen QingQiu died, surely that meant that the pearl could no longer sustain the nightmare?

However, to his cold horror, Luo BingHe realised that he was somehow brought back into an old set of his Shizun’s memories again. Was the Remebrance Pearl going to force them to repeat the nightmare over and over again?

Then, something strange happened. This time round, the events played out like how Luo BingHe remembered.

Why?

Why did the Remembrance Pearl first play out a nightmare, before it decided to be faithful to the true events?

Was it trying to correct its mistakes? But Luo BingHe would rather the pearl just release the two into the real world; he had enough—

---

Concerned arms cradled Luo BingHe when he returned to consciousness. He blinked blearily at the face that was peering at him as a terrible pain pounded in his head. Luo BingHe’s throat felt hoarse and his mouth dry.

“BingHe, you’re back,” the image focused to reveal TianLang-Jun, “We were so concerned. You and that man suddenly started screaming and crying. Are you alright, my son?”

Shizun.

Luo BingHe turned his head around, immediately trying to locate where Shen QingQiu was. His pain was forgotten, because all it mattered now was to confirm that his Shizun remained unharmed after having been subjected to nightmares. Luo BingHe sat up, when he saw the familiar green and white robes in the corner of his eyes.

Shen QingQiu was held gently in Liu QingGe’s embrace, as Shen QingQiu alternated between caressing Liu QingGe’s and Yue QingYuan’s, looking at them with such palpable fear, joy, disbelief, and affection through his misted eyes that Luo BingHe could not help his instinctive twinge of jealously at the sight.

“Shizun…” Luo BingHe croaked, wanting his Shizun to pay attention to him, to shower him with some of the love that said man was so freely giving away now.

However, what he did not expect were the astringent notes of terror, disgust and guilt flooding his nostrils when Shen QingQiu turned to look at him. His Shizun’s face had morphed into one of loathing and anger, something that Luo BingHe had never seen before.

“Scram!”