Actions

Work Header

Nurturing the Hero

Work Text:

When Shen Yuan opened his eyes he was greeted by an unfamiliar soft green ceiling. He was lying on a bed that had no business being so comfortable, in a room that seemed like a carbon copy of a renaissance-age posh, high-class home. 

Sitting up slowly, Shen Yuan raised a hand to massage his throbbing temples. The Goddess had been ruthless as she tossed him into the world of [Resentment of the White Lotus], clearly eager to have this drag show up and running.

Shen Yuan blinked around the room, trying to familiarize himself with his surroundings. His first-glance assumption turned out to be true as he took in the luxurious European-style furnishing and the gold undertones that adorned everything in the room, starting from the decorations through the curtains to his very pajamas that had golden buttons running down at the front.

Curious he clicked his nail against one of the buttons only to feel it resonate, the material hard beneath his fingers.

“Don’t tell me it’s really gold.” Shen Yuan’s surprise was quickly morphing into dread. He threw the blankets off himself and rushed to the vanity table - really, what kind of guy has a vanity table in their room? And was it just him or had his legs grown shorter?

The Goddess said she would place him at the very beginning of the story, the village arc where the hero was still a child living in the orphanage and tormented by bullies at almost every corner. The village, Esteban, was a small, relatively poor settlement in the middle of nowhere. In Esteban, there was only one family who could afford such luxuries… the infamous Shen family. 

Shen Yuan gulped, staring at himself in the mirror. A cold beauty stared back at him, phoenix eyes, silver hair, silky and tender, cheeks slightly round as they had not lost the baby fat completely.

“Gah!!” he gasped, his voice awfully high. Like an adolescent's who had not gone through the voice change period yet.

What the hell, Goddess!!! 

This was no other than Shen fucking Jiu, the second young master of the Shen family, the classmate of Luo Binghe and his biggest tormentor! Shen Yuan paled, touching the unfamiliar face - his own face now - with hands much smaller than he was used to.

Well… fuck.

Shen Jiu was a child too at the beginning of the story. Only one year older than Luo Binghe - so if the hero was 12 did that make him 13? Shen Yuan leaned closer to the mirror, studying his new face. He noted the smooth milky skin, the small but rosy lips and eyelashes so long they should not be found on a boy. They were silver too just like his hair and eyebrows, yet his facial structure was clearly that of an Asian person’s!

Goddess… what kind of Asian person has natural silver hair?!

Also, what the absolute hell? How could a child look so beautiful at the age of freaking 13?! Goddess don’t you think this is overkill? And- and if he was a child now does that mean he would have to go through puberty again?

Shen Yuan visibly wilted.

“Second Young Master Jiu, are you awake? Breakfast is served.” There was a knock on the door, making Shen Yuan almost jump out of his recently-donned skin. Just as he was panicking, not knowing who it was and how he was supposed to reply, his mind was flooded with the original Shen Jiu’s memories.

At least the Goddess didn’t leave him high and dry, huh? 

That was the family’s butler, Mister Smith. A man of not many words, precise with his work and always impeccably dressed in his butler attire. Him and Shen Jiu had a distant but mutually respectful relationship, especially since Mr. Smith helped him on multiple occasions by distracting his scum elder brother, Shen Yanzi, who had a disturbing fixation on Shen Jiu. 

Clearing his throat, Shen Yuan tried to sound nonchalant. “Understood.”

“Does the Second Young Master Jiu, require help with dressing?” 

Shen Yuan quickly declined. “No need. I will do it myself.”

He just arrived in this world! Let him have a few more minutes alone to freak out in peace please!

Turning back towards the mirror Shen Yuan watched Shen Jiu’s face staring back at him with all the shock and helplessness reflected in those pretty green eyes. He was the first level villain! A villain!

Originally this child’s role was to torment the white lotus little hero, making Luo Binghe miserable by degrading and humiliating him for his humble origins. After all, even as a child, Luo Binghe’s attributes were off the charts! He was bright and intelligent with a strong physical prowess that Shen Jiu deeply envied.

Ah, the jealousy of children… if unchecked it can become quite ugly. 

Shen Yuan could only catch a glimpse of the script for the entire game’s plot when the Goddess was chatting his ears off, but he got a detailed report of what was to happen in the starting village arc. 

Shen Jiu’s bullying went on for five long years until they graduated from school, and the hero turned 17 years of age. Then, shortly after demons attacked Esteban. On that fateful night Luo Binghe was forced to face the demon horde all by himself as Shen Jiu and co. abandoned him. 

However, instead of dying Luo Binghe unlocked his golden finger, a core full of insanely potent fire-attributed magic, and in turn was recognized by the Knights’ Order and taken in to train, setting him off on the route to become a beloved hero.

However, in that very demon attack Shen Jiu was destined to die! And not just simply slain! After he abandoned Luo Binghe he was found by another group of demons and torn limb from limb. Only a half-eaten corpse was recovered the next morning.

Such a gruesome and painful death!

Goddess what were you thinking ?! How was he supposed to change the story and save the world when he was placed into this brat Shen Jiu’s role? Nurture the hero? How, when Luo Binghe had every reason to keep his distance from him??

Head full of heavy thoughts he walked over to his wardrobe, picking out a pair of dressing shorts, a shirt with a frilly collar and a creamy grey dressing jacket, the same color as his shorts. Following his predecessor’s memory he pulled on a long pair of socks that went up to his knees and paired it with petite small lacquer shoes.

Looking into the mirror Shen Yuan felt like one of those sassy shotas from those mangas his sister used to like to read and didn’t know how to feel about it. Not even mentioning how expensive everything looked!

Shen Yuan barely dared to move, what if he dirtied or tore them?! These top-quality goods were shipped straight from the capital’s best tailor! Just the jacket alone cost as much as a Rolex watch in his old world!

Gulping, Shen Yuan consoled himself with the thought that at least he transmigrated into a young and wealthy child even if that child was a little devil in the skin of a human. He didn’t know how he would have survived being put inside an old man’s body with a beer belly or even worse, into a woman’s role!

On the contrary to such thoughts, Shen Jiu wasn’t actually such a bad option anymore. He was a shady character, yes, but he was still only 13 years old, so if Shen Yuan counted correctly it meant he only had Luo Binghe as a classmate for half a year. 

Shen Yuan only had half a year’s worth of resentment to deal with to smooth out their relationship!  

The problem, however, was how to go on about it. If he suddenly changed his attitude everyone would freak out. His parents might even find an exorcist or have him locked up in a mental hospital. But he also had to change, otherwise he would die a gruesome death! 

Ah, it was hard to be the villain… 

But first things first, Shen Yuan, no- he was not Shen Yuan anymore. Shen Yuan had died and the Goddess had given him a second chance at life. He was Shen Jiu , a spoiled rich kid born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But the years of leisure were now over - it was time for Shen Jiu to work hard.

The first step was to impersonate Shen Jiu as accurately as possible to not raise suspicion! He had to learn the rules and then he could devise a plan how to guide the hero onto the right path.

He had read enough transmigration novels to know the drill. There had to be a system of sorts out there looking over him, giving him points or deducing points if he acted out of character. Right?

Suddenly, a voice similar to Google translate's primary setting voice rang out in his head.

[Ah, and I forgot to mention, but there are no such things as a regulator system or punishment protocols! You got full control over the reins of Shen Jiu’s life choices! Good luck!  - The Goddess]

Shen Jiu nodded slowly, before erupting. You could have said that sooner! And here he was worrying over nothing! 

When he stepped out of his room, Mr Smith was nowhere to be seen. Shen Jiu went down the corridor and turned left, following his memory. He arrived at the spacious dining room, to a table filled with all things delicious and healthy. If it had been under any other circumstances Shen Jiu would have sat down and eaten his fill until his stomach bulged but now he was gripped by nerves til his insides were a quivering mess.

Forgoing breakfast, Shen Jiu turned to leave the room only to be blocked by an adolescent young man who looked like he was up to no good with the way he was grinning. Alarms went off in Shen Jiu’s head, recognizing Shen Yanzi immediately. 

Shen Jiu tried to nimbly step back and away but the older grabbed him by the shoulder and the possessive hold bore into his small bones like iron.

“Little brother, you’re up early. That won’t do, you need your beauty sleep, don’t you agree? You need to keep staying pretty and soft,” Shen Yanzi crooned, bringing up his other hand to caress Shen Jiu’s cheeks. As an adult being inside Shen Jiu’s body, Shen Yuan was thoroughly grossed out.

“I’m always up this early,” he replied coldly, trying to shake the other off. “Now then, I have to leave for school.”

But he wasn’t released, instead Shen Yanzi leaned in close as if to sniff at him like some flower. “School ahh, that useless place. Why do you keep going? I can teach you everything you need to know. Why don’t you stay with me today, hm? We can play all we like!”   

Goddess, why wasn’t he informed of this morally-devoid pervert before?! 

Shivers wrecked through Shen Jiu’s little body, disgust and distrust emitting from him in waves. Just how come the Shen family never noticed that Shen Yanzi wasn’t okay in the head?

However, a knight in black suit came sweeping in, gripping Shen Yanzi’s shoulder and pulling him off Shen Jiu. “First Young Master Yanzi, how could you possibly have time to teach Second Young Master Jiu when you are already late from your tutoring session with Teacher Kimberly?” 

“Who wants to listen to that old fart?! I don’t want, I don’t want, my brain will melt and flow out of my ears if I have to stay even a minute longer! Release me this instant!” Shen Yanzi threw a fit not unlike a brat, trying to escape the butler but the hold of Mr Smith was as strong as a vice.

Shen Jiu exhaled in relief, discreetly nodding to Mr Smith before escaping to the front gate. On his way out he bumped into Shen Jiu’s mother, a lovely petite lady with a mild temperament - the definition of a trophy wife, spending her days lounging in luxuries and having absolutely no responsibilities. Because of this she drank wine like it was water and grew dumb, and concerningly abscent minded.

“Greetings mother.”

“Oh,” she exclaimed, surprised by the greeting and looking at Shen Jiu with a confused expression. She appeared like she was thinking? “Ah right… have a pleasant day, A-Jiu.” 

D-did she just forget her own son’s name for a few seconds?!

“You too mother.” Shen Jiu nodded and went on ahead. He couldn’t help but peek back at the lady who was already not paying him any attention.

It was evident Shen Jiu took after his mother in terms of appearance; his phoenix eyes, slender bone structure and pale skin. Attributes that were considered unique and eye-catching in the Kingdom of Proweth where the majority of the citizens looked like the average caucasian from Earth.

However, the bright silver hair was something he got from his father, Lord Shen Jonathan, a wealthy merchant from old-money ancestors who were all merchants before him.

So, it could not be helped that Shen Jiu stood out. With Madam Shen’s blood flowing in his veins, carrying traces of trueblood Eastern Empire origins and Lord Shen Jonathan’s gold-for-blood inheritance - namely the silver head of hair and the insane amount of financial assets that came with being born a Shen .

Out of all their children, it was only Shen Jiu who inherited the best of both of his parents’ lineage. That bastard Shen Yanzi had black hair and a plain face, just as their eldest sister who had long grown up and moved out of the Shen Mansion upon her marriage. 

Maybe that was why Shen Jiu’s elder brother was such a pervert when it came to him? 

Shuddering just from remembering that greasy face and dilated eyes Shen Jiu quickly shook his head.He had much more important things to focus on than some disgusting incestous supposed-brother of his. For example, not dying was a number one priority!

This world was filled with magical beasts, and demons were palpably real. It was so easy to get accidentally killed off, especially given his character status… So far, this Shen Jiu brat has not done enough good to this world and its future hero to be categorized as any other than a pitiful canon-fodder villain.

The Goddess said this world was meant to be an RPG video game. If that was true, then perhaps he could level up his strength and change statuses as he progressed. If he could achieve a clean slate with the hero and alleviate the brewing hatred and grievances between them, then perhaps he could keep his life when the demons arrive, enjoying the protection of the protagonist’s golden halo.

After all, the Goddess agreed that his help in the first-village arc was enough. And the Goddess would not lie to him, would she?

Nodding to himself, Shen Jiu grabbed his bag and walked out of the Shen Mansion. He waved away the carriage driver, telling him he would walk to school. Promptly following his predecessor’s memories he began walking the street down towards the south.  

The morning sun had cast everything golden, giving their little village a sweet and friendly atmosphere. He passed by the bakery, the book seller’s shop, and the office of the only doctor in the village, as well as other shops. Over the houses, and rose bushes in the gardens he could see a beautiful open world laid past the village borders. 

Esteban was after all, located in a rural area near the border. To the north lay a mountain range and everywhere else they were surrounded by flat plough fields. With the soil being so fertile here, almost every family in this village were farmers by occupation.

At the next street corner, three youngsters were waiting, eager to please and already waving at him as soon as they spotted Shen Jiu approaching.

He groaned inwardly. How could he forget? Shen Jiu, this little sassy brat didn’t do all that bullying alone but had some help. These three boys in front of him were his replaceable lackeys.

Because they surely were not considered friends by the original. 

If he remembered correctly, the lanky one was called Fred, the freckled one was Noah and the third was… Aaron? Adam? Or was it Alex? Shen Jiu lit a candle for this forgettable guy who wasn’t even important enough for the original goods to remember their name.  

“Ah, it’s Young Master Shen! You arrived on time as usual!” 

“Good morning Young Master Shen!”

“Young Master Shen sure is beautiful this morning too!”

Inwardly furrowing his brows, Shen Jiu eyed the three rascals in front of him. Wasn’t one of those greetings a little different from the other two? This conceited little brat Shen Jiu being beautiful? Sure enough some people’s standards were rock-bottom low in this world.

“Morning,” Shen Jiu decided to go with a curt answer. He needed to keep up the act of an audacious, rich young master who regarded everything and everyone around him with disgust. 

Previously, when Shen Yuan read through the village arc the Goddess had given him, he thought he would love to personally slap the living shit out of this Shen Jiu brat. Now that he was the said brat though... oh how the tables had turned! He really did not want to get slapped. 

All of a sudden, he got this vague feeling that somewhere above in the skies a certain Goddess was hollering with laughter...

“Young Master Jiu is wearing my favorite set on him. The color compliments your skin perfectly! It was truly made for you!” One of the boys praised and the other two enthusiastically nodded. 

“Indeed! But my favorite is still this dress jacket! So sharp, so elegant! Truly no one in Esteban dresses as sharp as you!” That Adam-Aaron guy added followed by another round of enthusiastic nodding.

Shen Jiu inclined his head that he had heard. 

Damn, these rascals were true bootlickers weren’t they? Also, “no one dressed as sharp as Shen Jiu”? Then Shen Jiu’s father and older brother dressed in rags or what? 

How the original goods could stand having these no-brainers around was a mystery to Shen Yuan - no, he wasn’t Shen Yuan anymore. He was Shen Jiu now. There was no way out of this now. 

But, such a big change, he still needed time to readjust . That was only normal, wasn’t it? 

“Let’s all head to school,” he suggested to his admirers, slash lackies. And sure enough they were quick to agree, beginning to walk and Shen Jiu walked behind them slightly distancing himself.

He looked around, trying to discreetly familiarize himself with his surroundings without looking like a gaping tourist who had never set a foot into Esteban before. 

In the end, when he caught a glimpse of a rather run-down church at the opposite side of the street, Shen Jiu slowed his walking pace just a tiny bit. The church was covered with moss, the plaster falling off at places, yet the stone building did not lose even a drop of its overall serenity. 

It was that church, no doubt! The church that double-dutied as the local orphanage where Luo Binghe, the protagonist resided at the moment. Then, Shen Jiu’s breath got caught in his throat as the church’s door opened and a young boy stepped through it. 

The protagonist! That was the protagonist!! Oh goodness, that’s Luo Binghe in the flesh!

Luo Binghe readjusted his bag over one shoulder, as he was saying something to the kind nun who ran the orphanage, not immediately crossing the road to head to school. Like so, Shen Jiu got the chance to study him for a little more.

Luo Binghe was truly handsome, even if he was still young right now. He reminded Shen Yu- Shen Jiu of a tiny heartthrob ready to harvest the hearts of ladies left and right.

The young hero had bright blond hair, eyes blue like the clear sky and a very attractive sun-kissed skin tone. He was the type of pretty child that would make everyone coo and gush over him, except he seemed to have a very cold aura around him? Luo Binghe’s expression was distant and closed off, his entire stance, the way he held himself was that of someone who was ready for an assault.

The realisation squeezed Shen Jiu’s heart like it was lemon, bringing a sour expression onto his face. That sweet child had endured lots of bullshit from this world and of course Shen Jiu and co., had he not?

Coincidentally they all arrived at the school gate at the same time, which was both a blessing and a curse.

Blessing because Shen Jiu could take a closer look at the protagonist from up close, looking for injuries and other signs of grave mistreatment. 

Even if Shen Jiu could not outright help him yet, he was still an adult in a child’s body! He could definitely think of something, a way to aid the future hero from the shadows. 

Despite Luo Binghe being a little short for his age, he seemed healthy at least. The reason for his short stature at the beginning of the story was due to having to work before and after school so that everyone at church would be able to eat their fill. 

If Shen Jiu remembered correctly, Luo Binghe was working as a milk delivery boy early mornings, then after school he was helping out at the nearby ranch for the elderly Williams couple. No wonder this child was slow to grow, he was missing precious sleep! 

However, having met him at the gates also meant a compulsory verbal assault session from the hero’s arch nemesis - which was, sadly, Shen Jiu at this moment in time. 

Steeling himself, Shen Jiu crossed his small hands in front of his chest, tilted his head to side and threw all his adult brain cells out to just spout these lines out, “Well.. if it isn’t Binghe. You look tired. Didn’t get enough sleep? Ah .. right, almost forgot you have to work in the mornings. Poor people sure are pitiful.” 

“Right, right! Poor people are pitiful!” Noah piped up and the other two nodded. 

Fred went right up to Luo Binghe and pushed him square at his chest. Shen Jiu barely kept his own flinch at bay when the young protagonist fell down like a house of cards landing on his butt. Of course it was easy to knock Luo Binghe down right now, he was thinner and shorter than them by a head.

“Pitiful, bah!”

“So pitiful!”

Shen Jiu’s expression soured. Could these brats really not come up with a new line? Repeating the same thing over was so so childish, but then again supposedly they were all children here. 

With a hurting heart, Shen Jiu stepped closer to the fallen hero and attempted his most nastiest glare that rather came out like a weird grimace. And even that grimace was severely mellowed by his pink dusted cheeks, but Shen Jiu wasn’t aware of this. 

“You’re… so weak,” he taunted in his childish voice, “Going down from such a small shove, aren’t you ashamed? You’re a man! You should eat more and grow stronger!”

That sounds about right? He did not say anything stupid and subtly pushed the protagonist into the right direction! Go Luo Binghe, grow strong quickly!

Shen Jiu felt very accomplished inside. He now properly bullied the protagonist! Time to stop this ridiculous farce! Stepping away he pointedly turned to walk into the school but the bullies were not done yet.

“That’s right!” 

“Eat more, you look thin like a girl!”

“Haha Binghe looks like a girl!” There was a roar of laughter. 

Shen Jiu was this close to knocking these brainless lackies out himself. He clearly indicated that the bullying session was over when he walked away! What were these headless chickens doing, going out of their ways and spouting more nonsense?! 

Glancing at Luo Binghe, Shen Jiu’s breath got caught in his throat again. Oh shit, the protagonist was angry now. Those azure eyes burned with unrestrained fury, his hands balled into fists as he pushed himself onto his legs again. 

Uh oh… too far! They pushed too far! This has backfired, thanks a lot, useless lackies!   

“That’s enough. We’ll be late from class,” he coldly regarded the trio who immediately shut up and scurried away. Shen Jiu cast one last glance at the fuming protagonist, and wished with all his heart he could hug this small child and tell him it will all be okay. 

But for now, he must act like the original. He must change, gradually and slowly so people would not suspect him. “If you’re angry that’s good. Use that anger, Binghe. Grow stronger.” 

Luo Binghe sized him up warily, but besides the flames of righteous indignation there was a flicker of confusion in his blue eyes too.

Shen Jiu then turned around and walked into the school building. From outside he looked the perfect little rich master to the T but only he knew there was sweat clinging to his back and armpits. 

That was just a tiny little encounter with Luo Binghe but Shen Jiu was already drained of energy.

Who knew playing pretend was so exhausting! Goddess, maybe he could not do this after all… 

By the time afternoon rolled around and Shen Jiu finally got back into his room he was completely exhausted. He did not even change out of his clothes, only toed off his shoes and fell face-first into the bed. 

Thankfully the rest of the day went by without any hiccups. Shen Jiu did not interact with the future hero more and the bully trio, probably sensing Shen Jiu’s icy mood, also refrained from making trouble.

But even so, Shen Jiu totally forgot how absolutely draining it was to get up early and go to school! He totally could not recite any of the lessons from today, he was too tense to pay attention.

That would not do… Shen Jiu was a stuck-up little shit but he took pride in doing well in school. It would not do him any good to start slacking off with studying now! 

Yet, at the same time his priority was still Luo Binghe and the boy’s development. He also needed to do something about the demon invasion that would happen in the future.

Shen Jiu already felt overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done.

Did he have to do all of those in the next five years? It would be a surprise if he did not gain a few grey hairs by the end of it! The Goddess was really too cruel!

He was told that the starting village arc was the easiest! That he would only need to do some easy tasks! Well, nothing about this was easy! 

Groaning for a while more, Shen Jiu crawled up from the bed and walked to sit down at his desk. His sister in his previous life always told him the most effortless way to solve a complicated problem was to write down everything he knew and cluster the “to-do” things into smaller, manageable packages. 

Earlier at school he was rudely reminded that this world had its own fantasy language. Meaning, they still spoke in Chinese but the characters used for writing were unlike any language from Earth. Shen Jiu could read and write these strange characters of course, thanks to the memories he has gotten from the original, but he still felt weirded out when looking at them. 

“Ah, whatever. Let’s just write it in Chinese. It won’t do any good if someone were to find and read this.” He decided as he reached for his ink set and began writing down everything he remembered. Everything the Goddess told him, the plot of the original game, the roles of all characters and every event, creating a neat timeline.  

Currently, he was 13 years of age. Which meant at the end of this year he and the protagonist would graduate from primary school. After that Shen Jiu was supposed to transfer to a different school in a neighboring town to continue his secondary education, but of course he still continued his evil ways of troubling the young hero at each chance he got. 

Meanwhile, the hero continued his studies at Esteban’s school, which was not as good as the neighbouring town school’s education level. Or at least not on paper. 

Shen Jiu mulled over his choices, but he already knew one thing: he was not going to go to the neighbouring town’s school! If he wanted to nurture the hero to grow up to be a just and fair man, then Shen Jiu must not venture off and leave him alone.

He just had to come up with a reasonable excuse to his father why he wanted to stay in Esteban’s school… 

Damn this Goddess! This was all so troublesome! Where can he file his complaints? Where was the help desk center! Should he go to a shrine? The church?

“Let’s just go to the church when Luo Binghe isn’t there and rain all the complaints onto this lousy Goddess!” Shen Jiu grumbled. On a second thought, he realised that maybe the reason why the Goddess did not give him a system was because she knew he would use it to scream at her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, Shen Jiu made sure to pay attention in class. He was now living in a magic world, where entirely different dangers lay hiding in the shadows than those he had to face on Earth. The least he could do was to try and ensure his own safety by studying diligently. 

After all, the education in elementary and middle schools here were as different from Earth as the sky was from the ground. 

Firstly, they had a magician teacher who taught them the basics of how to use one’s own innate magic. This included small tricks like lighting a candle for fire-types or making flowers bloom for earth-types. 

They also learned how to cultivate and strengthen their own magic, and what to do with magic-related problems such as deficiency or excess magic in one’s core.  

Shen Jiu, himself was an air-type which the original goods despised. The original Shen Jiu deemed air-type magic a useless waste for it wasn’t as cool and explosive as fire and wasn’t as potent and destructive as water. Besides all he ever could do with his air-type magic was to twirl some leaves off the ground or on rare emotional outbursts shut the windows. 

Shen Yuan from Earth, however, thought it was awesome to simply have magic flowing in his veins! Who cared if air-type magic wasn’t destructive? It was so cool! 

He basically hung on the teacher’s every word, taking notes on even the smallest of details. He had a lot to catch up on after all...

Moving forward, they had classes with a former knight who moved to their little village to live a leisure retired life. This teacher of theirs taught them basic sword-wielding techniques with wooden swords, self-defense moves and other body strengthening exercises.  

It was very similar to a physical education class, except maybe for the wooden sword exercises. Of course, Shen Jiu had the luck to be paired with Luo Binghe for their daily spar. However, currently the protagonist was still weaker than Shen Jiu, which left Shen Jiu winning quite easily even though he knew basically nothing about fencing. 

“Hmpf, still not good,” he didn’t forget to throw a degrading line out before walking away. He didn’t turn back to look at what kind of face Luo Binghe was making but he could feel the piercing glare at the center of his back. 

Sorry, Luo Binghe! Just hold on for a little longer…

Baby steps. Shen Jiu had to change his attitude one step at a time. Besides was it not good if Luo Binghe lost now? It would be all the more satisfying when the hero grew up and grew strong and won by his own strength against his bully! So it was best if Luo Binghe despised him right now and wanted to win against him. That’s as good a motivation as any!  

Then they had lunch break and after that came Potions and Arts class, which Shen Jiu enjoyed much more than the sword wielding one.

He could not help it okay?! He has always been a shut-in nerd, he was not made for jumping around and carrying weapons!

Besides, in lights of his future goals and responsibilities, learning how to create protective charms was much more important than sweating and looking like a left-footed dancer with a wooden sword in hand.

And so, Shen Jiu gave his full attention to their teacher, intending to remember every word the middle-aged woman said. Thanks to his hard work Shen Jiu had learned how to draw a perfect, low-level energizing charm by the end of class. 

However, it only would be finished after placing it under the sun for 24 hours. At least he already memorised the strokes so he could make more later!  

Then, in the next and final class they learned how to make amulets. Usually, the function of an average amulet was to ward off low-level beasts or demons. Of course, those knowledgeable at advanced amulet making could create amulets that could keep even high-level demonic beasts away, but everyone started out small eh?

Shen Jiu dedicated himself wholly to studying, ignoring the concerned gazes from the trio or the curious ones from his classmates.

Given that Shen Jiu’s magical aptitude was not good, there was only so much he could achieve with spells and tricks. Still, he figured he was lucky he could use magic at all. There were some people in this world who were born without innate magic. Again others were born with strong magical talents. 

Being on the middle ground was better than having nothing, right? 

But, if he could not protect the village with his magic or his nonexistent superior swordsmanship skills when the demons attacked, then he had to think of a different way. Amulets that warded off demons seemed like a perfect solution.

That could possibly work… Needs more thorough thinking and planning though. 

Feeling accomplished, Shen Jiu was exhausted by the time the last class finished. It was only the second day since he arrived in this world but he felt like he had used his brain as much as he did on average in a week back in his old life.

Being a villain in a rehab program was tiring… 

He said goodbye to the trio, and barely cast a glance at Luo Binghe before dragging himself back home and falling asleep the moment his body hit the bed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just like that, a year had passed.

Shen Jiu was now 14 years old while Luo Binghe was 13. They both graduated from elementary school with high scores. Luo Binghe had undergone a growth spurt but he still was half a head shorter than Shen Jiu. At least his scrawniness was gradually disappearing as his muscles began to look defined and his shoulders slowly filled out like those of a man’s. 

Hard work really paid off did it not?

Almost a month into his new life in this world, Shen Jiu saved a girl from being robbed and in turn gained an unlikely new friend. He did not want to get involved with anyone else but Ning Yingying was a sweet and cheerful child who insisted on repaying him. 

Well, how could he turn down some free help? 

Hence how he found a way to deliver food to Luo Binghe without the protagonist suspecting him. Ning Yingying agreed to the deal, calling Shen Jiu a ‘tsundere’ - whatever that meant. She had the reputation of being a little bit of an airhead, so Shen Jiu did not question her.

She befriended Luo Binghe, always bringing fresh nutritious bread from her family’s bakery for the hero to eat, and also gave him the carefully prepared lunch boxes that Shen Jiu sneaked out of his own kitchen and meticulously passed to Ning Yingying to be passed to Luo Binghe. 

In turn, Luo Binghe had gained strength, growing up nicely. His childish features were slowly turning sharp, and already some girls from class were beginning to notice how handsome he was.

Shen Jiu naturally was not jealous. Such was the fate of the protagonist! There was no way Shen Jiu could rival Luo Binghe’s popularity in a few years. Now, he may still be on top but it was only a matter of time until he could not win against Luo Binghe anymore in their spars. 

In this past year, Shen Jiu had almost completely eliminated the bullying against Luo Binghe. He threw in a half-assed line about not caring about “that poor brat” anymore and the admirer trio ate up his lie like it was a drop of water in the desert. 

Therefore, not much of the animosity between Luo Binghe and Shen Jiu remained, only a more-or-less healthy rivalry and age-typical competitiveness - especially when it came to sword wielding.

The only reason why Shen Jiu was not overpowered by the protagonist was because his family hired a personal tutor to teach him after school, while Luo Binghe only had their school teacher to practice with during class hours.

On a side note, Shen Jiu realized he rather liked the sharp tongued attribute of the original, so he made it his own through and through. He never quite said what he meant, rather going around in circles and letting others around him discern his true meaning. 

It was a useful mechanism to keep unnecessary people away from him, and to keep fueling Luo Binghe’s motivation to win against him one day. The faster Luo Binghe grew strong enough to beat Shen Jiu, the faster this whole rivalry farce could end too. 

It really was for everyone’s benefit!

The original goods prolonged his winning strike by using foul play - sand in the eyes, oil on the floor - but the Shen Jiu of the present refused to resort to such cheap tricks. It would do the hero no good to learn such immoral acts from him! Luo Binghe had to perfect his stance and forms and win fair and square, now against Shen Jiu and later against the Demon King. 

Just how an upright hero should.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was only one bookstore in Esteban, by the name of Inna’s Book, which both functioned as a library and as a book shop. Mainly because most of the people of Esteban could not afford to buy books that a person read once in their lives and then not really touch for the rest. It was too uneconomical for most families, therefore the bookstore had the option of renting out books for the fragment of the original price. 

Shen Jiu himself had used this service many times over this one year he had spent in this small village. He mainly borrowed books on magic, amulets and charms, trying to enrich his knowledge and quickly get to a level where he could start drawing up demon-repellent amulets and hide them in- and around the village.

It had become a routine for him to stop by the bookstore on his way home from school, checking if any new books came in and to just in general live out his love for books and scrolls. Needless to say, Shen Jiu’s previous love for fictional novels and manga followed him over to this world too so he found himself invested in the latest popular book series [Proud Immortal Demon Way]. 

Coincidentally, that day was the supposed publishing date for the latest volume so guiltily Shen Jiu strode past the collection of magic-related books in a hurry and headed straight to the shelf for fiction.

Finally, he could get his answers to what happened to Alfred after Lian pushed him down into the Endless Abyss! To be left guessing whether the white lotus lived or died, with the last book ending in a gigantic cliff hanger really got on his nerves!

His green eyes greedily ran across the titles on the ridges of the books, and when he found what he was looking for he reached out to grab it. Only for someone else’s hand to land on it before Shen Jiu could have gotten it - his hand only ended up touching the other person’s. 

Who dared taking his book from him?! 

In a swirl of anger he turned, intending to rain curses on this unfortunate soul for taking away the treasure that the latest volume of [Proud Immortal Demon Way] was. He found himself standing toe to toe with a messy blond head and blue eyes bright as the sky staring into his soul. 

Abort mission! It was Luo Binghe! Quick, say something smart! 

“Oh…” Was what came out of Shen Jiu’s mouth instead. “Woah!” 

Holy shit why was Luo Binghe covered in wounds?! Young hero, the hospital was further up the street! What was he doing in a bookstore? 

The protagonist's clothes were splattered with dirt, and skin wherever it was visible was sporting reddish scratches and blooming darkening patches. Nothing was bleeding at least, save for a tiny cut over Luo Binghe’s left eyebrow. 

Luo Binghe answered Shen Jiu’s staring with silence. 

“You - … what happened to you?” Shen Jiu couldn’t help but fret. “Why do you look like you rolled with the stray dogs?”

Shrugging, the young hero replied. “Fought with the upperclassmen.” 

Shen Jiu almost got a whiplash from how casual Luo Binghe was about the whole deal.  

Luo Binghe, this poor transmigrator needs you in your top condition! How was the hero ever going to win against Shen Jiu if he kept roughing himself up and not being able to bring his best to their sparring sessions?!

“You did what?”

“They started it. I only retaliated.” 

Shen Jiu could not stop himself from sighing inwardly. He could not very well scold the hero for hitting back in self-protection now, could he? Still… he could not help but worry. 

“Ah, I see.”

Luo Binghe studied him for a second before adding. “I won.” 

Shen Jiu nodded. Of course, this was the protagonist after all! Luo Binghe was slowly but surely gaining strength, and soon no bully would dare lift a finger against him. Still, Shen Jiu answered as nonchalantly as possible. “Is that so?”  

Luo Binghe nodded. “I beat them up.” 

Shen Jiu’s eyes fixed onto that cut again, seeing how blood was about to overflow and drop onto Luo Binghe’s cheek. Hastily he searched his jacket’s pockets, looking for his handkerchief. 

“You’re bleeding. You need first aid.” 

“Not necessary. I always heal fast.” Luo Binghe just reached up with his dirty hands and wiped at his brow, smearing blood onto his temple. 

Shen Jiu almost got an aneurysm from watching it, the clean freak in him yowling in both outrage and pain from having to witness this first-hand. Without thinking he grabbed Luo Binghe’s hand and pulled him to the back where the washroom of the bookstore was. 

“Stupid! Even if you heal fast, so what! You can’t walk around with blood on your face, like some hooligan!” Shen Jiu fiercely reprimanded the young hero while he wetted his handkerchief and began to meticulously wash the dirt and blood off Luo Binghe’s face. 

“How would this reflect on nun Mary at the orphanage? As far as I know you guys are having troubles assembling the necessary funds year after year, yet you wanna walk around looking like a troublemaker?! Where’s your sense of filial piety?” Once Shen Jiu started, he had a hard time stopping ranting. 

But he could not help it, okay? Especially because it was about someone he placed a great importance on. He was on a roll, until he became aware of the prickling sensation of being watched intensely. 

Quieting down, Shen Jiu looked back at the protagonist and true enough, Luo Binghe was staring at him like he was looking at something unimaginable. 

Shen Jiu blushed, quickly looking away. Damn, the protagonist’s charm was a strong one! So strong, even him, a guy got the shivers.

To distract himself, Shen Jiu wrung out the handkerchief after washing it clean and reached into his inner packet retrieving a small crystal-clear card with intricate lines twinkling on its surface - a healing talisman. 

Shen Jiu himself had made it after studying hours into the evening day after day. This kind of talisman was still a low level one, but according to the book he borrowed, it should be effective for small wounds like that scratch Luo Binghe had.

So, folding the card in half he snapped it and let its healing magic seep into the young hero’s body, mending his skin together until there was not even a scab remaining. Shen Jiu watched the process with child-like delight.

His healing talisman finally got tested and it worked! It’s fully functional! Before a second, more guilt-laden thought cut in, was it really okay for him to use the protagonist as a guinea pig?

“Do you feel pain anywhere else?” 

“No.” Luo Binghe still looked flabbergasted. 

Shen Jiu pressed on, “What about your hands? Any swelling?” 

Shaking his head, Luo Binghe obediently lifted his hands and moved his joints to show him everything was fine. Only then did Shen Jiu calm down. 

“Wash yourself thoroughly. Even small cuts can fester if left unattended.” 

“Yes,” Luo Binghe simply agreed, continuing to watch him as if Shen Jiu grew a second head. 

Only then did the transmigrator realise how all this must have looked from Luo Binghe’s point of view! He just fretted over him like some sort of mother hen and healed him! That was something the original Shen Jiu would have never done.

Quick, damage control!

“Hah! Awesome! Isn’t it awesome?” Shen Jiu laughed, jutting out his chin with all the pretense air of a peacock. 

“Awesome?” 

“Yes! That healing talisman was made by me actually! Did you see how fast it healed your wound? Just as expected! Thanks for being my guinea pig, hahaha!” Shen Jiu sweated like a sinner in church, internally chanting “ please believe Shen Jiu was still this little repugnant scum of earth!”

He needed Luo Binghe to feel annoyed enough with him to want to get stronger and faster! Hero, you want to pummel Shen Jiu into the dirt, got it?!  

Luo Binghe blinked at him as he reached out to touch his eyebrow where the cut previously was. He seemed to think of something before dropping his hand. 

“It was nice.” 

Huh?! Just “nice”? Listen here hero, you just got insulted! Why are you ignoring that part?!

“Uh um… yeah?” Shen Jiu wanted to cry. He was too confused by Luo Binghe’s answer to think of a smarter comeback. “Well, of course! Now then, it was a nice meeting. I have to go, I’m a busy man!”

And with that Shen Jiu basically ran out of the bathroom, holding a fist over his wildly-beating heart and inwardly cursing his stupidity to kingdom come. His cheeks felt hot, even without touching it Shen Jiu knew he was blushing like a maiden whose crush just confessed to her their undying love.

Just where does his wittiness disappear when the protagonist is near?! Goddess, was this a bug in the system? 

He even forgot about the new volume of his favorite series until his hand was caught on his way to the exit. It was Luo Binghe, holding out the newest volume of [Proud Immortal Demon Way] towards him. 

“Here.” 

“Huh? What… why are you giving it to me?” Shen Jiu asked, genuinely baffled. 

“You wanted to read this didn’t you?” Luo Binghe pressed the book into his hands almost aggressively. “You helped me today, so I’m letting you borrow it first.” 

“That’s -” Luo Binghe, however, did not wait for him to finish talking, as he exited the bookstore without another word.

Shen Jiu stared after the protagonist, mouth left slightly open. 

What just… happened? 

He could not help but think, as he was checking out the book at the counter, that irregular meetings like these with the protagonist were extremely dangerous! He had got to strive to avoid them from now on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

It had been two years since Shen Jiu arrived in this world. In these years he had grown more or less confident in acting his character and also bringing in some from his own self into the mix. 

Currently he was this mixture of a sassy, foppish young master whose ear was slowly losing the greenish hue and becoming a youngster with increasingly defined manners - at least towards the teachers and the staff of his own household. Towards his peers he still acted haughty, especially towards Luo Binghe, but not even remotely as nasty as he used to be. 

His school record track was impeccable, and his sword wielding was getting much better. Never would he have thought he would be so good at it when he first took a wooden practice weapon into his hands but after countless classes and private tutoring sessions, Shen Jiu proved to be a natural talent. 

The original Shen Jiu had light bones and a thin body which meant he had the advantage of being nimbler than some bigger-bodied boys in their class. He could twirl the sword like a bee its stinger.

He also progressed in amulet drawing, mostly through trial and error but by now he was on a level both practice wise and magic reserves wise to attempt making mid-level amulets. 

Shen Jiu truly had his hands full, days packed from the moment he woke up until he fell asleep. From morning till early afternoon he was at school, then came a sparring practice with the family-hired tutor, and after dinner and some minimal siesta Shen Jiu burrowed his head into his magic books. 

It was an exhausting schedule, but Shen Jiu couldn’t afford himself to relax. He was still too far from being ready for that demon attack that will take place in three years’ time. His progress at amulet drawing was substantial but still not good enough to be able to protect the village with it. Not to mention the event that was coming during their summer camp next year! 

He really truly needed to help Luo Binghe level up and fast! The hero was the only one who could protect them if all other plans failed spectacularly.

Which brought his attention on the hero in front of him.

Luo Binghe has gone through another growth spurt, now being the same height as Shen Jiu if not a few centimeters taller. That fact left a sour taste in Shen Jiu’s mouth. Why couldn’t his own body grow too? He did not want to accept the ever increasing possibility of Shen Jiu taking after his mother in the height department too! 

Muddle-headed Goddess, why could you not put him into a taller body? He was short in his previous life too, was it too much to ask to get to be tall in his next?! 

Shen Jiu did not let his thoughts show on his face, however, as he elegantly side-stepped Luo Binghe’s swing with the sword. They were in the middle of their spar in class, supposedly practicing the newest sword technique their teacher taught them - the Spinning Butterfly. An attack technique that drew a beautiful arch in the air, distracting their opponent before ruthlessly striking them in their midsection.

It was a form that suited Shen Jiu’s style and physique much better than Luo Binghe’s brute force style of swinging. That did not mean Luo Binghe was completely helpless by now, the protagonist progressed by leaps and bounds if Shen Jiu took into consideration how the boy barely had time to actually practice.

Luo Binghe growled as Shen Jiu twirled out of his way again, bringing up his dull metal sword to rain it down on his opponent’s head. Shen Jiu’s eyes widened and immediately raised his own dulled sword to block it, a barely-there whimper leaving his lips as his wrist took the brunt of the hit.

It was a minute detail, but something flickered in Luo Binghe’s eyes. Shen Jiu did not give him time to react as he grabbed the handle of his weapon with both hands and performed the perfect spinning butterfly, knocking the young hero off his feet.

Lately it had gotten harder and harder to win against Luo Binghe. Shen Jiu could not afford to slack off or play around during their spars anymore.

When both of them stilled, indicating the sparring to be over, Shen Jiu withdrew his sword and flashed a small smile at Luo Binghe.

He was satisfied! Very satisfied! The protagonist had grown quite strong in this past year, if this curve continued to arch upwards in the next three years too then Esteban was in secure hands! 

There came gasps from the side and some clapping. When Shen Jiu turned to look over he saw the admirer trio with blushing faces, but he could write it off as friendship suavity, when he saw some girls with blushing cheeks he wrote it off as childish crushes, but why were there boys too with awe-filled expressions?

Shen Jiu could not help but notice during his stay of two years that this place was significantly different in one aspect from Earth - and that was the lack of prejudice against different sexualities and genders.

He has seen same-sex couples walk hand-in-hand on the streets, and learned briefly about how some great past magicians of this world were in polyarmory relationships, or how they got offsprings by the help of magical fruits because they were in gay relationships. Shen Jiu himself had no problem with this, he sort of expected it to be the case after he had interacted with that airhead of a Goddess.

To put racism into the world wasn’t her style, she said that one time they met face to face. But that air-headed woman didn’t have qualms against writing Luo Binghe’s fate incredibly sad, filled with misery and hardships! Some double standards you have, you evil woman! 

Shen Jiu furrowed his brows somewhat and his “admirers” quieted down. And would it be too much to ask for his male admirers to realise he’s very much straight?!

Feeling irritated, he turned back towards Luo Binghe to say some offhanded cocky lines. “Seems like you still need to practice some more to be on my level. The current you is still too weak!”

Luo Binghe looked up at him with a dour face, but none of that previous exploding resentment could be found on his face. Was it a sign of Luo Binghe maturing too? Back then, two years ago, the protagonist’s eyes were like raging wildfires whenever he got insulted or pushed around. 

But nowadays, the hero lacked real anger whenever Shen Jiu taunted him. This could be counted as a good sign, no?

Sighing, Shen Jiu stared at Luo Binghe as the hero stood up and dusted off his pants. To think the protagonist could already wipe the floor with Shen Jiu if he did not need to work two jobs to help the orphanage stay afloat had left Shen Jiu feeling gloomy. 

Luo Binghe needed to practice more! Only then could Shen Jiu feel at ease. Should he set aside an anonymous donation to the church every month so that Luo Binghe would not need to work so hard?

The transmigrator felt a little dumb at that moment. He could have done that much earlier, but alas he was only human too. It was still better being late than never doing it. 

“Binghe, what have you been doing all this time? If you ever want to stand equal to me let alone win against me, then you have to be more diligent!” Shen Jiu addressed the young hero, intending to give him a push to practice more. “Your steps are too rigid, moves too wild, it leaves you vulnerable in between forms. Strength is not everything! It’s enough if you put your weight behind only the sword forms, otherwise you’ll tire out too fast and be left with not enough strength to finish off a battle.”

Shen Jiu, of course, would not have known what to say if he himself did not have a personal tutor at home. He was just parroting back what that tutor had told him! And there was no way his tutor did not know what he was doing!

Luo Binghe stared at him with those endless ocean-like eyes and Shen Jiu was getting antsy again. Why are you staring, hero? He was, for once in his life, not talking out of his ass! Listen to the advice!

“Relying too much on brute force or bursts of magical power is way too risky! It may work against this lazy bunch here but it certainly won’t work against me. Out there are demons much stronger and trickier than me. You think you can win against them by swinging your sword around, like an idiot a scythe, and call it harvesting?!”  

Luo Binghe huffed, his exhale blew away a few strands of his blond fringe. Shen Jiu paused, looking equal part incredulous and baffled.

Did this child just give him an attitude? He was imparting important life lessons here, hero are you even listening?!

Luo Binghe instead walked over to him, steps steady and sure, back pulled straight and imposing and Shen Jiu could not stop himself from flinching away. There was no way he could bear keeping a dignified stance if the protagonist punched him now! Luo Binghe has grown way too strong for that!

But before Shen Jiu could have stepped away the hero was right in front of him and with a quick movement grabbed Shen Jiu’s wrist.

“Ow! Ouch , let go!”

Luo Binghe, however, did not let go of his injured hand. Instead he probed at it with his fingers, and when there was another moan of pain, he tsk-ed.

Yah, hero! What’s with that attitude? It was your fault entirely! His wrist was now red and swollen all because your brute strength has gone unchecked! He always had a thin and slightly delicate body, of course he would bruise easily!

Then, Luo Binghe reached into his pocket and withdrew a clear card - a healing talisman! Shen Jiu’s eyes widened as he watched the protagonist break the crystal card and the warm magic seeped into his aching bones. Soon the redness disappeared along with the soreness. 

Luo Binghe used one of his standard issued healing talismans that they got once every three months on healing him! Shen Jiu was so moved his lips automatically moved too.

“Thank you -”

Oh fuck! Abort mission! Shen Jiu never ever said thank you!! Especially not to Luo Binghe! It just all came out naturally, he wasn’t thinking! 

And true enough, Luo Binghe was staring at him intensely, like he saw something unusual. Hero, what are you looking at?! Was there something on his face? And why was the hero still holding Shen Jiu’s healed wrist?

“W-what?” Shen Jiu honestly felt like running away. This much attention from the hero was overwhelming! 

Luo Binghe however shook his head, a sad self-deprecating smile on his lips. “It’s… it was my fault. I sometimes have a hard time controlling my strength.”

“What... do you mean?” Shen Jiu asked carefully. 

“It means exactly that. When I get these bursts, it's like my strength doubles in those moments and I can’t control it,” Luo Binghe spoke in a soft tone, only the two of them could hear what he was saying. 

Shen Jiu blinked. Magic excess? Could the hero be suffering from magic excess? That would explain the bursts and the increased momentary strength. It was a typical childhood sickness, mostly haunting those who were born with very strong magical constitutions. 

“Oh.” 

Luo Binghe’s thumb traced a vein through the milky skin on Shen Jiu’s inner wrist. “This was a bad one. I thought I broke your wrist… I’m not not practicing because I don’t want to get better, I’m not practicing because I’m scared to practice. You’re not the first one whom I almost caused serious injuries to.”

Shen Jiu shut his mouth, thoughts in disarray. That most certainly was magic excess that Luo Binghe was talking about. And thinking of the protagonist’s insanely OP magical constitution Shen Jiu began to sweat.

The stronger one’s innate magic was the stronger the hits of these magic excess bursts will be! Luo Binghe will be needing help sooner rather than later!!

Luo Binghe exhaled, turning away. He looked so tired in that moment, so weary that Shen Jiu could not help asking. “Binghe, are you okay? You look tired.” 

Yes it was totally out of character for Shen Jiu to ask such a thing but today was not his day, so what’s one or two mistakes?! His young hero needed nurturing and that’s exactly what Shen Jiu was going to do!

And sure enough, Luo Binghe’s eyes twinkled slightly, a look of awe radiating from his pretty face. “Are you worried about me?” 

Uh oh… not good! That was totally plummeting his reputation of a cold-ass bitch into the ground!

“That’s not it! You misunderstood me! It’s just that - that you won’t be able to control these bursts if you are tired all the time! Get some more rest for once!” 

Luo Binghe smiled, tilting his head to the side. “You think so?” 

What’s with that reaction! Stop smiling at him and flash those at girls! This kind of smile was wasted on someone like Shen Jiu!

“Yes I think so!”

“Hm.”

Shen Jiu felt a vague sense of danger. He felt like his heart would escape through his throat if he didn't get away soon. Twisting his wrist out of Luo Binghe’s hold, he hugged his arms to his chest. 

“It’s your part-time jobs! You’re always working, of course you’d be exhausted and your magic reserves fluctuating! Rest up, you idiot! If you keep this up you’ll never win against me!” And with that Shen Jiu all but elegantly ran away and towards his little group of admirer trio. 

“Young Master Shen, are you okay?” 

“That brute didn’t hurt you, did he?” 

“That urchin has been awfully daring to get so close to Young Master Shen recently! Need us to put him in his place?!”

Shen Jiu suddenly felt tired to his bones, but he must keep up his reputation at least to someone today or he will go nuts. “No way. How could he hurt me? He can’t even win against me in a match!”

“That’s right! Young Master Jiu is far superior to that bastard!” 

“We saw how Young Master Shen knocked him off his legs. Of course that dirty mutt can’t hold a candle to our Young Master Shen!”

Shen Jiu tuned out afterwards, letting the trio converse amongst themselves. His thoughts bought him back on his most recent interaction with the hero and could not help but think that he was indeed in serious trouble.

The reactions from the hero were growing more and more abnormal, not like anything Shen Jiu would have anticipated, and with that he got thrown off the course every single time! Would it kill Luo Binghe to stay on script and treat Shen Jiu like the rival he needs to overcome?!

Shen Jiu, of course, knew there had to be changes in the story, otherwise his own gradual change would have been for naught. But he never expected from Luo Binghe to be so casual and almost kind with him! 

Were the insults not strong enough? Should Shen Jiu behave nastier towards him to keep him on track? 

He desperately wished he could talk with the Goddess about these changes but he has not heard of her in a long time, and he had no means of contacting her from his end. Shen Jiu just hoped that the Goddess did not forget about them or wandered off somewhere! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter of the second year had arrived. The harvest had long finished and the cold forced the people inside their homes. Many only left their warm houses to run some non-delayable errands, or for the farmer’s market every sunday where farmers of different produce could trade with each other so that everyone could eat various food stuff.

Of course one could purchase things with money too if they did not have anything to trade with but most of these families knew each other for generations therefore the most common form of obtaining produce was by exchange.

Winters were the hardest season for the orphanage, however, for this very reason. Nun Mary was gaining in years so she did not have the energy to man the lands behind the church anymore. Most of her time and energy was spent by tending to the children living there.

The little their vegetable garden in the church’s garden had grown, was not enough to feed them, let alone to use for trade. It left them with only the option to use money to buy food and rely on donations from the kind village people.

For this reason, Shen Jiu secretly increased the amount of his monthly anonymous donations during the winter season so that Luo Binghe and the children living there would not go hungry at least. Shen Jiu hoped he could help Luo Binghe more but if he did, it would become very suspicious as no one in the village could really afford to help this much. Only the Shen family. And the Shen’s were not known for their selfless hearts.

Shen Jiu still relied on Ning Yingying to deliver lunchboxes to Luo Binghe as long as school was ongoing. But, with the winter holiday coming around the corner, he also was in the midst of organizing how to solve bread and sweet pastry deliveries from Ning Yingying’s parents’ bakery to the church.

He just needed to figure out how to make it seem like the donations came from different anonymous kind-hearted villagers and not just solely from Shen Jiu’s pocket money. Ning Yingying said he was worrying too much, but Shen Jiu could not have his cover blown. Least of all in front of Luo Binghe! 

If the young hero learnt of all these sacrifices Shen Jiu had made in secret to help him, then Shen Jiu’s credibility as a rival and an ex-villain would vanish into the void. That absolutely could not happen!

Luo Binghe needed motivation to practice sword wielding and grow strong, and his relationship with Shen Jiu was supposed to be the biggest pushing force in the game. At least in the starting village arc.

Shen Jiu felt like his head was going to split apart from all this worrying. At least he was sitting in his favorite class right now, the Intermediate Amulet Making class. Not many from school got into this course as only those were allowed who had strong magical cores or good amulet making aptitudes.

From their class of nearly 40 students only him and Luo Binghe made the cut. The protagonist for obvious reasons and Shen Jiu because of his clear air-type magic and extensive practice behind closed doors that made him appear a genius talent. 

Their teacher was an old magician specialized in amulet making, who previously worked in a good-name magic shop in the second biggest city in the Kingdom of Proweth. So, to say the least, they had a wonderfully knowledgeable teacher and Shen Jiu soaked up every word said, taking concise notes and asking questions where necessary.

In comparison, Luo Binghe usually sat in the back of the class, hidden from the teacher’s line of sight and napping it away most of the time. It could not be helped that the hero was tired, he worked every dawn as a milk delivery boy, of course he would feel exhausted by the time their last class rolled around.

Still, Shen Jiu decided he needed to reprimand the hero for his lack of attention. Luo Binghe would get into big trouble later if he kept sleeping during every class! 

The problem was that Luo Binghe was completely absent from today’s class! He did not even show up at the start of the day nor did he send a word of apology to the teacher either that he would not be able to attend the class.

Did something come up at Luo Binghe’s part-time job that he needed to stay all day? 

Shen Jiu tried to ignore the issue, telling himself that it was probably something unimportant like one of the kids at church felt under the weather and nun Mary needed an extra pair of hands to help out. Or maybe Luo Binghe was the one feeling a little under the weather himself and that was why he abstained from class. 

But, as the class rolled on, Shen Jiu got antsier by the minute. He could not shake off the feeling that something was wrong, but he also could not figure out what it was. For the first time he could not wait for his favorite class to be over, and as soon as the teacher wrapped up the lesson Shen Jiu dashed out of the classroom with his packed bag in hand. 

Unpleasant cold seeped into his warmed up skin the moment he stepped out of the school building. Shen Jiu was never good with cold, not in his previous life and in this one, so he miserably pulled the coat closer over his thin body. The coachman was already waiting for him at the school entrance, and Shen Jiu felt guilty but also selfishly happy that he got a ride to and from school during winter.

“Coachman Harvey, let’s take the longer route home, today.”

The kind-faced middle-aged coachman nodded. “Of course, Young Master Shen.” 

Inside the carriage, the heater was on and it was pleasantly warm again. Sighing, Shen Jiu leaned against the leather seats and desperately tried to empty his head and ignore the bad feeling in his gut.

It was not until they rolled by the old pine forest at the edge of the village when snow began to fall heavily and Shen Jiu was hit with a memory he completely forgot amidst his daily struggles of preparing for the big final event of the village arc. 

Oh, no! That “small” unfortunate event happened around now, didn’t it? It was a harsh winter with lots of snow falling when Luo Binghe went missing for two whole days!   

It was not that Luo Binghe wandered off and got lost, but because of a rather nasty jealous nutcase of an upperclassman. With how Luo Binghe was becoming more and more handsome as he was growing older, more people began to notice him which was not necessarily good for him just yet.

There was an upperclassman whose name Shen Jiu could not be bothered to remember, but the story went something like this: the upperclassman’s girlfriend took a liking to Luo Binghe, so she broke up with the upperclassman. The upperclassman was raging with jealousy and followed around his ex-girlfriend, trying to sabotage her and Luo Binghe’s chances at a relationship.

The girl did not know she was being followed, and only tried to get into Luo Binghe’s good graces by loudly praising the jade pendant Luo Binghe always wore around his neck. What she did not know was that jade pendant was the only memento Luo Binghe had left of his parents, and that it was not even real quality jade.

The jealous nutcase of an upperclassmen decided to teach Luo Binghe a lesson, to make him think twice before “galavanting around with stolen fortunes, trying to pick up girls who were way out of his league”.

So, he hired some shady people to trick Luo Binghe into the pine forest, beat him up and of course reclaim that stolen jade pendant from that dirty street urchin! No orphan could have such goods in their possession unless by stealing.

Only for the plan to backfire, when Luo Binghe’s magic burst out of him at a rate it had not before which took care of his attackers but in turn left the hero lying there in the snow immobilised for two days! Magic excess sickness was truly scary!

It couldn’t be today, could it?

Shen Jiu looked out the window, teeth gnawing at his lips in worry. And more importantly, should he intervene in an event that originally had nothing to do with him? Would it derail the plot too much, or expose Shen Jiu’s kind side to Luo Binghe if he were to go and help? 

But it’s so cold outside! Luo Binghe may be the protagonist who can’t die but he can still feel pain and desperation!

Making his decision Shen Jiu quickly opened the window to shout. “Coachman Harvey!” 

The man jumped in his seat, pulling on the horses’ reins to bring them to a stop. “My goodness, Young Master, you almost freaked the soul out of this old me!” 

“Apologies! But can you please take us into the forest to the place I tell you?” Shen Jiu felt apologetic, especially because such a detour would mean for Coachman Harvey to sit longer in the freezing cold.

“Sure Young Master…. but what business could you have in a cold empty forest at a time like this, aye?” Coachman coaxed the horses to pull the cart off the road and into the forest. 

“I must check on something, Coachman. I pray I’m wrong but if not…” 

The coachman did not question him further even though he must have had his own set of doubts and questions. Shen Jiu was thankful for the silence nevertheless and navigated them into the denser part of the woods until the carriage got too big to fit in between the trees.

“This far is fine, Coachman Harvey! Please wait here for me, I must check on something!” Shen Jiu jumped out of the warm carriage and into the snow. 

“But Young Master shouldn’t this old man come with you?” 

“No. Stay with the horses. I’ll be back shortly!” Shen Jiu gave the order and he dashed off into the forest.

It was so cold his breaths appeared like puffs in the air, the falling snow and the wind felt like tiny needles jabbing into his exposed cheeks. Shen Jiu pressed on, ignoring his own discomfort. 

He needed to know! Needed to make sure! 

When his nose picked up smoke and a fresh scent of blood, his face paled and legs picked up speed. He soon arrived at the scene and a terrified gasp left his mouth at the sight. 

Trees were twisted out of their beds, half charred, some still burning. The only reason it did not cause a forest fire was because the snow fell too densely, it was gradually putting out the fire. 

There were at least ten bodies lying scattered around the ground, each in their own pool of blood.

Judging from the weapons strapped to their bodies and the sizes of some of them gave away who these people were - mercenaries. These kinds of folk did all kinds of morally wrong, nasty stuff as long as they saw gold.

Shen Jiu hastily looked around, searching for Luo Binghe. He found him sitting further away, leaning heavily against the trunk of a tree.

Dashing over, Shen Jiu knelt next to the hero. Luo Binghe was trembling as if cold, but when Shen Jiu touched his skin it felt burning hot. 

“Binghe! Binghe, can you hear me?” Shen Jiu shook him, urgency in his voice. 

Luo Binghe groaned, his chest heaved as he took in breaths. Shen Jiu felt helpless, tilting the hero’s head up to take a look at him. Luo Binghe cracked his eyes open but they were unfocused, gazing somewhere faraway.

“Binghe, hold it together! We can’t stay here. Can you stand on your legs?” Shen Jiu wiped the blood and snow off his cheeks, before reaching under his armpits and attempting to have them both stand up.

They got half-way before Luo Binghe lost his consciousness and collapsed back onto the ground taking Shen Jiu with him. “Binghe! Binghe don’t sleep yet! Wake up, please!” 

Damn it!

Shen Jiu crouched down with his back facing the hero and wrestled him onto it. Amidst very unmanly whining and cracking joints he stood up. 

Fuck! Hero are your bones made of metal? Why are you so heavy?!

With trembling limbs, Shen Jiu began walking back to where he left the carriage. He tried to hurry but his legs were buckling, the wind was blowing into his face and the forest floor was uneven and covered with snow. It was as if everything was working against him. 

By the time he finally spied the carriage’s shadow peeking through the trees, Shen Jiu thoroughly felt numb from the cold. His legs chose that moment to give up on working and him and his precious cargo both tumbled down into the snow.

“Coachman Harvey! Here!”

The man hurried over. “Young Master, thank the Goddess you’re back! I was about to go after you to bring you back. Woah… what’s with this lad? Is he alive?” 

“Yes, he’s alive. Please help me get him on the carriage. He had an accident.” Shen Jiu waved away the coachman’s arm to help him stand and instead supported Luo Binghe’s head. 

The coachman nodded, easily picked up Luo Binghe and walked back towards the carriage. As expected, adults were more capable, ah! Shen Jiu ran after them, trying to catch his breath but still helped the coachman arrange Luo Binghe to lie down on one of the seats. 

“What now, Young Master? Head back to the Shen Mansion?” 

“No. To Doctor Mu’s office!” Shen Jiu instructed, shutting the carriage door behind himself and soon the horses were urged to turn around and back onto the road. Shen Jiu hastily opened one of the cabinets and fished out an unused pair of handkerchiefs, dabbing the dirt and melting snow off Luo Binghe’s face and hair.

Then the transmigrator also pulled out a warm pair of blankets and covered the shivering protagonist with it, but not before making Luo Binghe swallow a small jar of healing potion. Shen Jiu made a mental note to restock it later, for future unforeseen events just like this! 

Luo Binghe did not wake during the ride to the doctor’s office but his shivering quieted down some, much to Shen Jiu’s relief. Once they arrived, Coachman Harvey jumped off the perch and hastily called for the doctor.

It was a little bit past the office hours but since it was an emergency, Shen Jiu did not feel too bad about disturbing the doctor. Besides, he was going to pay for the service generously, so hurry up and check on Luo Binghe! His hero was in pain!!

“Just when I was about to start cooking, an emergency happens! Just the luck of a doctor!” Doctor Mu hurried to the cart followed by Coachman Harvey, who opened the door. “Now let’s see what’s the emerg- woah! Y-young Master Shen? Why are you here? Something’s the matter?” 

“I’m fine, Doctor. The one I want you to examine isn’t me.” 

Doctor Mu visibly relaxed. “Who is it then?”

Because the doctor’s stature was rather short he could not see Luo Binghe from under all those blankets Shen Jiu piled upon him. Shen Jiu pulled away the blankets and propped the still unconscious hero into a sitting pose. 

“Luo Binghe.” 

“Binghe? Ah, isn’t this the sullen brat from nun Mary’s orphanage?” Doctor Mu exclaimed surprised, before looking back at Shen Jiu with utter shock. “Seeing you two together, definitely a sight to see!”

Impatient, Shen Jiu waved at Coachman Harvey to help carry the hero inside the office. “Doctor, please look at Luo Binghe first! He has a fever and I suspect a magic excess syndrome.” 

“Oh my. Quickly bring him in!”

Inside the doctor’s office was painted white and smelled of herbs and different ointments. There was a fireplace crackling to the side giving out abundance of warmth, so the coachman went over there to warm his fingers while Shen Jiu hoovered behind Doctor Mu as he was examining the hero.

“This boy has wounds all over his arms and legs. He even has a cracked rib. Just what happened to him?”

And those injuries were the ones that the low-level healing potion couldn’t heal… to think there were even more to begin with...

Not knowing how to explain the situation without sounding like he was part of it, Shen Jiu lied, “We found him lying in a ditch next to the road by the pine forest.”

The doctor clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Poor brat, must have been jumped by some wild animal or a robber.”

After a couple more minutes of prodding and poking from the doctor, the diagnosis was out. “Young Master Shen’s hunch was indeed right. Our Binghe here suffers from magic excess sickness. With the way his magic veins are in disarray I would say it wasn’t the first time he had brusts but this one was definitely too big for his body to handle.” 

Shen Jiu gulped. “Is there a way to treat it?” 

Doctor Mu scratched his head looking sheepish. “Magic excess sickness is not something deadly, although it can be pretty darn painful. I’m sure Young Master Shen is already aware that only individuals with crazy magic potential can get magic excess problems. It’s basically their body’s way of handling the growing pains of their magic cores, the bigger the bursts the larger the core’s capacity will be. There’s no treatment existing for this, precisely because the children grow out of it as soon as their cores finish growing.”

Nodding, Shen Jiu furrowed his brows as he looked at Luo Binghe lying on the bed with a pale face. “I know all that. But is there no way to lessen the pain?” 

“There are some magic draining pills that eat up the excess magic so that the child doesn’t get immobilised or doesn’t collapse randomly on the streets.” Doctor Mu ran to his shelves and began looking through his jars and their labels. He fished out a small glass jar that was full of pea-sized white pills. 

“Ah! Here it is! He should take one every morning, preferably with breakfast otherwise it could have the side effect of a stomach ache. But since Binghe’s already like this, it would do him good to swallow one right now. That way he will feel better by the morning.” 

Shen Jiu immediately took the jar from the doctor’s hand and walked to Luo Binghe’s side. “Come, doctor. Help me make him swallow one.” 

Together they solved it. Doctor Mu helped the hero sit up while Shen Jiu parted Luo Binghe’s lips and pushed the pill into the back of his mouth then fed him some water. 

“That should do for now.” The doctor nodded to himself. “I have healed his wounds and mended his rib, but tell him to not jump around for a while! His body needs to rest! That’s not something magic can fix.”

“I know, I keep telling him that but he’s stupid and stubborn as a mule!” Shen Jiu aired some of his grievances, out of pure helplessness. But really, he’s been working himself to the bone while Luo Binghe blissfully ignores his lectures! Even the doctor said the same thing he has been trying to tell the hero for years now! 

When Shen Jiu turned towards the doctor to discuss payment he caught Doctor Mu having a strange expression on his face. It looked suspiciously close to a teasing smile. 

“....what is it?” immediately on defense, Shen Jiu raised his hackles like an angry cat. 

“Oh nothing, nothing! I was just thinking how our Young Master Shen really has changed a lot in the past few years.” 

Turning his nose into the air, Shen Jiu denied it. “Changed? Me? Nothing of the sort. Doctor Mu must be mistaken.”

“Oh definitely not mistaken!” Doctor Mu laughed, his cheeks reddening from delight. “Aren’t I right, Coachman Harvey?” 

Without any sympathy to Shen Jiu’s feelings the Coachman nodded along. “What Doctor Mu says is not wrong.” 

“Indeed! Our Young Master Shen definitely wouldn’t have helped a dirty brat lying on the side of the road if it were two years prior.” Doctor Mu waved a finger in the air. 

Shen Jiu could not refute them because it was the absolute truth. Even though he had gone through lots of subtle changes it was still pretty OOC for him to just pick up someone from the side of the road and give them a ride to the doctor’s. 

But it was about Luo Binghe! The hero was bleeding, feverish and immobilised by his own magic! In the middle of a dark forest nonetheless… no one would have found him otherwise…  It was really too pitiful, ah! How could he ignore his young hero in such peril?! 

Seeing Shen Jiu turning his head away and sulking, Doctor Mu decided to placate him. “It’s fine if Young Master Shen doesn’t view something as small as this as change! As long as you thrive for perfection, this old me will see heaven descending to this world!”

“What is Doctor Mu even saying...” Shen Jiu gave him a side-glance, not liking how he got cornered so easily.

“Just simple things! Like the future of our little village. I have been worried a bit in the past few years but now after witnessing this miracle personally, I don’t worry anymore!” Doctor Mu clapped his hands, feeling satisfied with himself. “If Young Master Shen is around, then I’m relieved.”

“Doctor Mu is overestimating me.” Shen Jiu was eager to get this talk to end. He did not exactly have much say-in the village’s maganging, and besides it was his elder brother Shen Yanzi who was set to inherit Esteban’s management and commerce later on.

Doctor Mu just smiled but tactfully did not say anything more. “Now then, let’s talk about money?”

“Yes. Please tell me the price for the pills and the examination too.” Shen Jiu reached into his inner pocket and pulled out his wallet.

“Those pills are pretty expensive, Young Master Shen. Are you sure you want to buy it for a brat like him?” Doctor Mu’s voice was laced with mirth, like he was watching a very good drama play.

“I already said I would.”

“Very well, it’s 5000 royal silver.”

Yeah, that was plenty expensive for a jar of pills. Most of the villagers would never be able to afford something like this, let alone the orphanage that struggled to keep every child fed! But it was still doable for someone like Shen Jiu, even though he had to reach far into his pockets. 

It was for the greater good! Luo Binghe needs to be in top notch condition so he can practice but he can’t do that if he gets knocked out by his own magic core!  

Shen Jiu only felt a little bit depressed when he handed over the rather large sum of money, but when he thought of Luo Binghe lying in the snow, trembling and unable to move his resolve strengthened.

Doctor Mu’s eyes widened like saucers, hands coming up and waving frantically. “H-hold up Young Master Shen! You just.. handed it over like that ?! Young Master, this old doctor was pulling your leg! This medicine costs but 1500 royal silver! I certainly can’t accept this much money!!”

Shen Jiu looked at the doctor like he was crazy. “It’s fine. Keep it. Put the excess to good use.”

It was money taken from taxes levied on the village anyways. And if there was something the Shen’s didn’t lack at all that was money.

Doctor Mu’s mouth hung open and stayed that way. Shen Jiu meanwhile instructed Coachman Harvey to carry Luo Binghe back to the carriage. 

“Goodbye then, Doctor! Thank you for hosting us outside of office hours.” Shen Jiu pulled himself straight and gave a small bow before boarding the carriage too. 

“Where to, Young Master?” Coachman asked, reins ready in his hands.

“Take us to the church, please.”

The Coachman smiled before turning forward to deal with the horses. Shen Jiu wondered why everyone was so smiley today when Luo Binghe clearly was having a terrible time. 

Looking at the hero lying on the carriage seat, Shen Jiu felt his worries resurfacing. Luo Binghe always carried himself with such seriousness, face hard and nearly as gloomy that he could easily pass off as an almost adult. But, sleeping like this, he looked like the 14 year old child he was supposed to be.

Lots of snow had fallen in the meantime so the carriage was running aground a lot of bumps in the road. Shen Jiu hastily sat next to Luo Binghe, placing the hero’s head in his lap. 

He can’t have the hero waking up with a red bump on his head! That would be so uncool! 

There was a groan coming from Luo Binghe, and Shen Jiu focused his attention on the hero. Luo Binghe was still sweating buckets, the furrow between his eyebrows a telltale sign of pain. Shen Jiu dutifully wiped the sweat off his face with his handkerchief, and murmured sweet nothings into the air but nothing seemed to work.

Luo Binghe still trembled from pain and fever, evidently suffering from discomfort and something much more desperate. Shen Jiu’s heart was like a locked up pigeon, wings fluttering helplessly in its cage but nothing could calm it down. 

If he could, he would take away all of Luo Binghe’s pain and make it his own, just so this poor child would stop being haunted by misery at every corner. Luo Binghe deserved to have a carefree childhood too, filled with love and the warmth of a home.

Shen Jiu’s free hand balled in silent anger. Goddess, you’re such a giant piece of crap!

“... -one…” the hero’s chapped mouth moved, before a cough forced its way through his throat. Shen Jiu jerked out of his thoughts to focus on Luo Binghe. 

“Binghe?”

Luo Binghe became restless, his fever dream probably taking a worse turn. Shen Jiu had to cling to him so the hero would not accidentally wrestle himself off the seat of the carriage. 

“ -one… someone …!” it seemed like Luo Binghe tried to call out for help, but all his sore throat could manage was raspy whispers. It broke Shen Jiu’s heart, and when Luo Binghe’s hand blindly reached out as if trying to grasp someone out of his reach Shen Jiu without thinking grabbed that hand. His small hand was immediately squeezed almost painfully tight but Shen Jiu had not paid it any mind.

“I’m here, Binghe. It’s all okay. You’re not alone,” Shen Jiu whispered to him. Even though Luo Binghe was still unconscious, it seemed to have calmed him as his struggling ceased. It seemed even his pain had ebbed away, if the smoothening of his furrowed brows and his pained groans easing into a relieved sigh was any giveaway.

The transmigrator desperately fought with his tears, his free hand petting Luo Binghe’s wild blond locks. “You and me… we are pretty alike aren’t we? We are both alone in this world. Whatever good and wholesome we have had, has been taken from us.”  

Luo Binghe did not reply. The hero seemed to have fallen into deep sleep as soon as the worst of his pains had let go of his body.

“But… you will never be alone for as long as I can help it, Binghe. Even when you grow up and become an undefeatable hero, I’ll stay by your side. Always helping from the shadows, and pushing you into the right direction,” Shen Jiu swore to Luo Binghe, as he held him close in the bumping carriage. It was a little oath he made, uncaring that the hero would never be aware of it. 

It was for Shen Jiu himself. In this world the only person he had was Luo Binghe. 

Who else would he consider family? The Shen’s? There was nothing even remotely warm or familial about those stuck-up rich bastards with each of them competing for the title of “who’s the biggest nutcase” in the entire family. 

The admirer trio? Those kids were just bootlickers, sticking to Shen Jiu because he was rich. Besides those three together shared a single brain cell, making Shen Jiu feel entirely too sober whenever he had to interact with them. 

Ning Yingying? She has never been anything but kind to Shen Jiu but they could only be called casual friends at most. It was not a deep bond that would make Shen Jiu think of her as family. 

His teachers? His sword tutor? Those people earned Shen Jiu’s respect but that was it. 

His classmates? Peers? Most of those kids were scared of him, never daring to approach him. And those who did only had ulterior motives since his second name was a Shen. There was nothing there to think twice about.

If he really put it in that light, then he himself has been pitifully alone too, hasn’t he? 

Shen Jiu watched Luo Binghe sleep on his lap, their hands tightly holding onto each other and felt something indescribable in the depths of his heart. But he did not have much time to mull on the feeling as the carriage rolled to a stop.

“We have arrived, Young Master!”

The Coachman lifted Luo Binghe out of the carriage and the three of them approached the church’s door. Upon knocking they did not need to wait for long when it was opened by an old lady whose hair was white all over.

Shen Jiu bowed his head. “Good evening Miss Mary. We apologize for disturbing you so late.” 

Nun Mary’s eyes widened when she saw who he was. Shen Jiu would be a liar if he said that look of fear from the kind old lady did not hurt him like an arrow to the heart. 

“Ah.. good evening to the gentlemen! Isn’t it Young Master Shen?” Nun Mary nervously held her old, wrinkled hands together. “What seems to be the problem?”

Her worry was not entirely unfounded, given how Shen Jiu’s father had made troubles for the church before. There were some terrible stories circling around, though Shen Jiu had no real  way to confirm how much of it was true. 

“No problem, Miss Mary. I found Luo Binghe collapsed on the ground by the road so I brought him back.” Shen Jiu motioned to Coachman Harvey who stood beside him with the unconscious hero in his hands.

Nun Mary immediately opened the door wide and gestured to them inside. “Please come in, come in! Ahh my dear boy! He collapsed?! I have been telling that boy to rest! He hasn’t looked well in the past few days...”

So Luo Binghe really went to school sick rather than sleeping it off! Hero, you’ll get an earful once you’re on your feet again! Just you wait! 

“Please bring him over here,” nun Mary called them over, and freed up space on the old sofa next to the fireplace. Shen Jiu jumped next to Coachman Harvey and helped him place Luo Binghe carefully on the furniture.

“Thank you for the help, Young Master Shen! Luo Binghe has never -” 

“Please don’t worry about it, Miss Mary. Luo Binghe is okay now. Doctor Mu examined him and gave him medicine.” Shrugging off the snow from his coat, Shen Jiu smiled. “Also please don’t be so formal with me, Miss Mary. Just call me Shen Jiu.” 

Nun Mary’s cheeks turned red like ripe apples. She was twisting the apron on her waist in a nervous jist. “How could this old me, call Young Master so familiarly? I wouldn’t dare!” 

“I insist.” Shen Jiu beseeched. “Please. We are all but the Goddess’ subjects here.”

“Well then, thank you for the help, young Shen Jiu! How could we ever repay you?” 

“There’s no need for repayment! It’s but a small act of kindness.” Shen Jiu waved his hands, before reaching into his pocket and giving the item to nun Mary. “Before I forget, this is medicine for Luo Binghe. Have him take one every morning with breakfast. It should help him with his magic excess sickness.”

Nun Mary smiled but then her hands hesitated to take the jar. “Young Master- this kind of medicine… we can’t afford it, I’m afraid. ” 

“I’m not asking you to pay. It’s already paid for, Miss Mary. All I’m asking is to make sure Luo Binghe takes it.” Shen Jiu was close to pleading. “If it helps, think of it as a donation to the church!” 

With such coaxing, nun Mary ultimately accepted the jar of medicine and nodded seriously. “Young Shen Jiu shouldn’t worry. This old nun will make sure young Luo Binghe will take his medicine on schedule!” 

“Thank you, Miss Mary.” Shen Jiu felt like the huge stone fell off his shoulders. “Err… Coachman Harvey, can you please help us take Luo Binghe to his room?” 

Nun Mary called one of the peeping kids over and instructed him to show the Coachman where Luo Binghe’s room was. Shen Jiu was about to follow when nun Mary asked him. “I’m sorry but... may I talk to you in private, young Shen Jiu?”

“Of course.” Shen Jiu felt flabbergasted but still followed after nun Mary, who stored the jar into one of the shelves and led them to a quiet corner of the church building. She looked comically serious for a lady her age.

“Thank you so so much for coming!” Nun Mary suddenly let go of all inhibitions and hugged Shen Jiu. The transmigrator froze, not expecting this move at all. 

“Err it’s nothing, Miss Mary. Uh… please don’t worry about it. Luo Binghe will be fine. He’s tougher than he seems.” Shen Jiu did not know whether to cry or laugh.

“No, no! Please, young Shen Jiu, you don’t need to keep up this pretense with this old lady! I know who you are!” She seemed full of spirits as she finally let him go. 

Shen Jiu blinked at her, feeling at a loss of what to do. What was she talking about? Everyone in the village knew who he was.

“You’re the heavenly servant the Goddess’ sent to Luo Binghe’s side,” nun Mary gushed like she was discussing popular romance novels with her fellow friends. 

Wait WHAT?!

The old lady went on, oblivious to the way Shen Jiu broke out in cold sweat. “The Goddess appeared in my dreams approximately two years ago, saying that she had placed a heavenly guide by our pitiful young Luo Binghe’s side. I still remember the dream as vividly as if it happened yesterday. Our Goddess told me one day you’ll show up here, kindness dripping from your fingertips and silver head filled with worry for that child.” 

Goddess what the absolute fuck?! Why wasn’t he informed of such crucial details? It would have made his life so much easier!    

“She said that?” Shen Jiu laughed for the lack of better ideas on how to react. He could not very well start screaming at this old little lady, now could he?

Nun Mary nodded, her brown eyes holding so much admiration and love. “You have no idea how happy and relieved your appearance has made me, heavenly servant! Young Luo Binghe, his poor head, has suffered already so much in his young life yet he still strives to take on more and more responsibilities yet he never has a word of complaints. He… he really is in a need of a friend, someone who could nurture and guide him the way this old me can’t.”

Shen Jiu gulped, and awkwardly patted the lady’s shoulder. “Luo Binghe will have me for as long as I live. Miss Mary doesn’t need to worry for him anymore. Also… please, there’s no need to call me a heavenly servant or anything of the like. Just call me by my name.” 

Nun Mary nodded, wiping away traces of tears from her face. “Thank you. Do not worry, your secret of borrowing young Shen Jiu’s image, will die with this old nun! Would you need any help or just the need to confide in someone, please know the church’s doors are always open!”

To have someone else in the village who knows of his secret mission felt like coming home and receiving a hug. If he had known sooner he would have come by the church earlier! 

Shen Jiu thought of Luo Binghe, then pursed his lips. “Actually, Miss Mary, I already have a request to make. The fact that I helped Luo Binghe get back today or the origin of the medicine please keep it all a secret from him. Tell the kids too to keep it a secret! Binghe must not know it was me!”

Nun Mary studied him for a beat longer than it was comfortable before smiling and nodding. “Alright. I’m sure you have your reasons for keeping yourself concealed from our Luo Binghe. This old me will definitely talk to the youngsters, Shen Jiu needn’t worry!”  

Sighing from relief, Shen Jiu bowed his head. “Thank you, Miss Mary! Now then, me and the Coachman must leave.” 

“Aw, already? It’s so cold outside, why don’t you stay for a hot cup of tea at least?” 

Coachman Harvey had returned and was waiting for them by the door. Shen Jiu decided why not, and accepted the invitation. 

“Thank you for the offer. We will stay for some tea.” He beckoned the Coachman to come over. “Come, Mr. Harvey! We got invited!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luo Binghe was back in school three days after the incident. Apparently all of his injuries had healed. Even his cracked rib meant no problem to him as he was participating in the sword wielding lesson without trouble. 

The protagonist halo was truly something else! Ordinary people took weeks to heal even with the magical healing properties available in this world, yet here was Luo Binghe walking around like nothing had happened.

That despicable upperclassman who hired those mercenaries, when he saw Luo Binghe walking around in school unschated, actually fainted. Shen Jiu smirked, enjoying the show immensely.

If he was being honest, he would have preferred some heavier punishment for that asshole but a concussion and a broken nose should do too for now. It was still better than him getting no repercussions at all.

Shen Jiu was in high spirits ever since he got to talk with nun Mary, and made her an ally in his mission. And he would have enjoyed this almost carefree atmosphere if it were not for a pair of ocean-blue eyes boring a hole into the back of his head all day long.

Luo Binghe was not even subtle about his staring. It left Shen Jiu feeling skittish. 

Hero, was there something on his head? A hair out of place?

When the last class rolled around, the special intermediate amulet making class, Shen Jiu was quick on his feet. This special class was held in a classroom in the other wing of the school building and the connecting corridor was completely empty save for Shen Jiu and Luo Binghe. 

Who happened to walk a step right behind the transmigrator, reminding Shen Jiu of a predator playing with its food. To say it was nerve-wracking was an understatement. It was terrifying! 

Binghe, please quit doing this horror movie-fitting following around! Walk beside him or don’t be so close! People need their personal space, ok? Or talk! Really, anything but this suspense!

“Hey!” Luo Binghe as if reading his thoughts called out to him and it took everything in Shen Jiu to not scream.

“Y-yeah?” Stuttering was really very not cool. Shen Jiu cursed at himself but his heart was still trying to jump out of his ribcage.

Luo Binghe finally stepped out of his shadow and next to him. “That- … three days ago, where were you?”

Shen Jiu immediately parroted his prepared answer. “What kind of question is that? It was snowing so heavily that day, of course I went home straight after school, like any normal person!”

He had come up with this answer in those three days Luo Binghe was missing from school. With nun Mary on his side, Luo Binghe had no way of knowing what happened on that day so Shen Jiu’s secret was safe.

If he just keeps repeating that he went straight home, then the hero will have to accept it as truth!

“Really?” Luo Binghe looked sceptical, openly staring at Shen Jiu as if it was a totally socially acceptable thing to do. 

Shen Jiu nodded, nose high in the air and was about to resume walking when his hand was suddenly grasped into a vice-like grip.

Ow! What? You can’t just keep grabbing people!” Shen Jiu raised his voice, trying to pull his hand back but could not even budge it.

Luo Binghe looked down at Shen Jiu’s hand, studying it like it was some treasure. “That day was like a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. Most of my memories are hazy, just blurry images and sounds. Like… like some lucid dream. But there was someone there, someone incredibly kind… they held my hand and told me ‘it’s all okay’ and that ‘you’re not alone.’”

What the hell?! Too OP! Why did this child have such a good memory?! Goddess, this is highly unfair!!

The hair on Shen Jiu’s nape stood up, cold sweat drenching his back immediately. “...yeah? What does it have to do with me?”

Luo Binghe finally looked up, staring into Shen Jiu’s eyes and with it, it felt like into his very soul. “That hand was very small, almost delicate, with thin fingers. Just like yours.” The young hero squeezed Shen Jiu’s hand just to make his point. 

The absolute fuck! How could he have remembered that?! 

Shen Jiu was beginning to panic, attempting to remove his hand from Luo Binghe’s hold once again but the hero did not let him go.

Quick! Say something smart!

“That… is just a coincidence! Many people have small hands with thin fingers! And besides you just said most of your memory is a blurry mess. Sometimes when you’re very sick or tired, you can have crazy realistic dreams but they’re still just that - dreams.”

Luo Binghe knocked his head to the side, curly blond locks fell into his eyes. “A realistic dream?”

“Yes. When you think something in your dream actually happened in real life, but in fact it was just your brain conjuring up weird images from fever,” Shen Jiu explained, hoping he could convince the young hero that his crazy good hunch was just a bunch of bullshit. “Anyways, what you saw in your dream has nothing to do with me. So please let me go. We will be late for class!”

However, Luo Binghe just shook his head. “I squeezed your hand hard. I was scared I have gone ahead and broke it.” 

This person! Dangerous! Evil scheming bastard! Too OP! Too terrifying! Goddess, Shen Jiu, is hereby demanding a refund! No one has told him that babysitting Luo Binghe was going to be this hard!

Back then, on that carriage Luo Binghe indeed squeezed his hands so hard Shen Jiu thought he would crack it in half. Thankfully Shen Jiu had come out of that hand-holding session with some swelling and redness - and besides, he had already healed that with healing talismans!

“That sounds pretty painful. A broken hand from daring to hold your hand? The me from your dreams sure is pitiful.” Shen Jiu meant his words to be sarcastic, so why was Luo Binghe’s lips curving down at the corners?

“Let go already, eh? Class will start soon…” Shen Jiu tested Luo Binghe’s hold again but still to no avail.

Instead, Luo Binghe pulled on his hand, involuntarily dragging Shen Jiu closer to him. Shen Jiu was forced to bear how the hero kept twisting and turning his hand looking at it from every angle.

“Ah! Here!” At last, the hero spoke again, looking triumphant.

“What? Where?”

“You have a scratch here.” Luo Binghe pointed at a tiny scratch mark on the inner side of Shen Jiu’s wrist. Then without further ado, he also rucked up Shen Jiu’s expensive shirt sleeve til his elbows as if getting it wrinkled did not matter at all.

Hey !” Shen Jiu tried to argue about dignity and social sensitivity but then he only could close his mouth as he saw some more scratch marks and bruises on his arm. Apparently he was not as thorough with healing himself as he had previously thought.

“Look!” Luo Binghe proudly showed them to Shen Jiu. “You have even more here.” 

Chewing on his lip, Shen Jiu raised his hackles like a cat. He seriously did not like being cornered at all!

“And so what if I have scratches? Can’t a boy have scratches?! Just because I’m thin like a girl doesn’t mean I’m a girl! I probably got these when I accidentally brushed against a tree!” 

“...a tree?”

“Yes! In my garden.” 

Luo Binghe looked like he wasn’t believing a single word. “In your garden?” 

“That’s right! The Shen Mansion has a spacious garden with lots of trees and bushes. I do morning jogging there, or is that also not allowed?” 

“I see.” It seemed like although Luo Binghe still did not believe him, he was forced to drop the subject. After all he could not have any other evidence, only his blurry memories!

Just when Shen Jiu was beginning to get happy that this conversation was over, the hero asked. “Are these painful?”

Why, are you going to use your hard-earned healing talisman on him again? Hero, you need that for yourself!

“Not at all! These are just some small scratches and bruises, anyways. A lick could heal them!” 

Luo Binghe blinked at him, face blank and Shen Jiu blinked back. Then to the transmigrator’s utter horror the hero lifted Shen Jiu’s hand to his face and licked a scratch mark! 

…..what?

Shen Jiu’s mind blanked completely, the shock too big for him to comprehend. Did Luo Binghe, the future hero of the world, the slayer of the Demon King, and the strongest magician who had ever lived, lick him?!

Luo Binghe was watching him, those blue eyes narrowing in a poorly concealed mirth as he went ahead and licked at Shen Jiu’s hand again. It was warm and wet, Luo Binghe’s exhale bringing forth goosebumps on the back of his hands. 

He was… being teased! This rascal! 

Finally Shen Jiu erupted, “Yah!” 

Luo Binghe did not seem perturbed at being yelled at. “You said a lick can heal them. I’m helping you heal it.” 

Shen Jiu was so embarrassed and flustered, he could not bear it. “Are you an idiot?! How could licking actually heal anything? That was an expression! An expression!”

Luo Binghe leaned in close, that gorgeous face came right next to Shen Jiu’s. The transmigrator hated how his heart wanted to jump out of his chest again, but was quick to blame it on his anger and surprise. If Luo Binghe did not lick him, this would not have happened! 

“You’re blushing.”

Luo Binghe! Give him some face! Everyone would blush if you got all close and up into their faces! You’re the future hero! The most beautiful man in this world!

“Shut up! And let me go already!” Shen Jiu tried to jerk his hand out of Luo Binghe’s hold but holy shit, the hero was too strong! 

Luo Binghe did not reply to him, only his lips rose into a grin slowly. He seemed to be having fun, looking truly like a cat that just got cream. 

He was being teased! Played with! Hero, this is no proper conduct! 

In a moment of righteous anger, Shen Jiu kicked Luo Binghe in the shin. 

“Ow!” 

As Luo Binghe got distracted Shen Jiu finally pulled his hand free of the protagonist’s hold, and hugged both his arms to his chest. “You deserved that! Idiot! Pervert! A walking hazard with zero common sense! Who the heck goes around licking people?! We are both going to be late because of you!”

With that Shen Jiu dashed off down the corridor and did not stop until he got to the classroom. His cheeks stayed red like apples, indignance and sheer embarrassment fueling the trembling fire in his gut. 

What the hell happened to Luo Binghe? He just … licked him so casually! Such harassment!

Who does something like that? What kind of public play was that? Definitely dismissed! Rejected! Kicked in the shin for it! 

And why be so fixated on Shen Jiu? There were plenty of girls to flirt with! The number of ladies who were nursing a crush on Luo Binghe was ever slowly increasing! 

Did Shen Jiu somehow, accidentally take over a pretty flower’s role here? Was there even such a scene in the starting village arc where Luo Binghe licked a girl’s arm??  

Shen Jiu tried to imagine the scenario, his young hero with a blushing girl and shivered with disgust. Blocked! Deleted! Ignored!

Shen Jiu refused to believe the hero has such questionable tastes! 

Slumping into his front-row seat, exhausted and thoughts in disarray, Shen Jiu got zero things memorised during class that day. 

 

 

 

 ❖

 

 

 

Three years had passed since Shen Yuan had transmigrated into this world, and became Shen Jiu. Three long years of hard work laced with tears, sweat and stress, and unnecessary exercise for his tiny little heart.

He had turned 16. His birthday consisted of his father pushing even more money into his hand before going back to work and then the rest of the day was spent hiding from Shen Yanzi whose perverse behaviour was getting more and more out of hand.

Shen Jiu, however, had gotten really really good at evading that disgusting eel - not without the help of Mr. Smith the butler though. Not that Shen Jiu had spent a lot of time in the Shen Mansion if he could help it.

He constantly made himself programs outside that depressing house - stayed overtime at the school with the pretense of studying, visited the bookstore slash library almost daily, stopped by the Ning’s bakery and chatted with Ning Yingying who was helping out her parents, and last but not least, he begun frequenting the church. 

Ever since he had that talk with nun Mary, he was happy to trot over to the church and just chat with her and took time to pray to the Goddess. Well, that’s what he called it but in reality he was just raining complaints and criticism at her at every chance he got. 

The kids, however, were a whole new challenge. Especially at the beginning, since most of them were rather scared of him at first, so Shen Jiu took up the habit of bringing pastries with him - cream puffs, muffins filled with jam, apple pies, and croissants with chocolate filling.

In no time, he had the whole horde of children in his palm. The children living in the orphanage began looking forward to his visits with enthusiasm, always running to hug him and tug at his sleeves. 

“Shewn Jiu! Shewn Jiu!” they would call him and laugh adorably when Shen Jiu patted their heads. 

He looked at them crowding in around him with big-big eyes and dirt smeared cheeks. “Have you guys been good?”

“Yes! Helpwed mother Mawy clean windows!” 

“Me too! I pulled weeds from our vegetable garden!”

Shen Jiu knocked an eyebrow, smiling. “Woah! That’s very impressive, yes. You have also kept me coming here a secret from Luo Binghe right?”

“Yes!”

“Didn’t tell brother Binghe!” A child pretended to zip his lips closed. 

Again another nodded earnesty. “Sewcret, we kept swecret from brother Bwinghe!” 

 

It was sort of fascinating how much children loved play-pretend and secret games. But it helped Shen Jiu out big time so he was not complaining. After all, he could not just come over to the church anytime he wanted - chance encounters with the hero had reached kingdom-devastating levels in the recent months. 

That licking incident really left a deep scar...

So he had Luo Binghe’s part-time jobs’ schedule memorised and came over whenever the hero was surely away working. Even though this hide and seek was a bit tiring in the long run, Shen Jiu still felt better being at the church than at the Shen Mansion. 

Partly because he had Miss Mary at the church who knew of his mission in this world, but also partly because Miss Mary cleaned out an old unused room and gifted it to Shen Jiu to use as he deemed fit. So Shen Jiu reformed that room into his personal research center, and stored all his notes, prototypes and already finished amulets in there.

That room was a real blessing! Back at the Shen mansion Shen Jiu constantly had to hide his notes and amulets since the maids had access to the master keys to every room in the mansion so no place was completely secure.

No privacy whatsoever! And let’s not mention that earth worm by the name of Yanzi! 

In contrast, Shen Jiu felt safe at the church. Even if he was hiding from Luo Binghe at every chance he got, however, this type of hiding from the hero was completely different from hiding from his elder brother. Because, ultimately Shen Jiu was not afraid of Luo Binghe, but rather their joint stupid braincell that emerged whenever they were in each other’s presence.

For this reason he made a deal with the kids; keep his visits a secret from Luo Binghe and Shen Jiu would bring them sweets. If they tell in on him, no more sweets! And for orphans who usually had to eat whatever happened to be the cheapest foodstuff at the market, sweet pastries were gifts from heaven! 

Of course they diligently kept everything a secret! Shen Jiu really was very satisfied with their performance! He should make sure to bring some more cookies next time. These kids are very obedient.

When Saturday came, Shen Jiu packed up into his little luggage that rolled on small wheels and told the butler that he would be going over to the library to study. Mr Smith nodded, already turning away to instruct the maids to start doing the big cleaning of Shen Jiu’s room because he knew that the Second Young Master had been spending his weekends away from the mansion. 

The mornings in the village were serene and quiet, the streets almost could be called deserted. But that was not unusual, most of these families living here were farmers so they were out tending to their fields since the first ray of sunshine.

Luo Binghe was at the Williams ranch again today, helping out the elderly couple with whatever there was to do. Shen Jiu heard the young hero did a variety of things over there, such as herding cows or plowing the fields with Mr Williams. 

It was a perfect day for farming on top of it, not too hot, not too cold. Shen Jiu was in high spirits even though he felt tired to the bones as he was walking towards the church. 

How could he not be happy? Yesterday night he stayed up until late because he finally managed to draw his very first intermediate level demon-warding amulet! He was going to test it out today at the church, with the tiny mouse demon he caught a few days ago during his walk across the fields.

These little rascals were too tiny and too weak to be able to cause harm to humans, but they still could create substantial damage to the fields with their excessive gobbling habits. Shen Jiu did not have a speck of sympathy for its tiny cries as he smugly closed the demon into the iron cage.

Woah… 

Out of the blue Shen Jiu stumbled, almost losing his balance. Even his vision grew blurry for a second there. 

Blinking his eyes, Shen Jiu assessed himself. Besides the exhaustion from keeping up so late yesterday night he felt no other indicators for problems. Maybe he was a bit dehydrated? He would need to ask for a cup of cold water from Miss Mary as soon as he got to the church. 

And he probably should take a nap for an hour or two. He had worked hard and made a breakthrough, he deserved some rest!

Shaking his shoulders to get rid of his sleepiness, Shen Jiu resumed walking. He did not forget to stop by the Ning’s bakery and placed his usual order for the sweets takeout with an extra six pieces of their newest specialty; sugar glazed donuts. 

Guiltily Shen Jiu had to admit those were his favorite as of late. They were his little guilty pleasure, but sugar helped him power through his days. It was like a coffee replacement, because this world seemed to lack coffee beans entirely? 

Shen Jiu had done his research on that topic, after all. But sadly, the airhead Goddess did not think it was important to add coffee beans into this world. Truly audacious!

Nun Mary greeted him with a warm smile when he stepped through the door. “Ah, young Shen Jiu! Just in time! I just placed the kettle over the fire. Brunch tea and sandwiches are almost ready.” 

Shen Jiu smiled and raised the carefully wrapped package in his hands. “And I brought the cookies to go with the tea!” 

“Oh my! You are so sweet to us. But you know you don’t have to bring things every time you come over, right?” Miss Mary accepted the takeout package from Shen Jiu. 

“Nonsense!” Shen Jiu waved away the concern. “The kids love it! And besides these are all things I love to eat, so I’m being selfish here too.” 

Nun Mary laughed to her heart’s content. “Is that so? Very well, this old lady will keep young Shen Jiu’s sugar addiction a secret."

“Miss Mary!

“Aye, aye!" The old lady giggled. "I won’t hold you up any more. Go up to your room and relax. You look tired, after all. Was school hard on you this week?”  

Shen Jiu shrugged. “Not any harder than normal.” 

Nun Mary sighed. “Take good care of your body, young Shen Jiu. If something were to happen to you, we all would be very worried.”

Shen Jiu could not shake off the feeling of deja vu. As if he had seen this happen before just not to him, but a certain stubborn blond-head. 

"Don't worry Miss Mary. Also please tell the kids not to be worried either! I'm not some puny thing to be knocked out so easily."

Nun Mary smiled but shook her head. "We wouldn't be the only one worried, you know?" 

"What do you mean?" Shen Jiu furrowed his brows.

"Young Luo Binghe cares about you, too. He's a stubborn child but he still asks about you, if we have heard of you, every single evening when he gets home." 

Shen Jiu did not know what to say to that, too busy focusing on his suddenly faint heart and the heat on the crown of his cheeks.

Luo Binghe did that? But… why would he? For someone like Shen Jiu?

Nun Mary left him at that, going back to the kitchen to finish brewing the tea and other preparations.

Snapping out of his stupor Shen Jiu moved towards the staircase to go up where his room was. It caught him off guard when his vision blurred again, his balance skewed. 

If he were not holding the railing he would have toppled backwards and down the stairs. Shaking his head until his eyesight cleared Shen Jiu furrowed his brows. 

What was happening to him? Was he really this exhausted?? 

But previously, during these three years he had been exhausted plenty of times, even pulled all-nighters yet he never had problems with dizziness. And it could not be that he was low on blood sugar either because that was basically what his diet contained in the last few days - sugar sugar sugar. 

Could a person get dizzy from eating too much sugar? 

It sounded ridiculous but then again, if he thought about how this world was created by that certain infamous Goddess then maybe it was not so ridiculous anymore. 

Reaching his room, Shen Jiu placed his hand on the doorknob. He has changed the lock on the old door to a magic infused one, which opened solely to him. All he needed to do was to release a tiny amount of his magic into the lock and it would open effortlessly. 

However, what he was not expecting was that as soon as he infused a bit of magic into the lock his whole world blackened.

The next time he came about was a few minutes later, to an aching head and a frantic voice calling his name.

"Shen Jiu? What's wrong? Why are you here..? Hey, get a hold of yourself!" 

He was lying on the floor, haphazardly like someone had thrown him down like a used sock.

He actually fainted… Great. Was he suffering from some kind of illness?  

Shen Jiu never had a strong magical core, and just yesterday he exerted a lot of his magic and energy into finishing that intermediate level amulet.

Could it be… he was suffering from something magic related?

“Shen Jiu?” there came that voice again, laced with worry and urgency. For some reason it was awfully familiar so Shen Jiu exerted energy to blink his eyes open to look at the caller’s face.

Blinking a few times, his blurry vision slowly cleared and he was greeted with the protagonist’s gorgeous face a few centimetres away from his face. 

Ahhh!” Shen Jiu’s eyes widened and in his surprise his fight or flight response kicked in - he attempted to jerk away only to hit his head into the open door of his room. “ Ouch! Fuck, ow ow ow!

Luo Binghe seemed surprised by this reaction, reaching out a hand to steady Shen Jiu. “Woah, hold up! Slow down, you just woke up.”

Shen Jiu wheezed, desperately looking around the floor and his surroundings. He was still in church, the sun was still high in the sky which meant Luo Binghe was supposed to be at work. 

So why was the young hero here kneeling in front of him?!  

“...why!”

“Why what?” Luo Binghe studied him with furrowed eyebrows. 

Shen Jiu gulped, hugging his trembling hands to his body. For some reason he could not stop shaking, like someone who just ran a marathon and was devoid of energy.

“Why are you here?” Shen Jiu accused, but because he felt so-so exhausted his indignance did not translate through at all.

Luo Binghe made a funny face. “This is the church building. I live here, A-Jiu.” 

A-Jiu? A-Jiu ?! Hero, who are you calling so familiarly?! 

Shen Jiu felt like he might just hypervelate. How could he be so unlucky to up and faint just like that? Out of all the days when Luo Binghe came home earlier from work!

“Rather, what are you doing here? You look so sick too... you should go to Doctor Mu’s -” 

Shen Jiu summoned all his energy and pushed the hero’s hand away. “No! Not going! I’m fine.” 

“Are you sure? You don’t look fine.”

“I’ll be fine. I just need to… sleep it off,” Shen Jiu stubbornly argued scooting back against the wall and as far away from the blond-head as possible. “And you- you didn’t answer my question!”

Huffing, the hero’s lips curled into an exasperated mirthful smile. “What didn’t I answer?”

That smile was heart-stoppingly handsome. It fascinated Shen Jiu more than it usually did, but maybe it was his muddy head and his unriddled heart that was beating way too wildly in his ribcage. “Why are you here? You’re supposed to be at work!” 

“Ah! That… there was an accident at the ranch. Mr Williams fell off the ladder. I saved him but I broke my arm.” As if to prove himself, he twisted his upper body to show the bandaged right hand that was tucked in a shawl hanging from his neck. 

Huh?!

Shen Jiu sat up straighter, almost head-butting the hero in the process. “You broke your arm?!” 

Luo Binghe shrugged. “Mr Williams is okay so I’m happy. He told me to go to the doctor’s and take time off work until I heal. So I am here.”

Shen Jiu did not know whether he should get angry or start crying. The fact that Luo Binghe did not seem even remotely unhappy by this inconvenience, instead explicitly expressed how he’s relieved the old man at the ranch was okay! How could he have such a sweet, selfless and unbridled heart?

Luo Binghe, you should prioritize yourself more! This way, the one suffering again, is you!

“The bone fractured?” Shen Jiu eyed the arm that was thoroughly bandaged and then rushed to crawl over to his bag that laid somewhere on the floor next to him. “Hold on! I have a high-level healing talisman! I’ll give it to you. Unfortunately it’s not strong enough to mend bones, that would require a purpose specific talisman but this could still take away the pain and help with the healing process!”

Luo Binghe was watching him in silence, up until the point where Shen Jiu thrust the high-level healing talisman towards him. “This is not necessary. Doctor Mu has already set the bone, and gave me healing-enhancers and pain killers. My arms should heal fairly fast if I rest properly.” 

Shen Jiu felt his mood sour even more. Luo Binghe did not accept the talisman from him. Here he was, trying his best to help the protagonist, to nurture and take away his burden only to be turned down!

Was this what it felt like to confess to your crush and get rejected? It sucked balls...

Luo Binghe’s next question threw him off guard. “Shouldn’t you use it for yourself?”

“Huh?”

“That healing talisman. You should use it on yourself.” 

Shen Jiu shook his head. He could not be a stuck-up jerk like that! It would be too selfish of him to use this high-quality item for just a bit of headache and dizziness! He brought it for quite the amount of royal silver, precisely for his forever-injured hero! 

“No, I don’t need it.” 

“Really? Because you’re very pale.” Abruptly Luo Binghe placed his big, kind hand onto Shen Jiu’s forehead. It felt so warm, Shen Jiu had to physically stop himself from sighing. 

“Your hand is warm.” 

Luo Binghe’s frown returned. “It’s you whose temperature is too low. You really should go to Doctor Mu. Come, I’ll take you there- ”

Shaking his head, Shen Jiu felt like a whining little child. “No, I don’t want to. Not going.”  

Uninjured hand curled into a fist in silence, Luo Binghe offered, “Then, I will take you back home.”

Shen Jiu groaned from even the thought of going back to the Shen Mansion and having to explain his situation. He would sure be forced to go to the doctors and then contained in his rooms. Then he would get absolutely no work done that weekend and also would have no way of avoiding that pervert Shen Yanzi either.

“I don’t want to! Don’t want to go back there. I’ll just… rest here.”

Sighing, Luo Binghe finally relented. “Okay. Stay put, then. You need to sleep it off. Here let me help -”

Shen Jiu waved away Luo Binghe’s hand to help him stand, as he wrestled himself onto his feet with great difficulty using the wall as his leverage. “Yes, yes I’ll relax. You too, go back to your room and relax too! You broke your hand after all.”

Luo Binghe’s eyebrows furrowed, lips setting in a thin line. “I’m not leaving you alone. My injury has already been treated but you are still unattended.” 

The transmigrator really wanted to start crying. Hero, please just go! It’s already bad you caught him sprawled on the floor like bird poop! How undignified! How embarrassing! 

“... and because when I had fallen back then in that forest, you came to help me,” Luo Binghe mumbled the rest but Shen Jiu still heard him. 

“That’s not -” Shen Jiu tried to lie that instance had nothing to do with him, but then his head grew heavy and vision hazy dangerously fast. He felt himself stumble, and tried to grab onto something but his limbs were not listening to his commands. 

It was like his entire body was submerged in cold water, his muscles grew stiff. Shen Jiu finally understood what his problem was.

Magic deficiency! He had a fucking magic deficiency! Seriously, Goddess??

Luo Binghe caught him even with one hand rather effortlessly. It would have been embarrassing how easily Shen Jiu gave up struggling and leaned against the hero, but the other option was to make an intimate friend of the floor again which was even more embarrassing. And Luo Binghe was very nice and warm against Shen Jiu’s chill-haunted body. 

The hero helped Shen Jiu into the room, supported him onto the small mattress in the corner. Shen Jiu placed it there when he was enthusiastically rearranging the room with the reason so that he would have a place to put his head for the night if for any reason the Shen mansion would grow unsafe.

Luo Binghe did not comment on the lack of a bed frame nor the haphazard way the notes and amulet ingredients were scattered on the desk and even underneath it. Instead, Shen Jiu felt the mattress dip beside him as the hero crowded in on him again. 

Really, Luo Binghe should know the concept of personal space! Right? 

“You don’t have a fever, but instead you feel cold.” Luo Binghe took his hand away from Shen Jiu’s forehead. “I also can’t sense any magic in your body. Are you suffering from magic deficiency?”

As expected of the hero! So quick witted! 

Sighing, Shen Jiu looked at him. “Now you know why that healing amulet won’t help.” 

Luo Binghe looked positively sullen, eyebrows furrowed as he watched Shen Jiu. Those blue eyes, always watching as if he was scared that if he looked away Shen Jiu would disappear. 

Ridiculous.

“Go back to your room, Binghe.” Shen Jiu attempted to send him away one last time. He felt like he would lose consciousness soon anyways, but Luo Binghe did not indicate he was about to leave.

“What if I give you magic? Like we learned in class,” Luo Binghe suggested, but did not wait for Shen Jiu’s reply and already took his hand into his, pushing the sleeve out of the way to touch Shen Jiu’s skin with his fingertips. 

Magic transfer in theory sounded very cool and handy. However, in reality it was much trickier. The magic transfer was going to be successful only if the two parties had compatible magic types, and even then many other variables had to be ticked off such as the transfer type or the pace of the flow.

If someone’s body repelled the person who was sending them magic, a kick-back would happen for both people leaving them both weakened and in need of assistance. Thinking how Luo Binghe was also injured it was obvious to Shen Jiu that this idea was stupidly dangerous.  

“You’re also injured, you idiot! If we repel each other it would be bad… so just, let me rest this out ok?” Shen Jiu tried to pull his hand away but Luo Binghe did not release him. “That high-level talisman, I think I dropped it earlier but it’s yours okay? Go use it and get better soon. You know I’m rich, I have a lot back at the Shen Mansion.”  

Luo Binghe was looking at him with an unreadable expression, those gem-like eyes deep with determination and something else. Shen Jiu’s hand was squeezed. “Trust me, A-Jiu.” 

“Ah?”

Where their skin was touching, a low and comfortable heat began pooling into Shen Jiu’s magic veins. The transmigrator’s eyes widened.

Luo Binghe went ahead and did it…

“Does it hurt?” the hero asked, watching him like a hawk. Shen Jiu shook his head, too shocked to answer with words.

“Anywhere uncomfortable? You have to immediately tell me!” 

Shen Jiu replied a little dazed. “No, it isn’t uncomfortable… but, what are you doing?” 

Ignoring his question, Luo Binghe asked once more, “So it doesn’t hurt?”   

“No?”

Sighing relieved, Luo Binghe smiled. “Good. That’s good. But this way, just as the teacher said, is way too slow to transfer enough and in time. You’re all frozen already, and cold to the touch.” 

Shen Jiu tried to glare at him but the warmth that was gradually warming up his arm made him rather limp.

Don’t even think about it!  

“One of the fastest methods to transfer magic is through the mucous membranes,” Luo Binghe proudly recited the lesson while Shen Jiu gulped.

The hero wouldn’t with him, would he?

The magic transfer through the mucous membranes was basically the CPR of this world just without the chest presses. Meaning that it involved mouths meeting and saliva being exchanged - basically a french kiss in disguise. And of course, that alone was not enough because the Goddess had to go ahead and add another detail to this lovely activity. This method of magic transferring was supposedly accompanied by a pleasurable feeling, almost like consuming a low- to a middle-level strong aphrodisiac.

Shen Jiu, however, did not have much time to dwell on it as Luo Binghe let go of his hand and touched his chin, turning his face towards the hero. Panicking, the transmigrator wanted to push Luo Binghe away but all he had energy for was to raise his hand and grip the hero’s shirt. 

“Wait -” 

Luo Binghe leaned in and their lips met. Shen Jiu dared not to move, eyes wide open and jaw tense. But nothing else happened, only a soft and innocent press of lips together. And soon enough, Shen Jiu felt a warmth trickling into his mouth and down his throat - a sensation similar to drinking warm tea only he did not actually need to gulp down anything physical.  

As soon as it started Luo Binghe pulled away, eyes twinkling with delight and naught, lips curling up into a grin. “Seems like we’re compatible.”

Being looked at with that expression, that pure happiness and something more dirty and borderline carnal left Shen Jiu’s cheeks heating up like a furnace. In an attempt to hide he lowered his gaze just so he doesn’t have to look into Luo Binghe’s gorgeous eyes. 

“Air and fire mix well. Air can enhance fire, while fire can regulate the quality of air.” 

Luo Binghe’s voice turned deeper, like a mixture of a cat’s purr and the rumble of earth. “You knew my magic type?”

“Someone with such brute fighting style, of course you can only be a fire-type!” Shen Jiu barked an elusive answer, wanting to run away, to scoot back, to push Luo Binghe away but he realised he also did not want to separate from that warmth. “A-anyways I’m fine now, so you can go - mfph!”

Luo Binghe pressed another kiss onto Shen Jiu’s lips, this time more boldly although with an equal lack of finesse. When a warm tongue pried Shen Jiu’s lips apart and pushed inside Shen Jiu made a sound in his throat, questioning and a little helpless. 

Then the magic flow came and this time around it was like a large burst, unrestrained and like a wild river washing over Shen Jiu’s body.

The transmigrator whimpered, going lightheaded from the feeling. It was similar to when someone’s hands got chilled through during winter and then it was placed into warm water immediately - it was partly painful but also partly very comforting. A sensation where these two constantly alternated in intensity, leaving Shen Jiu completely powerless to resist it. 

It really did feel very good. Intoxicating.

Luo Binghe knew nothing of how to kiss though. He was biting Shen Jiu’s lips wherever he could reach and used his tongue too much but the magic transfer was nice, too nice to stop. 

Shen Jiu’s magic-deprived body gobbled it up all, lips opening wider on their own accord trying to get more and more. He was trembling from it all, feeling the heat flow through his entire body until the tip of his toes and fingertips before coming back to pool in his belly. Not unlike the sensation of arousal.

“Hmm...” The noises he was making were embarrassing.  

However, Luo Binghe seemed to be in the same boat as he made a sound too, similar to a low moan. Shen Jiu was sort of mortified how he found it hot, just like how Luo Binghe's growing body was pressing him against the wall, so firm and so attractive. 

No, no, no! Bad thoughts! The hero was off limits! Absolutely not a romantic option for someone like him!

At long last, when Shen Jiu was warmed through to the point of sweat drops forming on his skin, the hero finally pulled back. Luo Binghe’s cheeks were reddened too, but there was something very smug about him when Shen Jiu could not support himself and fell forward into his embrace. 

Well, fuck… 

Luo Binghe hugged him around the waist with his left hand and hummed. He did not appear annoyed with having to assist Shen Jiu at all. “Hm, I thought the magic transfer went well. So why are you still so stiff?” 

Shen Jiu slowly replied as his muscles gradually started working again. “You… gave me.. too much magic, you idiot!”

“Huh? Seems like I did. I’m sorry. Adjusting the flow sure is hard.” 

“You suck at this!” Shen Jiu grumbled and puffed around like a relentless child. “My core isn’t as… strong as yours. Too much inflow… makes a person’s -”

“- body rigid and muscles stiff,” Luo Binghe finished it for him. “I have learned my lesson now. Next time I’ll be more careful.” 

N-next time?!

“You… absolute fool… there’s no need for a… a next time!” Shen Jiu finally regained enough control over his muscles to push himself out of Luo Binghe’s hold and sit on his own. 

Contrary to what he was expecting to see on Luo Binghe’s face, he was not ready to see the soft afterglow of their make out looking so radiant on the hero. Lips reddened and shiny from spit, eyes narrowing in mirth and eyes so cool yet they set Shen Jiu’s skin on fire wherever they looked.

“I’m glad you’re okay now, A-Jiu.” 

Shen Jiu’s mouth that opened to spit some bullshit, shut closed soundlessly. Luo Binghe that was totally unfair! How could he stay angry when Luo Binghe just sacrificed himself to help him out? Even his indignance at losing his first kiss like that, evaporated into thin air!

Luo Binghe smiled at him, taking his hand in his. The action careful and beseeching. “I’m no good. I usually mess things up and make people angry. I’m not good with them- people I mean. And usually I don’t care what others think of me, but- … for some reason I care about what you do.”

Shen Jiu sat there completely unmoving, even forgetting to breathe. He did not know what to do with this intimate atmosphere, sitting on their shoulders like a blanket. It felt too much like a confession and Shen Jiu who was still restless down there from the magic transfer prior, did not know if he could handle a love confession right now.

“I’d resent it if you hate me for this. So… please forgive me for this misstep.” Luo Binghe sought out his eyes, and held it.  

Oh... so the hero was trying to apologise. He sure as hell, misunderstood it for a second back there. Luo Binghe, please forgive this old, stupid fool!

Turning his head away, Shen Jiu huffed. “So you know how to apologize, you brute. But hear me out, that was my first kiss ! You took it just like that! I’m no longer pure, so how am I going to be able to marry now?” 

“I will take responsibility,” Luo Binghe answered very seriously. 

Shen Jiu chuckled. Even the hero found kissing a guy atrocious and embarrassing right? Especially since said guy was his biggest rival, heh. “Oh? So you agree to never ever talk about this? Until death claims us both?”

Luo Binghe furrowed his brow, a rebellious unwillingness radiating off him in bounds and waves. “That - if that’s what you want.”

Did he hate it that much? Then why do it, hero?! 

Shen Jiu gulped and pursed his lips. He really wanted to cry, but also he felt very boneless after all this excitement. “That’s exactly what I want. As long as you understand then it’s good. Of course, I also will keep this a secret.” 

Luo Binghe nodded. “Okay.” 

“Now then, get out of my room. I seriously need some sleep.” 

The hero looked like he was about to argue but then looking at Shen Jiu’s tired face, he obediently stood up and left the room. “Worry not. I’ll respect your decision. Rest well.” 

Shen Jiu’s last thought before sleep claimed him was, what a good child Luo Binghe can be if he wants to!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rest of the weekend went by without any hiccups after that kissing incident. Shen Jiu slept through most of it, to be honest. However, the one checking on him and bringing him food and drinks was Miss Mary. Luo Binghe did not come to visit him at all. 

It was both a relief and a cause for bafflement. For one, because Shen Jiu had the peace and quiet to focus on getting enough rest, and to find his face again after it had fallen off and shattered when Luo Binghe basically tongue-fucked his throat.

On the other hand, it was confusing to not see even a glimpse of that blond head of hair anywhere in church. Unable to hold in his curiosity, Shen Jiu asked nun Mary where Luo Binghe was and turned out that stupid stubborn mule of a boy had actually gone back to work right the next day after breaking his arm!

Shen Jiu wanted to flip. Luo Binghe was so attentive and selfless when it came to helping others, yet when it was time to take care of himself he simply did not seem capable of doing so! 

Hero, you are going to get your ass kicked! Just you wait!

Miss Mary shared his sentiments and they lamented together over Luo Binghe and his questionable self-care practices. 

The weekend went by fast, and when Monday came and class rolled around, Shen Jiu saw Luo Binghe again. The young hero was not even wearing a cast anymore, only some gauze wrapped around his forearm. 

That fact, in itself, made Shen Jiu’s eyes bulge from their sockets. 

It was one thing to have OP healing abilities, but still, cautiousness is a virtue, Luo Binghe! What if the bone didn’t heal completely yet, shifts and it mends in the wrong way!

But what really shocked him was how, as soon as Luo Binghe spotted him, he walked right over in front of everyone! Shen Jiu would have stepped backwards if he was not already leaning against the table. 

“Hey.” 

Shen Jiu glanced around and for sure, everyone actually quieted down and openly stared at them. Even the admirer trio was watching them with hanging jaws. 

What was Luo Binghe playing at?

“...hey?” Shen Jiu could not ignore Luo Binghe, no matter how much he wanted to at that very moment. 

“Are you feeling better now?”  

“What do you mean? I always feel good. It would be hard to feel poor in a custom-made Anding suit.” Shen Jiu replied like an irritating brat. His lackeys giggled in the background. 

Luo Binghe looked at him with an expression of disapproval and exasperation. “If you don’t want to answer then don’t answer. It’s nice to see you looking all better though.” 

The taste in Shen Jiu’s mouth turned bitter. He really did not want to be an asshole, but Luo Binghe approached him in public like this! Shen Jiu had a reputation to uphold! 

“It’s nice being better… thanks to you,” the last part was whispered into the air between them. No matter how big of a pompous sassy little shit Shen Jiu was, he still gave his thanks whenever it was due. And Luo Binghe really did help him out back then, even though the method used was something Shen Jiu still gets haunted flashbacks to. 

Luo Binghe heard him loud and clear, as his lips suddenly curled up into a teasing smile. Shen Jiu could not help but want to wipe it off his face. That was Shen Jiu’s own trademark thing! Hero, stop stealing his methods!

Leaning in close, until Shen Jiu could feel the warm breath on his cheek, Luo Binghe whispered, “Come find me if you ever need more magic.”  

Then with a lopsided grin Luo Binghe turned away and walked to his own table. Shen Jiu stared after him for a second longer than a heartbeat before erupting. “As if!” 

Luo Binghe only laughed.

“Young Master Jiu, what was that about?” Noah shuffled closer after Luo Binghe left. 

The other two nodded their assent to curiosity. “Why was that urchin so casual with Young Master Shen?!”

“Is he blackmailing you? Need us to teach him a lesson?” the Aaron-Alex guy jumped to the opportunity to offer useless protection.

Shen Jiu sighed, waving away their concern as well as questions. “Are you in need of a brain? Have you seen that guy’s arms? He would send you to Doctor Mu’s faster than you can yell.” 

“But -” 

“You stay away from him! I can handle him on my own.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in a blink of a time, four years had passed since Shen Yuan’s transmigration into the [Resentment of the White Lotus] RPG game. Shen Jiu was 17 years of age while Luo Binghe turned 16 a few months ago.

Spring had come and gone. Now it turned hot fast, indicating the arrival of summer. School was essentially over, however, before the actual summer holiday started the school administrators thought it would be a good idea to close the year with a fun and engaging class activity.

It was a terrain track trip at the closest mountain to their little village - Qing Jing peak. A common hiking trail had been selected and a bit modified. That meant random quizzes about subjects they learned in school and some other challenges had been set up for the students to solve along the way.

For teachers it was a great opportunity to observe how much their students had grown and learned over the year, and for students it was an entertaining way to test their new and old set of skills while having fun.

The more fighting oriented students looked forward  to showing off their sword wielding prowess and to live out their fantasy of being brave and invincible, while the more delicate ones were gushing and fighting for a chance to be paired with their crushes for the hike. After all, students were sent out in groups of two with fifteen minute intervals between each group so they would not catch up to the ones in front of them.

It was a Goddess-sent chance for romantic confessions and for making favorable impressions! 

Even Shen Jiu would have looked forward to this little trip if he were not aware of the nasty trap that was awaiting Luo Binghe.

Because of course, the Goddess couldn’t have let the young hero off the hook for even a damn day!

Originally, the perpetrator was no other than Shen Jiu himself who organized the trap for the hero. Now, however, with Shen Jiu being a changed man, it seems the role of organiser had fallen onto his admirer trio.

It was a random chance he actually found it out. Shen Jiu was sneaking back from his little quick meet-and-greet with Ning Yingying where he passed Luo Binghe’s daily lunch-box to her when he heard shushed whispers from an empty classroom.

Curiosity got the best of him and he tiptoed to the door. 

Apparently the trio and some other jealous souls had ganged together to “teach that street urchin a lesson once and for all”. The plan was, however, the exact same as it was in the original version.

There was a part of the trail where it took them very close to the edge of a cliff. The cliff itself was steep, rocky but greenery clung to its edges and the bottom was filled with debris and sand. Precisely because of this, it was not necessarily deadly if someone were to fall down, but serious injuries would still most likely occur.

Conveniently, this spot was somewhere in the middle of the trail making it the farthest point from the teachers who were stationed at the beginning and at the end. 

A perfect crime scene.

If someone were to push Luo Binghe down, it would take a while until the teachers noticed the disappearance of a student, and an even longer until said student could actually be found by the search party.

In the original script, Luo Binghe was pushed down by the bullies, broke his leg and had a magic excess burst leaving him immobilised. He suffered quite a lot until help arrived, but he also did not leave that valley empty handed. Down there he was meant to find something important.

Something that would make him famous later on. An item of great destructive power - the legendary Xin Mo sword that was declared missing by the Knight’s Order hundreds of years ago!

Shen Jiu’s head hurt from the amount of thinking he had done in the last couple of days. It would be devastating if Luo Binghe did not find his sword but it was also against everything he stood for to just let people gang up on the hero and toss him over a fucking cliff! 

Shen Jiu was not taking part in the bullying this time, but still! The admirer trio were the heart and the brains of this operation and everyone knew at school that those three hung around Shen Jiu like flies around rotten meat. Luo Binghe would inadvertently see them before being pushed down, and who knows what sort of connections he would draw between them and Shen Jiu!

He may even think it was all Shen Jiu’s machinations from the beginning, ruining the favorable impression he worked so hard for! That was unacceptable!

He didn’t work his ass off all these years just so that his efforts would be destroyed by some pitiful envious cowards!

The transmigrator knew he had to do something, but what was the best course of action to take here? No matter what he came up with, the outcome was unsatisfactory one way or another. 

If he were to save Luo Binghe from being pushed down, he would protect his reputation in the hero’s eyes and save Luo Binghe from pain but Xin Mo would never be discovered which was unacceptable!

Or should he let them push Luo Binghe down, wait until the hero found the sword, then coincidentally pop up with a teacher and save him right after? Still not good. Luo Binghe would suspect him and besides the hero would get hurt again - and badly at that. 

Shen Jiu stressed about this matter until the last second. They were packing their bags while their homeroom teacher was reading them the rules and reminding them of the possible dangers they might encounter out there. 

The whole class was possessed by excited jitters; no one could quite sit still. Except maybe two people - one of them being Shen Jiu and the other a certain blond boy. 

Funnily enough, the class was divided between them, as if the two’s rivalry has become a popular game to watch. One half crowded around Shen Jiu while the other had surrounded Luo Binghe, gushing about wanting to pair up with them or loudly speculating who out of the two would win this terrain track game.

They were the best of their class after all! It was only natural for the weaker to fall in line and follow the stronger ones!

“There’s no doubt! Of course, it's Young Master Shen who will win this game!” Fred loudly declared, sending a nasty glare at Luo Binghe’s supporters.

“What are you being so noisy and unpleasant for, you reed descendant?” Ning Yingying made a disgusted face, side-eyeing the lanky boy. “Luo Binghe has placed first on the year-end exams in three consecutive years!”

“R-reed?! Repeat that, you little pigtails!” 

“Is that really the best you got?” Ning Yingying smiled at Fred and stuck out her tongue.

While those two continued to bicker, another peer came up to Shen Jiu, begging, “Shen Jiu, you must win this! I bet my whole month’s worth of pocketmoney on you.” 

Condolences to you nameless dude and your lost pocket money!

“I think it’s definitely Shen Jiu who will win! He’s the best at sword wielding and only second to Luo Binghe in terms of studying!” Again another classmate voiced their opinion, excitedly joining in on the betting that was going on.

Luo Binghe was much stronger than him! The only reason why he was still the best at the sword was because of his constant practices with his personal tutor!

“And so what if Shen Jiu is best at the sword? This field trip isn’t a wielding tournament but a test of magical prowess and knowledge of its arts!” Someone from Luo Binghe’s supporter group argued back. “And we all know who’s the best at magic cultivation!”

“Don’t forget that Luo Binghe isn’t the only one who attends the special intermediate classes on magic and amulets from this class!” The Aaron-Alex dude puffed up his chest.

“But did your Young Master Shen placed first these past three years? No? Yeah, I thought so too.” 

Shen Jiu knocked his head to the side, trying to evade all these people who were crowding in on 

him and arguing back and forth about how great he was, even comparing him to the protagonist! 

Right at this very moment he really truly felt like a great villain, standing across the hero and declaring war. Except it was not him who was fanning the flames but all these no-brainer cannon fodders.

It was exhausting.

He looked over the heads of his peers and caught a familiar pair of ocean-blue eyes already staring his way.  Luo Binghe was looking at him and then at the sea of people crowded around Shen Jiu and slowly his lips turned into a smile. 

Shen Jiu found himself staring. That smile was small and barely there but on Luo Binghe it was as if direct sunlight was radiating from his face. Stunning. Luo Binghe looked stunning. 

He had grown again, now almost a head taller than Shen Jiu and twice as big in terms of muscle density. His blond hair had grown with him since the locks had not been trimmed in a while - Luo Binghe wore his hair in a high ponytail, only the unruly fringe fell over his forehead and bracketed his face.

He was really undoubtedly very handsome. It was not the first time Shen Jiu had had that revelation, but it was the first time his observation was followed by a series of heart-flutters. 

In this world, Luo Binghe had officially become an adult. Upon reaching the age of 15 the people of this world could basically take their lives into their own hands. They could get legally married, start a business, join the Knight’s Order or purchase and sell property however they deemed fit. 

Shen Jiu kept forgetting this fact and had to constantly remind himself of it. Because in his heart, 15 year olds were still entirely too young to do any of those things listed above. But even he could not deny the protagonist’s allure. Luo Binghe was a drop-dead gorgeous teenager, adult by this world’s standard, so even though he was an orphan with nothing to his name, his admirers and pursuers grew in number day by day.

These girls - and even some guys mixed in with them - were everywhere, always watching from afar, gushing when Luo Binghe happened to glance their way. Right now, Luo Binghe was also in the center of his own fan circle, yet the hero was still watching him.

Shen Jiu could not help the light sheen of blush that crept onto his cheeks. Right now, was a bad time to think about how he was the only one who knew what kissing Luo Binghe felt like? 

Probably… 

Shen Jiu smiled with cocky assurance, because that knowledge made him feel so, so satisfied. Take that you disgusting pervs creeping after the hero! The one your precious crush kissed was him and not you all!

Excusing himself, Shen Jiu slipped away from his admirers and into the empty corridor to catch his breath and let loose a laugh that was threatening to erupt back in the classroom. “Wow, what am I doing? Thinking of that in this situation… one would think I have gone ahead and fell in love with him!”

“Who is ‘him’?” A voice asked. 

Shen Jiu spun around on his heels, eyes wide. In front of him stood Luo fucking Binghe, with those rich blue orbs staring straight into Shen Jiu’s trembling soul.

Hero, how did you get here so fast?! Stop scaring the soul out of him please!!

Clearing his throat, Shen Jiu replied with a tilt of his chin infused with false confidence, “Well, ‘ he ’ is my little secret. Why, what good would it be for you if you knew?” 

He flashed a teasing smile at Luo Binghe, intending to just throw a few lines away before escaping. What he was not expecting was the thunderous look on Luo Binghe’s face and the said angry protagonist to back him against the wall right there on the hallway where anyone could walk by.

“A-Jiu is dating someone?”

Why was Luo Binghe still calling him so casually?! Shen Jiu was never meant to be so close to the hero!

“W-what are you doing? This is not a matter to get angry over! People get into and fall out of relationships all the time!” Shen Jiu argued, hugging his arms to his chest. Luo Binghe had picked up the habit of grabbing Shen Jiu’s hands whenever he felt like it! Shen Jiu felt like a poor doll being dragged around!

“Who is it?” Luo Binghe leaned in close, his gorgeous eyes narrowing dangerously. Shen Jiu gulped, unable to comprehend what made the hero so angry.

No one! Where did you even get the idea that I have a boyfriend?” Shen Jiu indignantly replied. “I don’t! And even if I wanted to get one, there’s no one in this horde that would be good enough for me, anyways.”

At that, Luo Binghe visibly relaxed, but he still did not back away from Shen Jiu’s personal space. “Really?”

“Yes! Really!” Shen Jiu hurried to nod his head. Anything that made the protagonist happy and in turn left him alone!

Luo Binghe reached out a hand and Shen Jiu hugged his own arms tighter, this time determined to win this battle of hand-tugging once and for all. However, Luo Binghe has taken a long silver lock of hair instead and to Shen Jiu’s utter shock raised it to his nose to smell. 

….Binghe what- ?

“Are you absolutely sure?” Luo Binghe stepped even closer and whispered into the warm air between them.

“Huh?” Shen Jiu’s brain short circuited, his whole body hyper aware of their intimate proximity. Luo Binghe seemed much bigger like this, crowding him against the wall, using his own body to block any escape routes. 

Not that Shen Jiu was actually afraid of Luo Binghe, but his heart rate was alarmingly high and it was all Luo Binghe’s fault. He was this world’s most gorgeous man, he had a presence, a charm that left no one unaffected! 

Yet, Luo Binghe seemed entirely unaware of his power! Hero, please tone down the shounen ai moves!

Luo Binghe was studying his face, before slowly but surely his lips curved up into a joyful smile. Shen Jiu would have gotten angry at being laughed at, but who gave Luo Binghe the right to look this gorgeous when smiling? 

“I asked if you’re sure. Cat got your tongue, A-Jiu?”

Shen Jiu hissed like a cornered cat, “Stop that!” 

Luo Binghe knocked his head to the side, eyebrows raised in question but the smile stayed in its place. Indignant, Shen Jiu shoved at the hero’s chest which sadly did not budge even a little bit. It was a great blow to his fragile masculinity.

The transmigrator could not help complaining, “Stop calling me so familiarly, here! People would get the wrong idea!”

“Oh?” Luo Binghe smiled wider. “What should I call you then? Shen ge? Jiu-ge? Ge ge?” 

The blush on Shen Jiu’s face developed into a straight out sunburn-like sheen of redness. “ G-ge?! Who is your ge! We are in the same class! Just call me by my name like a normal person!”

“But you are older than me. You’re 17.”

“Are you calling me old?” Shen Jiu narrowed his eyes. 

Luo Binghe seemed to be confused. “No. Why would I make fun of my A-Jiu?” 

My A-Jiu! MY! A-JIU! Luo Binghe have you gone completely nuts?!

Shen Jiu felt like his soul was about to leave his body from intense embarrassment and heart attack. There were so many things wrong with that sentence he did not know where to even start correcting Luo Binghe. So he tried his best to use his nastiest glare but Luo Binghe’s eager expression deterred his fire and he ended up staring at the young hero like a lovestruck fool. 

Which, in hindsight might have been a bad idea given how he was still blushing like a virgin on their wedding night. Shen Jiu’s worries immediately seemed to have materialized because Luo Binghe’s own cheeks began gathering a dust of red. The hero looked away all of a sudden, not unlike a shy maiden.

Why were they acting like a young couple about to have their first kiss! Hero, get yourself together!

“Say… would you be willing to -”

But before Luo Binghe could finish his question the teacher called out to them. “Luo Binghe, Shen Jiu! What are you two still dally about? We’re leaving now!” 

Shen Jiu did not dare look at Luo Binghe as he made his escape, running to get his bag. On his way out of the school building he remorsefully apologized to the teacher, who only waved him away with a knowing smile and mumbling something about “youthful love”. 

That only intensified Shen Jiu’s guilt and shame. To be caught in such a compromising position with your significant other was a mortifying ordeal, but still people waved it away knowing how young love made people behave. But being caught in said position with your biggest rival not-even-friend was way worse!

“Young Master Jiu, we saved you a seat!” one of the trio waved to him as he walked up to the school-borrowed big cart. Shen Jiu quickly boarded and let himself be surrounded by the trio who were gushing about the trip.

Before they departed, Shen Jiu made the mistake of looking over at Luo Binghe who was sitting at the back and instantly regretted it. The hero was practically shining, looking like a cat who got cream.

Hero, why are you so happy!! Being caught like that, people will talk! Aren’t you scared of being labelled gay?! You have hundreds of beauties out there, destined to be your wives! Are you trying to disregard them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weather was brilliant for the school trip, tuft clouds drifting by once in a while on an otherwise perfectly clear blue sky. Everyone was in high spirits, even after being shaken like a cocktail in the cart for the past hour.

The teachers were giving out one last round of instructions before the already confirmed pairs began setting off on the hiking trail. Shen Jiu firmly stuck himself to one of the trio, needing to stay close to them in order to be able to act when the trap was set in place. 

Luo Binghe seemed to want to come over multiple times but was blocked by eager volunteers asking him to be a pair with them. Shen Jiu’s nimble way of escaping also helped keep them apart. He sort of felt bad, because Luo Binghe probably wanted to wish him luck before setting off but Shen Jiu could not afford to get distracted now!  

Sorry, Binghe! But some of them had actual work to do!

In the end, Luo Binghe got paired off with their class’ most beautiful girl, Mian Mian, earning him multiple envious gazes mostly from guys. Such was the hero’s charm! He could really get the most sought-after lady in their class, just like that! The only thing Shen Jiu did not understand was why was Luo Binghe looking so sullen at this arrangement like a child whose toy was taken away?

When it was Luo Binghe’s team’s turn to set out, Shen Jiu eagerly dragged over the big-bellied Noah whom he chose to get paired with and volunteered to be the next ones to go.

The other two of the trio had already set out before them, so Shen Jiu had to make sure he would come up right behind Luo Binghe so he could get as close to the crime as possible. His jacket’s inner pockets were filled with middle- to high-level healing talismans, a few vials of healing salve and even some middle-level demon warding amulets of his own making.

He came prepared. 

Qing Jing Peak was actually beautiful in the spring, flowers bloomed everywhere and birds sang their song across the forest. Shen Jiu would have loved to appreciate nature’s beauty at another time when responsibilities didn’t weigh down on his shoulders. 

Noah started struggling keeping pace with Shen Jiu after the first five minutes. Truth to be told, this trail became steep pretty early on, but it was all nicely paved and whenever necessary, actual stair steps had been implemented. 

By the time they reached the first checkpoint - a quiz stand - Shen Jiu barely broke a sweat and already solved all the questions when Noah caught up with him. 

“I will be going on ahead on my own,” he informed the guy quite coldly. “I can’t have you slowing me down.”

“Y-Young Master Shen please wait up! We are supposed to stick together!” the rather plump boy cried after him but Shen Jiu did not pay him any heed. 

He needed to be there when Luo Binghe was cornered! If he waited for Noah, he might as well set a camp at the top and wait for the flood to drift over with Noah’s ark too while he was at it.  

As soon as he rushed ahead enough to be out of sight, he got off the trail and into the forest. He needed to be crafty if he wanted to be helpful, after all he could not save Luo Binghe if he scared away the rascals doing the deed.

It took him a lot of effort to climb the peak as fast as possible, and the millennial inside Shen Jiu’s body was trying not to die. He was gasping for breath, desperately wiping his sweat off his forehead with his sleeves.

He never wants to climb another mountain in 20 minutes ever again! 

When he arrived at the part where the trial coiled at the edge of the cliff, it was eerily quiet. Not a single soul in sight. For a second Shen Jiu got scared he had arrived late, but soon enough he heard the tell-tale signs of a group of two approaching from the stairway, so he quickly hid himself in the bushes.

Mian Mian was eagerly chatting about something to Luo Binghe who was giving her one-word answers and hums. Seeing the hero’s terrible performance with a girl made Shen Jiu shed tears inside.

Wasn’t Luo Binghe supposed to be a chick magnet? Someone who was so good with girls? He didn't even need to chase them, they came to him out of their own free will! So what was this absolutely shitty performance??

Shen Jiu wondered if he should attempt to teach Lou Binghe how to talk to girls. But then again, he was not sure he was the best for the job. Shen Jiu himself was not doing very good with ladies romantically either. The fact he got Ning Yingying as his friend meant nothing because he did not even know how he did it!

While he was having a tiny inner crisis the two in front of him arrived at the next checkpoint. This one was a mere few meters away from the cliff. This was the location. It had to be!

Shen Jiu held his breath, every muscle in his body tensing, waiting. Any minute now the perpetrators will be rushing ahead and attacking Luo Binghe! However, when the attack came it came in a form that Shen Jiu had not anticipated at all - exploding talismans! Whistling through the air like some bullets and raining on both Luo Binghe and Mian Main indiscriminately. 

What the fuck was happening?!

Even Shen Jiu, who was ready for something to happen, was shocked to the bone, let alone the unsuspecting two at the clearing.

Shitty trio! What the absolute fuck?! This was no longer bullying, this was a murder attempt! 

Luo Binghe instantly knew something was not right, so he dragged Mian Mian behind himself while shooting out tiny fireballs to intercept the talismans. The explosions were like tiny fireworks, loud and deafening from up close. The heat from them threatened to cause a fire, the sparks flying everywhere.

The hero held his ground admirably, however, there were too many of them, coming from multiple angles! It was evident Luo Binghe was getting overwhelmed fast. 

Shen Jiu cussed under his breath and angrily dashed forward. He had to put an end to this! This was crazy!

A-Jiu? ” Luo Binghe yelled, surprise morphed onto his thunderous expression, eyes widening.

“Watch out!” Shen Jiu shouted on top of his lungs. Those few seconds of distraction from Luo Binghe’s side had let one of the talismans fly too close and it exploded an arm’s length from them.

Shen Jiu yelled horrified, as he saw both Luo Binghe and Mian Mian being blown backwards - towards the edge! In his anger, Shen Jiu sent a gust of wind from his palm towards the forest, stronger than any he had managed before. Instantly yelps and cries sounded from the woods, as the perpetrators fell off the trees.

Sadly, Shen Jiu could not enjoy the sound that was like music to his ears. Too many things happened all at once - more important things than ugly-ass people falling on their faces. 

Shen Jiu’s magic deficiency kicked in immediately from his violent outburst, numbing his limbs greatly, while Luo Binghe and Mian Mian were still rolling dangerously close to the edge. 

Luo Binghe managed to stop his own momentum in time by grabbing hold of a rock but Mian Mian could not stop her drifting and would have fallen right off the cliff! Shen Jiu made a split-second decision and flung himself after the girl. 

Using the last of his energy the magic deficiency had not frozen yet, he grabbed her hands and with the same momentum flung her back over the edge and into safety. 

Shen Jiu!”

Then he fell, gravity grabbing onto his helpless body and jerking him down ruthlessly. Distantly he heard his name being shouted, but when he collided with the slope of the side of the cliff his magic devoid body tumbled down like a doll, unable to move his limbs to slow his fall or protect his face.

The journey down was painful and landing at the bottom even more so. There was a sickening crunch as he landed on his right side. He may have cried out but he was not sure if it was just his ears ringing.

Gasping in pain, he blinked around. He was greeted by a dark valley, sunshine barely reaching down through the foliage and the protruding rocks. Shen Jiu tried to regulate his breathing and calm down but he could not move at all - not even his pinky finger listened to his commands. His magic backslash was even worse than that first time.

Every time he took a breath his lungs ached, he was pretty sure his right arm and leg were broken, and from what he could see his left shoulder maybe had gotten dislocated. 

Fuck...

So it really did not matter if he had magic deficiency or not. In that moment, with or without it, Shen Jiu was as vulnerable as a newborn baby.

The dust was slowly settling back again after his fall, letting him take in the austere surrounding. Down here, barely any flora thrived, and ones that did were thorny and small like cacti. The air was stale and mushy. It smelled like death. 

After the dust completely settled Shen Jiu finally understood why - the ground was scattered with numerous skeletons. Some long dry but some still had rotting meat clinging to their bones. 

Animals of all sorts and kind, some even belonging to demonic beasts if the twisted horns and double skulls connecting to one spine were any giveaway. 

Great. Just great.

Shen Jiu desperately hoped none of those beasts wandered the valley still alive. He really did not have any means to protect himself, safe for that mid-level demon warding amulet he had on him. 

But even the amulet could not hold up demonic beasts forever as it did not serve as a complete protection but rather as a means to slow down and hinder the attackers.

An unknown amount of time has passed. Shen Jiu had no way of knowing how long he had been lying there on the ground, shaking from the pain sometimes blacking out and then coming back. He tried to console himself with the fact that at least, this time around he managed to save Luo Binghe.

If he had not stepped in it would be his bright-eyed hero in his place, writhing in agony and utterly alone. That thought comforted Shen Jiu enough. 

Binghe was safe and sound! He had done a good job. And besides, he could always just look for the Xin Mo sword later when he healed and think of a way to give it to Binghe. Nothing was lost. 

Finally, Shen Jiu managed to shoulder some of the weight from Luo Binghe’s destined responsibilities and the hardships that came with it. It hurt. It hurt so much but Shen Jiu was still happy in his heart.

A few seconds later, Shen Jiu became aware of the sounds of scurried movements and  quick steps on the rubble. Too light to be human, and too many of them. Some sort of animal came closer and it was not alone.

With great difficulties he wrestled himself onto his back, pained heaves breaking free from his throat. He tried to lift his arms but pain immediately shot into his body ruthlessly, causing Shen Jiu to drop them back onto the ground.

He hoped he could reach one of the healing talismans so he could move at least one of his hands more freely but it was an ambitious dream. No matter how much Shen Jiu wrecked his brain he could not come up with a way to get out of this pinch alone. 

Luo Binghe managed to in the original storyline, yes, but Luo Binghe was the protagonist with the OP halo and physical attributes. Shen Jiu was just himself, a rather luckless adult in a teenager’s body.

The animals surrounded him, now brave enough to show themselves, growling and circling him. They were some sort of wolves, more demonic than not, their fangs were long like a wild boar’s and their fur was spotted with actual spikes.

Shen Jiu tried so hard to stay strong and brave but he could not move, could not even call for help as there was no one else down there. He was scared. So, so scared. 

Was this how he was going to die? Not even making it until the end of the starting village arc… 

For someone who worked so hard to avoid the original Shen Jiu’s fate, to not even manage to outlive the original was like a giant slap to the face.  

The demonic wolves snapped at him now, getting even closer. One of them, braver than the rest, approached Shen Jiu all the way to smell around his broken leg. 

Get lost! Get lost you disgusting beasts!” Shen Jiu erupted, as loud as he could. It worked, if only for a few seconds.

The wolves bolted back a bit, before they began approaching him again, their muzzles faintly open and saliva dripping down their sharp fangs. Shen Jiu’s heart was beating loudly in his ribcage.

He was truly running out of time. The next time two wolves were brave enough to creep up to him almost all the way. Fear and adrenaline kicked in and gave Shen Jiu enough energy to kick his unbroken leg around and hissing like a wild animal himself.

Arrghhhhhh!”

The wolves barely got scared this time, only raised their hackles and flashed their terrifying set of teeth at him, growling. They were considering pouncing on him, it was evident in their eyes and stance, the way their noses worked taking in the smell of fresh blood. 

Shen Jiu was delirious, pain and fear gripping his everything with a clawed hand and twisting his insides. But before the end truly would have come for him, he heard a voice desperately crying his name.

“A-Jiu! A-Jiu where are you?! Answer me if you can hear me!” 

Whipping his head around, Shen Jiu’s eyes widened. Disbelief and relief like a summer shower rained onto him in waves. Binghe! Binghe has come for him! 

“Here! Binghe I’m her- aahhhh!” his sentence was cut in half when one of the wolves decided to pounce, taking his already broken leg in between its jaw and sharp teeth, dragging him away. 

Pain so intense it whitened Shen Jiu’s vision, assaulted him. All he could do was scream, begging to anyone to come help him.

Then, as fast as that intense pain came it let go of his leg. There was a commotion, explosions and enraged yelling mixed with yowls of hurt animals. It was hard to discern where they came from and what exactly was happening, Shen Jiu was trying to catch his breath and not pass out from sheer exhaustion and the pulsating agony.  

When his vision cleared a bit he could see Luo Binghe’s back to him, hands in fists and fighting those wolves barehanded.

Shen Jiu’s relief flew away again with the wind, worry and desperation fueling his actions. Luo Binghe came down after him without even a weapon?! Foolish, reckless and so incredibly stupid yet also so fearless and cloyingly racy. 

How can anyone not fall for Binghe when he was selfless without a fault and more gallant than some knights!

Luo Binghe fought well against the wolves, but one of them still managed to wrangle a deep bite into the hero’s fleshy forearm tearing an enraged shout from Luo Binghe’s throat.  

Luo Binghe needed his weapon! Xin Mo must be somewhere near, since Shen Jiu fell from the same point where the original Binghe had fallen. 

Biting his tongue, Shen Jiu forced his left hand into his jacket’s pocket, sweat gathering at his brows from the sheer agony and with great difficulty broke two talismans at once. He screamed as the healing magic snapped his shoulder back into place. 

“Stop moving around, A-Jiu!” Luo Binghe yelled at him incensed, before bodily throwing a grown-ass wolf across the air that pounced on him.

“You...kind idiot,” Shen Jiu did not even have energy to yell, panting as he was coming down from the pain high. Then he wrestled himself to his stomach and dragged himself away from the fight and towards the crook of the boulder that sat not far from him. 

If he remembered well, Xin Mo was wedged between a boulder and the cliff wall in the original script. It’s previous owner had fallen to his death and his sword had fallen with him, into the dark shadows of the valley which had successfully hidden the legendary weapon for hundreds of years.

Please be this boulder! Please be this boulder! 

Another yowl echoed in the valley, followed by angry growls. Luo Binghe fought valiantly, but these were not ordinary wolves so they did not run away from some challenge nor would they voluntarily leave behind easy food - read; Shen Jiu.

Luo Binghe desperately needed a weapon to fight with! Otherwise this was a stalemate and a game of stamina. Shen Jiu could not leave the hero to fight until utter exhaustion! Not when he knew of a weapon that was conveniently lying nearby! 

Shen Jiu finally pulled himself up to the boulder and looked behind it- There it was! Xin Mo! It was right there!

“Binghe! Binghe listen to me!” 

Without turning around, Luo Binghe yelled back. “Stay where you are! I will handle these demons!”

Shen Jiu wanted to cry and laugh and maybe kiss the hero’s stupid head once this was over. “There is a sword here! Wedged between the boulder and the wall!”

Luo Binghe got what Shen Jiu was implying, for he yelled back, “Understood!” 

Then with a quick kick he sent the attacking wolf sprawled to the ground and sprinted back towards where Shen Jiu was pointing. He reached inside the gap, found the rusty scabbard and pulled the sword out. It was accompanied by the cool sound of metals screeching and Shen Jiu would have sworn he saw a spark flying too. 

The transmigrator held his breath, watching as Luo Binghe jumped at the wolves unhesitantly, looking just like the hero he was destined to be. The blade in his arms was shiny and thrummed with a strong magical essence, not harmed even a little bit by the teeth of time unlike the scabbard was.

Armed with a blade, it took no time for Luo Binghe to chase away the leftover demonic wolves. He had slain at least half of them, carcasses scattered haphazardly on the ground. Demons respected but one thing, and that was power. If their opponent was stronger than them, they caved but if there was even a tiny little opening of weakness they attacked relentlessly until they got what they wanted.

Once no more wolves were visible in sight, Shen Jiu sighed, collapsing back against the rock all energy leaving his aching body.

Luo Binghe did it! His first victory with his legendary sword! What a glorious moment!

If only Shen Jiu did not feel like he was on the verge of losing consciousness. The hero did not bask in his victory, however, throwing the legendary sword to the ground like it was nothing but garbage, and rushed over to him. 

“A-Jiu… are you okay?” Luo Binghe’s hands hovered over Shen Jiu’s body as if he was scared to touch him.

Shen Jiu laughed but it immediately turned into a wince. “Been better.” 

Luo Binghe was looking him over for injuries and the more he looked the more thunderous his expression got. Shen Jiu got the inexplicable urge to comfort him, even though the one lying broken on the ground was himself and not Luo Binghe.   

“Binghe -”

“Don’t talk! You stay still and don’t move a muscle!” Luo Binghe looked at him sternly and Shen Jiu was wise enough to shut his mouth. The hero took out healing talismans from his pocket, high-level ones that he got from Shen Jiu and collected them over time.

It baffled the transmigrator that Luo Binghe had not used these up already, but soon he was shouting in pain as the healing magic entered his body and realigned his broken bones. That part took agonizingly long while Luo Binghe held his hand and whispered soft promises to him that he did not quite catch.

“Ow, fuck…” Shen Jiu breathed once the worst was over, head tossed back and shirt drenched in sweat. “That was… fucking terrible.”

“Do you have more healing talismans?” Luo Binghe asked him after he had used up all that he had on him. Shen Jiu motioned towards his jacket’s pocket.

“There should be some more if they haven’t broken as I was rolling down the hill like a ragdoll.” Shen Jiu tried to smile, but the cut on his cheek stabbed him with a sharp pain so he ended up wincing.

“I told you not to move.” Luo Binghe’s eyebrows were furrowed as he pulled free all the leftover talisman cards from Shen Jiu’s pockets and proceeded to use them all on Shen Jiu’s wounds. 

He didn’t even glance at his own bite wound… Hero there were enough talismans left to use one on yourself too!

“I was just replying to your question,” Shen Jiu sulked, lips pursing into a pout. As most of the ache dulled down in his body, he got drowsy from the fleeting warmth of healing magic. Luo Binghe finished looking through him, his warm hands felt so nice caressing Shen Jiu’s skin. 

“You’re out of magic.” Luo Binghe commented, matter of factly.

Shen Jiu whined, chasing after Luo Binghe’s retreating hand on his cheek. “And whose fault is that? If I didn’t blast those bark beetles out of their thrones of violence they would have gotten us all thrown off into this godforsaken valley!”

His near death experience had him lose his guard, his inhibitions of play-pretend to be Luo Binghe’s rival whereas all he ever wished for was for the hero to be well and to thrive in life. Shen Jiu was grouchy, tired and exhausted. He just wanted a pat on the back, a friend who would lift him up and comfort him. A friend who had bright blond hair and sun-kissed skin with a smile that rivaled the sun...

“Don’t space out, A-Jiu,” Luo Binghe gently reprimanded him. Shen Jiu blinked up at the hero, finding himself cradled in Luo Binghe’s hands, up against that warm and wide chest that had the potential to be a luxury set of pillows in a few years give or take. 

“Huh?” He blinked. Luo Binghe’s face was so very close, it was hard to concentrate on what he was saying.

“I said,” Luo Binghe smiled at him, his free hand coming up to hold the back of Shen Jiu’s head, “focus on me.”

Then Shen Jiu was kissed with a gentle yet very insistent passion. Potent and warm magic began flowing into his veins and eliminated all and every leftover thought of complaints.

Luo Binghe was kissing him like he was drowning and Shen Jiu was the air, pulling him closer and holding him tighter and all Shen Jiu could do was to close his eyes and cling to the hero’s shoulders.

After all that intense pain, feeling the soft stirring of pleasure was like dying and going to heaven. Shen Jiu kissed back, uncaring how little he knew of actual kissing techniques. All he wanted was to get more of it, more of that intoxicating feeling, more of Luo Binghe.

Shen Jiu did not care to think of a label, or to sit down and analyze what he was feeling - he was too gone for that. It was just him and Luo Binghe. 

Close, so close, their whole bodies were pressed tightly together. It added to the hazy pleasure, and turned into searing want and reassurance when Luo Binghe placed him gently back onto the ground and rolled on top of him.

“Ahhmm,” Shen Jiu twisted his head away from the insistent bites and licks Luo Binghe was raining on him, only to moan when his sensitive dick bumped into Luo Binghe’s hard abs.  

“Did I hurt you?” Luo Binghe immediately lifted himself to his hands, searching Shen Jiu’s face for discomfort.

“No, hmm…” Shen Jiu tried tugging Luo Binghe back down, cheeks red like apples. He did not want to let go, did not want the kiss to end nor did he want the pleasure to halt and the low pumping of ache to come back.

However, Shen Jiu could not quite make Luo Binghe budge when the hero did not want to move. That didn’t stop him from raising his own body to chase those addictive lips, though. 

Luo Binghe laughed then, the rumble of his chest bumping against Shen Jiu’s own smaller one. The hero sounded awed, and slightly out of breath. “You are… incredible. Are you sure, you’re really my A-Jiu?”

Shen Jiu kept whining against Luo Binghe’s mouth, upset that Luo Binghe kept stalling while he could be kissing Shen Jiu breathless. “Why are you still talking? Shut up and give me more!”

The transmigrator did not care how this all might look from outside, nor did he try to understand his own behaviour. All he cared for was that Luo Binghe’s lips on his felt good, their magic mixing together felt good, and that he had never felt safer than in Luo Binghe’s arms.

“Please…” he felt like crying when Luo Binghe with his annoyingly perfect face still did not move. Shen Jiu’s fingertips started to turn cold again, his magic deficiency had not been dealt with completely yet.

Luo Binghe crooned, leaning down to nose along Shen Jiu’s neck and hairline. “What do you need?”

You know very well, Bignhe! 

“Don’t make me say it...” Shen Jiu fisted his fingers into Luo Binghe’s shirt and glared at the hero. Luo Binghe smiled, looking both immensely proud of being in the position he was in that situation but there was also something incredibly soft in those blue eyes. 

“If you don’t want to say it, no problem. I’ll just guess what you need.” Luo Binghe stated, face drawing near Shen Jiu’s blushing face. “And right now I think you need this.

The transmigrator thought Luo Binghe finally had enough of playing and would continue the magic transfer via kissing but instead, the hero dove down and took a bite of Shen Jiu’s now healed cheek.

“Ack! Heey! ” Shen Jiu was quick to slap him across the chest. “What the hell, Binghe!” 

“That was your punishment.” Luo Binghe narrowed his eyes, leaning down to nibble on Shen Jiu’s cheek some more. The transmigrator struggled against his ministrations with as much vigour as his exhausted body could conjur. 

Punishment? Just what did I do?! Hey- quit doing that! Binghe, I swear to -” 

Luo Binghe suddenly twisted his face and captured Shen Jiu’s open mouth with his tongue immediately invading. Shen Jiu became embarrassingly meek as soon as he got what he most wanted, obediently opening his lips for Luo Binghe to play with.

This kiss seemed more intimate than before, but Shen Jiu could not quite explain why. But even amidst the buzz of the muted pleasure Shen Jiu could not not notice how much better Luo Binghe had become at magic transfer.

It was not a violent burst like the first time, but it was not too slow either - the pace was just right, giving enough time for Shen Jiu’s core to take in the magic. 

When they parted, his lips were swollen and saliva trickled down Shen Jiu’s chin. The transmigrator panted for breath, staring into Luo Binghe’s gem-like eyes.

“Don’t ever do that again!” the hero pleaded, touching their foreheads together. “Seeing you falling, I thought- I thought you’d...” 

Shen Jiu gulped and closed his eyes. He felt so-so tired. Now that his magic deficiency had been soothed and most of his injuries dulled to a bearable level he felt like he could fall asleep any second. Luo Binghe was really very warm too, like a portable heated blanket. 

He patted Luo Binghe’s blond locks just as he had always wanted and sighed. They were so incredibly soft, even after the roll with demonic wolves. 

“Silly,” Shen Jiu mumbled, closing his heavy eyelids, “And what else was I supposed to do? Let ...you fall?”

“Don’t sleep yet. A-Jiu you hear me? Don’t fall asleep on me.” Those were the last words he heard before exhaustion finally took him out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It took Shen Jiu a good month to completely heal after that incident. Of course it did not happen without a farce - Shen Jiu’s father had ordered a royal doctor to come treat him. Everything used - prescriptions, bone-mending magical acupuncture and salves - were top notch quality, each worth thousands of royal silver.

Shen Jiu personally thought it was an overkill. Doctor Mu could have treated him just as well, but there was no saying no to his furious father who was living out his rare parental protective instincts by flashing his wealth into everyone’s faces. 

If one looked hard enough, they could see the blurry line between the love of money and the love for demonstrating power. There was not even a speck of actual love for Shen Jiu in there, not that Shen Jiu was expecting it from the Shens. 

As soon as he was deemed good enough to walk, he all but escaped the Shen mansion. It was depressing in there, everywhere his eyes turned there was only gold and riches and a cold rigid atmosphere.

Shen Yanzi, thankfully, had not managed to bother him a lot as per the royal doctor’s orders for Shen Jiu to strictly rest. And Mr Smith was anything but sloppy in his work. Shen Jiu would have to think of a way to raise the butler’s salary.  

When he visited the church after a month of absence he was surrounded by needy kids and a teary-eyed nun Mary. “We heard what happened. Young Shen Jiu, we’re so relieved you’re on your feet again! We all prayed for your fast recovery.”

“Yes! We pwrayed with mother Mway!” the little ones eagerly nodded. “Pwrayed to- to Goddess to bwing you back.”

Shen Jiu’s heart was squeezed like lemon, gratefulness and surprise bubbling up in his chest and wetting his own eyes, too. He proceeded to hug every little member of the church, thanking them for the prayers and the concern for his person.  

“Thank you so much, guys.” Shen Jiu wiped the wetness away from his cheeks, to smile at the kids. “I trust you have been good, eh?” 

“We were! We helped mother Mary lots!” 

“Yes! We stuwdy and help mother Mawy!” 

Nun Mary nodded in the back. “They were all sweet angels, young Shen Jiu. They’re so eager to help, they sometimes fight to have the other’s chores!” 

Shen Jiu smiled, feeling pride for these little rascals. These kids had no family, no parents nor any money yet they always had smiles on their faces - real, genuine smiles of carefree happiness.

“Is that so? Well, seeing how good you guys have been in my absence, I believe a reward is in order, no?”

The kids cheered, and Shen Jiu waved for Coachman Harvey to begin bringing in the boxes of fresh piles of pastries, donuts, biscuits and croissants. When the pastry boxes filled all tables in the church, more boxes were carried in with all sorts of goodies inside - toys for the kids, new garments and shoes for everyone, candles, spices, dry storable foodstuff and many more.

Nun Mary was fighting with her tears, kept hugging and thanking him. “Young Shen Jiu, you’ve really overdone it now. You foolish child, haven’t I already told you that you don’t need to bring us anything? How can we eat all this food?”

Shen Jiu smiled and patted her back gently. “I believe the kids are up to the challenge. Am I right?”

Another round of cheers echoed inside the church building and Shen Jiu laughed. “Thought so too!”

Nun Mary shook her head, but had an indulgent expression on her wrinkled face. “You are just as stubborn as young Luo Binghe.”

“Thank you!” Shen Jiu grinned at her and helped Coachman Harvey to finish bringing in all the boxes.

“That’s not something to be thankful for,” Nun Mary admonished. 

Shen Jiu frowned. “How is it not? That was the highest of compliments!”

Nun Mary laughed, her cheeks shiny from tears and red from delight. “Oh my! The Goddess’ ways are truly mysterious!”

Shen Jiu shared her joy, looking around the lively church and taking in the happiness. It was such a wonderful change of place after that one month of bed-rest in his rooms at Shen mansion.

“That’s right. By the way, does Miss Mary know where Binghe is right now?” Shen Jiu had kind of lost count of the days and the schedules. Besides, if he remembered well, with Luo Binghe turning an adult he began working at a bar too, so right now Shen Jiu truly had no idea about the days and the hours.

Nun Mary nodded, wiping her tears away with her handkerchief. “Yes, of course. Young Luo Binghe accompanied the Williams’ to the county’s market. Apparently Mr. Williams has decided that he’s getting too old to take care of so many cows so they’re herding them over to sell. They should be back in two days’ time.”

Shen Jiu blinked, trying to remember this event from his notes. Then Shen Jiu’s eyes widened like an owl’s. “The county market?!”

Nun Mary looked surprised at his outburst. “Yes? Young Shen Jiu… is something the matter?” 

“No... Actually no,” Shen Jiu denied but remained evidently bummed out. “I’ll be in my room. Please tell the kids to not disturb me. I have a lot of work to catch up on!”

“Eh? Yeah, okay.. I’ll tell them!” Nun Mary waved him off, but Shen Jiu was already in a different place.

How could he not remember this event? This was the event where Luo Binghe got together with his first wife, the innocent flower, Ning Yingying!

In the original script given by the Goddess, Luo Binghe would accompany the old couple to the county market, hosted every year at midsummer. For village folks, such a giant market was considered a huge spectacle.

Farmers, craftsmen and artisans of all kinds visited this yearly market from all villages and settlements in the county. It was like a festival, food stalls opened and songs were being sung. Such big markets were even visited by people from all over the Kingdom, even some foreign travellers showed up from time to time.

According to the original script, Ning Yingying accompanied her parents to the county market for the first time in her life. Her being a little naive sweetheart, while her parents were busy operating their bakery stall, she wandered off and got cornered by some shady looking people. 

Luo Binghe who happened to be there at that time, noticed something was wrong and saved Ning Yingying from being raped. In turn, Ning Yingying cried on his shoulder and confessed her years-long crush on Luo Binghe which all boiled down to the two young sweethearts losing their virginities to each other right there in the hay at a corner of the barn.  

It was meant to be an emotional paradise sort of moment, a sweet relief from all the suffering and tireless work that was Luo Binghe’s life until that moment. It was a timely and a legit expected occurrence, if Shen Jiu was totally honest. Luo Binghe was 16 and a half years old, in his prime to start having interests towards the weaker gender and just enough hormonal drive to let him have a kick out of this rendezvous with Ning Yingying.

And Shen Jiu agreed! He really did. At least he did, when he first read the script and this rollercoaster that was his life as Shen Jiu had not yet started.

But now, the more he thought about it, the more sullen he got. He could not help but be of the opinion that while Luo Binghe had indeed grown up nicely, and was more than capable of handling himself, he was still too young to commit himself to a serious relationship. 

One night stands were not the hero’s style, so if he wanted to do the roll in the sheets he would definitely take responsibility and work hard to do right by the lady. That was what the original Luo Binghe did as well. He sacrificed almost all of his savings to buy a piece of land in Esteban, hand-built a one-room one-bathroom house and asked for Ning Yingying’s hand in marriage.    

Of course, all that was burnt to the ground when the demons attacked and whatever brief happiness Luo Binghe had was lost just as quickly as it came when Ning Yingying died. That was the catalyst for Luo Binghe’s hero career, as he swore to kill the Demon King and get revenge for Ning Yingying. Or more specifically it was ultimately the beginning of Luo Binghe’s blackening, until he became like tar, tainted beyond remedy!

Honestly, fuck the Goddess and her sadistic ass!

Naturally, that original ending would not happen now that Shen Jiu was here. He had been working hard on the plan to help save their little village by assisting the hero with everything he could. 

Ning Yingying definitely would not die if he could help it!

But something still bothered him deep down.

The more Shen Jiu thought about it, the more distressed he got. To imagine that his Luo Binghe would come back from this little trip, foolishly in love and move out of the church and start living with Ning Yingying - his wife - Shen Jiu wanted to commit a felony all of a sudden.

Luo Binghe wasn’t ready for that! Ning Yingying wasn’t ready for that! This was a disaster! And he didn’t even have the chance to educate Binghe of safe sex practices! Goddess, your world fucking sucked! There wasn’t even reliable Sex ed in schools!

Shen Jiu was fuming in his church room, muttering to himself and having the strange urge to set off and run all the way to the county market. To snatch Luo Binghe away by the neck and save him. He was like a little mother hen, watching her chicks run straight to their deaths that was water, not realising that she actually raised a very wild water-loving duckling.  

How was he supposed to keep Luo Binghe’s eyes on him if the hero really went ahead and fell in love with Ning Yingying?  

… wait, there was something wrong with the phrasing of that question. Let’s try again. 

How was he supposed to not die of loneliness if his two closest friends eloped, leaving him behind? He really can’t do this alone… 

Shen Jiu became melodramatic from his own thoughts, his heart unsettled in his ribcage. Distantly he felt like he was focusing on the wrong thing here, but he was honestly very upset all of a sudden and could not think straight.

He has just essentially been dispatched from the hospital in this world’s standards, was it really too much to ask to be able to see a certain hot-blooded blond man? Shen Jiu had not even seen Luo Binghe for an entire month, and when he came over he was told that his protagonist was out there getting it?! 

Such a scam! Unsubscribed! Blocked! Deleted! 

To distract himself he laughed out loud, slapping his hands against his thighs. “Aye aye, it’s not like that... Binghe isn’t like that. He surely wouldn’t do that while the one who saved his ass is still lying in bed sick! Yeah, that’s right!”

Shen Jiu pulled himself straight and smugly said to himself in the mirror. “Besides, Binghe has been ignoring his fanclub all this while! And Ning Yingying is part of that fanclub! So why would that boy suddenly trip and fall dick-first into a pussy? No reason, right? Right!”   

This was just plain ol’ logic! It had nothing to do with how he couldn’t stop thinking of Binghe’s stupid handsome face or his sloppy kisses!

Catching himself, Shen Jiu opened his mouth then wordlessly closed it. Oh gods, he really was losing it! He had gone crazy! He needed to distract himself.

So, in his desperation Shen Jiu buried himself in work all day long. His main project was still the demon-warding amulets. His limit was two per day, otherwise he would deplete his magical core too much and send himself into another magic deficiency episode.

And he would rather avoid that with Binghe not being here to help because he was possibly, maybe, perhaps sexing up his friend!

He knew he was unreasonably angry with no way to vent, so he had to keep distracting himself until he could see Luo Binghe again and confirm with his own eyes that his hero had not gone ahead knocking people up like some unfilial son!

After completing two mid-level amulets he categorized every piece he had neatly into boxes and labelled which area of the village it was meant to go to. He updated the village’s map, and revised his notes on the demon attack to compare his previous amulet placement plan. When he was done with that, he also rearranged the amulet-making ingredients and cleaned the tools, swept the floors and took out the trash.

By the time evening rolled around, Shen Jiu was so tired he did not even eat dinner before falling into a fitful sleep. In his dreams he kept seeing Luo Binghe and Ning Yingying walking hand in hand, being lovey dovey with each other and starting a picture-perfect little sugary family. 

It was so disturbing, Shen Jiu kept waking up periodically through the night.

The next two days were spent in the exact same fashion. Shen Jiu kept being haunted by mental images of Ning Yingying and Luo Binghe getting it on, until he could not even sleep and was reduced to a ghost hermit inside the church. Not even nun Mary could get Shen Jiu out of his room for a little breather. The kids were equally confused, but behaved well and left the transmigrator to his pity-party devices.

Shen Jiu felt like a used rag by Friday night - the night Luo Binghe was supposed to come back from the trip. Shen Jiu was anxious but also impatient, hoping to get answers to his questions and then finally get some damn good sleep.

He actually went ahead and stopped by Shen Mansion to take a bath, change clothes and comb his hair. It was supposed to be a series of simple tasks yet Shen Jiu already got stuck at the second step.

Standing in front of his wardrobe so big it could totally be labelled as a whole another room, Shen Jiu clutched at his towel and despaired. 

He had... NOTHING to wear!

Everything was too high-class, vibrant or plain overkill! He was not aiming to look like the jealous ex in prada shoes and red lipstick. But he also was not going to wear shorts or loungewear, those would make him seem like he was completely uninterested.

And he certainly wasn’t!

It actually took him half an hour to settle on an outfit. He chose the most simple pieces he had; an oversized white shirt, tied meticulously at the front because otherwise it would slide right off one of his shoulders, and a pair of trousers in beige color which finally did not have an ironed line running down its front but in turn it was on the rather tight side, hugging his legs and ass a bit too provocatively.

Now coming to think of it, these pants were a present from Shen Yanzi, no wonder. Shen Jiu considered changing out of them but it was already getting late, and he didn’t want to miss Luo Binghe's arrival!

Slipping on one of his many petite lacquer shoes, Shen Jiu sneaked out of the mansion just the way he sneaked in and took off towards the church. He had to refrain himself from sprinting over because that would ruin his bathing efforts entirely. 

Luckily he was still on time. Nun Mary smiled at him, looking him over, “How great of you to join us again amongst the living, young Shen Jiu! And my my, you look much better after a bath and some grooming!”

Shen Jiu felt embarrassed, scratching the back of his neck. He wasn’t proud of the side he was showing to nun Mary in the past few days. “Yeah, I’m back now. Thank you for the patience for these past days.”

Nun Mary looked at him with a knowing smile, not unlike a grandmother. “There’s nothing to thank us for, young Shen Jiu. When responsibilities call, we have to answer them. Come, join us for dinner?”

They ate, they chatted, they waited. The clock on the wall tirelessly ticked away the hours. Shen Jiu helped put the more stubborn of the kids to sleep with nun Mary, and even finished a cup of tea with nun Mary afterwards. 

It was almost midnight by then and there was still no sign of Luo Binghe. The last of the inbound public carriage service has already arrived at Esteban and the hero wasn’t on it. 

Nun Mary patted Shen Jiu’s back. “Don’t worry, young Shen Jiu. I’m sure they just got hold up for longer at the market. Go and get some shut-eye, eh? By the time you wake up in the morning, young Luo Binghe might already be here!”

Shen Jiu nodded smiling softly, but his heart was not reassured in the least beat. He stayed in the main hall of the church building even after nun Mary had retired for the night. The place was dauntingly empty and quiet during the night, magnifying Shen Jiu’s worries in the worst shapes. 

What if something happened to Binghe? What if the Goddess decided that since Shen Jiu took on the “falling into the abyss” role, Luo Binghe needed to go through a replacement challenge?! 

In the end, Shen Jiu could not stay there alone with his mind’s demons much longer and tip-toed upstairs. However, instead of heading to his own room his legs took him to Luo Binghe’s sleeping quarters.

There was no lock on the door. The room was small, its outline was exactly the same as his own room. There was an old desk by the window, a standard-sized bed by his right and a rather small chest made of wood in the left corner for clothes and other personal belongings. 

Luo Binghe had been gone for a week, yet his room still faintly smelled like him - a mix of wild herbs, grounding earthy tones and the dull sugary scent of crystalized honey. It was embarrassing but Shen Jiu’s anxiety instantly calmed by a notch upon being enveloped by that familiar scent.

Unthinking, he walked over to the neatly made bed, toed off his shoes and curled up on top of it. Like this, Luo Binghe’s scent was stronger, closer. If Shen Jiu closed his eyes, he could almost imagine the hero lying beside him, those blue eyes watching him with a silent laughter stirring in them.

Nuzzling his face into the duvet, Shen Jiu could not bring himself to care how easily that picture helped his body to melt and empty the thoughts of his head. He finally found a tiny piece of peace in days, and Shen Jiu was not fighting against it anymore.

He must have fallen asleep because the next time he came about, it was to a voice calling his name through the haze of dreams. 

“A-Jiu? What’s wrong? Why is…. A-Jiu here?” 

Shen Jiu groggily sat, blinking around. The room was still bathed in darkness, but the moon shone through the window just giving enough light so that Shen Jiu could take out a figure standing by the door. 

The soft light has casted a halo over Luo Binghe’s head making him look like an angel. Maybe he really was. Appearing like this in front of Shen Jiu just to reassure him.    

“....Binghe? Is that you? ” Shen Jiu mumbled, still half asleep. He was not sure if he was dreaming or if this was real.

Luo Binghe crouched down in front of him, taking his hands into his warm ones. The touch felt real, palpable and so was the heat seeping into his skin from the contact. “Yes, it’s me. I’m here, A-Jiu. I’m here now.” 

Shen Jiu made a soft sound of acknowledgement, blinking down at the blond young man in front of him. Luo Binghe caressed his hands, studying him with wide eyes. 

“Is everything okay? Did something happen?” Luo Binghe asked him, trying to locate the source of the problem. He even raised one of his hands to check for fever and exhaled as if relieved when finding nothing.

All of sudden, Shen Jiu felt irritation bubbling him inside. This Luo Binghe in front of him, be him an angel or reality, was acting casual like nothing had happened! Like he had not left Shen Jiu on his sickbed to go and seduce women!

“Why do you think something happened?” Shen Jiu pulled his hands free from the gentle hold. “Can’t I just be where I want to be? Stop pretending to be so concerned.”

Luo Binghe furrowed his brows, rising to his legs again leaning into Shen Jiu’s personal space. “So something did happen. What’s wrong?”

Nothing happened!” Shen Jiu pushed him away, emotional and physical exhaustion getting the worst of him. He missed the way Luo Binghe’s eyebrows furrowed and lips set into a thin line. “You left and went on to get lucky. What do I care?! Go sweep her off her feet! Just go and don’t get me involved!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t pretend with me!” Shen Jiu hissed, tired and so very dejected. He felt his eyes beginning to moisten with tears and he could do nothing to stop them. “You know, I didn’t do that back on Qing Jing peak to get a metaphorical laurel wreath or to bask in praise like some self-proclaimed hero! But you know, a simple ‘ thank you’ would have been nice! Some - some acknowledgement! A pat on the back! Anything just not- … not this!”

“A-Jiu, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Whatever I have done wrong, I’ll make it up to you tenfold! Just… can you explain please?”

“That-… don’t pretend you don’t know!” Shen Jiu yelled, cheeks red and eyes blurred by overflowing tears. “I haven't even recovered from the injuries I got while saving you and yet you went out to pick up girls?! Even! Even if you truly love her, couldn’t you be more sensitive to other’s feelings?! Tell me, what am I supposed to feel? Don’t I have the right to feel upset?!”  

Luo Binghe grabbed him by the shoulders, blue eyes thunderous. “A-Jiu, what are you talking about? Who told you such things?”

Shen Jiu’s cheeks were both wet from his sudden floodgate of tears, struggling to shake off that kind touch that made him extra aware that it was something he could never have. He could not stay as close to his hero as he truly wanted to, he could not enjoy having those arms around his frame whenever he wanted, he could not wake up next to Luo Binghe while the morning sun painted their bedroom a joyful shade of gold.

Those roles were reserved for the many wives Luo Binghe will marry in the future and not for some forgettable little rival from the hero’s origin village.

But he wanted it. Goddess be his witness that he wanted it… 

“Does it matter?” Shen Jiu’s voice was bitter and hoarse from crying. “Things done in the dark will always come to light sooner or later.” 

Shen Jiu distantly was aware he was getting way too emotional over this, that he should have a better grip over his disappointment and abandonment issues. “I never asked you to confide in me or tell me everything close to your heart but… being treated with honesty was still one thing I hoped to get from you after all that -”

A-Jiu!” Luo Binghe roughly shook him, shocking Shen Jiu when he found a pair of blue eyes molten with anger staring straight at him. “Now, you listen to me, and listen very carefully.” 

And Shen Jiu did, even forgetting to breathe as he hung onto Luo Binghe’s every word. 

“I don’t know who was the one who filled your head with all that garbage, but I intend to find it out and deal with them later. However, what I need you to know is that I have never lied to you! Not once have I forgotten you or forsaken you!” Luo Binghe spoke with fire, a firmness not many men possessed. Yet his stance was saturated with a hint of desperation too.

“Shen Jiu… A-Jiu… you seem to believe I had sex with a woman. But A-Jiu, I swear to you right here, right now, on the Goddess’ name that I have not touched any woman ever in my life!”

“Lies… Ning Yingying, she- ” Shen Jiu did not know why but his tears started flowing even more after that. But Luo Binghe was not done yet, dragging him even closer until their foreheads touched and they shared one breath.

“A-Jiu - you’re the only one in my eyes. The only one I want to touch, the only one I want to share my body and my soul with is you,” Luo Binghe punctuated with care, before cupping Shen Jiu’s face in his hands and crashing his lips against his.

Shen Jiu blinked, trying to process the words while also helplessly bearing the sudden assault on his lips. It took him a few seconds to realise he was being kissed. Another few seconds to realise that this time their kiss was not initiated because of some magic-related illnesses or urgent need for magic transfer.

It was a kiss for the sake of kissing. It was out of yearning, desire and fancy to feel the other’s lips against their own.

Shen Jiu gasped, a broken sob moaned into Luo Binghe’s warm mouth. Luo Binghe let him break the kiss, but the hero did not go far nor did his hands let Shen Jiu go. 

“Do you understand now?” Luo Binghe whispered against Shen Jiu’s lips. “I don’t want Ning Yingying or any other woman.”

 “... but…. why?” Shen Jiu whispered back, his mind a fragile place, his worldviews crumbling into dust faster with every word leaving the hero’s lips. 

Luo Binghe laughed against his mouth, a relieved joyful sound. Both of their lips were covered with saliva, warm and wet but for some reason it still felt like it was not messy enough. “Because I love you, A-Jiu.”

“You love me.” Like a dummy, Shen Jiu repeated the words, quiet and meek, as if those few syllables had not fundamentally turned his world upside down. 

“I do.” Luo Binghe agreed, so easily, with carelessness of a teenager who was free of the worries of adulthood and responsibilities. But the hero’s voice was deep like a rumble, his lips tightened into a smile as he tilted his head to press tiny, wet kisses across Shen Jiu’s neck.  

“Oh,” Shen Jiu breathed, a voice very close to a whine escaping his throat.  

Luo Binghe loved him. LOVED him! The protagonist, the greatest hero of the world just declared he fancies no woman but he loves Shen Jiu!  

There was no logical explanation why this turn of events made Shen Jiu so indescribably happy. His heart was beating in tandem with Luo Binghe’s kisses rained on the skin of his neck. Shen Jiu clung to Luo Binghe’s shirt, holding on for dear life while the hero effortlessly guided him back down onto the bed. 

Shen Jiu was in a daze of relief, joy and sleepiness, wordlessly letting Luo Binghe climb over him. Somehow the hero’s hair tie chose that moment to let go, and those gorgeous wavy blond locks fell like a waterfall, bracketing their faces into a small pocket locked away from the world. 

Here, there were only the two of them. Luo Binghe’s cheeks were red, his chest heaving with excitement and blue eyes twinkling like twin stars in the night sky - he looked beautiful like that. So beautiful that Shen Jiu could not deny him even when Luo Binghe’s tongue left his neck and took no time in prying Shen Jiu’s lips open, plunging in deep like a starved wolf.

“Hmp!” Shen Jiu has never been kissed like that before. Not in this life, not in the previous. It was as if Luo Binghe attempted to kiss the soul out of him, as if he was something so delicious so essential that the hero could not live without it. 

It was overwhelming, exhilarating and so very dangerous - dangerous for his weak heart and muddled mind. Luo Binghe pressed him into the bed, hands seemed to be everywhere on Shen Jiu’s body, mapping his sides, arms and neck. Shen Jiu whined into the kiss, all his attention wasted on trying to kiss back while not suffocating. 

“Binghe, ah- mmhn! ” Shen Jiu tried to talk but his lips were not released. Luo Binghe was like a hungry beast, unsatisfied with just a taste, unwilling to let go. But still, the hero broke the kiss after a while, moving to rearrange them on the bed but never straying as far that they would not be touching.

And Shen Jiu who was just kissed within an inch of his life was left so boneless he let himself be manhandled until he was wholly on the bed, thighs parted around Luo Binghe’s waist and arms easily welcoming back the wonderful heat-source that Luo Binghe was.  

“A-Jiu.. you’ve made me the happiest I have ever been,” Luo Binghe admitted, cradling Shen Jiu’s head in his left hand and turning it so that their angle was just right for kissing. 

“But… I didn’t do anything.” And it was the truth. Shen Jiu was still mostly confused how he ended up sucking face with the protagonist but he was incredibly sleepy and for some reason the fact that Luo Binghe was his personal blanket made his muscles relax and his anxiety seeped out of his bones. 

As if he came home, into the arms of his beloved and not a care for the world. 

Luo Binghe shook his head, burrowing his face into the crook of Shen Jiu’s neck where his shirt had mysteriously slid over his shoulder leaving it bare. “You did a lot. You saved me -”

Now you’re acknowledging it?” Shen Jiu pouted, trying to push the hero away if only so that he could look into his eyes. But Luo Binghe stubbornly stuck to him.

“ - in that pine forest, when my own magic had immobilised my body. I could have died that day, and just like that my life would have been forfeited. Those mercenaries…. they almost got me. I still don’t know how I managed to fight them off and get back to the church when I couldn’t even lift a finger.”

Shen Jiu shut his mouth, not knowing how the topic of that day came up now. But Luo Binghe sounded so earnest, so raw and Shen Jiu found his heart was squeezing inside his chest in sympathy. He always knew what was going to happen with Luo Binghe yet he never quite thought of how those events looked and felt like from the hero’s perspective. 

Luo Binghe continued. “Miss Mary and the kids told me it was a kind traveller that found me, bought me medicine and took me to the church. But are there really such people in this world? Someone so selfless that they would stop and help an orphan like me, and even spend a tremendous amount of money on me…. In this world, these kinds of Samaritans don’t exist.” 

Shen Jiu blinked into the darkness of the room, listening to Luo Binghe talk into the crook of his neck and wondered if Luo Binghe could feel the jumps in his heartbeat. 

“But the one who saved me wasn’t a Samarian nor a kind traveller.” The hero sighed. “You seem to be embarrassed to take credit but I’m not an idiot, A-Jiu. You have always watched me from afar, worried for me even though your mouth said otherwise. But your eyes - you can’t conceal your heart from me.”

Shen Jiu gulped, feeling like he might start crying again. He should be refuting Luo Binghe, telling him everything was a big misunderstanding but Shen Jiu was so tired of lying and hiding. And if Luo Binghe already figured it out, what could he do to convince him otherwise? 

“But it’s okay, A-Jiu. I understand, now. A-Jiu doesn’t have to say anything because I get it now.”

“...You do?”

Luo Binghe’s shoulders shook from a silent laugh. “Yes. You have a hard time expressing your feelings vocally but your actions are louder than thunders in a rainstorm. When I got hurt you gave me expensive talismans, pills and potions yelling at me to take care of myself. When Miss Mary was struggling to feed us all, donations and food were sent to us one way or another. And most of them could be traced back to you, even though some were hard to track. And then at Qing Jing peak when those scums tried to trip me up and frame me it was A-Jiu who saved me.” 

Luo Binghe… must you grate his thin face even thinner? He was begging you, please stop talking!

“I have to admit, I was blind and stupid for a long time but not anymore. A-Jiu, you saved my life. Not once, not twice. To save someone once is a coincidence of being at the right place at the right time but to do it twice and without any hesitation - that’s something else. Something more.”

Shen Jiu withheld his breath, fearing he would miss out on the conclusion. Every word spoken was laced with such a level of raw emotion, so hot and intense that it was scorching Shen Jiu from the inside out, incubating the deeply-buried answering feelings in Shen Jiu’s heart. 

An honest part of Shen Jiu knew and acknowledged the matters of his own heart, the mutual rawness, like howling gales echoing Luo Binghe’s own fire. But Shen Jiu’s brain was tied down with the realization, shocked into stillness.

Oh goodness, he was in love with Luo Binghe, was he not? 

“A-Jiu… forgive me for taking so long. I have made you wait.” Luo Binghe finally rose to his hands above him, cupping Shen Jiu’s cheek and wiping away tear tracks. “I don’t know what you saw in muddy and grumpy me but I’m not going to question it.”

“You were cute,” Shen Jiu mumbled. 

Luo Binghe laughed. It was an attractive sound. “Cute? I was a little menace.” 

Shen Jiu shook his head, averting his eyes. “Binghe never was trouble. If anyone, it was me who was an unreasonable little shit.”  

More like the original goods, but Shen Yuan also had to do some bullying to not be suspicious. 

Luo Binghe lowered himself again, until his breath was hitting Shen Jiu’s lips again. “Then, does that mean, you’re making up for it now? Is this all just a means to even scores? A-Jiu is really breaking my heart.”

Shen Jiu finally looked at Luo Binghe in the eyes, eyebrows furrowing. “What? No! That’s not what I’m doing! Get off me!” He tried to get up and escape like he always did when he got cornered by the protagonist. 

“Then what is A-Jiu doing?” Luo Binghe pressed on, not letting Shen Jiu move an inch from the bed.

Shen Jiu got flustered, looking away. Because really what was he doing? Trying to stay alive by hugging the hero’s thighs? Preparing for a demon attack that had absolutely no antecedent of ever happening? Losing his marbles on Luo Binghe’s bed because, what? He could not handle the thought of Luo Binghe getting together with his first wife?

Yeah, no way he can say any of those to Luo Binghe.

“I’m just trying to be… a good person.” 

Luo Binghe looked amused. “I meant, in my bed, A-Jiu.” 

Shen Jiu became scarlet red immediately. The hero’s chest rumbled with laughter but his voice was smooth velvet that sent shivers down Shen Jiu’s spine. “Or was A-Jiu trying to be good in my bed? A-Jiu sure is daring, but I’m not complaining.”  

Shen Jiu was so mortified he refused to say anything. It was bad enough he almost got a hard-on from that voice crooning in his ears, let alone the embarrassment of being spread out beneath Luo fucking Binghe like one of his women, while Luo Binghe was supposed to be out there fucking Ning Yingying right now. 

“Shameless!” Shen Jiu attempted to shove the hero off him in his panic. 

“Why am I the one who is shameless when it was you who climbed into my bed?” Luo Binghe pouted at being hit, yet his strong body did not even budge.

“Y-yours was the only clean room! Get those perverted ideas out of your head!” Shen Jiu threw the first lie that came to his mind. Then proceeded to face palm on the inside.

“Is that so?”

“Yes!” Shen Jiu nodded, trying to worm his way out of the bed but not getting far. “Now get off me already! I have to go and sleep, you brute!” 

“But you just said my room is the only clean one.” Luo Binghe easily pushed Shen Jiu further up the bed, until he was trapped between the bedframe, the wall and Luo Binghe on top of him. “Why don’t you sleep here?”

Hero, please have mercy!

“No can do. You smell like cows!” Shen Jiu did not know what else he could possibly try. He needed to get away from Luo Binghe! The hero kept touching him, all intimate and suggestive! And it did not help that they kissed multiple times or that Luo Binghe confessed his love to him! Or that Luo Binghe basically deduced Shen Jiu’s affection towards his person before Shen Jiu did!

Fucking hell, it was so dangerous! Shen Jiu’s traitor of a body was constantly on edge, and very interested in rolling around the sheets with this gorgeous blond on top of him. Even if Shen Jiu was an adult in mind, his teenager body was still spry. 

The only problem was Luo Binghe, no matter how handsome or strong, was still only 16 years of age. Shen Jiu could not get into bed with a teenager! What would that make him?! 

When Shen Jiu turned to look up at the hero, Luo Binghe stopped touching him, stopped moving altogether. Instead, those scarily intense eyes were staring at him through narrowed slits.

What was wrong now

“W-what is it?”

“I can’t figure you out,” Luo Binghe murmured. Not necessarily unhappy but not joyful either. “One moment you lie here obediently letting me kiss you and hold you and in the next… you’re running away.”

Shen Jiu spluttered, feeling righteous anger and an unspeakable embarrassment bubble up in his chest. “It’s because you - you keep taking liberties! We aren’t dating yet but you keep kissing me! That’s not very gentlemanly at all! No man should ever force themselves on their partner! Hasn’t Miss Mary taught you anything?!” 

“Then let’s date, A-Jiu.” Luo Binghe replied like it was the most natural thing to say. “Let’s become a couple. Let me take care of you, hold you, love you. I promise to give you my all, for the rest of my life!”

Where does Luo Binghe learn these lines from?!

“But… you’re only sixteen. We shouldn’t.” 

“And you’re but one year older than me, A-Jiu. Don’t treat me like a child!” Luo Binghe sounded worked up, annoyed and indignant. Then there was a roll of hips and Shen Jiu choked on his saliva when he felt a very-big very-not-limp organ grinding into his own. “Did that feel like the body of a child, A-Jiu?”

Oh… Luo Binghe, what-??

Shen Jiu’s brain short-circuited, hands flailing around until they found their way clenched into Luo Binghe’s shirt. He did not know if he was actually trying to push the hero away or if he was trying to keep him still. “T-that’s-- Binghe what? It’s- it didn’t but… but we aren’t mature enough for this! It’s too big of a commitment right away! Our whole lives are still ahead of us! You’ll meet many wonderful women later, you’ll surely change your mind -”

“I won’t. I understand my heart, A-Jiu. The one I want to commit to, is you.” Luo Binghe paused there, looking calculating. “Unless, it's A-Jiu who is uncertain? Does A-Jiu perhaps have someone else in his sight?”

Luo Binghe was absolutely terrifying in that moment, like a leopard ready to pounce at its prey. Shen Jiu gulped, feeling both intimidated and incredibly turned on. 

“No! That’s not it… What are you even... ? Did you not hear a word I say -?”

“Then A-Jiu only loves me, right?” Luo Binghe stared into his eyes without even blinking. 

Shen Jiu felt the breath squeezed out of his chest as the hero rested his full weight on Shen Jiu’s much smaller body. Biting his lip, Shen Jiu turned his head to the side, desperately trying to come up with an excuse to convince the hero that them dating was a very bad idea. 

“I can’t give you children.”

Luo Binghe furrowed his brows, and looked at Shen Jiu like he was a complete dummy. “There are magical pills for that.”

Shen Jiu inwardly cursed the Goddess out. “My father would never agree to it.” 

“You don’t look like the type of person who listens to their parents very much.” 

Shen Jiu took in a gasp. “Are you saying I’m unfilial? Also, didn’t I tell you to get off! You’re heavy!”

Luo Binghe made a sound, not unlike a snort but he obediently lifted himself onto his arms. “Why are you so shocked? That's one of the reasons why I adore A-Jiu.” 

The transmigrator looked back at Luo Binghe, incredulous. “What? Because I’m disobedient?”  

“Because you’re unfilial to a man who exploits, threatens and belittles others for his own personal gain. Not wanting to be associated with a man like that, even if he’s your own blood relative, is something extremely admirable.”

Oh. 

Luo Binghe flopped down next to Shen Jiu, keeping him between the wall and himself. But before Shen Jiu could have even thought of escaping he was drawn into strong arms and a warm chest. Exactly the type of hug Shen Jiu was hoping for just a few hours ago.

“Now rest, A-Jiu. It’s late.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.” Shen Jiu squirmed in the hero’s hold, twisting his head upwards to look at Luo binghe. All he could see was a sharp chin though, and a very sexy arch of a neck with a prominent adam’s apple. Luo Binghe’s arm tightened around his waist just a fraction in warning. Uselessly, in Shen Jiu’s opinion - after all, the pervert between the two of them was not him. 

Instead, Shen Jiu burrowed his head back into the hero’s chest, and released a grand sigh. It was so comfortable and safe, his eyelids closed on their own. 

It was not so bad being held like this, the temperature just right, the hero’s hands just on the right side of muscular and the best ever scent in the whole world enveloping him. When Shen Jiu said Luo Binghe smelled like cows before, very obviously it was a lie he threw out in his last efforts. Shen Jiu gradually relaxed, until his whole body went limp, melting into Luo Binghe’s embrace.

The room was silent once more, but now there were two rhythms of soft breathing. When the moon outside was blocked by clouds, bathing the place in darkness, Shen Jiu whispered, “Hey… are you sleeping?”

There was no answer even after waiting for a long while. Luo Binghe’s breathing was even, heartbeat slow - he was fast asleep. Of course he was, he had a whole day of work behind him. He probably was exhausted. 

Shen Jiu gulped, squeezing his fingers carefully into the white cotton shirt over Luo Binghe’s heart. Then words came spilling out of his mouth, selfish words, greedy words that he would not ever dare utter if Luo Binghe were awake. 

“... Don’t die. Don’t leave me too, okay? Binghe, you’re… all that I have in this world. So please- please don’t leave me alone.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

After that, Luo Binghe became inseparable from Shen Jiu. Whenever he was not away working, he was somewhere near wherever Shen Jiu was. During school, Luo Binghe no longer sat at the very back of the classroom but moved to take a seat right next to Shen Jiu. 

If someone else tried to beat him to it, he would glower at them until the poor sod ran away with their tail between their legs. Needless to say, the trio tried simpering their way back into Shen Jiu’s graces but the transmigrator ruthlessly cut them off after their last pull at Qing Jing Peak. He did not need Luo Binghe’s terrifying glare, Shen Jiu did that himself. He did not like those three to begin with, but at least now he had a solid reason for breaking off their “friendship”. 

However, Luo Binghe kept staying close to him, always within eyesight, always around! At first, Shen Jiu tried to keep on pretending this was all just an elaborate bully plan from his greatest rival, but people were not blind nor as stupid as Shen Jiu would have loved to believe. 

Every and all sort of rivalry had ended between them, to the point even outsiders caught in on it. Luo Binghe kept treating Shen Jiu as if he were his date - pulled out chairs for him, held the doors open, shared his lunch or carried his bag. All sweet and considerate gestures one could think of. Luo Binghe did them all, much to Shen Jiu’s embarrassment. 

The only time Luo Binghe did not hold back was during their Physical Education classes, when they got paired together for sword wielding practice. The hero had progressed an insane amount again, compared to last year, which made Shen Jiu very proud of both himself and Luo Binghe.

After all, he was the one who taught a bunch of things to him! He could basically be counted as the hero’s second teacher at this point! And Shen Jiu did a damn good job at it. 

“The match is over with Luo Binghe’s win!” Their teacher yelled and half-stepped in between them to indicate the end of the exercise. The whole class was shocked silent, even those who were still in the midst of their matches stopped to stare at them with jaws hitting the floor.  

Shen Jiu, the rich young master who was famously the best at the sword from their whole class was lying on the ground, his sword meters away from him and the edge of Luo Binghe’s own weapon kissing the front of his throat. 

He lost! To Luo Binghe! Fucking finally! 

It was certainly rare to see someone so happy who had just lost their winning streak of years to their biggest ex -rival. Even if Shen Jiu’s wrist throbbed where Luo Binghe stomped his boot onto it to keep him from reaching for his sword, and his whole body was drenched in sweat from how intense their fight was. 

Luo Binghe immediately withdrew his weapon and lifted his foot when the teacher called and helped up Shen Jiu with far more precautionary measures than it was necessarily needed. 

The whole class was still, silent as a grave, watching the exchange with breaths withheld. Even their teacher stayed quiet to the side watching this like some unfolding drama.

“I won,” Luo Binghe declared, staring into Shen Jiu’s eyes. The hero’s stance was proud and strong as if he was trying to say something more than what his lips told. He looked so much like a man like that. His wide shoulders still moved with his heavy breathing, sweat clung to his blond locks on his forehead and an attractive sheen of blush covered his increasingly sharp cheekbones. 

Shen Jiu reciprocated the intense stare, before breaking into laughter. It was the type of laughter where all inhibitions were forgotten, a cheerful, relieved and joy-driven sound. Luo Binghe looked taken aback for a second, eyes widening as were everyone’s in the room. 

The transmigrator was aware of the many pairs of eyes on him, but he could not care. He felt the most allayed he had in a long time. He did it! Luo Binghe was now strong enough to beat him , a person who had all the unfair advantages, help and resources! Luo Binghe, future hero of the world, saviour of Esteban and the future strongest man on this planet was ready. 

Ready to kick the demons’ asses back to the Kingdom come when they came for their little village!

“You won,” Shen Jiu acknowledged, a smile so wide on his face it was showing his pearl-white teeth. He looked like an angel but his words were still ruthless. “It took you awhile! One would think you were planning on having me go grey haired by the time you got your shit together. Your form was barely adequate, but at least you’re no longer swinging around like a headless chicken. Your control over your magic has gotten much better but you still have work to do. Your last form, the Bamboo Bending technique, could have been faster and with greater force. But all in all, Binghe has done an acceptable job.”

Luo Binghe smiled back, looking far too elated to be insulted. “I had a great teacher.” 

Tsk! And to think you could have gotten to this level much faster had you started to listen to me sooner!” Shen Jiu made a face but there was still a repressed smile tugging on his lips. 

Luo Binghe stepped closer to him, helping him dust off his clothes. “I have always listened to A-Jiu.”

“You sure as hell weren’t always obedient!” Shen Jiu jabbed the hero square on his unfairly manly chest with a finger.

“I was scared to hurt A-Jiu.” 

“Hah! Someone sure is cocky!” Shen Jiu scoffed, but did not push Luo Binghe away as the hero took his hand and led them off the ring. Their actual teacher was shedding tears in the back, being completely forgotten.

Contrary to what one might think, Shen Jiu did not actually mind having an overgrown blond puppy following him around and holding his hand whenever he could find an excuse for it. It actually felt pretty nice to be pampered.

However, despite the popular gossip, they were not actually dating. Sure, some confessions were spilled, and an inappropriate amount of skinship has been exchanged along with saliva, but that was it. Luo Binghe did not even bring up the conversation again from that night, but things most certainly changed between them.

Shen Jiu would have to be blind and an idiot to say they did not. 

What came as a pleasant surprise was how obedient Luo Binghe has become. Shen Jiu no longer had to nag him to practice sword wielding or to take proper rests between his shifts. The only downside of it was that Luo Binghe only stayed obedient if Shen Jiu stayed with him for that activity! 

Luo Binghe was ordered to rest before his afternoon shift? The hero would only stay on his ass if Shen Jiu was either sitting next to him, or on his lap! Luo Binghe needed to run an errand? He would only go if he got a kiss! Luo Binghe needed to eat his greens? Shen Jiu would need to hand-feed him!

It was foul play! Blackmailing in the forms of most lethal puppy eyes but what could he do! Say no? They have entered the fifth year! The demon invasion was almost upon them! He needed Luo Binghe to be in his top shape!

Shen Jiu was not one to back down from a challenge however. If Luo Binghe wanted to play dirty, he could play dirty too!

That was how he ended up using Luo Binghe to top up his explosive talismans. After the demon-warding amulets, these talismans were the second line of defense around their village’s border, followed right by demon-trapping arrays. 

This setup was something Shen Jiu came up with after tireless research and overtime work every single day. He had almost finished all of the amulets but he was in trouble as to how to charge the talismans. He himself had an average magic core at best. If he relied on his own pitiful magic reserves to top up hundreds of talismans he would have never finished them on time for the demonic invasion!

And to hire professionals would have exceeded his budget and it still would not have been much faster since he would have needed to send off the talismans to the capital and wait for them to be carefully transported back to him - these were explosive talismans after all.  

One little carelessness and the whole wagon would blow up!

However, Luo Binghe with his OP magical reserves was right there. The hero did not just have an abundance of magic stirring in his core, it was fire-attributed magic! That was the best type of magic for aggressive-type techniques, which included talismans too.

It would be a shame not to make the best of it! And besides, Shen Jiu did not work the protagonist for free! He was not some slave-driver!

Luo Binghe got paid very generously with royal silver as well as with a much more embarrassing currency - kisses. Shen Jiu attempted to overpay Luo Binghe with silver instead, at first, but the hero refused the job if he did not get at least pecks on his cheek.

So stubborn!

Whenever they met, Luo Binghe would lean down - because he just grew that tall - and wordlessly demanded his daily kisses. And more often than not, Shen Jiu found himself pulled against a strong chest and then kissed breathless. Because Luo Binghe just had his way with his newly-polished charms and sweet words whispered into Shen Jiu’s ears.

To make things worse, Shen Jiu gave in every single time embarrassingly fast. There was just something about being pushed against a wall or held in strong arms - it was something carnal and exciting that left Shen Jiu trembling. The transmigrator had never felt more wanted and needed than with Luo Binghe.

It was enough to get stared at by Luo Binghe in a specific way and Shen Jiu bent like wet paper, willingly walking into the trap of those blue eyes. 

It was an auspicious day after school. Shen Jiu stopped by the library to return some books and was walking to the church, deep in thoughts when suddenly someone embraced him from behind. Warm hands immediately went to cover his eyes and Shen Jiu had half the mind to elbow the person and kick them in the privates.

But there was no mistaking that familiar smell and the shape of those pecs pressing into his back.

“Binghe?”

Luo Binghe hummed, taking away his hand from Shen Jiu’s eyes but he didn’t release him from the back hug. “Finished at the library?” 

“Yeah. Were you waiting for me?” Shen Jiu twisted his head to look up at his sticky hero. 

Luo Binghe nodded, pulling him even closer and nuzzling him like a cat. It would have been super adorable if they weren’t in the middle of the street! Who taught the hero such shameless PDA?!

Shen Jiu struggled, trying to pry those hands off him and create some distance between them. “How can you be so sticky?! Let me go! You’re so grown already! Aren’t you scared people will talk?”

The hero shook his head, refusing to let him go. “Nothing to be scared of. People talk regardless if something is true or not.”

Hero what’s with that logic?! You should actively work against creating unnecessary gossip! Later when you will become a celebrated hero known across all lands and kingdoms you will do well to be cautious!

“Still! You might not have anything to do but I am a busy man! I need to finish drawing those amulets.” Shen Jiu sighed, sagging against the vice-like hold. “And I’m hungry as hell. Let’s go already?”

Luo Binghe became sullen. “Give me a kiss and I’ll let you go.” 

“What? Right here?! No way! Shen Jiu erupted, his indignation flaring again. It was one thing to have this arrangement with Luo Binghe in private but to do something so intimate with Luo Binghe in public was something he couldn’t handle.  

There was a furrow on Luo Binghe’s eyebrows, and a building sorrow in his voice, “”No way”?”

Shen Jiu grumbled, damning the Goddess for making Luo Binghe grow so tall and strong while she left Shen Jiu with a thin build and a rather short height. And meanwhile, if he really wanted to throw Luo Binghe off he might be able to, but Shen Jiu did not want to hurt the hero. Not even mentioning how he could already feel Luo Binghe’s melodramatic mood, and upcoming tears from miles away. 

“At least not here… please,” He begged, looking around. There were not many people on the streets, but he still couldn’t find it in himself to behave shamelessly lovey dovey with Luo Binghe who was destined to be with someone else. He couldn’t do that to Luo Binghe. He could not do it to his own heart.

Luo Binghe registered his words then took him by the hand and began walking at a fast pace towards the church. Shen Jiu barely could keep up, almost running to catch up with Luo Binghe. 

Woah! Binghe slow down a bit- !”

The hero barely heeded him, just enough so that Shen Jiu would not be tripping over his own feet. By the time they got to the church Shen Jiu was out of breath, but he did not get a chance to catch it as Luo Binghe turned to him, picked him up like he weighed nothing and carried him upstairs.

“Binghe what- ? Where are we going? Hey!” Shen Jiu clung to Luo Binghe’s shoulders as he was carried up the stairs. The hero might be strong but he was still only 17 years old, and Shen Jiu did not fancy falling down a flight of stairs.  

They basically crash landed in Luo Binghe’s room from how fast they approached. Luo Binghe swept everything off his desk without a care, for the things that went clattering on the floor loudly before placing a flabbergasted Shen Jiu to sit atop the desk. 

“Uh… are those not important- ?” Shen Jiu stared after the scattered objects while the hero stepped back to close the door behind them. As soon as they were alone and closed away from the world, Luo Binghe was right in his personal space again. 

“A-Jiu… A-Jiu please,” Luo Binghe pleaded, his cheeks red and slightly out of breath too. His hands were hovering over Shen Jiu’s body afraid of touching him all of a sudden as if he did not carry Shen Jiu across the whole church building like a sack of potatoes. 

Shen Jiu saw desperation, desire and so much adoration in those gorgeous eyes, his heart melted like ice under the sun. And it hurt something fierce, to have to say no to Luo Binghe, to deny them both what they wanted.

Luo Binghe may look like a responsible adult, but to Shen Jiu, he was still a teenager, a minor. That was one thing he could not get out of his head, even if the current world he lived in had a different system.

“A-Jiu…?”

But kissing was something he could still do. Carefully taking Luo Binghe’s face in between his palms, Shen Jiu studied his hero’s beautiful face with reverence as he leaned up and pressed his lips against Luo Binghe’s. 

He was not sure which one of them moaned, when their teenage hormonal impatience led them to deepen the kiss almost immediately. Luo Binghe licked and sucked inside his mouth with restlessness, while his hands kept touching, caressing wherever they reached.   

That careful gentleness was gone as fast as it came. 

Luo Binghe was everywhere all at once, leaving his prints all over Shen Jiu’s body like a jealous boyfriend. Shen Jiu yelped when his legs were ruthlessly pushed open as the hero stepped straight into the very air Shen Jiu breathed.  

Shen Jiu had to hold onto Luo Binghe’s biceps to not topple backwards as his mouth was positively ravaged. He felt like his neck might snap if he had to tip it back anymore to adjust to the kiss angle. Their entire front was pressed tightly close, just like those desperate young couples that wanted to fuse together in their bodies and soul. 

He couldn’t have been in a more wife-scenario-like situation than this!  

Luo Binghe was rougher than normal though, which made Shen Jiu distantly wonder just what happened that got him so worked up. So he tried his best to calm the kisses just a little, and began to caress the tense muscles of Luo Binghe’s upper arms before sliding them up and doing the same to the strained shoulders. 

It seemed to have worked, as Luo Binghe slowed his onslaught and then pulled out of the kiss with a loud smack of lips. To Shen Jiu’s self-consciousness there was a thin trail of saliva connecting their lips together until Luo Binghe’s tongue licked it off.

“Goodness … what has- gotten into you- ?” Shen Jiu panted. He did not want to even think of how debauched he must have looked at that moment. 

Instead of answering, however, Luo Binghe just buried his face into Shen Jiu’s hair, hands hugging the transmigrator’s waist almost possessively. The hero did not say a word for a long time, only heaved in tandem with Shen Jiu. 

Not knowing what had happened and how he could console Luo Binghe, Shen Jiu brought his hands properly around the hero’s neck and hugged him close. The hero felt so hot against him, thick and secure yet there was a faint trembling in his body.  

“There there.” Shen Jiu sighed, patting the blond locks not unlike a mother would placate a child. His hand was snatched in a bigger one, Luo Binghe drew back just enough so they could look into each others’ eyes. 

If Luo Binghe looked desperate before, now he was looking positively impoverished, those eyes begging on their own. The burning desire from prior had not dissipated at all, if anything, their make out just incited the fire to roar more fiercely.

“A-Jiu -” Luo Binghe spoke softly, pleading like Shen Jiu was a deity to be worshipped and prayed to- “let me…? Please.”   

Shen Jiu’s throat suddenly felt very dry, having troubles swallowing. Even if he wanted to play the oblivious, in that moment he could not. Not when Luo Binghe’s hands carefully strayed from his waist towards the widest part of his hips and came to rest at the juncture of his thighs. 

“Binghe that’s….” Shen Jiu took a deep breath, hoping to clear his head but it only helped him inhale more of Luo Binghe’s dazing scent. The hero was so close, so palpable, thrumming with real desire, looking only at Shen Jiu. It was maddening, especially because Shen Jiu could feel his own body answering that desire.

“We shouldn’t,” Shen Jiu whispered but even to his own ears it sounded like a weak excuse. 

“We shouldn’t because you genuinely don’t want to?” Luo Binghe leaned in close again, his lips basically forming the syllables right against Shen Jiu’s lips. “Or shouldn’t because you think for some weird reason that I’m some kid with green behind the ears who can hook up with a woman but not with you?

Shen Jiu gulped, feeling completely cornered. If he said he did not want to, then he would make a liar out of himself. There was no way Luo Binghe was not his feeling his hard-on, the same way Shen Jiu could feel Luo Binghe’s against his thigh.

That was some scary heat the hero was packing there…

And if Shen Jiu went with the second option he would make an absolute moron out of himself. But how could he explain to Luo Binghe without sounding like a complete nutcase that he’s from a different world where the coming of age was 18 instead of 15? That even though he understood this world’s standards and accepted others’ actions he still kept himself to the one he was most used to?

The longer he took thinking, the more disappointed and bitter Luo Binghe became. The hero withdrew his hands, still extremely respectful even though he sounded like his heart just broke in half.

“So A-Jiu truly doesn’t want me. Heh... I should have known this was going to happen.” Luo Binghe laughed but not at Shen Jiu. A heart-wrenching self-depreciation was dripping with every word. “Of course someone like me can never be with someone like you .” 

“Wait- !” Shen Jiu flailed, panicking. This definitely was not it! How did the mood get so bad so quickly?

“The fact that A-Jiu has indulged me and even gave me a consideration is already more than what I was supposed to get.” Luo Binghe shot him a sad smile, beginning to withdraw from Shen Jiu completely. 

Luo Binghe! Would you let me say something before you jump to conclusions?!” Shen Jiu exclaimed, irritated and frenzied. He grabbed after the slightly shocked young hero and drew him back into his embrace.

When they tumbled together they both hissed as their straining erections got some well-needed friction. Luo Binghe was not looking at him, staring at something to the side and staying completely still in Shen Jiu’s embrace.

However, now when Shen Jiu was given the opportunity to talk uninterrupted, the words were coming out scattered. “I-... I would be stupid to not want you. You’re the most gorgeous person I’ve ever met.”

Luo Binghe whipped his head to look at Shen Jiu in complete amazement, and dare say hope. “A-Jiu you- ”

“Ssh! Let me finish.” Shen Jiu blushed under the structiny but stubbornly pressed on. “I heard you loud and clear that night. I just… couldn’t help but think that we are both too young to dedicate ourselves to each other in the heat of the moment only to regret it later, causing heartache and problems.”

Luo Binghe seemed to understand something. “Is A-Jiu scared I will stop loving him later on?” 

Shen Jiu’s shoulders dropped and lips pursed into a thin line. It was his turn to look away. 

How was Luo Binghe able to see right through him? 

His inner insecurities had always been shielded by carefully built walls and sarcasm. Besides his sister from his previous life, only Luo Binghe has ever noticed and pointed it out.

“I - that…” Shen Jiu hesitated. Back then on the carriage when he was holding an injured Luo Binghe he wondered how alike they were. But Luo Binghe was not anything like Shen Jiu.

How could he be?

Luo Binghe was the one destined to become the greatest hero of all time, the one to slay the Demon King and bring peace to the realms. The Luo Binghe in front of him, young and eager to declare his love and affections had no idea what hardships, challenges and also sweetness and pleasures the future was holding for him.

But Shen Jiu knew. He knew how his life would turn out, at least was aware of the general direction. Shen Jiu could not help but think about all those beautiful, sweet, lovely flowers who were destined to meet Luo Binghe later in life, bringing him happiness and love. 

Who was Shen Jiu to steal Luo Binghe away from them? How could he dare tie the protagonist to his side? If he did, he would be no better than the original goods - a pitiful villain who tried to take away Luo Binghe’s happiness.  

His face was taken into hands and his inner monologue was interrupted as he was gently made to turn towards the hero again. “A-Jiu people can hear you thinking from two blocks away. The question I asked, it’s not all that complicated.”

“Shut up.” Shen Jiu felt his cheeks heating up. 

Luo Binghe smiled, indulgent and so full of adoration. Shen Jiu was both ecstatic and also feeling undeserving of such a look. “What can I do?”

“Huh?” Shen Jiu wasn’t following.

Luo Binghe rested his forehead against his. “What can I do to reassure you that I won’t ever change my mind? That I will not regret choosing you?”  

Shen Jiu choked on his emotions, hands trembling. “Why are you willing to go so far for someone like me?”

“Silly, A-Jiu.” Luo Binghe reprimanded him softly, moving his arms to hug around Shen Jiu’s back. “Haven’t you claimed you heard me that night? But nevermind. I don’t mind saying it again and again until it’s the only thing you can think of when you see my face.” 

The transmigrator held his breath as Luo Binghe moved his head to be able to whisper right into Shen Jiu’s ear. “I love you, A-Jiu. I love you with my whole heart . I love you so much I don’t ever want to separate from you. I don’t think I can live without you.”

Shen Jiu laughed wetly. He might have started crying, he was not sure. All he did was cling to the hero and hide his face into Luo Binghe’s neck.

“You call me silly but the real silly one here is you.”

“Maybe.” Luo Binghe agreed without fuss.  

Shen Jiu shook his head exasperated. “You don’t even know me that well to love me that much.”

“I know enough.”

Shen Jiu took a deep breath. There was no arguing with the protagonist. “Alright.”

“Alright?” Luo Binghe perked up. 

“If you’re serious about this - about us - then let’s wait until you turn 18 years old.” By that time Luo Binghe will already be part of the Knight’s Order and train under Qin Wanyue in the capital. “That’s a year from now on.” He would be too busy with sharpening his weapons - both Xin Mo and his sky pillar - with the gorgeous lady commander to even remember Shen Jiu. “If Binghe still feels the same way in a year’s time as you do now, then I give you my word - I will say yes when you ask me.” Because the hero surely won’t want someone like Shen Jiu anymore after meeting his beautiful future wives.

Luo Binghe kissed him passionately and Shen Jiu bore it submissively. “It’s a deal, A-Jiu. You promised.”

“I did.” Shen Jiu hid his sad smile as he was drawn into another hug. “And I will uphold my word if Binghe does too.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The real problem started when Shen Jiu’s father heard from somewhere of his supposed affair with the village’s orphan. One morning Shen Jiu was summoned to his father’s study where he found himself facing the Shen family head looking the most stern Shen Jiu has ever seen the man. Next to his father stood that self-important elder brother of his, looking thoroughly disturbed.

“Shen Jiu.”

“Father. Brother.” Shen Jiu greeted them back with the typical Shen-family-exclusive poker face.

“I reckon you know why you were summoned.” Lord Shen Jonathan studied him with narrowed eyes.

Shen Jiu sat in the prepared chair and crossed his legs. “As a matter of fact, I do not know, father.”

His father abruptly slammed a document onto his desk. “You dare deny you do not know your sin!”

If Shen Jiu were the teenager he was supposed to be he would have probably gotten scared but Shen Jiu who had lived another life before this continued to sit there calmly. “How could I deny anything if I do not know yet what I am accused of?”

It was Shen Yanzi who spoke up. “You let that filthy mutt dirty your precious person! To think how fucking long it has been going on without my- I mean, our knowledge too! Don’t you know, my sweet little brother, that this world is full of fucking worms and nasty piranhas?! You must guard yourself with devotion and fiercely! Your shine must never be tainted by the likes of that damned beast!

Careful who you call a beast and a worm, you incestous boner pirate!

Shen Jiu wanted to massage his temples but refrained from doing so. “Please abstain from cursing in my presence, brother .”

Shen Yanzi was livid. “Is that your answer?! Did you even listen to a word I said, little brother? Have you been hanging out with them so much you have forgotten who you belong to!”   

“I belong to myself,” Shen Jiu tilted his jaw outward, looking at the elder male with disgust. 

“You belong to the Shen Family, Shen Jiu!” Their Lord father’s voice boomed with outrage. “Your blood, your hair, your very body is a living proof of your life-long obligations. You are the only one of my children with pure Shen and royal Eastern Empire lineage. The only useful one! You owe it to this family to bring your utmost best in every aspect!”

Dark thoughts swirled around in Shen Jiu’s head but he refused to let them show on his face.

“I believe my school record is enough of a proof I am not taking my responsibilities half-assed, unlike someone else does,” Shen Jiu answered respectfully to his father but sent a death-glare towards that weasel of a brother of his.

Enough! As long as you let dirty flies crowd around you, you are failing the Shen Family.” Their father ruthlessly assessed Shen Jiu.

“You are talking about people, father.” Shen Jiu felt fury bubbling up in his heart, but he held himself back for he knew just how his so-called father could make his life harder.

The Shen head made a disgusted face. “Maggots more like. They aren’t people like us, Shen Jiu, and you must understand that they are never going to be like us. We are different in a fundamental sense. While those worms crawl in the mud we soar in the skies. While they are preoccupied with their material needs we decide the fate of nations.”

“I am still just a student, father.”  Shen Jiu felt obliged to remind them. 

“And my heir! And as such you must conduct yourself fitting to your station,” Lord Shen gave no reprieve for talk-backs. “I don’t care if you want to go wild or have fun but do it with style , for Goddess’ sake! Hire elite escorts from the capital! But under no circumstances should you ever roll with a dirty maggot from an orphanage!” 

“Do you understand, Shen Jiu?” The Shen head smiled at Shen Jiu, but that smile hid an obvious threat. 

Fuck you, fuck-face and your weasel-faced son!

“I do, father.”

The man clapped, obviously happy. “Perfect! Then I trust you will understand why I have made the following arrangements.”

Dread set into Shen Jiu’s heart. “What’s that supposed to mean?” 

“You will be homeschooled from now on. Your new teachers arrive in the afternoon. Do not embarrass me.” It sounded final. Not even a chance for opposition.

Anger swirled in Shen Jiu’s belly. Gritting his teeth, he asked in a fake demure tone. “Am I still allowed to visit the library at least?”

“Naturally. I’m not a monster who would lock up his heir or hinder his studies.” His father looked hurt. “However, your elder brother must accompany you anywhere you go.” 

Shen Yanzi smiled with a savage satisfaction at that, sending a repulsed shiver down Shen Jiu’s spine.

“If you try to reach out to that lowly mutt again, there will be consequences. Let it be known I have warned you.” Lord Shen Jonathan stood up then, dusted off his impeccable suit and left the study. 

Well, fuck. 

And just like that Shen Jiu got basically locked up in the Shen Mansion with no way to connect to the outside world. He could not even send a word to Luo Binghe or Miss Mary because anyone who could have been trusted - Mr Smith, Coachman Harvey or even his sword wielding tutor - had been replaced with new personnel. And if the message got into the wrong hands he feared the retribution Luo Binghe would have to shoulder.

Shen Jiu begrudgingly had to admit that this Shen Jonathan did thorough work when he felt like his family was in danger. Or more precisely it was the reputation of the family that he worried for, not his children or his wife for that matter.

His supposed father was an arrogant, elitist asshole who only cared about acquiring more money and with it power and influence. And there was nothing he wouldn’t do to keep his position as the top dog of his little empire - even if it meant threatening, manipulating and making his own children miserable.

These kinds of rotten people made Shen Jiu furious, and his palm itchy for a good ol’ bitchslap. Normally, Shen Jiu would just pretend his evil father did not even exist as he barely saw the man to begin with, but now that he was snitched on and got locked up like some pet, things became a lot more personal.

What really made Shen Jiu incensed was how that sorry excuse of a man dared threaten Luo Binghe’s well being! Who did he think he was to even think of harming his hero!

Good thing he never placed any protection charms or amulets around the Shen Mansion! Let the demons ravage it to the ground!

At this point he was actually rooting for the demons to burn this whole rotten place down. Shen Jiu sure as hell would not go crying after it. 

Talking about demons, this whole lockdown made him super skittish and bitter also because his work was interrupted! They barely had any time left before the inevitable demonic invasion and here he was wasting away in his luxurious room with no way to work on the amulets, talismans or finish arranging the placement of the protection devices.  

Shen Yanzi was dancing on his nerves too, trying to entice him to go out on “brotherly dates” with him. That bastard was obviously enjoying his newfound power over Shen Jiu, and the transmigrator was getting real close to the end of his wits. 

One of these days he was going to roundhouse kick the pervert in the nuts! And he missed Binghe, damn it!

Around a month into house arrest - at least Shen Jiu guessed it had been a month, his time perception has gotten really bad since he was not allowed to leave the Mansion’s grounds - Shen Jiu got a message from his dear father, that his presence was required for a meeting with a couple of officials.

Shen Jiu was a hair’s breadth away from throwing a tantrum. His awaited freedom did not just not arrive, he was also expected to play the filial son to some old boring politicians and business partners of his asshole of a father!

That was even worse than house arrest! Much worse! 

In his room he could at least sit unbothered, consumed by fury and continuous thoughts of separating the other two Shen men’s heads from their necks. But if he had to go, then he had to be all sharp and civil… or did he?

The cogs loudly turned inside Shen Jiu’s brain. He did not stand a chance if he wanted to run away from Shen Mansion -  he tried but there were just too many eyes and ears, all working against him. If he were to accompany his father outside of the Mansion grounds it would be much easier slipping away unnoticed.

At these prospects, Shen Jiu regained his vigour somewhat. This was a heaven-sent opportunity! Luo Binghe, hang on just a little longer, Shen Jiu was coming soon! 

So, by the time the big day came, Shen Jiu had stealthily stolen a small salt container, just the right size it would fit perfectly in his suit’s pocket. No one had looked twice after a salt container after all.

Shen Jiu prepared meticulously. He bathed, washed and oiled his long silver hair, tying it up with a soft green ribbon and overall made sure to look impeccable. In the mirror, he barely recognized himself. 

For one, because he looked just like a picture-perfect Shen with a sharp style and an even sharper glare. This all angular sharpness and domineering aura did not suit him at all. 

But what really shocked Shen Jiu was how much weight he had lost. Shen Jiu knew it was not wise but he went on hunger strikes more than once as a silent way to riot against his tyrannical father. And besides, the food just did not taste as good as it did when shared with Miss Mary, the kids and Luo Binghe.

The results were obvious now, as he stared at himself in the mirror. His waist had narrowed down, his cheeks not as round as they used to be and limbs thinned somewhat. Their poor family’s tailor had to work overnight unceasingly to have Shen Jiu’s new suit refitted to his thinner figure.

It was not that Shen Jiu looked sick, but he definitely looked weaker, more delicate and a lot less lively - go figure why. Distantly Shen Jiu could not help but wonder what Luo Binghe would think if he saw him right now. 

He would probably get kissed til he couldn’t breathe, and then hugged into secure arms. 

Shen Jiu blinked and turned away from the mirror. His heart squeezed painfully inside his ribcage at that thought. But he patted his cheeks sharply - he needed to focus right now if he wanted to see Luo Binghe before the sun set on the horizon. 

He engaged his father in some small talk as they boarded their big carriage pulled by four horses. Such an overkill...

“Looking sharp, father.”

“Shen Jiu.” Lord Shen nodded back to him. And even though the empty compliment was not reciprocated, the satisfaction with Shen Jiu’s appearance made the man’s eyes twinkle with approval.

“How did the sugar cane plantation acquisition go?” Shen Jiu asked, just to have the conversation kick off. He still did not know who his father wanted him to meet, but if he played his cards right, he might even get Lord Shen to spill it.

“Not as smoothly as planned. That bastard resisted for so long, but I finally got a hold of his weakness. That plantation is mine already, but it will only appear in the ledger next month.” Lord Shen looked smug as he took his place inside the carriage.

Shen Jiu followed him, sitting opposite of his father. “By “bastard” does father mean Mr Yue?” 

“Who else?” The man huffed. “He dared go against me, that bastard! But every man has his weakness if you’re willing to look hard enough. And behold, my contact from the Imperial Guard’s managed to dig up some dirt on him just at the most crucial time.”

Shen Jiu let his lips curve ever so slightly. “How wonderful the ways of the Goddess. I do wonder though, if fabricating incriminating evidence would bring dirt ultimately on the accused or the accuser?”

Shen Jonathan burst out laughing. “Clever boy! That’s why you must have the right people at the right places.The art is in making sure the expendables stay expendables and the irreplaceables stay irreplaceables. But these are all the things you must learn once you graduate.”

“Then, is today’s meeting of a similar assimilation?” Shen Jiu dug for information. 

Lord Shen waved a hand nonchalantly. “No and yes. Today I will have you meet Commander Buckweeks from the Knight’s Order and his right-hand man, Captain Seymur. Be on your best behaviour! If they like you, you’ll get a sure seat in the Knight’s Order leadership table right after your graduation.”

Shen Jiu felt blood freeze in his veins. He was not hearing anything Lord Shen was saying because his mind got stuck on the name Buckweeks. Shen Jiu knew that name and the man it belonged to!

Because it sounded like buttreeks his brain was sure to file away this - at that time deemed useless - information. But now it was a lifesaving bit of knowledge!

Commander Buckweeks was one of the great four leaders of the Knight’s Order. There was only one person above them, and that was the King of Proweth himself. In the original script, once Luo Binghe moved to the capital and began his apprenticeship under Commander Qin Wanyue, he accidentally uncovered a dirty secret of Commander Buckweeks which got him into tons of trouble until he was strong enough to go against the man.

This commander buttreeks had the nasty habit of keeping young pretty boys at his side. And the truth was, that monster didn’t just appreciate them aesthetically from afar either!

Shen Jiu knew he had to escape right about now! He could not risk being liked by such a man, even if he could already be considered “old” by Buckweeks’ usual criteria! Just thinking of the slim chance of that monster making an exception for him sent cold chills down Shen Jiu’s spine.

“Shen Jiu, what has gotten into you? You are awfully pale.” His father studied him with displeasure. 

“Apologies, father. It must be motion sickness from the carriage.” Shen Jiu grit out an excuse while trying not to just foolishly jump out of a moving carriage and make a run for it right then and there. 

“So weak.” Lord Shen pursed his lips in clear disapproval. “Drink something and liven up! You mustn’t ruin this opportunity!” 

“Yes, father.” Shen Jiu obediently agreed before reaching for a compartment at his elbow and pulling out a jar of water and a matching cup for it. Lord Shen looked away from him then, preferring the view of the slowly darkening sky than having to look at his own struggling son.   

Perfect. It was now or never. 

Shen Jiu secretly dumped a generous amount of salt into his cup of water, and waited until the carriage pulled up in front of Esteban’s most high class hotel before downing it all in one go. Then as one might predict, he vomited all over himself and the carriage seats. 

“For fuck’s sake!” Lord Shen was equal amount furious and appalled, pulling himself as far away from the mess as possible. 

“Apologies, father.” Shen Jiu rasped out before making sure to fake another round of bad retching sounds and spitting. The head of the Shen household couldn’t make his disgust any more evident as he brought up a hand to his nose and pointedly looked at a spot over Shen Jiu’s head. 

“You’re so fucking useless! I really have to do everything around here, don’t I?” 

Shen Jiu made sure to look extra sick and apologetic. “Apologies, father.” 

“Stop with your useless apologies!” Lord Shen hissed, stepping down from the carriage as soon as the staff opened the door from outside. He did not turn to look back at Shen Jiu as he instructed. “I will go in and entertain our guests. The coachman will take you back to the mansion. Clean up and get your ass back here!”

“Yes, father.”

The door shut close then and the carriage was on the move shortly again. Shen Jiu did a mini cheer inside, moving to throw off his soiled jacket and to rinse his mouth of the foul taste. He was about to open the door and soundlessly jump off when the window to the coachman’s seat slid open.

“Young Master, I heard what happened. Is everything okay?” It was Coachman Harvey’s voice. In his rush and planning Shen Jiu did not even notice who was their driver when he got into the carriage.

“Everything is fine, Mr. Harvey. I’m not harmed. However… I must do something that might get Mr. Harvey in trouble.” Shen Jiu bit his lips. If it was just a random coachman he would not have cared but it was Mr. Harvey whom he learned to trust and think of as a friend.

Coachman Harvey was silent for a while before Shen Jiu could hear a soft chuckle from the driver’s seat. “Aye, aye Young Master. This one knows and understands. If this carriage arrives to the Shen Manion empty? Well… this old me was only instructed to drive the carriage, not to play prison guard.”

“Mr Harvey, thank you.” Shen Jiu sincerely meant it as he opened the door and jumped off into an empty street. 

He rolled twice before coming to a stop, then jumped to his feet. The carriage moved on like nothing had happened, but Shen Jiu could see Mr Harvey discreetly lifted his cap silently saying goodbye.

“To you too, Mr Harvey.” Shen Jiu whispered, before turning around his heel and started running. After being locked up in his room for so long, being outside and feeling the wind whip against his face and hair was an exhilarating feeling.

He did not stop until he got to the church’s building. The setting sun’s rays bathed the sky into gorgeous crimson and yellow which made the old building look warm and welcoming. Once inside he managed to scare Miss Mary with his hasty approach.

“Oh my goodness! Scaring this old lady, have you no shame?” She placed her hands on her chest.

“Miss Mary, it’s me! Shen Jiu!”

Upon hearing that, Miss Mary’s eyes widened. “Oh my! Is it really you, young Shen Jiu? It’s been so long, we were so worried!”

Shen Jiu went to hug the old lady, patting her on the back. “Yes, I know. I’m sorry, I got held up by an evil serpent.”

“And evil serpent?” Miss Mary gasped.

“Yeah. Never mind all of that. I only just now got away so I came straight over.” 

“Young Shen Jiu, ah! You really know how to worry this old me! One day you just up and basically disappeared! No letters, no warnings, nothing!” Miss Mary was crying, lamenting her grievances. “What were we supposed to think?”

Shen Jiu felt terribly guilty, but he was just as much a victim as nun Mary and the kids were. 

“I’m so sorry Miss Mary. Please believe me when I say it wasn’t planned. My father caught wind of me coming here regularly and hanging out with Luo Binghe so he forbade me from going out or to contact you in any way… he went as far as to threaten retribution on you guys.” Shen Jiu felt himself tearing up too, all those repressed emotions and hardships he had to endure in that hell of a house finally breaking free of him.

Miss Mary hugged him tighter. “You have suffered, young Shen Jiu. It is me who is sorry for not being able to help you in your time of need.”

“Don’t say that, Miss Mary. You have always been a great help to me.” Shen Jiu wiped away his tears, before patting the old nun on the back a few more times. “Miss Mary, please, where is Luo Binghe? I need to see him!”

“Oh he’s still away working in the fields. Since you went missing, he has gone a bit mad, that boy. He went as far as attempting to break into Shen Mansion when they refused to give him information on your well-being! He got beaten so badly, he had to lay in bed for two days, ah. ” 

Wait what...? Luo Binghe you soft-hearted idiot, why would you do something like that?!

Shen Jiu’s tears were back again, freshly stocked and ready to flow. His voice cracked as he asked, “He did that?”

Miss Mary nodded, withdrawing from the hug to reach for her handkerchief and wipe her tears away. “Yes. He was devastated that he couldn’t see you. After that he buried himself in work, barely resting… Young Shen Jiu, you do know that boy really does love you, don’t you?” 

Shen Jiu blushed under nun Mary’s structiny, and laughed through his tears. “He seems so, yes.”

Binghe hold on! He was coming! 

“Ah to be young and in love!” Miss Mary teased. “Don’t forget about this old lady when the wedding rolls around.” 

Miss Mary! That’s not -” Shen Jiu was interrupted by loud pattering footsteps descending the stairs in such a hurry it was safe to say the person was more falling than running. 

“Miss Mary! Miss Mary! Trouble! Big trouble!” a kid around the age of ten came running towards them, face ash-pale. “I can see fire in the distance! Should we sound the gong?” 

Shen Jiu’s heart skipped a beat. He had a really bad feeling about this. He did not remember any type of fires breaking out so close to the date of the demon attack! He could almost hear distant muted explosions but it could have been only his heart beating in his throat. 

Stepping over he grabbed the child by the shoulder before Miss Mary could get out a reply. “Which way? And what kind of fires?!”

The child got so shocked he did not reply immediately, looking up at Miss Mary for pointers with wide doe-eyes. Shen Jiu had to refrain himself from shaking the information out of the child, like rice out of a burlap sack.

“Well, go on , young Ben. Tell us!” Nun Mary urged him, appearing concerned.

Little Ben, answered then, waking up from his stupor. “It’s towards Bailey‘s Shed! Big bumm fires! Not slow fire! I don’t know how to explain- it’s not normal fire.” He demonstrated with his little hands, mimicking exploding fireworks.

Shen Jiu paled.

“Miss Mary, what’s today’s date?” The transmigrator turned to grab onto nun Mary. “Isn’t it June 20th?”

The old nun’s hand shook, obviously worked up from all these excitement around her. “Eh? No, young Shen Jiu. It’s the 21st today -”

Fuck, fuck, fuck! He mixed up the days!

Shen Jiu was already running up the stairs as he yelled like a madman. “ Sound the gong! Sound off the gong immediately!!”

“But… young Shen Jiu, what’s going on?” Miss Mary clutched onto her handkerchief. 

Shen Jiu leaned over the railing from the first floor to look at her in the eye. “ Demons! They are here! Sound the fucking gong!

Shen Jiu dashed into his room and stuffed his pockets with all the finished talismans and amulets he could find, grabbed his spare sword then ran straight to Luo Binghe’s room. It did not take him long to find Xin Mo propped up against the wall in the mostly bare room. 

By the time he was downstairs again, the church’s bell tower started sounding off those deep, eerie resounding gongs, operated by two older kids. 

Nun Mary was surrounded by panicking children clutching at her dress. The sight only fueled the determination in Shen Jiu’s heart. 

He was going to make sure they all survived! Esteban won’t fall tonight!

“Miss Mary, gather all the children and hide in the basement! If all else fails, you’ll be safe there until the knights arrive!” Shen Jiu instructed the old nun before dashing towards the door. 

“But what about you, young Shen Jiu?” Nun Mary yelled after him, anguish marring her wrinkled face. 

“I’ll go find Luo Binghe!” Shen Jiu smiled, and like a ghost in the first ray of dawn, disappeared from the doorway.

Shen Jiu has never been in war but right now it sure felt like he was dropped straight into one. The closer he got to the conflict zone, the louder the booms of the exploding talismans were, the more palpable the scent of smoke got and the more distinct the demons’ screeches became.  

Farmers, day laborers, spooked animals all fled towards the village in an unorganized mess and away from the crackling ominous portal that spewed out demons and demonic beasts alike like some sort of volcano. 

Shen Jiu could see the top part of the portal over the smoke, and fear almost got the best of him even though he has been preparing for this since the day he woke up in this world. Gripping the two swords in his hand, Shen Jiu forced himself to keep running forward, maniacally searching for a messy mop of blond head. 

He almost collided with an escaping Mr Williams, and Shen Jiu righted the elder man at the last moment to save him from falling. 

“Mr Williams, where’s Luo Binghe?!” Shen Jiu yelled over the deafening sounds of detonations. 

The old farmer looked deteriorated, blood was flowing from a wound somewhere on his head and onto his brows but his eyes were still clear. “Luo Binghe- ah, Binghe stayed over there! Tries to hold them up! It’s suicide there -” 

“Get out of here Mr Williams!” With that Shen Jiu was running again, his breathing coming out in gasps. It had been a lot of running for him who barely got any exercise done in the past month. 

From so close he could see some of the demons already got through the ring of explosive talismans and now were screeching like hyenas as they got trapped in the arrays. One of them, a female demon with snake characteristics, made eye contact with Shen Jiu and laughed with a loud and shrill sound.  

Shen Jiu felt cold shivers running down. Unfortunately since his protection plan was not completed, it had gaps and was not as strong as it was designed originally. The fact that some of the more capable demons were already at the last line was an obvious giveaway.

Ignoring them for now, Shen Jiu kept running to where Mr Williams pointed. He just needed to get to Luo Binghe, regroup and work their way through this together! 

A talisman exploded real close to his right, almost blowing Shen Jiu off his feet. His right ear went completely numb and silent, and Shen Jiu staggered a little as he almost tripped over a mauled head of a demonic beast that was blown over.

Shen Jiu’s eyes stung from the smoke and the debris in the air, but he could make out a figure standing up ahead of him. That man was not moving, was not running at all and Shen Jiu at first thought he was impaled on something. 

But as he got closer, Shen Jiu instantly recognized that back and those wild blond locks whipping around shoulders from the force of the explosions. Luo Binghe was facing the fires, and the demons that attempted to crawl through the protection line, cutting a lone desolate figure amidst the chaos. 

Around him dead bodies of both humanoid demons and beasts laid, all of which were brutally ripped from limb to limb. Luo Binghe’s hands were covered in gore and blood til his elbows and Shen Jiu did not know why he found the scene so incredibly attractive. 

Binghe!” His cry cut through the noise, as he finally came to a staggering stop a few meters away from the hero. 

Luo Binghe moved then, turning around and promptly looking like he had seen a ghost as soon as those blue eyes landed on Shen Jiu’s figure. “...A-Jiu?”  

Shen Jiu did not know what he was feeling, but he was feeling everything all at once; unbridled relief, controlled panic, sweet love bubbling up in his heart, guilt at the pained, questioning look on Luo Binghe’s face. But ultimately Shen Jiu felt free and capable of doing anything now with Luo Binghe by his side. 

“Finally found you! You’re sure so hard to find, damn!” Shen Jiu smiled, teeth on display amidst his rapid panting. 

“A-Jiu is that really you?” Luo Binghe moved to step closer to him, when a demon just freed itself from the trapping arrays and lunged at the hero’s unprotected back. 

Shen Jiu was faster, however, leaping straight into Luo Binghe’s arms with a naked sword in his hand, impaling the demon before it could have slammed into the hero. Luo Binghe blinked at him, then at the body of the demon sliding off Shen Jiu’s sword before hugging the transmigrator to his chest, uncaring of his dirty hands or sweaty shirt.

You’re back! A-Jiu where have you been?! ” 

Shen Jiu reciprocated the hold, clinging to his hero and blaming the tears that escaped his eyes on the smoke in the air. “I’m sorry, Binghe. But I’m back now and I’m not going anywhere anymore!”

Before Luo Binghe could have replied, the very Earth beneath their feet rumbled and the mountains moaned in the distance, jerking them away out of the mutual embrace but not to complete separation.

“Wha - ?” Shen Jiu only remained on his feet because Luo Binghe held him upwards.  

“Something is happening,” Luo Binghe narrowed his eyes, his jaw set firmly as he snatched his Xin Mo sword from Shen Jiu’s hand. “Something powerful is coming!”

Shen Jiu could not help but wreck his brain desperately but nothing appeared in the original script that would be so powerful they could cause an Earthquake. 

This was something uncharted! A deviation from the script!

“We should run! Binghe, come on, let’s run! ” Shen Jiu cried when they felt another wave of trembling beneath their legs.

They heard it first before seeing it - a low resounding bellow of the Earth being split open, followed by roars and dying screeching. Then came a wave of a terrible stench of sulfur, ash and death, choking the breath into Shen Jiu’s throat.

It was a horrid smell, scratching at their lungs to the point that Shen Jiu blasted a wind attack in front of them that diverted the smell but also cleared out the smoke from the fires. And then they saw the gaping opening right in the middle of the land, like a tear on cloth.

Its bottom was alight with magma rivers, sharp rocks and deadly creatures that let out pained, anguished cries in their desperate attempt at escaping that hell. 

Shen Jiu was immobilised by his shock, eyes widening and breath stuttering.

It was the Endless Abyss of the Demon realm - the most desolate and dangerous place in the entire world. There was no doubt of it! In the original script it was the place where the Demon King ran in a last attempt to hide away from Hero Luo Binghe and his friends.

So what was it doing right here, and now?! It made no sense!

Shen Jiu was so gone he almost did not hear Luo Binghe talking, but his arm was grabbed and he was hastily shoved behind the hero’s back. “A-Jiu, get behind me.” 

“Binghe that’s the Endless Abyss! We have to run! Staying is suicide! ” 

Luo Binghe appeared focused, staring at something up ahead - or more like someone - with full readiness. “It’s too late to run.”

Shortly Shen Jiu also saw what the hero was looking at. A group of demons who appeared out of the smoke and the dust. These demons were not like the ones Shen Jiu had seen on his way here - each and every one of them were thrumming with power way beyond both Shen Jiu’s and Luo Binghe’s capability.

Their leader was a tall and intimidating muscle-mass, wearing dark blue robes and a long black fur cloak. The demon could have easily passed off as a human had he not had a pair of small horns elongating from his forehead and a pale-blue sigil between his brows. Objectively speaking, that demon was very handsome but Luo Binghe was still better looking.

It was not that horned demon who saw them first - it was a female demon in scand red sheer robes that barely covered her intimate places.

Wah , humans! There are humans who don’t run from us screaming?” She licked her blood-red lips, before smiling savagely. “Don’t worry, this Ling-er will play with you!” 

Shen Jiu gripped his sword, his other hand reaching inside his pocket finding an explosive talisman. He was expecting a fast and ruthless attack from the demon noble child - because she did not look older than 18 either - and his guess was proven correct as the girl pounced on them with sharp clawed hands.

Luo Binghe was faster still, deflecting her every attack with a swing of his sword, never letting her bypass him and get close to Shen Jiu. Their battle could not really be called a battle, it ended so quickly. The female demon cried in her shrill voice, her pretty face contorted into an ugly grimace as she was kicked in the stomach by Luo Binghe and was brutally swept backwards a good twenty meters at least.

This had gathered the attention of their leader, much to Shen Jiu’s fear. Those icy cold eyes narrowed in on them, studying the hero with an interested glint in his eyes. That child, Ling-er, wrestled herself onto her feet. Gone was the sweet smile from her lips as it was replaced with a snarl, but before she could have attacked them again she was stopped by a big clawed hand on her shoulder.

“Sha Hualing, you go with your uncle.” The horned demon growled at her, when she tried to whine. “That one over there is mine .”

Luo Binghe tensed, Xin Mo pulsing with crackling energy in his hand and took on a ready stance. In a split second, that demon was standing a stone’s throw away and then he was not anymore, appearing right in front of the protagonist!

Shen Jiu raised his sword to stab towards the demon just as Luo Binghe did but then the demon moved again in the fraction of a second - their weapons clinking together in empty air. 

“Slow.” It was thrown out like an insult, fueling the anger inside Shen Jiu’s heart. 

This was unfair! So fucking unfair! Goddess what the absolute FUCK?!

The demon lounged at them. Luo Binghe raised Xin Mo with both hands to meet the attack head on. It created such a huge energy wave it shoved Shen Jiu on his butt. The magic oozing from Luo Binghe was hot like fire while the horned demon had a magic presence as cold as literal ice. These two very different powers’ clashing, gave off sparks and sizzling popping sounds.

Strikes so powerful were exchanged that Shen Jiu could not climb to his feet without being blown right back down onto the ground. Luo Binghe was parrying most of the attacks, that legendary sword in his hands playing a great part in his sudden burst of energy levels, but even so, he was still lacking the experience and the true power to stand against such a powerful demon.

Shen Jiu cried out when Luo Binghe was thrown across the dirt like a rag doll. “ Binghe!”

Fueled by rage, Shen Jiu jumped to his feet and sprinted towards Luo Binge while sending a dozen exploding talismans at the demon. The blow was deafening and searing from up close, but Shen Jiu did not actually have faith that it had killed their opponent. It should give them some time though.

Luo Binghe clambered to his feet by the time Shen Jiu rushed over, but instead of accepting him into his arms, Luo Binghe carelessly shoved the transmigrator behind his back and collided with  another attack from the horned demon.

Shen Jiu cursed, throwing a bunch of demon-warding amulets at Luo Binghe’s opponent. The amulets strongly stuck to the demon’s body, managing to slow him down enough for Luo Binghe to land a stab into the demon’s abdomen.

The horned demon roared, thin sheen of ice appearing all over his body and crackling off the amulets from his robes in tiny pieces. Then in the next second Luo Binghe’s hand was twisted off Xin Mo’s hilt and the hero was lifted into the air with a hand around his throat. 

“You are a hundred years too young to go against this Mobei Jun.” The demon taunted, blue sigil flickering on his forehead.

Growling Luo Binghe conjured a ball of fire in his palm and pressed it into the demon’s wrist. The smell of burning flesh would have made Shen Jiu nauseous any time, but he was too terror-stricken, seeing how his hero was desperately trying to free himself from the crude hold to notice anything else.

Shen Jiu squeezed his own sword’s hilt with both hands, and jumped forward without a sound, intending to impale the demon’s heart and end this once and for all. He had not seen the ice rod growing from Mobei Jun’s hand, however, sharp like a spear-head and effortlessly running through Shen Jiu’s stomach like a hot knife through butter.

The pain did not come immediately, but when it did, it was biting, cruel and so intense all Shen Jiu could utter was some gurgling choking cough. Then the ice rod was broken off where Mobei Jun was holding it and without even a tiny regard for his life, the demon kicked Shen Jiu away from them.

Shen Jiu’s vision went white with pain as he flew through the air and bounced twice on the plowed land before crashing down hard. 

Seeing this Luo Binghe’s eyes widened, and an enraged roar broke free of his squeezed throat not unlike the rumble of the abyss behind their backs.

Aaaaargh!”

Shen Jiu heard the yell, and desperately tried to get up again but when he moved his vision went dark and all he could do was gasp in agony. The cold from the ice just added to the stinging of the injury, but Shen Jiu had enough of a conscience to not pull the rod out before he got the chance to heal himself or he might bleed out.

Immobilised by the pain, Shen Jiu could not do anything but listen to what was happening. Luo Binghe kept yelling and growling like a cornered animal that has nothing to lose, “I’ll kill you! I swear, I will tear your hands from your body and watch you bleed out! For what you did to him! For what you did!

A giant burst of violent fire magic swept through the field - stronger and even more murderous than before. It took everything in Shen Jiu to move his head to the side so he could see what was happening. 

His Luo Binghe had gone completely insane, standing in the middle of a fire-tornado that reached the dark skies. The hero’s magic went havoc, fury and the need for revenge rolled off him in palpable waves. 

Mobei Jiu seemed surprised, the first emotion appearing on his dispassionate face. “How curious! A demon yet not a demon. A human yet not a human. So this is where that human wench ran years ago with our Mad King’s illegitimate babe.”

What. The. Fuck?

Shen Jiu abruptly tried to get up again but only ended up momentarily blinding and deafening himself from the intense pain inflicted. Mind and heart in disarray, Shen Jiu pressed on his wound and heaved around his mental and physical shock. 

Was this the Goddess’ way of joking with him? Because it wasn’t fucking funny! How could his Luo Binghe be a half-blood? The original script said nothing of such a thing, at all! And now Mobei Jun was hinting at Luo Binghe being the bastard son of the Demon King?! Goddess, suck a big dick!

When the pain subsided enough that Shen Jiu could move again without almost knocking himself unconscious, he immediately began feeling around in his pockets, frantically looking for a healing talisman to use. 

But to his rotten luck, every single one that came to his hands had cracked or gotten broken during his fall. The trembling in his hands were not helping either nor was the white, searing heat and thunderous blasts coming from where Luo Binghe was engaging with Mobei Jun. The other smaller demons were still attacking the village where they were intercepted by some opposition if the sound of fighting were any giveaway.

When all his pockets were emptied and he did not find anything usable, panic and desperation set in. He needed to help Luo Binghe! What was he doing lying here, his hero was still over there fighting for his life! He couldn’t die yet! There was so much he didn’t know yet! So much he couldn’t do yet!

Please, not yet!

The ice rod slowly melted away too, and the blood flow strengthened. Shen Jiu hysterically laughed up at the darkened sky, tears freely falling from his cheeks. “Goddess, if I die here I swear to you, I will go up to where you are and kill you with my bare hands!”

Right after his vicious outburst he felt his body unnaturally heating up from the inside out, but not in a painful way. An abundant amount of healing magic made home in his veins and immediately began mending his puncture wound. Shen Jiu gaped up at the sky, blinking tears out of his eyes.

Did… the Goddess really just help him out?

He did not linger much on the topic however, because as soon as his wound was healed he jumped to his legs and desperately looked for Luo Binghe. It was not hard to find him, with the fire-tower lightning up the sky wherever he went.

“I don’t care who you think I am or what do you think you know about me.” Luo Binghe’s voice was gravelly, full of loathing and a promise for violence. “I will kill you for laying hands on my A-Jiu!”

Mobei Jun did not seem anxious whatsoever at the threat made on his life. “If you want to kill me you’ll need to become stronger. Much stronger, kid.”  

The demon then casually pulled out Xin Mo from his abdomen and studied the blade. “An excellent weapon. It’s an insult to wield it with such weak arms.” Then Mobei Jun threw the sword back to Luo Binghe who effortlessly caught it.

“You have potential, boy. But you cannot become stronger without reconnecting with your roots.”  

“And just where did you get the impression that I would take on a teacher who harmed my most precious person?” Luo Binghe sheeted, swirling his sword around once.

“Don’t flatter yourself, brat.” Mobei Jun, motioned towards the Endless Abyss with his sharp chin. “First survive that, then you might stand a chance against me.” 

Luo Binghe growled, flashing his teeth. Did he always have such sharp canines? 

“Binghe! Binghe, I’m here, I’m alive! Don’t provoke him!” Shen Jiu ran over to Luo Binghe, expecting to feel the uncomfortable heat of the hero's fire elemental manifestation but instead the flames danced around him gently, not even a single hair on his head was torrefied.  

Luo Binghe instantly drew him into his body with one hand, sighing at the leftover calming scent of Shen Jiu’s shampoo enveloping his person. “A-Jiu, are you feeling okay? Your injury?”

“It’s been taken care of, Binghe. Don’t worry,” Shen Jiu was fast to placate the hero, his eyes sweeping over the pulsating red sigil on Luo Binghe’s brow. Gulping, Shen Jiu realised, Mobei Jun in front of them was not lying when he said Luo Binghe was a half-blood. 

The hold on Shen Jiu’s waist turned borderline painful as Luo Binghe felt his structiny. While Luo Binghe did not take his eyes off Mobei Jun in clear distrust, his insecurity still got the best of him when it came to Shen Jiu. “A-Jiu… this- I swear to you I didn’t know. If- if you don’t want to be associated with me anymore -”

Shen Jiu placed a finger in front of Luo Binghe’s lips. There was not anything to even think through. His Luo Binghe was still the same Luo Binghe even with his demonic side revealed. “This doesn’t change anything, Binghe. You’re who you chose to be and not some blood-dictated monster.”

Luo Binghe gasped, tears of relief pooled in his blue eyes as he pulled the transmigrator even closer. “A-Jiu….you….”

Shen Jiu held onto him for dear life, burrowing his face into the hero’s neck. His mind was in disarray, the entire future he knew from the script was wiped clear with these changes of events. Suddenly, there were no more sneak cheat-sheets or vague outlines for the future. No more knowing what would happen, when and how.

There was only the unknown.

That, and a roaring abyss in front of them, a dead-fish-eyed demon staring at them and a half-blood protagonist at Shen Jiu’s side who never looked more beautiful as he was now, battered from battle but still throbbing with power - human and demonic alike. 

“That demon is right, Binghe,” Shen Jiu whispered, tilting his head up to look into Luo Binghe’s eyes through the haze of his tears. Since when did he start crying? “You need to learn how to control your demonic side. And you cannot stay here, in Esteban. If they saw you now, they would kill you.”

Luo Binghe took a stuttering sigh, more tears blinking out of his eyes as he nosed Shen Jiu’s head into the right angle and poured a devastatingly passionate yet resolute kiss. It was powerful enough, Shen Jiu’s legs almost buckled from the intensity of it.

“I get it. I will go down there,” Luo Bingeh whispered against his lips, their tears mixing on their tongues. “A-Jiu will you... wait for me?”

Shen Jiu clung to his hero even more, an unwilling sound leaving his throat. How could he bear sending down Luo Binghe just like that?!

His Luo Binghe was wonderfully strong, brave and amazing but he still was not strong enough to go down there yet! The original Luo Binghe had to train for years with the Knight's Order and then travelled around to gain experiences for even more years with his squad before he actually went against the Demon King head-on!

If his Luo Binghe went down there alone right now, he would surely die!     

In a split second, Shen Jiu made his decision. If Luo Binghe must go down to a place worse than hell, then Shen Jiu will go with him! They will do it together, level up together and get out of it together!

“Silly Binghe, don’t you know?” Shen Jiu whispered against Luo Binghe’s mouth as he guided them to step right next to the edge. “Wherever you go, I follow.”

Luo Binghe looked at him with adoration, warm love and astonishment. “Is A-Jiu sure?” 

Shen Jiu only smiled as he grabbed Luo Binghe’s hand that was holding Xin Mo and clung to the hero with his other hand. “Don’t drop this.”

“Which one? The sword or you?” Luo Binghe cracked a joke even as he also secured Shen Jiu to himself with his own hand.

“Both.” Shen Jiu replied as they toppled over and into the acid-smelling, glowing, shrieking Abyss.