Chapter 1: Attempt 1 - Wine and Confessions?
There was a thunderous pounding in his head as Liu Qingge woke from sleep that morning. It was indicative that he had drunk too much last night, and he had to throw an arm across his eyes, to stop the morning sun, currently filtering into his residence on the Bai Zhan peak, from making his head explode.
He rolled over onto his side, and considered his horrendous life choices for a while, promised he’d never touch a drop of wine again, and made sure a headache was all he’d have to deal with if he emerged from bed, before throwing back the covers and sitting up.
He nearly cried out, his back ached, his hips hurt, and he felt slightly discomforted…there… as he settled. What had happened last night?
Gods above, his skull felt like it was going to break apart.
He only just stopped the snarl from leaving his lips as the door was thrown open and his meimei walked in. Her veil fluttered in the breeze that followed her through the doorway, and she carried a tray, complete with a light breakfast, a vial of pills and had a jug of water.
She tried to hide her smirk, thinking her veil would disguise her expression, but he knew her far to well to not read it in her dark eyes.
“What?” he barked, but Liu Mingyan took her revenge immediately by placing the tray down on the table with a loud clatter, that reverberated through Liu Qingge’s head.
He almost moaned aloud and clutched at his head again.
Her eyes, full of humour and teasing, said she knew.
“Are these pills from Mu Qingfang?” he chose to ignore her expression, and she nodded.
“Shifu sent me to collect some tinctures from Mu-shishu this morning. I met Shen-shibo on his way to Qian Cao Peak; he looked distinctly the worse for wear. He said you might need these for the morning after, too.”
At her words Liu Qingge’s head snapped up. “He looked ill? Injured? Sick?”
Her eyes shone with amusement, “He looked hung over, much like you, dear brother,” she moved back towards the doorway, her intent to leave him to his misery. “Did you drink with Shen-shibo last night? I do hope you aren’t doing anything to get in the way of my one true pair,” she was about to flounce out, when he yelled at her.
“What does that mean, even?”
“Shang-shibo told me about them, it’s a couple you ship.”
At Liu Qingge’s continuing blank gaze she elaborated, “A couple you want to be together. Like Luo-shixiong and Shen-shibo.”
He felt his temper flare, “How do you dare to bring up that little beast in my hearing…”
“I don’t know why you’re so bitter at Luo-shixiong all the time, brother, he helped us save Cang Qiong Mountain from Tianlang-jun’s invasion.”
He grunted, and shifted again, stopping the wince, as everything from his knees up, protested.
“He isn’t even your shixiong anymore!”
“Shen-shibo said he never stopped him being a disciple. It’s like you think he’s trying to steal your husband, except everyone knows you’re awful to Shen-shibo,” she said, and Liu Qingge missed the calculating look in her eyes.
“What nonsense are you speaking? Do you not have things to do? Training to attend to? I saw your sword practice last week, you’re still leaving yourself open to attacks from the left, why don’t you go and work on that?”
“You’re not my Shifu, brother, mind that band of thugs you call disciples before you worry about me.” With that she stomped off, and left him to blessed silence, where he lowered his head into his hands to try and stop it spinning.
How could his own sister, his own blood, keep throwing that wild little demon brat in his face like that?
The thought of Luo Binghe together with Shen Qingqiu made his rage boil up.
It wasn’t that he wanted Shen Qingqiu for himself, he just didn’t want Luo Binghe to hurt his shixiong, he told himself. He had already suffered much for, and at the hands of, the heavenly demon prince.
He sighed, and reached for the vial of pills, which sent a pain shooting up his spine.
Why was his back aching so much, and why did he feel so tender? Had he fallen over while deep in his cups last night?
He poured water and took some of the medicine sent by Shen Qingqiu, hoping to be in a state to check on the disciples at the training field, and “train” them, to release some of his tension and anger.
Wait, Liu Mingyan had said something about he and Shen Qingqiu drinking together.
He considered the previous evening carefully, and he did seem to have some vague recollection of them sitting beside each other at the feast on Qiong Ding Peak last night. Shen Qingqiu had been his usual aloof, untouchable self, pale jade fan open and waving slowly, hypnotically, in front of his face.
He was so pretentious…
But the way the fan covering half his face drew attention to those dark eyes, always holding a look that said he knew something the rest of them didn’t, and those finely arched brows always slightly raised in amusement.
Liu Qingge shook his head, and rose to find his boots, but his toes hit something that had been on the floor just under the bed frame. He sank to his knees, to peer under the bed, and retrieve the item.
It was the fan he had remembrance of Shen Qingqiu holding the previous evening.
He dropped it like it had suddenly developed fangs, as dread rose in his chest.
What had he done last night? What had his mouth, controlled by alcohol, and with a disastrously lowered defence, dared to speak?
Had he allowed Shen Qingqiu to do...that...to him? Why couldn’t he remember?
But Liu Qingge didn’t feel any different. Was a person meant to feel different after losing their virginity? Wasn’t it supposed to be like some kind of magic?
Why couldn’t he remember what had happened?
Should he find Shen Qingqiu, and ask?
No, that was the worst thing he could do.
He was the War God of Bai Zhan Peak, he wasn’t meant to fear anything, yet the thought of meeting Shen Qingqiu at this moment, terrified him. He considered the chances of being able to avoid the other for the next...forever…
Really, they weren’t that good.
And the uncertainty was aggravating.
He had to speak to Shen Qingqiu, and find out what had occurred. And if what he thought had happened, had indeed happened, they needed to discuss it, no matter how distasteful he found the idea.
Liu Qingge was about to dress and leave for Qing Jing Peak when he realised how strongly he probably still smelled of wine, so he ordered bathwater, cleaned up, and put on fresh robes.
That they happened to be one of his best pairs meant absolutely nothing at all.
He stepped outside, and almost ran directly into Yue Qingyuan, Peak Lord of Qiong Ding Peak and Sect Leader of the Cang Qiong Sect.
“Zhangmen-shixiong,” Liu Qingge gave his respects.
“Liu-shidi, have I come at a bad time?” Yue Qingyuan asked pleasantly.
“I was just about to go to Qing Jing Peak, but it can wait,” he was entirely surprised to find out he didn’t mean the words, however, he wanted nothing more than to ignore his sect leader and find Shen Qingqiu immediately.
“Ah, then I won’t keep you, Liu-shidi, I merely wished to relay some complaints. About your disciples. Again. Perhaps you can speak to them, and ask them to...tone down their exuberance?”
Yue Qingyuan was, as ever, very diplomatic, but his meaning was clear. Sort out that band of thugs, as Liu Mingyan had referred to them.
“This lowly disciple will ensure there are no more complaints, Zhangmen-shixiong,” Liu Qingge assured him, and Yue Qingyuan winced. He was an intelligent man, and hadn’t missed Liu Qingge’s phrasing.
He coughed, however, and left the matter.
“I assume Shen-shidi has asked you to keep an eye on things over on Qing Jing for him while he visits Luo Binghe in the demon realm?”
The words were like a physical blow to Liu Qingge. Shen Qingqiu had left for the demon realm?
“His decision to accept the invitation was rather sudden,” Yue Qingyuan pondered in response to his surprised expression, then smiled, “I’ll leave you to your tasks then, Liu-shidi, good day.”
Shen Qingqiu was avoiding him. To the extent he would leave the human realm for the demon realm. So he didn’t have to speak to Liu Qingge.
Chapter 2: Attempt 2 - Water
For reference if you're not familiar with the terms:
鲛人 - jiāorén - Chinese mermaid
水鬼 - shuǐ guǐ - Water ghost/ghoul
“Shizun,” Luo Binghe’s voice was always so surprisingly gentle when he addressed Shen Qingqiu, “we should speak to the fishermen first. If you wish to know anything about a body of water, speak to the people who draw their living from it.”
Shen Qingqiu stood a little to the side as they waited for the innkeeper to return to assign them their rooms for the night.
His elegant green robes were muted in the lamplight of the inn, and his fan wafted lazily in front of his face as he examined the patrons drinking at the various tables.
He turned back to his head disciple with a soft smile in his brown eyes.
Those eyes had never changed in either shape or colour, but Liu Qingge would stake his immortal soul on the fact that they were quite different from those of Shen Jiu from when he had first arrived at the Cang Qiong sect.
“Binghe is always so wise.” Shen Qingqiu praised, causing the heavenly demon prince to preen like a peacock.
It made Liu Qingge’s teeth ache.
Most likely from how tightly they were clamped together.
How could such a thing be? That the son of Tianlang-jun was this harmless white sheep, bleating and nosing gently at his Shizun.
And Shen Qingqiu doted on him like a proud baba.
It was enough to turn anyone’s stomach.
They drew much attention from the patrons; three elaborately-robed cultivators would do that in a small town such as this, where even someone buying a new donkey might be considered the scoop of the year.
The innkeeper returned then, and they were shown to two rooms.
There was a moment of panic that Liu Qingge didn’t miss, in Shen Qingqiu’s gaze, before it vanished, and he folded his fan, “Binghe and this Shizun will share a room, Liu-Shidi.”
He wanted to protest, even though he knew their relationship was purely that of master and disciple, but he didn’t have a reasonable excuse to voice discontent. What could he really say? That he didn’t want them to share a room because the thought annoyed him?
Instead he made a non-committal grunt.
“As Shizun wishes,” Luo Binghe agreed readily, “then this disciple can prepare Shizun’s breakfast tomorrow.”
There was genuine pleasure shining in Shen Qingqiu’s eyes as he agreed. Was the demon brat’s cooking really that good?
He growled a ‘goodnight’ and stomped into the first room they were lead to, slamming the door closed behind him.
Perhaps he had been hasty in asking Yue Qingyuan to send a missive to the demon realm, asking for Shen Qingqiu’s assistance.
In reality he doubted he’d need Shen Qingqiu’s “book learning” to deal with whatever was in the lake – what couldn’t be solved with a sword? - but it had seemed like a good plan to bring Shen Qingqiu out of hiding, and then maybe they could discuss what had happened.
Liu Qingge should have realised he would fetch that annoying brat with him.
Liu Qingge woke before dawn, bathed, dressed and found a deserted meadow outside of the town to practice some sword forms and work through his still-present annoyance by channelling it into aggression.
He felt only marginally better when he re-sheathed his blade, but by the time he walked back to the town the fishermen where there on the docks, preparing their boats for the coming of the light, where they would leave for the day.
Luo Binghe had actually made a good point, and Liu Qingge was talking with some of the men when Shen Qingqiu and Luo Binghe joined him, looking disgustingly well-rested.
The tales he had heard all differed wildly, and there had even been arguments; some of the men said there was a water dragon, some said it was shuigui, some said it was a jiaoren who lived in the bottom of the lake.
Not quite as useful as they had hoped.
Luo Binghe rented a boat to take them out onto the Lake then, and somehow he and Luo Binghe ended up with the paddles, while Shen Qingqiu sat in the prow, fluttering his fan and looking like some perfect figurehead carved from jade.
Seniority in that man’s hands was a curse.
They paused somewhere near the middle of the lake, after an hour or so of rowing. There was a small, forested island a little distance away, and Liu Qingge picked out some large lizards on the shoreline.
He snorted, “So much for dragons. This is the area the farmers report the most disturbances,” they stowed the paddles and Liu Qingge peered over the side. He was going to have to go into the lake to investigate, there was nothing else for it. He was just about to remove his outer robe when Luo Binghe dived over the side and into the water, setting the boat rocking lightly. He surfaced a little distance away, “Shizun should stay on the boat, let his disciple have a look around. I’ll be back shortly.” He vanished again, as sleek and smooth in the water as an otter.
Liu Qingge wanted to stamp, this was his hunt, and Luo Binghe was taking over everything, making himself look good to his Shizun, and making Liu Qingge look the equivalent of baggage. It had been embarrassing enough requesting Yue Qingyuan to ask for help on his behalf, (which he hadn’t really thought he needed), without this being the outcome.
He looked across at Shen Qingqiu, who sat still, his fan still raised, a look of panic in his eyes, before he moved suddenly to look over the side.
He thought he heard the other mutter, “This child,” into the water.
Liu Qingge wasn’t a stupid man, but it did take a while for realisation to dawn on him. He was alone. With Shen Qingqiu. Finally.
His anger abated, and he leapt on the opportunity, standing to move closer to the other, “Shen Qingqiu-,” there was a sudden shift in the boat beneath him, and it tipped alarmingly. Even though he tried to adjust his balance it was so sharp a movement he was thrown head first into the lake.
He was surprised, and it took him a few seconds to get his bearings before he kicked for the surface. He breached, wiping the streams of water from his eyes until his vision cleared enough to see the look of relief on Shen Qingqiu’s face, before it was quickly gone. “Liu-shidi, are you alright? That was an unexpected wave…”
A wave? On a still lake? He spluttered at the affront of the man. If he was going to lie at least put some effort in and make it convincing.
“Ah, Binghe!” Shen Qingqiu’s voice was of a drowning man who had seen a plank of wood floating by.
“Shizun,” the other acknowledged as he returned to the surface a little away from the boat. There was also a sharp-faced young woman besides him. The scales and fins on her body indicated that the man who had claimed a jiaoren lived at the bottom of the lake had been surprisingly accurate.
“And who is this young woman?”
“She’s from the sea. She was trapped in the lake a decade ago when the river was diverted to create new paddy fields to feed the nearby city that was growing as a trade centre.”
“Can we take her back to her colony? Would you be happy with that?” he addressed his second question to the jiaoren, who nodded, but looked a little confused as to how it might be achieved.
“Excellent. Lets go, Binghe.” Shen Qingqiu stood up, drew his Xiu Ya sword, and leapt lightly onto the blade.
Luo Binghe joined him shortly on Zheng Yang, with the jiaoren in his arms.
“Liu-shidi, please take care returning the boat, and let Zhangmen-shixiong know everything is settled. Goodbye!”
Liu Qingge was apoplectic with rage, but neither Shizun nor disciple spared him a single glance as they flew away on their swords.
Chapter 3: Attempt 3 - Tea
Please be aware there is some very mildly described/undetailed foreplay/sex mentioned.
Yang Yixuan found him that afternoon. He was carrying an armful of correspondence Liu Qingge had been tying to evade for a good while. It was a game they often played, because Liu Qingge didn’t like paperwork, and if he managed to avoid it for long enough Yang Yixuan would have to deal with it, or risk missing important deadlines.
His head disciple virtually slapped the pile into Liu Qingge’s chest, (remind him why he put up with this again?), and he was about to respond with his usual, waspish retorts, when Yang Yixuan lifted his chin.
“If you shout at me, I’m not going to tell you the news.” His head disciple was brash, loud, and had a quick temper. Much like Liu Qingge. It was annoying.
“Who says I want to hear your news?” Liu Qingge demanded. Honestly, where was the respect? Why did he end up with the argumentative little brat? He hadn’t even wanted a head disciple.
“Understood, I’ll not tell you about Shen-shibo then.” Yang Yixuan spun on his heel and was about to march off, except Liu Qingge had dropped everything to the ground and caught him by the arm.
“What about Shen Qingqiu?”
Yang Yixuan was about to point out he hadn’t been interested a few moments ago, but something in his Shifu’s face warned him against it, and he actually paid attention to it this time.
“I met Ning-shijie on her way back to Qing Jing Peak at midday, Shen-shibo has returned from the demon realm and-,” he didn’t get to finish, as Liu Qingge was already striding away from him and towards the Rainbow Bridge.
He made his way over to Qing Jing Peak without pausing.
He had had weeks to dwell on what had happened between them. And he needed answers. There was a part of Liu Qingge that couldn’t believe he had allowed it to happen, and another part that couldn’t believe Shen Qingqiu had.
Without doubt their relationship had started off as frigid, all those years ago, when Shen Jiu had first joined the Cang Qiong sect. Years of undisguised mutual disgust had changed when Shen Qingqiu, now peak lord of Qing Jing Peak, and second only to Yue Qingyuan in seniority, had unexpectedly, and completely against his character until that point, saved Liu Qingge’s life.
Liu Qingge had lost control of his cultivation, and almost lost his life as he suffered a qi deviation. Actually, he had almost killed Shen Qingqiu, but the other had helped him.
If asked before how likely Shen Qingqiu would have been to offer aid to him in that situation, and not just cut him down dead, he would have said not at all. But the other had.
And something like a tentative friendship had developed between them. Except Liu Qingge had trouble expressing such a sentiment, and so had shown his friendship in other ways, fighting for him, always collecting his lost fans, healing him of the poison without cure when it flared up and blocked his qi circulation.
That it could be something more…it wasn’t possible. Liu Qingge, while he did have more tender feelings for Shen Qingqiu, wasn’t capable of something as flighty as love. He was the War God of Bai Zhan Peak.
But they had had sex together. He had been hazy on the details that first morning, but with Shen Qingqiu absconding to the demon realm in the wake of their intimacy, he had had plenty of time to think on it. And he did have some memory of the night after the first foggy clouds had lifted.
It had been awkward and embarrassing, or it would have been if they both hadn’t been under the effects of alcohol. He had been a virgin, and he was entirely convinced the same was true for Shen Qingqiu.
They had begun with clumsy, messy kisses, which had continued for quite some time, becoming less so as they had grown used to the glide of each other’s mouths, the shy brush of tongues, the hot panting breaths.
Oil had been procured from somewhere, and they had argued back and forth over who should put what, where. Despite neither initially willing to be the giving party, due to lack of experience and an unwillingness to hurt the other, eventually Shen Qingqiu, full of alcohol-fuelled bravado, and snatched the vial, with a muttered, “Give that here, Liu Qingge, my sister read enough danmei that I know what I’m looking for.” he had slipped from the formal intonations of Shen Qingqiu, and besides had used words that meant absolutely nothing to Liu Qingge. What was more confusing had been the fact that he was entirely sure Yue Qingyuan and Shen Jiu had known each other as children, and neither had ever mentioned a sister of Shen Qingqiu’s. And what was danmei? He understood the characters, of course, but not what they were as a concept.
Everything had fallen from his head a second later though, as he felt the first trembling touch of Shen Qingqiu’s oiled finger against his hole.
It had definitely been awkward, unskilled, but they had fumbled and experimented and stumbled their way to something that had been, if not soul-altering, then at least mutually satisfying.
And instead of facing the aftermath, the morning after, Shen Qingqiu had run away to the demon realm.
Liu Qingge stopped in his march suddenly. He had made it to Shen Qingqiu’s little bamboo hut without realising.
He didn’t actually know what he was going to say, now he had cornered the other in his lair, with nowhere to run to.
But he wouldn’t let that stop him.
He strode inside, full of purpose, and intent.
The slender, elegant figure of the master of Qing Jing Peak was seated at the table, behind a tea service. In fact he was just placing a cup in front of Yue Qingyuan.
They both stared at him having made his dramatic entrance.
He felt his face flush.
“Liu-shidi, perhaps you would like to join Zhangmen-shixiong and this humble one in a drink.”
Shen Qingqiu seemed serene, knowing Liu Qingge could broach no such intensely private subject in front of their sect leader.
He strode in and dropped himself into the seat across from Shen Qingqiu, attempting to regain the tattered shreds of his composure.
“Thank you,” he said briefly, and accepted the drink Shen Qingqiu placed in front of him.
He would just wait. Yue Qingyuan would have to return to deal with sect business before too long, a busy sect leader could only spend so long in polite visiting.
So he settled down to wait.
But he hadn’t counted on Shen Qingqiu’s fan club.
Just as Yue Qingyuan was rising to take his leave, Qi Qingqi, Peak Lord of the Xian Zhu Peak arrived, with her head disciple, Liu Mingyan, in attendance.
More tea was brought in by Ning Yingying, and he sat through Qi Qingqi berating Shen Qingqiu for his absence like a strict, yet secretly fond, older sister, while Liu Mingyan, that traitor of his blood, dared to question Shen Qingqiu about how he and ‘Luo-shixiong’ had spent their time.
As Qi Qingqi made to leave, Mu Qingfang arrived, both to pay a social call, and collect some rare fungi with several medicinal uses, which Shen Qingqiu had brought him from the demon realm. More tea was served.
Shang Qinghua, once disgraced lord of An Ding Peak, was of course next, demanding all news from the demon realm, but secretly wanting only information on Mobei-jun. Liu Qingge sneered into his...how many cups of tea had this been again?
How could one person drink so much tea?
It grew late, and Ming Fan came to enquire as to whether Shen Qingqiu and his guests would require dinner. and Shang Qinghua took that as a cue to leave.
Finally. It looked liked after an afternoon spent doing nothing but sitting and drinking tea he would finally have a chance to speak to Shen Qingqiu on his own.
There was a sudden booming voice from the doorway, “Shen-shixiong, drink with me tonight.” It was the Peak Lord of Zui Xian Peak, followed by his disciples, bearing several jars of alcohol, and a bemused Shang Qinghua, who had been waylaid on the Rainbow Bridge and convinced to return to Qing Jing Peak to join the party.
Though sturdy, the cup in Liu Qingge’s hand smashed into a thousand pieces, under the immense pressure of his grip.
Chapter 4: Attempt 4 - Extract
“Zhangmen-shixiong” Liu Qingge turned as the sect leader joined him at the training fields. He gave his respects. Liu Qingge had come to watch his Bai Zhan disciples train; every few days he liked to show his face to keep them on their toes, and every once in a while he took up his Cheng Luan sword, waded into the melee and showed them he wasn’t known as the War God of Bai Zhan Peak for nothing.
“Liu-shidi. Cang Qiong’s war division is looking as fierce as ever.” Yue Qingyuan’s eyes travelled across the field of disciples sparring in the spring morning sunshine.
He didn’t comment that it was likely because the two of them stood watching, and they were probably much more slack between such visits.
“They’re fine,” he said.
A serene smile. “Is Liu-shidi available tomorrow to assist Mu-shidi? There are reports an extract of the changshe has been discovered to have remarkable properties, which Mu-shidi is most eager to have access to.”
He didn’t really see how that would be something Mu Qingfang needed help with. Certainly not his, but he kept silent; Yue Qingyuan would no doubt explain to him why, or Mu Qingfang would.
He was frustrated at the request, because he had planned on heading straight to Qing Jing Peak after he had discharged his duties, to sit on Shen Qingqiu’s doorstep until he finally managed to speak to the other, but it wasn’t like fate, and Shen Qingqiu himself, hadn’t made it perfectly clear they didn’t want him to have the opportunity. And even if he wanted to, he couldn’t very well turn down something Yue Qingyuan asked of him personally.
“Unfortunately Mu-shidi is in the middle of brewing a potion that cannot be left, and had asked Shen-shidi if he would procure the extracts on his behalf.”
Liu Qingge tried hard not to react.
“This sect leader is very pleased that Liu-shidi and Shen-shidi seem to have buried their animosity over the years and get on so well now,” Yue Qingyuan smiled again, despite Liu Qingge’s efforts, reading the excitement in his expression, yet misunderstanding it. “I’m hoping your assistance won’t be necessary, but there are some possible complications with the person who holds the extracts.” It seemed unnecessarily vague to Liu Qingge, and he might have been inclined to question deeper, if the task didn’t present him Shen Qingqiu on a platter quite so perfectly.
“If Zhangmen-shixiong wishes it,” he agreed, “then of course this one is willing.”
“Wonderful, I’ll send a message to Shen-shidi.”
“Zhangmen-shixiong shouldn’t trouble himself.” If Yue Qingyuan sent the other a message it was very possible he’d take the opportunity to back out. If he wasn’t pre-warned then there would be little he could do to avoid Liu Qingge.
“Very well, I’ll leave it in Liu-shidi’s hands.”
They watched for a while longer, before Yue Qingyuan took his leave.
The following morning Liu Qingge arrived on Qian Cao Peak, and Mu Qingfang came to meet him. He looked tired, obviously the potion brewing he couldn’t leave was keeping him very busy and probably awake most of the night.
“Liu-shixiong,” Mu Qingfang greeted, “Shen-shixiong.” Liu Qingge’s shoulders tensed, and he turned to the new arrival.
Shen Qingqiu stood a little away, tall and elegant and composed in the spring breeze, his closed fan held lightly in his hand. Ning Yingying and Ming Fan giving their respects to their shishus.
“Mu-shidi, Liu-shidi.” Shen Qingqiu acknowledged them, then, opening his fan, he waved it lazily. “Perhaps Mu-shidi could enlighten us as to what he requires.”
“Reports have reached me that there’s a so-called artist who has a manor in forests near the Luo river, who has been using extracts of changshe venom mixed with other pigment in their paintings. The venom itself is extremely rare and is said to have many useful healing properties when distilled.”
“So Mu-shidi wishes these shixiongs to procure this venom.” Shen Qingqiu glanced at Liu Qingge.
“Mo Xiulan is said to have a private army, you may require some assistance, Shen-shixiong.” Mu Qingfang guessed the question and answered honestly. Liu Qingge was extra muscle should things go wrong.
“Understood, Mu-shidi. Lets go, then.” Shen Qingqiu said brightly, smiling at his disciples who agreed with eager Shizuns.
He would keep using his disciples of his as a shield...Liu Qingge wasn’t even surprised by now It wasn’t necessary for them to come, but they protected Shen Qingqiu from being alone with Liu Qingge.
He ground his teeth.
The journey on their swords took the rest of the morning, and so it was early afternoon by the time they arrived at the small village on the Luo river.
It was easy to see what Mu Qingfang had meant as they approached the manor itself, as it was well guarded.
“How else is someone not of the cultivation world able to take down changshe?” Liu Qingge muttered as they approached the main gate.
Shen Qingqiu, having seniority, and being the less antagonistic between them, stepped forward and managed to gain an audience a to see the lady of the manor.
They were shown into an entertaining room, asked to wait, and brought tea and refreshments, which Ning Yingying took over serving.
A while later a middle aged woman swept into the room. She was handsome, with a relatively unlined, yet stern face. She was from an obviously rich background. Her clothing was expensive, and ostentatious even. Her eyes took them all in as they rose and gave their greetings.
“Mo-furen-,” Shen Qingqiu began, but she stepped forward, tipped his chin up with a finger, and turned it to the light. It was obvious from the way he clutched the fan tightly in his palm that he was merely seconds away from swiping her away with it.
Secretly Liu Qingge thought he might pay a great deal to see the elegant, aloof Shen Qingqiu react so.
Mo Xiulan moved on though, and stopped in front of Liu Qingge.
He was treated to the same examination, and he spluttered, “You. An unparalleled beauty. That mark, those eyes, dark, inscrutable, opaque veils to the soul. What is your name?”
He was about to help her find him more scrutable, when Shen Qingqiu piped up from behind his now opened fan.
“This unmatched beauty is Cang Qiong’s War God, Mo-furen, Liu Qingge.”
“Ah yes, tall and graceful like the willow, clear song. Very good. I must paint you.”
“What?!” Liu Qingge tried to back away, “Absolutely not.”
He managed to free himself and stepped behind Shen Qingqiu.
He wasn’t afraid. Of her at least. He was afraid he might react and spoil all chance of procuring what they had come for.
“Mo-furen, perhaps you could help us, and we could help you in return,” the master of Qing Jing Peak said, fluttering his fan.
“Our shidi has heard tell of a changshe venom extract you’re using. He wishes to procure it, as it has many medical properties. Would you consider letting us have it, Mo-furen?”
She looked at him, an aristocratic brow raised, “The venom you speak of was difficult to obtain, my men were very lucky to come away with their lives. And you wish me to give it to you?”
“Of course not, Mo-furen, Cang Qiong would, of course, reimburse you handsomely.”
She sneered, “I am rich in my own right, I do not need Cang Qiong’s money.” Her eyes moved beyond Shen Qingqiu, and Liu Qingge had a sudden sinking feeling.
He stepped back.
“I shall let you have it, in exchange for Liu Qingge. I must paint him. Surely you can spare him for a small span of time.”
“Excellent!” Shen Qingqiu exclaimed, turning to Liu Qingge who was about to give him a piece of his mind. Shen Qingqiu grabbed his wrist and dragged him forward, delivering him to the waiting Madam Mo.
“Think of the sect, Liu-shidi, we all do what we must.” There was a consolatory pat on his back, and Madam Mo called for a servant, asking them to bring the jar of venom extract, before turning her whole attention back to Liu Qingge, who tried to free himself without hurting her. She must be at least part octopus, however, as no sooner had he removed one of her hands from his person, another appeared to replace it.
“Mo-furen-,” his half-choked plea went unacknowledged.
She cupped his face with both hands, tilting it this way and that, “Delightful. We must take the left profile to showcase the beauty mark.” She took her hands away, then strode behind him to continue her stock taking, “Nice, we shall drape silk just below the buttocks, fan the hair out, and you have such beautiful, fair skin, we’ll show as much as possible…”
There was a strangled sound from behind the fan, and Shen Qingqiu looked a little flushed, but immensely entertained, as Madam Mo dragged Liu Qingge away by the wrist.
He was going to kill Shen Qingqiu. If he ever got out of this pornographic painter’s grasp alive…
Chapter 5: Attempt 5 - Coffee
Liu Qingge woke up suddenly, with a feeling that something wasn’t right. He appeared to be in his residence on Bai Zhan Peak. But it didn’t quite feel like it.
And what was that faint noise he could hear from outside?
He rose, pulled on his outer robes and boots, and picked up Cheng Luan.
He walked through the door, expecting to see the small garden Yang Yixuan had decided he needed, but instead it was like walking into a blinding white light, that faded slowly, leaving flashing marks in his vision.
The sounds, which had been almost on the edge of hearing, indistinct and unrecognisable, resolved, and he looked around him like some wild, startled animal as he realised he didn’t recognise where he was. What was more, it was completely alien to him. The sounds where the hissing of steam and the clinking of cups, underlined by the chatter of human voices.
His eyes, darting around like a cornered beast, finally landed on someone who looked a little like Shen Qingqiu, sat at some kind of table, sipping at a drink in an overlarge cup.
He sat with a man who did have something of their shidi Shang Qinghua about him.
He wanted to rush over, for someone to explain what this place was, and why he was here, and how he could go back.
Perhaps he was dreaming?
And it did have that dreamlike feeling, but it wasn’t that exactly. At least he didn’t think so.
This room was odd, like a kind of tearoom, but strewn with decorations and equipment he’d never seen before. There were other figures around him, but their faces were indistinct, or blurry, the only people clearly defined were the two at the table.
He decided he would watch and listen for a while, to see if he could find out more about what was happening, as, so far, no one had acknowledged his presence.
“Does this taste like coffee to you, Cucumber-bro? Or am I just making it up because I want it to taste like coffee so much? Can you actually taste things in dreams?” the one who resembled Shang Qinghua questioned. They both wore unfamiliar clothing, and had cut their hair short. Why would they do such a barbaric thing if this wasn’t a dream? Or some hallucination?
The other, ‘Cucumber-bro’, nodded. “Being an aloof immortal is a bonus, mainly because the alternative is being dead of course, but I do miss coffee, and food delivery. Especially now Binghe is taking care of his demon kingdom.” He spoke as if he were Shen Qingqiu, but he wasn’t exactly like him. Liu Qingge was confused.
“You can thank me for making him such a good cook, if you want.” Shang Qinghua had taught Luo Binghe to cook?
“Airplane-bro, why would I thank you for that dogfood, plot-hole filled trash-pile of a reformed black lotus stallion novel? I wrote most of the plot for you! Well, I changed it for the better,” Cucumber-bro snapped at his companion.
“You ruined a perfectly good stallion protagonist, is what you did.” Airplane-bro retorted, “Turning him into a soft little white lotus, bleating around his Shizun like a sheep. And it wasn’t originally meant to be such a trash-fire, I had aspirations, Cucumber-bro, but do you know what having aspirations doesn’t do? Put food on the table. Trust fund babies like you just don’t understand…”
Liu Qingge took it back, he would get no information from listening to these two bicker, he understood less than half of what they referred to, except that the stallion protagonist, and white lotus, (whatever they were) referred to Luo Binghe.
He strode forward, “Shen Qingqiu. Shang Qinghua.” He snapped, and they both jumped guiltily, turning to face him with identical looks of horror on their faces.
‘Airplane-bro’ got to his feet to walk around Liu Qingge, and poked him in the shoulder. He yelped and scampered behind Shen ‘Cucumber-bro’’ Qingqiu as Liu Qingge scowled at him.
“Liu Qingge?” Shen Qingqiu questioned, “Is that really you?”
“Who else would it be? What do mean is it really me? Where are we? What is this place? And is that really you, Shen Qingqiu?”
“This is the dream realm. Of Luo Binghe’s making. He must be ill, he tends to lose control sometimes, when he’s feverish for example. I wish he’d speak to Meng Mo about that.” Shen Qingqiu said.
“Why does Liu-shidi look like that, and we look like this?” Shang Qinghua asked, meaning the fact Liu Qingge still wore his cultivators robes, and Cheng Luan on his waist, while the other’s were dressed completely differently.
“This is a dream built from my memory. This coffee shop isn’t far from my apartment. Or wasn’t. That’s why, I think, I’m Shen Yuan again. So you’re Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky. But Liu Qingge doesn’t have an alternative identity in our original world, if that’s what you want to call it.” He turned to face Liu Qingge then. “And you wouldn’t understand if I did explain this to you, Liu-shidi.”
“Try me.” Did Shen Qingqiu think him stupid?
Shen Qingqiu blinked at him with those enormous doe-eyes. The expression in them was familiar, even though the shape wasn’t exactly that of those he was used to looking into. Then the other automatically reached a hand out for a fan that wasn’t there. Finding he came up empty he ran it through his hair instead.
“My name is Shen Yuan. Though for the past decade and more I’ve been living as Shen Qingqiu, Peak Lord of Qing Jing Peak. I died, in my previous existence, and transmigrated into the original goods’ body. The same happened to Shang Qinghua, although Shang Qinghua is Airplane-bro, to all intents and purposes, as he was transmigrated from birth.”
Shen Qingqiu flashed a quick look at the other, something passed between them, and Shang Qinghua nodded very slightly. He had enough to process without chasing something they thought he couldn’t deal with knowing.
While what Shen Qingqiu said to him was outlandish, and almost unbelievable, hadn’t he himself always known the soul behind those eyes had changed from the Shen Jiu he had first known? Hadn’t they all thought it could be possession, or some other form of body snatching?
How right they had been.
‘Shen Yuan’ watched him carefully, assessing his reaction.
He wasn’t sure what that was. Or should be.
“When did you...transmigrate?” he questioned, but he knew the answer, at least the period, if not the exact time.
“Shen Qingqiu suffered a fever. It was then. Before the Skinner incident, before the spirit caves and Sha Hualing’s invasion of Qiong Ding Peak.”
Of course it had been then. He would have known it without being told, wouldn’t he? It had been ‘Shen Yuan’ who saved his life in the spirit caves. He had known, deep down, if it had been Shen Jiu, the other would have struck him down without second thought.
And it had always been Shen Yuan. Shen Yuan who had pulled him into friendship, and comradeship, Shen Yuan who had fought by his side for years, Shen Yuan who had taken his virginity, Shen Yuan who avoided him since that night, with everything he had. And Shen Yuan who had taken his heart.
He would like to have said the realisation hit him hard, but it was another thing he had always known, but never allowed himself to acknowledge.
“Liu-shidi,” that familiar address from an unfamiliar tongue made him turn away a little. There was a sudden shift in the atmosphere around them, and the other figures in the dream became indistinct and wavered. He was relieved to hear Shen Yuan say, “Binghe must be waking up. We’ll be free of the dream in a few moments.” He looked at Liu Qingge then, “Liu-shidi, I’ll come and speak with you when we wake.”
The dream faded, as Shen Yuan had promised, and Liu Qingge woke up in what was, this time, definitely his own bed.
Shen Qingqiu had said he would come and find him, to talk. He couldn’t bear the idea at the moment, however; Liu Qingge didn’t intend to be here when he arrived.
Chapter 6: Attempt 6 - Tonic
Hoping to have the resolution finished before the end of today!
When Shen Qingqiu woke from the dream realm it was just after dawn. He sat on the side of his bed and considered what had happened. They had actually told Liu Qingge the truth. Well, an edited version of the truth at least.
Shen Qingqiu hoped he hadn’t been listening for too long, and understood them referencing a novel. It would be too cruel to tell the other that, despite the fact he was a living, breathing, human, his entire existence, at least up until Shen Qingqiu had saved him in the spirit caves of Qiong Ding Peak, had been shaped by the imagination of another.
There was a part of himself that couldn’t believe Liu Qingge now knew the truth of who Shen Qingqiu really was. There really hadn’t been time to think up a reasonable excuse. And really, out of all the people he had come to know and love in his new life, Liu Qingge was perhaps the person he was most glad now knew.
But that also meant Liu Qingge now had the power to denounce Shen Qingqiu, and it was a possibility he could be stripped of his position and his sect, should Yue Qingyuan take offence. He had been close to the original goods, and, considering they didn’t know what had happened to Shen Jiu’s awareness once Shen Yuan arrived, might consider it as a form of murder, should the truth be known.
He didn’t think Liu Qingge would speak out against him, not without at least talking to him first. Not that he had given the other much chance to discuss anything with him recently.
Shen Qingqiu had been too afraid. While it had been something he hadn’t been averse to, at all, if he was honest with himself, (and Shen Qingqiu rarely was), but that night spent together had been unexpected. And awkward and embarrassing. He hadn’t put up a very good performance, all being told. But he had been a virgin, as had Liu Qingge, if he wasn’t wrong.
Emotionally speaking, it was always hard to tell how Liu Qingge felt about anything, because he was such a tsuntsun prince, and while Shen Qingqiu had thought they were at least friends, after everything they had been through together, the other had made it clear on numerous occasions love probably wasn’t something he was interested in. Shen Qingqiu specifically remembered the succubus incident when Liu-shidi had been so vehement in his denial of his being able to love in the face of Madam Meiyin’s ‘fortune’.
Therefore Shen Qingqiu had avoided him, worried the other would blame him for the incident, and that it might mean the end of their friendship. Liu Qingge had become very important to him, over the years, and he didn’t want to lose that friendship. Liu Qingge was always very difficult to predict.
He had to speak with Liu Qingge now, however, and find out what the other intended to do with the knowledge of Shen Yuan.
Shen Qingqiu stood up with a sigh, and dressed carefully, pulling on the armour of his graceful, immortal persona; his beautiful green robes, his Xiu Ya sword, and his elegantly painted fan.
It felt something like preparing to go to battle.
It was bright morning when Shen Qingqiu emerged from his bamboo hut on Qing Jing Peak, and strolled sedately across the Rainbow Bridge, to Bai Zhan Peak. He walked past the training grounds, and Yang Yixuan spotted him.
“Shen-shibo!” he jogged over, and Shen Qingqiu paused to wait for him.
“Yang-shizi,” Shen Qingqiu acknowledged his respects.
“Is Shen-shibo looking for Shizun?”
“Is Liu-shidi not awake yet?”
“Shizun is gone to find moonflower for Mu-shishu’s energy tonics. Shizun went to speak with Mu-shishu early this morning, and left shortly after. Shizun said he would be back in a few days. Perhaps this humble disciple can help, instead, Shen-shibo?”
it was a blow, no point pretending otherwise, to arrive, and discover Liu Qingge had disappeared. Ironic, when he had done the same over and over to Liu Qingge for weeks now, that the time he was ready to talk was the time Liu Qingge wished to avoid him.
Because he had no doubt that was why Liu Qingge had taken such sudden interest in moonflowers, (another stellar job on naming your plot devices, Airplane-bro!).
His fan flipped open and rose to cover his face as he considered his next move. Not that there was much to consider. He would have to wait for Liu Qingge to return, so their talk would be delayed until then.
Chapter 7: Attempt 7 - Success
“Shizun! Shizun!” Ning Yingying’s voice was unusually loud, and he could hear the urgency in it, so he rose to meet her at the door of his bamboo hut.
“Shizun!” she came to a halt, trying to catch her breath, “Liu-shishu-,” she drew another breath and tried again, “Liu-shishu has returned. Yang-shidi said he was wounded…”
“Wounded?” Shen Qingqiu’s blood ran cold at that news, was this really to be the outcome?
He walked quickly back into his hut, collected his sword and his fan, and was striding away towards Bai Zhan Peak before Ning Yingying could even finish her tale. She blew out a breath and trotted along in his wake.
They reached Bai Zhan within a few minutes and made for the sturdy, wooden residence of Liu Qingge, tucked away from the disciple’s living quarters in a copse of pines.
There was hustle and bustle around the entrance, with Bai Zhan disciples coming and going, and Mu Qingfang’s voice, loud and angry, from inside.
“Liu Qingge, sit still, by all the gods.”
Sit? Shen Qingqiu’s heart settled into a more steady pace; if Liu Qingge was sitting and not laying then he couldn’t be too badly wounded, surely?
He stepped over the threshold, avoiding a running disciple.
“Liu-shidi, Mu-shidi,” he said loudly and cheerfully to announce his presence. They both looked at him.
“Shen Qingqiu, can you please have this fool sit still?” Mu Qingfang snapped, and Liu Qingge almost snarled at him.
Actually, he wasn’t, considering the large slashes across his torso, but it wasn’t in Liu Qingge to ever admit otherwise.
“I beg your pardon, Liu-shidi, would you like me to come back when Mu-shidi has finished dressing your wounds?” It was quite rude to be stood around ogling a peerless beauty, half dressed, so he turned his back, turned Ning Yingying around by her shoulders, and opened his fan, beginning to waving it in front of his face, hoping it cooled the blush enough to hide it.
“Oh please.” Qi Qingqi walked through the doorway of Liu Qingge’s residence as he said it,, “Shen Qingqiu, it’s not like the whole of Cang Qiong isn’t aware you’ve already seen that and more. And done more than look at it.”
Shen Qingqiu felt the air become lodged in his throat as her words hit him full force. He choked.
All of Cang Qiong knew what now?
Liu Mingyan, ever present at the side of her Shifu, stomped her foot in irritation.
Liu Qingge, alternating between sheet-white and bright pink, could only make a strangled noise of confusion and despair.
“Brother, you’re breaking up my one true pair.”
“One true pair?” Shen Qingqiu parroted. This must be Airplane-bro’s fault corrupting Liu Qingge’s innocent meimei like that. Liu Qingge was going to hunt Shang Qinghua if he had, and even Mobei-jun and the demon realm might not be enough to stop him.
Liu Mingyan seemed to realise that one half of her one true pair was actually in attendance, and stilled, looking at the floor in embarrassment. Yue Qingyuan’s quest to stamp out those pervasive copies of Resentment of the Chunshan might now have a focus. He, himself, was going to have some rather strong words for Qi Qingqi, if what he now suspected turned out to be true.
For now, however, he had some face to save. If possible. His fan continued to wave, and he said, “This shixiong has no idea what Qi-shimei means.”
“Shen Qingqiu. Really. Who do you think you came to for the oil that night?” Mu Qingfang snapped, and Liu Qingge made a sound like he’d just been stabbed through the stomach.
Shen Qingqiu wished he, himself, had been. Then he could just happily die and avoid this conversation.
Due to his shock over being called out like that, Liu Qingge had been still enough to allow Mu Qingfang to finish tending his wounds, and the other began to dress them.
“It isn’t like everyone in the sect doesn’t know you’ve been in love with Shen Qingqiu for years, Liu-shixiong.” Mu Qingfang said, a mocking edge to his voice, probably in retribution for the other being such a difficult patient.
It was Shen Qingqiu’s turn to make a sound like he’d been felled.
Mu Qingfang paused as he finished fastening a bandage off.
“Oh, everyone except one person, it seems. Though this one does wonder where Shen-shixiong’s head has been buried for the last few years.”
Qi Qingqi drew in a breath, preparing to make a suggestion of where she assumed it had been, but Shen Qingqiu turned on her, pointing his folded fan, “Don’t, Qi-shimei,” he snapped.
Unusually, she obligingly pressed her lips together without making her comment.
“I think it’s time we checked out what the disciples are up to, Mingyan.” Qi Qingqi said, turning on her heel and sweeping out, followed by her head disciple, who frowned over her shoulder at her older brother.
Mu Qingfang coughed, rose, and gathered his things together.
“No activity for a few days until the wounds have healed together, Liu-shidi.” He turned his gaze on Shen Qingqiu, “And I mean, no activity.”
Shen Qingqiu pointed at himself with his fan, in question. What could Mu Qingfang possibly mean? When had Shen Qingqiu become such a sex-maniac in people’s minds that they thought he would try to have his wicked way with a Liu Qingge who was badly wounded?
With that, Mu Qingfang left, with a promise that he, or one of his disciples, would be back in the morning to redress the wounds. And he expected them to be undamaged.
The room was suddenly empty; it seemed everyone present had discovered more pressing issues elsewhere – even Ning Yingying had deserted him.
The silence in the residence was deafening.
They started at each other, both watching the other like they might turn into a viper at any moment.
Eventually, Shen Qingqiu cleared his throat, and pulled his thoughts together enough to find something to say.
The thread of sense he had managed to grasp hold of dispersed like smoke in the air.
“Liu Qingge,” he tried again, “is what Mu-shidi said true?”
Liu Qingge’s face and neck travelled through various shades of interesting colour, and his throat bobbed on a nervous swallow.
Shen Qingqiu could see the denial rise to his lips, could practically hear it being said before Liu Qingge gave it voice...but instead he huffed out a breath, turned away, and nodded. Just once. But it was a firm movement, definite.
Shen Qingqiu opened his fan again, but he was too uncoordinated and rough, and it tore, and one of the wooden ribs snapped. He jumped a little at the unnaturally loud sound of it reporting in the room, but he still tried to use it.
“Well,” he cleared his throat, searching for something to say to break the tense silence, “I accept your feelings, Liu Qingge.”
Liu Qingge’s gaze shot around to hold his, intense shock in their dark depths. “But...Shen Qingqiu, you have spent months hiding from me, after that night, how can you just say you accept my feelings now?”
“Of course I was avoiding you. I thought you would be angry at me, Liu-shidi!” He yelped as the other got up, and caught his wrist, moving the broken fan aside.
“You ran away because you thought I would be angry at you? I let you...we did that together.” Liu Qingge sounded disbelieving.
It was Shen Qingqiu’s turn to blush furiously, “Have you ever seen your resting bitch face, Liu-shidi? You are, without a doubt, an unparalleled beauty, but you have a gaze that could strike a dragon dead.”
“I’m a beauty?” Liu Qingge asked, and Shen Qingqiu tried to tug his wrist free.
“Liu Qingge, if you were any more so, you would have to wear a veil too.” Shen Qingqiu snapped at him, irritated at being unable to free himself.
“Shen Qingqiu…Shen Yuan…how do you really feel about me?”
Further struggling availed him nothing, so he stilled, “I’m not...completely unaffected...by you. Otherwise that wouldn’t have happened.” He drew a breath in, then, “Are you...comfortable, with knowing about who I am?”
“I knew you weren’t like him, almost from the moment you saved my life in the spirit caves, Shen Yuan. I didn’t know why, but I knew you were different from him. All your explanation did was give me the reason.”
Their gazes locked, but after a few moments Shen Qingqiu couldn’t bear the intensity. To break it he leaned forward and pressed their lips together. Ironically, it was easier to do this than be stared at by those dark, searching eyes.
At least kissing was something they had practised that night, and they automatically found the rhythm again, Liu Qingge let go of Shen Qingqiu’s wrist, and that hand slid into Shen Qingqiu’s hair to cup the back of his head, while Shen Qingqiu rested a hand on his shoulder to balance.
They pulled apart eventually, it was obvious things were heading quickly in a certain direction, and though Liu Qingge was happy to disregard Mu Qingfang’s explicit instructions, Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t be convinced on the matter.
“We don’t have to rush, Liu-shidi,” Shen Qingqiu said sternly in response to his arguments, “We have the rest of our lives. I’d rather wait than not enjoy it because I was worried about hurting you.”
And no matter how Liu Qingge tried to convince him, Shen Qingqiu would not be moved.
The Resentment of Chunshan suspiciously fell out of print shortly after Shen Qingqiu and Liu Qingge announced their relationship to the sect, Liu Su Mian Hua retired from producing pornography featuring the master and head disciple of Qing Jing Peak, at least for public consumption. Autumn’s Song, a novel featuring two beautiful, yet antagonistic, cultivators, inked by the Three Saintly Mothers, began to surface shortly afterwards. It could be reasonably assumed Liu Su Mian Hua refused to touch a novel in which such characters were the focus.